"Grammar is a piano I play by ear. All I know about grammar is its power."

--Joan Didion

"I never delighted much in contemplating commas and colons, or in spelling or measuring syllables; but now . . .if I attempt to look at these little objects, I find my imagination, in spite of all my exertions, roaming in the Milky Way, among the nebulae, those mighty orbs, and stupendous orbits of suns, planets, satellites, and comets, which compose the incomprehensible universe. . ."

--John Adams (quoted in David McCullough, John Adams, p. 630)


I am particularly indebted to current and former students for many of the ideas for sentences and other thoughts.

Practice Your Syntax

You are about to embark on an adventure of learning. This particular link will provide an opportunity to practice exercises that will improve your writing. I do not accept the notion we cannot learn grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Often, our skills lie dormant and can be nourished with further practice.

Parts of Speech Need Definition

Appalled as I was one day, I understood the message from the student. Certain students do not know the parts of speech anymore. One can lay the blame at the public schools, but that is too easy an answer. We need to take the student where we find that person.

Suppose you look at the following sentence: The employee presented a resume. Immediately, you see employee is the noun or the name of something or someone. Presented becomes the verb, because it denotes action. You also see another part of speech, the direct object. You ask the question: presented what. When you ask this question, you see the direct object or the answer to what becomes evident.

Adjectives and adverbs are a little harder to understand. Think of adjectives as modifying some noun or pronoun. In the previous sentence, we could say the following: The employee presented a well-written resume. You see at a glance that well-written is the adjective modifying the noun, resume. Now, let's add an adverb to that same sentence: The employee thoughtfully presented a well-written resume. The tipoff for adverbs is that ly. However, adverb would not have to produce an "ly." Ask these questions when identifying an adverb: How? How much? When? Where? Why? In our sentence about "thoughtfully," the writer presented the word as answering the question, how, An adverb usually modifies a verb. We now know we have an adverb in the sentence.

Are you finding parts of speech easier to understand? Let's now talk about subject complements and indirect objects. Suppose you wrote this sentence: The woman is pretty. Pretty now modifies woman. You know it is a subject complement (or sometimes called a predicate adjective), because the helping verb, is, lets the sentence finish. The "is" verb does not answer the question, what. Pretty describes the woman; the sentence has a subject complement. Direct objects require strong verbs; subject complements allow passive writing with forms of "to be." In an indirect object the sentence might read: "I gave the pretty woman a dress." In this case, the indirect object would be "pretty woman." "I gave a dress" creates the main part of the sentence and says, in effect, "to the pretty woman."

Are you ready to attack prepositions? Prepositions represent modifiers within a sentence. In the same sentence about resumes, let's construct the sentence this way: The employee presented a resume on white paper. Notice we have added three words called a prepositional phrase. You see on as the preposition or modifier for resume. Paper becomes the object of the preposition, on. White modifies paper as an adjective. Is the subject becoming clearer? So far we have identified nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and prepositions as parts of speech. We have also looked at direct and indirect objects as they relate in the sentence.

As we build our understanding of parts of speech, let's talk about adverbial and adjective clauses. A clause become a group of words that usually modify some other part of the sentence, such as nouns, verbs, or pronouns. In taking the sentence about the resume, let's construct the thought differently: When the interviewee asked for references, the employee presented a resume. Did you first notice the adverb, when? The clause, though, carries forth with the interviewee asked for references. The reader immediately spotted that an adverb usually modifies a verb. The verb, presented, was our natural candidate. You can ask the question: presented how? The resume was presented when the interviewee asked for references. We have now created an adverbial clause with the sentence, The employee presented (subject-verb). An adjective clause presents a different problem. You are modifying a noun or pronoun in most instances. Let's reconstruct that resume sentence: The employee presented a resume that was prepared on white paper. The adjective clause, that was prepared on white paper, modifies resume. The adjective clause further describes the method of preparing the resume. The reader is given new information with the adjective clause.

Prepositions Prove Troublesome

As already defined, prepositions represent an important part of many sentences. However, prepositions can get us in trouble when they are overused. Let's take the following sentence as an example of an overuse of prepositions:

This report reflects the important to offer benefits to employees as a way to encourage them to work harder for you.

Did you count at least four "to's" in that sentence? In the first "to" instance, the writer may have come from an Asian or Hispanic background where it is acceptable to talk about the direction of the verb. "To" or other prepositions don't have to be inserted in the English language to make the point. Can you tighten the sentence without so many similar prepositions or infinitives? Think about how many times you can leave out "to" and still have the sentence make sense. Did you realize the more prepositions you have in a sentence the longer the sentence becomes? That is a point worth considering the next time you pack prepositions in a sentence. You are after brevity as well as quality of the sentence.

Hyphen Use Denotes the Careful Writer

Let's start off with some exercises in hyphenation and the use of the hyphen. That may sound redundant, but I purposely wrote it that way for emphasis.

