Punctuation Changes Meaning

Punctuation Changes Meaning.

Without punctuation, words strung together lack meaning.

dear john i want a man who knows what love is all about you are generous kind thoughtful people who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior you have ruined me for other men i yearn for you i have no feelings whatsoever when we’re apart i can be forever happy will you let me be yours jane

Punctuation turns this string of words into a love-letter.

Dear John,
I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we’re apart. I can be forever happy–will you let me be yours?
Jane

With different punctuation, this string of words becomes a Dear John letter.

Dear John:

I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior! You have ruined me. For other men, I yearn! For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we’re apart, I can be happy. Will you let me be?

Yours,

Jane

Here’s another string of words without punctuation. See if you can add punctuation so it makes sense.

that that is is that that is not is not that that is is not that that is not.

Deborah headshotDeborah Lee Luskin loves a well-punctuated sentence; she’s especially fond of the semi-colon, both when it’s used between independent clauses, and when it separates items in a series.

Coordination and Subordination

Coordination and Subordination

In graduate school, I had a professor who said, “The hardest word in the English language to use properly is the conjunction ‘and’,” and “The key to success is subordination.”

Coordination

I just used the coordinating conjunction ‘and’ in the sentence above to join the two quotations, which are independent clauses.

coordination

Balanced scales illustrate the concept of coordination in grammar.

A good way to think about coordination is to visualize a scale in balance, or kids balancing on a see-saw.

There are seven coordinating conjunctions: and, but, yet, for, or, nor, so. Used properly, they join equal parts: two or more words, phrases, clauses or sentences of equal rank. Each of the seven coordinating conjunctions has a different meaning.

  1. And: in addition, also, moreover, besides

2&3. But or yet: nevertheless, however, still

4. For: because, seeing that, since

5. Or: as an alternative, otherwise

6. Nor: and not, or not, not either [nor is used after a negative]

7. So: therefore, as a result

Using the accurate conjunction betters a writer’s chance of being correctly understood.

Subordination

Since ideas are neither all equal nor merit equal emphasis, it’s important to subordinate the lesser elements to make the primary idea paramount. This is called subordination.

subordination

Subordination allows for emphasis of the main point – the subject’s face.

A good way to visualize subordination is to think of a painting where the compositional elements are toned down in order to bring attention to the focal point, as in Rembrant’s self- portrait. Everything in this painting is secondary to the artist’s face.

Things that are subordinate are secondary; they have lower rank than the main idea, and their placement in a sentence, paragraph or essay should reflect that.

Subordination allows a writer to emphasize the main idea, to combine lesser ideas in the service of the main idea, and to combine supporting evidence with clarity and elegance.

You can read more about subordination here.

Deborah headshotDeborah Lee Luskin is an author, speaker and educator who loves winter.

 

 

Grammar-ease: Those Words That Are Spelled the Same, Sound the Same…

It’s been a while since I’ve done a grammar post. As I’ve been writing lately, my fingers have been coming up with their own spellings of words that pass spellcheck but aren’t correct. And, voila, today’s post was born!

What are the words called that are spelled the same but sound different?

How about the words that sound the same but are spelled different? What are they called?

And then, what about those words that are spelled the same and sound the same? What are those called?

Here’s the cheat / check list:

 

homophone_homograph_homonym

Homophones are words that sound the same when pronounced and are spelled differently. (think ‘phone’ = ‘sound’) Examples:

  • adds / ads
  • air / heir
  • ate / eight
  • bare /bear
  • bread / bred
  • days / daze
  • dear / deer
  • dew / do
  • doe / dough
  • feat / feet
  • fore / for / four
  • hire / higher
  • lead / led
  • loan / lone
  • meat / meet
  • pair / pare / pear
  • sail / sale
  • sew / so
  • there / their / they’re
  • wear / where

Homographs are words that are spelled the same and they can sound the same, but don’t have to. (think ‘graph’ = spelling) Examples:

  • bear (animal) / bear (carry something)
  • bow (bend forward) / bow (of a ship)
  • fair (reasonable) / fair (in appearance)
  • lead (bullet) / lead (be in front)
  • lean (thin) / lean (rest against)
  • plain (ordinary) / plain (flat country)
  • porter (beer) / porter (person)
  • punch (drink) / punch (in the face)
  • tear (apart) / (cry a ) tear
  • train (teach) / train (transportation)

Homonyms are words that are spelled the same and/or sound the same – they are a combination of homophones and homographs. (think ‘onym’ = name). Examples:

  • lead / led
  • mean (nasty) / mean (math term)
  • muscle / mussel
  • pen (to write with) / pen (to cage animals)
  • pour / pore

***Tip — all homonyms are homophones because they sound the same

Does this help clarify the terms and differences?

