Time for New Year Grammar Pop Quiz

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017

The Grammar PatrolWe (Edith Hope Fine and Judith Josephson) are the Grammar Patrol. Both of us taught for years and are now writers, with thirty plus books between us, including our two popular grammar guides, Nitty-Gritty Grammar and More Nitty-Gritty Grammar. For close to twenty years, we taught writing and grammar basics and now we blog about grammar for writers.

 

Fireworks crackle. Champagne corks pop.Fireworks

With the New Year comes a cracklin’ good POP Quiz.

You know the drill:

  • Multiple choice and one essay question.
  • Answers at the end.
  • No peeking.

 

1. What’s new, if you don’t mind (me/my) asking.

2. He used the same chess strategy with my sister and (I/me).

3. Dogs love chewing bones. (Its/ It’s) their hobby.

4. If you think (us/our) being civil is vital, you’re right.

5. (Active or passive?) The game was won by Cleveland.

6. Let Norma and (I/me) try first.

7. If you don’t mind (them/their) joining us, I’ll invite them.

8. Thanks for (you’re/your) help. (You’re/Your) the best.

9. He took John and (I, me) to Disneyland.

10. Occupational therapist: “(Lay/Lie) on your side.”

 

Essay Question: Why does grammar matter even in everyday speech?

If you need a refresher, the column the tips appeared in is listed. Just go to the eFrog Press blog post, “Why does Grammar Matter to Authors?” to read more.

 

Answers:

1. What’s new, if you don’t mind my asking.

(December 2016: “Hold That Line! Make a Touchdown with Gerunds”)

Use possessive pronouns before gerunds—ing verbs.

 

2. He used the same chess strategy with my sister and me.

(October 21, 2014: (“How to Avoid Pronoun Errors: The Grammar Patrol Shares Favorite Bloopers”)

Lots of pronoun clues.

 

3. Dogs love chewing bones. It’s their hobby.

(September 2015: “Briefly Speaking: The Long and Short of Contractions” Contractions) “It’s” is short for “It is.” The possessive “its” never splits.

 

4. If you think our being civil is vital, you’re right.

(December 2016: “Hold That Line! Make a Touchdown with Gerunds”)

Use possessive pronouns before gerunds—ing verbs.

 

5. (The sentence is passive.) The game was won by Cleveland.

Contrast this with the active “Cleveland won the game.”

(November, 2015: “Add Power to Your Writing: Understand passive and active verbs”) Passive voice: The person or subject is acted upon.

Active voice: The subject does the action.

 

6. Let Norma and me try first.

(October 21, 2014: “How to Avoid Pronoun Errors: The Grammar Patrol Shares Favorite Bloopers”) Those tricky pronouns.

 

7. If you don’t mind their joining us, I’ll invite them.

(December 2016: “Hold That Line! Make a Touchdown with Gerunds”)

Use possessive pronouns before gerunds—ing verbs.

 

8. Thanks for your help. You’re the best.

“You’re is the contraction for “You are.”

“Your” is a possessive pronoun, as in “your New Year’s resolutions.”

 

9. He took John and me to Disneyland.

(September 2015: (October 21, 2014: “How to Avoid Pronoun Errors: The Grammar Patrol Shares Favorite Bloopers”) Pronouns.

 

10. Occupational therapist: “Lie on your side.”

Hens lay. People lie (recline).

 

As for the essay question, let us count the ways . . . as you have in your excellent essay!

Here’s what Marilyn Vos Savant, Parade Magazine’s resident brilliant nerd columnist, had to say on October 2, 2016: “You need to learn every rule of grammar because this lays the foundation for high-quality adult communication . . . the ability to express yourself clearly and well.”

Need more specifics on punctuation or other grammar conundrums? Check out our two zany grammar guides—Nitty-Gritty Grammar: A Not-so-Serious Guide to Clear Communication and More Nitty-Gritty Grammar—loaded with cartoons, tips, and blooper pitfalls. Order ahead for birthdays, holiday gifts, work promotions, graduation, and quick reference for school, home school, and office. Tell your grammar-challenged pals!

Send your grammar queries/peeves/observations to www.grammarpatrol.com or pop us a comment below.

 

Hold That Line! Make a Touchdown with Gerunds!

Tuesday, December 13th, 2016

The Grammar PatrolWe (Edith Hope Fine and Judith Josephson) are the Grammar Patrol. Both of us taught for years and are now writers, with thirty plus books between us, including our two popular grammar guides, Nitty-Gritty Grammar and More Nitty-Gritty Grammar. For close to twenty years, we taught writing and grammar basics and now we blog about grammar for writers.