Think of hyphens as a finishing or polishing of the sentence. They show you are a careful writer. One of the greatest concerns is the use of the one-thought modifier. Notice I even had to hyphenate that phrase, "one-thought modifier." How did I know I needed a hyphen? It reads better with the hyphen, but there is an "of" test you can apply to decide whether you need a hyphen. If you can say, "modifier of one thought, you need a hyphen."

Lately, style manuals like Clark and Clark's famous Handbook for Office Workers are saying you need a hyphen for the phrase, "part-time," either in front of the noun or at the end of the noun. Therefore, when in doubt, please place the hyphen for "part-time" or "full-time" in front or at the end.

Let's try some exercises. Do you need a hyphen in:

  1. well organized document
  2. state of the art equipment
  3. well trained therapist
  4. two mile run
  5. hands on experience
  6. to protect the well being
  7. entry level position

Now, let's take some hyphen issues in context from sentences developed by Dianna Booher in her book, Good Grief, Good Grammar.

  1. He gave us an off the record report.
  2. Ours is a pay as you go plan.
  3. This has been a user tested product.
  4. Max is an old car buff.
  5. He ordered six inch razors.
  6. Amway is a well known company.
  7. This is a less acceptable solution.
  8. This seminar is a highly rated educational program.

Are you feeling more comfortable with the use of hyphens? Now, let's test your ability to pull together what Booher calls suspended hyphens. What do you do with this sentence?

Please complete the pre and post questionnaires.

Agreement of Subject and Verb Plagues Students

So often I find in a student's paper the lack of agreement of subject and verb. Some of these problems can easily be corrected by learning the syntax of the sentence. Some of the other errors are more subtle and represent serious concern with understanding how the sentence is structured. Various sources will be used to give examples of problems with agreement. First, you need to remember that a subject must agree with its verb in number. What does that mean? If you say "An individual want to go to town," you are not agreeing with the number. Individual is singular, and the verb, want, is plural. They do not agree. One needs to say: "An individual wants to go to town." Now, let's try some exercises:

    All ideas for first four problems were gleaned from Good Grief, Good Grammar

  1. The House plan to raise corporate taxes.
  2. The company officers considers the lawyer quite a wit.
  3. Hortense assume she can handle the work herself.
  4. Company policies states that everyone should wear safety gear.
  5. All three stated his dislike of the intersection.
  6. The shipments received at the Woodland Hills store comes from a warehouse in Nashville.
  7. The majority (58 percent) of the employees indicate working nine hours is typical for a business day.
  8. Survey results measures awareness by obtaining students' views from counseling services.

Sometimes you are faced with whether the noun is a collective noun or everyone in the group is considered separately. You have to decide whether to use the singular or the plural form of the verb. A word like many or most is particularly troublesome. Dianna Booher defines a collective noun as naming people, things, or ideas a group. Staff, management, audience, company, and group would be considered collective nouns by that definition. Again, let's try some exercises. The first seven exercises are from Good Grief, Good Grammar:

  1. Management disagree with whatever we propose.
  2. The audience whispers among themselves each time the manager mentions the strategic plan.
  3. The committee argues among themselves on every decision they make.
  4. The committee members argues among themselves on every decision they make.
  5. The news from his office are always depressing.
  6. His savings was depleted years ago.
  7. Economics are a subject few directors understand well enough to make their companies profitable in times of recession.
  8. A survey of the popularity of Ortho E and Vision Training conducted for this report are imperative.
  9. Ineffective delegation lead to decreased morale and poor performance by the manager's staff.

    The next three ideas for sentences come from Grammar for Grownups:

  10. The gold earring do things to your eyes.
  11. The position papers states clearly.
  12. When the bosses goes out of town, we play.
  13. Thirty-seven percent of the students thinks the lack of landfill space is hardly a problem.

    Commas Give Trouble

    Students have asked me for comma exercises. What to include? One student questioned me awhile back, and said too much emphasis was placed on excessive commas. I inquired what excessive commas meant. She was not sure commas were needed after Fortunately and Normally at the beginning of sentences. I explained these words were considered connectives and needed to be set off, such as However. Also, she was not sure we needed a comma before the word, too, at the end of the sentence. I again explained the word, too, acted in place of also and required a comma. It is no doubt commas give students and writers trouble. I would give the student credit for saying commas are not needed in today's business writing before the last item in a series. Granted, comma use is changing.

    Let's start our study of commas with ones to leave out. Lately, I have noticed students tend to put a comma after Although at the beginning of a sentence. That is not good planning. The comma should occur at the end of the Although adverbial clause. By placing the comma after Although, you are saying the word is a connective. That doesn't make sense. The word is usually used as an adverb. When doubt, leave (comma) it out.

    Another comma problem observed involves the use of the mark right after a verb. You normally would not place a comma in that location. It paralyzes the sentence and causes a pause you did not intend. Perhaps, it is time for some exercises. You are asked to decide whether the comma is necessary and why.

