Monday, December 05, 2005

suppose / supposed

1) I suppose I should go.
2) I am supposed to go.
3) He is the supposed leader.
The first difference between suppose and supposed is that suppose is a verb and supposed is an adjective. With this difference in mind, we can begin to understand the differences in meanings.

In 1), suppose has a meaning similar to think. Suppose generally expresses a belief that lacks certainty or an opinion.

In 2), supposed means required or obliged. It is similar in meaning to the modal should.
In 3), supposed means either mistakenly believed or based on not very strong evidence.

In 3), the meaning is closer to the verb meaning 1) than is 2).

Since 3) and 1) are somewhat similar, how can we tell them apart in reading?

Here are two sentences with supposed in them.
A. After waiting for a half an hour, she supposed her friend was not coming.
B. Her supposed friend had failed to support her in the disagreement.
In the first sentence, the verb, supposed, follows directly after the subject. In the second sentence, supposed is in the adjective place in a noun phrase, that is, it is in front of the noun.
The most common use of supposed, however, is after the BE verb as an adjective. In writing, don't forget the adjective form looks like the past tense, but it isn't really a verb, so it doesn't agree with time of the other verbs.

Suppose is sometimes used at the beginning of a sentence in an imperative sentence.
Suppose your parents don't come.
This sentence is used as a hypothetical statement, a sort of if-clause. It is similar to:
What if your parents don't come?
This use of suppose occurs when a writer wants the reader to think of something in a way that is different from the current reality.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


If you bought a Longman , Oxford , or Cambridge dictionary, you may have gotten the cd with it. Then you don't really need a another dictionary on your computer. But if you don't have a dictionary cd or other type of dictionary for quick reference, I suggest you download WordWeb from This is a good dictionary, and the free version should work well enough for most of us. I have been using it now for about half a year and rely on it much of the time. It not only provides information about words, but it also has a thesaurus, so I can look up related words.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Future time in complex sentences

When we write complex sentences combining dependent and independent clauses, we use the same tense in each clause.

When I visited Miami, I went to Coconut Grove. (past)
When I eat at a restaurant, I order fish. (present)

If we want to use future time with a complex sentence, we use the future form with either will or be going to in the independent clause only. We use the present tense in the dependent clause.

I will go to the Mall of America when I travel to Minnesota.
When he gets home, he is going to be hungry.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


The conclusion of a paragraph consists of one or two concluding sentences.  The conclusion should accomplish at minimum the task of reminding the reader of the main idea of the paragraph.  It can also be used to recall the key points in the paragraph.  Furthermore, the conclusion can include the writer’s comment on the paragraph.

     The difficulty of hitting a baseball should not be underestimated.  First of all, the baseball is moving and hitting anything moving is obviously much more difficult than when it is sitting still.  Hitting a mosquito squatting on my arm challenges my abilities some, but whacking one in the air requires great hand to eye coordination, which I don’t have.  The baseball is not very large.  It fits into a person’s hand and is smaller than only a part of the bat.  So a batter only has a few inches of wood that they have to move to the correct spot at the exact time that a ball moving at speeds of up to 90 miles an hour gets there.  If that isn’t difficult enough, the ball has been thrown by someone who does not want the batter to hit it.  The pitcher throws the trying to make the batter miss it.  He tries to make it elusive by making it curve, sink, or rise so the batter can not hit it.  With all these challenges, it is a wonder anyone hits a baseball at all.

Three Strategies illustrated:
Restatement: As we can see, hitting a baseball is very difficult.
Summary:  A pitcher throwing a baseball as fast and as elusively as possible makes it difficult to hit a baseball.
Comment: With all these challenges, it is a wonder anyone hits a baseball at all.

We can use the comment with either the restatement or the summary, or we can use the comment alone.

To summarize, we have five possible ways to conclude a paragraph.  We can use restatement, summary, comment, restatement plus comment, or summary plus comment.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Fragments and Relative Clauses

As we talked about in class, fragments are pieces of sentences instead of complete sentences. Sometimes, it is easy to see that a sentence is a complete sentence. But the kind of fragment I find most difficult is one with a relative or subordinate clause in it.

