Sunday, December 26, 2004

Adverbs of Frequency

There are several adverbs that tell the reader or listener how frequent an action occurs.

These are listed from 100% to 0% in frequency with always indicating 100% frequency and never indicated 0% frequency.

Adverbs of Frequency list











In constructing a sentence with these adverbs, we commonly use the adverb before the verb.

I always make a plan before I travel.

She frequently stops to adjust her backpack.

Note: There are some collocations (word partnerships) which allow the adverb to follow the verb. For example, I can write

She stops frequently to adjust her backpack.

But this does not work with the verb make or many other verbs, so the sentence

*I make always a plan before I travel.

is not a good sentence.

When we use the present perfect, the adverb is put between the have/has auxiliary and the main verb which is a past participle.

I have never seen such a mess before in my life.

He has occasionally forgotten to bring his textbook.

In writing, the adverb can be put at the beginning of the sentence for emphasis. It is not commonly done, so when it is done, it makes a strong statement.

Frequently she stops to adjust her backpack.

Never have I seen such a mess.

Notice that with the present perfect, the auxiliary verb moves in front of the noun.

To repeat, putting the adverb first is not commonly done, so use it rarely if at all. I don't think I have used it in my own writing.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Instead of for example

There are several ways to write and not use for example or for instance to introduce an example. Here are two sentence. The first sentence introduces a subtopic or support. The second sentence provides the specifics through use of example.

The bank has several helpful services. For example, it provides drive up services for cashing checks and withdrawing money, has an ATM machine for quick withdrawal or deposits when the bank is closed, and maintains a website where up-to-date information about a person's account is available.

Use in particular or specifically.

The bank has several helpful services. In particular, it provides drive up services for cashing checks and withdrawing money, has an ATM machine for making quick withdrawals or deposits when the bank is closed, and maintains a website where up-to-date information about a person's account is available.

The bank has several helpful services; in particular, it provides drive up services for cashing checks and withdrawing money, has an ATM machine for making quick withdrawals or deposits when the bank is closed, and maintains a website where up-to-date information about a person's account is available.

The bank has several helpful services. Specifically, it provides drive up services for cashing checks and withdrawing money, has an ATM machine for making quick withdrawals or deposits when the bank is closed, and maintains a website where up-to-date information about a person's account is available.

The bank has several helpful services; specifically, it provides drive up services for cashing checks and withdrawing money, has an ATM machine for making quick withdrawals or deposits when the bank is closed, and maintains a website where up-to-date information about a person's account is available.

Use such as or like.

The bank has several helpful services such as providing drive up services for cashing checks and withdrawing money, an ATM machine for making quick withdrawals or deposits when the bank is closed, and a website where up-to-date information about a person's account is available.

The bank has several helpful services like providing drive up services for cashing checks and withdrawing money, an ATM machine for making quick withdrawals or deposits when the bank is closed, and a website where up-to-date information about a person's account is available.

Begin with the examples.

My bank provides drive up services for cashing checks and withdrawing money, has an ATM machine for making quick withdrawals or deposits when the bank is closed, and maintains a website where up-to-date information about a person's account is available which are several helpful services for its customers.

Put the supports in a noun clause at the beginning of the sentence

Providing drive up services for cashing checks and withdrawing money, an ATM machine for quick withdrawals or deposits when the bank is closed, and a website with up-to-date information about a person’s account are several helpful services a bank provides for its customers.

Use the supports as direct objects of the subject (topic or area).

The bank provides drive up services for cashing checks and withdrawing money and an ATM machine for making quick withdrawals or deposits when the bank is closed along with a website where up-to-date information about a person’s account is available which are several helpful services for its customers.

Also there are several ways to make variations on for example/for instance such as by changing the word before the noun.

An example / an instance
Some examples / some instances
A few examples / a few instances
Several examples / several instances

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

One of

When we use one of, the object of the prepositions is a group that the one belongs to.

One of the players is my brother.

One of the team is my brother.

One remains the subject; thus, subject-verb agreement requires the subject to have an –s for the third person singular present tense.

One of the players has the ball.

One of the swimmers races for our team.

The group that the one belongs to must be a countable noun or a unit which has countable members such as a dance troupe, a team, an organization, or a class. The countable group such as players or students is plural; however, the unit such as team or troupe is singular.

In the sentence

One of the greatest players is Barry Bonds.

Players is plural even with the use of the superlative, greatest. If we want to say that Barry Bonds is the greatest player, we would not use one.