Understand Gerunds and Possessive Pronouns

Pompoms

The Grammar Patrol tends to “Keep Calm and Carry On” in the face of grammar blips. But there’s one common error, primarily spoken, that does make our antennae shiver. It involves gerunds and possessive pronouns.

What’s a gerund? When an ing form of a verb has the job of a noun, it’s called a gerund.

          Sierra, a novice skier, focused on snowplowing.

A noun names a person, place, or thing. What “thing” did Sierra focus on? Snowplowing.

 

The Grammar Patrol’s Trick

Here’s the trick, your December grammar gift from us to you: Use a possessive pronoun before a gerund.

In preparation for this column, we’ve been collecting evidence as to how rampant this error is. (We readily admit—we’re losing ground on this one.)

Take a long look at these examples from our sampling, for instance. Do they ring oddly to your ear?

I appreciate you bringing this up.

Thanks for making the time for me saying a few words.

We’re fine with you going over the case.

Did you hear about them moving?

I appreciate you calling me back.

We’re fine with you going over the case

It’s only because of him leaving that he gets the bowling prize.

We appreciate you being on the show.

It’s nothing to do with you not having time to see me.

Each of these sentences uses an objective pronoun with the gerund: me, you, her, him, us, and them. (Refresher: Objective pronouns are the objects of verbs or prepositions.) For these sample gerund sentences, all you need to do is replace those objective pronouns with possessive ones: my, your, hers, his, our, their. (Heads up, screenwriters, actors, reporters, and pundits—are you with us here?)

 

Corrected Sentences

Here are the sentences with their tiny corrections—just changing one word. First, eyeball these new versions. Then read them aloud to anchor the idea of ing verb forms being preceded by a possessive pronoun.

I appreciate your bringing this up.

Thanks for making the time for my saying a few words.

We’re fine with your going over the case.

Did you hear about their moving?

I appreciate your calling me back.

We’re fine with your going over the case

It’s only because of his leaving that he gets the bowling prize.

We appreciate your being on the show.

It’s nothing to do with your not having time to see me.

We urge you to shake your cheerleading pom-poms and chant along with us, “Ya gotta hold that line! Ya gotta hold that line! Gerunds plus possessives! They’re just fine.”

 

Great Gifts for Writers

Need a grammar refresher that won’t boggle your brain? Our lighthearted Nitty-Gritty Grammar guides, Nitty-Gritty Grammar and More Nitty-Gritty Grammar, feature right/wrong/why examples, ticker tapes with common errors, and lots of grammar-related cartoons that we used when teaching one-day grammar refreshers through San Diego State Extension. We’re delighted that these humorous grammar books have stayed in print for more than fifteen years and, between the two, have now sold close to 150,000 copies.

Keep those grammar pet peeves, funny signs, and questions coming. See you in the new year for another pop quiz.

© Anton Starikov | Dreamstime.com – Pom poms

Punctuation: Music to Our Ears

Tuesday, August 30th, 2016

The Grammar PatrolWe (Edith Hope Fine and Judith Josephson) are the Grammar Patrol. Both of us taught for years and are now writers, with thirty plus books between us, including our two popular grammar guides, Nitty-Gritty Grammar and More Nitty-Gritty Grammar. For close to twenty years, we taught writing and grammar basics and now we blog about grammar for writers.

 

 

What do music and grammar have in common? More than you think. Both genres contain codes and signs for the musician or reader to follow.

Musical Notes

In a musical work, a double line with two dots before or after it means “repeat.” A curved line over a dot signals, “hold this note longer.” A rest sign means pause and for a singer, that’s a good time to take a breath. Without observing a repeat sign, half the orchestra might repeat a passage, and the other half might simply plow forward. Cacophony! If a singer misses a rest, her entrance will be early, plus she might collapse from lack of breath.

Likewise in writing, punctuation marks guide the reader, despite recent rumors of punctuation’s demise. (Thank the shorthand of emails, texting, and tweeting!) The Grammar Patrol thinks punctuation marks add clarity. For us, in writing and reading, punctuation is a code to help readers ride smoothly through the written word.

Let’s review common marks and some of their vagaries.

One way to do this is to think of punctuation marks as traffic signals:

.   Period = Stop Sign

“Come to a full stop. No sliding through.”

(One space after a period)

 

,  Comma = Flashing Yellow Light

Slow down. Look left and right. Then continue.

