This is a round-up of my posts in the 2013 A to Z Challenge (in progress). At this date, April 14, we are almost halfway to the finish line. At the end, all 26 posts will be listed here.
Updated May 1, 2013 at completion of A to Z Challenge.
What with all the rules about grammar, usage, and style, it’s a wonder anyone can get anything down on paper. Fortunately, native-born English speakers have internalized the rules and can speak and write from intuitive knowledge of how words work together in sentences. Any time we have a question about correctness, we can just pull our our handy reference manuals or go online to find the information we need. Or better yet, we can just let our editors fix the glitches in our writing.
What? You don’t have an editor?
Well, I don’t either, but my grammar-picky husband steps in and whacks at my writing. Sometimes he’s even right.
Grammar Reference Books and Textbooks
Good writers do use grammar reference books, and proofreaders and editors keep a large stock of them on hand. My own rather extensive collection starts with one first published in 1926. Here’s its classic opening sentence:
The Doorway to English is an outgrowth of a need of the classroom teacher of English who has been struggling long to achieve results in quality of speech from textbooks instead of making technique contribute to the quality of better speech. Almost any teacher of English can readily distribute the technique in orderly fashion through the respective grades, but few teachers are capable of allotting through a definite period of instruction the expanding qualities of good speech. L. Rader and P. Deffendall, The Doorway to English, Fifth Book, 1926.
What? Strunk and White, authors of The Elements of Style, would definitely not give this textbook writer an A for clarity.
Of course, some reference manuals vary in their pronouncements and create long-standing, hard-core devotees and crusaders, maybe even Grammar Police and Grammar Nazis.
One good example is the controversy over the serial comma, or the Oxford comma as the Brits call it. Do you use a comma after the second word in a series before the and? Journalists frown on the use of the serial comma; academic writers adore it. Chicago Manual of Styles says yes, use it. APA says no, don’t use it. What’s a writer to do? Most writers follow what they were taught in junior high and high school, then look for evidence and authorities to support that position.
Usage and Style
Grammar and usage are different. Grammar: how words should be used in sentences. Usage: how words are used in sentences.
It’s Prescriptivist Grammar (this is the way it should be) versus Descriptivist Grammar (this is the way it is.)
Style is how an individual author puts together his or her knowledge of grammar and usage in writing.
A college professor, for example, would use a more formal, politically correct style in presenting his final report to the college president on, “The Liberalization of the Humanities Department through the Utilization of Descriptivism in Chauvinistic Literature.”
The teenager writing on Internet uses a more informal style: mysterious acronyms that confound mature readers; pop idioms and slang; and improper spelling of there, they’re, and their, and your and you’re.
Here’s an example of a style suggestion from Strunk and White.
Avoid fancy words.
Although Strunk and White’s book does have it gallery of critics, it does offer helpful advice to developing writers. Their advice ranges from elementary rules of usage to the more hard-to-pinpoint style.
Why use a complex word when a simpler word will do? That college professor would do well to tone down his writing. The teenager will hopefully use a bit more formality in his academic writing.
Hey, humans, why worry about all of this. We cats have our own grammar. The fuss that you make about these sticky details puts me to sleep. Get a life! Meow for now. =<^;^>=
Where do cats sleep? Like 800-pound gorillas, cats sleep anywhere they want.
Cats pride themselves on NOT being ordinary. They are creative, inventive, independent, unique creatures. They have live-and-let-live attitudes (unless you forget to feed them or interrupt their naps), and they have the most flexible bones in the world. Cats have their own point of view on just about everything.
Today we will focus on some easy grammar:
A kernel sentence is one type of base sentence structure on which longer sentences can be built. It has a pattern that looks like this:
For now, fill in the slots with one noun and one verb and you will have a kernel sentence. These two words can easily be expanded into longer sentences at another time.
One way to do have fun doing this is to write S-V list poems.
Begin with a title, then add specific, present-tense, active verbs to expand the topic. Repeat the title at the end, perhaps adding a twist.
Be creative and have fun with this. Brainstorm topics with students, then let them have a go at it. You will be surprised at the results.
So what. Who cares?
When students get a very firm handle on nouns and verbs, grammatical problems eventually disappear.
Teachers can teach the following concepts in very simple form using kernel sentences. It is much easier to see the patterns in two-word sentences. When students master the concept in the simplest form, they can then move on to expanding sentences.
A firm handle on nouns and verbs will later help students reduce long sentences down to kernel sentences. If students can do this, they will be able to straighten out some of the most common errors.
Of course, any programs designed to improve students’ speaking and writing must have lots of opportunity for conversation and creative and academic writing. Writing subject/verb poems is only one aspect of a much larger focus on language, but it can help those students who are unsure of basic sentence structure concepts. Spend a few minutes each class on grammatical structures and your students will learn patterns that will help them improve in both speaking (ESOL) and writing.
The Last Meow
I have only one word for you all:
H is for Hyphens
Hyphens have been called lots of names: left-over punctuation marks, “the smallest of the little horizontal line thingies” (The Grammar Cat), and ”short and sweet” as compared to the dash which is long and lean (Laurie Rozakis, Complete Idiot’s Guide to Grammar and Style). Laurie Rozakis says that the dash and the hyphen are like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito: Confused so often they are taken for each other.
Sometimes called stacked modifiers, or make-it-up-as-you-go adjectives, these adjectives can be humorous if used sparingly, or annoying if overused. This is a “what-you-may-have-been-wondering-about topic” (Grammar Girl), or maybe not.
They look something like this:
Personally, I’m a love-those-hyphenated-compound-adjectives-kind-of-person! Evidently a few other writers like these phrasal adjectives, too. Here are a few samples.
Of course, these stacked adjectives can get silly if they are overused, but somehow, just once-in-awhile, a stacked adjective does the job. This one, for example: “my good-for-nothing, pot-smoking, boyfriend-of-the-moment…” (Heather Marie Adkins). Now that one just gets right to the point.
The Last Meow
Now to the really important stuff. Here’s how to make cat faces on your very own keyboard. How’s that for a neat cat trick?
=<^ . ^>= Meow for now.
What’s your favorite hyphenated stacked modifier?
Like any school librarian, I’m always looking for books that will connect with my students. There’s nothing like reading a new book and thinking, “Yes! I know just the child who will love this book...”
But at the elementary school where I teach outside of Washington, DC, matching books with kids isn’t always easy. Eighty-eight percent of my students speak a language other than English, most read below grade level as they acquire English as a second or third language, and the vast majority are immigrants or children of immigrants.
**The Blissful Adventurer is running about Italy at the moment so in his stead we happily endorse and support the work of the following blogger, Conor Bofin of One Man's Meat. Please check out this post, leave comments for exchange with the author, and give their blog a read.**
I am posting here with Michael because it is an excellent thing to do.