Here is an example:

The car that has worked fine for the last five years

This is a fragment. It looks good because it has a verb, has worked, and appears to have a subject, car. However, the subject is the relative pronoun, that, which admittedly does refer to car. In this sentence, car does not have a verb.

Other examples of this kind of fragment are:

The boy who ran through the park on his way to the hospital

The regiment of soldiers who fought alongside each other during the last war

The building, which has stood in that location for over a hundred years

In each case, the subject, boy, regiment, and building, does not have a verb. There is a verb that looks like a main verb, but it follows a relative pronoun and is, therefore, in an adjective clause.

The relative pronouns are that, which, whichever, whatever, who, whom, whomever, and whoever.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Vocabulary Notebook

A recently published book by Keith Folse is Vocabulary Myths: Applying Second Language Research to Classroom Teaching. He writes about how he has his students keep their vocabulary notebooks. He has them write four types of information for each new word or phrase they put in their notebook:
  • the word or phrase
  • the definition
  • a translation
  • and the words used with the word.

This information is put into two columns. In one column is the word and the definition. Across from the word is the translation. Under the translation are the words used with the new word with a blank used to show where the word was in the original phrase.

Let's look at how this works. I will use French as the first language.

The word I will use is knife. Under knife I write a definition: a tool with an edge used for cutting. Across from knife I write couteau, the French translation. Underneath couteau, I write _______ to cut the meat, which is the phrase I found the word in.

It would look something like this.

knife couteau
a tool with an edge used for cutting ______ to cut the meat.

Make sure to skip at least one line before starting a new word.

To review the new words, use a notecard or piece of paper that will cover the vocabulary information. But cut out one corner.

Use this card to review by putting the open space over the part of the vocabulary information you want to use and try to remember the other information. In other words, you could show the translation and try to remember the English word. Put the empty space over the definition and try to remember the English word or translation. There are four possibilities.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Vocabulary Resources

This is a little pitch for a website I maintain that links to many vocabulary resources that are available on the internet.  It includes general vocabulary resources, dictionary sites, idiom, and wordlist sites.  Check it out.  If you have suggestions for additional sites, just let me know.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Site for finding word partners

Adding to our resources is the link for Variation in English Words and Phrases. This resource enables a person to research the words that go with a particular word. For example, I entered the word "paragon" which Merriam-Webster defines as "a model of excellence or perfection," and found that the most common phrase that follows it is "of virtue." I did this by skimming down the list of uses that was returned.
This can be a useful site for finding out what words follow a word you want to use.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

A quiz site

Here is a site where there are several quizzes of different levels. Try some of them out.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

always, nearly, only

Almost, nearly, and only are three adverbs that can work interesting changes of meaning on sentences depending on where they are placed in the sentence. They are three words that can cause misplaced modifier errors.

Almost and nearly are synonyms, so they can be used interchangeably.

Start with the sentence: Stuart won fifty dollars.

Add almost before the fifty dollars to have the sentence,

Stuart won almost fifty dollars.

This sentence says Stuart won less than fifty dollars but only a little less that fifty dollars.

In contrast,

Stuart almost won fifty dollars.

This sentence indicates Stuart did not win fifty dollars, but he came close. Perhaps he was playing blackjack and drew cards for 22 when 21 is the winning number.

A few days after I took my masters comprehensive exams, I went to the departmental office to get my results. The secretary told me I was the only one, and my stomach almost hit the floor. Perhaps she saw the look on my face, for I thought I was the only one who failed the exams. She then added that I had received honors. That news made me feel a little better. Well, to be honest, it made me feel a lot better.

Only John got honors.
John only got honors.
John got the only honors.

The first sentence indicates that John was the only one to earn honors. The second sentence indicates that getting honors is not important because there are higher awards. The third sentence is similar to the first sentence in meaning.

Select the correct place to put the adverb so your sentence will clearly express your meaning.

