Grammar Snob: Lessons in 5 Minutes or Less!
Welcome to the world of a grammar Nazi!
Good morrow, fellow /ggFTWers!
JK, I'm not that fancy. Anyway, have you ever wanted to improve your writing in little steps? Do you often find yourself questioning the mechanics of your sentences? Do you just like feeling smarter than everyone else? Well, then, this thread's for you! Here, just to feel good about myself by pretending to promote literacy when I'm really touting my snobbishness, I'll be providing bite-sized grammar lessons every week or so. I encourage you to pop on in and join the party of condescending, seemingly well-read individuals!
DISCLAIMER: I'm not trying to prove that people who type well online are better than other people in any way—the Web is a medium in which negligence of formalities is perfectly acceptable. I also admit that some of these tips may seem unnecessary or nitpicky, but hey, you don't have to use them! ;D Oh, and I'm fifteen years old. I hope my age doesn't detract from my credibility.
Lesson One: Em Dashes vs. En Dashes vs. Hyphens (6/9/11)
WTH? There are different types of dashes? you may be asking yourself. And the answer would be yes! The em dash (—), en dash (–), and hyphen (-). Each item serves a very different purpose, and although it's not imperative to differentiate between all of them, it's nice to know.
Let's start with the em dash. Many of you readers are probably all too familiar with this device; it can indicate a shift in thought or additional information, among other things, and demonstrates fluidity in writing. Usually, the em dash touches the words that it separates, but some writers prefer a space to either side. Commas and em dashes are occasionally interchangeable. The following are some examples of its use and variants. Notice that if a word processor is unavailable or the [ALT + numerical code] is unknown, two hyphens will suffice.
As the head--well, former head, anyway--of the science department, Jenna was responsible for ordering lab materials.
Dan -- an engineer for Google -- slaves over his computer for hours every day.
The light—that is, the one I'd seen on Monterey—seemed out of place in the context of its dreary neighborhood.
Rock and roll is the heart of our lives — and we'll do anything it takes to continue listening to it!
Next up are the en dash and hyphen, which people so frequently confuse that even editors now rarely make any distinction between the two. The hyphen, of course, is more popularly employed, simply because it's more accessible. The differences between the two are so nuanced that I won't try to delve into them all in this lesson; however, I do intend to cover the basics. The hyphen, the shorter of the two, is for compound adjectives in which the elements are not compounds themselves. The en dash, the longer of the two, is for ranges and compound adjectives in which one or more elements are compounds or in which two or more parties exist. The following are some correct (green) examples and incorrect (red) illustrations.
disease–causing bacteria (should be a hyphen because it's a simple compound adjective)
pg. 7-19 (should be an en dash because it's a range)
post-Cold War (should be an en dash because Cold War is a compound noun)
New York-Miami flight (should be an en dash because there're two parties)
New York–Miami flight
I hope you enjoyed this segment. Tune in next time for another (fun) lesson!
Lesson Two: Homonyms, Homonyms, and More Homonyms—Part I (6/10/11)
One of the mistakes that really get on my nerves is when people use the wrong homonyms, or words that sound the same but carry completely different meanings. Although plenty of pairs and trios exist in the English language, I'll be covering only the most common ones in this update.
Your, You're, and Yore
Your is a possessive pronoun. It's as simple as that. As a rule of thumb, possessive pronouns never have apostrophes. You're is a contraction. Pronouns with apostrophes always represent two words rather than a possessive form. Yore, while an archaic word, still makes an appearance every now and then in modern-day manuscripts. It refers to ancient times.
You're mom is ridiculously overweight.
Yore a real imbecile.
In times of your, most people were hunter-gatherers who picked fruit rather than farmed land.
Your mom is ridiculously overweight.
You're a real imbecile.
In times of yore, most people were hunter-gatherers who picked fruit rather than farmed land.
Their, They're, and There
Their is a possessive pronoun. Again, as a rule of thumb, such a word pretty much never has an apostrophe. They're is a contraction of the words they and are. Finally, there is a word that functions as many parts of speech, but it most commonly serves as a noun or adverb.
Despite the rigor of the course, they're will never wavered.
Andy respects his friends, even though there remiss in completing homework on time.
The treasure that we're looking for is over their!
Despite the rigor of the course, their will never wavered.
Andy respects his friends, even though they're remiss in completing homework on time.
The treasure that we're looking for is over there!
Then and Than
Then is an adverb that either describes something to follow in a sequence of events or conveys the sense that something has passed. Than is a conjunction used to compare two ideas. Common phrases that involve it are more than, less than, rather than, and [comparative adjective] than.
If a = b and b = c, than a = c.
Will Smith is way cooler then Lady Gaga.
If a = b and b = c, then a = c.
Will Smith is way cooler than Lady Gaga.
Affect and Effect
Don't listen to your English teachers on this one, as both of these words can function as either nouns or verbs. Affect is usually a verb that means "to influence" or "to take on artificially." However, it can also be a noun meaning "emotion." Effect is usually a noun that means "result." However, it can also be a verb meaning "to result in" or "to accomplish." Let me warn you now, though, that the noun form of affect is almost never the one you want, unless you're majoring in psychology or the like.
