Sunday, June 24, 2007

11. Signing Names and Names on Signs

What's up, all you Grammar Bloggers? I hope you've all had a great week and are enjoying doing just what makes you happiest!

Our topic today addresses a question I received several weeks ago, and now I'm finally having a chance to respond.

How do you sign your family name on a Christmas card, sympathy card, birthday card, etc.? Should it simply be "The Browns" or "The Brown's"? Should it be "The Stocks" or "The Stocks'"? And what about signs or plaques you might want to place in your yard or on your house to identify your family name? Would this work the same way as signing a card?

This problem is actually pretty simple to overcome if you'll think it through. First, try to remember some of the things we've already discussed in this blog, and one of them is the apostrophe. Since apostrophes are a part of today's topic, perhaps a quick review of them would be helpful. The APOSTROPHE can be used two ways:

(1) to show the omission of a letter or letters:

cannot-can't, will not- won't, does not-doesn't, and many, many more.

Now, you can certainly see that using an apostrophe in "The Brown's" would make no sense in this context (on a card or sign). No words have been left out, and that's a clear indication that an apostrophe should not be used.

Another way APOSTROPHES are used is

(2) to show possession:

the trunk's size, Justin's camera, Shannon's art, Grace's dignity, and lots of others.

Here, by placing the apostrophe after the name and then before the "item" or "thing" being "possessed", you are indicating that this "item" or "thing" belongs to the person or thing. It is THIS part of the apostrophe rule that we'll need today.

Okay and now to today's topic. If you have a sign or plaque outside of your home that you want to use to identify your family, the correct thing to do is to have it printed the following way IF THE NAME DOES NOT SHOW POSSESSION (or a noun does not follow the family name on the sign ):

If your family name DOES NOT end in an S, simply add an S: The Smiths, The Bowers, The Wards, The Grays, The Crutchfields...(well, you get the idea). This is all you need. After all, you're probably indicating that more than one Smith lives in the home, so the name must be made plural by adding an S to the end. NO APOSTROPHES NEEDED! (If only one person lives in the home, however, the S would be a matter of personal choice as to whether the name should be singular or plural. For example, if a widow or widower lived alone in a home once occupied by his/her spouse and children, he or she might still prefer to maintain that a family of three, four, etc. once lived there. Perfectly okay!)

Now, if there is another noun AFTER the name on the sign, then using the S and THEN the apostrophe is correct. For example:

Welcome to the Turners' Home, ...the Powells' Cottage,...the Scotts' Home..., etc.

Remember that apostrophes in this use show possession--and that's exactly what you're saying. The Turners "possess" this home, etc.

Sometimes folks are confused about names that end in S. Again, if you're planning to have a sign or plaque outside your home and your name ends in S, just go right ahead and spell your name as you normally do. Then place an "es" after the s. The sign would simply say

The Stockses, The Hookses, The Markses, The Dickenses...and so on. Looks a little strange, but that's the rule. If you don't like this, you could just put Stocks, Hooks, Marks, and Dickens and leave off "The". Your choice.

If, however, you will be using the possessive form--such as placing a noun after the name ending with an S on a sign, then you'll have to do it differently. In this case, you would need to determine if the name has one or more syllables. If the name has only one syllable, then you would place an apostrophe and an S after the name. The name would look like this:

Welcome to the Stocks's Cottage..the Hooks's Home...the Marks's...etc.

If the name ending in S has two or more syllables, then you still place an apostrophe after the name, but omit the S. For example:

Welcome to the Dickenses' Home...the Lewises' Home...the Hankinses' Home...etc.

And, finally, what about signing those cards? It's close to the info. above. Just sign your name and make it plural by adding an S (if it doesn't already have an S on the end), such as The Princes, The Whites, the Halls, the Highs, etc. NO APOSTROPHES NEEDED!

If your name does end in an S, just place "es" on the end of the name. The number of syllables don't matter in this instance. For example, The Joneses, The Soleses, The Morrisses, etc. If you think your name sounds too strange written this way and, it's true--some sure do, just opt out to signing the card "The Walter Edmonds Family". Nothing's wrong with this way!

Well, another blog is ready for you! I hope this all makes sense. Please ask questions if you need a little more explanation.

