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Using Gerunds

Gerunds After a Preposition

A preposition explains a relationship with space or time and modifies the words that come after it. Prepositions include “to,” “in,” “at,” “on,” “since,” “up,” “down,” “under,” and many others. In order to use a verb properly after a preposition, it must be used as a gerund. (Unless using the preposition “but.” Sorry, English is tricky.)

In these examples, the preposition is in italics and the gerund is in bold.

Study hard before taking your exams.

She delivered the joke without laughing.

After riding the bus to work, I stopped for coffee.  

Gerunds can also be used after a noun plus a preposition.

TV shows about cooking are becoming more popular.

And after an adjective plus a preposition.

I’m tired of waking up at 5 a.m. every day.

She’s sad about having to cancel her show.

Gerunds in the Present Simple Tense

The present simple tense is used in English to talk about things that are true at the moment. For example, gerunds could be used to discuss things that someone likes or dislikes.

She doesn’t like driving.

They love hiking!

Gerunds could also be used to talk about things you remember.

I remember watching that show when I was a kid.

Do you recall using a rotary phone?

Gerunds can be used to talk about things being attempted in the present.

I’m trying to learn how to skateboard.

She’s trying to knit a scarf.

It’s common to use gerunds when discussing feelings of remorse or regret.

He regrets not studying abroad while in college.

They regret wearing flip-flops today — it was so cold!

Gerunds as the Subject in a Sentence

When using a gerund as the subject in a sentence, you’ll spot it at the beginning.

Having breakfast in the morning is an important part of a healthy lifestyle.

Staying up too late can cause you to be sleepy the next day.

Traveling can expose you to different ideas and experiences.

Irregular Verbs

The simple answer is: Any verb that doesn’t follow standard rules of conjugation. Unfortunately, there are so many “irregular” verbs in the English language that the title doesn’t really make sense. These grammar anomalies have been lurking in plain sight for yearsand they might just come naturally to you, but we’re still going to take a closer look.

Irregular Verbs and the Past Tense

Typically, it’s correct (and easy enough) to say the past tense of a verb ends in an “-ed.” For example, “I drop the kids off in the morning” in the present tense becomes, “I dropped the kids off this morning.” Or, “I scrub the dishes,” in the present changes to “I scrubbed the dishes” in the past tense. Those two letters added to the end of a word are a pretty good indicator of past tense.

Then you come across a verb like “speak.” In the present tense, you’d say, “I speak.” In the past tense, you would not say, “I speaked.” Instead, you’d say, “I spoke.”

Boom. You’ve just found an irregular verb. As you might have guessed, irregular verbs break the standard rule of ending in “-ed” in the past tense.

To further confuse the issue, irregular verbs have no discernible pattern themselves. They’re just … irregular. These irregular verbs are some of the most commonly used in English — “go,” “say,” “see,” “think,” “make,” “take,” “come,” and “know.” These workhorse verbs take on different spellings in the past tense.

In general, irregular verbs are easy enough to spot in the past tense — if it doesn’t end in “-ed,” it’s irregular.

Spotting More Irregular Verbs

Test yourself: Which of these examples of irregular verbs are correct?

  1. She drunk the glass of water.
  2. The phone rung and rung.
  3. The pants shrunk in the dryer.

Answer: Only number three is correct. In one, the correct past tense is “drank,” and in number two, the phone “rang.”

It’s still quite easy to get confused by irregular verbs, especially when you look at the difference between simple past tense and past participles.

For example, “Stacy drived to the public pool where she swum for hours.” Hopefully this sounds wrong to your ears, because it’s just an irregular mess.

There are two irregular verbs in this example, but neither is correct. The first is obvious – “drived” attempts to follow the regular verb “-ed” ending. It sounds awkward, because it’s not a real word at all. The correct (irregular) past tense is “drove.”

The second one is a little trickier. “Swum” is in fact the past participle of the verb “to swim,” but it’s not the simple past, which is “swam.”