    Contingent expressions are particularly troublesome in deciding whether to place a comma or whether the expression is even a sentence. For example, we could write:

  14. The more students ask about the grades the more troublesome the situation becomes.

    Think about: Is the previous expression even a sentence with subject and verb? Does the sentence need a comma?

  15. Although, most people believe accountancy is an easy job, the facts are quite different.
  16. For two years, public accounting is a learning process.
  17. When Joe was in high school, he liked to design houses for neighbors.
  18. Even though Holly Sugar is a very successful business the interviewee began to realize there is no residual income.
  19. When he started Don was working many hours, sometimes as many as 60 hours a week.
  20. When asking questions about marketing Ms. Hodenberg informed us how marketing the field in today's business occurs.
  21. She told me that usually, accountants get their CPA before their fifth year.
  22. When Anne noticed the prior reaction to her background she would move on to mention all of the different internships available at the company.
  23. Once I start pursuing internships and expanding my work experience and managerial skills there is no reason why I shouldn't achieve success.
  24. According to the analyst his job is the sharpest commodity in the company.
  25. All though I have not completed this college, the interviewee believes it is worth mentioning on my resume.
  26. The interview took a great deal of time and required careful planning too.
  27. Of special interest, was Jane's personal list of ingredients for success.
  28. After interviewing Sam, it is quite evident to me that I need to spend some time planning my career.
  29. For example she told me that boss and 50 other executives were in Redmond for a photo shoot/meeting to get acquainted with a new line of products.
  30. Whenever he can help out in a situation he is there.

Appositives Create Difficulties

To my amazement students tell me they have never heard the word, appositive. An appositive stands in place or in conjunction with another word. If I say the following: My friend, Jason, commas need to occur before and after the word, friend, and the person's name. Sometimes you can omit the comma if the relationship of the words is so close, such as my Dad Sam. Then, the commas are probably meaningless. According to Dianna Booher, well-known business communications consultant, you may also have an "appositive of an object." She gives this example: "He instructed his team, Ruth and me, to ignore the project deadline." Notice that the team is "in apposition to" Ruth and me. The words belong with commas. Part of understanding appositives is listening while you write. Let's try a few exercises adapted from Joanne Feierman's Action Grammar: Fast, No-Hassle Answers on Everyday Usage and Punctuation and my thoughts:

  1. My wife Martina J. Feierman, M.D. would like to play left field for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
  2. Ron Petrocelli Manager of Consumer Affairs is away on special assignment.
  3. Daniela Cetropelli the mediation lawyer represents the only person to solve the case.
  4. The two players John Elway and Terrell Davis won special honors.
  5. The book A Walk in the Woods was reviewed in last week's Los Angeles Times.
  6. The student a junior at California State University Northridge majored in finance.
  7. The witness recognized the hit-and-run driver Fred Savagi as the man in the police lineup.

Commas Occur Before Listings and Explanations

Students continue to have trouble with whether to place a comma before a listing or a series of items. Particularly troublesome becomes the phrase, such as. Usually, you should assume a comma should occur before a "such as" phrase. Let's take some exercises:

  1. Accounting programs such as Quicken, Mind Your Own Business, and others represent the computer programs.

    Think about: Did you notice the need for two commas in the previous sentence?

    Whenever you have to describe and list something and you see that tip-off, such as, consider using a comma. Could the such as phrase be left out of the sentence and still the sentence reads well? Therefore, the comma should be considered.

  2. The voters such as the sophomores and juniors did not cast their ballots in the last election.
  3. The students' papers such as the Recommendations and Conclusions, were returned on time.
  4. This report concerns the need for an educational retraining meeting for all employees, covering extensively, all topics such as discount abuse and eligible recipients of this privilege.

    Think about: In the last sentence about the report, did you also notice a problem with parallelism?

  5. This report will also only cover the transportation part of the business, not the areas such as recruiting of agents or the development of new business.
  6. The substances of this research were obtained through interviews from 12 employees including the management department.

    Think about: Did you notice in the research sentence that some words could be improved? Did you notice the need for a comma similar to the "such as" situation?

Introductory Commas Deserve Consideration

Before we leave this specialized part of comma study, we should probably listen to some of the wisdom of Dianna Booher talking about comma introductions:

"Think of the introductory comma as a means to help the reader quickly skim over the less important words, phrases or clauses and focus on the main idea of the sentence. . . . If you carelessly omit an introductory comma, you may cause misreading or create an unintentional fragment.

Dianna Booher also talks about separating a subject from a verb with a comma. "Do not use a comma simply to separate subject from verb. Many writers have a habit of putting in a comma wherever they breathe. Therefore, if the complete subject is a long one, they tend to take a breath and, thus, write a comma between the subject and verb."

