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Posts tagged ‘language’

Five things your English teacher (may) have gotten wrong

mean teacher

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

Actually, you can use and for this purpose. Just for good measure, here are a few examples from literature:

“And even Mary could assure her family that she had no disinclination for it.” – Jane Austin from “Pride and Prejudice”

“And to seek to make the blacksmith a scholar is almost as silly as the more modern scheme of making the scholar a blacksmith.” – W.E.B. Du Bois from “The Souls of Black Folk”

“And let every other power know that this hemisphere intends to remain the master of its own house.” – John F. Kennedy from his Inaugural Address on January 20, 1961

You always use commas after each item in a series

Commas are necessary after each of the items in a series, except the last one. For example, someone might suggest that this is correct: red, white, and blue. However, that’s not the case. Using the comma after “and” is actually redundant. It’s like saying “and” twice. So, the correct method would be to write it as follows: red, white and blue.

Over and under

They do it in commercials and advertisements all the time. I suppose it is for brevity sake but that doesn’t make in any less incorrect. I’m talking about when people use the words “over” or “under” to indicate anything other than height. For example, cars are not on sale of under $20,000. Nor are there over 7 billion people in the world. The correct phrasing for each of these would be: Cars are on sale for less than $20,000 and there are more than 7 billion people in the world.

It’s not a real word if it’s not in the dictionary

First off, this implies that there is only one official dictionary when in fact there are many. On another note, there are many words that have simply been removed from dictionaries based on infrequent or rare use in modern language and conversation. I bet you wouldn’t find a lot of terms used in the Renaissance era in today’s dictionaries but that does not make them any less relevant.

Improper grammar is never acceptable

Generally speaking, improper grammar is a bad thing. However, there are a few exceptions. One of the first that comes to mind is with the use of direct quotations. Whether the quote is from a real person or a character in a book, language and grammar allowances can be made for such things as accents, education level, etc.  A quick example is the phrase frequently spoken by the character Aibileen Clark in the film “The Help” in which she says, “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”

The “rules” of poetry

When people first hear the word poetry…

beside the notion of eloquent language and the concept of emotional sensitivity coming to mind, they might often think about this form of literature as being filled with rules and structural regulations.

While classically poetry has had it’s share of rigidity and intense structure, this is not always necessarily the case.  For example, slam poetry would probably drive someone from the Renaissance era insane.

Personally, I believe that good poetry is not so much about structure and form as it is about emotion and the ability to convey a concept not easily stated in any other way. Hence the reason that I, and many others, do not always follow the so-called rules.

First and foremost, poetry is an art and as such should not be constrained. We all need to have our own rules to some extent.

My personal rules and guidelines

1. I either use rhyme or not. It seems clumsy and awkward to switch between the two in the same poem.

2. When I use rhyme, I tend to rhyme in a pattern of matching up either the first and third/second and fourth lines or a stanza of lines one and two then three and four.

3. I generally write 3-5 line stanzas

4. Modern free verse has always been a great stylistic friend

5. I rarely punctuate except for emphasis with a question mark or exclamation point or to separate items in a series with a comma

I figure hey, what the heck? After all, E.E. Cummings was known for his unorthodox and grammatically flexible style while the great William Shakespeare literally made up hundreds if not thousands of words.


Courtesy of Wikipedia

The art of language and definition change over time

Any writer must realize

when we try to define words, the definition of things tend to change over time. In fact, few people today may know what a given word we use on a daily basis might haven meant decades or even centuries ago. And the ones who do might potentially have a bit of an attitude when it comes to what we consider the “real” meaning of a word.

The truth is, there is no real meaning but just the meaning that the word was intended to convey at the time.

For example, while today one might use the word “girl” and a representation of a young female child. However, in centuries past, the term girl was used for a young person of either gender. That’s a big difference huh?

Some words change do to the influences of other languages and cultures while others adopt a new meaning due to the use of slang. No matter what the source of the change may be, the change itself can be quite interesting.

no dictionary

Here are some more fun examples:


In many contexts it can mean negative or terrible while the slang of the last few decades has redefined it to also mean positive, good or outstanding.


Today this usually refers to a man who is attractive in appearance. However, in years past it referred to pleasant looking women.


when used today, a dude tends to be a rather fun, lively or interesting guy. But with the earliest origination of the word, the term was one that depicted a pansy sort of man.

Interesting isn’t it?

The two most overused words in English (or any other) language

As a writer, I consider myself a student of language. This includes both the uses and abuses of words common to our everyday communication. And while many words are overused all the time, in my opinion  there are two that stand out among the others. These words are “love” and “hate.”

Having written two books of poetry to this point, obviously a genre of writing that deals in emotion, I can understand the tendency to use such words quite often. However, I can also understand why doing so can essentially devalue them to some degree.

Let’s take some examples.


Love is the strongest and most powerful positive emotion any being is capable of experiencing in their life. So while you may really enjoy pasta or are a huge fan of my hometown Pittsburgh Steelers, you neither love Italian food or the legendary football team.


Maybe this actor or that one may not be your favorite, or a specific song rubs you the wrong way. However, I am willing to bet that you do not actually hate either the movie star or that particular tune.

Moral of the story – think twice before using such strong words in either your writing or casual everyday speech.

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.


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

Why every writer needs an editor

From the least experienced writing novice to the author with several books under his or her belt, everyone needs an editor. To some, this may seem obvious but to many the reaction may be quite different.

First off, what I’m talking about here is not an editor in terms of an intermediary between a publisher and a writer but more of a proof reader if you will.

Simply put, proof reading your own work will only get you so far.

In order to help to ensure your manuscript is in tip top shape, you should:

1. Have others review your work for mistakes

– From typos to incorrect grammar and phrasing, getting someone else to review your work can be crucial. Of course, the person doing so should have a good grasp on spelling and grammar.

2. Realize the weakness in our own perception

– Writers often miss their own mistakes by projecting their expectations onto the page while reading their work. We tend read things as we intended them to be rather than as they actually appear, leaving us vulnerable to missing our own errors.

Taking these basic precautions can work wonders for the quality of your final manuscript whether you are Joe Blow the aspiring novelist or have produced worldwide best sellers.

A writers favorite…

It’s not uncommon that a person may be asked, “what is your favorite…?” Perhaps the question may be pertaining to movies, songs, artists, food, actors or any number of other possibilities. But while it may be a bit unusual for the average person, as a writer I actually have a favorite word.

Sure, you might expect someone you writes poetry books, or a person who teaches a language or perhaps an individual who writes speeches for a living to have a word that seems to tickle their fancy. But the average person?

You might be thinking that that seems a bit odd but in all reality, you probably have one as well. The difference is that you might not realize it.

Think about it. Is there a term you use often in your daily speech? Maybe there is a single word you always seem to say at the start or end of any conversation. If you take the time to really figure it out, you might just be surprised.

By the way, mine is aforementioned.

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