#Diagramming challenge No. 1 (sentence and answer)

At the recent ACES: The Society for Editing conference, I gave a session on diagramming sentences. It was during the last session period of the conference, on a sunny Florida afternoon, and more than 100 people packed the room to learn, or refresh their memories, about sentence diagramming. (We’re talking about the classic “Reed-Kellogg” method…

Don’t sweat it: Passive voice

Numerous writing guides (and, judging from the people I encounter, hundreds of writing teachers) drum it into student’s heads that the passive voice is to be avoided at all costs to avoid the passive voice at all costs. That’s not always bad advice, but, as with most grammar “rules,” it’s a guideline rather than a…

Don’t let your subjects be dummies

“Omit needless words” is one piece of stellar, timeless advice from the oft-maligned (with good reason) Strunk and White. Nonetheless, I see a lot writing filled with what I call “couch potato words” – words that just sit there, doing nothing and eating your chips. Two constructions that are good examples of “couch potato words” are…

Let’s try not to be disagreeable

This is not a post about immigration — grammarians have no power over politics. It is a post about some of the more complicated aspects of subject-verb agreement, and it’s something I hope everyone can agree on. The basics: Subjects and verbs must agree, that is, singular subjects get singular verbs, and plural subjects get…

Comings and goings, bringings and takings

Speaking of bring / brought / brought, people often get confused about when to use “bring” and when to use “take.” Some people use the two words interchangeably, but they aren’t interchangeable, or they aren’t if you are trying to communicate clearly. “Bring” vs. “take” is easier to understand if it’s compared with “come” and…

Why does English … ? Just because

As a child, I hated the answer “Because” when I asked the question “Why?” It’s a non-answer answer that imparts no information and implies that the matter is closed. As an adult, I teach editing and writing, and work individually with students who need help in both. They have lots of questions — good questions…

Putting up with phrasal verbs

Originally posted on Grammar Monkeys on Jan. 10, 2011. Some languages add prefixes, infixes or suffixes to verbs to change the meaning. For example, in Russian the word for “go” can change through prefixes into “go in,” “go out,” “go around,” “go across,” “go over,” “go under” and so on. Each one is still a…

One of those people

Originally published on Grammar Monkeys on Nov. 22, 2010. Are you one of those people who cringe — or is it “cringes”? — at misused apostrophes? Or is your favorite desk dinner one of those microwave meals that stinks — or is it “stink”? — up the whole office? Sentences with “one of those” can…

Maybe so, might as well

Originally published on Grammar Monkeys on Sept. 20, 2010. Modal verbs express possibility/probability, necessity/obligation or ability/willingness. They show up as a base verb with a modal auxiliary, such as may, might, should, ought to, must, can, could, would, wish to. Shall and will function sometimes as modals and sometimes as simple future tense markers, depending…