Ellen

Why study grammar?

In two earlier posts, we examined the grammar of the English sentence – both the unconscious knowledge of native speakers (What is grammar?) and the conscious application of grammar to the analysis of sentences through diagramming or linguistic trees (Parsing the English Sentence). Because native English speakers follow the rules of English grammar mostly unconsciously, …

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Parsing* the English Sentence

*parse (pars) v. tr. 1. To break (a sentence) down into its component parts of speech with an explanation of the form, function, and syntactical relationship of part. 2. To describe (a word) by stating its part of speech, form, and syntactical relationships in a sentence. (The American Heritage Dictionary, 2nd College Edition) We’ve discussed …

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Problems with plurals and possessives

What problems can a writer have with plurals and possessives? We discussed some problems with plurals and possessives, such as the previous posts on possessive/reflexive pronouns and on the use of the apostrophe. The rule for making singular nouns plural or possessive is pretty straightforward: add s or es or ies, depending on the ending …

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Hisself vs. himself, theirselves vs. themselves, and other reflexive pronoun problems

Pronouns can cause writers problems, as we have seen in two previous posts on vague pronoun reference and on pronoun antecedent agreement. The pronouns we’ll be examining in this post are called reflexive pronouns. As with many of the words we’ve discussed in this space, these pronouns have varied histories and spellings, as well as …

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When to use aggravate vs exasperate vs exacerbate?

Recently, I discovered Bad English by Ammon Shea. Shea is the author of Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages, a book which details a year he spent reading the Oxford English Dictionary (or OED). In the chapter “Arguing Semantics” in Bad English, Shea brings up a ghost from my education and editing …

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Bird by bird – writing inspiration and practice

This post is celebrating writers and writing, including over a year of weekly blog posts on writing essentials and English fundamentals here. Recent posts have looked at confusing words, such as the previous post on allude, elude, allusion, illusion. Many have focused on grammatical and usage errors, including language myths and points of contention among …

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Word play – allude vs. elude and allusion vs. illusion

In continuing our examination of words often mixed up, we’ll consider some pairs of words that have a playful connection, and although some language experts dislike when they are confused or misused, they do not hold the same intense controversy as the pairs alright and all right or anxious and eager. These sets of words …

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Do you know “assure” from “ensure” from “insure”?

This trio – assure, ensure, insure – is another example of words that appear on many lists of words often confused. As with earlier pairs discussed, such as alright vs. all right and anxious vs. eager, the usage guidelines vary since, as merriam-webster.com asserts, “there is no unanimity of opinion as to what is correct” …

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