• Tip: Confuse a comma with a period and presto! Run-on sentence!

• Tip: In the U.S., periods and commas always go inside quotation marks.

(Not so in England.)

 

 ;  Semi-Colon=Flashing Red Light

Stop briefly; forge ahead.

(Often used when two sentences relate to each other, or for a list of items with interior commas)

 

:  Colon = Arrow or Road Sign

“Listen up! What follows explains, adds information, or a list.”

• Tip: Colons and semi-colons always go outside quotation marks

 

• Tip: Exclamation marks ( ! ), question marks ( ? ) , and dashes ( — )can be inside or outside depending on the meaning of the sentence.

(More on this later. Read on.)

 

Pop Quiz!

(Answers below. No peeking.)

Can you spot the punctuation bloopers in these sentences?

 

1. The feisty jockey’s nickname is “Spitfire”.

 

2. Florists like romance, it’s their business.

 

3. The whirlwind tour includes London, England, Mont Saint Michel and Paris, France, and Frankfurt, Germany.

 

4. Political campaigns always include the same elements, flag waving, baby smooching, and lofty speeches.

 

5. Amy’s airy office, “the treehouse”, was her refuge.

 

Recent bloopers spotted by the Grammar Patrol:

“Food and wine lends itself to adjectives, to metaphors.”

“You may not realize that myself and my sisters . . . ”

 

So remember, whether you’re singing, playing an instrument, writing, or reading, look for those all-important codes, musical or grammatical.  Those are the traffic signals to guide you on your adventure. For more on all things grammatical, consult our two lighthearted grammar guides, Nitty-Gritty Grammar and More Nitty-Gritty Grammar.

 

Attention, Grammar Bargain Hunters!

Need more specifics on punctuation or other grammar conundrums? We’re excited that Ten Speed/Random House is holding a big promotion on our Nitty-Gritty Grammar through BookBub and other retailers (At Kindle:  http://amzn.to/2bTAvhU). You can get this zany grammar guide—loaded with cartoons, tips, and blooper pitfalls—for just $1.99 from August 28–September 11. What a bargain. Order ahead for birthdays, holiday gifts, work promotions, graduation, and quick reference for school, home school, and office. Tell your grammar-challenged pals!

Remember to send us bloopers you hear or see. We love hearing from you.

 

(Answers to Pop Quiz: 1. “Spitfire.” 2. romance; it’s 3. England; France; 4. Same elements: 5. “the treehouse,”)

Why does grammar matter to authors?

Wednesday, January 13th, 2016

The Grammar Patrol writes monthly blog posts here about grammatical issues for writers. To kick off 2016, eFrog Press interviews them about their obsession!

 

You both seem to love grammar. When did you each first realize it was both intriguing and important?

J: I had wonderful teachers, Mrs. McManus in 8th grade and Mr. Utech in 11th grade, who really focused on the structure of language, a.k.a. grammar. I think that’s when I became a grammar geek. When we diagrammed, I loved taking sentences apart.

E: I, too, remember specific teachers. Miss Hoezel caught on in my 8th grade Honors English that I was guessing on possessive apostrophes and taught me the arrow method that Judith and I have taught to hundreds of students. And Miss Clark, 9th, had us diagram sentences all year. It may be a lost art now, and I might not be able to diagram more than a simple sentence—but that structure is parked in my brain.

 

Word processors have very good spell checkers and grammar checkers, so why should writers worry about grammar?

J: Since writing involves tons of revision, one has to understand the structure of language in order to come up with better ways to say things.  It’s crucial. Alert: Those electronic grammar and spelling checkers don’t spot everything. For example, they won’t distinguish between correct use of homophones (one/won, sleight/slight, role/roll, pore/pour).)

E: Computer checkers may catch simple errors, but we want to know the why, not just the what. And writers use complex writing to get across plots, emotions, and character traits. Humans have the brains to comprehend complexity. Computers don’t. Sussing out meaning from gorgeous long paragraphs may prove beyond their ken. And we sometimes disagree with the grammar checker’s recommendations. Many make the three periods in ellipses single-spaced (…—called a glyph), but they’re supposed to have a space on each side ( . . . ), as the Chicago Manual of Style recommends.

 

Once an agent sells a manuscript, an editor from the publishing house will clean up the grammar. Why do very creative writers need to pay attention to something as mundane as grammar rules?

J: Sadly, grammatical skills of publishing house editors vary widely. A writer’s best writing tool is his/her own knowledge and care.

