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Oops! 7 Awkward (But Common) Grammar Mistakes


I’m no English major, but I am a content marketer — attention to grammatical detail is something very near and dear to my heart.

The more time I’ve spent in this role, the more I notice little errors in things like text messages, IMs, and birthday cards. This could either be seen as a good thing … or incredibly stressful to anyone who has to communicate with me non-verbally. (Sorry guys. I can’t help it!)

I’ve become the go-to person for proofreading other people’s content before it goes live, and as a result, I have started to notice a few of the same mistakes cropping up time and time again. So, I decided to write this post with the hope of calling attention to those common errors.

And if these grammatical faux pas aren’t enough — there’s actually another post by my colleague Ginny Soskey that details several other common mistakes. Just in case you want to nerd out a bit more.

Note: I know, I know, not all of these are “grammar” mistakes. But I’m taking a pretty liberal definition of “grammar” in this post — including spelling, usage, punctuation, and the like.

1) The Apostrophe Catastrophe

The two most common misuses of the apostrophe are:


The apostrophe is often used as a contraction. For example, “I can’t figure this out.” The apostrophe here is used to omit the word “not” so that “cannot” becomes “can’t.” The same can be used for “don’t” (do not), “they’re” (they are), etc.


The second most common use of the apostrophe is to indicate possession. For example, “That is John’s car.” The car belongs to John. Without using the apostrophe in this case, you are pluralizing John, meaning there’s more than one John in your sentence. And then the sentence just doesn’t make sense anyway.

A common point of confusion for both of these apostrophe use cases is the word “it’s.” The possessive form of “it” can cause all kinds of confusion, as it doesn’t conform to the above rule.

For example, “The elephant is known for its memory” is a correct use of the word “its” — even though one might think there should be an apostrophe after the “t” since the elephant “possesses” the memory. A simple way to remember the right one to use is to ask if the word can be separated into two words — “it is” or “it has.” If it can, use an apostrophe.

2) That Tricky Little Comma

There are many uses of the comma, but for simplicity, I’m only going to cover the most frequent errors I spot.

To Separate Elements in a Series

I went to the shop to buy apples carrots bread and milk.

That sounds insane, right? That’s because each element in the series should be separated by a comma.

I went to the shop to buy apples, carrots, bread, and milk.

Ahhh, much better. That last comma, by the way, is optional. It’s called an “Oxford comma,” but whether you use it depends on your own internal style guide.

To Separate Independent Clauses

An independent clause is a sentence that can stand on its own, so when in doubt whether a comma needs to be in the sentence, take the second part of the sentence and ask yourself if it would make a full sentence on its own. If it does, add a comma. If it doesn’t, leave it out.

To Separate an Introductory Word or Phrase

At the beginning of a sentence, we often add an introductory word or phrase that requires a subsequent comma. For example, “In the beginning, I had no idea how to use a comma.” Or, “However, after reading an awesome blog post, I understand the difference.”

There are plenty more use cases for the comma, which is really well documented in this blog post from Daily Writing Tips, which I follow and highly recommend for content marketers.

3) Semicolons and Colons

If you only semi-understand when to use these punctuation marks, here’s a quick explanation to keep in your back pocket.


Semicolons help writers connect two independent clauses that, though they could stand on their own, are closely related and should remain in the same sentence. For example, “It’s her birthday; a party is inevitable!” Notice that each clause could be its own sentence — but stylistically, it makes more sense for them to be joined. (Note: If the first clause contains a coordinating conjunction — “and,” “or,” or “but” — use a comma instead.)

They may also be used to separate items in a list when those items contain commas themselves.


Colons should be used to introduce or define something. For example, we used one in our blog post title, “The ABCs of Content Marketing: A Glossary of Terms.” Before the colon we give you the title of the post, and after the colon we define what the post is.

You may also use a colon before a list, or when preceded by a clause that can stand on its own. For instance, one might write:

  • A blog post
  • An ebook
  • A novel

And here’s the thing about writing a blog post, ebook, or novel: Your business will benefit as much as your personal brand.

See what I did there? Note that because what follows the colon can stand alone as its own sentence, the first word is capitalized.

4) “Fewer” Versus “Less”

This one drives my colleague Pamela Vaughan up a wall.

