Summer Grammar Check! Verb-Car Passengers (Those Important Particles)

hero-blue-bookIn a recent GrammarBook.com post verbs were featured once again, only this time what are called verbal particles. Or, continuing the car/driving figure, they are referred to as “verb-car passengers.”

So today, as a follow-up to that previous post on verbs, we feature this one. Because, yes, though it is the middle of summer, we must still keep our grammar straight. No grammatical slouching allowed! Buckle-up, here we go!

Understanding Verb Particles

As noted in a recent GrammarBook e-newsletter article, verbs form both the engine and the steering wheel driving our language. They determine the direction and speed of a sentence.

Sometimes, we’ll spot other words riding with them in the passenger seat. They’re not verbs, but they still attach themselves with seat belts secured. We accept and use those words because we know the main verb needs them for where we want to go in expressing ourselves.

These verb-car passengers are referred to as verb particles. Verb particles are the add-ons in verb phrases with idiomatic meanings—i.e., their definition is not obvious from the words creating the phrase.

Consider a sentence such as “She looked up the number in her cell phone’s contact list.” The verb is “looked.” The verb particle is “up.” A literal, non-idiomatic reading of the words alone would lead us to think she was physically looking up, perhaps toward the sky or a ceiling. Idiomatically, however, we understand she is retrieving the number from her phone.

Some other common verb particles are “in,” “off,” “down,” “over,” and “out,” as used in the following examples:

Facing constituent pressure, the governor gave in to the Senate’s proposed legislation.
Would you please break off a piece of that chocolate bar for me?
Analysts agree the company’s bold marketing campaign will beat down the competition.
That’s a tough question. Let me mull over my answer for a while.
Will you be checking out of your room soon?

Here are several more verbs that include particles to achieve their meaning:

bog down shape up
break away single out
burn down sleep in
flip out sum up
head out wind up
hold up wrap up


As shown here, the verb particle is often needed to convey the right idea. At the same time, we need to watch for particles that seem like they belong but make the phrase a tautology—e.g., continue on, close down. These examples would not lose meaning or clarity without the particle and thus are not idiomatic.

In certain other cases, a particle might create a tautology, but we still need it for proper writing and speech. One such instance involves the verb “sit,” which by definition does not need the particle “down” for clarity. However, imagine using “sit” instead of “sit down” when addressing a person instead of a dog.

It’s always easier to use and ride with a particle in your verb car when you know what it is, why it’s there, and, equally important, if it belongs. Just determine if together the verb and particle are idiomatic and not tautological. If so, leave them connected and keep your content cruising along.

If not, pull over, let the passenger out, and wish it the best in finding another good sentence.

Grammar Check! “I” vs. “Me”

Today’s GrammarBook.com email (June 21, 2017) about writing and proper use of English grammar focuses on the right use of the personal pronouns “I” and “me”, though it includes other pronouns too.

Since this is always a sticking point with writers – and especially speakers (we get even lazier when we speak)! – we should work on getting this right, both in our writing and in our speaking.

I remember my dear mother correcting me over and over on this as a child, until it was drilled into my stubborn Dutch noggin. Today I thank her for those daily grammar lessons. I believe they finally sunk in. Check my grammar in the previous sentences. 🙂

If you visit the blog post on this at the end of this post, you can even take a pop quiz to check yourself.

Source: I vs. Me – Grammar & Punctuation | The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Verbs as Engines and Steering Wheels: How Does Your Car Drive?

hero-blue-bookLast week’s GrammerBook.com email (May 10, 2017) about writing and proper use of English grammar focused on the healthy use of verbs. Employing the metaphor of a car, the grammar lesson spoke of verbs as the “engine and the steering wheel driving our languages.”

Today as you speak and as you may sit down to write something, think of how you use verbs, and how you can use them better. After reading this “lesson” I am sure we will all think of ways to make our verbal cars run well and steer better.

Tightening Verb Phrases for Making an Engine That Purrs

Imagine the English language as a car that can keep its body and performance pristine if driven and maintained correctly.

Think of nouns as the wheels that keep it rolling; adjectives as the chassis riding the wheels; adverbs as the paint job (some say the less flashy the better); and all other parts of speech (prepositions, conjunctions, etc.) as the vehicle’s other components (e.g., windows, trunk, mirrors, hood).

That leaves us with verbs, which form both the engine and the steering wheel driving our language. Without them, our language, like a car, would sit still and take us nowhere.

For this reason, verbs need tune-ups for optimal function. You can achieve this by tightening verb phrases.

Opportunities to do so appear throughout our writing:

Substitute a single word for “is” phrases that can be instantly shortened  Instead of writing “he is in violation of,” go with “he violates.” Rather than express “the petition is a representation of the community’s wishes,” state “the petition represents…”

Pare verb-object phrases to the core verb   Have you ever written that you “made the decision”? “I decided” is leaner and so will use less gas in taking your sentence further more quickly. Perhaps you’ve expressed in an e-mail that “the meeting came to a close” and “all who attended took the matter into consideration.” If so, next time you can adjust your linguistic belt a notch and write “the meeting ended” and “all who attended considered the matter.”

