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Showing posts from October, 2013

I'm a Contraction Junkie

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I'm a contraction junkie. There, I've said it! It's in the open and I can deal with it. Inherently lazy, I like contractions. I know as an English teacher, contractions are supposed to be frowned upon. Avoiding contractions in formal writing is important. Avoiding them in informal writing makes the work sound awkward and stiff. What's the difference between informal and formal writing? Informal writing: novels, poems, friendly letters, texts to friends. Formal writing: term papers, newspaper articles, speeches, textbooks. In short, anything that isn't a novel, poem, friendly letter or text. What's the big deal with using contractions in formal writing? The big deal is IT'S FORMAL. Think of it like the difference between dressing for prom or dressing for a casual party. You're not going to wear ratty jeans and a T-shirt to prom. (At least I hope not!) Nor are you going to wear a tux to a casual party. In formal writing, the author does not directly address his/…

That's So Cliché

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Why Using a Cliché Isn't Always a Bad Thing
There are “conventions” in writing. No, I don't mean the great big gatherings of authors & their fans, though these are also conventions. What I mean are the things you MUST NOT DO if you want to be an author. I'd love to know who decides these things. Who set the rules in the first damn place? My theory is that a bunch of frustrated, would-be writers got together and decided that they would set standards in order to hamper the creativity of others. Level the field by making it harder for the competition. Well played. Grant you, there are some conventions that are valid. (I can't think of any right now, but give me a little while. I'm sure there are some.) One standard that has some validity is the use of clichés. Not familiar with the word? I could give you a big, long dictionary definition, but why bother? A cliché is a phrase that's over used. Tried and tru…

What Makes a Sentence a Run-On?

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We've already spoken of fragments. The next offender is the run-on sentence. These are the sentences that don't quit. The author, apparently, had no idea how to contain these suckers and kept adding onto them, rather than curtailing the culprits and putting a leash on them, she kept adding commas and conjunctions until the sentence was, surprisingly, a paragraph long. That, my friends, is a run-on Run-on sentences come in a variety of guises. Above, my sentence is pretty obviously a run-on. What makes a run-on sentence? It is characterized by having more than one subject and verb pair. Though compound sentences are acceptable, run-ons should be corrected. Let's look at my sample sentence again: The author, apparently, had no idea how to contain these suckers and kept adding onto them, rather than curtailing the culprits and putting a leash on them, she kept adding commas and conjunctions until the sentence was, surprisingly, a paragraph long. You probably can't see the com…

Fragmented Thoughts

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Most people don't know a sentence fragment if it comes up and bites them in the face. What makes a fragment? To explain that, I need to explain what a sentence is. A sentence is a complete thought expressed with a Subject (someone who does something) and a Verb (the action the subject takes)
I sit. You run. He eats.
Though short, these are complete thoughts. They are sentences. Fragments are hard to spot. They may seem to express a full thought, but some element is missing. Fragments aren't necessarily short. What classifies them as a fragment is that they are missing one of the key elements – subject or verb. I see these posts on Facebook a lot— “That moment when I realize I've just written a fragment.” On the surface, this looks like a sentence, but it's not. This is my sentence: I realize I've just written a fragment. This is what makes it a fragment: That moment when This is a dependent clause. They're sneaky buggers that attach themselves to sentences and make them …

What's a Part of Speech?

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Q: What's a part of speech?
A: It's a word. Q: Are all words parts of speech? A: Yes. Q: Are all words the same part of speech? A: I'm glad you asked that question. No.
Words are words are words. Their functions vary. There are 8 common parts of speech – nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions and interjections. It's important to know parts of speech. These are the pieces of the puzzle. The way they are combined creates the full picture. Unless an author knows how to combine these pieces properly, the finished picture will be a chaotic mess. You can't analyze your own work or understand a critique if you don't know what the parts are and how to put them together. Below, I've given a simple definition of each part of speech with links to a site that not only goes into more explanation, it has exercises and teaching tools. I wish I'd had a page like this available to me when I was teaching. Life would have been much simpler. Even if…