Isn't that good advice from a well-known communications consultant? That idea of not placing a comma just because you have to breathe certainly merits additional thinking. When in doubt, leave it out.

Commas Create Problems with So-Called Connectives

A tendency in the last few years is to place a comma after Although at the beginning or the middle of the sentence. Let's say the sentence starts: "Although, one should have a license to practice dentistry, many practitioners are operating out of rented buildings and motel rooms without one." The writer has mistakenly placed a comma, treating the word, Although, as a connective.

Although is not a connective like however, in addition, or for the same reason. It is part of an adverbial clause: "Although one should have a license to practice dentistry, . . .". The sentence reads smoothly without the comma after "although." Look out for this trap whenever you are writing sentences that introduce adverbial clauses.

Parallelism Makes Thoughts Flow

Parallelism means that in a series, for example, all phrases or clauses relate. You don't start out with nouns and end with an adverbial clause. Let's consider some specific, thorny problems:

  1. Anita felt that the pros for working for a large business would tend to be better pay, create better human skills, and also would have a higher technical skills.

    Think about: First, we have an infinitive, to be. Next, we deal with a verb, create. Then, we have a change of tense to "would have." We definitely see a problem in parallelism. Go ahead and rework the sentence.

  2. But for the last 20 minutes we got to speak about her job, school, and she gave plenty of advice

    Think about: Everything went fairly well in the previous sentence up until "school." Then, the writer went off on a tangent and gave an entirely different thought that was not parallel. Why couldn't we keep with all nouns?

  3. To be successful in this field, a person needs to be enthusiastic, ambitious, open-minded to compromises, and have definite networking skills.

    Think about: Do you see the problem with open-minded to compromises and have definite networking skills?

    Misplaced Modifiers Create Humor and Difficulty

    Often, when business writers are in a hurry, they write sentences that look a little silly when read again. These writers have usually created a misplaced modifier problem (mm). Certain clauses or phrases do not belong where they have placed them in the sentence. Let's take some examples:

    1. Also, she noticed that I have managed a pizza store and work for a major bank that would have excellent managerial, human, and judgment skills.

      Think about: The previous sentence suggests the bank has excellent skills. You want to rework the sentence.

      Dianna Booher in Good Grief, Good Grammar offers these additional problems to solve:

    2. Lying flat on his back in the middle of the cafeteria, the doctor examined the hemorrhaging employee.
    3. The receptionist refused to admit the visitor with misgivings.
    4. Rip Ryhornberger thought until October 1 we were still a subsidiary of MacIntosh Corporation.
    5. Cohn recalled when he covered Ehrlichman as a reporter for the Public Broadcasting System during the Watergate years, "I thought he was a really bad person, a villain." Los Angeles Times, February 16, 1999

    Semicolons Add Finish to the Sentence

    Struggling writers and students forget the importance of avoiding run-ons and comma splices in sentences by using semicolons. Semicolons are usually used to place a kind of period between two major thoughts within the sentence. Semicolons give a much heavier pause than a comma. Semicolons make the writer stop and catch a breath. Semicolons are usually placed when two major ideas are connected. Let's take some problems with the need or no need for semicolons:

    1. Shift defects increased by 13 percent during the month, which alarmed management, however, the managers were not aware of the high volume of trainees during the period.

      Does the previous sentence need some punctuation other than a comma? Do you see two independent thoughts joined with a connective?

    2. At Liberty Studios the entertainment industry has traditionally been strong through good and bad economic times especially now that they are on a growth pattern, thus employment opportunities are rising.

      Did you notice the need for several commas? Where, if anywhere, would the semicolon be placed?

    3. Every year accounting is expanding, accountants will no longer be considered number crunchers.

    4. I realized a few points, I am now head and shoulders above the competition because of this interview and I have taken a strong step toward obtaining the career I want with the company I want.

      Did you spot how long the sentence was? Did you see any need for semicolons? What were some of the problems with the sentence? Did you spot the cliché?

    5. The case load is currently so great, it forces the small staff to rush through cases.

      Antecedents Cause Worrisome Concern

      Whenever you encounter an antecedent within a sentence, don't immediately panic. Usually, a singular word, such as person, will then refer to a singular pronoun, such as he or she. Everyone, each, and other such words also take singular antecedents. Learn to spot the antecedents to improve your mechanics. Let's try some exercises:

      1. So in this same respect, it is difficult to tell an employee abusing their discount, who is also a consumer, that what they are doing is wrong.
      2. Working in a small business, such as Hansen Carpeting, requires a great deal of close communication with fellow employees presented in a respectful manner because everyone there is trying to do their job the best they can.
      3. The customer has voiced that A Express Service does not seem to care about their package of their shipping needs.
      4. The Department, Data Entry, could see that they could earn a bonus for doing their work properly the first time.

        Think about: In the last sentence the bolded word creates some problems. You are referring to the Department, not every individual in the Department.

      Who/Whom May I Say Is Calling?

