Monthly Archives: February 2010

Never fear the semicolon

Originally posted on Grammar Monkeys on Feb. 23, 2010

The semicolon is a much-misused, often maligned, but elegant and useful piece of punctuation. Neither a period nor a comma, the semicolon links in some instances and divides in others. There’s no need to be afraid of it; there are only three main instances when you need to use a semicolon. Well, more like two and a half.

1. When you have two complete thoughts (independent clauses) that are closely enough related that they should be in the same sentence. How to tell if a semicolon is appropriate: You could put a period in and get two grammatically correct sentences. You can do this if you like, but if you want to indicate a closer relationship, put the two clauses in the same sentence with a semicolon between them. If you use a comma, you need to add a coordinating conjunction — and, but, or, etc. — or you’ll end up with the dreaded comma splice.

aliens-ate-my-buickFor example:
“I’m taking the bus to work this week; aliens ate my Buick.”
You could say “I’m taking the bus to work this week. Aliens ate my Buick.” and each of those two sentences is grammatically correct. But the fact that you’re riding the bus and giving the reason for that are connected, and best put in the same sentence. So you use a semicolon to do that.

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Remembrance of things …

Originally posted on Grammar Monkeys on Feb. 19, 2010

Has something “passed” you by? Was that in the “past”? Although it sounds the same as “passed,” “past” is not a form of the verb “pass,” and these two words are used in different situations.


Marcel Proust

The verb “pass” takes “passed” as its past-tense and past-participle forms:
Present tense: Please pass the turnips. And pass the pepper, too.
Past tense: The children were so eager to see the lions that they passed right by the monkey house.
Past participle: The earnest intern, passed over for a permanent position, decided to start her own business.

However, “past” is much more flexible: It can be a noun, an adjective, an adverb or a preposition.
Noun: We’re thankful the unpleasantness is all in the past now.
Adjective: The past tense of the verb “sing” is “sang.”
Adverb: We were sitting here as the speeding garbage truck hurtled past.
Preposition: Nothing gets past us!

Reflexive actions

Originally posted on Grammar Monkeys on Feb. 10, 2010

Reflexive pronouns are those that end in “-self” — myself, herself, themselves and so on. These pronouns are used when a subject and an object are the same person.

Reflexive pronouns can be direct obects:
Vampires can’t see themselves in a mirror.

They can be indirect objects:
The Invisible Man bought himself a fresh roll of bandages.

They can be objectbrides of a preposition:
With that hairdo, Frankenstein’s bride found it hard not to draw attention to herself.

They can even be used for special emphasis on a subject or an object:
Even Dr. Frankenstein himself realized that it all could end badly.
Make sure you deliver this message to Mina Harker herself — don’t leave it on the table.
When nothing the others did seemed to be able to stop the Blob, the teenagers went after it themselves.

But remember that reflexives should not be used when the subject and the object are two different people:
*The mummy came after Sir Joseph and myself.
Use: The mummy came after Sir Joseph and me.

And a reflexive should never be used as a subject:
*John and myself set out in search of werewolves.
Use: John and I set out in search of werewolves.