You know that show 10 Items or Less? That’s actually incorrect. It should be 10 Items or Fewer, because the object is quantifiable — you can count out ten items. You use “less” when the object is not quantifiable.

If you’re ever unsure whether you should use “less” or “fewer,” ask yourself if you could attach a number to the word. For instance, it makes as much sense to say “He has ten beans,” as “He has fewer beans.” That’s because you can quantify beans. But it doesn’t make sense to say “He has ten angst.” You can’t quantify angst. Thus, you’d say “He has less angst.”

5) “Should Have” Versus “Should Of”

This one seems obvious when written out — particularly in the context of a grammar post — but alas, people get it wrong all the time. The confusion stems from the way we all slur our words together, so in an age of more colloquial writing, I understand why people make this mistake.

Always write “should have” or “should’ve.” That contraction — “should’ve” — is why writers get confused. It sounds a heck of a lot like “should of,” and people probably started writing it without even considering the contraction “should’ve.” But now that you know, it’s a mistake that’s easy to correct.

6) “Couldn’t Care Less” Versus “Could Care Less”

This is another one that seems so obvious when you think about it — but hey, I guess people aren’t really thinking about it when they say it. There’s a scenario in which each phrase makes sense; the problem is, people don’t use the right phrase for the right scenario. Let’s walk through a scenario together to clarify the right usage of these phrases.

Scenario: Bill asks Bonnie on a date, and Bonnie turns him down. Annoyed, he flippantly tells his friend, “Pshh. Whatever … I could care less.”

This is the incorrect usage of the phrase. Why? Because context clues tell us Bill is trying to save face and pretend he doesn’t care about Bonnie. But this phrase, “I could care less,” indicates that he does care a little bit.

He should’ve said, “I couldn’t care less” to demonstrate he has no care left to give.

If you commonly get confused with this phrase, follow the advice of my fourth grade teacher: If in doubt, leave it out.

7) i.e. and e.g.

i.e. and e.g. are both abbreviations for Latin terms. i.e. stands for id est and is translated to mean “that is.” E.g. stands for exempli gratia, which means “for example.”

A great trick I learned for remembering the difference between the two of these came from Grammar Girl’s blog. She teaches us to remember that i.e. means “in other words” (both start with i), and e.g. means “for example” (example starts with e).

Not too hard, right? This is particularly important for content marketers, since we often produce educational content that contains clarifications or examples for readers to reference.

Written by Lisa Toner | @

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Grammar Police: 25 of the Most Common Grammatical Errors We All Need to Stop Making


Even after years of learning it in school, grammar is just one of those things people still mess up.

It’s hard. Words and phrases that sound fine in your head can suddenly look like gibberish when written down … that is, if you’ve even realized you made a mistake in the first place.
It’s easy for little grammar mistakes to slip by — especially when you’re self-editing. But how do you prevent grammatical errors if you’re not even aware you’re making them?

Download our free writing style guide here to learn how to eliminate grammatical errors from your writing.

Then read through this post and see which common grammar mistakes resonate with you the most. Make a mental note to avoid that mistake in the future, or heck, just bookmark this blog post to remind yourself of them over and over (and over) again.

25 Common Grammar Mistakes to Check For in Your Writing

1) They’re vs. Their vs. There

One’s a contraction for “they are” (they’re), one refers to something owned by a group (their), and one refers to a place (there). You know the difference among the three — just make sure you triple check that you’re using the right ones in the right places at the right times. I find it’s helpful to search through my posts (try control + F on PC or command + F on Mac) for those words and check that they’re being used in the right context.

Correct Usage: They’re going to love going there — I heard their food is the best!

2) Your vs. You’re

The difference between these two is owning something versus actually being something:

You made it around the track in under a minute — you’re fast!

How’s your fast going? Are you hungry?

See the difference? “Your” is possessive and “you’re” is a contraction of “you are.” Again, if you’re having trouble keeping them straight, try doing another grammar check before you hit publish.

3) Its vs. It’s

This one tends to confuse even the best of writers. “Its” is possessive and “it’s” is a contraction of “it is.” Lots of people get tripped up because “it’s” has an ‘s after it, which normally means something is possessive. But in this case, it’s actually a contraction. Do a control + F to find this mistake in your writing. It’s really hard to catch on your own, but it’s a mistake everyone can make.

4) Incomplete Comparisons

This one drives me up a wall when I see it in the wild. Can you see what’s wrong with this sentence?