The hurricane drastically effected the lives of those who lost their families.
The stimulant produced in the child a gleeful effect.
Mrs. Coburn's more lenient grading policy affected a more motivated class.
Although scientists lay claim to a positive affect on the drug industry, midazolam has also increased the number of date-rape cases.
The hurricane drastically affected the lives of those who lost their families.
The stimulant produced in the child a gleeful affect.
Mrs. Coburn's more lenient grading policy effected a more motivated class.
Although scientists lay claim to a positive effect on the drug industry, midazolam has also increased the number of date-rape cases.
It's and Its
It's is a contraction of the words it and is, while its is a possessive pronoun, which, like all of its brethren, has no apostrophe. The distinction between these two terms is incredibly simple, but I swear that society is slipping further and further into the clutches of illiteracy. And PLEASE, I implore you not to form the irrelevant its'—it's not a word.
Its the perfect weather today for swimming and playing volleyball.
The desktop lasted us a long while, but it's decrepit construction ultimately doomed it to fail.
It's the perfect weather today for swimming and playing volleyball.
The desktop lasted us a long while, but its decrepit construction ultimately doomed it to fail.
I know this segment's extremely dense, but I hope you learned something new! Next update will probably be within the time frame of that "every week or so" I mentioned earlier; I made this second update so quickly only because of the eagerness that inevitably entails a new venture. Stay tuned, children! ;D
Lesson Three: Saying No Once Is Good Enough (6/18/11)
A telltale sign of poor English fluency is the use of double negatives. When you want to express an idea, make sure to curtail your use of such words as not and hardly; these terms often conflict with other parts of a sentence. Let's take a look at an example:
I could care less about your family's money, my dear; although I don't hardly have any money, I don't need nothing from you but love.
The above sentence contains an appalling number of double-negative errors, so I'll review them one at a time. First of all, the phrase "could care less" REALLY gets on my nerves. I'm not sure what people are thinking when they use it, because it makes absolutely no sense. If a mother "could care less" about her son, then she DOES care about him—how else would she be able to care LESS? If you're trying to convey a sense of little or no concern, use the phrase "couldn't care less," which, unlike its oft-used, oft-abused counterpart, isn't a nonsensical corruption of language.
I couldn't care less about your family's money, my dear; although I don't hardly have any money, I don't need nothing from you but love.
On to the next problem, which lies in the subordinate clause following the semicolon. Hardly is, contrary to Southern dialect in the United States, a negative adverb that is at odds with the negative contraction. Thus, either negative piece can be removed, but considering that the man probably has at least some money, I'll remove the contraction.
I couldn't care less about your family's money, my dear; although I hardly have any money, I don't need nothing from you but love.
Finally, if not is anywhere near nothing in a sentence, your grammar intuition should alert you either to nix the former or to change the latter to anything.
I couldn't care less about your family's money, my dear; although I hardly have any money, I don't need anything from you but love.
Yay! Now that mess of a sentence is much more appealing, and that means this short lesson is coming to a close. Before you scamper off to other threads, though, keep in mind that double negatives are perfectly fine in conversation and in informal writing.
Furthermore, less offensive double negatives are sometimes useful for emphasis. For instance, let's imagine that CoughAway and ThroatSoother are two rather useless cold medicines and that CoughAway is better than ThroatSoother. You could say that CoughAway is "more effective" than ThroatSoother, but such a statement might be misleading, considering that neither one produces any tangible benefits. In that case, it'd be better to say that CoughAway is "less ineffective" than ThroatSoother. Yes, you're using a double negative. Blasphemy? Not quite. The phrase "less ineffective" as opposed to "more effective" highlights the inadequacy of both medicines rather than the superiority of CoughAway. Sure, you could go with "more effective," and no one (other than I) would bat an eyelash, but truly powerful manipulation of language, also known as rhetoric, relies on minuscule distinctions like this one to sway audiences.
Anyway, I'm kinda digressing, so I'll cut myself short here. Again, I hope you learned something new this time around, and I'll see y'all in a week! =]
Lesson Four: Misplacement of the Word Only (12/24/12)
Even native English speakers are rarely conscious of where they place the word only in their writing, much less in their speech. This common error stems from only's ubiquity, as many people casually throw it into their sentences without any regard for grammatical propriety. Usually, incorrect placement won't obscure meaning, but it certainly can, and it almost inevitably will unless you learn to put only only where it belongs. Let's look at how this tricky adverb can transform the meaning of the following sentence:
Only I wanted for Jackson to win.
Placing only before I implies that within a group of people, the speaker is the sole individual who supported Jackson's victory.
I only wanted for Jackson to win.
Placing only before wanted implies that wanting is the sole action carried out by the speaker. In other words, the speaker didn't help Jackson to win, nor did he or she encourage Jackson to win; all we understand from this sentence is that the speaker wanted Jackson to win and wanting is all that he or she did.
