Friday, October 29, 2010

Grammar Goody #6-- Number and Amount are Not Synonymous

Many people use amount these days for everything dealing with quantity, but that's not always correct. There is a hard-and-fast rule about this (not the hyphens between the compound adjective words?)

1. Use amount only for things that can't be counted:
The amount of love in the world today...

The amount of fear...

2. Use number for things that can be counted:
The number of soldiers serving in Afghanistan....

So this sentence below would clearly be wrong (and I heard it on a news broadcast a few days ago)

The amount of voters is much lower this year than two years ago.

Why is that wrong? Because voters can be counted.

BUT, if the sentence were like this:
The amount of voter apathy is much higher this year than two years ago...
That would be correct because voter apathy can't be counted.

Daniel Ellsberg on the newest round of Wikileaks

For my graduate students who are reading extensively into First Amendment issues and my Constitutional History students comes this most timely opinion piece by Daniel Ellsberg about the newest round of Wikileaks about the Iraq War (which he says may be even more significant than the Pentagon Papers were more than 40 years ago.

Ellsberg's article in The Guardian

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Grammar Goody #4 --Redundancies = Too Many Words

Redundancies abound these days. They make our discussions lengthy and our writing obtuse.

Here's a list of some of my favorites

1. add in

2. join together

3. time period

4. true facts

5.rise up

6. drop down (a favorite of meteorologists--temperatures don't just drop to -43, they drop down to -43)

7. live studio audience (imagine the possibility of a dead studio audience..might be good for Halloween, I suppose)

And my all time favorite is?

Free gift. (don't you just hate those gifts you have to pay for?)

No, really my all, all-time favorite is:

Each and every. 

Or how about ATM machine. Hey, what does the M stand for?

Something to think about. Any you'd care to add? Leave a written comment below. [get it?]

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Grammar Goody #3--It looks wrong, but it's right

I usually like to insist that most grammar and punctuation rules make sense, but this one I must admit just plain makes no sense at all. This is one of those things you just have to learn and remember.

Periods and commas go inside the close quotation marks. 

So, instead of
"Stop", he said as he went about his business  (which looks right)

It must be

"Stop," he said as he went about his business. 


According to Jon Stewart, "this rally to restore sanity will be huge." [period, then close quotation mark]

Monday, October 25, 2010

Grammar Goody #2-- It's confusing knowing which its it is...

We all learned about apostrophe usage in high school: you remember--Susan's dog ate Marthat's homework--that sort of thing.

So, it would be logical (but incorrect) to think that the possessive form of it would be it's. But it's not correct.

OK, let's get to the point (note the let's in that sentence--the apostrophe is NOT representing possession, but something that's missing--the "u" in let us).

So, here's the deal:

An apostrophe represents both possession (as in Martha's homework) AND a place where there's a letter or two missing--as in there's: the i missing when there and is are combined to form there's. 

So, in order to show in the contraction of it is (it's), some grammarian somewhere more interested in confusing people trying to learn English than in any sort of consistency, came up with this rule:

It's is not possessive but is the contraction of it is.

That means that It's = It is. 

And its means the possessive form.

Confused yet?

This might make it easier: Just remember this:

It's hard to fathom, but I understand its logic (I think). 

Friday, October 22, 2010

Grammar Goody #1: The Most Common Young Writer's Mistake

Believe it or not, this is the most common error I see made: pronoun usage.

I'll see a sentence like this:

Each student should be responsible for their words. [their is the pronoun]

In spoken English, this is quite common (not correct, but common). Unfortunately, it's also become common in students' writing as well--probably because it's so common in spoken English.

But it's still not right.

Here's how it must be: (there's really no wiggle room on this):

Each student should be responsible for his or her actions.

Now, I'll agree that seems awkward (because it is), so here's my suggestion. Instead of writing the "his or her" thing, rewrite the sentence to make the subject plural. That way your pronoun needs to be plural too.

So, our new sentence would be:

Students should be responsible for their actions.


Someday we may adopt "their" as the universal pronoun for both singular and plural--and that might not be a bad idea--but until then, watch your singular and plural pronouns.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

New blog posts coming on your favorite subject: GRAMMAR! No,don't run away!

It has occurred to me over the last seven years of teaching at both UNCWilmington and at UAlbany that students are not learning grammar, punctuation, and writing style as they did when I was in high school. Here's an example of what I mean: many of you, reading that last statement--after rolling your eyes--thought to yourselves, she goofed--she should have capitalized high school. Many students today do just that. They'll write something like, "after I graduated High School, I went to..."

Unfortunately, there are two problems with that. High school, used generically, is not a name--not a proper noun--and therefore is not capitalized.

What's a proper noun, you  say? That's exactly the type of information I'm going to start doling out on a daily basis.

Over the years, I've collected a slew of common mistakes. It's obvious that since I see the same mistakes year after year, class after class, these tidbits were not passed along to you earlier in your education as they were to me, lo those many years ago... It's those commonly made mistakes that I'll be addressing.

So, now I know you just can't wait to check back every day to see what the tip of the day is going to be, BUT hear me out! If you do, I guarantee that you will be happier when you sit down to write, your writing will be better,  your essay grades will go up and you'll get the job of your dreams. Well, I've clearly gone too far on that last one, but you get the point.

And think of it this way, if you learn and then focus on ONE grammar tip per day, it will be relatively painless...and you'll get the job of your dreams....drat, I did it again.

So come back tomorrow for the inaugural grammar goody.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Unrestricted Campaign Contributions and Watergate: There is a Connection

If you're wondering why there are so many campaign ads this midterm election and why so many of them are attack ads, and why most of them are attacking incumbent Democrats, look no further than last spring's Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case. That decision, on First Amendment grounds, allowed unlimited anonymous donations to private groups who in turn are unlimited in their campaign spending.

But what that decision does is to make legal what used to be illegal and which earned people trials and convictions during the Watergate years. Read on to learn more:

"Return of the Secret Donors," New York Times