Thursday, April 14, 2005


Fast is an interesting word because two of its meanings seem contradictory.

As an adjective, fast means swift or quick.

  • She is a fast runner.
  • The internet is very fast.

But fast also means firm or without movement.

  • The farmer made fast the door to the storage shed.
  • He is my fast friend and has stood by me in difficult times.
  • The desk drawers were stuck fast.

The second meaning according to Merriam-Websters Online dictionary is the original meaning historically.

When we use fast as a verb, it means to eat little or no food.

Christians fast during lent, and Moslems fast during Ramadan.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

marry/get married

I got married in 1989.
I married in 1989.

These two sentences have basically the same meaning. The use of get married works with the singular but probably is more comfortable with the plural.

We got married in 1989.
We married in 1989.

Personally, I think the plain verb marry is better than get married, but since get married is in common use, I am sure I will see it again and again.

Marriage, however, is a noun. A person or a couple cannot get marriage. They can have a good marriage, a happy marriage, a bad marriage, or an unhappy marriage. If they have a bad marriage they might choose to get a divorce or to divorce.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

used to

Used to is always used in the past tense when the writer refers to a habitual action from the past.
He used to build model airplanes.
Stephanie used to study until 1:oo a.m.
When used to is preceded by a be (am, is, are, was, were, been) verb, used to can be followed by either a simple form of the verb or the -ing form. However, there is a big difference between the meanings of sentences with the simple form and with the -ing form.
Cement is used to make the walls stronger.
I am used to seeing her every day.

In the first example, the sentence is in the passive voice. The subject of this sentence is the object used by someone one or something to accomplish or do something. In other words, in the first sentence, the cement is used to accomplish the goal of making the walls stronger. We do not know who or what is using the cement. This sentence is in the present tense in the passive voice. If we did know who or what, it would follow the preposition by and be placed after the verb.
Cement is used by engineers to make the walls stronger.
In the second example, the sentence is an active voice sentence. The subject (the one doing the acting) is at the beginning of the sentence. The sentence expresses the idea of something that was habitual and true in the past, so it expresses past tense. This sentence uses the -ing form of the verb.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

That is essential

This sentence was in a paper. I marked it wrong and labeled it as a run on.

I like to waterski that is fun.

In the above sentence, that is a demonstrative pronoun. As a demonstrative pronoun, that can refer to a sentence or a noun. As a relative pronoun, that would refer only to the infinitive to water ski. However, in the run-on sentence, that would not work because that is fun is nonessential information and should have a comma in front of it. That can not be used in a nonessential clause.

But if I make them into two sentences, the two simple sentences are good.

I like to water ski. That is fun.

The clause, that is fun, can not serve as a nonessential adjective clause in the sentence above. Indeed, using it that way results in a run on.

If we make the sentence into a nonessential clause, it is acceptable.

I like to waterski, which is fun.

This is one case where the difference between essential and non essential clauses is important.

I would probably use the second sentence with the nonessential clause unless I want to emphasize fun more than water skiing.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Make and Subject Verb Agreement

In class, we were working on subject verb agreement when we came across a sentence like

She makes him work harder.

From the sentence we can see that makes agrees with the pronoun she (3rd person singular). The question was what about the verb work? We do not have to worry about subject verb agreement with the verb after make.

Make is one of three verbs called causative verbs, that act in this way. These other verbs are have and let.

She makes her try. (causes her to try)
She has her fix her hair. (causes her to fix her hair)
He lets her drive his car. (allows her to drive his car)

The structure is Subject + Verb + Object + Verb + (Adverb or Adjective or Noun Phrase or Clause).

I think that the second verb is actually an infinitive without the to for two reasons. When we restate the sentence in another way as in causes or lets her, we have to use an infinitive form as in to try, to fix, to drive. Another reason it seems to be an infinitive is that the other causative verbs are followed by infinitives.

She gets him to work for her.
She allows him to return late.
She convinces him to stay home.