The correct version of Stacy’s day at the pool is, “Stacy drove to the public pool where she swam for hours.”

As confusing as irregular verbs may seem, they start to come naturally with practice. What irregular verbs do you still stumble over?

The Dash Family’s Roles

From: Daily Writing Tips

The en dash is the oft-neglected middle sibling of the horizontal-line family of symbols that serve to connect words and numbers for various reasons.

The em dash (—) is the dashing member of the brood, used somewhat sparingly to indicate a sudden break in syntax—either to signal a shift in sentence construction, as here, or joining with a twin to frame a parenthetical word or phrase (just as a pair of commas would be used in the midst of a sentence or two parentheses would be employed anywhere).

The smallest, the hyphen (-), is the busiest, indicating connections between words, such as when the phrase “highest scoring” is hyphenated to signal its combined modification of the word that follows in the phrase “highest-scoring player” or to link two numbers in reference to a score or vote.

The en dash (–), however, sometimes steps in to take the place of the hyphen: It is employed when an open compound is part of the phrasal adjective, signaling that the entire compound, not just the last word in the compound, is linked to the next word, as in “Civil War–era artifacts” (rather than “Civil War-era” or “Civil-War-era”) or “Los Angeles–to–San Francisco flight” (rather than in “Los Angeles-to-San Francisco flight” or “Los-Angeles-to-San-Francisco flight”).

Note, however, that open compounds need not be proper nouns, as this quip about an advertising agency with a name consisting of a sequence of initials demonstrates: “This alphabet soup–named firm helps get clients on the gravy train.” If a hyphen were used in place of an en dash here, the reference would (confusingly) be to a soup-named agency of an alphabet nature. (Also, some publishers, presumably for aesthetic reasons, employ en dashes in place of em dashes.)

The other major function of an en dash, by the way, is to replace to to indicate a number range, as in “Answer quiz questions 1–10.” (Remember that because scores are not number ranges, a hyphen is the correct symbol for linking two totals.) In both types of usage, a hyphen is often erroneously employed in place of an en dash (though for the sake of simplicity, some publications, especially newspapers, deliberately avoid use of the en dash).

Also, note that although both hyphens and en dashes are employed as minus signs, the minus sign is technically a distinct symbol that in formal publishing is set using a distinct code. In informal usage, an en dash, more equivalent in size to plus and equal signs than a hyphen, is preferable.

Many words or phrases can be used to set up an explanation. The most common is because (or “because of”), but others have their uses. Here are alternatives and a discussion of their uses and their merits.

1. As: As is a direct synonym for because (for example, “He opted not to go see the movie, as it had gotten poor reviews”), but it’s inferior.

2. As a result of: This phrase is a substitute for “because of,” not because, as in “As a result of his intervention, the case was reopened and they were ultimately exonerated.”

3. As long as: This informal equivalent of because is used to express the thought that given that one thing is occurring or will occur or is true, another is possible, in such statements as “As long as you’re going, could you pick some things up for me?”

4. Being as (or being as how or being that): This phrase has the same sense — and the same formality — as “as long as.”

5. Considering that: This phrase is essentially identical in meaning to “as long as” and “being as” and its variants.

6. Due to: Like “as a result of,” “due to” is a preposition, rather than a conjunction like because, and is used in place not of because alone but instead of “because of.” It applies specifically to an explanation of why something occurred or will or will not occur, as in “Due to the large number of applications, we cannot respond individually to each applicant.”

7. For: This substitute for because is reserved for poetic usage, as in “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”

8. Inasmuch as: This phrase is a very formal equivalent of because, as in “Inasmuch as his account has been discredited, I wouldn’t believe anything else he says.”

9. In view of the fact that: This phrase is identical in sense to “inasmuch as.”

10. Now that: This phrase informally connotes cause and effect, as in “Now that you’re here, we can proceed.”

11. Out of: This phrase applies to explanations of emotion or feeling — for example, “She asked out of compassion” or “Out of spite, I refrained from passing the message along.”