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

The English Language On Word Order Depends

I-need-you-I-miss-you-I-love-you-3-love-10112773-1024-768While I’m hiking The Long Trail, I’m reposting old favorites. This one originally published October 22, 2013.

The English language on word order depends.

If that sentence doesn’t convince you, try this:

Take the adverb “only” and place it in different positions in the following sentence.

He said, “I love you.” (Nice thought.)

Only he said, “I love you.” (No one else said it.)

He only said, “I love you.” (He said nothing else.)

He said, “Only I love you.” (No one else does.)

He said, “I love only you.” (He doesn’t love any one else.)

He said, “I love you only.” (His love is exclusive.)

In The Elements of Style, Strunk and White advise that “Modifiers should come, if possible, next to the word they modify.” When modifiers are misplaced, the result is always  ambiguity – and often hilarity as well. Consider this Classified Ad: “Piano for sale by lady with carved legs.”

Because English depends on word order, “with carved legs” describes the lady, not the piano. The prepositional phrase needs to be placed in proximity to what it describes – the piano.

Here’s an example from The Harbrace College Handbook. “The doctor said that there was nothing seriously wrong with a smile.” I used Harbrace when I taught college nearly thirty years ago. Surely there have been advances in medicine since then, but smiles have always been terrific, especially when it’s the doctor who’s smiling while delivering the good news. The doctor said with a smile that there was nothing seriously wrong.

The rule for clarity is to always place modifiers as close as possible to the words they describe. Modifers include adverbs, adjectives, phrases or clauses, and they become misplaced when they are too far from what they describe. Here’s an example from The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing Well.

 Chason-sisters-old2           The two sisters were reunited after 18 years at the checkout counter.

            I know, I know – it sometimes seems as if it does take forever to check out, but more likely, the author really meant, After 18 years, the two sisters were reunited at the checkout counter.

            Here are some other examples of misplaced prepositional phrases that should make you laugh – and help you keep your words in order.

  • “One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I’ll never know.”  -Groucho Marx
  • Abraham Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg address while traveling from Washington to Gettysburg on the back of an envelope. (Was the envelope harnessed to a coach?)
  •  We found the address he gave me without difficulty. (What’s so hard about giving someone an address?)
  •  We watched the tree come crashing down with bated breath. (Trees have bated breath?)
  •  Squirrels ran up the tree with their mouths full of nuts. (Trees have mouths full of nuts?)
  •  Under the couch, Dave spotted the cat playing with catnip. (What’s Dave doing under the couch?)
  •  On the hay wagon, the horse pulled the group of students. In the ice, several skaters saw the large crack. (Why is the horse on the wagon, and how did the skaters get in the ice?)
  •  A lion startled the hunter with a ferocious roar. (Oh, those roaring hunters . . . )
  •  The profits were deposited safely in the bank from the bake sale. (Did the baked goods taste like money?)
  •  “He dialed the number at the hospital of Dr. X.” (Who did he dial? Was Dr. X holding him hostage at his hospital?)

             While it’s great to make your readers laugh, you can make sure they’re laughing at what you say and not how you’ve said it by observing the English language’s dependency on word order.

dll2013Deborah Lee Luskin taught grammar and rhetoric at Columbia, where she earned her PhD in English Literature before moving to Vermont to write novels and raise chickens and daughters. She is the author of the award-winning novel, Into The Wilderness. Learn more at www.deborahleeluskin.com

Grammar-ease: Let’s Talk about Lets

Let's Do ThisI’ve seen a lot of lets and let’s and different technical pieces I’ve edited in the past couple of weeks, so I thought it would make a good grammar post.

Let’s is the contraction for “let us” (introduces a suggestion or request); whereas lets  means to allow or permit (third-person singular — he/she/it lets).

Let’s see some examples:

  • Let’s go to the beach.
  • My twin sister lets me borrow her clothes.
  • Let’s forget this ever happened, okay?
  • He lets the rabbit run around the house.
  • Let’s go, girls and boys.
  • Bart lets his daughter walk to the bus stop on her own.
  • Let’s consider all the facts before making a decision.
  • The teacher lets his students eat during class.
  • Let’s be kind to one another.
  • Facebook lets you connect with people around the globe.
  • We can forgive, but let’s not forget.

