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Posts tagged ‘grammar’


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

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs—What’s the Difference?

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


Three Cases of Complicated Parenthetical Punctuation

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

Grammatical Case in English

Old English had five cases: nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, and instrumental.

Modern English has three cases:

  1. Nominative (also called subjective)
    2. Accusative (also called objective)
    3. Genitive (also called possessive)

The objective case subsumes the old dative and instrumental cases.

Case refers to the relation that one word has to another in a sentence, i.e., where one word “falls” in relationship to another. The word comes from a Latin word meaning “falling, fall.” In other modern languages, adjectives have case, but in English, case applies only to nouns and pronouns.


Nominative/Subjective Case
When a noun is used as a) the subject of a verb or b) the complement of a being verb, it is said to be in the subjective or nominative case.

The king laughed heartily.
King is a noun in the subjective case because it is the subject of the verb laughed.

The king is the son of Eleanor of Aquitaine.
Son is a noun in the subjective case because it is the complement of the being verb is.


Accusative/Objective Case (This isn’t accusing anyone of anything)
When a noun is used as the object of a verb or the object of a preposition, it is said to be in the objective or accusative case.

The king subdued his enemies.
Enemies is a noun in the objective case because it receives the action of the transitive verb subdued; it is the direct object of subdued.

The friends went to a movie.
Movie is a noun in the objective case because it is the object of the preposition to.

Sallie wrote Charlie a letter.
Charlie is a noun in the objective case because it is the indirect object of the verb wrote.

A transitive verb always has a direct object; sometimes, it will have a second object called the “indirect object.” In the old terminology, the indirect object was said to be in the “dative case.” Nowadays, the indirect object, like the direct object, is said to be in the accusative or objective case

Note: Some English teachers may still distinguish (as I once did) between the accusative and the dative, but the most recent college English textbook I have, (copyright 2000), does not even list the term “dative” in its index. As nouns and pronouns in the dative case are spelled the same as those in the objective case, there’s no practical reason to retain the former designation.


Genitive/Possessive Case

Of the three noun cases, only the possessive case is inflected (changes the way it is spelled).

Nouns in the possessive case are inflected by the addition of an apostrophe–with or without adding an “s.”

The boy’s shoe is untied.
Boy’s is a singular noun in the possessive case.

The boys’ shoes are untied.
Boys’ is a plural noun in the possessive case.

This one inflected noun case is the source of error for a great many native English speakers.

English pronouns are also a frequent source of error because they retain inflected forms to show subjective and objective case:

Pronouns in the subjective case: I, he, she, we, they, who
Pronouns in the objective case: me, him, her, us, them, whom

The pronouns you and it have the same form in both subjective and objective case.

Note: Strictly speaking, both my and mine and the other possessive forms are genitive pronoun forms, but students who have been taught that pronouns stand for nouns are spared unnecessary confusion when the teacher reserves the term “possessive pronoun” for words that actually do stand for nouns, like mine and theirs. Like adjectives, my, its, our, etc. stand in front of nouns, so it makes sense to call them “possessive adjectives.”

The objective form whom is almost gone from modern speech; the subjective form who has taken over in the objective case for many speakers.


From: Daily Writing Tips

Abstruse vs. Obtuse

Some writers seem to be confusing obtuse with the word abstruse, as in these incorrect examples on the web:

Believe it or not, the American public wasn’t always in love with Alfred Hitchcock. Because his movies were often too intelligent or obtuse, he had more fans in the film elite than he did in the general public.

Grizz tends to make Shakespeare-esque, outsider-looking-in type observations about the situations at hand, while Dot Com spouts highly intelligent, yet obtuse references that send you (or maybe just me) to Google.

Having finally struggled through Ulysses, and yes it was a struggle, I had no patience at all for FINNEGANS WAKE, which is even more obtuse. Has anyone actually read it? All of it?

I chide Brad DeLong all the time for making excuses for Greenspan’s thick, obtuse, obscurant speech.

In each of these examples, the context calls for a word that means “difficult to understand.” That word is abstruse:

The mistake of using abstruse where obtuse is intended seems to be less common, but it happens:

It is really abstruse to find Avatar not grabbing anything from the Oscars. It was altogether a new theme with a lot of innovations

This movie fan seems to be reaching for obtuse, a word that means “lacking in perception, stupid.”

Bottom line: Barely comprehensible language is abstruse. Stupid people are obtuse.

Note: Obtuse derives from Latin obtusus, “blunted, dull.” An obtuse angle is “blunt,” as opposed to being “sharp.”

From: Daily Writing Tips

Mood vs. Tense

By: Maeve Maddox

From: Daily Writing Tips

Many people are not quite clear as to the difference between the grammatical terms mood and tense. For example, I’ve seen such expressions as “subjunctive tense” and “progressive mood.”

Because both tense and mood have to do with verbs, the confused terminology is understandable. Tense, however, refers to time, whereas mood refers to manner of expression.

