Tag Archive for grammar

Grammar NAZIs! Meet your Nuremberg Trial

Or…When good grammar just isn’t good enough…

Vancouver’s suburban Lougheed Highway wends its way through Burnaby with predictable consistency. At each Skytrain station paralleling the route follows a rhythmic punctuation of corporate conformity — a London Drugs, a Starbucks, a Buy-Low Foods, a capping glass condo tower. Then repeat to the horizon line. Monotony enough to put envy into the heart of any Cold War-era urban planner. So much for Capitalist diversity.

How gratifying to know then that there are a few cells of non conformity hiding within the corporate state. Take for example, the copy editor. While much of the literate world has long since parsed out the difference between “its” and “it’s”, how refreshing to come upon a non-conformist writer who dares to shake up the rules of grammar a bit. Otherwise, explain these gems.

With its jazzy use of “it’s”, I find this subtitle scintillating. It jumps out like a tangy note of peppercorn in an otherwise grey merlot. “It’s top business sectors” or more accurately “It is top business sectors” connotes authority in a way the correct form just can’t.

Don’t be fooled — the clever writer of this next one knows how to get eyeballs on paper.

Amphibious

Compared with the worn-out tricks of social media gurus and their endless listicles (“OMG – The 7 Things you need to know about nose hairs that will completely change your life forever!”), I’ll choose the well-placed malapropism every time!

There are corporate disruptors; then there are the outright anarchists. The latter I believe to be behind this next masterpiece of subject/pronoun mixology.

Subject/verb agreement magnum opus

Subject/verb agreement magnum opus

Putting aside the grey imagery of office furniture representing not a company and most certainly not people, it would be so simple to just change “company” to “companies” and put an end to this vertiginous dance between the pronoun (“them”) and its potential suitors (the two nouns in the sentence). But isn’t “company” a “them”, which has people in them? Yeah I s’pose, but it’s a collective noun so it should be singular…but wait, it’s people we’re talking about…them is people. Inside people? You see. That’s why I prefer the roller coaster whiplash Magna Search Group unleashed to the pedantic approach favoured by textbooks. It’s far more exciting.

And can you imagine yourself a fly on a wall at the Marketing think tank when they came up with such a slogan? Okay start again, “Only a company is good, if they have people in them.” No, “Inside of a company, they is people, good ‘uns.”, No wait, I’ve got it. “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read”, um…

This next one is just pure anarchy and needs no further comment.

It's raining cats and dogs, with a chance of lizzards this evening...

It’s raining cats and dogs, with a chance of lizzards this evening…

Possessive or Plural?

I’m building a list of real-life grammar error examples, based on my writing, researching, and reading. These examples will all make titallating class materials at BCIT or when I publish my own version of Strunk & White. The examples below focus on confusion about pluralization.

ICBC

As an insurer and issuer of driver licences, we make decisions which can have a significant impact on peoples’ lives.

Problem: People is already plural, so the apostrophe is misplaced. Also, the sentence should use that and not which as it’s restrictive. In editing, the lack of a comma is a giveaway that the writer was uncertain anyway—using which always requires a comma.

Correction:

As an insurer and issuer of driver licences, we make decisions that can have a significant impact on people’s lives.

Construction Company

ABC Crane Service is an Oklahoma based crane rental company that provides crane service nationwide. Their fleet of cranes range from 80 to 660 tons and have been used in projects to solve challenges such as…

Problem: In the second sentence, the subject is fleet, which is a collective noun (therefore treated as singular). The confusion arises from the words cranes and tons (clearly plural) closer to the verb have, but the collective should prevail so it should be has. Other copy errors are indicated, (and corrected), in underscore.

Correction:

ABC Crane Service is an Oklahoma-based crane rental company, which provides crane service nationwide. Its fleet of cranes ranges in size from 80 to 660 tons and has been used in projects to solve challenges such as…

Grammar tip – Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers

Check Sentences for Misplaced or Dangling Modifiers

Let’s face it, misplaced and dangling modifiers are just plain fun (as long as it’s not you who writes them). A misplaced modifier usually just doesn’t make sense, because they appear to modify the wrong thing.

