Tips, Tricks, And Explanations For Complicated Grammar Rules
Finding Your Way through the Maze of the English Language
English grammar has a million confusing and contradictory rules. The language has so many words in so many forms that it can be bewildering to figure out which one to use and why. This page will help.
Look below for specific tips and links on commonly-misused English words, why you should avoid the passive voice, English as a second language (ESL) and college-level writing labs and grammar courses, and other grammar topics from the basic to the complex. If you don't find what you're looking for, let me know and I'll post an answer or research and write one for you.
Take a look at the Table of Contents below and wander through some of the various sections. If you don't find what you're looking for, please contact me or post in my guestbook and I'll post the answers.
Grammar Rants and Pet Peeves - Why do you need grammar and language skills?
- Writing to Communicate
I wrote about Michael Moser writing about the importance of communicating clearly.
- Why Do I Care about Grammar?
You know you're curious. Go ahead, find out why I care enough about English grammar to write a whole blog about it.
- Why Do We Need Good Grammar?
Now that you know why I care, find out why you should care about language and grammar.
- Why Grammar and Style Matter
Discover what a difference using clear language and writing can make in communicating your ideas.
- A Personal Grammar Rant
In this post, I take a slight about grammar pickiness personally.
- Rants and Pet Peeves from Others
Proof that I'm not the only touchy one
- Alright Is Not a Word
It's all right, you can remember this apparently little-known fact.
- Companies that Can't Spell
Why would you purposely include a spelling error in the name of your corporation?
- Don't Try to Drive Me
I explain why the phrase "drive traffic to your site" offends.
- Funnest Is Not a Word
A post wherein I explain Apple's marketing problem.
- Hear! Hear!
Another occasion where the history of a phrase makes its spelling and use clear. Let's hear it for clarity!
- I Could Not Care Less
Really, I couldn't. Why would I say that I could?
- "Interviewed" Should Not Be Used
A new way to misuse a simple verb. Just don't do it.
- A Little Pile of Peeves
Snarky responses to language abuses that recently irked me
- They're Iced, People
An explanation of iced tea and iced cream. Truly, the most pet of my peeves.
- Using Per Se
It's a phrase, it has a proper spelling, and it's time that people learned about it.
- Find the Error: A Game for the Whole Family
Examples of bad writing from various sources, all places where the people posting call themselves writers.
- Bad Examples of Writing
More poor writing to help you know it when you see it, including my own mouthy responses.
Back to Basics: Parts of Speech
Whether you need to start learning grammar from scratch or you would like to review some fundamentals, this section will help you get a handle on the various parts of speech. These are the main posts on the eight parts of speech. If you still have questions, contact me (through the blog, my profile here, or in the guest book below) and I'll get you an answer.
And to bring it together: what makes a sentence?
Less Basic: Specifics about the Parts of Speech
Now that you know which parts of speech do what, it's time to dig into the details. Some of these can be tricky or sneaky. Learn to drive them straight to your meaning without losing your audience along the way.
What do you end a sentence with? and the other side of the coin,
With what do you end a sentence? It's the age-old debate about ending a sentence with a preposition.
What are modal verbs and why you should usually avoid them.
-Tion Words: Examples and Discussion
- Verbs Gone Soft
What are -tion words? Verbs that could have described action but that have been turned into weak nouns. Words that end in "tion" plague writers because they look impressive but they turn your fascinating, active sentences into boring pap.
- More -Tion Words and the Passive Voice
Take another look at nominalization, passive sentences, and a discussion of what "passive voice" means. Add your voice!
- Wasting Words with -Tion and -Sion
With several examples, this post explores how making nouns out of your verbs weakens your writing and bores your readers.
- A Specific Example
How can you convert "Participation is required" into an active, interesting sentence? Read about my efforts.
- Why -Tion Words Hurt Your Writing
Three excellent reasons why you should not use the -tion version of verbs when you write, in case you have not yet been convinced.
Give the Passive Voice a Pass
Activate your writing to engage your audience.
While technically more a matter of style than grammar, knowing what the passive voice looks like lets you use grammar to make your sentences more interesting and your story more exciting to your audience.
I have declared war on the passive voice in my writing and have researched it often. Below are some of my findings. I will write more, without a doubt. I'll post those here, as well. Please share your tricks for stirring up the action in your writing in my guestbook, as well.
If you want more information or would like to share your opinion about the passive voice, what it is, and if or when to use it, please chime in on the discussion.
Get Active: Read All About It!
- Passive Voice Re-Write
An example of some passive voice sentences re-written to make them active, including an explanation of what made them passive in the first place.
- Seek and Destroy: The Passive Voice
An explanation of how and why the passive voice hurts your writing, with a link to the University of Calgary's page on the matter.
- Gerunds and the Passive Voice
Learn how gerunds rob your verbs of action and bore your readers. This one also contains a specific example of a passive sentence re-written for action.
