Punctuation Review #7: Family Relationships

A random Web search suggests that people writing about families are not all on the same page when it comes to hyphenating terms for family relationships. For example: A step-sister is the daughter of a step-parent to whom one is not biologically related. I drew closer to my stepsister because I thought that we had something in common. This is … Read more

Verb Review #11: May and Might

The auxiliaries may and might are often used interchangeably. Most of the time, interchanging them doesn’t seem to matter. Strictly speaking, might is the past form of may, but may often occurs in past tense constructions, and might is used in sentences about the present or future. Both may and might are used when the … Read more

Verb Review #10: Forming Questions

Questions do not follow usual subject-verb order. In questions that contain only one verb, the verb precedes the subject: Are you my friend? Have you any wool? In questions that contain two verb forms, the subject is sandwiched between them: Can you help me? Is he going with us? The helping verb always goes first. … Read more

Grammar Review #3: Misplaced Modifiers

The error known as a “misplaced modifier” often results in hilarious images. Some of these errors, whether originating in actual writing or invented by clever English teachers, have achieved classical status and are quoted on numerous websites. Here are five of my favorites: 1. With his tail held high, my father led his prize poodle … Read more

Verb Review #9: There Is / There Are

A reader asks about the use of “there is” and “there are”: I am writing to express my puzzlement over whether to use “there is” or “there are”. When I was reading a script, I came across [this] sentence: “In his arms there are a whole bunch of corn husks.” Should it not be “there is”? Plenty of native … Read more

Punctuation Review #6: The Despised Semicolon

A friend whose novel is in the works for publication has been told by her editor that “publishers hate semicolons.” Wondering if this were a common attitude, I did a little exploring. Apparently writers, if not publishers, have harbored strong feelings about this punctuation mark for some time: With educated people, I suppose, punctuation is … Read more

Punctuation Review #5: Punctuating Conjunctive Adverbs

Seven common conjunctive adverbs are however, moreover, therefore, thus, consequently, furthermore, and unfortunately. A common error is to use them in place of an ordinary coordinating conjunction like and, but, or, nor, so, for, or yet. This type of error creates punctuation problems that are easily corrected. For example: Giving children the opportunity to make … Read more

Grammar Review #2: Parallelism

When two or more things are parallel, they have a similar function, role or structure. In grammar, “parallel structure” refers to the balanced construction of a sentence. A balanced sentence will present the items in a series by using the same grammatical form for each item in the series. For example, if the first item … Read more

Punctuation Review #4: Hyphenating with Prefixes

One function of the hyphen is to prevent misreading. For example, the shortened form of the noun meaning “an enterprise or organization owned by and operated for the benefit of those using its services” is co-op, to distinguish it from the English word coop: “a cage or small enclosure for poultry or other small animals.” … Read more

Pronoun Review #3: Object Forms

The following appears in a by-lined article in a state newspaper: [A basketball referee] filed a harassment report…claiming [two men] followed he and another official to their cars after the game, yelling obscenities. In this sentence, the masculine pronoun is the object of a transitive verb, followed. The direct object answers the question “What?” or … Read more

Verb Review #8: Passive Voice

The way some writing coaches slam Passive Voice, one might imagine that its use constitutes a grammatical error. It doesn’t. In the context of grammar, Voice refers to the relation of the subject of a verb to the action of the verb. In English, there are two possibilities: 1. The subject performs the action. 2. … Read more

Punctuation Review #3: Introducing Quotations

A reader questioned the introduction of a direct quotation with the word that: I’ve had the understanding that preceding what was said with the word “that” indicates that what follows is not a verbatim quote, but rather a description of what was said, and quotation marks are thus not to be used. The conjunction that … Read more