Barry Bonds is the greatest player. (No other player is as great as Barry Bonds.)

Barry Bonds is one of the greatest players. (Barry Bonds belongs to the group of greatest players.)

When we have a uncountable noun in this construction, we have to use the countable member or quantity to use this construction.

One of the pieces of luggage is lost.

One of the grains of rice is red.

One of my homework assignments is finished.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Building a paragraph with Given-New

As we build a paragraph, we keep in mind this given new contract in our attempt to make our writing clear to our reader. We do this in several ways.

The primary way we do this is by making clear the connection between the controlling idea or statement and each support. This is done through the transitions between supports. Each transition can be used to point back to the controlling idea. It can be done through the ways we repeat the same information. For example, if I am writing about astronomers, I can repeat astronomers in the following seven ways:

Restated Given Information ==>Form of Restatement

astronomers ==>repeated
scientists ==> category or more general
star gazers ==> synonym (informal)
people who study the stars ==> definition
they ==> pronoun
these/ those scientists ==> demonstrative with repeated word
astronomical ==> different part of speech

Now these seven ways work better with topics than with controlling ideas which are more adjectival. So lets look at how they might work with adjectives. Here we will use the adjective important to show seven forms of restatement.

Restated Given Information Form of Restatement

important ==> repeated
significant ==> synonym
importantly, importance ==> different part of speech
more important(ly) ==> comparative
most important(ly) ==> superlative
equally, not as, ==> comparison/contrast
unimportant ==> antonym

How this can work is shown in this paragraph.

Kansas(t) is probably one of the most boring states in the United States, but I dearly love(ci) that state. Because it (pronoun [t]) is the state where I was born and grew up in, I can only think of how much it means to me (ci [explanation]) as the location of my family's history, my cousins and their children, and one of my brothers. Furthermore, the part of the Jayhawk state (synonym [t]) has gentle rolling hills of the countryside that make me yearn (synonym [ci]) to return there (pronoun [t]) when I feel the frustration of living with traffic and people rushing everywhere. Most of all, I miss the gentle knowledge of my father in evening talks on the front porch as he greeted people out for walks, for he discussed how people should live and do with the insights that I still treasure (synonym [ci]). Kansas (repeated [t]) probably still is boring though I haven't been there in a long time, but it remains in the center of my heart (definition [ci]) because it was the place where I learned some key lessons for my life's journey.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Given-New (2)

The given-new relationship in communication is like a contract. When someone speaks to me or writes something I will read, I expect that person to begin with what I know. In other words, the contract says speakers and writers begin with something the audience knows before introducing something the audience might not know.

To give an example. If I meet someone and the first thing that person says is “She was really excited last night,” I am lost if I do not know who she is or that she was excited. My first question would be who? In other words, what is the given I am supposed to know?

Given-new patterns can vary from paragraph to paragraph. Three common patterns are:


In this pattern the new information is introduced by connecting to the given information. Then the new information becomes given information to introduce new information.

A dog is a very good pet. This pet will meet you affectionately at the door everyday. This affection will not be lost if you fail a test or have a bad day.

Another pattern is

A => B
A => C
A => D

This pattern connects to the same given information to introduce different kinds of new information. For example, in this paragraph dog is the repeated given information.

A dog makes a very good pet. A dog will remain a true friend even when it is ignored. A dog will help you through times when a person feels sad or does not do well.
There are other patterns of development with the given new relation connection, but they are basically variations on these two.

Saturday, September 11, 2004


When a writer wants to communicate with someone, he or she begins with something the reader knows about. This is the topic since topics are usually somewhat general. The topic links the reader and the writer because there is a common place or idea to begin with. The writer then provides a statement or controlling idea which tells the reader what the writer wants to say about the topic.

Another way to look at this is that the topic is the given information and the statement is the knew information. The reader knows at least something about the topic; the reader does not know what the writer wants to say about the topic, so this information (the statement) is new information. From this point, the writer begins with given information and uses it to introduce new information.

This pattern of given and new information is common in writing and speaking because it enables the reader (or listener) to make a connection and prepare for something they don't know. In speaking, the new information usually gets more stress than the given information. In writing, the given information usually comes before the new information. Knowing this, we can understand how paragraphs and longer pieces of writing are constructed.

The topic sentence consists of the topic (given) and the statement (new). After the statement is introduced, it is given information. Thus writers use connections between the given information (the topic sentence) and the new information, the supports, to help the reader understand the piece of writing. In other words , the topic sentence provides the given information for the rest of the paragraph, and the supports provide the new information.

