Just for fun: How many of these can you check off?
☐ Do you ever lose your train of thought when you stumble upon a typo while reading a magazine or newspaper article?
☐ Do you cringe when you see a billboard or signage in a store with an apostrophe being used to show possession when in reality the sign writer wanted to show a plural state?
☐ Do you wonder if anyone–ANYONE–is actually proofreading any article published on a website?
If you have checked off one or more of these, you are experiencing some of the frustration I have on a daily basis. My first career was in the legal field, drafting and negotiating legal documents between landlords of shopping centers and malls and their prospective tenants. Clear and concise language is imperative in a legal contract. Ambiguous language in a legal contract leads to future lawsuits over a tenant’s responsibilities versus a landlord’s obligations In my second career, I spent thirteen years as a middle school language arts teacher using my red pen (Flair Paper Mate, as all teachers know) to grade tests and quizzes, student work, essays, research papers, and reflections on literature. Teaching writing is challenging, and it is further complicated by the fact that technology (laptops, tablets, smartphones) has made us lazy. We are texting and ignoring the basic rules of grammar, and when we want to use a bit more care like for a school or work assignment, we are using spell check and Grammarly to suggest edits for us.
Now, a bit more serious: Which group are you in?
☐ Group A – Readers: If you are an avid reader, your basic grammar rules are ingrained and reinforced by materials that have been heavily edited and proofread. Yes, there may still be minor errors, nothing and no one is perfect, but a published print edition of a book —fiction or nonfiction —will be in much better shape than a magazine or newspaper article with the pressures of periodical publishing. You are probably a better writer because you are an avid reader, and your vocabulary and sentence structure will be stronger. You may not know the rule behind that comma being correct, you may not remember learning the difference between hyphens and dashes, you may not know when to use quotation marks instead of italics for the titles of short stories, poems, novels, songs, or albums, but you know instinctively how to use basic punctuation and capitalization correctly.
☐ Group B – Nonreaders: But, what if you are not a reader? I know people who haven’t read an entire book since they left middle school, where much of it was done in class. High schoolers and college students, left to read large portions of classics and contemporary literature on their own, use a variety of methods to skirt around the assigned reading. The internet once again can be at fault here with online study sources like SparkNotes, which instead of being used to supplement the reading experience and classroom discussions, is being used instead of the reading.
Recently, someone very near and dear to me asked, “What is a participle?” This comes from someone with an excellent high school education, a college degree with a BA and a minor in language based studies, published work, and professional writing credits. This person is a GREAT writer, but still isn’t quite sure what a participle is.
[A participle, by the way, is a verb whose ending has been changed so that it can be used as a different part of speech, usually an adjective or a noun. Example: shoot is a verb, but by adding “ing” to it, it becomes an adjective, as in “Mary saw a shooting star when she was walking her dog.”]
Do you need to brush up on your grammar rules? Do you wish you were a better writer? Do you want to do better in school or at work on assignments that require writing?
I CAN HELP!
Reach out to me for information on how I can help you with your writing, whether you need to know more about participles, or you need to know how to structure an essay. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. All work will be virtual, and I promise to be kind with my red pen!
And don’t forget: commas are important, otherwise you might see something like this: