- Thursday, October 9, 2014

Grammar 101: How to make your nouns verb adverbly

Grammar 101


This is not a post letting all of Facebooklandia recognize the difference between their, they're and there. That's never going to happen people. They won't read about it. They don't care. You'd have a better chance making "fetch" happen.

This post is more for the bloggers who would like to write less like a blogger and more like a graduate student.

First I want to point out that the blog is supposed to be informal writing styles. It's faster to read 3rd grade level writing than it is a doctorate thesis, which is why your newspaper articles are not much more professional than your blog. Everything you could possibly want to convey in writing can be done on a simplified "for dummies" level if you fully understand what you are trying to convey.

Second, I'd like to point out that I enjoy reading grammatical errors by writers on their blogs. It adds to their style. Moms Who Drink and Swear used to write a lot of run-on sentences, and I loved it. She stopped in recent years, and I desperately miss her run-ons. I also miss her made up words that resembled a long hashtag and took a sentence of space, like getthefuckoverit.

But I understand most bloggers are discovering careers as a writer, and they would like to be published. And let's face it, people are dumb enough to believe that if you "sound" intelligent by using "big" words and proper grammar, then you must be "intelligent." But the secret is, the most intelligent people prefer the simple solution, for example, Einstein. Language's purpose is to communicate, and if you are using words too archaic for your readers to acknowledge without "looking it up," then you are not effectively communicating. Mind you, I stand alone in this logical point about the hypocrisy of mankind, so just know I'm right, but the norm is in direct opposition of it, so it doesn't matter that I'm right, kind of like it didn't matter that the earth is in fact round when the rest of the population believed it's flat.

So now that I said my peace, let's improve our grammar so we can be fancy with proper etiquette and shit (I added, "and shit" to sound gangsta and to provide some juxtaposition).

I'm a firm believer that what happens a lot in education is that we were taught the basics at a time when we couldn't fully comprehend it. The teenage years is when the brain, cognitively speaking from a neurological standpoint, develops the ability to reason in abstracts. Up until that point, the mind is very concrete, which makes for lot of, "kids say the darndest things." This is where Gosh is God's big brother, and you really actually have to try to eat your food with your mouth shut because, "Shut your mouth and eat your food." So we learned the basics of math and grammar at a time we couldn't fully understand what we were doing, and we never re-evaluated the basics now that our minds are ready to comprehend it.

So I'm taking you back to the basics, not because I think you are that stupid. You are not. I'm doing this because you will discover, hopefully at some point, some basic "aha!" now that you are not 5 years old looking at it.
Commas Save Lives Grammar 101

Sentence Structure

The two most important components of any sentence is the subject and the predicate, otherwise known as the noun and the verb. Every story is about nouns verbing. Nouns verb. That's what they do. If nouns don't verb, then nothing happened for a sentence to exist to say it as such. 

This is the most important thing to realize for sentence structure and comma placement. A subject and predicate is required to formulate a complete sentence. In addition, as a writer, you will improve your content by paying close attention to the subjects you choose, and the verbs they do.

Jim cooked dinner.
Jane ate dinner.

Jim and Jane are subjects. Cooked and Ate are verbs. Now pay attention to how these subjects and verbs are used. Pay attention like you are OCD and subjects and verbs are two different types of messes.

Avoiding Run-Ons.

A run-on usually occurs when you have two sentences, complete in thought, as one sentence without using a proper method to combine sentences. Pay attention to the subject and verbs to decide how many complete thoughts you have in a sentence. If there are more than two nouns verbing, you have to connect them legally in grammatical terms.

For instance... Jim cooked dinner. Jane ate dinner. 
Two complete thoughts. Two separate sentences.

To say, "Jim cooked dinner, Jane ate dinner" or "Jim cooked dinner and Jane ate dinner," that's a run-on because you didn't properly mesh the two sentences together.

Clauses

A clause is a fragment of words that have both a subject and a verb. A sentence can be a clause, but a clause isn't necessarily a sentence. In other words, we have two types of clauses. Independent clauses. These are clauses that form a complete thought, and can stand alone as a sentence by itself. For instance, Jim cooked dinner. Dependent clauses need more words. They cannot stand alone as a sentence. For instance, Although Jim cooked dinner.... 

Combining Clauses

There are many ways to combine clauses, but I'm going to hit the most popular I see in writing, and the methods I use the most.

The semi-colon

You can combine two independent clauses with a semi-colon. Common practice suggests that the two clauses must be related.

Jim cooked dinner; Jane ate dinner. 

The conjunction

You can use a conjunction to combine clauses, and this is where things get confusing. There are two major types of conjunctions (though there are other types of conjunctions out there).

For coordinating conjunctions (and, or, but, for, nor...), look at the subject and verb. If both sides of the conjunction have a subject and verb, you use a comma before the conjunction. If not, then you don't. 

Examples:

Jim cooked dinner, and Jane ate it.
Jim cooked dinner and ate it.
Jim cooked dinner and Jane ate it.
Jim cooked dinner, and ate it. 