When we talk about the structure of supports as containing a connection (a so what?), an area, and details, we are saying that each support has a given (the so what?). This given helps the reader understand that each support is connected to the topic sentence. The connection can be made through connecting to the statement or the topic. The statement, however, limits the choices of supports because the supports must develop the statement. When I say that the supports must develop the statement, I mean that each support provides more information about the controlling idea (statement). To give an example, if my statement (controlling idea) is about the strengths of Santa Fe Community College, each support must be a strength of SFCC. Consequently, I can not choose a support that is weakness of SFCC and write a good paragraph.

In this example, strength becomes the given information for each support. This is why we restate in some way the statement in each support. This restatement helps the reader see the connection because the writer starts from the known (the given) before introducing the new (the area and supporting details).

This introduction is somewhat general and theoretical. I will try to explain the details more clearly in another post.

Monday, August 30, 2004

More on Linking Verbs

There are only three verbs that are always linking verbs: be, become, and seem.

  • She is tired.
  • He becomes angry when he doesn't get his way.
  • She seems sleepy.

However, there are several verbs that can be linking verbs or transitive verbs. These verbs can be divided into two groups.

One group consists of current verbs. These verbs describe states and are sometimes called stative verbs.

They are : appear, be, feel, lie, look, remain, seem, smell, sound, stay, taste

The other group of linking verbs are resulting verbs. These verbs are: become, get, grow, fall, prove, run, turn.

As I wrote, except for three verbs (be, become, and seem), linking verbs can also be transitive. When they are linking verbs, they do not pass the action from the subject to the verb. When they are transitive verbs, the subject passes the action to the object.


He got angry. (Linking)
He got a job. (Transitive)

He feels sick. (Linking)
He feels the child's throat. (Transitive)

She sounds nice. (Linking)
She smells the flower. (Transitive)

For more information look at Grammar Bytes and Katrien Vanassche's site.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Linking Verbs

There are basically two types of verbs: action verbs and linking verbs. I want to discuss linking verbs now. A linking verb makes a connection between the subject and some information about the subject. The information identifies or describes the subject.

  • The girl is tall. (describes)
  • The girl is a student. (identifies)
  • The girl is a good student. (identifies)

When describing, we tend to use adjectives because adjectives work very well in describing by making the noun more specific through giving more information about the noun.

Identification actually works in a similar way because we are giving more information about the noun, and the information helps us identify the noun and separate it from other similar nouns. Another way to describe it is that the subject is renamed by the noun that follows the linking verb as in the girl = student.

But when we use linking verbs, we don't want to just write simple sentences like the example sentences above. We can make the sentences more interesting by adding information.

We can add more adjectives.
The girl is tall, blond haired, and soft-spoken.

We can add prepositional phrases.
The girl is a student at Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville, Florida.

We can add an adjective clause.
The girl is a good student, who gets As on most of her tests.

We can even use all of the information is one sentence.
The tall, blond-haired, and soft-spoken girl is a good student at Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville, Florida, who gets As on most of her tests.

These are just a few examples of how to expand a sentence using a linking verb.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Time and times

Time is one of the words in English that can be either countable or uncountable.

There is not enough time to finish.
He spends most of his time with her.
At the time of their arrest, they were drunk.


He kicked the ball several times
In colonial times, there were few printing presses.
She went to the movie four times.
These times are difficult.

What seems to be going on here is that when time refers to an abstract idea, it is uncountable. It is a general idea that can be broken down into countable units like hours, or minutes. Thus, this use of time is like money. Time is a large or abstract category.

But when times refers to a concrete action or period of time, it is countable. In this case, it is not broken down into smaller units.

He saw her several times last week.

Here it is countable because the times were separate units (each time he saw her) and countable. Unlike spending most of his time, in which case, the time could be broken down into smaller units such as hours or minutes.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Amount or Number; Fewer than or less than

Both of these pairs concern agreement with count or uncountable (also called noncount) nouns.

In English something that is uncountable is an amount. Money is one example. Yes, I know you can count dollars, pennies, and the government counts in millions and billions, but money itself is uncountable because it is a generalization. So we talk about amounts of money, such as a large amount of money.

Number is used with countable things. The number of coins in your pocket tells us how much money you have in your pocket. So money acts like luggage and homework as an uncountable. They describe a general category.