      Student writers ask: When should I use who or whom? It is a legitimate question, considering the confusion with the two words. The day may come when only "who" is employed for all writing. Until that day, we need to eliminate some of the confusion. Who usually refers to the nominative case. That is who deals with nouns. You see the following expression:

      person who is
      You know immediately to use who. Who modifies person and, more importantly, a verb follows after who. Because who is in the nominative case, the word, who, is preferred over whom. Now, let's take a different case where whom is employed:

      person with whom we had lunch
      The situations have now reversed themselves. You speak in the objective, not the possessive, case. The word, whom, is the object of the preposition, with. Who does not work, because we are talking about the objective case, not the nominative case. As I understand the history of the words, who and whom confusion started when they were introduced in Latin. It is time for some exercises. In each case, decide whether the sentence is correct with who or whom. If the sentence is not correct, please rewrite the sentence.

      1. Who should we contact?
      2. Whom is best for the job.
      3. The student whom the professor talked to showed considerable promise.
      4. The person whom will deliver your paycheck is coming soon.
      5. You gave it to who?
      6. He loved who.
      7. The individual whom broke the news realized the error.
      8. He's one whom they say they won't let you down.
      9. Who are you sitting with? (formal writing)

      Robert C. Pinckert in Pinckert's Practical Grammar gave a fascinating analysis of the who/whom problem. Pinckert earned his Ph.D. at Columbia and studied at Cambridge in England. He has taught Shakespeare and writing at John Jay College and Columbia in New York City.

      Writers often think they only need to say "who it is" to figure out the distinction. Therefore, according to Pinckert, use who whenever you hear the silent verb after "it." That partially solves the problem. Pinckert then suggests educated and uneducated people make distinctions on these two words: "Educated people overuse whom just as uneducated people overuse who"(p. 102). Above all, he recommends thinking of the preposition and whom as being together.

      Apostrophes Require Detailed Thinking

      Whenever you think of apostrophes, always apply the "of" rule. You have to decide whether Jims book requires an apostrophe. Rewrite the phrase to read: book of Jim. If the phrase reads all right, then you need an apostrophe. It's time to try some exercises:

      1. The HMOs rigid application of regulations and routine will continue to delay immediate, preventive care.

        Think about: Normally, apostrophes are required after numbers and abbreviations.

      2. If doctors were able to have fewer restrictions, patients health wouldn't deteriorate, and the insurance company would have fewer grievances.

        Think about: You have to decide in the previous example whether the apostrophe should go after a plural or a singular word. Be careful about your decision; you have to read the context of the sentence.

      3. Questions on a student survey asked about students homework practices and challenges.
      4. She wants them to paint their restaurants logo somewhere on the back wall of the baseball stadium.
      5. Three employees (20 percent) think their job is more important than the managers job.

        Dianna Booher, the famous Texas writing consultant, calls apostrophes "word punctuation." I would say that apostrophes finish the word or the idea. They show you are careful in your writing. Every so often we encounter tough apostrophes, such as boss's. You have to add not only the apostrophe, but also the final "s" to finish the word. Apostrophes show possession: something belongs. Are you ready for some more exercises?

      6. receptionists desk (one person being described)
      7. clients hint (one person being described)
      8. The decision was Jills. Note: you are referring to one decision.
      9. instructors staff (referring to more than one instructor)
      10. Jone's contract. (Is that correct? If not, how would you correct it?)
      11. four years experience
      12. womens issues

        In many of the previous examples I am indebted to Booher for her examples. Don't forget that apostrophes are also used for contractions, such as can't for cannot, won't for will not, and aren't for are not. Try these exercises now:

      13. I will-make a contraction.
      14. I have-make a contraction.
      15. Madam-make a contraction.
      16. 1970-How would you refer to all those years?
      17. You want to describe all the numbers 8 and numbers 3 with apostrophes.
      18. The tellers job is very important because of his high visibility. (talking about one teller)

        Colons Provide Special Uses

        Too often I have seen the use of colons where these marks are not warranted. Colons should be used sparingly and for special uses. Colons can be used to introduce examples or for a listing. Colons can be used before the start of a quotation. In the recent book, Rules of Thumb: A Guide for Writers, 3d ed., some of these examples of where to use colons were included:

        A list--I came loaded with supplies: a tent, a sleeping bag, and a backpack.
        A quotation--The author begins with a shocker: "Mother spent her summer sitting naked on the rock."
        An example--I love to eat legumes: for example, beans or lentils.
        An emphatic assertion--This is the bottom line: I refuse to work for only $5.50 an hour.

        As the three authors, Jay Silverman, Elaine Hughes, and Diana Roberts Wienbroer, of this book remind us, be sure to space twice on your computer (word processor) after the colon. Do these examples help to clear up your confusion with colons?

