The Power of Verbs

Power of Verbs

Verbs are the engines that power your sentences.

Here’s an exercise that will help you learn the power of verbs.

See if you can make the following paragraph more interesting by changing the verbs. Challenge yourself to show this narrator either speeding through her day or dragging through it by the verbs you choose. If you like, post your revision in the comments below.

I got up this morning: I got dressed I got coffee and a bagel when I got gas. I got the news on the radio, and I got the mail on the way down the hall to the office. I got through my email before my ten o’clock meeting, but I got a phone call from a client so I got to the meeting late.

After the meeting I got through the HR about my health benefits, because I got a bill for my last doctor’s visit that didn’t get covered by my insurance and should have. I got a liverwurst sandwich at the deli across the street and I got red licorice at the candy store next door. I got a lot done between one and three because I got smart and turned my email and phone off. But my boss got mad because she couldn’t get through. When I told her all I got done, she got thoughtful. I got to go out to the bakery with her and got a coffee and an éclair and got a chance to tell her about all the ways I get interrupted at work and all the ways we could get more done. She got it and thanked me. I got back to my desk and got some more done before I got back in my car. Even with traffic, I got to my yoga class in time and got home feeling like I’d had a good day.

Give it a try – then show off your work and any comments about what you learned.

Always wishing you the exact word to express precisely what it is you want to say, ~Deborah.

How to Use a Colon

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There are three general ways to use a colon: to introduce a list; to separate numerals in references and time; and to separate a title from a sub-title.

ONE: Introducing a List

The sentence above is an example of using a colon to introduce a list. Just think of a colon as shorthand for the phrases “that is,” “such as,” or “for example.” A colon used this way promotes both clarity and economy.

A colon can also introduce an appositive: a noun or noun phrase that describes or explains the noun or noun phrase that immediately comes before. The previous sentence is an example of this usage.

TWO: Separating Numerals In References And Time

Some books, like the Bible, are divided into chapter and verse: numbers separated by a colon. (That sentence is another example of a colon introducing an appositive.)

Genesis 1:1 in the King James Bible reads, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”

A colon is also used to separate units of time: hours from minutes, minutes from seconds, seconds from hundredths of a second, and so on. I’m writing this post at 8:44 AM as expressed on a twelve-hour clock. On a 24-hour clock, the time is 08:44. Actually, it’s now 08:45. You get the idea.

THREE: Introducing A Subtitle

The following is a list of the stack of books on my desk waiting to be shelved.

Dancing at the Edge of the World: Thoughts On Words, Women, Places by Ursula K. Le Guin

Robert’s Rules of Order: Newly Revised 11th Edition

Harbrace College Handbook: 1984 Printing, With the new MLA documentation style.

This last title is my go-to reference for explaining grammatical issues, such as how to use a colon effectively.

There are certainly other ways to use colons, but these are the main three. Try them; you may find them useful.

Please let me know: Did you find this post helpful?

When To Use A Semi-Colon

USE THE SEMI-COLON TO ACHIEVE CLARITY

General Rule

two semi-colons

The semi-colon joins and separates equal parts.

The semi-colon is stronger than a comma and not as final as a period. When used to join separate items, it indicates there’s a relationship between the parts; when used to separate items, it indicates where each item begins and ends.

The general rule for semi-colons is to link equal parts. Use semi-colons to join two or more independent clauses, or to separate two or more dependent clauses.

Clarity

A semi-colon joins two independent clauses; this punctuation links the two ideas. [This example shows a semi-colon joining two independent clauses.] You can use a semi-colon to join two closely related independent clauses with a semi-colon instead of using a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, nor, for, so, or yet). This is an economic method of showing relationship without words.

A semi-colon separates items in a series where the items themselves contain commas:

Three of my favorite writers are: Jane Austen, an early nineteenth-century British novelist; John McPhee, a twentieth-century American credited with inventing creative non-fiction; and J.M. Coetzee, recipient of the Nobel Prize for literature in 2003.

Of course, these are just three of my favorite authors. Others include Virginia Woolf, Thomas Hardy, William Shakespeare, and whomever I’m reading at the moment. Recently, that would include Hope Jahren, Lab Girl; Ariel Levy, The Rules Do Not Apply; and Helen MacDonald, H is for Hawk.

Further Reading About Punctuation

Here are links to previous posts about punctuation you may find helpful toward writing with clarity and grace:

A Brief Guide to Narrative Navigation

A Sentence is a Complete Thought

Punctuation Changes Meaning

My Writing Bible

Deborah Lee Luskin blogs weekly at Living in Place

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.

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.