12. Owing to: This phrase is equivalent to “due to”; the two choices are more formal than “because of.”

13. Seeing that: This phrase is identical to “considering that.”

14. Since: This alternative to because is informal and is considered inferior because since primarily refers to elapsed time and the usage might be confused, as in “Since it had rained, we didn’t need to water the garden”; the reader might not realize until reading the second half of the sentence that the sense is causal rather than temporal.

15. Thanks to: This equivalent of “because of,” despite the wording, can apply to either a positive or a negative outcome; “Thanks to your meddling, we’re receiving much unwanted attention” demonstrates the latter sense.

16. Through: Through is a preposition; it takes the place of “because of,” as in “Through the efforts of these charities, the city’s homeless services have been reinstated.”

From: Daily Writing Tips If you would like a subscription to Daily Writing Tips please go to

Trite, hackneyed, tired — there are plenty of words to describe an overuse of clichés in your writing or speech. While they can be an easy way to express yourself, more often than not they’re a crutch, a sign of linguistic laziness. Start digging deeper into your vocabulary and leave these 15 clichés behind.

What Is a Cliché and Why Is It So Bad?

A cliché is a phrase that has been beaten to death (that’s a cliché). Because it’s been so overused, any significant meaning it may have had has been lost. Instead of adding color and interest to your writing, you often wind up sounding corny.

If you’re writing about how scrappy entrepreneurs are achieving success, that message was lost the minute you wrote “survival of the fittest.” Charles Darwin sounded original in his theory of evolution; you just sound clichéd.

How To Avoid Clichés

Words are powerful. But clichés are so overused they have lost authority. Unfortunately, clichés are so ubiquitous that you may not even realize when they sneak into your writing.

The best way to cut clichés out of your vocabulary is to proofread, proofread, and proofread again. Take a break and get away from your work before you take one last pass to remove clichés. Even better, ask someone to edit your work. An editor who isn’t too emotionally close to your prose can eliminate your clichés.

Removing clichés will tighten up your writing and make your work more specific and descriptive. Avoid flowery descriptions and instead strive to make your writing more accessible.

Pull out a thesaurus to find good alternatives. Instead of “in this day and age,” just say “today.” Avoid “pros and cons” and try a descriptor specific to your argument — maybe “assets and liabilities” or “costs and benefits” instead.

The hardest part about cutting clichés is they are so widely known they just fall off the tip of your tongue (cliché). If you spot any of these phrases in your writing, pull out your red pen (another cliché).

Writing on the wall

Whirlwind tour

Patience of Job

Never a dull moment

Sands of time

Paying the piper

March of history

Hook, line, and sinker

Long arm of the law

In the nick of time

Leave no stone unturned

Fall on deaf ears

Cool as a cucumber

Cry over spilled milk

Champing at the bit

Photo credit: Ananth Pai/ Unsplash

The Rule of Adjective Order

The Rule of Adjective Order

The rule of adjective order refers to the order in which adjectives are placed in a sentence. In other words, if you have more than one adjective describing a noun, this rule determines which adjective you should put first, second, third, etc.

As a note, some grammarians include “determiner” at the beginning of this list, but we’re excluding it because determiners are not really adjectives. Determiners are the articles or other limiters that start off the adjective list — things like a, an, the, our, my, etc.

1. Quantity or number — four, five, many, few

Quantity or number is as simple as it sounds. If there’s an amount, it goes first. This is usually the easiest to identify.

2. Opinion — pretty, lovely, gross, boring, amazing, hard

Opinions are also called observations. They are adjectives that someone might consider biased. You may look at a painting and find it beautiful, but someone else might consider it ugly. A task that you find to be easy might be difficult for another.