E: When an editor receives a manuscript riddled with spelling and grammar bloopers, it automatically gets rejected, particularly in today’s competitive publishing scene. Even if the writing is strong and the ideas unique, it’s a no-go. As Lily Tomlin would say, “And that’s the truth.”

(more…)

Pop Grammar Quiz for Writers

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

The Grammar PatrolWe (Edith Hope Fine and Judith Josephson) are the Grammar Patrol. Both of us taught for years and are now writers, with thirty plus books between us, including our two popular grammar guides, Nitty-Gritty Grammar and More Nitty-Gritty Grammar. For close to twenty years, we taught writing and grammar basics and now we blog about grammar for writers.

 

Take Your Seats, Class! 2015 Pop Quiz!

Students at computer desks

The year’s almost over . . . time to show your grammar gusto.

Take this pop quiz, a quick review of our 2015 topics and examples from the “ticker tapes” found at the bottom of each page in our Nitty-Gritty Grammar guides. With you’re/your A+ score, you can become the Grammar Patrol quizmaster with friends, family, colleagues, or students.

 

1. This is _________: “Ew! This cooking oil is as smelly as old socks.”

A. a metaphor

B. a simile

 

2. _________ disturbing to find this error in our favorite newspaper.

A. Its

B. It’s

 

3. Hugh wished his telephone had _________

A. rung

B. rang

 

4.  Cory and _________ use gargoyles for garden gnomes.

A.  I

B.  me

 

5.  Please turn in the reports to Stan or_________

A.  myself

B.  me

 

6. Our dog wagged _________ tail when served Greenies tooth chews.

A. Its

B. It’s

 

7.  Are stocks more _________ than Blackjack?

A.  risky

B.  riskier

 

8.  Thor _________ care less about Drusilda’s hairdo.

A.  couldn’t

B.  could

 

9. _________ Pekingese terrifies my Rottweiler.

A.  Your

B.  You’re

 

10. The verdict was announced by the jury.

A. The verb is active.

B. The verb is passive.

 

How to Sign Your Holiday Cards

Before you discover how you did, may we remind you about signing your holiday cards?

Not . . .

Best from the Fine’s and Josephson’s

or

Best from the Fines’ and Josephsons’

 

Use this:

Best from the Fines and Josephsons

 

 Answers

Okay—the answers. Check your own grammar gusto score!

1.  B

2.  B

3.  A

4.  A

5.  B

6.  A

7.  A

8.  A

9.  A

10.  B

 

Fun Grammar Books—Really!

Need a perfect gift for an author friend? Check our zany Nitty-Gritty Grammar and More Nitty-Gritty Grammar guides (Random House), loaded with cartoons, tips, and blooper pitfalls. And send us bloopers you hear or see. As always, we love hearing from you. Happy Holidays from the Grammar Patrol!

Add Power to Your Writing: Understand passive and active verbs

Tuesday, November 10th, 2015

The Grammar PatrolWe (Edith Hope Fine and Judith Josephson) are the Grammar Patrol. Both of us taught for years and are now writers, with thirty plus books between us, including our two popular grammar guides, Nitty-Gritty Grammar and More Nitty-Gritty Grammar. For close to twenty years, we taught writing and grammar basics and now we blog about grammar for writers.

Active or Passive Verbs? (Go-getters or Couch Potatoes?)

Active Woman Walking Vigorously

On an “active” day, you might walk five miles and complete your “To Do” list by noon. On a more “passive” day, you might meditate in the morning, spend the afternoon reading, and settle in for a good movie in the evening. Both kinds of days can be worthy and satisfying.

Lazy Guy Couch Potato

But in writing, and with verbs in particular, the “active” voice usually packs a bigger punch than the “passive” voice. These terms may seem confusing. We met some folks in our grammar refresher classes who equated “passive” with “past tense.” That’s not the case.

 

Active Voice/Passive Voice

So what’s the deal with active and passive verbs?

In the active voice, the person or thing doing the action is in charge. The reader is instantly drawn to the subject of the sentence.

Active:

The jury announced its verdict.

The jury is front and center.

 

In the passive voice, the subject receives the action or is acted upon.

Passive:

The verdict was announced by the jury.

Note how the verdict has taken the spotlight.

 

Newspaper headlines use the active voice, not only for its immediacy, but because it’s a shorter form.

Active:

American Pharaoh wins 2015 Triple Crown

Passive:

The 2015 Triple Crown was won by American Pharaoh

Pretty clunky, huh? A headline like this one is unlikely.