Basically:

Subject Verb COMMA conjunction Subject Verb.
Subject Verb conjunction Verb.
Subject conjunction Subject Verb.

Sentence, AND Sentence
Sentence AND Phrase


Subordinating conjunctions (after, before, since, while, when, although, even if, unless...) have a comma between two clauses when at the beginning of a sentence. If you use a subordinating conjunction in the middle of the sentence, no comma is necessary. 

Examples:

After Jim cooked dinner, Jane ate it.
After Jim cooked dinner and ate it, Jane had some.
Jim cooked dinner before Jane ate it. 

Basically:

Subordinating Conjunction Subject Verb COMMA Subject Verb.
Subject Verb Subordinating Conjunction Subject Verb.

Dependent Clause, Independent Clause.
Independent Clause Dependent Clause.


Now the confusion. It's fucking flipped. Let's review again...

Coordinating Conjunctions:
Subject Verb, conjunction subject verb.
Subject Verb conjunction verb.

Subordinating Conjunctions:
Subject Verb conjunction subject verb. 
Conjunction Subject Verb, Subject Verb.

In one case, we have a comma when the subject and verb are on both sides of a conjunction. In another case, we don't have that comma when subject and verb are on both sides.

I cried, but I laughed.
I cried although I laughed. 

Even if we try to decode the stuff another way... it's still contradicting...

Complete thought, complete thought. RUNON
Complete thought, conjunction that's a complete thought. CORRECT.

I spilled milk. I technically just creamed. ... Two sentences. Two independent clauses.
I spilled milk, I technically just creamed.  ... Run On Sentence when combined with comma.
I spilled milk. So I technically just creamed. ... Two sentences. Two independent clauses.
I spilled milk, so I technically just creamed. ... Not a run-on when combined with a comma.

Even if you consider something like, "And she screamed," to be a dependent clause instead of an independent one (because your English teacher told you so even though writers consider it a sentence by itself for ages and ages)...

Coordinating Conjunction: Independent Clause, Dependent Clause.
Subordinating Conjunction: Independent Clause Dependent Clause.

I spilled milk, so I technically just creamed.
I spilled milk since I technically just creamed.

So now that you know the sadism involved in grammar that causes people to misplace commas and write run-ons, maybe you can find your own way to easily decipher when to use that comma and when not to. For me, it's just a matter of understanding the difference between coordinating conjunctions and subordinating conjunctions, and using accordingly. In my mind, if I define phrase as a group of words that cannot stand alone and a sentence as a group of words that can stand alone...

Sentence Phrase
Phrase, Sentence

and Sentence, Sentence is a run-on unless there's a coordinating conjunction separating them. 

Any other type of complex conjunctions you run into, you can almost go back to the other types to help you determine...

Whether Jim cooked dinner or not, Jane ate it. 
Jane ate the dinner whether Jim cooked dinner or not. 

Whether and Or are correlative, but their use with two independent clauses are similar to the use of subordinating conjunctions. It goes back to the sentence and phrase basics. "Whether Jim cooked dinner or not," cannot be a complete thought on its own. You need more information. So we'll consider it a phrase. "Jane ate it," now that's a complete thought. So, we'll consider that a sentence. So we have a phrase and a sentence, and that's Phrase, sentence. The next example flips it. So we have a Sentence Phrase.

Conjunctive adverbs (accordingly, also, besides, furthermore, therefore, similarly, nevertheless...) also combine two thoughts. But they can also serve a different purpose.

When combining two independent clauses, put a semi-colon before the conjunctive adverb, and a comma after it.

Jim cooked the dinner; however, Jane ate it. 

But if you are using a word like, "however," as a means to interrupt, then it's just commas.

Jim, however, cooked the dinner that Jane ate. 

And if you use it in the beginning of a sentence, use a comma after it.

Therefore, the rules of engagement are as follows... 

Remember, coordinating conjunctions are not conjunctive adverbs. You do not need a comma to start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction...

And so it begins... 

Subject and verbs


They say the best writers use less adjectives and adverbs and use better subjects and verbs.

Now let's focus on each for a second. This is my biggest flaw in writing, and something I check in particular in one round of editing. I usually don't edit my blog posts, so I confuse people.

The subject: 

Every time you write a piece, you decide the perspective. First person perspective is about I. I have done this. This happened to me. Second person perspective is about you. You did this. This happened to all of you. Third person perspective has nothing to do with you or me, but he and she. He did this. This happened to him.

It's really easy in a blog post to combine first and second person. That is the nature of the blog. I'm am me talking to you, so there's a lot of "I like to do this personally, but you can do whatever you want." It's a conversation between two perspectives. In a more professional writing environment, like a book, you usually pick one perspective and stick to it. Most APA reports, college thesis papers, and journals prefer things to be third person. Removing yourself and the reader from the equation instantly makes a piece look more graduate study worthy.