Uncountable: money, luggage, homework

Countable: coins, suitcases, assignments

Another thing to notice about amount and number is that they are often accompanied by the preposition of.

The amount of money you will need is $75.00.

The number of coins you will need is four.

Fewer (than) and (less) than also relate to countable and uncountable nouns. Despite the fact that grocery stores and discount stores have signs that say Less than 8 items in this aisle, the sign should read fewer than because if you can count them then the are fewer.

The less money I have, the more bills I seem to have.

I have fewer dollars for this week than last week.

Fewer and less are used in comparison, so they must agree with the nouns that are being compared.

I have less money than my wife.

I have fewer dollars than my wife.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Most and Mostly

The words came up in a discussion recently. They look so similar that it seems like they would follow the pattern of other adjectives and adverbs.

quick (adj.), quickly (adv.)

painful (adj.), painfully (adv.)

slow (adj.), slowly (adv.)

With these words, the adjectives have a meaning that is very similar to the adverb. Thus quick and quickly both mean in a rapid way. Painful and painfully both describe strong or severe pain while slow and slowly synonymously refer to doing something at a low speed.

Most and mostly don't follow that pattern. They are a little like another pair, hard and hardly.

Most is an adjective, but it usually is used with another adjective to show the superlative degree, that is, the highest or only one of something as in this sentence:

He is my most trusted friend.

This means that I trust no friend more than him.

Now when I change most to mostly, there is a change in meaning.

He is my mostly trusted friend.

Mostly here means that I usually trust him, but it also implies that he is not my most trusted friend because I can't trust him all of the time.

Most also behaves a little like an adverb because it is usually found with an adjective next to it. It modifies the adjective. But dictionaries classify it as an adjective. Also, most is usually preceded by the article, the, unless there is a possessive, which is even more definite than the article.

Hard and Hardly

When I was young, I would often hear one person trying to be a little funny asking another person,

Are you working hard or hardly working?

Hard and hardly mean the opposite, thus the use of or. Working hard means a person is doing the job to the best of his or her physical or mental powers. Hardly working means the person is doing as little as possible. This contrast is much stronger than most and mostly.

Of the other superlatives, least, worst, and best, there is no adverb (-ly) form, so they have nothing to be confused with like most and mostly.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Gerunds and Infinitives: Three Verbs with Meaning Changes

Some sources have a short list of verbs that can be followed by gerunds or infinitives, but the meanings differ. With some of the verbs like try, the difference in meaning is subtle and difficult to explain or even at times to see. However, three verbs that can be followed by either gerunds or infinitives have clear differences in meaning. These verbs are: forget, remember, and stop.


To show the difference, let's look at stop.

Gerund: I stopped smoking.

Infinitive: I stopped to smoke.

The first sentence has at least two different meanings. One is that I stopped smoking (cigarettes) and did something else. The second one is that I stopped my habit of smoking cigarettes. A third meaning could be that I have cooled down and no longer have smoke coming off of me. Another possible meaning might be applied to sports, in particular baseball, where a pitcher might be declaring that his fastball is no longer as fast as it was. In all of these meanings, the person speaking talks about something that happened in the past.

With the infinitive, the speaker (or writer) says that he or she stopped doing something (what is not stated here, but it could be). In other words, two actions are indicated first the action that is now finished and the second one that was begun – to smoke.

Now it is possible to write a sentence with stop that uses both a gerund and infinitive which might show this difference.

I stopped running to smoke.

One action now is in the past, running, while the second action has begun.

Remember and forget are related though opposite mental activities, but they differ in their meanings and use.


Infinitive: I remember to mail the letter. ( less likely to be used)

I remembered to mail the letter.

Gerund: I remember mailing the letter.

I remembered mailing the letter.(less likely to be used)

With the infinitive, I think we are more likely to use the infinitive with the past tense of remember because we mean that mailed the letter and we remembered to do it in the past. In other words both the remembering and mailing took place in the past perhaps in the order of remembering and then mailing. That is why we are unlikely to use the present tense of remember. I can think of one possible use of the present tense which is to describe someone's daily actions.

With the gerund, we are more likely to use the present tense with the gerund because the remembering is occurring in the present while the action, mailing the letter, occurred in the past. So we are not likely to use the past unless we are reporting the sequence of events to someone else.

Another way to look at remember and infinitives and gerunds is sequence.


remember then action


action then remember

In using remember with gerunds and infinitives, one way to think about which one to use is to consider when the action happened. Did it happen before or after the remembering?

