Sunday, October 26, 2008

46. Commas with Introductory Sentence Elements

Hello, Everybody, and welcome back to another grammar lesson--and this time, we will continue with a closer look at some more punctuation problems. Have you ever seen a sentence with too many commas? Not enough commas? Commas in the wrong place? This happens too frequently, resulting in confusing sentences, and I know you don't want others to misunderstand what you mean when you write your thoughts down. Right? So...let's check these comma rules out.

Our first rule is this: Use a comma after introductory words, mild interjections, or adverbs at the beginning of a sentence.

Here are some examples:

1. Well, he won't get bow-legged carrying his brains.

Here, "Well..." is simply an introductory word in the sentence. There's a natural pause after it, and we notice that it actually
doesn't add anything to the meaning of the sentence. In other words, it's parenthetical or a digression from the main idea of the
sentence. If "Well..." were left out, its meaning would not be affected, although it does add a bit of conversational style.

2. Wait, we're fixin' to spray the gallonnippers off that puddle of water right now.

In this sentence, we have the same general rule at work. "Wait..." is a mild interjection this time, followed by a natural pause and
is not necessary to the meaning of the sentence.

3. However, I will have some of those chicken dumplings and cornbread.

Finally, we see here the adverb "However..." at the beginning of this sentence. Once again, this simple introductory word
could be omitted from the sentence without changing its meaning. "However..." is, though, an important transitional word used
for coherence in writing.

Note: Some of you may wonder why I haven't mentioned that quite often, the comma following an introductory word CAN be
omitted in some sentences. Okay. So now I'll say it : As long as there is no confusion with the meaning of the sentence, you
most certainly have that option.

And's second rule follows:

Use a comma after a series of prepositional phrases at the beginning of a sentence.

Here are some examples of this rule:

1. From my seat at the end of the table, I listened to Grandma as I devoured her country ham and red-eye gravy.

Here, "From my seat...", " the end...", and "... of the table..." are three prepositional phrases, back to back. Therefore, we need to place
a comma after the last one, making the meaning perfectly clear.

2. Under that table by the fireplace, Jerome's dog lay, proud as a dog with two tails.

The two back-to-back prepositional phrases, "Under that table..." and " the fireplace..." once again need to be followed
by a comma. How easy is that?

And now...for today's final rule:

A SINGLE prepositional phrase at the beginning of a sentence does not need to be followed by a comma unless the comma is needed for clarity.

1. On Saturday our family enjoyed Whiteville High School's production of DRACULA.

Since "On Saturday..." is just one prepositional phrase, no comma is needed...but notice the difference here:

2. Before the recent hit, OKLAHOMA was WHS's most popular production.

Without a comma following "...hit...", we might infer that OKLAHOMA was the school's most popular production,
rather than DRACULA, or that the sentence is too confusing to understand.

I'll now end with a suggestion about commas I heard many years ago: "When it doubt, leave it out!" Keep this in mind and you'll see what a great help it can be.

Well, this brings us to an end for today's lesson. I hope you've all learned something and can remember to use what you've learned! Have a great week, enjoy our beautiful Columbus County weather, and be happy. Remember that I love hearing from you and appreciate your suggestions for topics. Peace and happiness, GG

Sunday, October 12, 2008

45. Uncomplicating Commas in a Series

45. Uncomplicating Commas in a Series

Hey, Everyone, and I hope today's been a good day for you. This lesson addresses another rule that people tend to get confused about occasionally, so let's see if we can clear this one up.

Have you ever had trouble with commas? Our language has lots of uses for commas, but we will start with one that shouldn't be too difficult. We'll continue with some of the other ones in the weeks to follow.

What do you know about...commas in a series?

The rule says that we should use commas... AFTER ALL BUT THE LAST ITEM OR ELEMENT IN A SERIES.

Now...first, you need to be sure that you understand the word "series" in this context, so here's the definition:

A series consists of three or more WORDS...PHRASES...or CLAUSES in a sentence.

1. Here's an example of WORDS in a series:

The Columbus County Fair entertained many folks this year with rides, agricultural competitions, and spelling bees among other delightful activities.

Notice in this sentence that there are commas after "rides,"and "competitions", illustrating that these two words are the "items in a series" that demand commas. However, since "bees" is the last item in the series, no comma is needed. So easy, right?