        Fragments Hurt Writing

        Fragments occur in writing when students try to run two thoughts together. A comma may occur between the two independent clauses, but often the punctuation is omitted. The student may be experiencing a race of consciousness where the ideas keep flowing. Look at the fragment from a memorandum:

        Among employees meeting takes place every two weeks in order for coworkers opinion exchanged.

        You have to examine the previous sentence carefully. Two ideas are occurring. Meetings take place every two weeks. Coworkers exchange opinions during that time. Now we have to tie the two ideas together so that a fragment no longer occurs. Fragments usually occur when subjects or verbs are omitted. Let's recast the sentence:

        Among the employees, meetings take place every two weeks to exchange coworker opinions.

        Does that revision keep the essence of the message? Exchanged became "exchange" to clarify the verb. Someone has to be doing the acting. Dianna Booher in Good Grief, Good Grammar discusses other kinds of fragments that occur when only clauses are written:

        He came in out of the rain. Because her supervisor told him to do so.
        Although we have given him hundreds of orders in the past.

        Did you notice we did not have a subject or a verb? Subjects and verbs occurred for the clause, but no subject and verb for the sentence existed. If you thought "supervisor" was the subject of the first fragment, you need to review your English constructions. "We" is not the subject of the second sentence. By the way, that clause with "Although" is not a complete sentence. A sentence requires a subject and a verb as well as a complete thought.

        Are you ready for some exercises? See if you can spot whether the next thoughts are complete sentences. If the thoughts are not complete ideas, please rewrite in the context intended. I will eventually place the answers on another web site:

        1. Making sure that everyone is doing his or her job.
        2. For example, a medical, dental, and a pension plan.
        3. More pressure to decide what I want to be when I grow up and an added twist how will my talents be of most help to me.

          Run-ons Go On Forever

          Run-ons or run-on sentences become easy to spot. You see a sentence with two ideas tossed together. The sentences usually have both subject and verb. The thoughts are independent. A comma may be placed in the middle of the two major thoughts, creating what we call a comma splice. A comma splice is also evidence of a run-on. Let's take an example:

          The student went to the store usually the books are available.
          As you can see from the previous ridiculous example, some strong mark of punctuation is required to separate the two major thoughts. A semicolon does not work, because "the books are available" does not go with the previous thought about the student's activities. You need that golden mark of punctuation: the period. A new sentence begins: Usually, the books are available. Still, the student writer would be criticized for the two major thoughts having little relationship to each other.

          Are you catching on to the problem of run-ons? Another example might not hurt:

          Bungee jumping makes one feel so free and alive it becomes worth the risk.
          Here our two thoughts are more closely related. The student writer gets into trouble after the word, alive. Another thought takes over: it becomes worth the risk. A semicolon might have helped this run-on sentence. We could say: Bungee jumping makes one feel so free and alive; it becomes worth the risk. A period, also, could have been used to express the same idea with It as the beginning of the sentence.

          You are probably ready for some exercises. Let's begin:

          1. I won't change my life to take more risks I think my life will cause me to take more risks and that will change me.
          2. Not everyone can go auto racing it's a very adrenaline-rushing event.
          3. It was exactly what I wanted the gift was well received.
          4. The student accepted the grade it was not exactly what she wanted.
          5. The class met over the weekend that provided a break from the usual routine.

          HOT GRAMMAR DAY - WEEK ONE (third week)

          For our first hot grammar day we are going to look at fragments. Fragments, as already mentioned, occur when the business writer forgets a verb to make a complete sentence. The sentence just hangs there--a fragment. Also, a sentence may become a fragment when only a clause, such as an adjective or adverb clause, replaces an entire sentence. The writers get ahead of their thoughts. Sometimes, the subject is missing, causing the reader to wonder what the writer is talking about. The exercises now follow:

          1. The dropping of his face when he stated the strain of his hamstring and the possibility he wouldn't be able to compete this season because of that.
          2. The first one being how much are the training sessions after the first time.
          3. Which will benefit only the interest of the political parties and does not benefit the citizens of this nation.
          4. And know why she sells the $25 lower than the one at the bookstore.
          5. The second solution, to offer lunch or dinner specials on Fridays.
          6. Turns to me and gets my opinion.
          7. Listening much more than appears to be. (Note: Don't use a form of "to be" to solve the situation.)
          8. My listening primarily found in the evaluating phase.

          National Punctuation Day Comes Once a Year

          Do you think you are expert on punctuation? Whether you are or not, Jeff Rubin from Pinole, California, has spent, since at least 2004, interesting all of us in National Punctuation Day. Jeff believes the most abused mark of punctuation is the apostrophe (Arizona radio station, KJAZZ, 2006). I tend to believe the hyphen is a close second. Jeff's favorite mark of punctuation is the ellipsis . . . Did you know the Chinese like six elipses rather than our U.S. three?

          Mr. Rubin started his quest for better punctuation with the morning newspaper. His wife heard him every morning exclaiming with expletives about the poor use of punctuation in the daily newspapers. From his concern and passion, he devised National Punctuation Day, September 24. What have you done this year to honor that day? Have you thought about the newer mark of punctuation, the interrobang? This mark combines a question mark with an exclamation mark driven through it. Have you thought about an old videotape by Victor Borge, the famous Danish pianist and comedian, where he created sounds for the period, comma, semicolon, and exclamation point? Have you punctuated your sentences better than you did on the last written document?

          Jeff believes that punctuation acts as a kind of body language in our sentences. By using this body language, the reader learns to appreciate how the writer thinks.

          Punctuation Book Makes Best-Seller List

          It is not often I can report to you a punctuation book originally written in England makes the best-seller list of The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. If you go in any bookstore in the next few months, you will probably see Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss, a writer, journalist, and, former literary editor. She has taken the humorous side of punctuation and built a book that causes all of us to pause. The premise started out with a panda entering a bar and looking for a dictionary to define the status of the animal. The panda borrowed the dictionary from the barkeep and found the following part of the definition: . . ."eats, shoots, and leaves." Unfortunately, the editor of the dictionary had neglected to place a comma after eats and left one in after shoots. The panda, acting on instinct, ate the fill of food, shot the barkeep, and left the bar. After all, that is what the dictionary definition had implied.

          The moral of that panda joke is to be careful about literal meaning and look for punctuation error. After all, wouldn't the panda have acted differently if the definition had read: ". . .eats shoots and leaves."? The barkeep might have still been alive. The United Kingdom took this book to its heart and awarded Truss the book of the year, 2004, from the British Book Awards. Now, let's hear the story from Lynne Truss's side as defined on the back book jacket of Eats, Shoots and Leaves. As Lynne told the story, the panda wandered into the bar and partook of a meal. Then, the panda pulled the gun out of its holster and fired two shots into the ceiling. As the panda was leaving the bar, the bartender inquired why the panda had acted so strangely. The panda tossed a dogeared wildlife manual over his shoulder and asked the bartender to read the passage about panda. As part of the passage on Pandas, the following was given: ". . . Eats, Shoots and Leaves." Naturally, the comma in the wrong place instead of "Eats Shoots (referring to bamboo shoots) and Leaves" caused the panda to act in a strange manner and follow the pronouncement to the letter.

          What is the message for careful writers, and what does this book deal with? It concerns apostrophes, commas, semicolons, and all those jots and dashes we so often overlook. In our culture we are wedded to the syntax or structure of the sentence. We expect the punctuation, no matter how minute, to occur in the correct places. Even a hyphen or an apostrophe out of place can cause consternation on the part of the reader.

          Truss's clever use of the British English should not detract from an American student reading and appreciating the book. Naturally, I was perturbed in Truss's book by the hyphen omitted in e-mail. However, that may be the British spelling. In America we insist on the hyphen in e-mail for clarity. Truss blames the Internet, along with other developments, for spreading the idea of little need for punctuation. When we speak of language as one of our greatest heritages, punctuation definitely needs more attention.

          It is a hopeful sign that Truss believes punctuation standards are abysmal in the United Kingdom. My concern these days seems to develop around using an apostrophe for plural instead of recognizing the possessive use of the apostrophe. Truss offers the following examples of casual writing in America:

          • childrens home
          • readers outlet
          • Please do not lock this door between the hour's of 9AM and 6:30PM. (p. xxv)

          Oh, the woe of punctuating plurals and possessives. Did you also notice in the previous examples how AM and PM were not properly punctuated?

          Truss makes her point with each chapter about the clarity of the language: "It is a system of printers' marks that has aided the clarity of the written word for the past half-millennium . . ." Lynne is even tougher on the writer when she decries the appalling ignorance of people who don't know how to use a question mark at the end of a question. A question mark needs to follow a direct question.

          Punctuation represents much more than courtesy in writing. It represents the ability to edit one's work and carefully edit one's work. You want your message as clear as possible for the reader.

          Now, let's talk about the lowly comma. The comma is a misunderstood piece of punctuation and a misused piece. Truss believes at least 17 different uses exist for the comma. My students have told me for years they want to put commas everywhere. Even today some students still do not accept leaving the last comma off before the last word or phrase in a series. I like what Truss says about two distinct functions of commas:

          1. to illuminate the grammar of a sentence
          2. to point up, such as musical notation (p. 70).

          Did you know a comma means "a piece cut off," according to the original Greek? You pause when you use a comma, and you have to be careful about where you pause. You would not pause, for instance, before a verb. Don't put commas just to be putting commas. Did you realize lawyers view the comma as a troublemaker? For example, let's take the simple sign you often see in parks, and let's leave out some punctuation:

          • No dogs please.

          As you can see, Truss would be upset with the previous absence of punctuation. Many dogs do please their masters. Don't we need a comma before "please" to clarify the meaning?