We can also use gerunds and infinitives together after remember.

I remember running to catch the bus.


Forget presents more of a yes and no meaning.

Infinitive: I forgot to pay the bill. (No, I did not pay the bill.)

Gerund: I forgot paying the bill. (Yes, I paid the bill.)

With forget, which feels more comfortable in the past tense, the meaning is determined by whether or not the action occurred or was done.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Gerund and Infinitives alone and in phrases

When I write about gerunds and infinitives, I usually use examples that contain one gerund or infinitive.


Running is good exercise.
To run was my choice.

However, both gerunds and infinitives can be used with adverbs in prepositional phrases or as objects.

With adverbs:

Gerund: Running slowly is the best can do.
Infinitive: To run slowly will be easier for me.

With prepositional phrases:

Gerund: Running in a race is fun for many people.
Infinitive: To run in a race is better than to sit in front of the tv.

In the textbook, Grammar Sense 3, Susan Kesner Bland points out that although we can use an infinitive as a subject, it not common. Usually, the infinitive is replaced by it as the subject and the infinitive occurs later in the sentence.


It is easier for me to run slowly.

She further points out that only a few verbs are used after it.They are:

  • appears

  • be

  • cost

  • look

  • pay

  • seem

  • take

Usually the infinitive is not used immediately after these verbs, but it can be done.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Apostrophes with Possession

We can start with a simple rule for apostrophe use from my colleague, Carole Marquis: use 's for all cases of possession except when the word is a plural with s. When the word is plural and ends in s add an apostrophe after the s.

To expand on it with a few examples to see how it works, here are some sentences.

Doug's car is parked on the street. (singular subject)
Doug's cars are parked on the street. (singular subject with one possessor)
James's car is beside Doug's. (singular subject with one possessor that ends in s)
The children's helmets are on the shelf. (plural subject with plural possessor formed without an s)
The boys' helmets are on the shelf. (plural subject with more than one possessor)

There are a couple of cases where the rule needs expansion. In a compound construction, the apostrophe is used appropriately with the final word in the compound.

Carlos and Juan's bikes are in the repair shop. (Two or more possessors in a series)
My brother-in-law's phone was stolen. (singular compound noun possessor.)

When we use a possessive noun, that is, when we use an apostrophe to signal possession, the noun acts like an adjective in most sentence constructions.

The blue car is parked on the street.
     adj. n.

Doug's car is parked on the street.
poss. n.

The noun is car and the word modifying or limiting its meaning in the first sentence is new. When we use the possessive in the second sentence, it serves a similar purpose of modifying or limiting the meaning of the noun. In the second sentence, the noun is limited to a car belonging to Doug.

Knowing that possessives precede a noun tells the writer to anticipate possession when a person's name or family name is in front of a noun. This helps in determining whether or not to use an apostrophe in some sentences.

Test clue: Adjectives are not plural in English, so most adjectives do not have an s at the end of the word. If you have a sentence on a test and the word before the noun has an s at the end of it, it will often be possessive, either singular or plural.

Adding a little confusion

This is all well and good, but what about this sentence?

The Ford car is parked on the street.

Ford is a family name, the family name of the Ford car manufacturing company's founder, Henry Ford. Ford is the car's brand name.

The Ford's car is parked on the street,

In this sentence, the apostrophe tells the reader that the car belongs to a family named Ford. If the car was a Ford, then it would read.

The Ford's Ford car is parked on the street.
Or more likely
The Ford's Ford is parked on the street.

Friday, June 25, 2004

-ing words in English

The –ing words in English do not help us to know the part of speech. To know the part of speech, we have to look sat the company the –ing word keeps. The company a word keeps consists of the words around it. By looking at the words around the –ing word, we can determine its part of speech.
The easiest way for me to determine whether the –ing word is a main verb is to look in front of it for a be verb (be, am, is, are, was, were, been). When there is a be verb in front of the –ing word, it is usually a verb as we can see in these sentences.


I am looking at used cars.
I was looking at new cars until I saw their prices.
I should have been looking for a used care from the beginning.
I will be looking for another two weeks.


The cars have been inspected.
The cars are cleaned and polished.
The cars will be sold within a month.

When the be verb is not in front of the –ing word, it is probably not functioning as a verb. It can then be either a gerund or a participle. Particles were discussed in the June 3 post. To recall, the present participle is the –ing word functioning as an adjective as in the following sentences.