Be sure you pay attention to the idea that these "items" in a series can be more than three and that they can fall anywhere in the sentence...such as in the following...

Whiteville, Tabor City, Chadbourn, Fair Bluff, Lake Waccamaw, and Hallsboro are six towns or communities in North Carolina's third largest county, Columbus.

Commas follow the name of each community or town...but this time there are six "items" in the series, with commas following the first five, but NOT the sixth since, again, we don't put a comma after the last item. Are you with me?

Assuming that you are, we'll move on to the second rule for using items in a series:

2. Commas should also be used with three or more PHRASES in a series. A PHRASE is a group of related words that do not have a subject and verb. We have talked about prepositional phrases before, so just think about that. In prepositional phrases we see things like this: in the country, over the bridge, around the corner, in the cow patch, etc. We also see other types of phrases sometimes in sentences, but the one thing that all have in common is that they do not have a subject and verb. here's an example of PHRASES in a sentence:

Some language experts say that at least five different dialects of English are spoken today in North Carolina: on the Outer Banks, in the central piedmont, in the mountains, by highly educated folks, and by the uneducated.

In this sentence, there are four commas following each location or groups of people and, once more, the final "item" needs no comma--it does, however, need a period since "uneducated" ends the sentence.

And... finally...the third rule about items in a series:

3. Commas should be used with three or more CLAUSES in a series. A CLAUSE is a group of related words with a subject and verb. When this happens, we say we are using CLAUSES in a series in a particular sentence. So...let's see if you're still hanging in there..Check the following example:

Many Southerners believe that everybody has to look out of his own keyhole, that the dinner bell is always in tune, and that a closed mouth gathers no foot.

In this sentence of funny Southern sayings, commas follow "keyhole" and "tune" because both words end their CLAUSES. Again, there's no comma needed after the final "item", but since "foot" ends the sentence, only a period is needed.

Also, note the subjects and verbs in the three different clauses: In the first clause, EVERYBODY is the subject and HAS is the verb. In the second clause, BELL is the subject and IS is the verb, and in the third clause, MOUTH is the subject and GATHERS is the verb.

ALERT! Now I know there are some of you who are wondering why I haven't said that the comma coming before the conjunction (and, but, or) in the series can be omitted. The truth is that this is another one of those language changes that often happens, particularly if a language is in constant use...and you can be sure that's true of English. Yes, it's so. You CAN omit the comma before the conjunction if you like. That's an option nowadays. For English teachers like me, though, it's tough to relax the rule I learned, so I have given you the more "formal" option to use--particularly in Standard English. Nevertheless, either way is fine. Take your choice.

...And so... we come to the end of another lesson. I hope this has helped you if you've had trouble with this rule. There are other comma rules we'll be reviewing--some we most certainly need to get corrected, so stay tuned for more info about commas. Meanwhile, let me know if you have any questions and any ideas for topics we haven't covered. Carpe diem to all with peace, love, and laughter. GG

Sunday, October 5, 2008

44. Is It A or AN, Mr. Anchorman?

Hello, again, Everybody. It's good to have you back, ready to tackle some more grammar problems. Today's lesson is such a simple one that you should be able to master it in no time at all.

Have you ever heard anyone make a mistake like the following?

" Judy wrote her friend a thank-you note expressing appreciation for AN unique gift."


" Lillian has AN one-year subscription to People magazine."

If so, you are in good company, since it seems that lots of folks learned this rule ...but only part of it.

Here's the rule: "A" is used before consonant SOUNDS and "AN" is used before vowel SOUNDS without any regard for whether the letter is a consonant or vowel.

Did you remember all of this rule...especially the part about SOUNDS?

It appears that what most people do is interpret the rule this way: "A" precedes all consonants and "AN" precedes all vowels. Not so! As with so many other rules, there are exceptions and here they are:

We seem to find more problems with words that begin with "H" ( a consonant letter), "U" (a vowel letter) and "O" (another vowel letter.)

"H" is silent at the beginning of just a few words: hour, honest, herbal . When this happens, "AN" precedes the word: an hour, an honest man, an herbal cup of tea,etc. When "H" is not silent, "A" precedes the word: a history book, a historical figure, a hurricane, etc.

"AN" is also used when the word following the article is a short "U" as seen in these words: an uncle, an umbrella, and an undertaker. Notice that even though these three words begin with the vowel "U", they don't sound like a long "U" . Therefore, we must classify them as an exception to the rule for another reason.

"A" is also used before words that have a "yew" or long "A" sound: a eulogy, a Utah student, a university, etc. Therefore, even though the examples here begin with a vowel, the correct word to use is "A", not "AN" because eulogy, Utah, and university begin with a "yew" or long "A" sound.

...And that's all there is to it. Pretty easy, huh? I hope this makes sense to you! I'm signing off for another day, wishing the very best to all. Thanks for the continued comments and suggestions for new lessons. I love hearing from you! Peace, happiness, and laughter, GG

Sunday, September 21, 2008

43. More Mispronunciation Madness - Part III

Hello, again! I hope you're all well, happy, and eager for another grammar lesson.

Do you cringe when you hear certain words mispronounced? Has anyone ever corrected your own pronunciation of a word? While it's certainly true that some words are pronounced one way in one part of our country and another way in another part of our country, many of these regional speech differences are perfectly okay. Some, however, are just downright wrong and that's what we will be focusing on today.

So... let me start with one that makes me nearly have a duck fit, and this one is heard right here in Columbus County...CAROLINA.

I heard one of my college professors say once that the word CAROLINA is among the most beautiful sounds in the English language, and you can believe that I agree with him. Unfortunately, though, some of our natives pronounce it like this:

"I'm from North or South KA-LIN-A."

Woe am I!!! Agony! When such a beautiful word is pronounced this way, we're not showing the proper homage to our home state! CAROLINA has four syllables (sounds) and we need to pronounce every one of them:


You will do this from now on, won't you? Thank you very much.

Another frequently mispronounced word is TERMITE.

These dreaded little visitors to our homes are sometimes called...

"TEAR (rhymes with bear) mites"

Just remember that the "tear" part of the word rhymes with "sir" and you'll be in good company.

Here's another one that drives me a little crazy...however, this pronunciation is certainly not limited to North Carolina. Actually, we probably pronounce it correctly more than lot of other people, especially non-Southerners, but since we constantly hear it on TV and tend to gradually pick up speech we hear there, I had to mention this one...HALLOWEEN.

Have you noticed lots of folks on TV pronounce HALLOWEEN as HOLLOWEEN?
As a long-time lover of the fun of Halloween, I have to pounce on this one like a rabbit in a lettuce patch! All we have to do is just notice that there's an A following the H, not an O!! Come on, y'all. This one should be super simple to correct.

Now for our final pronunciation problem for today...AMERICA.

Most of you very likely do not have trouble with this word, but, again, since it is heard so many times incorrectly on TV, I'm going to ask that you be extra careful about not pronouncing it as...AMURICA. No doubt, we need to get this one right!
There's not U in AMERICA-- just an E following the M. How easy is that?

Well, time's flying and we'd better finish up. I hope you've learned something today and that you'll pronounce these words correctly! Please feel free to send me any other incorrect pronunciations you've heard (as well as other ideas for lessons) and I'll be glad to focus on them. Have a great week and carpe diem. Peace and happiness to all! GG

Sunday, September 7, 2008

42. GOOD or WELL? How Do You Tell?

Hey, Friends, and I hope you all are happy and healthy.

Today's lesson addresses another very commonly heard and seen error around Whiteville. Do you know when it's correct to use GOOD and WELL? Are they interchangeable? How do you know when to use one or the other?

How many times have you heard someone say something such as...

"Our preacher spoke GOOD this morning during church"


"Even if someone is not feeling GOOD, he should still speak clearly"?

Oh, my goodness! I'm afraid these kinds of sentences are very common and are examples of the misuse of GOOD, and it is here that we will focus today. Actually, WELL does not seem to give folks too much of a problem, or at least that's true in our neck of the woods. Have you ever heard anyone say something like this...

"WELL organization is important in a speech"


"Barry has developed a WELL serve in his tennis game"?

I hope I'm correct in saying that you'd never use WELL in sentences like these. Wouldn't you just automatically use GOOD? Right on.

So let's take a look at why we can't always use these words interchangeably.

Put very simply, always use GOOD as an adjective. Remember that adjectives are words that describe nouns and pronouns. They answer these questions:

Which one? How many? What kind of ?

