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Posts tagged ‘English’

Top Ten Things Your English Teacher Got Wrong

Many of the things we learn in school or in another educational setting we tend to instantly accept as fact. But no matter how reasonable something might seem, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s true. This is certainly the case when it comes to some of the “rules” that govern the English language as you may heave been taught to understand them. From the simplest notions of proper grammar to the more complex idea of citing sources in research documents, chances are you have been taught to abide by several of these so-called facts that are either only partially true or downright false.

10. You should always have one or more rough drafts

Perhaps you’ve heard it said that usually one’s first instinct is the most accurate one. This notion of not second guessing ourselves has been around for quite a long time. And recently, scientific study has weighed in on this matter.

In my opinion, this filters over into the practice of writing. While it is necessary to go over your work to correct errors and possibly make some wording and stylistic adjustments here and there, that by no means suggests an entire rewrite. And it certainly does not ensure that multiple revisions will be necessary.

9. Shakespeare wrote in proper English

There is no doubt that William Shakespeare was a brilliant writer with a masterful grasp of the English language. However, the man also “made up” more than 1,700 words. Some of these include the terms “arouse,” “fixture,” “majestic” and “negotiate.”

Imagine if we just randomly began to create our own words for letters, essays, research papers and more. Perhaps we’d even incorporate a bit of modern slang. This certainly wouldn’t be considered proper grammar or writing today and thus it wouldn’t have been in Shakespeare’s day either.

8. You must double space after a period

While in ages gone by when everything had to be hand-written, this was a non-issue. Only since the institution of typing machines (first typewriters and now computers) has this one even come into play.

When it comes to conventional typewriters, the sizes of the letters are slightly different. To compensate for this problem, it became common practice to add a second space after the period at the end of each sentence. But in this computer age, proportional font spacing has all but eliminated the need for double-spacing.

7. You should always use proper grammar

In most case, it is very important to use proper grammar. However, there are some instances in which a writer can bend or even break traditional grammatical rules for any number of purposes.

The famed twentieth-century poet E.E. Cummings provides a perfect example. In his work, Cummings frequently and intentionally used bad grammar to create a more dynamic effect while establishing his own personal style.

In other instances, writers sometimes use poor grammar in the speech of their characters. This is especially true when the author is trying to bring out cultural and ethnic traits such as the use of slang in an urban environment or the feeling of a Southern drawl.

6. You need a comma to separate every instance in a series

Separating small lists of items in a series does not necessarily require the use of a comma after each item. For example, according to many experts and style guides, the use of a comma before words like “and” or “or” to close out the series is actually quite redundant.

For instance, let’s take the list “red, white and blue.” Notice how there is no comma prior to the word “and.” The reasoning is that if we use a comma after the word “white” it essentially amounts to using the word “and” twice.

5. Paragraphs have to have more than one sentence

This is a long-held myth that can be easily disproved. All one has to do is look to the work of legendary author Charles Dickens. His famous novel entitled “A Tale of Two Cities” begins with a single paragraph that is also only one sentence long.

The truth is, as long as it meets the criteria to make a paragraph, there is no set number of sentences the writer must use. It can be as few or as many as her or she wants.

4. There is only one proper way to cite sources

While your teacher may have preferred the use of a particular style in his or her classes, there are actually several ways to cite sources in research papers and the like. Often this varies depending upon the discipline you are researching or studying.

A few of the more common style guides include MLA (Modern Language Association), APA (American Psychological Association), CMS (Chicago Manual of Style) and AP Style used by many journalistic outlets. There are several others out there as well.

3. Always use a comma after the greeting in a letter

While using a comma after statements like ”Dear Ted” or “Hello Maggie” at the start of a letter is generally correct and seen as good grammar, this is not always the case.

In instances in which you are writing a business letter, the comma should actually be replaced by a colon.

 Commas should be reserved for more informal communication.

When it comes to the use of email, it is generally accepted that either of these two forms of punctuation can be used to fit the bill.

2. You should not shift tenses

Sure, shifting tense for no real reason is poor grammar and makes for poor writing. However, there are some instances in which a shift in tense is appropriate and even required to make things work.

If the time frame of something taking place in your writing moves from past to present, you have to change the tense for both correctness and to avoid reader confusion. The following two sentences provide a simple example. “I was so afraid to get on that bicycle as a young child. Reflecting back on that point in my life, I think it was more about the possible embarrassment of falling rather than getting hurt.”

As you can see, the first sentence focuses on the past and uses the past tense while the second one is amount my reflections in the present.

1. You can’t use “and” to start a sentence

Those who use “and” to start off a sentence have long been ostracized by those entrusted with teaching us the English language. However, this isn’t a criticism that is based in the reality of proper grammar.

While the use of “and” as the first word of a sentence can come across as rather informal and has the potential to make your wording a bit choppy and awkward, it’s not technically wrong. In fact, some language experts suggest that it can actually work better in some case that using more traditional terms like “however,” “therefore” and “furthermore”

Commonly confused words and the correct ways to use them

As a  native English speaker, I can assure you that many of us who are sometimes overlook the challenges and complexities our language present. In fact, I’ve even heard it said that English is one of the most difficult languages to learn  as a second language. Even for those of us who grew up speaking it as our primary source of linguistic communication, there are a few things that often result in confusion and technical errors.

questions

With that in mind, here is a link to an excellent source from the good people at  Writer’s Digest that helps to differentiate between commonly confused words.

The article discusses the terms:

Who vs. Whom

Which vs. That

Since vs. Because

Sneaked vs. Snuck

Ensure vs. Insure

Home in vs. Hone in

Leaped vs. Leapt

Watch your mouth! – Accounting for cultural differences in word meanings

Native and non-Native English speakers

It has been said that English (which is my first and in all honesty except for a few courses years ago my only language) is among the most difficult to learn for non-native speakers. But there is more to it that just that. Even for native speakers, depending upon your culture and where you live, the same word or phrase can have quite a different meaning.

For example…

“Rubber” 

The basic definition refers to a highly elastic solid substance. However, when cultural slang comes into play, the meanings are quite different. In the United States, a “rubber” is a nickname for a condom. But, you walk into a pharmacy to purchase a rubber in England, you might just be out of luck. You’d be better off going to an office supply store as that a common meaning in the United Kingdom is simply an eraser.

“Player”

While like the aforementioned example, this word has a basic core meaning but when cultural influences come into play things change dramatically. I once had a co-worker from India. In a conversation about sports, she commented that she had been a player in her school days. While she meant that she had been an athlete, the rest of those involved in the chat snickered a little before mentioning the American meaning – a person (usually male) who is a master manipulator when it comes to sexually seducing others.

Quite simply, when either writing or speaking, the same word in the same language can hold an entirely strange connotation for one man in say America and another in Europe or Asia. So watch your mouth, before you speak.

 

Text speak – give me a break.

As one of many writers for hire out there, I take my craft seriously. I love the English langauge, at least so much as one can love such an inanimate concept, thus can’t stand seeing it mutulated.

What do I mean? Well, I’m talking about text speak.

While this sloppy jargon does have it’s place, that place is not in business e-mails, academics, professional documents or any similarly formal writings.

Could you imagine seeing a cover letter starting like this?:

OMG, I’d luv to work for your company. My skills would make me the best employee ever!

I would simply throw it in the trash can as that it is not worth the cheep, recycled paper it was written on and is even an insult to the printer that had to use up valuable ink to produce this garbage.

Then what would I do? I’d probably sit back and wait for the author of the cover letter to textually berate me with a big fat WFT?

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