A list of causative verbs of this second type is: let, help, allow, have, require, allow, motivate, get, make, convince, hire, assist, encourage, permit, employ, force. The list comes from The Guide to Grammar and Writing.

The structure for these verbs differs only in the use of the preposition to.
Subject + Verb + Object + to + Verb + (Adverb or Adjective or Noun Phrase or Clause).

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Subject-Verb Agreement (3)

I recently saw a general rule for subject-verb agreement. The rule is put the s with the noun when it is plural, with the verb when the noun is singular except with I.


The artist draws well with charcoal. (singular subject)
The artists draw well with charcoal. (plural subject)

This is a good rule for nouns that are regular in forming plurals. It also covers the countable nouns because they do not have a plural form so they will have an s on the verb.


The rice is ready so we can eat.
Activity is what you need.

Collective nouns (class, government, family, jury, committee, group, couple, or team) are usually singular.

The class begins at noon.
Government is a necessity though sometimes not desirable.

Note that on occasion when the group is thought of as individuals, and the writer wants to emphasize disagreement or differences, then the noun can be used as a plural.

The family are teachers and government employees.
The committee feel they can not make a decision at this time.

There are several nouns that form their plurals differently. These can be found here. These nouns in the plural form will not be followed by a verb with the s.

Children play in the park until dark.
The women sing well together.

So the rule works well with nouns that form regular plurals. It also works well with most pronouns except the pronoun I mentioned above. I is singular but does not require an s on verbs.

A group of pronouns also can cause problems. These are the indefinite pronouns, which include some pronouns that can be either singular or plural depending on the noun they refer to. By that I mean that if the noun is countable, the indefinite pronoun can be plural. These include the pronouns (all, any, most, none, and some).

The milk is fresh. All is ready for drinking right now.
The artists are present. All are ready to show their work.

This group of pronouns includes some pronouns that are plural (both, several, many, others, more).

Both boys are tired.
Several girls have come to the game.
Others are absent.
Some people ride bicycles. More drive cars.

Also, there are several words that look plural but are singular (news, politics, economics, civics, measles, mumps, physics, statistics, and mathematics.)

At the Purdue OWL site, they point out that dollars causes some difficulties. When dollars follows a number, in other words, there is an amount of money, the verb is singular.

Five dollars is enough to pay for the ring.

But when dollars is used alone to refer to the money, it is plural.

Dollars are needed to buy that.

Words like trousers, scissors, tweezers, shears, pants, and shorts are plural.

In summary, a simple rule like put the s with the noun when it is plural, with the verb when the noun is singular except with I looks good, but in English (as usual) there are some exceptions to keep in mind.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Subject-Verb Agreement (2)

Another problem that can arise in identifying subjects is when the subject is separated from the verb by phrases or clauses.

The women who drove the trucks are now asleep in the hotel.

Women is the subject of are, but they (the women) are also the subject of drove because the relative pronoun who refers to women. Consequently, both drove and are have to agree with the subject, women.

Textbooks often discuss the fact that many words can be used between the subject and the verb as we saw above with the relative clause and the prepositional phrases.

Driving to Miami from Gainesville takes several hours.

The women who drove the trucks are now asleep in the hotel.

In the first case, the prepositional phrases come between the subject and the verb. In the second case, the relative clause (adjective clause) comes between the subject and the verb.

In each case, we can examine the sentence, locate the verb and look for the subject of the verb. In the first case, only driving is left as a possible subject after we remove the prepositional phrases.

Driving ... takes several hours.

This sentence is not very informative, but it is stripped down to subject and verb phrase to illustrate my point. In the other sentence, we can do the same thing.

The women who drove the trucks are now asleep in the hotel.

If we remove the adjective clause, we have a simpler sentence:

The women are now asleep in the hotel.

Another way to approach this problem of identifying the subject is to identify the verbs and identify the subjects of the verbs.

The women who drove the trucks are now asleep in the hotel.

Drove is our first verb. The relative pronoun who doesn’t tell us very much. With relative pronouns, we should identify the reference for the pronoun. So who is the subject, and who refers back to women. The verb has to agree with the subject, women.

