Published on September 30, 2014
Sorting out Sentences Sarah Price (email@example.com)
‘It ain’t what you say (it’s the way that you say it)’* Grammar and punctuation Writing techniques * With apologies to Melvin ‘Sy’ Oliver and James ‘Trummy’ Young’s song ‘It Ain't What You Do (It's the Way That You Do It)’
Grammar and punctuation Verbs Prepositions Restrictive vs. non-restrictive clauses View slide
Verbs: Tenses Three tenses: • Past • Present • Future Tenses shouldn’t be mixed in the same sentence – unless there’s a reason View slide
Verbs: Modes Modal verbs express judgement, or indicate that the text is not set in stone ‘May’ used to indicate permission, but ‘can’ is more often used today ‘May’ and ‘might’ are often used interchangeably today
Verbs: Voice Active voice – the actor is stated: • In this workshop, the tutor explained grammar. Passive voice – the actor isn’t stated: • In this workshop, grammar was explained. Use active where the actor is important.
Active vs. passive Put the sentence below into the active voice: • The sandwiches were made between 8:00am and 10:00am by Sally and Fred, and were put on the empty shelves by Jane just before the doors were opened.
Verbs: Subject–verb agreement (1) The verb should agree in number with the subject; take care if the verb is separated from the subject: • No major change in terms of microstructure and mechanical properties are possible. Collective nouns (e.g. family, team) take singular verbs, unless the focus is on the individuals: • The team is developing software. • The team have different opinions about the program’s effectiveness.
Verbs: Subject–verb agreement (2) Take care with pronouns such as all, any, none, some: • All of the tree was visible; all of the trees were visible. Data, media, errata, criteria and phenomena are plural • Although ‘data’ and ‘media’ are often singular today Singular verb with ‘anyone’, ‘each’, ‘either’, ‘everybody’, ‘everyone’, ‘neither’, ‘no one’ and ‘someone’: • Each of us likes the book./Everyone likes the book.
Verbs: Dangling (hanging) participles Ambiguous if the actor isn’t obvious: • Ambiguous: Looking through the window, my son was talking to his friend. • Clarified: When I looked through the window, my son was talking to his friend. No need to change if there is no ambiguity: • Driving along the road, the sun was shining.
Verbs: Gerunds A gerund is a ‘verbal noun’ and should take the possessive personal pronoun: • My asking her would cause problems. Today this is often referred to as the present participle and can take an object pronoun in informal situations: • Me asking her would cause problems.
Which preposition? Verbs Verbs often used with the wrong preposition include: • Consists of ... • Comprises ... (no preposition) • Different from … (US: different than …) • Similar to … • Compared with … (or to …)
Which preposition? Nouns Nouns often used with the wrong preposition include: • Insight into • Consequences for (or of) • Reason for • Proxy for • Tendency to • Understanding of • Implications for
Restrictive and non-restrictive clauses: That vs. which Use ‘that’ to introduce ‘restrictive’ (or defining) clauses – the information is necessary to the meaning: • This is the book that we will use. • Does it work without ‘that’? (This is the book we will use.) Use ‘which’ to introduce ‘non-restrictive’ clauses – supplementary information: • This is the book I mentioned, which I read over the summer.
Punctuation: Serial/Oxford comma In a list, a comma is not needed before ‘and’, unless there are items within the list joined by ‘and’: • For breakfast we had grapefruit, croissants, toast and marmalade, and coffee. Serial/Oxford commas are used before ‘and’ in all lists: • More common in US English than UK English. Follow house style, and/or ensure consistent usage
Punctuation: Semicolons and colons Use semicolons to indicate a separation greater than a comma: • We had jam for tea; afterwards we went for a walk. Use colons to introduce lists and ideas: • They had provided a lovely tea: sandwiches, scones, jam, chocolate cake and lashings of ginger beer.