 

Passive Tips: To Be Verbs, Key Prepositions

Be on the lookout for the helping verbs was, were, and will be in the passive voice. They can often signal the  passive voice when paired with prepositions that follow the verb, like by, for, and to.

Check out these examples of the passive that combine helping verbs with prepositions:

The walleye was caught by Herb.

     was cleaned by     will be faxed to     were polished for     were created to

 

Which Voice to Use?

In most kinds of writing, the active voice adds punch and power to sentences. It’s more clear, direct, and takes fewer words than the passive voice.

When you work your “active voice” magic on the sentence above, you get this:

Herb caught the walleye.

Occasional use of the passive is fine.

A league playoff game is scheduled for Sunday.

In scientific or formal writing, using the passive voice is more common:

“Half the test subjects were given the medication and half a placebo.”

(May robust health help the placebo subjects!)

Sometimes, you’ll use the passive voice to put the emphasis on the most important idea in the sentence. During a root canal procedure, the comfort of the patient may be the most important idea:

The patient was given laughing gas by Dr. Paine.

If you were to run Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” through your grammar checker, it would flag many uses of the passive. Use common sense—we wouldn’t touch a single comma, let alone a verb, of Mr. Lincoln’s moving words.

 

TIP: Avoid mixing the active voice with the passive voice in the same sentence or paragraph.

 

Bipsy dimmed the lights as the wine was poured.

[active]                                           [passive]

 

Just for fun, highlight all the verbs in a piece of writing you’re currently working on. What do you find? Active voice or passive voice?

Please Share

For more on the active and passive voice, check our zany Nitty-Gritty Grammar and More Nitty-Gritty Grammar guides (Random House). And send us bloopers you hear or see. We love hearing from you.

Heads up! Pop Quiz coming soon!

Briefly Speaking: The Long and Short of Contractions

Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

The Grammar PatrolWe (Edith Hope Fine and Judith Josephson) are the Grammar Patrol. Both of us taught for years and are now writers, with thirty plus books between us, including our two popular grammar guides, Nitty-Gritty Grammar and More Nitty-Gritty Grammar. For close to twenty years, we taught writing and grammar basics and now we blog about grammar for writers.

 

Briefly Speaking: The Long and Short of Contractions

Recently posted on FaceBook:

sign_contractions

Take that, grammar police!

And in Stolen Prey, a Lucas Davenport book by John Sandford, the horrible bad guys leave a message written, you guessed it, in blood:

WERE COMING

Its (or It’s?!) enough the drive the Grammar Patrol batty!

A contraction does what it says it does—it contracts, or shortens, a word. The apostrophe steps in as a placeholder, letting readers know that a letter (or letters) is (are!) missing.

“I have” becomes “I’ve.” “Does not” becomes “doesn’t.” “Will not becomes won’t.” “You have” becomes “you’ve.”

Let’s look at some other common—but pesky—contractions, and their counterparts that don’t require apostrophes.

 

THEY’RE, THERE, THEIR

The “Theiyr’re” joke above combines three forms of the homonym they’re, there, and their—all easily addressed.

• they’re

We say they’re often in casual speech. “They are” simply becomes “they’re” in speech and in informal writing, with the apostrophe holding the fort for the space and the a of “are.”

 Tip: With apologies to Gertrude Stein, there is no “the’re” or “ther’e” there.

• there

The word there, which you’ll see hidden in “Theiyr’re,” sounds the same as the other forms, but is not a contraction.

There as an adverb tells where—“The canoe is over there” or “Let’s go there.”

There as a pronoun introduces a clause or sentence: “There is confusion . . .”

 

• their

The other word lurking within “theiyr’re” is their, an adjective—the plural possessive for “they.”

What belongs to (is possessed by) the three bears?

Their house, their chairs, their porridge, their beds.

 

WERE/WE’RE

Author John Sandford made the deliberate choice to have the villains (and they are really villainous) spell we’re wrong in WERE COMING to indicate something about them. Are they druggies? Uneducated? From another country? All will be revealed.

 

• were

The word were is the past tense of are: “Their ducks were all in a row.”

we’re

The word we’re is the contraction of “we are”: “We’re explicating apostrophe/contraction confusion.”

 

LETS/LET’S

Did you catch the contraction “let’s” above? Both let’s and lets are forms of the verb “to let.”