The boring book put him to sleep.
The running girl escaped the mugger.
The dancing man felt happy to be at the party.

-ing words can also function as nouns. When they do, they are called gerunds. Gerunds are usually singular so they agree with the singular third person form of the present tense verb (the form with the added s).

Dancing is an activity that is both fun and good exercise.
She gave playing basketball a try.
Playing basketball in the NBA was his goal twenty years ago.

To briefly summarize, the –ing word can be either a verb, noun, or adjective. When it is a verb, there is usually a be verb (be, am, is, are, was, were, been) before it. The –ing word that acts as an adjective is called a present participle. When the –ing word is used as a noun, it is called a gerund.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Same and articles with quantity adjectives


Same is a word which is generally preceded by the.
I would like the same thing she is having.

a few, a little, a great many

Certain adjectives that quantify are preceded by the indefinite article when they modify generic or nonspecific nouns.

I would like a little more milk if you please.
A few more minutes won't hurt.
A great many people came to the games.

The can also be used with these words, but the usually points to a specific or definite noun.
The few who helped will be reward.
The little wine that remains will soon spoil.
The many who came were not disappointed.

It seems like there should be an adjective clause to follow the noun to justify the definite article in these cases, but a prepositional phrase is also possible.
The few of humble beginnings served honorably as well.

Few, little, and many can also be used without an article in front of them.
Few people like to sit in the rain waiting for a bus.
Many people attended the concert.
Little is done when there is much talk.

In these cases, we seem to be making a general observation.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Gerunds and infinitives cause problems because the guidelines for using them are not always clear. I use guidelines instead of rules because the best grammarians and linguists seem to be able to do is give some guidelines and lists of words.

A gerund is an -ing form of a verb used as a noun.

Dancing is a lot more fun than studying.
I like swimming more than water skiing.
He is a fool when it comes to dancing.

A gerund is different from a present participle because it functions as a noun while a participle functions as an adjective.

The dancing girl left everyone watching in admiration. (participle)
The girl excels at dancing. (gerund)

Gerunds come at the beginning of a sentence more often than infinitives. They also can be possessed. In other words, a noun or pronoun coming before a gerund should be in the possessive.

I really admired his dancing last night.
John's dancing shows a definite need for lessons or an operation because he seems to have two left feet.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Present and Past Participles

Present participle and past participle adjectives can be confusing. Present participles are verbs ending in -ing that are used as adjectives. Past participles are the forms used with the perfect tenses. With regular verbs, they are formed by adding -ed, but with irregular verbs, the past participles are the ones like known, gone, taught.

Present participle:
The boring book put me to sleep in record time.

Past participle:
The bored reader fell asleep very quickly.

One way that the difference between the meaning of the two participles is explained is that the present participle describes something happening or a quality. In our sentence above, the quality of the book for the reader is that it is boring. This is contrasted with the past participle which is supposed to show that something has happened. While this explanation works somewhat for the present participle, it doesn't work for me with the past participle. So it seems like this explanation works when the participles are used as verbs.

This explanation is not very satisfactory for the participles when they work as adjectives. It fails to explain to me the meaning of bored reader. Instead, I think that boring is the quality that the book gives to others. In contrast, the past participle describes the feeling of the person.

In other words, present participle adjectives are used to describe feelings or reactions that other people have of the subject or the noun modified. Past participle adjectives describe the feelings of the subject.

The book is boring. (This is the feeling of the reader.)

Now we can't say in English, except in literary terms, that the book is bored. Books do not have feelings.

The bored reader fell asleep very quickly. (This is the feeling of the reader.)

The boring book put me to sleep in record time. (This reader has these reactions or feelings about the book.)

So if I say that
I am confusing.

I am describing the reactions of other people to me.

If I say that

I am confused.

I am describing my feelings about something.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Here are some more cliches with their everyday meanings. Because the table left such a big gap, I am going to post this set differently.

cliche ----> everyday meaning
through thick and thin ----> through good times and difficult times
hate with a passion ----> hate strongly
break a sweat ----> make a strong effort
window of opportunity ----> a brief time when there is an opportunity
got a handle on ----> got control of
live life to the fullest ----> enjoy life fully
last but not least ----> the last one mentioned is not the least important
seems like only yesterday ----> time (usually years) has passed very quickly
go with the flow ----> do not resist
set in stone ----> permanent
see the light ----> understand
a pat on the back ----> encouragement
a slap on the hand ----> a light punishment
life flash before one's eyes ----> life reviewed quickly (as when a person is in great danger)
few and far between ----> rare
brush off ----> refused to talk to or acknowledge

Sunday, May 23, 2004

More about articles:

Today, my daughter and I had this brief conversation.