3. Size — huge, small, mammoth, 5 feet tall, 36 inches wide

Size can be a judgment call, or it can also be a concrete, measurable descriptor. Whether or not it involves a number, size is tertiary in adjective order.

4. Shape — triangular, oblong, circular, straight

A shape adjective describes the physical configuration of something. It may refer to an actual shape or the general description of an object.

5. Age — five-year, 12-minute, young, antique, mature, modern, old

An age adjective tells you how old or young something or someone is. It can be a specific number or a general descriptor.

6. Color — purple, marigold, black, pale, sparkly

This one’s pretty obvious as well. It can be one of your standard ROYGBIV colors, or it can be a description of the quality of the color, such as “bright” or “translucent.”

7. Origin — French, Italian, Martian, suburban

An origin adjective describes the source of something. Where did the noun come from? Generally this shows up as a proper noun, but it could be something like “rural” or “urban.”

8. Material — gold, wooden, polyester, silk, plastic

Material refers to what the noun is physically made of. This can get a bit confusing if you’re using a word like “gold,” which could be a color or a material, or both.

9. Purpose — cooking, cleaning, hammering, sleeping

This is the last adjective in the order and is often considered part of the noun. It usually references what the item is used for and often ends in “-ing.” Think about a “roasting pan” or a “sleeping bag” or a “curling iron.” This final adjective could also be a noun in an adjective form, such as a “coffee mug” or a “flower vase.”

One of the most intriguing aspects of idiomatic phrases is their fixed nature, an aspect acknowledged in two terms for the class of idioms distinguished by the use of the conjunction and or the conjunction or between the constituent words: irreversible binomials and freezes. (They are also referred to as binomials or binomial pairs, or are identified by the colloquial expression “Siamese twins.”)

Ten sometimes overlapping variations of linguistic Siamese twins (which, because they are often clichés, should be used with caution) follow, including a category for triplets:

1. Binomials connected with and include “alive and well,” “nuts and bolts,” and “skin and bone.”

2. Binomials connected with or include “give or take,” “more or less,” and “win or lose.”

3. Binomials connected with other words include “dawn till dusk,” “front to back,” “head over heels.”

4. Binomials that contain opposites or antonyms include “days and nights,” “high or low,” and “up and down.”

5. Binomials that contain related words or synonyms include “house and home,” “leaps and bounds,” and “prim and proper.”

6. Binomials that contain alliteration include “friend or foe,” “rant and rave,” and “tried and true.”

7. Binomials that contain numbers include “four or five” — note that the linguistic convention is to always state the lower number first (a figurative idiom is this category is “at sixes and sevens,” meaning “in a confused state”)

8. Binomials that contain similar-sounding words: “doom and gloom,” “out and about,” and “wear and tear.” This category includes rhyming slang, in which a word or phrase is slang code for a word that rhymes with the second binomial term in the phrase (even though only the first binomial term may constitute the slang) and is either random, as in minces, from “mince pies,” for eyes, or suggestive, as in trouble, from “trouble and strife,” for wife.

9. Binomials that contain exact or near repetition include “dog eat dog,” “kill or be killed,” or “neck and neck.”

10. Trinomials, which contain three terms, include “blood, sweat, and tears,” “left, right, and center,” and “win, lose, and draw.”

Take care, when using these clichés, to reproduce them correctly (unless you are deliberately — and obviously — distorting them for emphatic or humorous effect, as when referring to fashionably ripped jeans as “tear and wear”) so that erroneous usage does not have a negative impact on your overall message.

From: Daily Writing Tips


Parentheses serve several specific functions, but their general purpose is to set a grammatical unit of content off from the surrounding text. The parenthesized material can range from a single letter, numeral, or other symbol to an entire sentence. (Because enclosing more than one complete sentence in parentheses overextends the digression, it is not recommended.) Here is a summary of ways to deploy parentheses.