• let’s

The word let’s lets [ah-ha, two in a row!] you contract “let us” to the less formal “let’s” for common speech and informal writing: “Let’s have pizza.”

lets

The word lets is the third person singular form of “to let.”

As you know, these verbs end with an s in the present:

He runs.          She paints.      It pours.           Mrs. Chase lets students make decisions.

 

 

IT’S/ITS

it’s

The contraction it’s is short for “it is”: “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.”

 

its

The word its indicates possession. “The dog wagged its tail.”

Tip: Possessive its never splits. (Note the its hiding in splits.)

 

A last bit of advice from the delightful Grammar Girl, author of Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing: “Unless you’re going for a breezy style, avoid unusual contractions such as ‘I’d’ve’ ” (for “I would have”).

We’re sure you’ve now got a grip on these tricky words. They’re not as hard as they’re cracked up to be.

For more on grammatical conundrums, check our zany Nitty-Gritty Grammar and More Nitty-Gritty Grammar guides (Random House). And send us bloopers you hear or see. We love hearing from you.

Literally Alliteratively Literary

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015

The Grammar PatrolWe (Edith Hope Fine and Judith Josephson) are the Grammar Patrol. Both of us taught for years and are now writers, with thirty plus books between us, including our two popular grammar guides, Nitty-Gritty Grammar and More Nitty-Gritty Grammar. For close to twenty years, we taught writing and grammar basics and now we blog about grammar for writers.

 

Let’s turn literary. In More Nitty-Gritty Grammar we included some terms that don’t technically fall under the “grammar” category, but are things writers use to power up their writing—metaphors, similes, analogy, alliteration, hyperbole, and onomatopoeia.

Writers who use these techniques create writing that pulls readers in, making them want to read into the night. Literary writing soars.

 

Metaphor

dolphin metaphorMetaphors are figures of speech that compare, making two very different things seem the same. Think “is” for metaphor, even though the two ideas can’t be compared literally.

• Hank is a dolphin in the ocean, diving over and over through the waves.

• Ottilie was a mule when it came to changing her mind.

• My computer is as old as a dinosaur.

 

Simile

Similes are figures of speech that make two disparate things seem similar. Think “as” or “like” for simile.

• Mr. V’s voice was like chalk screeching on a blackboard.

• “Ew! This cooking oil is as smelly as old socks.”

• She has a mind like a computer.

• The professor’s lectures were as dull as paste.

 

Jesse Owens

In Judith’s new eBook biography of Jesse Owens (Jesse Owens: Legendary Gold Medal Olympian, eFrog Press), track and field star Jesse Owens inspired many metaphors and similes among sportswriters: “In college at Ohio State, track and field star Jesse Owens was the “Buckeye Bullet,” as swift as a cheetah.” (Watch this eFrog blog for more on this eBook.)

 

 

 

Analogy

Analogies compare objects or people, often with similar features. Analogies can help illustrate or describe.

• Dr. Au made an analogy between a stomach and a food processor.

• Beverly compared her high-strung client to a spirited racehorse.

 

Alliteration

Alliteration is the repetition of letters or sounds in words that fall close together.

festive finery

ten tall trumpeters

bubbles breaking in the brook

wandering willows

• No allowance until you come and clean your closet!

 

Alliteration loses its allure with overuse:

Billy Bob bought beer for baseball buddies at Bubba’s Bar.

 

Hyperbole

Hyperbole (hie PER’ buh lee) is elaborate exaggeration used for emphasis or effect. (Wow, that was alliterative!) Bill Watterson’s cartoon in More Nitty-Gritty Grammar has Calvin saying, “What a day. I feel like I’ve been run over by a train.” Then KAPOW! Hobbes streaks in, knocking him down. Smooshed Calvin says, “I mean now I feel like that.” Sweet Hobbes notes, “See? You should always save hyperbole until you really need it.” (We forgive Calvin for using “like” when he should have used “as if.”)

• I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.

• These new shoes are killing me.

• His brain is the size of a pea.

 

Onomatopoeia

Sleepytime Me by Edith Hope FineOnomatopoeia is all about sounds—words that echo real-life sounds. Straight from the Greek word onomatopoeia, it means “words that reflect meaning in their sounds.”

We were stuck for a strong illustration for “onomatopoeia,” so emailed Brooke McEldowney, creator of the quirky comic 9 Chickweed Lane. We almost fell from our chairs six weeks later when her strip featuring onomatopoeia appeared in the paper. “Buzz! Hiss! Osculate!” We discovered that Brooke had written “onomatopoeia” on a Post-it and stuck it on her monitor waiting for inspiration. Lucky us. Lucky grammar readers.