Have a wonderful week and many wishes for to you for love, happiness, and peace. GG

Sunday, June 17, 2007

10. Subject-Verb Agreement-Part II (Words Between Subjects and Verbs)

Hey, Everybody, and I hope you're all enjoying summer and our Southern heat. Let's all give a shout-out to air conditioners! In today's blog, we'll go back to the topic introduced in our next-to-last blog on Subject-Verb Agreement. In that earlier blog, we discussed the importance of having subjects and verbs in sentences agree in number with each other. In other words, if the subject is singular, then the verb must also be singular. If the subject is plural, then the verb must also be plural. Simple enough, huh? Don't I wish!

Now, here is another one of the problems we seem to have with agreement when other words come between the subject and verb -- especially prepositional phrases.

*A quick review: Prepositional phrases are groups of words WITHOUT a subject and verb. These phrases contain a preposition, its objects, and any modifiers of the object in the phrase. Remember the earlier blog about our need to stop placing "at" on the end of sentences? As we discussed that blog, I gave you the little example sentence about the airplane going " ________ the cloud", and said that any word that fit into the blank was a preposition (over, under, into, through, at, near, etc.).

Now, notice the two words that followed the blank: "... the cloud." When you place an object with modifiers (adjectives and adverbs) after the preposition, you have a prepositional phrase.

Other examples of prepositional phrases include "in the house," "of the beach," "until the rooster crows," "between the winner and the loser," "at home," "in the bed," and many, many more. Sometimes, you may even see two or three prepositional phrases side by side: A thick fog swirled around me and over the top of the building.

In this sentence, there are THREE prepositional phrases: "around me," "over the top," and "of the building." It's very important that you can identify prepositional phrases since, generally, they DO NOT AFFECT THE NUMBER OF THE SUBJECT OF A SENTENCE. (We will discuss some exceptions later, but for now, just concentrate on these most common errors.) Many times, people try to make the verb agree with the object of the preposition and not with the subject. Another important thing to remember: Watch out for prepositions that look a little different from the standard prepositions mentioned above: "according to," "along with", "as well as", "together with," and "with." These are also prepositions, so be careful not to think their objects are the subjects in sentences.

Here are some examples to try:

(1) The lawyers in the public defender's office (has, have) excellent credentials.

The right answer is "have" because the subject of the sentence is "lawyers" -- a plural subject. Therefore, the verb must be plural, too. "Has" is singular. If you thought "office" was the subject, a singular noun, then you might have chosen the singular verb, "has", which is wrong. The object of the preposition "in" is "office," but it is not the subject.

(2)Religious ritual, as well as secular celebrations, (mark, marks) the change of seasons in many cultures.

Here, the right answer is "marks" because the subject of the sentence is "ritual" -- a singular subject. Therefore the verbs must be singular, too. The verb "mark" is plural. (Remember the weird fact that in English, we place an "s" on many VERBS to make them singular, and drop the "s" to make many VERBS plural? This is the opposite of how we make some NOUNS singular and plural.) The object of the preposition "as well as" is "celebrations," but it is not the subject.

(3) My sister Rachel's knowledge of teaching strategies (amaze, amazes) nearly everyone.

In this sentence, the subject is "knowledge," which is singular. As a result, the correct verb should be "amazes" -- also singular. By choosing "strategies" (plural) as the subject, you might think that "amaze" is the correct verb, but not so. Since "strategies" is the object of the preposition "of," it is not the subject.

A good idea: Practice searching for the SUBJECTS of sentences, and then determine if the subject is SINGULAR or PLURAL. If it is singular, then the verb must be singular. If the subject is plural, then the verb must be plural. Actually, knowing the correct subjects and verbs of all sentences will pay off big time as you work toward being a Grammar Star! Many problems we deal with can be more easily managed if you know some of these very basic elements of grammar.

Thanks again for visiting and let me know if you have any questions. Have a wonderful (and cool) week! GG

Sunday, June 10, 2007

9. The MYSELF Mistake

Hey, y'all; I hope you've all had a happy, peaceful week.

I promised last time to do Part II of Subject-Verb Agreement, but, because I've heard another grammar problem so much lately, I've decided to postpone the Subject-Verb Part II lesson one more week and address another maddeningly common problem today.

What's up with the growing misuse of "Myself?" I don't recall seeing this problem nearly so much in the past as I see it now...and plenty of folks who should know better -- on TV, in movies, in speeches, etc. -- seem to have adopted this usage as the accepted and correct thing to say. Puh-leeze!! No way! Stay with me and I'll show you what I mean.

Here are examples of some common mistakes with "Myself:"

(1) Josh and MYSELF repaired the copy machine.
(2) Jane drove Sherry and MYSELF to the movies.
(3) The tomato garden was designed by Madison and MYSELF.

Okay, so why is the use of MYSELF wrong in these three sentences? The answer is that MYSELF is a REFLEXIVE PRONOUN, and REFLEXIVE PRONOUNS always refer to someone already mentioned previously or anticipated in the same sentence. An important word to know in this context is the word ANTECEDENT. In other words, the pronoun in question must have an antecedent in the same sentence if MYSELF is to be be used correctly. Also, these antecedents will be either a noun or pronoun. Generally speaking, most people who make this mistake aren't sure if they should use I or Me, so they avoid that confusion by choosing to use MYSELF, which, of course, is always wrong.

To clarify more, look at sentence #1. There is no antecedent for MYSELF. We know that Josh is mentioned, but who is MYSELF? There must be another noun or pronoun in the sentence that MYSELF stands for in order to use MYSELF, but there is not one. For this reason, the correct pronoun to use is "I". One possible example of a way to show how this WOULD work using MYSELF would be to say

I repaired the copy machine myself.

Now we have an antecedent for MYSELF -- "I" means the same thing as MYSELF, so MYSELF is correct (although the meaning has changed).

In Sentence #2, there is, again, no antecedent for MYSELF. Neither Jane nor Sherry means the same thing as MYSELF in that sentence, so MYSELF is wrong. The correct pronoun to use is ME. One possible way to write a similar sentence using MYSELF correctly would be to say something like

I drove Jane and Sherry to the movies MYSELF.

Now, again, we have an antecedent for MYSELF -- "I" means the same thing as MYSELF, so the correct answer is MYSELF. (Once more, the meaning is changed.)

In sentence #3, we once again have no antecedent for MYSELF. Certainly, Madison and MYSELF do not mean the same person in the context of the sentence. The correct answer is ME. Another similar sentence which, one more time, changes the meaning of the sentence could be

I MYSELF designed the tomato garden. (It's perfectly okay to have the subject pronoun and the reflexive pronouns together as in this sentence.)

Now, some of you are probably curious about the other reflexive pronouns that you studied in school Yes, there are others: ourselves, yourself, yourselves, himself, herself, itself, and themselves. These pronouns, however, do not seem to give nearly as much trouble as MYSELF. Go figure. Anyway, they work essentially the same way the MYSELF pronoun works:

During the Boston Tea Party, the colonists disguised THEMSELVES as Indians. (Colonists=THEMSELVES)
Theseus HIMSELF found the way out of the maze. (Theseus=HIMSELF)
After the meal we brewed herbal tea for OURSELVES. (we=OURSELVES)
She wants to go by HERSELF. (She=HERSELF)
You call yourself a plumber? (You=YOURSELF)

Note: PLEASE NOTICE THAT YOU DO NOT SEE HISSELF OR THEIRSELVES IN THAT LIST ANYWHERE. THERE ARE NO SUCH (acceptable) WORDS IN OUR LANGUAGE!! If you've been in the habit of saying either of these last two, PLEASE try to erase them from your vocabulary and make us English teachers happy ! :-)

This lesson has focused on one aspect of pronouns, but, as you will see, pronouns, along with verbs, create probably more difficulties than any of the other six parts of speech put together! As a matter of fact, there are six different kinds of pronouns, and each is used in different ways and has different forms. What a language we have! Nevertheless, it's ours and we don't want to lose its versatility and beauty, so we'll plug away at the things that are a little more confusing and hope we'll master them all! Incidentally, some details about these reflexive pronouns that I have not gone into depth about include the importance of knowing parts of speech and pronoun case, but I think that with the above information, you will probably be just fine. We'll have to touch on some of these other things eventually, but, for now, I'm trying not to overload you too much.

Thanks so much for visiting again, and have a wonderful week. I love hearing from you, so do write.

Peace and much happiness, GG

Sunday, June 3, 2007

8. Agreement of Subject and Verb-Part I (Number)

Hey, all you Grammar Bloggers, and I hope you've had a great couple of weeks. It's good to be back after visiting family in Tennessee. It's especially good to get back where Columbus County Southern accents are the norm. There's nothing like home!

Today I've decided to tackle one of the toughest problems we have with our language: SUBJECT-VERB AGREEMENT. This difficulty stems, for one thing, from special circumstances where rules sometimes appear to be contradictory, and, other times, from one's inability to identify subjects and verbs in a sentence. Sometimes things can get pretty confusing, so I'm only going to present one type of problem at a time. Stay with me.

Ok. So what exactly is SUBJECT-VERB AGREEMENT? Let's start this way: What does the word AGREEMENT mean? In this context, Webster's says agreement means "being in harmony" or being "consistent,...fitting...similar". Now this is pretty clear, isn't it? When two people come to an agreement about something, they can be said to be in harmony or together in their thinking. In much the same way in our language, subjects and verbs must also agree.

Now keep this in mind as you think through SUBJECT-VERB AGREEMENT. In English grammar, we learn that every complete sentence has at least one subject and verb. If somehow, along the line, however, you have had trouble with identifying subjects and verbs, then it's not surprising that you may have had agreement trouble. Therefore, let's review subjects and verbs.

The SUBJECT of a sentence is the noun or pronoun the sentence is about. The VERB of a sentence expresses action, a condition, or a state of being.

Example: The courthouse looks very well to be as old as it is. (The sentence is about the courthouse, so "courthouse" is the SUBJECT. The condition of the courthouse "looks" very well..., so "looks" is the VERB.)

Example: Many musicians play bluegrass music. (The sentence is about musicians, so "musicians" is the SUBJECT. The action the musicians do is "play" bluegrass music, so "play" is the VERB.)

Ok. I'm now going to assume you're fine with identifying subjects and verbs. This brings us to the rule for the day.


"NUMBER" means singular and/or plural. Also, the SUBJECT determines which "NUMBER" is correct. In other words, if the subject is singular (one person or thing), then the verb must be singular. If the subject is plural (two or more persons or things), then the verb must be plural. This is absolutely critical to know, so be sure you know what the subject of a sentence is. We'll take a look at many sentences--some with very easy subjects to identify and others with pretty tough ones to identify. Don't worry, though. You'll get the hang of it after you've done a little practicing.

Another interesting thing to mention in this context is that in English, we place an "s" on many NOUNS to make them plural. (Example: one dog-two dogs, one river-five rivers, one car-ten cars, etc.) However, we drop the "s" on many VERBS in the third- person present tense singular to make them plural. (he, she, it) . (Example: he walks-they walk, she sings-we sing, Robert sleeps-children sleep) This becomes important when you find a subject in a sentence with an "s" on it. Yes, the subject is plural, but there should not be an "s" on one of these verbs. Doing this would make the verb singular, and the subject and verb would then, of course, not agree. Example

In the parking lot many cars (look, looks) as if they have just been washed for the graduation ceremony.

If you correctly identified "look" as the correct answer, you're exactly right! Even though the subject, "cars", is plural ("s" on the end), "looks" is wrong. The "s" on the end of "looks" makes it SINGULAR, not PLURAL, and, by now, you know that subjects and verbs MUST agree in number.

Now try a few more and let's see how well you do:

(1) Many English words (come, comes) from words in other languages.

(2) We (need, needs) encouragement and recognition for our efforts.

(3) Jake (plan, plans) to attend Summer School.

(4) Our Wolfpack mascot (go, goes) to all the games.

(5) Jennifer (stand, stands) taller than anyone else in our class.

How did you do? If you thought the following way, then you should be 100% correct:

(1) "Words" is the subject. It's plural, so because "come" is the plural verb, "come" is correct.

(2) "We" is the subject. It's plural, so because "need" is the plural verb, "need" is correct.

(3) "Jake" is the subject. It's singular, so because "plans" is the singular verb, "plans" is correct.

(4) "Mascot" is the subject. It's singular, so because "goes" is the singular verb, "goes" is correct.

(5) "Jennifer" is the subject. It's singular, so because "stands" is the singular verb, "stands" is correct.

I hope these were nice and easy for you. I'm sure many of you can "hear" the correct answer without determining what the subject of the sentence is. We naturally do this much of the time. Just be warned, however, that many times what we "hear" is wrong, so be sure to try the little test of determining what the subject is first, and then the correct verb will be obvious. This will come in handy when you try to figure out some of the more difficult agreement problems. We'll move on next time to work with some more of them.

Thanks for visiting and have a great week! Peace and happiness to all. GG