Wednesday, October 24, 2018


Expletives are empty "filler" words that are inserted at a place in a sentence where the subject should go. For example, if a sentence begins, "It is evident that..." the word "It" is an expletive marking the spot in the sentence where a subject should go but it doesn't actually convey any information.

Expletives are usually wasted words and if they are overused they can lead to unclear or uninteresting writing.

LOOK FOR: Any sentence (or phrase) that begins with "It is..." "There are..." etc. and fix the error by finding the real subject of the sentence and using it in place the empty words.

INSTEAD OF: It is evident that we will not meet our goal.
USE: We will not meet our goal.

Although expletives may not convey any real meaning to the sentence, they can still have a grammatical purpose. For example, by using "There..." at the beginning of the sentence, the subject moves to a spot later in the sentence – where it can be emphasized. Sometimes, lyrical writing makes use of this style.

For Example:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
–Leonard Cohen, from his song “Anthem,” off the 1992 album The Future.

Expletives are not always bad words

Reduce expletive constructions

What are expletive constructions and why should I avoid them?

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Placement of Punctuation

There are two schools of thought concerning the placement of a comma or a period when writing a quotation: American and British.

For Americans, who like to do things the easy way, the rule for placement is that periods and commas always go inside the closing quotation mark.

Some writers in the US follow the British style, which places the period on the outside of the closing quotation mark when it finishes a sentence and inside when it punctuates only the quoted material. The British always place commas outside of the quotation mark.

Adopting the American style allows less room for error — always place commas and periods on the inside of the closing quotation mark. Just remember not to mix the two styles in your writing.


US and British Punctuation Styles

US and British writing styles exhibit variations in the use of quotation marks. In the US style, periods and commas are placed inside the quotation marks. In the British style, periods and commas are placed inside the quotation marks only when they are part of the quoted material.

The Canadian style for quotation marks usually follows the US style for the placement of periods and commas. Some Canadian publishers may prefer the British style; however, while others use a combination of the two styles.

In some cases, even British publishers prefer the US style, because of its greater acceptance globally.

The following example contrasts the US style with the British style:

US: The CFI position paper points to "convincing evidence that Earth's climate is undergoing significant, and in some cases, alarming changes."

British: Dennett goes on to say that it is our ability to 'see' ahead with our minds, to play in our heads several possible causal scenarios, that 'makes us moral agents. You don't need a miracle to have responsibility'.

The following rules are based on the US style.

If single quotation marks are used to signify a special term, the period is placed outside the quotation marks.

Example: Janice disagreed about using the word 'apposition'.

A colon or semicolon is always placed outside quotation marks. When the enclosed material ends in a colon, the colon is omitted.

Example: Three themes can be found in "Morgan's Dilemma": hope, courage, and heroism.

Use a comma to introduce a quotation after a standard dialogue tag, a brief introductory phrase, or a dependent clause.

Example: As D. H. Nachas explains, "The gestures used for greeting others differ greatly from one culture to another."

Use a colon to introduce a quotation after an independent clause.

Example: D. H. Nachas explains cultural differences in greeting customs: "Touching is not a universal sign of greeting. While members of European cultures meet and shake hands as a gesture of greeting, members of Asian cultures bow to indicate respect."

Put commas and periods within closing quotation marks, except when a parenthetical reference follows the quotation.

Examples: He said, "I may forget your name, but I never remember a face."

History is stained with blood spilled in the name of "civilization."

Mullen, criticizing the apparent inaction, writes, "Donahue's policy was to do nothing" (27).

Put colons and semicolons outside closing quotation marks.

Examples: Williams described the experiment as "a definitive step forward"; other scientists disagreed.
Benedetto emphasizes three elements of what she calls her "Olympic journey": family support, personal commitment, and great coaching.

Put a dash, question mark, or exclamation point within closing quotation marks when the punctuation applies to the quotation itself and outside when it applies to the whole sentence.

Examples: Philip asked, "Do you need this book?"
Does Dr. Lim always say to her students, "You must work harder"?

Sharon shouted enthusiastically, "We won! We won!"

I can't believe you actually like that song, "If You Wanna Be My Lover"!

Unnecessary Quotation Marks
Do not put quotation marks around the titles of essays.

Do not use quotation marks for common nicknames, bits of humor, technical terms that readers are likely to know, and trite or well-known expressions.


Saturday, September 2, 2017

Nominalization: A Common Error in Writing

Nominalization is changing a verb into a noun. When you change a verb to a noun, you take the strength away from the sentence. For example, “to conclude” is a specific act but if you are “reaching a conclusion” you’ve eliminated the specific action and replaced it with an all-purpose verb. Instead of “concluding,” the action becomes “reaching.” LOOK FOR such words as: recognition, assumption, formation, protection, realization, destruction, decision, examination and correct the error by changing the word back to a verb that is assigned to a subject.

INSTEAD OF: We reached the conclusion that…
USE: We concluded that…

INSTEAD OF: I am working on the assumption that…
USE: I assume that…

Pronouncing Abbreviations

When you are dealing with an abbreviation, the choice of "a" or "an" will depend on whether you pronounce the expression letter by letter or as a word. Abbreviations pronounced letter by letter are called "initialisms"; abbreviations pronounced as words are called "acronyms."

An FBI agent
A MADD fund-raising drive
An NBC news report
A SWAT team


Unnecessary Prepositions

Do not use extra prepositions when the meaning of the phrase is clear without them.

For example, you can
* meet someone, not meet up with someone
* cut the meat, not cut it up
* respond later, not respond later on
* take something off the desk; not take it off of the desk

Eliminate unnecessary prepositions from the following sentences:
1. Where is the director at?
2. Please take the report off of the printer.
3. Where are we sending it to?
4. We need to divide this up into four sections.