The Grammar Factor – prescriptive/descriptive grammar, styles, quotation marks

The writing revolution
I read an interesting article last month about a school in the US that taught traditional writing skills – as a result, grades improved in all subjects.

The school adopted the Hochman Program, developed by Judith Hochman. Students were taught how to turn ideas into simple sentences and how to construct complex sentences by supplying the answers to three prompts: ‘but’, ‘because’ and ‘so’.

Writing skills were introduced into all subjects. For example, a lesson on the properties of hydrogen and oxygen was followed by a worksheet requiring the students to describe the elements with subordinate clauses. One student’s responses were:

  • Although hydrogen is explosive and oxygen supports combustion, a compound of them puts out fires.
  • Unless hydrogen and oxygen form a compound, they are explosive and dangerous.
  • If hydrogen and oxygen form a compound, they lose their original properties of being explosive and supporting combustion.

It’s interesting how the pendulum swings between teaching the basics to allowing creativity and free expression to dominate the curriculum.

Read the article, which was published in The Atlantic, at http://bit.ly/RPyWvB

‘Which Language Rules to Flout. Or Flaunt?’
A related topic is the ongoing divide between prescriptive and descriptive grammar. You can read a debate between Brian A. Garner and Robert Lane Greene in The New York Times at http://bitly.com/QIP0Aq

Where do you stand on the grammar debate? Do you agree with Garner when he says: ‘For many decades now, the needle in the prescriptive/descriptive long-playing record has been stuck on a scratch.’?

Styles for Business Writing
Online Writing Training’s latest e-learning program, Styles for Business Writing, is now available.

It covers topics such as abbreviations, the use of bold, underlining and italics, capitals, dates, money and numbers.

Normally $79, it’s only $39.50 until the end of November with the promo code: owt010dbi (discount shows on the PayPal page) www.onlinewritingtraining.com.au

National Novel Writing Month
Want to write a novel? It’s National Novel Writing Month in the US and you can login to the website to get support with your writing. http://www.nanowrimo.org/

Test your grammar knowledge
If you want the answers to the following questions, go to http://bit.ly/Tu4vxY
1. What is the difference between grammar and usage?
2. What are the parts of speech?
3. What is the subject of a sentence?
4. What is a predicate?
5. What are prepositional phrases?
6. What is a split infinitive (and what’s wrong with it)?
7. What is a present participle?
8. What is an appositive?
9. What is a double genitive?
10. What is a sentence adverb?

Amusing headlines sent by a reader
Diana was still alive hours before she died
Student excited dad got head job
Missippi’s literacy program shows improvement
Bugs flying around with wings are flying bugs
Girls’ school still offering ‘something special’ – head
Illiteracy an obstable, study finds
Tiger Woods plays with own balls,
Nike says Statistics show that teen pregnancy drops off significantly after 25
Federal agents raid gun shop, find weapons
Marijuana issue sent to a joint committee
Homeless survive winter: Now what?
Homicide victims rarely talk to police

Double and single quotation marks

Reader’s question: Can you please tell me when one uses double quotation marks (“) and when one uses single quotation marks (‘)?

Answer: Whether you use single or double quotation marks for quoted material is a style choice and your in-house style guide may state a preference. The government style guide recommends single, but most newspapers still use double.

If you use single quotation marks, then the convention is that you use double quotation marks for a quote within the quote or to emphasise words. And vice versa.

As always, consistency matters.

Another comma example
Last month I wrote about the power of the simple comma and a reader sent the following example:

A woman wrote her own will and wanted her first son, who had cared for her while she was ill until she passed away, to have everything, including her house, its contents and her car. However, she left out a comma and this is what she wrote instead:

‘My son will receive my house contents and my car.’

This meant the house was up for grabs. In the end he won the right to have the house, but it cost him tens of thousands of dollars to get there.

Other articles and a video
‘Ain’t this good English’, The Wall Street Journal. This article by David Skinner poses the question: Do slang and vulgarity belong in the dictionary? http://bitly.com/WsWmQl

‘Language mirrors brain’s desire for clarity’, PsychCentral. A study has posited that the brain’s tendency toward efficient communication is an underlying reason that many human languages are comparable. http://bitly.com/S3f3VQ

Word of the month
Frankenstorm

CNN banned this word, but it was unstoppable. http://wapo.st/RFjN2Q

 
 

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