          For one of our ending assignments students have been asked to prepare a Deletionary Memo Learning Experience. In this memo you are asked to tell what you learned from filling out all your deletionary cards during the semester.

          What patterns did you notice in the errors you made during the semester? How did you compensate for these errors that kept popping up? You need to select certain errors that were made and give examples of before (when you first made the error) and after (how you improved the writing and the mechanics).

          To:		Dr. G. Jay Christensen
          From:		Rosalita Rodriguez
          Date:		Current
          Class Provides Improvements

          This memo concerns writing mechanics and business communication
          skills that have improved since my enrollment in Business 105.  
          Through various memo, letters, and assignments, my grammar, 
          punctuation, and overall writing ability has been enhanced.
          Punctuation Skills Required Attention
          When walking into class for the first time, punctuation was my 
          greatest fear; namely, the uncertainty of where to insert
          commas.  On the first few papers, I would randomly insert
          commas wherever I felt necessary.  On the listening memo,
          for example, I wrote:  "While listening to Harold, I 
          noticed his eye contact, and body movement."  I included
          an unnecessary comma between the words, "contact" and 
          "movement."  Furthermore, comma placement caused more 
          trouble when I misplaced some commas or even forgot to 
          insert them at all.  On the proposal memo I wrote:  
          "Office policy requires revision including employee-
          customer relations."  Such sentences are examples of 
          punctuation errors that needed improvement.  Fortunately,
          late nights' printing and reprinting papers have taught
          me the value of proofreading and the limitations of the 
          spell checker.  The assignments and various memos have 
          made me more conscious of comma usage and where these 
          marks are necessary.  To solve the problem, the class 
          has provided one important lesson:  When in doubt, leave
          them out.  From the initial listening memo to the most
          recent transmittal memo, my punctuation has shown 
          significant improvements.
          Clutter Presents Problems

          Business 105 has revealed the clutter in my writing 
          technique.  To measure a good paper, I would count the
          number of complicated words.  In other words, the larger
          the words, the better the paper.  I discovered I was 
          guilty of using jargon and choosing words that made my 
          writing confusing.  One one assignment, for instance,
          instead of using the word, "use," I used "utilize."  
          Previous papers included cluttered words, such as 
          "feasible" and "prioritize."  My writing was also filled
          with unnecessary words, such as "that" and "the."  On 
          several assignments, I wrote:  "She replied that" or 
          "This memo concerns the employees."  Since the first 
          assignment, however, my writing has become more clear
          and readable through the elimination of such clutter.  
          Also, I saved $1,000 per word omitted.
          Dr. G. Jay Christensen
          Page 2
          Current Date
          Word Choice Requires Attention

          One important lesson I've learned is good writing 
          requires careful word choice.  I learned it is 
          important to be gender conscious when writing.  For
          instance, instead of "salesman" use "salesperson or 
          sales associate" and instead of "workman's comp" 
          use "workers' compensation."  The class has also imparted 
          the importance of using words one can visualize.  This 
          fundamental became important when writing talking 
          captions. For instance, on the listening memo I used
          "Listening Is Essential."  The word,"is," does not do
          much for the imagination.  A more effective talking 
          caption would be "Listening Requires Attention."  In
          addition, choosing gender-conscious words and visual 
          words has taught me to avoid weasel words.  On the 
          executive summary I used the phrase, "Many employers
          ignore the value of customer service."  "Many" is an
          example of a weasel word, which, before this class, 
          I often used.
          Specific Documents Are Improved

          Before taking your Business 105, I did not know how
          to prepare a memo or an executive summary.  Each 
          assignment completed has provided a new lesson.  The
          executive summary and the resume remain of particular
          importance.  Taking this class has enlightened me on
          specific contents that each of these documents should
          include and the methods of improving them.  My resume,
          for instance, included a section on high school 
          achievements.  Leaving out this outdated information 
          proves a valuable lesson.
          Room for Improvement Exists

          While Business 105 has provided necessary tools for
          writing enhancement, it certainly has made me no 
          expert in writing.  However, Business 105 has taught
          me one final, important lesson:  there's always 
          room for improvement.  No matter how perfect a paper
          may seem, there's always a talking captions that can
          be improved, a sentence that needs to be rewritten,
          or a comma that is misplaced. Thus, writing, as well
          as all other forms of communication, including 
          listening and public speaking, are skills requiring
          constant attention and demanding practice.
          Appreciation Becomes Necessary

          This class has provided some much needed attention 
          for my writing and communication skills.  Thank you
          for the time you took to proofread my paper long
          after class ended.  Thank you for the green pen 
          marks on my assignments and for providing a 
          challenging, yet learning environment.  The lessons
          I've learned have provided necessary tools for my 
          business career.  Certainly, a portion of my 
          success belongs to you, and I am forever indebted
          to you.

          Don't forget to return to the home page for additional help, including jargon, weasel words, and gobbledygook.

          Last updated September 29, 2006