Say what you mean and mean what you say

Why are grammar and punctuation so important? Feel free to provide comments, but perhaps this is a bit of a rhetorical question. But I do have a point.

In the USA, we have pretty strict traffic laws, stop signs, stop lights and more. I never really appreciated them until I traveled into a country that also had them, but no one really obeyed them. My traveling buddies and I quickly decided the traffic signs were simply “suggestions.”

This past month, my life has been consumed with deciphering toddler talk and talking baby talk (which is much easier). I’m visiting my two grandsons, (two years old and one is three months old). We have quickly learned to love our most innocent and precious baby grandson. He never talks back and he is totally dependent upon us figuring out what he needs by “reading” his body language. We don’t have that luxury in writing.

The toddler talks a mile a minute, but we are just now starting to understand some of what his is saying. It has been precious. But many times we ask him to put on his coat. He says “no” and then he holds out his arm to put it on. In fact, tonight was the first time he said “Yes” to something.

We are all trying to teach him to say what he means and mean what he says. And often, I wonder about my own writing on my blogs as well as some blogs I try to read. Sometimes we tend to beat around the bush, not wanting to offend someone, or just not sure how to “be ourselves.” So now, I wonder if it isn’t time to study how we can become better with our grammar by learning to say what we mean and mean what we say.

So the secret to this in writing is to get to the point. I know I prefer to read posts that are easy to read, short (under 1,000 words) and get to the point. And guess what? I rarely seem to do this. I’ve already talked about this in a post on Wordiness. I’m still struggling with this….

So this week, I am asking everyone to just take a look at their grammar and see if they are saying what they mean and mean what they say. Is this part of grammar and punctuation? Yes, we want to be clear in our messages and how we can do that is to check ourselves.

We have some amazing articles written by our own. You can browse our Table of Contents. And I recently found another interesting resource to learn more about proper use of grammar and punctuation. To peak your interest here is Effective Writing: Grammar Rules, that happens to match the theme of this post:

Rule 1. Use concrete rather than vague language.

Vague: The weather was of an extreme nature on the West Coast.
This sentence raises frustrating questions: When did this extreme weather occur? What does “of an extreme nature” mean? Where on the West Coast did this take place?

Concrete: California had unusually cold weather last week.

We’ve talked about Rule #2 several times, “Use Active Voice whenever possible.” So I’ll skip to Rule #3, which has multiple examples:

Rule 3. Avoid overusing there is, there are, it is, it was, etc.

Example: There is a case of meningitis that was reported in the newspaper.

Revision: A case of meningitis was reported in the newspaper.

Even better: The newspaper reported a case of meningitis. (Active voice)

Example: It is important to signal before making a left turn.

Revision: Signaling before making a left turn is important.
OR
Signaling before a left turn is important.
OR
You should signal before making a left turn.

Example: There are some revisions that must be made.

Revision: Some revisions must be made. (Passive voice)

Even better: Please make some revisions. (Active voice)

Rule 4. To avoid confusion (and pompousness), don’t use two negatives to make a positive without good reason.

Unnecessary: He is not unwilling to help.

Better: He is willing to help.

Sometimes a not un- construction may be desirable, perhaps even necessary:

Example: The book is uneven but not uninteresting.

However, the novelist-essayist George Orwell warned of its abuse with this deliberately silly sentence: “A not unblack dog was chasing a not unsmall rabbit across a not ungreen field.”

Rule 5. Use consistent grammatical form when offering several ideas. This is called parallel construction.

Correct: I admire people who are honest, reliable, and sincere.
Note that are applies to and makes sense with each of the three adjectives at the end.

Incorrect: I admire people who are honest, reliable, and have sincerity.
In this version, are does not make sense with have sincerity, and have sincerity doesn’t belong with the two adjectives honest and reliable.

Correct: You should check your spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
Note that check your applies to and makes sense with each of the three nouns at the end.

Incorrect: You should check your spelling, grammar, and punctuate properly.
Here, check your does not make sense with punctuate properly, and punctuate properly doesn’t belong with the two nouns spelling and grammar. The result is a jarringly inept sentence.

Rule 6. Word order can make or ruin a sentence. If you start a sentence with an incomplete phrase or clause, such as While crossing the street or Forgotten by history, it must be followed closely by the person or thing it describes. Furthermore, that person or thing is always the main subject of the sentence. Breaking this rule results in the dreaded, all-too-common dangling modifier, or dangler.

Dangler: Forgotten by history, his autograph was worthless.
The problem: his autograph shouldn’t come right after history, because he was forgotten, not his autograph.

Correct: He was forgotten by history, and his autograph was worthless.

Dangler: Born in Chicago, my first book was about the 1871 fire.
The problem: the sentence wants to say I was born in Chicago, but to a careful reader, it says that my first book was born there.

Correct: I was born in Chicago, and my first book was about the 1871 fire.

Adding -ing to a verb (as in crossing in the example that follows) results in a versatile word called a participle, which can be a noun, adjective, or adverb. Rule 6 applies to all sentences with a participle in the beginning. Participles require placing the actor immediately after the opening phrase or clause.

Dangler: While crossing the street, the bus hit her. (Wrong: the bus was not crossing.)

Correct: While crossing the street, she was hit by a bus.
OR
She was hit by a bus while crossing the street.

Rule 7. Place descriptive words and phrases as close as is practical to the words they modify.

Ill-advised: I have a cake that Mollie baked in my lunch bag.
Cake is too far from lunch bag, making the sentence ambiguous and silly.

Better: In my lunch bag is a cake that Mollie baked.

Rule 8. A sentence fragment is usually an oversight, or a bad idea. It occurs when you have only a phrase or dependent clause but are missing an independent clause.

Sentence fragment: After the show ended.

Full sentence: After the show ended, we had coffee.

 

We hope this helps. Let us know if there is something else we can address to help make you the successful blogger you aspire to be – or already are!!!