The three possible divisions of time are past, present, and future. For each, there is a corresponding verb tense:

Present: He walks now.
Past: Yesterday he walked.
Future: Tomorrow he will walk.

Each of these tenses has a corresponding complete tense: perfect, past perfect (pluperfect), and future perfect:

Perfect: He has walked every morning since Monday.
Past Perfect: He had walked a mile by the time we joined him.
Future Perfect: By tomorrow, he will have walked twenty miles.

Each of these tenses has a continuous or progressive form:

Present Continuous: I am still walking.
Past Continuous: I was still walking when you phoned.
Future Continuous: I shall/will be walking when you reach town.
Perfect Continuous: I have been walking since early morning.
Past Perfect Continuous: I had been walking for an hour when you phoned.
Future Perfect Continuous: When you see me, I shall have been walking for six hours.

Mood is the form of the verb that shows the mode or manner in which a thought is expressed. Mood distinguishes between an assertion, a wish, or a command. The corresponding moods are: Indicative (assertion), Subjunctive (wish), and Imperative (command).

Note: Unlike some languages, English does not have an “Interrogative Mood”; questions are formed by changing word order and not by altering the verb.

The word indicative derives from Latin indicare, “to declare or state.” Indicative Mood expresses an assertion, denial, or question about something:

Assertion: I liked him very much before he did that.
Denial: He is not going to remain on my list of friends.
Question: Will you continue to see him?

The word imperative derives from Latin imperare, “to command.” Imperative Mood expresses command, prohibition, entreaty, or advice:

Command: Go thou and do likewise.
Prohibition: Stay out of Mr. MacGregor’s garden!
Entreaty: Remember us in your prayers.
Advice: Beware of the dog.

The “true subjunctive” equivalent to the Latin Optative Mood (opare, “to wish”) is rare in modern English. Examples of the “true” subjunctive: “If I were king,” “God save the Queen!”

In most contexts dealing with unreal situations, speakers used a mixed subjunctive. The use of the auxiliaries may, might, should, and would creates a mixed subjunctive in which one verb is in subjunctive and another in indicative mood:

If I should see him, I will tell him.
He came that they might have life.

According to the Penguin Dictionary of English Grammar, the distinctive subjunctive forms are now confined to the verb be and to the third-singular forms of other verbs; they are still common in American English, while in British English they are confined to very formal styles.

In American English, the subjunctive often occurs with the following verbs:

suggest: I suggest that she refuse his offer.
demand: They are demanding that he go to London for an interview.
propose: The father proposed that his son be locked up to teach him a lesson.
insist: We all insisted that he accept treatment.

British usage tends to use should in such constructions: I suggest that she should refuse his offer.


Conjunctive Adverbs

Conjunctions are words that link words, phrases, and clauses and provide a smooth transition between ideas.

Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. Some adverbs can also join or show connections between ideas. When they do this, they are called conjunctive adverbs.

Conjunctive adverbs show comparison, contrast, sequence, cause-effect, or other relationships between ideas.

The most common conjunctive adverbs are:


Conjunctive adverbs function in three ways.

1. They indicate a connection between two independent clauses in one sentence:

The primary meaning of the term ḥeḥ was “million” or “millions”; subsequently, a personification of Ḥeḥ was adopted as the Egyptian god of infinity.

In this explanation of why a particular word was personified the way it was, subsequently joins the ideas and conveys sequence at the same time. The word heh means millions; it follows that the personification derived from heh would be a god of infinity.

2. They link ideas in two or more sentences.

Democracy has empowered thousands upon thousands of the “selfish, ignorant, timid, stubborn, or foolish,” who come from a mix of different nationalities. All hope is not lost, however, since there are “hundreds who are wise.”


In this quotation from a speech by Woodrow Wilson, the however connects and contrasts “thousands of foolish citizens” in the first sentence with “hundreds who are wise” in the second sentence.

3. They show relationships between ideas within an independent clause.

We are determined to do whatever must be done in the interest of this country and, indeed, in the interest of all to protect the dollar as a convertible currency at its current fixed rate.

In this quotation from a speech by John F. Kennedy, indeed connects ideas within the sentence: the idea of doing something on a national level and on an international level as well.

Punctuation note: A conjunctive adverb within a sentence is set off by commas. A conjunctive adverb that begins or ends a sentence is set off by one comma:

Therefore, let us reconsider this legislation that marginalizes a large proportion of employees.

You were late for the fifth time today; you are dismissed, therefore.

From: Daily Writing Tips

Prepositional idioms

Prepositional idioms are tricky in any language. Here are some tips for using in and on with expressions of time.

For months, years and long periods like centuries, use in.
For days and dates, use on.
For precise times use at.
Meet me at 8 p.m.
The children played at recess.

Some common expressions vary the pattern:
in the morning, but on Monday morning
in the mornings, but on Wednesday mornings
in the afternoon but on Sunday afternoon

NOTE: Although we say in the morning, in the afternoon and in the evening, we say at night. Ex. Milk is delivered in the morning. The stars come out at night. BUT We heard a noise in the night.