I wanted only for Jackson to win.
Placing only before for implies that the sole thing wanted by the speaker is Jackson's victory. In other words, the speaker didn't want a slice of cake, nor did he or she want to be rich; all we understand from this moment is that the speaker wanted Jackson to win and Jackson's victory is all that he or she wanted.
I wanted for only Jackson to win.
Placing only before Jackson implies that out of other competitors, the sole person the speaker wanted to win is Jackson. In other words, the speaker didn't want the guy to Jackson's left to win, nor did he or she root for the guy to Jackson's right; the one person the speaker wanted to see win is Jackson.
I wanted for Jackson only to win. or I wanted for Jackson to only win. or I wanted for Jackson to win only.
Placing only before, in the middle of, or after the infinitive phrase to win implies that the sole thing the speaker wanted Jackson to do is to win. In other words, the speaker didn't want Jackson to eat a slice of cake, nor did he or she want Jackson to grow wealthy; all we understand from this sentence is that the speaker wanted Jackson to win and winning is all that he or she wanted Jackson to do.
I hope you've learned a lot from this short yet still-confusing lecture! My sincerest apologies for the atrociously long hiatus, but after completing my first semester of college (WOOT), I've learned to prioritize my time well enough that I have plenty to dedicate to y'all. Enjoy, and I'll see you in a week!
Quoting, Underlining, and Italicizing
Is It June 1 or June 1st?
Punctuation Next to Quotations + Anyway vs. Anyways
Dollars and Weeks: Subject-Verb, -Noun, and -Adjective Agreement
Between vs. Among
That vs. Which vs. Who and Zero Relative Pronouns
Usage, In Order, and Other Verbosities
Do I Work Everyday or Every Day?
Hyphens and Capitalization
Homonyms, Homonyms, and More Homonyms—Parts II and Beyond
Split Infinitives, End-of-Sentence Prepositions, and Other Latin Mishaps
Any suggestions are welcome, too!
It's always stressed, yet always forgotten. People say they acknowledge it, but they never do it..
THERE, THEIR, THEY'RE
YOUR & YOU'RE
Sure on the internet (well in game) I don't use the apostrophe, but I use the correct word D:
So simple, yet constantly misused.
Please go over then and than.
AND I TOTALLY AGREE WITH MAIDLATTE.
I would love chu for doing this.
<--- fancy mustache-twirl, you say?
Love what you're doing. Making grammar something that can easily be learned in 5 minutes or less is bound to help a few kiddies learn how to type properly. Something about it kinda reminded me about the Oatmeal grammar comics. I think they'd be good, too. Comical, yet effective -- it'll catch the eye, entertain the reader, then do a bit of teaching by giving them humor with grammar lessons.
affect vs effect, please.
I'm a big fan of the em dashes -- I prefer using them over semi-colons/commas to complete my sentences. /o/
Luckily, I am not English~ So I can get away with just a tilde.
How to avoid double negatives?
One of those words that get me.. "irregardless"
GAAAH! It doesn't even spell check the word because it thinks it's real!
Great job on this thread by the way! The different hyphen thing (En dashes, Em dashes, hyphens) I had no clue about. I just threw hyphens in wherever I thought appropriate xD.
Irregardless? WHAT WHAT WHAT? Regardless = without regard, so irregardless = without without regard?! I'm so confused. Is that even a word?
I love this thread. I need to post this thread link everywhere, but then I'll technically be beetching and saying that people have bad grammar and then they'll be all mad and stuff. I'm confused with the hyphens, though.
And yes! People use it, irregardless of whether it makes sense in a sentence or if it's a word.
I think it's like: regardless means something is not worth regarding and irregardless means it's worth regarding again? xD
Geez.. People these days.
A little late, but I got a new, somewhat short block up! As you'll see toward the end of this lesson, some double negatives are fine to use, e'er'body! =D
Thank you, MaidLatte and Mathemagician, for your suggestions and support! I neglected to cover irregardless, but that word really, in the words of Peter Griffin, grinds my gears. I myself almost used it once, but I looked it up and found to my dismay that it's not a legitimate word but a hideous (and illogical!) portmanteau of regardless and irrespective, both of which are perfectly usable.
Irregardless isn't a word. (Well, it falls into the category of incorrect words/usages like 'ain't' and 'conversate' and 'ATM Machine/PIN Number' and
Regardless means "without regard."
Regard means "regard."
Irregardless has the same meaning as regardless except that it's not a real word. English teachers go mad over stuff like that, you know?
An excellent piece of work.
Who's the owner of this couch? (Contraction: Who is the owner of this couch?)
I just wanted it to be in the big post. ; 3;
Not sure if it's right to revive an old thread like this but I find this thread really helpful! (although there are some stuff, I knew already)
anyway, I'd like to see some updates.. like
Misplacement of the Word Only
Between vs. Among
That vs. Which vs. Who and Zero Relative Pronouns
Usage, In Order, and Other Verbosities
Can anybody tell me what's the difference between "between" and "among"? Or can "Only" really be misplaced? I didn't know that.
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