Other onomatopoetic words? Babble, sizzle, whippoorwill, screech, pop . . . In Edith’s new Sleepytime Me, a bedtime book for littles (Random House, 2014), piglets “wuffle.” You won’t find wuffle in the dictionary, but it’s easy to imagine plump piggies wuffling in their sleep.

Kids love onomatopoeia and making up sounds—a great way to lure kids into writing. Be on the lookout for other great examples of literary terms. Send us your favorites—your messages make us merry.

Please Share

How to you use literary devices to add sparkle to your writing?

Gaggle, Herd, Jury, Troupe—They’re Collective!

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

The Grammar Patrol

We (Edith Hope Fine and Judith Josephson) are the Grammar Patrol. Both of us taught for years and are now writers, with thirty plus books between us, including our two popular grammar guides, Nitty-Gritty Grammar and More Nitty-Gritty Grammar. For close to twenty years, we taught writing and grammar basics and now we blog about grammar for writers.

 

 

We see collective nouns every day—nouns for persons, animals, or things  that act as a single unit.

Collective nouns: Herd of Cows

A herd of cows–”herd” is a collective noun.

 

  • As winter nears, flocks of birds fly south.
  • A coven of witches roams on Halloween.
  • Bipsy’s new litter of kittens mewls.
  • The cast was stellar in tonight’s play.
  • The jury is still out.

In a newspaper profile we wrote, we described our charismatic subject as “about as subtle as a fluorescent yellow Porsche in a bevy of beige Buicks.” She called, laughing when the article came out: “This is the Porsche speaking.”

Check out this bevy of collective nouns:

choir, assembly, tribe, audience, band, class, committee, corps, couple,crew, crowd, faculty, flock, group, jury, couple, majority, nation, pair, panel, press, series, set, company, family, team, crowd, school

 

Collective nouns used to describe a group of animals include covey, herd, pack, team, swarm, catch, and even murder! (a murder of crows.) Some of these describe  more than one type of animal—a herd of cattle or wild horses.

You’ll usually see a prepositional phrase with a plural object follow the collective noun.

• A pod of whales swam past.

• A gaggle of geese milled about the yard.

• A covey of partridges roosts for the night.

• A pride of lions rests on the hill.

 

So what do collective nouns have to do with grammar? They can be a bit tricky.  Will you pair them with a singular or a plural verb? 

 

Collective Nouns and Singular Verbs

Collective nouns usually take singular verbs. To check your verb form, substitute the singular pronoun “it” for the collective noun.

• The faculty votes tomorrow. (It votes . . .)

• The crew dances a jig. (It dances . . .)

• The Hughes family travels often. (It travels . . .)

• The panel has released its findings. (It has released . . . )

 

Tip: Corporations act like collective nouns, even if the company’s name is plural. While a specific company may have many employees, refer to it as a single entity:

• Pfizer manufactures Lipitor, a cholesterol drug.

• Brinkley Brothers sells lottery tickets.

 

Collective Nouns and Plural Verbs

If Here’s where things can get thorny. If members of a group act as individuals, not as a unit, use a plural verb.

• The panel of doctors were not of one mind. (Each doctor had a different opinion.)

• The class begin their science experiments today. (They separate experiments.)

 

Collective Nouns That Measure

With collective nouns such as majority, number, percent, and total, let the words that follow and the meanings of the sentences help you decide whether the verb is singular or plural.

When what follows is singular:

  •  Your total number is fifty-two. (number is . . . )
  • Twenty-one percent of the class fails the test. (class fails . . .)

 

When what follows is plural:

  • Half of the tables are occupied. (tables are . . .)
  • Fifty percent of the books are paperback. (books are . . .)
  • The majority of new cars have GPS capability. (cars have . . .)

Grammar Questions?

Collectively speaking, that’s it from the Grammar Patrol. Keep an eye out for gaggles of honking Canadian geese or herds of cows that wander onto the highway! When you have grammar questions, consult our zany Nitty-Gritty Grammar and More Nitty-Gritty Grammar guides or write to us here. Next month, time for your annual year-end pop quiz. 

 

Tips for Capitalization from The Grammar Patrol

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

The Grammar Patrol We (Edith Hope Fine and Judith Josephson) are the Grammar Patrol. Both of us taught for years and are now writers, with thirty plus books between us, including our two popular grammar guides, Nitty-Gritty Grammar and More Nitty-Gritty Grammar. For close to twenty years, we taught writing and grammar basics and now we blog about grammar for writers.