Punctuation: Apostrophes (1) Apostrophes indicate possessives (e.g. John’s book) or contractions (e.g. don’t do that) Beware of possessive its and the contraction it’s (it is) Similarly, no apostrophe in hers, his, theirs
Punctuation: Apostrophes (2) Use ’s after names ending in s and singular words: • Fred Jones’s book • the witch’s cat Use s’ for plural words ending in s: • footballers’ wives (but: men’s clothing). No apostrophes in plural abbreviations and acronyms (TLAs), or plural dates (the 1990s)
Apostrophes The security software is running its’ weekly scan. My friend Angus’ bicycle. The peoples’ voice has been heard. The apostrophe’s font is wrong.
Punctuation placement with quotation marks and parentheses Fragments – punctuation outside: • He said he was feeling ‘a bit tired’. • We went to see Wolf Hall (in Stratford-upon-Avon). Complete sentences – punctuation inside: • She said: ‘I’ve had enough of work today.’ • We went to see Wolf Hall. (It was on in Stratford-upon- Avon.) US English puts end punctuation inside quotation marks (often double quotation marks): He said he was feeling “a bit tired.”
Punctuation: Hyphens and dashes (1) Hyphenate: • compound terms and adjectives to avoid ambiguity (child-friendly policies, small ladies-gloves); • prefixes that stand as words on their own, between repeated vowels and consonants and to avoid ambiguity (re-sent, resent) There is no need for a hyphen in compounds after adverbs ending in -ly (e.g. quietly spoken) (Note: US English sometimes hyphenates these.)
Punctuation: Hyphens and dashes (2) Use en-dashes (en-rules): • for number ranges • instead of ‘to’ or ‘and’ (e.g. sound–picture integration, London–Brighton rally) • to indicate a break in a sentence (US em-dashes) • parenthetically (instead of brackets or commas) (US em-dashes)
Hyphen or en-dash? Rogers*Hammerstein musical Safely*driven bus Right*hand lane From 1990*1995 Children aged 8*10
Ellipses ... to indicate the omission of a word or group of words. For effect ... Punctuation around an ellipsis isn’t necessary unless for sense. Ellipses are not necessary at the beginning and end of a quotation.
Spacing after full-stops At one time two character spaces followed a full-stop Not necessary with proportional spacing, so just one space
Exercises Correct the sentences on the handout (if necessary)
Writing techniques Structure Style General principles Weasel words
Structure Logical order: • Introduction • Main body • Summary/conclusion Use headings as ‘signposts’ Similar headings for similar content
Style: Non-publishing Author neutral Clarity important (e.g. information leaflets) Paragraphs and sentences should be short with lots of signposting Active voice as much as possible
Style: Publishing Preserve the author’s voice Text should be clear, but style often deliberately more convoluted • If you have to read something more than once to understand, it needs attention Query rather than change if making substantive changes
General principles (1) Consider breaking up text with lists, tables and diagrams: • Numbered lists for sequential steps • Bullet lists where sequence/hierarchy not important • Graphics aid understanding of complex ideas • Tables and charts for statistical info
General principles (2) Use consistent terminology (especially for non-native English speakers or translation) Be consistent with dates, numbers, caps, etc. Hyphenate to avoid ambiguity (e.g. brown dog-bowls)
General principles (3) Explain abbreviations at first mention Query ambiguity – don’t second guess Avoid redundancy, for example: • completely full • past history • erroneous misconception
Weasel words Some words cause confusion and are often misused, for example: • principal/principle • complement/compliment • fewer/less • practise/practice
Practise your writing skills Write a short text (one A4 page maximum) on one of the following: • How to do something (e.g. make a cup of tea, use the washing machine, change a light bulb) • A description of your typical working day for someone who is going to cover while you are on holiday Your text should have a beginning, middle and end
Recommended books David Crystal • Rediscover grammar, Longman • Making sense of grammar, Pearson Longman Bill Bryson: • Mother tongue: The English Language, Penguin • Troublesome words, Penguin Lesley J. Ward and Geraldine Woods, Grammar for Dummies, Wiley Sydney Greenbaum, Oxford Reference Grammar, ed. E. Weiner, Oxford University Press Gordon Jarvie, Bloomsbury Grammar Guide, A & C Black New Hart’s Rules, Oxford University Press
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