Grammar Tips

Grammar tips for some of the most common slip ups. If you would like to see a tip not included below, just let us know.

Where to Place a Closing Quotation Mark Relative to Punctuation Marks

A common error in some people’s writing is the misplacement of a quotation mark at the end of a sentence or section of a sentence.  Do I write: “. or .”?

The rule is that you place the closing quotation mark after commas and periods, the most common punctuation marks.  Note this example:

  • “After the game,” Bill said, “I will come right home.”

However, a special set of rules applies when either the quoted material or the “core sentence” – the sentence inside which you have placed the quoted material – requires a question mark or an exclamation point.

Whenever the question mark or exclamation point belongs solely to the quoted material, you continue to place the closing quotation mark after these two punctuation marks.  (In these cases, the core sentence is a statement.)   Note these examples:

  • Joe’s question was, “Have you seen my calculator?”
  • The fireman ordered, “Leave this building at once!”

Whenever the question mark or exclamation point belongs to the core sentence, you must place the closing quotation mark before the question mark or exclamation point.  This stands to reason because the core sentence’s punctuation must stand out as belonging to the whole sentence and not to the quoted material.  Observe these examples:

  • Did I hear Joe say, “You have late practice today”?
  • I ordered you, “Stay in your seat unless told otherwise”!

There are two punctuation marks that you must be especially careful of, the semi-colon and the colon.  You must always place the closing quotation mark before these two punctuation marks.  Note these examples:

  • Jim said, “Let’s leave”;  Jane said, “Let’s not.”
  • Jim asked, “Can’t we leave?”; Jane asked, “Can’t we stay?”
  • Here is an example of a license plate that is truly “creative”:  BGR8FUL.

More examples of Correct Positioning of Closing Quotation Marks Relative to an Assortment of Closing Punctuation Marks

Is this forecast to be trusted, “There will be a five-inch snowfall”? [The core sentence is a question]  The parent who arrived at lunchtime said, “The snow is not sticking”; [before a semi-colon] she added, “This is so despite four hours of snowfall.”  [after a period]  One could ask, “When do I start counting the number of inches?”  [The core sentence is a statement.]  “Of course,” [after a comma] someone might respond, “you start counting from the first sign of snow.” [after a period].  Contrariwise, someone else might say, “You must start counting only after the last flake has already fallen.”  [after a period]  Now one forecaster might say, “It depends on the type of snow”; [before a semi-colon] another might say, “We do predicting, but we do not do verifying!”  [The core sentence is a statement.]  “The answer might differ depending on the ground and air temperature”: [before a colon] this is a comment that a thinking person might add.
Commentary

Here is a rule of thumb for the positioning of a closing quotation mark relative to other punctuation marks:

  • You must place a closing quotation mark after the comma and the period, the most common punctuation marks.
  • You must place a closing quotation mark after a question mark or exclamation point that belongs to quoted material but not to the core sentence.
  • You must place a closing quotation mark before a question mark or exclamation point that belongs to the core sentence (inside which you have placed some quoted material).
  • You must place a closing quotation mark before the two far less common punctuation marks, the semi-colon and the colon.

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Tips for When to Use There Are Instead of There Is

Here are my tips for using There Are instead of There Is. It is common to hear people say “there is” or “there’s” when they should have said “There are.”  It is so common that I am concerned that writers can lose track of what is correct.  The rule is that you must write “there are” when the subject–the wording that follows the verb and does the job of subject–requires plural agreement.

When to Use “There Are”

  • There are many signs of global warming.

For a person to write “There is many signs of global warming [the strike-through line indicates unacceptable English] would be incorrect because the agreement of the verb must be with “signs.”  This sentence could be rewritten, “Many signs of global warming are at hand.”

You must also be careful when asking questions.  In questions, too, the agreement must be plural when the subject is plural even though the helping verb shifts to in front of the word “there.”  Note: “Are there many signs of global warming?”

More Examples of Correct Use of “There Are”

  • There are thousands of kinds of orchids.
  • There are many toys that children enjoy day after day.
  • There are growing signs of economic revival.
  • There are important reasons for doing exercising.

 

Commentary 

If you can keep from misusing “There Is” and “There’s” in conversation, you will have begun the habit of doing so in writing.

Note that sentences that begin with the word “there” are extremely useful for a writer.  They can be helpful as topic sentences and can serve to add variety to the patterns of your sentences.

Do you want to become a better writer? Check out The Hunter Writing System.

Copyright© Anthony D. Hunter 2002

Distinguishing Between Effect and Affect

Distinguishing Between Effect and Affect

The word EFfect has two major uses in English.  As a noun, the most common meaning of effect is “something resulting from a cause–a result.”  As a verb (a fairly rare use), the word effect usually means “to bring about–that is, to cause [a result].”  Here are examples:

  • As a noun:  The EFfect of too much rain is flooding.
  • As a verb:  His complaining did not EFfect a change.

This word–EFfect–comes from the Latin prefix EX- (the “x” changing to “f” to make the word easier to pronounce), which means “out of” and the Latin root FECT which means “to make” or “to do.”  The meaning of the words in Latin are: “that which has been made or done out of [something else]” (the noun) or “to make or do out of” (the verb).

In contrast, the word AFfect, as a verb, usually has the meaning “to influence.”  An example would be, “Your spelling has AFfected your grades.”

