Monthly Archives: April 2012

Tips of the day

Tips of the day

10 Tips to Improve Your Grammar

Whether it’s an email, a handwritten card or a cover letter, using correct grammar and the right vocabulary will ensure the message is delivered clearly, concisely and effectively. Writing and reading periodicals, books or newspapers are fun and creative ways to improve grammar and vocabulary whilst gaining insight on compelling issues. Learning how to improve grammar and vocabulary doesn’t have to be challenging or confusing. With these 10 tips, anyone can improve grammar and become a better writer today.

1. Apostrophesshow when a word is possessive and also function as a place holder between conjunctions. For example, “it’s” and “its,” “theirs” and “there’s” and many more.

2. Prepositional phrases and introductory clauses. Always use a comma after an introductory or prepositional phrase. For example, “After a hard day at work, Jean loves to relax in the backyard.”

3. Homophones and endings. Sometimes there are too many variations to know whether it’s “to,” “too” or “two,” “were” or “we’re” and “-ible,” or “-able.” Some homophones need to be memorized but other words like those ending with “-ible” and “-able” are a little easier to remember. If the root word is whole, add “-able” like fashionable. If the word doesn’t make sense without the ending, add “-ible” like divisible.

4. Definite and indefinite articles. Articles, such as “a,” “an” and “the”, tell the reader whether something is general or specific, indefinite or definite. For example, “Someone call a doctor.” “Someone call the doctor.”

5. Appositives. These dependent clauses modify the subject and often include non-essential information offset with commas. For example, “Mr. Walker, an international economist, is arriving this morning.” (Non-essential) “The popular sitcom Brian O’Brien was cancelled after seven years.” (Essential) “Brian O’Brien, the popular sitcom, was cancelled after seven years.” (Non-essential)

6. That, who, and which. Comma rules vary for relative pronouns that tell readers specifics about people and things. For example, “No one trusts politicians who lie.” (Essential) or “Mr. Trout, who is wearing the red shirt, announced his mayoral candidacy this week.” (Non-essential)

7. The semicolon. This powerful punctuation mark can replace a period and effectively link two independent clauses. For example, “The family had never seen Mrs. Baker so mad; everyone thought the maid was going to have a heart attack.”

8. Countable and non-countable nouns. Like collective nouns, non-countable nouns are inherently plural.

When used with adjectives, non-countable nouns are prone to confusion.

For example, “many” works with countable nouns that are pluralized with “-s” or “-es” endings. For non-countable nouns, including money, time and snow, “much” or “a lot” are used. Other adjectives like little and few are only used with uncountable nouns.

9. Vocabulary building. The secret to powerful writing is a strong vocabulary. Reading books, magazine articles and newspaper columns is one of the easiest ways to learn vocabulary and see examples of correct grammar and effective punctuation.

10. Proofreading and spellchecking. Last but not least, proofreading is the final step to grammatical perfection. Waiting to proofread often produces the best results. However, quietly reading aloud is another great way to catch more mistakes.
Building vocabulary and picking up tips to improve writing skills is an on going and rewarding process that has the power to open doors. You’re welcome to share your favorite tips to improve grammar and vocabulary in the comments below.Have any comments? You’re welcome to share them in the comments below.

Tip of the day

Tip of the day

All About Adjectives

Adjective Definition
By Wikipedia’s definition, adjectives are words or phrases “naming an attribute, added to or grammatically related to a noun to modify or describe it”. In short, adjectives are descriptive words. Many confuse them with adverbs, but adverbs cannot describe nouns and generally end in “-ly”. Rule of thumb: if it cannot describe your dog, it is an adverb. “Brown”, “wet”, “furry”: all adjectives. “Clumsily”: an adverb that cannot describe your dog. “Clumsy” can, as it is an adjective.

Here is an example that shows how both work:
“Abigail clumsily opened the door that her clumsy dog had closed.”

[Infographic provided by]

Adjective Clause
In English, an adjective clause follows a noun and provides information and clarity. “Essential clauses” are small, necessary, and do not require any punctuation.

“The man in the black shirt was security.”
“People who live in glass houses should invest in curtains.”
“Frankie the dog dived for a brownie that had fallen off the table.”

“Nonessential clauses” require additional punctuation in the form of commas.

“Myrtle, the woman who had set my hair on fire, stood in the corner and laughed at me.”
“Dirt flew from beneath the badger, who dug at the ground for several minutes.”

Predicate Adjectives
A predicate adjective follows the noun it describes and is linked to that noun with a verb. The easy way to remember this is the phrase “subject/predicate”: the predicate follows the subject just as predicate adjectives follow their nouns.

“The chickens were friendly.”
“Phyllis’ clothes were new.”
“I was extremely composed, although my hair was utterly charred.”