Notice in the two example sentences above that the word in question (WELL) describes nouns: "organization" and "serve", so you already have one reason that WELL is wrong: Nouns are being modified or described. In addition, the following questions are being answered:

Which organization? A GOOD one, not a WELL one.

What kind of serve? A GOOD one, not a WELL one.

Now I have to mention that there is one time when GOOD can be used as something other than a simple adjective. When GOOD is used as a linking verb in a sentence, it functions as a predicate adjective that modifies the subject. Used this way, GOOD can mean either "pleasant," comfortable," or "in a happy state of mind." At least it's still being used in the adjective sense :-)

Do you remember what a linking verb is? They don't express action, but link the subject of the sentence to predicate pronouns or predicate adjectives. They also are very frequently a part of the "to be" verb: is, am, are, was, were, etc. In addition, they are often related to the senses: sound, taste, appear, feel, look, smell, etc.

Here are some examples of sentences using linking verbs:

Whiteville's football team appears GOOD this year.

The South Columbus Band sounded GOOD Friday night.

Joe's barbeque tastes especially GOOD when you're hungry.

Now...What about WELL?

WELL can be used as an adverb to modify an action verb. When it's used this way, WELL means that the action expressed by the verb is performed expertly or properly. Many adverbs end in "ly", but not all--note the following:

Remember that adverbs answer these questions:

How? When? Where? Why? To what extent?

Here are some examples:

Cassie writes WELL when she puts her mind to it. (HOW does she write? WELL is used as an adverb.)

Harriet dances WELL when she's on stage. (Again, HOW does she dance? WELL is used as an adverb.)

Finally, WELL can also be used as a predicate adjective after a linking verb. Sounds familiar, huh? This is very similar to the second use of GOOD above. Here, WELL means "in good health."

Here's another example:

Although Danielle appeared WELL, she was really very sick. (Notice the meaning here and WELL acts as an adverb.)

So... another lesson is completed! I hope this makes lots of sense to you and that you won't have any more problems with GOOD and WELL. I love hearing from you with special requests for future lessons. Meanwhile, have a great week. Much peace, happiness, and laughter. GG

Sunday, August 24, 2008

41. THEM and THOSE and the Problems They Pose

Welcome back, all of you grammarphiles! I hope all is well and that each of you is minding his/her beeswax :-) Today's lesson is another one we need especially here in southeastern North Carolina. Of course, we're not alone making these usage mistakes, but I don't believe other parts of the country could "outbrag" us and say this error is heard more somewhere else than here.

So...what is it? This one, unfortunately, is heard way too much-- the misuse of THEM and THOSE. (Have mercy!)

Okay. Let's see what the difference is between these two words:

THOSE can act as either a pronoun or an adjective.

Check out the following examples:

1. Where did you get THOSE sunglasses? (Here, THOSE is used as an adjective describing WHICH sunglasses.)

2. THOSE are amazing sunglasses! ( THOSE is used as a simple pronoun acting as the subject of the sentence.)

Actually, we don't normally have trouble with THOSE...But with THEM? Now that's another story:

THEM is always used as a pronoun...never as an adjective...Notice the following correct uses of THEM:

1. I want to go with THEM to Lake Waccamaw. (THEM is used as a simple pronoun acting as the object of the preposition
of "with.")

2. George told THEM that it would soon be hog killing' weather. (Again, THEM is a pronoun acting, this time, as the direct object.)

Now all of this should be super simple. Nevertheless, we have one little quirk that we need to be aware of, and it is this use that gives us so much trouble. Just because THOSE can be used two ways (as an adjective and a pronoun), it doesn't follow that THEM can also be used two ways.

Again, remember that THEM can ONLY be used as a pronoun.

Take a look at some of the mistakes we hear too much (groan)...

1. THEM boys are so lazy they couldn't say "sooey" if the hogs were eating them.( Because the word in question precedes a noun--boys-- only an adjective will work here and, therefore, only THOSE is correct. THEM can never be used as an adjective.)

2. Do you think THEM hunters will be ready to hunt on Labor Day this year? (Again, the word in question precedes a noun--hunters-- so only an adjective will be correct here. THEM is not an adjective, but THOSE is!)

All right. Here are a few sentences to help you practice your skills. Which word in each sentence is correct?