The word AFfect comes from the Latin prefix AD- (the “d” changing to “f” to make the word easier to pronounce), which means “to” or “toward” and FECT with the same meaning as before “to make” or “to do.”  The literal meaning, therefore, is “to do toward, influence.”

Examples of Correct Use of the Words EFfect and Affect

  • There are many beneficial effects of rain.
  • The loss of power did not affect our work.
  • The effect of too little light is slower reading.
  • A lower-than-expected grade should affect a person’s assessment of his/her strategies for learning.
  • Congress ha s effected an increase in our nation’s debt.

Commentary

This tip might help you choose the right spelling.  When the word has the job of a noun, spell it EFfect (as in the expression “cause and effect”).   When the word has the job of a verb, spell it AFfect by preference;  but be sure that you want your verb to have the meaning “to influence [in some way].”

Do you want to become a better writer? Check out The Hunter Writing System.

Copyright © Anthony D. Hunter 2002

Best Tips for When You Should Place “E” Before “I”

There is a mnemonic that says “Place ‘I’ before ‘E’ except after ‘C’ and when pronounced ‘A’ as in neighbor and weigh.”  The first part of this mnemonic – if taken literally – is simply untrue. These tips should help you know when to place e before i when spelling.

First, there are at least 28 words in English that are frequently used and that are correctly spelled “CIE.”  The root words for the majority of these are efficient, deficient, sufficient, and conscience.  There are dozens of other words that are spelled “CIE,” but most have a separate sound for the I than for the E – as in science, society, and chancier.

Nonetheless, there is something of a foundation for the first part of this oversimplified spelling mnemonic.  All but one of the 58 or so words in English that are spelled “CEI” come from these 7 root words: 

Receive                  perceive                deceive             conceive

Receipt                                               deceit               conceit

[Note that I am also counting as “words” the derivatives of these seven words – for example, receives, receiving, and received.  Note, too, that all 7 of these words have a common root in the Latin verb -cipio, -cipere, -cepi, -ceptus (adapted spellings from their root capio, capere, cepi, captus, meaning “to take”) – namely, -cip/-cept but with the spellings -ceive and -ceit influenced by French.]

First, notice that for all these words the “CEI” letters carry the sounds “SE,” as in the word “see.”  Next, you should note that all of the 51 words that are derivatives of these words are also spelled “CEI.”  Here are some examples:  receiver, receivables, preconceive, conceited, inconceivable, deceitful, deceiver, deceivingly, perceiver, perceivable.   Finally, there is only one additional word (that I can think of) that does not stem from one of these root words, is pronounced the same, and is also spelled “CEI”:  this word is ceiling.

Examples Inside a Sentence of Words with a “CEI” Spelling

  • All the receipts are kept in one folder.  [This word alone has the added “p” in it.]
  • The gradual decrease in temperature went unperceived.
  • Conceitedness can be a deterrent in many professions.
  • Deceit may cause temporary success.
  • Preconceived notions often prove faulty.

Commentary

Because the words stemming from these root words are the only ones – together with ceiling – that by rule must be spelled “CEI,” I would recommend changing the mnemonic to read:

“I” before “E” even after “C” – except for:  words stemming from the root words “CEIVE’” and “CEI(p)T” (and the word ceiling)… and when pronounced “A” as in neighbor and weigh. 

Note that there are a number of words in English that do have an “EI” spelling though they do not follow “C” and do not sound like “A” as in neighbor and weigh.  Examples of these are protein, foreign, Fahrenheit, counterfeit, forfeit, sovereign, surfeit, heist, feisty, and seismograph.  All these words are exceptions to both the original mnemonic and to my revised version.

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Copyright ©  Anthony D. Hunter 2002

Tips for Choosing There, Their and They’re Correctly

The most important tip for choosing there, their and they’re correctly is to take a minute to think through the choices—and the tips below will help you make the right choice.

First, the spelling of they’re is a contraction for the two words “they are.” A rule of thumb for most contractions is to write the first word out in full—here, “they.” You then add the apostrophe (‘). Lastly, you add the shortened (contracted) lettering for the contracted word—here “re.”

Examples

Jen and Louise are good friends; they’re (they are) classmates.

Where is everyone tonight? They’re (they are) at the movies.

Second, the word “there—which often means “over there, yonder”—is spelled like “here,” its (near) antonym. (It even contains the spelling of “here” inside it.)

Examples

Put the glassware over there (yonder).

They refuse to come here; we must go there (yonder).

Note that the word there has a second use in English—namely: to fill the (grammatical) space of the subject of a sentence or clause until the true subject comes along; it is a “space-filler” for the (true) subject.

Examples

There is no excuse for rudeness. (No excuse for rudeness exists.)

There are three especially valuable knots. (Three especially valuable knots exist.)

Lastly, their is the spelling that you use all the rest of the time. It stands for—that is, replaces—the prepositional phrase of “of them” and is always in an adjective’s position—that is, before a noun (as in “their opinion”). (Notice that its inner spelling “ei” is typical of words that have a long “A” sound—here before an “R”—such as, “heir” and “weigh”)

Examples

They do not remember where they left their car (the car of them).

Angry bees sometimes leave their foes (the foes of them).

Commentary

You can always use a process of elimination to come to the right spelling for these words. You just need to think through the choices and their meaning.

Do you want to become a better writer? Check out The Hunter Writing System.

Copyright © Anthony D. Hunter 2002