Daughter: "I finished reading the book."
Me: "Lestat."
Daughter" "No, Pigman."

Lestat and Pigman are names of books. She had to read Pigman for school while she had checked out Lestat from the library on my library card.

She said the book because she knew which book and assumed I knew which book. Assuming we had the same book in mind, the would be the correct article. She and I found out, however, that I didn't know which book she was referring to.

The is used when both the speaker and the listener know which specific thing or person is being referred to. The same goes for writer and reader.

What my daughter would have said, if she knew I did not know which book she was talking about is: "I just finished reading a book." Or "I just finished reading Pigman."

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Cliches are often used in speaking and sometimes in writing. They are a type of figurative language, so they are a less direct way of making a statement. When new, they were creative and fun. However, they have become old and boring through constant use.
Here is a table with some cliches and what they mean.

clichemeaning in plain English
sent chills down my spinefelt terrified
seemed like an eternityseemed like a very long time
roll with the punchesadjust to difficulties or problems well
is a tower of strengthis a person who provides support
thin as a rail (stick)very thin
is a breezeis easy
velcroed totightly attached or bonded to
got the ball rollingbegan, got something started
moved like lightningmoved very quickly
out in left fieldnot paying attention, unaware
hot as hellextremely hot
like a chicken with its head cut offrunning around without knowing what to do
like two peas in a podvery similar
security blanketsomething that makes one feel safe
still as a statuestationary, not moving
iron out the wrinkleswork out the difficulties
right on the moneyperfect

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Absolute Phrases

I was looking over some information about absolute phrases because of a recent discussion. Essentially an absolute phrase consists of a noun and a participle.

His worries causing him to lose sleep, Devin began to have trouble staying awake at work.

She almost did not get home, her car running low on gas.

The absolute phrase modifies the independent clause or sentence, so they are sentence modifiers. Sometimes,the absolute phrase may have the more important information from the sentence in it.

The absolute phrase can be made by removing the helping verb from an independent clause connected to another independent clause. Also, the connecting word, either a subordinator or coordinating conjunction, would also be removed. So the first sentence could have been written as

His worries were causing him to lose sleep, so Devin began to have trouble staying awake at work.

By making the first clause into an absolute phrase, the writer modifies the following clause, not just Devin.

The absolute phrase differs from the participial phrase in two ways. First, the participial phrase does not have a noun in front of the participle, and the participial phrase modifies the subject.

Participial Phrase
Losing sleep because of all his worries, Devin began to have trouble staying awake at work.

Friday, May 14, 2004

In discussing articles, we often use the word definite to describe one type of article, the definite article which is the.

Definite means specific or particular, in other words, I know what you mean on the part of the reader. Definite also means unique; that is, it is the only one or only group.

When there is only one, that is unique and definite.
The earth, the world, the universe

When there are many in a category, the category or group is definite.
The stars, the planets, the Great Lakes, the Himilayas

Superlatives are definite because these are usually one or few.
The best, worst, finest, brightest, most, least
the brightest stars, the tallest buildings, the fastest runners

Prepositional phrases and adjective clauses after a noun usually make the noun more definite especially when they add information that the reader already knows.

The wing of the building
the woman who grew up in Honduras

Context influences the use. In the follow sentence, I can use either the indefinite or definite article. My choice here depends on whether or not I think the reader knows the woman I refer to.

A woman who grew up in Honduras took my class a year ago.
(I know who the woman is but the reader does not.)
The woman who grew up in Honduras took my class a year ago.
(Both I and my reader know this woman or she has been introduced before this sentence.)

Often we use the guideline that in a paragraph after the first use of the noun with an indefinite article, the definite article is used with the noun when we use the noun. This is a good general guideline, but it is not always accurate. Consider these two pairs of sentences.

My teacher assigns a paragraph every week. The paragraphs are
hard for me to write.

Here the writer refers to the paragraphs the teacher assigns. In this context, the paragraphs are definite because they are the paragraphs the teacher assigns.

My teacher assigns a paragraph every week. A paragraph is hard for me to

In this sentence, the writer makes a more general statement about about paragraphs using the indefinite article to say the writing of any paragraph is difficult.
So the guideline of repeating the same idea in the next sentence works most of the time, but it is not an absolute or unbreakable rule.