After our French lessons, we could understand the French spoken by our visitors from Québec easily. It’s misplaced because it sounds like the visitors spoke easily, when it’s our “understanding” that should be modified. “…we could easily understand…”

A dangling modifier often renders the sentence hilarious. The most famous example of a dangling modifier is by Groucho Marx:

One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas.
How he got into my pajamas I’ll never know.

There are web sites exclusively devoted to documenting them.

Here’s another example: “It wasn’t long before the two got engaged, lived in several Canadian cities, pursued their separate career paths and explored their new surroundings while weighing the pros and cons of each.”

What are they weighing the pros and cons of?

  • Their surroundings
  • Their separate career paths
  • Several Canadian cities
  • Their engagement
  • All of the above

Avoid Ambiguous Pronouns

Avoid Ambiguous Pronouns

Ambiguous PronounThe best way to avoid this kind of confusion (what kind of confusion? The confusion that results from ambiguous pronouns), is to read your copy carefully checking that you can  identify the noun that belongs to the pronoun.

If more than one noun emerges as a possibility, replace the pronoun with its intended noun.

“There’s a high fly ball! Winfield goes back. His head hits the wall. It’s rolling toward second base.”

What’s rolling toward second base?

  • The ball
  • The wall
  • Winfield’s head

 

Simplify Tense

Simplify Tense

Unless you’re a time traveller (and therefore familiar with temporal paradoxes), you’ll be confused by sentences where the writer did not follow a logical progression in time (that skipped writing course at university would have helped now) and now covers too much temporal real estate in a single sentence—don’t you start doing this!

English has twelve tenses. Present tense is the only real tense—all the others are factors of our imagination. The best rule of thumb is to stick to the present tense as much as possible and make occasional forays to other tenses as needed. Don’t make time travellers of your readers by hiking them hither and yon through your temporal landscapes.

EXAMPLE: “Madonna removed her wedding ring before she appeared last week sparking rumours that her marriage is on the rocks.”

Use Active Voice

Use Active Voice

Tricky Dick

The phrase, “Mistakes were made” is attributed to US President, Richard Nixon, to acknowledge that the Watergate situation was mishandled. He could have spoken in active voice and said, “Mistakes were made by me” or better still, “I made mistakes”, but he evaded direct admission of responsibility and thereby went down to history as Tricky Dick.

There are three times when it’s appropriate to write in the passive voice:

  • When the doer is unknown. “My bass clarinet was removed.”
  • When the doer is unimportant. “The lab rats were given a placebo.”
  • To protect the doer from embarrassment. “You were overcharged for your purchase.”

TIP: In technical writing, you can distinguish between general concepts and action-oriented procedures by writing the former in passive voice and the latter in active.

Using active voice in web writing adds interest and action to your writing. Good sentences begin with a clearly stated subject (the doer) and a strong verb (action). While it is a commonly used verb, “to be” is passive as it describes a state of being rather than doing. So the more you use “to be”, the more passive sounding your writing will be. Also, some verbs are weaker than others. The verb “to understand” is weaker, because it is harder to quantify and tends to get lumped with another verb that’s doing the real work.

EXAMPLE: To understand how to run for President of the United States, you must have friends in high places.

 

Use Concrete Specific Words

Use Concrete Specific Words

StuffnJunkUsing concrete specific words won’t necessarily make your writing shorter, but it will make it more interesting to read.

Avoid:

  • Several – how many?
  • Numerous – What number?
  • Various – Which?
  • Very – use your imagination!

And of course:

  • Stuff
  • Junk
  • Whatever!

 

It’s a Digital Life – Writing for the Web

When writing a blog (or any type of web writing), you are writing for an audience that’s fickle and distracted. There’s just too much information, so they flit about and if they encounter a challenge (such as poor organization, rambling prose, padded sentences), they bail. Web readers will not read your writing, unless it is written to their needs.

Web readers read differently:

  • They don’t read screens as easily as pages.
  • They tend to scan and forage for the content they want.
  • They don’t read in a linear fashion—they follow links and move about.

The general rule for web writing is to write shorter sentences, but little information is ever provided on how to write shorter sentences. The maxim, “Ride the horse in the direction it’s headed” is appropriate here. If you organize your information in a way that follows how people read, your blog is more likely to be read.

My Favourite Writing Videos

[myyoutubeplaylist Vc2aSz9Ficw, x-5mIompIQ8, qn8VM8bJNjE, lQvsGZNU4UA, jwMj3PJDxuo]