After the noun signal (“the”, “most”, “thirty”, etc.), adjectives must be listed in a particular order. Below, this order is shown with a few examples of adjectives:

Opinion: Lovely, useful, silly, good
Size: Tall, tiny, gigantic, medium
Age: New, prehistoric, immature, new born
Shape: Round, tube-shaped, flat, square
Color: Blue, pale, speckled, yellowish. Some sources say it is alright to interchange “age”, “color”, and “shape” as long as the sentence is not awkward.
Origin: Irish, aquatic, northern, urban
Material: Leather, snow, plastic, wooden
Purpose: Words used to explain a noun’s use comes right before the noun and includes combinations such as “fishing rod”, “training wheels”, or “cooking pots”. Purpose adjectives often end in “-ing”.

Fun With Adjective Order
Here are a few sentences illustrating order; the last two are hard core, but all adjectives are in proper order.

“My sister was wearing some ugly old brown fake-leather shoes.”
“Inside the shed was a battered black Canadian fishing pole.”
“My first car was a horrid ancient heap of orange urban metal.”
“The little white kitten caught a big old rat in the scary dark apartment basement.”
“At the museum, my least favorite piece was a strange huge lumpy multi-colored urban stone sculpture.”

Adjectives Gone Wild
Care must be taken to ensure that adjectives do not point to the wrong noun. The most-quoted illustration of improper use of adjectives is this sentence (it is so famous that it was even used as a movie title):

“Throw Mama from the train a kiss.”

Instead of throwing a kiss to Mama, it sounds like you just pitched Mama off the train. Poor Mama! There are several ways to rewrite this sentence so that it makes better sense (and is less hurtful to Mama). How many different ways can you come up with?

Did you know … ?

Did you know … ?

How Definite is Indefinite?

Indefinite and definite articles, such as “a”, “an” and “the”, describe and modify nouns. Articles and niggling little words known as determiners and quantifiers convey general and specific information. Articles tell the reader what you’re talking about and how much there is. Adults and advanced ESL students can run into many challenging situations where abstract and collective nouns make it difficult to decide whether to use “a”, “an” or “the.” In fact, article-related errors are one of the most frequent grammatical mistakes among ESL students representing 11% of all errors.

[Infographic provided by]

Specific or Non-Specific?
Children beginning English have an advantage as they learn article rules with basic nouns, such as a cat, a dog, an elephant and the cows. In many cases, “a”/”an” and “the” can be used interchangeably without drastically affecting the meaning. If the noun is general or non-specific, the indefinite article “a” or “an” can be used. If you are providing information about a specific noun, ‘the” is required. Here are a few article examples:
We watched a movie last weekend.
The movie nominated for an Oscar.

Count and Non-Count
Words that follow plural rules are known as countable nouns. Countable nouns also follow the basic rules for indefinite and definite articles. However, it’s the non-countable nouns you have to watch out for. Non-countable nouns include words that can’t be pluralized or already represent more than one. Non-countable nouns include mice, money, foliage, pain, milk, water etc. If you can’t add an “S”, the word uses “the.” For example:
The pain is unbearable.
When the master is away, the mice will play.

Zero Article
Non-count and generic plural words are often used without articles. Languages, academic courses, sports and many geographic terms, including the names countries, cities, states and streets are zero article words. Here are a few zero article examples:
Would you like wine with dinner?
Would you like milk with your coffee?
Everyone loves brownies.
The class is learning Swahili.
Time is money.

Vowels, Silent Letters and Acronyms
Using “an” instead of “a” isn’t always straight forward. In fact, some vowels require an “a” phonetically. When a word like “university” begins with the name of its first letter, it can be paired with an “a”. The letter “H” also presents some trouble because it can be silent as in “an hour” or pronounced like “a historian”. Here are a few article examples:
Mr. Berg is a history teacher.
John is a university student.
Clara wants a unicorn.

The Exceptions
Some words are naturally challenging because they don’t follow the rules. Fortunately, some of these exceptions have their own guidelines. While countries, cites and states don’t require articles, nationalities, rivers, forests, deserts and some general geographic regions do require articles. For example:
The banks of the Nile are fertile farmlands.
Tom’s family went to Kansas to see the Great Plains.

Acronyms are tricky because letters can have vowel-like sounds like “em” or “ef.” For example:
Mara is working on an MBA.
Jack is an FBI agent.

Choosing the right article doesn’t need to be difficult. First, determine if the noun is singular or plural and definite or indefinite. It’s also important to note whether the noun is countable or not. Use “a” or “an” with indefinite singular nouns, “the” for plural articles or definite nouns, and zero articles for non-count plurals. With so many nouns and phonetic variations, there will be plenty of time to practice these tips. In the meantime, what do you find challenging, or what have you wondered about articles in the past? You’re welcome to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Tips of the day

Tips of the day

Indirect and direct speech peculiarities

Indirect speech and direct speech are used extensively by journalists as well as fiction and non-fiction writers to convey paraphrased statements and direct quotes. Word for word quotes taken directly from a source are known as direct speech. Direct speech rules require quotes to be enclosed within quotation marks while indirect quotes are paraphrased statements translated into their third-person form.

The first rule when forming indirect quotes is to change all first person pronouns to the appropriate third-person form (he, she, it and they.) The second rule is to change the tense. Indirect quotes go back one tense further than the original quote whether that quote is in the present tense or past tense. For example, Farmer John said, “This is the best season I’ve had” would be translated or paraphrased into an indirect quote: Farmer John said this was the best season he has had.

If a direct quote is already in the past tense, it needs to go back one step further. If Farmer John said, “I graduated from the Farmer’s Academy.” This phrase would become Farmer John said he has graduated from the Farmer’s Academy.

When forming first-person quotes, direct speech punctuation is essential to offset statements and secondary information. Direct quotes should always be enclosed within quotation marks and begin with a capital letter while names and supplemental information should be offset by commas outside the quotation marks. Direct speech punctuation should always be included inside the quotation marks when it modifies a direct quote.

Authors and journalists often interrupt quotes to set a tone for the dialogue or add details. For emphasis, a writer might break up a quote to read: “My job is hard,” complained Farmer John, “and I have to get up early to get all the work done.” Capitalization is only necessary at the beginning of each quote or sentence even if it is broken into two or more parts.

When translating quotes between reported and direct speech, present tense statements become past tense statements that retain their simple, progressive and perfect designations. When translating direct quotes that are already in the past tense, things are a little more complicated. Simple past statements become past perfect and past progressive statements become past perfect progressive, but past perfect quotes that include could and would constructions stay the same. For example, John said he could drop by with some produce this afternoon is the same as John said, “I could drop by with some produce this afternoon.” One exception for direct and indirect speech is information that is always true. For example, “My name is Farmer John” would become he said his name is Farmer John. The tense doesn’t need to be changed.

Practicing indirect speech and direct speech can provide writers and English speakers with the freedom to create any direct or indirect quote. Whether an indirect quote uses rich descriptors or is simply repeating something that has already been said, understanding direct speech rules and the rules for indirect quotes can open a lot of creative doors to express quotes in a meaningful literary or journalistic style.

Have you ever shied away from making reported and direct speech quotes due to the rules and punctuation? You’re welcome share your experiences with indirect speech and direct speech in the comments below.



Did you know … ?

Did you know … ?

Words that sound alike

This article is presented by our partner Ginger Software – creator of an intelligent spell checker, that recognizes words in context and provides the most appropriate corrections for spelling and grammar mistakes according to the intended meaning of your sentence.

English spelling can be tricky in many ways. Homophones – words that sound the same, yet have a different English spelling – are a good source of frustration for people who are just learning the basics of English spelling, and even for people who are fluent and advanced.

As you can see in Ginger’s Spelling Mistakes Hall of Fame, many of our users’ commonly misspelled words are homophones. It’s not surprising that these words are confusing, as they sound the same.

A good way to remember which is which is by making up a mnemonic device for each pair. Here is a list of some of Ginger’s most commonly misspelled words that are homophones. We took the liberty of adding some of our own mnemonic devices for them, we hope it will help your English spelling!

Principal vs. Principle

A principal is the head of a school. A principle is something you would insist on. When you’re in school, the principal is not your pal.

To, Two, or Too

To is a preposition. Two is the number following one. Too means also.

Foreword vs. Forward

A foreword is the introduction to a book. Forward is a direction. Fore is similar to before, and so it comes before the book.

Knight vs. Night

A knight is a man who served his sovereign or lord as a mounted soldier in armor. Night is what happens when the day is over. The K is shaped a little like a knight holding two swords.

Bald vs. Bawled

Bald means hairless. Bawled means yelled, or cried.

Mail vs. Male

Mail is what you receive in the post. Male is a gender (men.)

Dear vs. Deer

Dear is regarded with deep affection. A deer is an animal, like Bambi. A deer can be dear to you, but a dear cannot be deer to you. Because that just doesn’t make much sense, does it?

Eight vs. Ate

Eight is the number following seven. Ate is something you would do for lunch. You can remember that ATE has the same letters of EAT, moved around.

Made vs. Maid

Made is the past tense of make. A maid is a person who does domestic work. It’s spelled like ‘aid’, because it helps!

Flour vs. Flower

A flower grows in your garden. Flour is more commonly found in the kitchen, and is used to make baked goods.