 

Capitals (and Capitols) are Capital!

Fireworks flew on the Fourth of July, illuminating the nation’s Capitol building. A capital idea! We all know the basic rules about when to use capitals: for the pronoun “I,” beginnings of sentences, people’s names, place names. But let’s look at some of the trickier situations.

© Jpldesigns | Dreamstime.com - Washington DC Fourth Of July Fireworks Photo

 

Titles

Titles of plays, books, television series, movies, poems, magazines, journals, and articles can trip you up. Use capitals for the first word and all others—except prepositions, articles (a, an, the), and conjunctions.

Play: Two Gentlemen of Verona

Book: A Fighting Chance by Elizabeth Warren

TV series: House of Cards

Movie:            Words and Pictures

Journal: School Library Journal

Magazine: In Style (Cap the preposition “in”: first word in this title.)

Poem:  “Genie in a Jar” by Nikki Giovanni (No cap on “in”; not first word.)

Article: “Ford SUV to Challenge Jeep Wrangler”

 

Proper nouns

A second grader once told the Grammar Patrol that a proper noun is “a fancy noun that gets a capital.” Exactly right.

Capitalize proper nouns, including days of the week, months, and holidays, specific people & things, buildings, companies, organizations, and schools:

Sunday, August, Valentine’s Day, John Smith, Toyota, the Capitol, Pfizer, DreamWorks, Amnesty International, Baseball Hall of Fame, Bolshoi Ballet, Elton John AIDS Foundation, Southern Poverty Law Center, Howard University, Stanford University.

Historical events, documents, or government programs

Gettysburg Address, World War II, Bicentennial, Emancipation Proclamation, Civil Rights Act of 1964, Medicare, Social Security

People’s titles

Capitalize civil, religious, military, and professional titles when they appear before a person’s name. If the title follows the name, don’t capitalize the title. If a title appears without the name of a person, do not capitalize it.

• Civil Titles

President Adams

John Adams, president of the United States

I spoke with the president. (not the President)

• Religious Titles

Capitalization of titles varies among different religions and denominations. Some examples:

Rabbi Benno Scheinberg

Benno Scheinberg, the rabbi

• Professional Titles

Dr. Sujan Wong, chief of Surgery

Sujan Wong, surgeon

• Some titles, such as “Speaker of the House,” are always capitalized, with or without the person’s name.

• Names of companies and academic departments, even when they appear after a person’s title.

Ronald Josephson, professor of Foods and Nutrition

Jenni Prisk, president of Prisk Communication

Family names

If you can substitute a person’s name for a relationship name like “uncle” or “grandmother,” capitalize.  If not, use lower case.

I’m writing Aunt Kirsten Josephson.

but

My aunt bought us all ice cream.

I spoke with Mother.

We sat with Bill’s grandfather, Norman Hope.

Seasons

Don’t capitalize seasons: summer, fall, winter, spring.

In the summer, we head for Hawaii.

When seasons denote specific academic semesters, use a capital letter, but no comma: 

Fall 2014

Summer 2015

Religions and holy books, days, and words for a Supreme Being

Talmud, Bible, Koran

Passover, Christmas, Ramadan

Yahweh, God, Allah

Geographic regions

New England, Pacific Northwest, the South

Don’t capitalize directions: We’re fifty miles north of Atlanta.

Languages

Mona speaks Farsi at home and English at the office.

Names of computer programs

Quicken, Microsoft Word, Adobe Acrobat

Book series and editions *

Capitalize titles of book series and editions. Use lowercase letters for the words “series” and “editions.”

Gary Paulsen’s Culpepper Adventure series, large-type Reader’s Digestedition

Within parentheses

If a complete parenthetical sentence stands alone, capitalize the beginning letter.

He asked if she’d heard the news. (She hadn’t.)

With colons

• Capitalize a complete sentence or a full quotation after a colon.

Remember Murphy’s Law: Any horizontal surface fills up.

• Do not capitalize phrases, lists, or incomplete sentences after a colon.

For the big game, he wore University of Michigan’s colors: maize and blue.

* Some sources now say to use Roman rather than italics with series names: Betty Birney’s rollicking According to Humphrey series. Consistency is the key.

 

That’s it from the Grammar Patrol! Hope you’ll capitalize on this info! When in doubt, consult our zany Nitty-Gritty Grammar and More Nitty-Gritty Grammar guides.