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Category : Mechanics

It’s All in the Words!

By S Nicholas

I love words! I have always loved words. After a career working with words, I have decided that how people use language directly relates to how intelligent they are perceived! Note that I am talking about perception, and not necessarily reality. People with multiple college degrees who speak or write improperly convey to the world that they are, in fact, not smart. Likewise, people who may not have a college degree but talk and write correctly convey to the world that they are extremely intelligent. It’s all in the words.

Some of the most common mistakes which impact perceived intelligence include:
• “Between you and I” – This is NEVER correct! There is not a situation in which it would be ok to say or write “between you and I.”
WRONG: Between you and I, the food here is bad.
RIGHT: Just between us, the food here is bad.

• The misuse of I versus ME . The shortcut to knowing which is correct is to remove the other name in the phrase, and use either or I or me to see which works.
WRONG: Sam threw the ball to Jeff and I.
RIGHT: Sam threw the ball to Jeff and me.
If you remove the name “Jeff,” you will see that only the word “me” works correctly.

• Commas – this tiny punctuation mark is responsible for most of the mistakes I read!
1. A comma-splice occurs when two sentences are joined together by a comma.
WRONG: It is a hot day, I am going to eat ice cream to cool off.
RIGHT: It is a hot day, so I am going to eat ice cream to cool off.
Two sentences cannot be joined together with a comma unless a conjunction (and, so, but, etc…) follows the first complete thought.
2. A run-on sentence occurs when a sentence containing multiple phrases does not contain commas.
WRONG: It is a hot day so I am going to eat ice cream to cool off because I love ice cream and it always helps me feel cooler.
RIGHT: It is a hot day, so I am going to eat ice cream to cool off because I love it, and it always helps me feel cooler.
Commas used correctly help set off phrases in a distinct way in order to help the reader understand the message.

• Quotation Marks –It is important to remember that the comma and the period ALWAYS go inside the quotation marks!
WRONG: Jane said, “Go outside”.
RIGHT: Jane said, “Go outside.”
WRONG: The musical, “Hello Dolly”, was held last weekend.
RIGHT: The musical, “Hello Dolly,” was held last weekend.
Note that the comma and period need to be INSIDE the quotation marks. In some cases, the question mark might be outside of the quotation marks. For example: Did you hear him shout, “Fire”?

• You’re versus Your – The best way to determine which is correct is not to use the contraction, “you’re,” but spell out you are. If “you’re” trying to say “you are,” the contraction would work.
WRONG: Your trying to find your socks.
RIGHT: You’re trying to find your socks.
“You’re” is the contraction for “you are.” “Your” is simply showing possession…your socks, your house, your cat. Most frequently, people write “your,” but mean to say “you are.” When in doubt, don’t use the contraction.

Using proper grammar is an introduction of yourself to others. To put forth your best image, speak properly and write properly. A teacher’s hint for improving grammar: read good literature frequently!

It’s versus Its

The English language has many exceptions to seemingly hard and fast rules, and these exceptions often cause problems for the novice writer. One such issue is the possessive form of the pronoun “it.” First, let’s remind ourselves of what a possessive form is. The possessive form of a noun or pronoun is used to show ownership. When writing the possessive form of almost all other singular nouns, the writer is instructed to add an apostrophe followed by an “s” at the end of the word. Examples include “the duck’s quack,” “the girl’s doll,” and “the man’s son.” Simple, right?

Therefore, you might think that you should simply tack on the requisite apostrophe and “s” to “it” in order to create the possessive form. However, this makes the word “it’s,” which is seen in the English language as the contraction for “it is.” An example of the proper use of the word “it’s” is as follows: “It’s by the cat’s water bowl.” Therefore, we cannot treat the possessive form of “it” in the same way that we treat other singular nouns. For “it,” we simply forgo the apostrophe. In other words, the possessive form of “it” is “its.” An example of the proper use of the possessive form of “it” is “The cat stepped in its water bowl.”

Articles in English: “The,” “A,” and “An”

An article is a word that comes before a noun as a determiner. In the English language, the article indicates the definitiveness of a noun. The English language uses the following three articles: “the,” “a,” and “an.” These articles can be categorized into two types: definite articles (“the”) and indefinite articles (“a/an”). Definite articles (i.e., “the”) are used to indicate a specific individual or thing, whereas indefinite articles (i.e., “a/an”) are used to indicate a member of a class or group. For example, if I say, “Let’s go to the restaurant,” I am indicating that we should go to a specific restaurant. However, if I say, “Let’s go to a restaurant,” I am indicating that we could go to any restaurant. As another example, I could say, “My sister wants a blue sweater for Christmas.” In this case, my sister wants any blue sweater. However, I could say, “My sister wants the blue sweater shown in that advertisement.” In this case, I am specifying that my sister wants one particular sweater.

To learn about the rules surrounding the use of “a” versus “an,” see the blog post entitled “A” versus “An.”