Are is our second verb. Now we need to work backward. First, we eliminate the adjective clause. That leaves us with women as the only noun in front of the verb and thus the subject.

To summarize, we can approach the problem of identifying the subject and verb by beginning with the subject or by beginning with the verb. Identifying the subject and the verb will help us make our decisions about subject-verb agreement.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Subject-Verb Agreement

In working on subject-verb agreement, we begin by identifying the subject and the verb. Looks easy when I write it, but it isn’t always so easy in practice.

Subjects are usually nouns or pronouns.

Tom dives into the pool with no fear.

He dives from the diving board.

The car sits in the driveway.

In these cases, the subject is relatively easy to find. It is close to the verb and is a noun or a pronoun.

Now there are cases where a noun comes in front of the verb but it is not the subject.

In the driveway sits my new car.

In this example driveway is a noun, but driveway is the object of the preposition in. When a noun follows a preposition it can not be the subject of a sentence. The phrase, In the driveway, is a prepositional phrase showing location. In this sentence, the subject, car, follows the verb.

Gerunds and infinitives are two groups that can function as subjects and can be difficult to identify. A gerund is an –ing form of a word that functions as a noun.

Swimming is good exercise.

Driving to Miami from Gainesville takes several hours

In these two sentences swimming and driving are the subjects. The first one seems a little more obvious than the second one. It looks like the sentence.

Milk is a nutritious drink.

Driving though at first may not seem quite as obvious but remember that a noun in a prepositional phrase can not be a subject. Since to Miami and from Gainesville are both prepositional phrases, neither Miami or Gainesville can be subjects in this sentence.

Infinitives function as nouns also. Infinitives are to and the simple present form of the verb. (Infinitives as subjects are not very common in writing because they may seem awkward.)

To succeed takes work.

The subject of takes is to succeed.

Both infinitives and gerunds are singular and in the third person, so they require the singular verb form, that is, the addition of s to the verb.

To summarize, nouns, pronouns, gerunds, and infinitives can all serve as subjects. Only nouns and pronouns can be either singular and plural.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Too and Very

Too and very are intensifiers that express different ideas about the words they modify.

They have too many children. (They can not provide for all of the children.)

They have very many children. (They have a large number of children.)

Too is used to express the idea of more than is needed, wanted, or desirable.

He is too loud.

She is too tired.

Very expresses the idea of a large amount or a high degree. Very is often used for emphasis.

He has very many CDs.

She earned very good grades.

She drives very fast.

Monday, January 03, 2005


Sometimes the word damage is misused when the writer should use either harm, injure, or hurt.

Damage has several meanings that include the idea of changing something for the worse, changing the integrity or value of something, doing something legally wrong to someone, or the cost of something.

My car was damaged in the wreck. (changing something for the worse)

She damaged her knee in the game.(changing the integrity of something)

Her lies damaged his reputation. (to affect negatively)

The damage comes to $498. (This is an idiomatic use and not usually used in formal writing).

Harm shares two senses with damage but has one that differs which is physical injury.


She harmed her knee in the game. (changing the integrity of something)

Her lies harmed his reputation. (to affect negatively)


The broken glass harmed his foot. (physical injury)

Injure includes two senses that are similar to damage and harm, that is to affect negatively but includes one meaning it shares with harm.


She injured her knee in the game. (changing the integrity of something)

Her lies injured his reputation. (to affect negatively).

Shares only with harm

The broken glass injured his foot. (wound)

The senses come from

From these examples, it looks like damage has several meanings which makes it a good word to use with something that is negative and causes some type of change to something. However, when we write about a physical wound or a physical injury to a person’s body, then harm, injure, or hurt work better.

Damage does not refer to the wound, but it does describe something that is more long term and usually means an injury or hurt that results in a change in the body part or parts.

So I can injure my knee in a game. This injury becomes damage when my knee is negatively affected so that it causes pain or doesn’t work as well after the injury occurred.