Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Those Nagging Little Problems (Part 15 of 16)

Dropping or keeping the final e in words can be troublesome. Many words end with a silent e— brave, move, late, rinse. The general rule is to drop the final e when you add endings that begin with a vowel.

Advise + able = advisable.

Guide + ance = guidance.

Force + able = forcible.

If the final silent e is followed by an ending that begins with a consonant, keep the e.

Like + ness = likeness.

Accurate + ly = accurately.

Care + ful = careful.

In English, we seem to have exceptions for every rule, so here they are.

Sometimes, we retain the silent e before an ending beginning with a vowel to avoid confusion with another word.

Dye + ing = dyeing. (Otherwise it looks like dying.)

Another reason is to prevent mispronunciation of words, like mile + age to become mileage.

To further complicate the rule, we sometimes retain the silent e after a soft c or g. That’s to show that those two letters aren’t pronounced with a hard sound.

Courage to courageous, and the list includes changeable, noticeable, manageable, embraceable.

One more exception. We often drop the silent e before an ending that begins with a consonant, if it’s preceded by another vowel.

True + ly = truly.

Argue + ment = argument.

Due + ly = duly.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Those Nagging Little Problems (Part 14 of 16)

Let’s look at sentences that begin with there is or there was. I suggest you avoid using that construction for three reasons.

1. It adds nothing to the value of the sentence.

2. It makes sentences longer. (And today, the rule is short sentences, or bite-sized.)

3. Using that construction means you put the verb before the subject, which is normally not the way we write or speak in English.

Here are examples of ways to make your sentences better.

There are your keys on the desk. 
Better: Your keys (subject) are (verb) on the desk.

There will be 500 people attending the meeting. 
Better: Five hundred people will attend the meeting.

It was disappointing that Elsa wasn’t nominated. 
Better: Elsa’s not being nominated was disappointing.

Here’s an example of wordiness. 

There were delays and cost overruns that troubled the tunnel’s builders. 
Try this: Delays and costs troubled the tunnel’s builders.

How about this one?

It was the fear of investors they wouldn’t earn profits once the tunnel opened. 
Change it to: Investors feared they wouldn’t earn profits once the tunnel opened.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Those Nagging Little Problems (Part 13 of 16)

For a long time, I was unsure of the correct way to finish this sentence: Helen is shorter than . . . Shorter than me or shorter than I?

The proper term for this construction is an elliptical clause. That’s a grammarian’s way to say, “Finish the sentence to get the meaning.” Technically, it means that some words are left out because they’re understood.

In the sentence above, complete the thought: Helen is shorter than me am short or Helen is shorter than I am short. If you do that, you'll see that the obvious answer is Helen is shorter than I.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Those Nagging Little Problems (Part 12 of 16)

Almost as bad is the difference between rise and raise. One way to help is remind yourself that raise is usually transitive. That means a direct object (noun or pronoun) follows. Rise is intransitive (no direct object following). If you can substitute “get up” or “go up” for rise, you know you’re right. Raise means lift or cause to go up.
  • He rose from the sofa. Substitute: He got up from the sofa. (Rose is the past tense of rise). You wouldn’t say she raised from the sofa. 
  • She raised her arm above her head. (She lifted her arm.)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Those Nagging Little Problems (Part 11 of 16)

Lie and lay are probably the most troublesome and wrongly used words I see regularly (or hear in conversation).

As you probably heard in school, lie means to recline; lay means to put.

Here are two simple rules.

1. If you will remember the principal parts of the verb (present, past, and past participle), you can’t go wrong. They are lie, lay, and have lain.

2. No form of the verb lie is followed by a direct object (noun or pronoun). That is, you can’t lie a book down.

Lay means to put or set down. The principal parts are lay, lay, and laid. Usually an object follows a form of the verb lay. (He laid the box on the floor.)

The problem for many is that the past tense of lie is lay. Some writers can’t remember that and write, “He laid down to rest.” They mean he was put down to rest. Does that mean they killed him?

Somewhere I picked up this tip. Memorize one simple sentence where you use lie and lay. Try this: Hens lie down to lay eggs. A friend learned by repeating this simple statement to herself: You lay something down, and people lie down by themselves.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Common Problems (Part 10 of 16)

  • Is it until? Till? ‘Til? That’s an easy one to remember: Till and ‘Til are both acceptable today, but many of us still prefer until.
  • What about beside and besides? Both are prepositions but with different meanings; they’re not interchangeable. Beside means at the side of or close to. Besides means in addition to. Here are examples of the correct use: I park the car beside the house. Who is going to ride with me besides you? 
  • Many writers are troubled over due to (and I used to avoid it). Think of the two-word phase meaning as caused by. An easy rule is to use due to only when you can logically substitute caused.
  • Burst, bust, and busted. Despite the common usage, the standard form for the present, future, past, and past participle is burst. He burst the balloon. He will burst the balloon if he isn’t careful. Yesterday he burst six balloons. This is one of those rules that will probably change, but for now . . . 
  • Etc. I see this occasionally and my rule is don’t use it. It’s an abbreviation of et cetera, which means and so on. Try the expression, “and others.” (I avoid “and so forth” because it has become cliché).

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Those Nagging Little Problems (Part 9 of 16)

While teaching a class recently, I used the word antecedent. Two people looked confused. We writers (and especially editors) throw that word around quite a bit. We usually ask, “What is the antecedent?”

Here’s a simple answer: An antecedent is a noun which is replaced by a pronoun. Sometimes antecedent stands for a group of words that act as a single noun.

The most common is the use of it. For example: My new job doesn’t seem to get anywhere. Harry objects to everything, Marilyn passively shrugs, and Esther agrees without hearing the entire argument. It is chaotic.

Question: To what does it refer? Logically and grammatically, it refers to the last-mentioned noun. Thus, Esther is chaotic. We can easily fix the problem with these words: The situation is chaotic.