The verb:

Some verbs verbed yesterday. Some verbs will verb tomorrow. Some verbs verb currently. Some verbs are verbing later. Some verbs haven't verbed at all.

Pay attention to past, present and future tense. Pick one in a story, whether it's a paragraph reminiscing about yesteryear, or a short story about something that happened 3 days ago, and stick to it. You can write about things you are going to to tomorrow, and then mention something you did before in the middle of it, but make sure your paragraph about yesterday doesn't switch back and forth between past and present tense. It's really easy to do, at least for me. I'm thinking, "Picture it. Ten years ago. I was on the beach. I stood along the edge of the ocean feeling it breathe in and out with every wave across my toes, and BAM, a beach ball whacks me in the face." According to that, the beach ball whacks me in the face when I'm remembering it, not when it happened. I switched verb tense.

Subject and Verb:

This is my biggest flaw in writing... Make sure the subject and verb are in agreement. The three things to remember are... The one thing to remember is... 

When you throw in words in between the subject and verb, that can throw you off. Beware of it. Look for the subject--the noun that's doing the verb. The most important factor of all things is... It's tempting to say ARE because things are, but things are not the subject. Factor is the subject, and the factor is.



Now other parts of the sentence do exist. We have adjectives describing nouns, adverbs describing verbs. While subjects verb, the direct object is the one who got verbed. Prepositions relate the subject to another noun. Gerunds transform verbs into nouns. Modifiers modify elements. I am not writing a textbook on grammar in one blog post; however, you can read more about all the elements of a sentence on Chomp Chomp. Try to think about the term and how it affects the sentence. For instance, nouns verb adverbly.

When you learn a new term, or revisit one you already know, think about how you would put that in a sentence like, "nouns verb adverbly." It really puts the term's use into perspective, and that makes it easier to pick up on the rules in a way you can remember them. In addition, it makes you think about sentence structure in a manner that makes it easier to improve it. We all choose our words on purpose, but to choose your words knowing that it's a direct object that just got verbed, now that's more intentional than not knowing that.

Some quick things:

1. Never end a "phrase" or "sentence" in a preposition. 

Prepositions relate a subject to a noun, and a noun should be mentioned after the preposition.

"At Home" is a prepositional phrase...

Jim likes to Zumba at home. 
At home, Jim likes to Zumba.

Improper:
When it comes to Zumba, for Jim, home is where it's at. 

Proper:
Where do you go?

Improper:
Where do you go to?

Proper:
Where do you go to get that juice?

2. Modifiers should not dangle. 


Often times, we start sentences with modifier, and then we mention a subject and predicate. "Having no idea what to do next, Subject Verbed." A dangling modifier is when that modifier doesn't describe the subject that follows it. It must describe the subject that follows it.

Proper:
Having no idea what to do next, I decided to avoid making a decision for a couple days.

Improper:
Having no idea what to do next, the decision was going to have to wait. 
The decision isn't what has no idea what to do next. I am the one who has no idea what to do next.

3. Oxford commas are a preference FOR THE MOST PART. 


The old school approach to listing things is to provide a comma between every item on the list. I went to Walmart and got apples, duct tape, some rope, and lube. But these young whippersnappers of this modern era decided they were too good for that last comma before the and, and they removed it. Now it's more like, "I went to Walmart and got apples, duct tape, some rope and lube." I personally prefer the Oxford comma because sometimes I say things like, "I went to Walmart and got apples and dip, motor oil, chocolate and tampons, and some blush." I reserve the right to separate my list with commas and reserve the lack of comma before an and for related items, like chocolate and tampons are related items. Some rope and lube are not related items, or are they? That's why it was that way before these whippersnappers came in and pissed all over it. In blogging, it's your choice; however, if you are writing for something like school following a style, then you probably need to find out what that style dictates for this comma in particular.

4. Plagiarism is not professional. 


If you are trying to write for a college paper, or you are trying to get recognized in a scholarly article, plagiarism is not tolerated. In the blogging world, you see plagiarism all the time, mostly inadvertently. In reality, plagiarism is legal. Borrowing someone's words, even when quoting and citing, is a legal risk if it's not for educational purposes or other fair use. In professional articles, anything you paraphrase or quote should be cited as a source. It is better to cite sources that are more credible than you are than to pretend you came up with the idea on your own. While I can tell you that I think it's important for my baby to trust me, I sound a lot more intelligent when I say Erik Erikson's theory of cognitive development says it's important for your baby to trust you.

Hopefully I helped provide some clarity to some basic grammatical issues. I know most people are not in the mood to google and read a bunch of articles about comma usage, but I will say it is a hell of a lot more fun than googling "why is my RSS feed not working on my wordpress blog?" I say that because I'd rather read about commas than PHP, and if you are different and love to read about PHP, then you can most definitely handle reading about commas.

Let it be known that my RSS feed is not working on my wordpress blog, and I chose to write this post to procrastinate any further google searches on fixing my RSS feed.