OTHER ONLINE COURSES
The Colon and the Dash
What's the difference between the colon ( : ) and the dash ( -- )?
- Colons are used after independent clauses to introduce lists, appositives, or illustrations. They should not separate verbs from their complements or prepositions from their objects.
A perfect sandwich requires three ingredients: bread, peanut butter, and jelly.
A perfect sandwich requires: bread, peanut butter, and jelly.
- Dashes are used for abrupt interruptions or to announce a long summary or appositive. The dash is less formal than a colon or parentheses.
It is very important to keep elements in a sentence parallel. Look at the following sentences.
- The nightclub was noisy, crowded, and it cost a lot to get in.
- I like to jog, swim, and hiking.
- Getting a good job requires persistence, patience, and it helps to be dedicated.
Each of these sentences contains faulty parallelism. Now look at the corrected sentences below.
- The nightclub was noisy, crowded, and expensive.
- I like to jog, swim, and hike.
- Getting a good job requires persistence, patience, and dedication.
Notice how in the corrected sentences each element in the series is the same part of speech: adjectives in sentence 1, infinitive verbs in sentence 2, and nouns in sentence 3. Observing parallel structure will add clarity to your writing.
The Most Common Usage Errors
Read the following short paragraph. Can you find the usage errors? How many errors are there?
(1)Frank had alot of money and he wanted to go shopping for new clothes. (2)He went to Saks Fifth Avenue in New York. (3)Because its famous. (4)He saw a lot of clothes that he liked, but were not his size. (5)Being seven feet tall, the salespeople had difficulty finding clothes for Frank.
A lot is two words, not one.
Sentence 1 is a run-on sentence. A run-on sentence is a sentence containing two independent clauses separated by a conjunction but no comma. The corrected sentence is: Frank had a lot of money, and he wanted to go shopping for new clothes.
Sentence 3 is a sentence fragment. A sentence fragment is a sentence that lacks a subject, a verb, or both. To correct the sentence we would simply connect it to the previous sentence: He went to Saks Fifth Avenue in New York because it's famous.
"Its" should be it's. Its is possessive. It's = it is.
Sentence 4 is a comma splice. A comma splice occurs when a comma is used to separate a clause or clauses that are not independent. The corrected sentence is: He saw a lot of clothes that he liked but were not his size. OR He saw a lot of clothes that he liked, but they were not his size.
Sentence 5 contains a misplaced modifier. A misplaced modifier is a modifier, such as an adjective or adjective clause, that seems to modify the wrong element in the sentence. The corrected sentence is: The salespeople had difficulty finding clothes for Frank, because he was seven feet tall. OR Being seven feet tall, Frank was difficult for the salespeople to find clothes for.
Special Uses of the Present Tense
Verb tense usage in English can be confusing, with many "rules" having exceptions. The present tense, for example, usually indicates action happening at the time of speaking, but has several special uses as well.
This last special use of the present tense is especially useful in writing term papers and reports, in which the present tense is used almost exclusively.
- To indicate future actions:
We leave tomorrow.
The seminar ends at 2pm.
- To state general truths:
The sky is blue.
The devil finds work for idle hands.
- To indicate recurring action:
I walk to school every morning.
The library closes at midnight.
- To discuss the content of books, movies, etc:
H.G. Wells' work explores the human condition through science fiction.
The movie has lots of action and suspense.
Know Your Ending!
Many times, writers begin writing with no idea of what the ending of their story, essay, or paper is going to be. While this may be an acceptable approach in poetry, for example, it is certainly not advisable in other types of writing.
Knowing how and where your writing project will end is essential to remaining focused throughout the writing process. Developing and organizing your ideas, thoughts, details, data--whatever the elements of your writing are--ahead of time, including the ending, will not only keep you focused on the task at hand but also help you finish your writing assignments on time.
Italics and Quotation Marks
When to use italic type and quotation marks.
- Italicize titles of works that are produced separately from other works, such as books, plays, periodicals, movies, etc.
I have seen Star Wars three times.
I subscribe to the Washington Post.
Have you read The Age of Innocence?
NOTE: Notice in the last example how the question mark is NOT italicized. Do not italicize a punctuation mark unless it is part of the title.
- Use quotation marks for all other titles (songs, essays, articles, etc.)
The Beatles? album, Revolver, contains the song "Dr. Robert."
We read Keats? poem "Ode on a Grecian Urn" in class this week.
Lean and Effective Prose
Keep your prose lean and effective by trimming excess verbiage. Dont use several words where one word can do the job. Heres a handy guide:
Instead of . . .
at all times
for the reason that
due to the fact that
by means of
in the final analysis
for the purpose of
in the event that