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Thread: Simple grammar

  1. #1
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    Simple grammar

    There are several elementary grammatical issues that I see constantly in work people put up for critique. It may be difficult to remember these simple rules when they are presented in a dry, technical manner, so I hope the following will help people...


    THE SARCASTIC S.O.B.’S GUIDE TO ELEMENTARY GRAMMAR


    1. Never use an apostrophe-s to form a plural.

    Never, never, never. If there are more than one of something, just add an s without an apostrophe, unless it’s one of those weird words that forms a plural in another way (like amoebae or moose). Don’t use an apostrophe-s even for acronyms (many UFOs, not many UFO’s) or numbers (in the 1960s, not in the 1960’s) or proper names (the Simpsons, not the Simpson’s, regardless of how Homer may have lettered his mailbox).

    There is one incredibly tiny exception to this rule, and that’s where you’re pluralizing a single letter, as in such phrases as “mind your p’s and q’s” or “cross your t’s and dot your i’s.” It’s pretty unlikely that you’ll have to do this in a book, however, so the easy way to remember this exception is: DON’T USE APOSTROPHES TO FORM PLURALS. GOD.


    2. “It’s” (with the apostrophe) means “It is” or “It has.” ALWAYS.

    If you can’t replace “it’s” with “it is” or “it has,” then it’s “its” without the apostrophe. Do NOT use “it’s” for the possessive, including when you’re giving a characteristic of the thing you’re referring to as “it.” “It’s red coat” and “it’s loud noise” and “it’s expression of fear” are all so wrong you might as well slap a “FAILED THIRD GRADE” sticker on your head.


    3. F’chrissakes, figure out the difference between “than” and “then.”

    “Than” is only used for comparisons: greater than, redder than, bigger than, more of one thing than another. “Then” is used to denote a time or to follow up on an “if”-type clause (as in “If you can’t follow this, then you’re a moron”).

    The best way to handle this, perhaps, is to always overenunciate “than” in your head, stressing the “a” sound (rhymes with the a in “plan”). If the stressed “a” sound doesn’t seem right, you probably want “then.”


    4. Commas don’t just mark pauses.

    We all heard our teachers say that when we hit a comma in a sentence, we should pause slightly in our speech. Roughly 65% of us decided that learning any grammatical rules around the situation was too much trouble, and it was easier to assume that all pauses should be marked by commas.

    The truth is there are a number of reasons for pauses in speech: semicolons, colons, ends of sentences, ellipses, declamation, shortness of breath, acute myocardial infarction...just because a comma should be marked by a pause, it doesn’t mean all pauses should be represented by commas. Learn when to end a sentence, when to use three dots (ellipses) to indicate a pause, when other things are appropriate.


    5. Semicolons and colons actually differ.

    Semicolons are used to string two sentences, complete in themselves, together. If you’re introducing a list or about to identify an example of what you just defined, you use this mark: a colon.

    Despite the names, you achieve no savings by using a semicolon instead of a colon.


    6. You are not eleven. It is not okay to be confused about “there” and “they’re” and “their.”

    There is a place. They’re is “they are.” Their refers to things owning or pertaining to them. It’s that simple. Study it, learn it, get past it. It’s way past time.


    7. Do not get me started on “your” and “you’re.”

    I’m not even going to explain this one. You know what these mean. If you ever write “you’re,” check it by replacing it with “you are.” If it seems wrong, look over what you’ve written, slap yourself in the head with whatever farm implement is handy, and change it.


    8. The past tense of lead (rhymes with "bleed" ) is led. The past tense of mislead is misled.

    This doesn’t come up that often, but when it does, ninety-nine people out of ten seem to get it wrong and spell it “lead.” The mind boggles. “Lead” pronounced to rhyme with “said” is a metal.


    9. That vs. which.

    Okay, I’ll give you this one, the explanation for this distinction is confusing and can get very technical. Read over a style manual sometime, do your best to remember the basics, and resolve to catch this problem in the editing process. See? I can be nice.


    10. Who’s and whose.

    “Who’s” means “who is” or “who has.” ALWAYS. If you want the possessive, it’s “whose.” As in, “Whose glove is this?” If you’re asking which individual out of a bunch of people is doing something, it’s “who’s,” because you’re really saying “who is.” As in, “Who’s reading this and not paying attention? I just covered almost the identical thing under ‘it’s’ and ‘its’! That’s it, I’m out!”


    Note: I haven't done this because of any recent submissions, so don't assume you're the target of this individually.



  2. #2
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    Re: Simple grammar

    All good points, John.

    (and kind of funny, too.)

  3. #3
    Senior Member Keith .'s Avatar
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    Re: Simple grammar

    Amen.
    ________________________________________________

    People seldom do what they believe in. They do what is convenient, then repent.
    - Bob Dylan

  4. #4
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    Re: Simple grammar

    You're often times more correct using that vs which. Which should normally be set apart with a comma.

  5. #5
    Senior Member Keith .'s Avatar
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    Re: Simple grammar

    For the most part, use which if you can drop the clause and not lose the point of the sentence. If not, use that. A which clause goes inside commas and a that clause does not. There may be exceptions I'm not aware of, but this is what I go by.
    ________________________________________________

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    - Bob Dylan

  6. #6
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    Re: Simple grammar

    Typo: In the explanation about the use of "their," it should have read "Their refers to things owned by or pertaining to them."

  7. #7
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    Re: Simple grammar

    I worship you, John. Now if I can just get you into every elementary school in the country to beat it into every kid's brain.

    Wait. They do still teach this stuff, right?

  8. #8
    Cat
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    Re: Simple grammar

    There are other owes for the colon: it can join two sentences if the second explains the first.

  9. #9
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    Re: Simple grammar

    You forgot about "who" and "whom." Use "who" as the subject in sentence and "whom" as the object in a sentence:
    Who wants to have spaghetti for dinner?
    To whom are you speaking? ("Whom" is the object of the preposition, "to.")

    A special pet peeve of mine: People are not a "that." Martha is the girl who caught the ball.

    I teach this stuff to my ENG 102 students. Scary, isn't it? College students still don't know how to use apostrophes and commas, stuff they should have learned in 7th grade.

    Jeanne

  10. #10
    Senior Member Keith .'s Avatar
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    Re: Simple grammar

    I think some of those students post here, Jeanne ...
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    People seldom do what they believe in. They do what is convenient, then repent.
    - Bob Dylan

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