Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Mini Grammar Lesson of the Day: Quotation Marks

Most people easily grasp the main use of quotation marks: setting off direct quotes in writing. This does get a little tricky when working with other punctuation marks, however. For instance, periods and commas go inside the end quotation mark here in the U.S., but in England the period and comma go outside the end quotation mark. (Lori said, "I am going to the mall."--U.S. vs. Lori said, "I am going to the mall".--England). Most of us are used to writing quotes, so this understanding comes naturally to us. I'm not going to go into more detail right now about how to punctuate direct quotes. For a more detailed description, see Purdue OWL Quotation Marks. Instead, I'm going to talk about other, less-known uses for quotes.

Sometimes quotes are used to indicate a level of sarcasm or denoting that what is said is not quite true. For instance, if I were to describe dingy socks, I might call them "white": meaning, they used to be or should be white, but are white no longer. You might be familiar with people using "air quotes." Many times these are used for this same purpose: Don't you just "love" this rain we've been having every day for a month?? Quotations around individual words like this are approximately the equivalent of a speaker rolling her eyes while saying the word. The Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) defines this usage this way: "Quotation marks may additionally be used to indicate words used ironically or with some reservation."

Recently I've noticed an increase in the use of quotation marks to set off a word or to give it emphasis. This can cause some hilarious situations. Have you ever seen signs that say, "Sale" today! or, Everything is on "sale." What this means to me is that everything is not really on sale. We're having a fake sale. Come see all the regular prices in our store! Or what about a sign for tomatoes: Fresh "vine-ripe" tomatoes for "sale"! (haha). Are they vine-ripe? or is this a lie to get us to buy these tomatoes on "sale" (for the regular price)? Listen up: quotations are not meant to be used to set apart words as important. To do that, use italics, or bold type, or underlining. These methods work much better at getting your point across. So, go buy those VINE-RIPE tomatoes on sale! and save yourself some money.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Mini Grammar Lesson of the Day: Noun/Pronoun agreement

This is a really hard lesson for me to keep short, as it is a bit complicated. Here is a link to a succinct explanation as to how to make your nouns agree with their pronouns: http://aliscot.com/bigdog/agreement_pa.htm. I would like to emphasize that in noun/pronoun agreement, you want to minimize the confusion of your audience. Please do not use "they" or "their" to refer to a singular noun (as in, "Each student should revise their paper"). The usual way to fix this is to either know the gender of the student: "Each student at the girls' school should revise her paper," or if you don't know the gender, use "his or her" or "his/her": "Each student should revise his or her paper." This can get very annoying and cumbersome. Another easy way to fix this is to re-write your sentence in the plural: "All students should revise their papers." Sometimes you just can't do this, and in those cases, choose your words very carefully and limit the number of times you use "his or her." Try to avoid using "one" like the plague; your sentences will end up sounding comical: "One should always strive to do one's best in everything one finds to do." Yuck. You can either change into 2nd person: "You should always strive to do your best..." or pick a group to speak to: "Students should always strive to do their best," or "People should always strive to do their best." On a side note, in formal writing it is usually best to avoid using 2nd person, but in informal writing (like this blog), please feel free to do so.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Mini Grammar Lesson of the Day: Two, To, and Too

I chose an easy lesson today: learning the correct use of the words two, to, and too.

Two is a number. It's that simple. Two = 2.

To is a preposition: "I am going to the store." It also makes the infinitive form of verbs: to swim, to eat, etc. You probably know you are never supposed to split infinitives, right? But what does that look like? "She likes to quickly swim" vs. "She likes to swim quickly." Do not put a word between the "to" and the verb when you write or speak.

Too is an adverb: "This coat is too warm to wear in March." Or "I'm too hot; I'm going to go inside." It also means the same thing as "also": "I'm going to go inside, too." "Me too!" See?

Now I expect you all to be able to choose the correct word in your sentences so that I don't have to read: "I really like to read to." That makes me ask the question, "To whom do you like to read?" Also, please don't say "I am going too the store two get a drink, to." LOL.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Mini Grammar Lesson of the Day: Colons vs. Semicolons

These two little punctuation marks can cause quite a bit of confusion; it's hard to know which one to choose sometimes. That first sentence demonstrates the proper use of a semicolon: to join two complete thoughts that are closely related to one another without using a conjunction. The semicolon is my favorite punctuation mark; I use it often to encourage my writing to flow more smoothly. If you take out the semicolon and replace it with a period, the two sentences would still make sense, but they would sound a little choppy. This is a good test to check the appropriateness of using a semicolon: would the two phrases make complete sense on their own but have a closely related idea? Use a semicolon. For an entertaining cartoon explaining how to use a semicolon, click here.

You have probably noticed a couple of colons in the paragraph above, as well. Colons are used to set off a list or example of the sentence preceding the colon, or the part preceding the colon is an introductory phrase for what follows. Notice that the phrase before the colon must be a complete thought, but the part coming after the colon does not have to be. You could say, "Grandma only uses three ingredients in her sweet tea: water, tea, and sugar." But, you would not want to say, "The only three ingredients in Grandma's sweet tea are: water, tea, and sugar." Here the colon is unnecessary; the sentence makes complete grammatical sense without it. Remember: the phrase before the colon needs to be a complete sentence. Colons are often used to introduce quotes, as well. (Grandma told me her recipe for sweet tea: "Boil the water, steep the tea, add sugar, then place the pitcher in the fridge to cool.") Here is a longer, more precise explanation of colon usage.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Mini Grammar Lesson of the Day

How to use apostrophes

Do you ever wonder how to correctly use apostrophes? Wonder no more. Here is a brief lesson to help you.

Apostrophes are mainly used to show possession or to create contractions. You use apostrophes to show possession in sentences such as "Tom's car needs maintenance," and "We are going to my parents' house." (Because "parents" is plural and ends in an "s," the apostrophe comes at the end of the word.) To create contractions, use an apostrophe to take the place of missing letters as in "can't" (for can not), "we're" (for we are), and "haven't" (for have not).

Never use apostrophes to create a plural. The plural of "tree" is "trees," not "tree's." Also, if you would like to talk to the Wharys (Ryan and I), you do not spell it "Whary's," but you might want to go see us at "the Wharys' house."

Special possessives: Pronouns do not require apostrophes to show possession; there are already special pronouns that serve that purpose such as her, his, your, its, my, and their and hers, his, yours, mine, and theirs. Pronouns need apostrophes to make contractions: you're (you are), they're (they are), and it's (it is) are three of the most commonly misused words I see on facebook.