1. (THOSE, THEM) cats jumped around like monkeys on a barbed wire fence.

2. (THOSE, THEM) are the best boiled peanuts I've had all summer.

3. Betty told (THOSE, THEM) that her car was such a gas guzzler it would pass everything but a fillin' station.

Well, all right! I have a feeling that you did a great job with this little quiz. Here are the answers:

1. THOSE is correct because it is an adjective modifying "cats".

2. THOSE is correct because it is a pronoun acting as the subject of the sentence.

3. THEM is correct because it is a pronoun acting as the direct object.

Once again, we see that this commonly seen and heard mistake is very easy to correct! Just think about it and practice saying and writing it correctly. You'll quickly master this boo boo and be struttin' like a rooster.

Ah, yes, it's again time to close up shop. Thanks so much for your attention and have a wonderful week. Peace, love, and laughter to all! GG

Sunday, August 17, 2008

40. The Redundant Blunder

Hello, Everyone! I'm back again today with another rule concerning something we hear and read everywhere, it seems--and this one isn't peculiar only to Southerners :>)

Have you ever noticed how many times we repeat things in conversations and writings? This error is called a REDUNDANCY...or sometimes we'll hear a grammarian say, "Your remark is REDUNDANT!" Webster's defines REDUNDANT as ..." exceeding that which is necessary...excess...using more words than is needed...repetition..."

Now this kind of error is not normally a grammatical error. It is, however, an error that that weakens the impact of good writing and conversation.

So...what are some examples of this blunder? Actually, there are many being used around us all the time and most folks probably don't even realize it. Here are some examples:

One I used to hear quite often in my English classes was the following:

"Please repeat that again."

Okay. Think about it. When you say, "Repeat...again", aren't you repeating yourself? The way to improve this sentence would be to say, "Repeat that, please." Just leave out the repetitious word.

Redundancies can appear as short as two words:

1. New innovation...Just say "innovation". Including "new" with "innovation" is repetitious
2. Necessary prerequisite...Just say "prerequisite". "Necessary" is not needed.
3. Fellow colleague...Drop "fellow". "Colleague" is fine alone.

Redundancies can also appear as longer phrases:

1. We thought we had provided adequate seating with a chair for each person in attendance.
This sentence is wordy. One possible way to improve it would be to say something like this:

1. We thought we had provided adequate seating.
This time you have come straight to the point and not put your reader to sleep.

Here's another example of a longer redundant phrase:

2. Although Frank tried to keep his thoughts to himself, he suddenly thought out loud to the startled group.
Another wordy sentence. Try something like this to improve it:

2. Although Frank tried to keep his thoughts to himself, he suddenly spoke to the startled group.
Much better!

Becoming aware of redundant words and phrases will probably take some effort since we're so accustomed to hearing and seeing them, but if you work on it and stay alert, you'll greatly improve your speaking and writing.

Here are some more to think about:


absolutely certain... There's no room for doubt...It's absolute...
a.m. in the morning... If occurring in the morning, it has to be a.m...
and also... Use one word or the other...not both.
and etc... Etc. is Latin for "and so forth."
as an added bonus... If something is a bonus, it must be added.
ATM machine... ATM means Automated Teller Machine.
autobiography of my life... Aren't you writing it?
close proximity... You can't have "far" proximity. Delete "close."...
exactly the same... If something is exactly the same, it must be exact.
honest truth... If something isn't the truth, it isn't honest.
Kleenex tissue... Kleenex IS a tissue. Delete "tissue"
sum total... If you have a sum, you have a total. Delete one word.
true fact... By definition, a fact must be true. Delete "true".
Xerox copy... Xerox IS a copy. Delete "copy."

Well, that brings us to the end of today's lesson. There are many, many more examples of REDUNDANT words and phrases (and I've just used one--but here, it's for emphasis, and using them this way is occasionally acceptable if not overdone.) We'll look at some more of them later. Meanwhile, let me know if you hear any not mentioned here. I'm sure you have seen some of these in newspaper, magazine and sign ads. These types of expressions most certainly illustrate the "less is more" adage and should reinforce the necessity of our developing good writing and speaking skills.

Have a great week, enjoy doing lots of fun things, and remember that I love hearing from you. Peace and happiness to all! GG