Confusion comes in, I think, with phrasing such as “Let’s you and me get out of here.” since it evolves to “Let us you and me get out of here.” The “you and me” portion can be considered emphasis for specifying who should actually get out of here (if there are more than two people), but overall the wording is a bit of overkill, redundant, a mouthful, and not standard English. You can simply say, “Let’s get out of here.”

Here’s an example of wording that might sound incorrect, but it’s not: Don’t let’s throw away the baby clothes. We can donate them.

In summary:

  • “Let’s” = “let us”.
  • “Lets” is a verb.

What grammar topics are you finding challenging lately?

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Grammar-ease: Passed vs Past and Other Confusing Words

In my editing endeavors recently I’ve encountered a lot of words that spellcheck doesn’t always catch and so it prompted me to share a few of them with you.

Passed (verb) vs Past (preposition or adverb)

  • The time has passed for you to submit the rebuttal.
  • That event happened in the past.
  • I passed by the door on the way to the bathroom.
  • I walked past the door.

Confusing WordsTwo vs Too

  • Two is a number (2) — I have two cycling friends.
  • Too means ‘also’ — I have to invite my cycling friends to the event, too.

Four vs For

  • Four is a number (4) — She has four brothers.
  • For is a preposition (or conjunction) — She needs her brothers for protection.

Peace (noun; uncountable) vs Piece (noun; countable)

  • The peace between the cats and dogs lasted until the treats were devoured.
  • Mom won’t get a moment’s peace until Dad gets home and can watch the baby.
  • Meditation helps reach a peace of mind.
  • She used four pieces of paper.
  • The musicians separated the sheet music into separate pieces.
  • Can you give me a piece of advice, please?

Of course there is their/there, too, and so many others. I’m sure you come across many in your daily reading. Share a few that you see too often or that have stuck with you, in the comments.

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Grammar-ease: ‘That’ vs ‘Which’

That_Vs_whichIt’s a common trouble spot for a lot of people — creating a story or document and the words are flowing easily, but then the conundrum of ‘that’ or ‘which’ arises.

Do you rewrite the sentence to avoid the confusion all together? Do you flip a coin to decide? Or maybe you just go with what sounds the best. After reading this grammar-ease tip, I hope the confusion will be removed.

It can be simple: If a restrictive clause, use that. If an unrestrictive clause, us which.

What does that mean?

A restrictive clause is part of a sentence you can’t get rid of; it’s necessary for the meaning.

  • Dogs that bark are disruptive. (Without ‘that bark’, you’d have “Dogs are disruptive.” Unless you want to say that all dogs are disruptive, you need ‘that bark’ in the sentence.)
  • The vase that you dropped was a priceless antique. (You can see how ‘that you dropped’ clarifies the meaning.)
  • He refused to sit in the chair that his wife put together.  (he might trust a chair that he put together himself!)
  • Gifts that keep on giving are her favorite. (not all gifts are her favorite)
  • Vehicles that have hybrid technology get great gas mileage.  (in other words, not all vehicles get great gas mileage)

A non-restrictive clause is a phrase that can be removed from a sentence without losing the meaning (if you take out the ‘which’ phrase in any of the next examples, the remaining part of the sentence hasn’t changed its meaning). A non-restrictive clause adds non-defining details.

  • His new running shoes, which were expensive, wore out after only five miles of use. (you don’t really need to know the running shoes were expensive)
  • There was a landslide at the resort yesterday, which is bad news for vacationers. (one can infer a landslide is bad news)
  • Cats, which are great pets, can be quite destructive at times. (not just cats can be great pets)
  • She signed up for the continuing education class, which is free for all town residents. (the details about the class being free aren’t necessary — they can be useful, but not required in regard to knowing she simply signed up for a class)
  • Your task, which is to keep the squirrels out of the bird feeders, will be a never-ending chore.
  • The book, which I had at the lake, is the one I wanted you to check out.

Tip: when using ‘which’ it’s common to offset the non-description phrase with commas; you won’t find restrictive clauses offset with commas (in most cases).

Of course, there are always exceptions, and you may simply prefer to use ‘which’ instead of ‘that’ at times. These examples were to give a straightforward, clean way of looking at the two words.

I don’t use ‘which’ all that often. I find that I can write tighter when not using it.

Did these examples help clarify the differences?

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.