First, a definition of terms: Parenthesis denotes a single parenthetical mark, but it can also refer to a digression, interlude, or interval enclosed in parentheses or other pairs of punctuation marks, such as commas, dashes, or brackets. The first of two parenthetical marks is an open parenthesis, and the second is a close parenthesis. The pair together are called parentheses.

A parenthesis of an entire sentence can be inserted within another sentence, but omit a period after the parenthesized sentence (However, an exclamation point or question mark is acceptable!) to avoid confusion. (A complete sentence may also follow the terminal punctuation of the preceding sentence; in that case, include a period—or another terminal punctuation mark—immediately before the close parenthesis.) An incomplete sentence within parentheses is not punctuated with a period, but, again, an exclamation point or question mark is allowed.

When providing an explanation or an example, the additional information can be enclosed in parentheses. Note in the following sentence how a parenthesis of a parenthesis should be formatted. (The abbreviations e.g. [“for example”] and i.e. [that is”] generally precede such information in formal and scholarly prose; in more casual contexts, the phrases are employed.) This is general American English style; British English style (and legal style and style for some other contexts) is parentheses within parentheses.

Parentheses enclose the abbreviation of an acronym or initialism after the spelled-out name of an agency, company, or organization to inform the reader about how the entity will be identified on subsequent references: “The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded in 1909.” (Note that the article the is not repeated in the parenthesis, but it should precede the initialism when it appears again.)

Parentheses are used to enclose a note when a reader is directed to a cross-reference or when a writer glosses (presents a brief definition of) a term, provides a citation for a quotation or a fact or figure, points out that he or she has used italics to emphasize part of a quoted passage, or otherwise annotates a quotation.

Note that the location of the parenthesis in the following sentence is awkward: “Consider whether a ‘risk expert’ should serve on the committee (i.e., someone with a background in risk management or oversight relevant to the nature of the organization’s operations).” Parenthesized annotation, just like additional information enclosed in a pair of commas or dashes, should immediately follow the relevant word or phrase, as here: “Consider whether a ‘risk expert’ (i.e., someone with a background in risk management or oversight relevant to the nature of the organization’s operations) should serve on the committee.”

Back-to-back parenthesis is acceptable, but this can be avoided by combining two pieces of information into one parenthesis divided by a semicolon or by reorganizing the framing text to separate the two parenthetical comments.

When the items in a run-in list (a list appearing within a sentence rather than formatted vertically) are numbered, they should be enclosed in a pair of parentheses (not with a close parenthesis only)—as in “The three types of rocks are (1) igneous, (2) metamorphic, and (3) sedimentary”—but numbering is seldom necessary.

Use parentheses in moderation; excessive deployment of the symbols can give text a cluttered appearance (note their ubiquity in this post) and result in an obstacle-ridden narrative flow. Often, a pair of commas will suffice in their place, and dashes are appropriate when abruptly interjecting additional information, especially when the writer wants to give an impression of sudden interruption rather than unassuming interpolation.

From: Daily Writing Tips

A verb can be described as transitive or intransitive based on whether it requires an object to express a complete thought or not. A transitive verb is one that only makes sense if it exerts its action on an object. An intransitive verb will make sense without one. Some verbs may be used both ways.

The word transitive often makes people think of transit, which leads to the mistaken assumption that the terms transitive and intransitive are just fancy ways of describing action and nonaction. But these terms have nothing to do with whether a verb is active or not. A better word to associate when you see transitive is transfer. A transitive verb needs to transfer its action to something or someone—an object. In essence, transitive means “to affect something else.”

Once you have this concept committed to memory, spotting the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs is quite easy.

How to Identify a Transitive Verb

Transitive verbs are not just verbs that can take an object; they demand objects. Without an object to affect, the sentence that a transitive verb inhabits will not seem complete.

Please bring coffee.

In this sentence, the verb bring is transitive; its object is coffee, the thing that is being brought. Without an object of some kind, this verb cannot function.

Please bring.

