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Self-Editing Tip #10: Apostrophe

31 Jul

The Apostrophe: Ownership versus Plurals—Today’s tip covers a topic which has numerous examples both of what to do and what not to do.

Look at the graphic. Can you spot the apostrophe catastrophe? It reads, “Parent’s please do not let your kid’s stand or play with the chair’s. Thank you.”

There are actually three, and let’s not even get started with the strange parentheses or half-quotation marks going on there, or even how every “T” is capitalized regardless of its placement in the word.

All three apostrophes are placed incorrectly. In this example, they aren’t needed at all. Placing an apostrophe in such a way does not make a plural noun as the writer of this sign seems to think. It means those nouns are showing ownership of something.

Ex. Ellen’s TV show is very funny.

To make a word plural, simply add an “s.” The sign should read, “Parents, Please do not let your kids stand or play with the chairs. Thank you.” I would also argue that it should say, “stand on or play with the chairs,” but semantics is not our topic.

The only instance where an apostrophe is ever needed for a plural word is when the plural noun is also showing ownership over a plural object. In cases such as these, the apostrophe belongs after the “s.”

Ex. The butterflies’ cocoons were nearly ready to hatch.

Not shown in the image, but equally important and misused, are apostrophes for contractions. These are words like, “it’s,” “aren’t,” “can’t,” “we’re,” and so on, where two words have been merged for convenience and less formal usage. It is especially important to remember the apostrophe for, “it’s,” and “we’re,” as removing it still leaves us with valid words, but drastically different implications on the same sentence.

Ex. We’re going to lunch.=We are going to lunch.

Were going to lunch.=incomplete sentence

OR We were going to lunch.

Ex. It’s time to go.=It is time to go.

Its time to go.= incomplete sentence

OR Its time to go drew near.

For more grammar information, come back regularly for new tips. Also check out Martha Kolln and Loretta Gray’s book Rhetorical Grammar: Grammatical Choices, Rhetorical Effects (6th or 7th edition). I’ve mentioned it before and will continue to do so. It’s really vital for anyone looking to learn the nuances of Standard Written American English (SWAE) or refresh what they already know.

Self-Editing Tip #9 Commonly Misused/Misspelled Words

30 Jul

Commonly Misused/Misspelled Words

Today’s tip is more of a reference which will continue to grow over time.

Look at this list of words. Do you know the proper usages?

  • Choose-present tense verb/Chose-past tense verb
  • Loose-adjective/Lose-verb
  • They’re-contraction for “They are”/Their-shows possession of something for more than one person simultaneously/There-points out a place
  • You’re-contraction for “You are”/Your-shows possession
  • To-preposition/Too-adjective/Two-noun, the number
  • Effect-noun/Affect-verb
  • Dessert-what you eat/Desert-where there’s sand
  • Edition-one of a series/Addition-the result of increasing amount or quantity
  • Setup-noun, “The whole thing was a setup, a scam!”/Set Up-verb, “Please set up those folding chairs.”
  • Backup-noun, “Do a full backup of the computer just in case.”/Back Up-verb, “Back up the computer just in case.”
  • Ad-advertisement/Add-addition
  • A lot-This is two words. Always.

This list could go on forever. Additions are imminent.

Self-Editing Tip #4: Em Dash

8 Jul

The Em Dash—The Em Dash is the “giant hyphen” of the punctuation world. Many don’t realize that the hyphen is not the proper way to add commentary/editorial information into sentences. The example below shows the common mistake of using a hyphen rather than an Em Dash for this aside-type statement.

Ex. What is most important- especially for those not accustomed to certain exercise equipment -is that enthusiasm is not replaced with recklessness.

The sentence above is not incorrect in terms of syntax, semantics, or cohesion. The only thing that needs fixing are those pesky little hyphens. To create an Em Dash, type the first phrase and two hyphens. Leave no space between the words and the hyphens and no space between the two hyphens. Type the commentary phrase without adding a space after the hyphens. At the end of the commentary phrase, type two more hyphens with no spaces just like the first set. Most word processing programs will automatically turn your two hyphens into Em dashes. If it does not, you can select an Em Dash by going to the Insert tab of Microsoft Word, selecting Symbol, More Symbols, and then Special Characters. You can also use the shortcut key phrase Alt+Ctrl+Num or set your own shortcut key. The sentence in its corrected form is below:

Ex. What is most important—especially for those not accustomed to certain exercise equipment—is that enthusiasm is not replaced with recklessness.

Self-Editing Tip #2: Comma Splice

2 Jul

The Comma Splice—Basically stated, a comma splice is any instance where a comma is placed between two independent clauses without a conjunction to accompany it.

Ex. We were going to lie on the beach today, it rained, we couldn’t go.

Imagine a period at the end of clause 1 in place of the comma. Does it work as a stand-alone sentence? Asking this question is usually a good way to test a clause to see if it is a complete sentence. Do the same with clause 2 and 3.

I’ve used a lengthy compound sentence in this example to show that sentences with comma splices are different than a list. The example above is not a list of events. Each clause functions as a complete sentence when separated from the comma and other portion of the sentence. This means there is a comma splice.

There are two options for fixing comma splices.

In order to leave the comma, a conjunction must be added.

Ex. We were going to lie on the beach today, but it rained, and we couldn’t go.

In order to leave out the conjunctions, a semicolon must be added in place of the comma.

Ex. We were going to lie on the beach today; it rained; we couldn’t go.

Now, the example above is not the most conventional use of the semicolon. You generally find them in compound sentences with two clauses. However, there is no rule about using them as shown, especially if the goal is to set your writing apart stylistically.

For examples of (almost excessive, but effective) stylistic use of the semicolon and comma, check out Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Sunflower Sutra.” For more specific discussion about comma splices, semicolons, and other grammar concepts, I recommend Martha Kolln and Loretta Gray’s book Rhetorical Grammar: Grammatical Choices, Rhetorical Effects (6th or 7th edition).

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