Some time expressions do not require a preposition:
I went to Sicily last May.
He’s giving a speech next Friday.
My children visit every Thanksgiving.
What are you doing this afternoon?

Talking about the weekend admits of variation:
Do you work weekends?
Do you work on the weekend?
(American usage)
Do you work at the weekend? (British usage)

BBC Learning English on, in and at with time expressions.

From: Daily Writing Tips

Six Steps to Seeing Your Book Published

The writing process for a book can take several years. During that time, you will write and rewrite many times. It helps to join a writing group, which can help you stay motivated and focused, encourage you and critique your work. If you can’t take criticism, you are at a distinct disadvantage from the beginning. Practice taking criticism from your critique group. DO NOT take criticism personally; they are trying to help you to get published.

Step One

Create a team of those you trust who can help shepherd you through the writing  process, whether you intend to self-publish or you dream big of getting your book picked up by one of the omnipresent Big Six publishing houses.

Step Two

Get a driving force who can throw out realistic and pertinent deadlines. Someone who is an interested third party who keeps you in line for you to attain actual progress. This is crucial so you actually can see the idea into fruition.

Step Three

Write, write, write, take a break, go for a walk or swim, or have coffee with a friend then write some more.

Step Four

Take breaks from time to time. It helps prevent writer’s block. Hint: always take a break just when you’ve decided on a distinct direction for your story. Be sure there’s enough of it down so you won’t lose track and can pick it up readily when you return. Leaving the story at the end of a chapter can cause your mind to go blank. Begin the next chapter don’t leave a blank page for your return.

Step Five

Breathe. Take time to walk away from your masterpiece and breath. Get a fresh perspective from a trusted adviser. Take time to vent about your long writing journey. And take time to walk away for entire days, maybe a week or two. Time when you have left your thoughts on writing to the birds. Free your mind, meditate on life and it’s beauty, but what ever you do, remember that stepping away and thinking of other things can help you re-evaluate what you are putting on each digital or physical page.

Step Six

This one is just a thought: Think about writing a chapter or two at a time, maybe not in the order they’ll appear in the final product. This is a distinct advantage of the word processor over the typewriter.


Revision Tips for Writers


We can all agree writing is a joy. It’s fun and many of us make our living doing it. But, there are parts of the publishing aspect that can be frustrating and difficult. Most of us find revision to be the most difficult hurdle. “I like it the way it is. Everything there is important and I don’t see anything that needs changing.” How many of us have approached the revision process with that mindset? I think we all have, at times. In other words, you are not alone.

Although I am an editor as well as a writer, I don’t find revising my work to be easy. However, I’ve collected tidbits of advice from several writers and editors. I’ve found them helpful, so I’m sharing them here:

  1. Revise big stuff first, make small edits later. This doesn’t mean you should not correct obvious typos and grammar errors as you notice them. However, you shouldn’t be actively tinkering with word choice until after you’ve nailed down the structure of your piece.
  2. Put the manuscript down and walk away. Writers need at least a little distance from their manuscripts before jumping into revision.
  3. Scan the whole manuscript without reading. Scanning can make big problems more obvious than a writer might not notice when reading closely.
  4. Read carefully. Take your time and read every word. Then, read it out loud. This will help you catch obvious errors and check for smoothness or the “flow.”
  5.  Look for ways to be more concise with your language. Can you turn a 15-word sentence into an 8-word sentence? Can you turn an 8-sentence paragraph into a 5-sentence paragraph? Less almost always means more for the reader.
  6. Use active voice over passive voice. There may be occasions for using passive voice, but for the most part be active.
  7. Vary sentence structure. Don’t fall into the trap of always writing: Noun + Verb + Noun = Sentence. Even if it’s grammatically correct, using the same pattern over and over again will make your manuscript boring. Don’t feel like you have to be creative with every sentence; just check that you’re not falling into a monotonous pattern.
  8. Save each round of revisions as its own file. Start with the first draft. Then, the second draft. Then, the third draft and so on. Saving these files provides a record of your changes and shows your development of the story.
  9. Have someone read the manuscript. The more eyes the better, because they’ll be more objective when reading, and they’re less likely to make “leaps of logic” than you, the writer, might. It is always best to ask someone other than a relative, who naturally will be biased.
  10. Print the manuscript for a final edit. There are things you’ll catch on paper that you won’t on the screen.

Take your time with revision. Set it aside for a few days, a week if you have the time. Then return to the work with a fresh attitude. Save your revised version in a separate file. Be sure you have addressed all of the editor’s comments. Do not ignore them. If there are some changes that you don’t agree with, write the editor a note explaining why the revision called for will change the meaning of your work. It’s best not to take exception to more than one or two editorial changes. If you and the editor are far apart on the way the piece is written, you may wish to withdraw the work and resubmit to another publisher. That, of course, is beyond the topic at hand.

Revision is necessary to polish the work for the reader, and the reader should be foremost in your mind. If you use these revision tips, you’ll be ahead with your revision process and find the editor is not the ogre you imagined.


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