Delete redundant modifiers   We don’t need to write “hoist up” and “plunge down” when a simple “hoist” and “plunge” will do. Likewise, why use page space to say we “mix together” ingredients and “merge together” documents? The careful writer confesses the two words just don’t belong together. (These verb phrases also can be defined as tautologies; to learn more about this topic, review our recent article (Striking the Surplus from Tautologies.)

Choose the right verb to shorten an idea   Did the book “give the people hope”? You could write that it “inspired” them and buy room you might need elsewhere on your page. Someone sharing a passionate opinion might say a statement “flies in the face of” the facts. He could also state that it “counters,” “contradicts,” “refutes” or “opposes” them and lessen the risk of flying spittle.

Use these techniques as your tools for your tune-ups. If you apply them often, you’ll find out just how far and fast your writing can go.

Published in: on May 17, 2017 at 6:38 AM  Leave a Comment  

Grammar Check – Fine Distinctions

hero-blue-bookThis is this week’s grammar lesson from GrammarBook.com e-newsletter, which came by email today. It was instructive for me, and I trust it will be for you too.

Such fine distinctions do matter, for both writers and readers. When you read about these examples, no doubt you will say as I did, “I’ve made that mistake.”

Plus, it is a great item for “Word Wednesday,” which I have gotten away from of late.

A Fine Distinction

How valid can a rule be if nobody knows or cares about it anymore?

That all depends on what the definition of “nobody” is. A lot of people I’ve been around seem to feel “nobody” applies to just about everybody 15-plus years younger or older than they are. Generational outcasts—the nerds, wonks, and misfits—also get labeled nobodies, although some of them grow up to be the next Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg.

In many circles, alas, nobody is more of a nobody than a grammar geek—those verbal neat freaks with all their precious little rules. But if those of us who rail against diseased English shut up and went away, we like to believe the world would soon miss us. Amid the rampant demagoguery and disinformation, our guiding principle is sound: clarity and precision are worth the bother.

Here is a short list of increasingly ignored fine distinctions:

Transpire  The errant celebrity issued a statement through his attorney that he was “sorry and saddened over what transpired.” Make it “sorry and saddened over what happened.” Put a big shot together with his lawyer and brace yourself for pompous verbiage. This usage of transpire, though common, is a lethal combination: pretentious and incorrect. The word doesn’t mean occur or happen. Something that transpires is revealed or becomes known over time. It’s not simply what happened so much as what it all means in the bigger picture. The Oxford online dictionary gives this example: “It transpired that millions of dollars of debt had been hidden in a complex web of transactions.”

Condone vs. endorse  “I do not endorse or otherwise condone this,” intoned some anonymous official. Isn’t “condone” redundant in that sentence? Not at all—there’s a substantial difference: When you endorse something, you’re all for it; you’re proud to recommend it. To condone is to pardon, overlook, disregard. When you condone, there’s not much enthusiasm or pride involved. Someone who condones is being tolerant, not enthusiastic.

Persnickety  It’s a colloquial term for “too particular or precise.” (Some would say it describes people who maintain that convince and persuade aren’t synonyms.) How’s this for world-class persnickety: there are nitpickers who reject the word in favor of pernickety, which preceded persnickety by about a century.

Substitute vs. replace  “The chef substituted chocolate with carob in the brownie recipe.” Make that “replaced chocolate with carob” or “substituted carob for chocolate.” Don’t confuse the two or you’ll end up with shaky English to go with those ghastly carob brownies.

—Tom Stern

Published in: on February 8, 2017 at 10:30 PM  Leave a Comment  

The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Being one of the editors (managing) for the Standard Bearer magazine, I have to know my rules of English grammar and punctuation.

When I first took over that position from Mr. Don Doezema three years ago, I had to re-learn a lot of rules. I learned much from asking “Mr. D” those first few years too. And, of course, one of the things he advised me to do was to buy the latest edition of the Chicago Manual of Style, which sits right at my elbow when I work on the latest issue of the SB. There isn’t an issue that goes by that I don’t have to consult that grammar “Bible”.

But I also look for other quick sources for grammar help. Yesterday I stumbled on the website linked below – GrammarBook.com, associated with Jane Straus and her Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation.

You can sign up for their newsletter of grammar tips and helps, which I did, and today I received this first one. It points out the number one grammar error, and it may surprise you.

Since we can all use a little help with proper English grammar, I share this first tip with you.

#1 Grammar Error

Would you like to know the #1 Grammar Error?
Hint:
The word involved is small and it’s contained in this sentence.

That’s right: its vs. it’s
Yet the two rules are actually quite easy to remember.

Rule 1: When you mean it is or it has, use an apostrophe.

Examples:
It’s a nice day.
It’s your right to refuse the invitation.
It’s been great getting to know you.

Rule 2: When you are using its as a possessive, don’t use the apostrophe.

Examples:
The cat hurt its paw.
The furniture store celebrated its tenth anniversary.

Note: From what we understand, the possessive was also written it’s until a couple of hundred years ago. While we don’t know for certain, it is possible that the apostrophe was dropped in order to parallel possessive personal pronouns like hers, theirs, yours, ours, etc.

To see more and to sign up for this newsletter, visit the link below.

Source: Grammar and Punctuation | The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation