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Back in 2005 the U.S. National Commission on Writing surveyed executives of 120 major American companies across a wide range of sectors. They found that virtually all salaried jobs have some responsibility for writing, and that increasingly writing skills are being used both in hiring and promotion decisions. The message is clear:
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Below you'll find examples of our writing exercises. Once you become a Pro Member you'll receive a new one daily, and you'll get access to the archives with more than 500 exercises on a wide range of topics.
Exercise 1: Possessives
All but one of the following sentences demonstrate incorrect style for treatment of possessives according to The Chicago Manual of Style; revise sentences as necessary.
Answers and Explanations
Rules for possessives are complex, and they vary according to different style guides. Determine which style is appropriate for the kind of writing you do, and study a handbook appropriate to that kind of writing.
1. I walked over to the Smiths’ house.
The house is occupied by the Smiths, not the Smith, so the name must be treated as a plural possessive.
2. Our hostess’s nerves are shot.
Words ending in "s" are not exempt from requiring an "s" after the possessive apostrophe.
3. I went to my aunt and uncle’s anniversary celebration.
When a pair of nouns is considered a single entity or group, only the second noun should be in the possessive form. (However, when two closely linked nouns are nevertheless clearly associated with distinct referents, both nouns should be in the possessive form, as in "I researched my aunt’s and uncle’s family backgrounds.")
4. She made it onto the girls’ basketball team.
When a word can take either a possessive form (in this case, girls’, as in "for girls") or an attributive form (here, girls, as in "of girls"), the possessive form is usually more appropriate.
5. I sent flowers to her on Mother’s Day.
Holiday names ending in s vary as whether they are attributive (Veterans Day), singular possessive (Saint Patrick’s Day), or plural possessive (April Fools’ Day). Celebrations of mothers and fathers are singular possessive, so this sentence was correct originally.
Exercise 2: Compound Nouns
In this exercise, decide whether each compound noun should be styled as open, hyphenated or closed compound, according to Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary.
Answers and Explanations
Logic is not a reliable factor in how a compound noun is styled; it's best to always look a term up to be sure that you are treating it correctly. Compound nouns often evolve from open to hyphenated to closed, but sometimes the intermediate stage is skipped, and sometimes a term remains open or hyphenated (so far).
1. air conditioner
Exercise 3: Verb Errors
Rewrite the following sentences removing all verb errors.
Answers and Explanations
1. If I had known you were going, I would have gone too.
When an "if clause" is used to express something that did not happen, the verb in the "if clause" will be "had," not "would."
2. The driver didn’t see the dog lying in the road.
As the dog was prostrate or reclining in the road, the intransitive verb "lying" is called for.
3. When I was in Hollywood, I saw three celebrities walking on Sunset Boulevard.
The irregular verb "to see" has the forms see, saw, (have) seen. The simple past is saw.
4. No, you cannot play video games until you’ve written that thank-you note to your grandmother.
"You’ve is a contraction of "you have." The helping verb "have" is used with the past participle form of the verb. "Wrote" is the simple past; "written" is the past participle: "have written."
5. The farmer discovered that a large percentage of his crop was ruined by boll weevils.
The word percentage is singular and takes the singular verb was.
Exercise 4: Confused Words
In each sentence, choose the correct word from the pair of similar terms. (If both words possibly can be correct, choose the more plausible one.)
Answers and Explanations
1. If we rise early enough, we can be farther down the road by noon.
Farther always refers to distance. Further may refer to distance, but is the only choice for the meaning "to a greater extent or degree." Example: The teacher will go further into the explanation in tomorrow’s lesson.
2. In an integrated curriculum, subjects are not dissected and separated into discrete chunks.
The chunks in question are discrete (meaning "separate"), not discreet (meaning "prudent" or "unobtrusive").
3. She wanted to ensure that the boat was safe.
To ensure is to guarantee; to insure is to indemnify against loss.
4. George has the capability to become a superb chess player.
Capability refers to power or ability. The literal use of capacity is to refer to a container’s ability to hold something, for example, "the capacity of a gas tank."
5. I work so hard during the week, I just want to lie around on the weekend.
Lay is transitive and should therefore have an object: "Lay the book on the table." Lie is intransitive; it does not take an object.
Exercise 5: Prepositions
All but one of the following sentences demonstrate incorrect use of a preposition; revise as necessary.
Answers and Explanations
Generally, use "(verb) in to (noun)" to indicate location and "(verb) into (noun)" to indicate movement; the same rule applies to "on to" and "onto."
1. She is about to dive into the pool.
One can "dive in a pool" (this wording refers to one’s location) or "dive into a pool" (this wording refers to one’s movement), but "dive in to a pool" has redundant prepositions.
2. I fell onto the platform.
This sentence was originally correct.
3. When we disagreed, they turned into our enemies.
The phrase "turn in" refers to an action involving a turn, but to turn into is to change or transform. ("Turned in" remains open in the sentence "They turned us in to our enemies," in the sense of a betrayal.)
4. John handed the paper in to his teacher.
This sentence describes the action of delivering or submitting something, for which the idiom is "hand in," so to should be separate from in.
5. Do you have to hang on every word he says?
Upon is technically correct but unnecessary in this idiomatic reference to someone giving undue attention to another’s comments -- on is sufficient -- but upon should be treated as two words only if the context alludes to someone ending a phone call abruptly: "Don’t hang up on me!"
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