Friday, April 30, 2004

A, an and the in use (What the writer assumes the reader knows).

Examples: I got an A on the test.

More than one A was given, or at least the writer thinks so, and the writer got one of them. The writer assumes the reader knows which test.

I got the A on the test.

Only one A was given on the test, and the writer got it. The writer assumes the reader knows which test.

The car is in the parking lot.

Both reader and writer know which car and which parking lot.

A person could be in danger here.

Both reader and writer do not know the specific person.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Articles a/an and the

The articles can cause some problems.
I am going to discuss some examples in today. I will use elementary school as an the example phrase.

The paragraph:

Elementary school was difficult for me. I attended an elementary school in Chicago. It was a very big school with many students. I never really felt comfortable with all of those students around. The school had many very good teachers who I still remember fondly. However, the classes they taught were sometimes very hard for me.

I attended an elementary school in Chicago.

– there are several elementary schools in Chicago but I am not identifying the specific school.

The elementary school had many good teachers.

The – Here the is used because the elementary school is now definite because it has been referred to before.

Elementary school was difficult for me.

__ - Elementary school here is a generalization and refers to the experience of attending elementary school.

Since school is a countable noun, there are three different possibilities.
No article when the noun is a generalization.
A or An when the noun is not specific in its reference. In other words, the reader and the writer do not share the same idea of the specific item referred to.
The is used when the noun is specific either because it has been mentioned before or the writer is using a noun that the reader already knows about.

This is a good place to start.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

I find that my previous posting on the country is not accurate. The country can be used when the nation is the meaning. To revise my statement about the country, I would say that when the verb live is used.

I have lived in the country for five years. (First meaning is a rural area unless there is a previous reference to nation).
People in the country want a more social type of government. (Out of context, the country is ambiguous.)
The Belgian civilians remained in the country. (Here, the country probably means in the nation, but context might change the meaning.)

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Just a little note about using the articles a and the with country.

When a writer uses a with country, the writer is using the meaning of nation.

He comes from a country in South America.

However, when a writer uses the with country, the meaning of country is a rural area.

My cousin, Sarah, lives in the country.

This can change when a writer uses more specificity about the country. In other words, the writer adds information to help the reader know that the nation meaning of country is being used instead of the rural area meaning.

My cousin just came from the country that is near Colombia.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

There are a few verbs that belong to the class known as causative verbs. Causative verbs are verbs that "cause" their objects to do something. The four most common causative verbs are: have, make, let, and get.

These verbs make, have, and let are used in this type of construction:

Causative Verb + Object + Verb

The police officer made me walk a straight line.
The doctor has his nurse call the hospital.
My brother lets me use his car.

Get is used in a different construction.

Causative Verb Get + Object+ to + Verb

I get my son to answer the phone in the evenings.

On the Verb page of Guide to Grammar and Writing, there is a list of several causative verbs.

Friday, April 09, 2004

Here are a few more points about none.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines the pronoun meaning of none as not any, not one, nobody. With these several meanings, it is possible that none takes on both singular and plural meanings. However, if we use not one or nobody, these are both singular.

Not one of the boys is aware of the monster approaching.
Nobody comes when I call.

The explanation for none does note that there are some sentence structures where none must be plural in agreement.

Almost none of the students were finished with the assignment.
None but the players on his team supported him.

None is used with noncount nouns .

None of the milk is in the glass because it is all on the table.
None of the furniture was damaged in the storm.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Someone asked about the use of none in phrases with of as is none of the days, none of the people. Is the subject none singular or plural? The answer seems to be both.

I found examples of the writers writing a sentence like None of the boats is in the water. But I also found another writer using a sentence like None of the papers have my signature.

In Keys for Writers by Ann Raimes (2nd edition, published by Houghton Mifflin), she says that both forms are historically acceptable with count nouns.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Here is the table with some words that commonly follow either make or take.
Other words may be used, but it is rare when one of the words in the make column is used after take or word in the take column is used after make.

a choice
a difference
a change
a living
a point

a report
a sound
a start
an effort

an impression
a mistake
a promise
a decision
a bite
a break
care of
a chance
a drink
a gamble
a look
a picture
a photograph
a seat
a trip
it easy
it from here
an opportunity

Saturday, April 03, 2004

The first thing I want to discuss is the words that partner with make and take. These word partners like make a mistake are usually used together. There are several, so I will post a table soon that shows some common word partners with these words.

Blog Archive