Bring what, or who? The question begs itself because the meaning of bring demands it.

Here are some more examples of transitive verbs and their objects.

The girls carry water to their village.

Juan threw the ball.

Could you phone the neighbors?

I caught a cold.

She loves rainbows.

Lila conveyed the message.

Each of the verbs in these sentences have objects that complete the verbs’ actions. If the objects were taken out, the results would be illogical and questions would be raised in the mind of the reader; for example, Lila conveyed. Conveyed what?

How to Identify an Intransitive Verb

An intransitive verb is the opposite of a transitive verb: it does not require an object to act upon.

They jumped.

The dog ran.

She sang.

A light was shining.

None of these verbs require an object for the sentence to make sense, and all of them can end a sentence. Some imperative forms of verbs can even make comprehensible one-word sentences.



A number of English verbs can only be intransitive; that is, they will never make sense paired with an object. Two examples of intransitive-only verbs are arrive and die. You can’t arrive something, and you certainly can’t die something; it is impossible for an object to follow these verbs.

Transitive or Intransitive? Some Verbs Can Be Both

Many verbs can be classified as both transitive and intransitive depending on how they are used in a sentence.

Urged by the others, she sang.

She sang the national anthem at the hockey game.

After he cleaned up, he left.

He left the gift on the table.

To decide whether the verb is being used transitively or intransitively, all you need to do is determine whether the verb has an object. Does she sing something? Does he leave something? The verb is only transitive when the answer is yes.

When in doubt, look it up. In the dictionary, verbs will be listed as transitive, intransitive, or both right under the pronunciation key, and any possible differences in meaning between the two uses will be given as well.

Phrasal Verbs and Transitivity

Phrasal verbs can also be classified as transitive or intransitive.

Cindy has decided to give up sweets while she diets.

I hope Cindy doesn’t give up.

Give up is just one of many phrasal verbs that can be transitive or intransitive. Whether give up has an object or not will alter the meaning it conveys. The first sense of give up means “to forgo something,” whereas the second sense means “to stop trying.”

If we refuse to learn about transitivity, the Grammar Police will blow up our building.

When the Grammar Police confronted her about her verbs, she blew up.

The first sense of to blow up means to explode, whereas the second sense means “to express rage.”

Transitive or intransitive is just one of the many classifications a verb can have. Perhaps you will be inspired to read about more about the fascinating qualities of verbs.




Catherine Traffis


Inserting additional information into a sentence without careful consideration of sentence organization can create barriers to comprehension, especially when the parenthesis is complicated. Here are several sentences in which complex parenthetical phrases are not treated with care, followed by discussion and revision.

1. Consumers have the right to speak out or complain, and to seek compensation—payment or a replacement item—or redress—have a wrong corrected.

Here, the use of dashes to set off a pair of parenthetical phrases confuses the reader’s eye; use mirror-image parenthetical marks instead for a clearer picture of the sentence’s syntactical organization: “Consumers have the right to speak out or complain, and to seek compensation (payment or a replacement item) or redress (have a wrong corrected).”

2. They had an unwavering belief that they simply could not—or maybe more accurately stated, would not—be defeated.

Because “maybe more accurately stated” is a parenthesis within a parenthesis, a comma must precede as well as follow it: “They had an unwavering belief that they simply could not—or, maybe more accurately stated, would not—be defeated.”

3. If thorough controls are not in place, over time, as updates and changes are made to your environment, conflicts are likely to arise, posing varying levels of risk to your business and ultimately forcing you to revisit your design.

The number of commas in this sentence is excessive; when the phrase “over time” and the rest of the parenthetical phrase (ending with environment) is transposed, the comma between them becomes extraneous and the sentence structure is clearer: “If thorough controls are not in place, as updates and changes are made to your environment over time, conflicts are likely to arise, posing varying levels of risk to your business and ultimately forcing you to revisit your design.”

From: Daily Writing Tips

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