- Another Tip for Finding Passive Sentences
Another post that gives a sign of the passive voice. It give you one more tool in your arsenal for fighting passivity.
- Passive Voice Analysis
This one includes a link to a lengthy analysis of the passive voice and how to tell the difference between passive sentences and verbs of different tenses, a critical skill!
- Tips for Considering the Passive Voice As You Write
I posted about my own struggles with eliminating the passive voice from my writing and offered some tips on composing with action in mind.
- Why Find the Passive Voice?
Learn why you have trouble editing the passive voice from your own writing and find some tips on how to make it easier.
- Copular Verbs and Feeling
Find out why you feel bad about not feeling badly.
Corral Your Words: Punctuation
Basic, Obscure, and Subtle Punctuation Clarified
Punctuation marks help your reader make sense of your words. The longer your sentences, the more punctuation you need to keep your clauses from merging and your tenses in agreement.
As a part of my Back to Basics series, I am writing about punctuation. This section will grow as I post articles. I also have sections on proposed new marks, little-known punctuation, and more subtle uses of punctuation.
When do you need an apostrophe after an s?
How do you when to indicate possession with an apostrophe?
Tips for using bullet points
Build Your Vocabulary
The more words you know, the less people can use them against you. The less they can sneak nasty things past you, anyway. Check these posts for ways to build your vocabulary and more reasons why you should.
Some words of caution to remember when you reach for the Thesaurus
Some links to fun word posts that I discovered.
More vocabulary-building toys.
George Orwell weighs in on vocabulary and its importance in writing.
Definitions, Entymology, and Trivia
I've begun a new series on my blog, adding little-known facts (unknown to me, at any rate) about some of my favorite words. Generally, these posts include synonyms and examples. I'll put these in alphabetical order from the start.
Versus: Commonly Confused Words and How to Use Them
Below you will find sets of words that writers often misspell confuse. I've left the most common ones at the beginning of the list and have alphabetized the rest of them.
Of course, if I'd reversed the words in the title then some of them would land in different places on the list. Please be patient when looking for a specific topic. If you can't find what you need, please let me know. I'll either send you a link or write a post to address the question.
- A Few More Commonly Confused Terms
Short explanations for learning the differences between continuous versus continual, desert versus dessert, flaunt versus flout, and stationary versus stationery.
- More Confusable Vocabulary
Understand the differences between discomfort and discomfit, practical and practicable, and refer and allude.
- Adverse versus Averse
I find myself averse to making errors with these two words.
- Affect versus Effect
A specific example of using effect wrong and an explanation of how to know.
- Alternate versus Alternative
Alternate between getting it right and the alternative.
- Assure versus Ensure versus Insure
Learn the difference between these three terms and see examples of how to use them.
- Autumn versus Fall
Does autumn fall? Is there a difference between these two terms?
- Because of and Due To
There's a minor difference. Find it out.
- Blatant vs. Flagrant
Can something be blatantly flagrant or vice versa?
- A Capital Way to Make Sense of Capitols
Three more sets of reminders: do versus make, imply versus infer, and capital versus capitol.
- Cite versus Sight versus Site
Understand which of these three applies to the sentence you're writing.
- Drier vs. Dryer
Which is less wet?
- Everybody and Everyone
Does it matter which you choose?
- Farther versus Further
How do these words differ and how can your remember? Find out, here.
- Fazed by Phases
Learn the difference between being fazed and going through a phase.
- A Classic Battle: Good Versus Well
Feel good about using these words well.
- Four Versus For Versus Fore
Learn the uses for each of the three forms of this word.
- Its Versus It's: One Simple Rule
As the title suggests, learn the rule for remembering which form to use.
- Lay, Lie, Lay, Lied
Figure out why lay and lie are confusing, which means what, and how to remember the difference.
- Less Versus Fewer; Much Versus Many
A number of examples and explanations for remembering the difference between counting and not.
- Loath and Loathe
Do you despise something or are you just hesitant?
- Moot versus Mute
The difference between this pair is far from being a moot point.
- Peak versus Peek versus Pique
Interest piqued? Take a peek at the post, written at the peak of my ability. ;)
- Parameter versus Perimeter
What's the difference? Learn the parameters of their use.
- Reveille vs. Revelry vs. Revery
Three similar words, three quite different meanings.
- That Versus Which
Yes, it makes a difference. Find out how to tell them apart and when to use them.
- There Versus Their Versus They're
Tips on distinguishing which version of this word you should use in your sentence. Ask yourself a question and the answer will tell you whether you're using the right one.
- Too Funny To Take
Learn the difference between "too" and "to" and when to use each of them.
- Your Versus You're: An Epic Struggle
One of the most frequently misused word pairs, these two have been duking it out for centuries. Learn to tell them apart and which to use, once and for all.
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