Our car model is faster, better, stronger.

Faster, better, stronger … than what? What are you comparing your car to? A horse? A competitor? An older model?

When you’re asserting that something should be compared to something else, make sure you always clarify what that something else is … otherwise it’s impossible for your readers to discern what the comparison actually means.

5) Passive Voice

If you have a sentence with an object in it — basically a noun that receives the action — passive voice can happen to you. Passive happens when the object of a sentence is put in the beginning of a sentence instead of at the end. With passive voice, your writing comes across as sounding weak and unclear.

Hold up. Re-read that last paragraph I just wrote — there’s waaaaaay too much passive voice. See how it seems kind of jumbled and not quite punchy? Let’s try that again.

Passive voice happens when you have an object (a noun that receives the action) as the subject of a sentence. Normally, the object of the sentence appears at the end, following a verb. Passive writing isn’t as clear as active writing — your readers will thank you for your attention to detail later.

Make sense? It’s kind of a complicated thing to describe, but active voice makes your writing seem more alive and clear. Want to get into the nitty-gritty of avoiding passive voice? Check out this tip from Grammar Girl.

6) Dangling Modifiers

I love the name of this mistake — it makes me think of a dramatic, life-or-death situation such as hanging precariously off a cliff. (Of course grammar mistakes are never that drastic, but it helps me remember to keep them out of my writing.)

This mistake happens when a descriptive phrase doesn’t apply to the noun that immediately follows it. It’s easier to see in an example taken from my colleague over on the HubSpot Sales Blog:

After declining for months, Jean tried a new tactic to increase ROI.

What exactly is declining for months? Jean? In reality, the sentence was trying to say that the ROI was declining — not Jean. To fix this problem, try flipping around the sentence structure (though beware of passive voice).

Jean tried a new tactic to increase ROI after it had been declining for months.

Better, right?

7) Possessive Nouns

Most possessive nouns will have an apostrophe — but where you put that apostrophe can be confusing. Here are a few general rules to follow:

If the noun is plural, add the apostrophe after the s. For example: the dogs’ bones.

If the noun is singular and ends in s, you should also put the apostrophe after the s. For example: the dress’ blue color.

On the other hand, if the noun is singular and doesn’t end in an s, you’ll add the apostrophe before the s. For example: the lizard’s tail.

Simple, right? If you want a deeper dive into the rules of possessive nouns, check out this website.

8) Affect vs. Effect

This one is another one of my pet peeves. Most people confuse them when they’re talking about something changing another thing.

When you’re talking about the change itself — the noun — you’ll use “effect.”

That movie had a great effect on me.

When you’re talking about the act of changing — the verb — you’ll use “affect.”

That movie affected me greatly.

9) Me vs. I

Most people understand the difference between the two of these … until it comes time for them to use one in a sentence. They’ll say something like:

When you get done with that lab report, can you send it to Bill and I?

But that’s wrong.

Try taking Bill out of that sentence — it sounds weird, right? You would never ask someone to send something to “I” when he or she is done. The reason it sounds weird is because “I” is the object of that sentence — and “I” should not be used in objects. In that situation, you’d use “me.”

When you get done with that lab report, can you send it to Bill and me?

Much better.

10) Do’s and Don’ts

I’m not talking about the do’s and don’ts of grammar here — I’m talking about the actual words: “do’s” and “don’ts.” They look weird, right? That’s because of two things:

  1. There’s an apostrophe in one to make it plural … which typically isn’t done, and
  2. The apostrophes aren’t put in the same place in both words.

Unfortunately, it’s AP Style … so we just have to live with it. It’s a hot angle for content formats, so I wouldn’t shy away from using it. But when you’re checking your writing for grammatical errors, just remember that the apostrophes should be in different places.

Note: There are different schools of thought about how to punctuate this one depending on what style guide/usage book you’re using. The Chicago Manual of Style, for instance, recommends “dos” and “don’ts.” The important thing is to be consistent and stick to one style guide, whether it’s AP Style, Chicago, or your own house style guide.

11) i.e. vs. e.g.

Confession: I never remember this rule, so I have to Google it every single time I want to use it in my writing. I’m hoping that by writing about it here, the trend will stop.

Lots of people use the terms interchangeably when trying to elaborate on a point, but they really mean two different things: “i.e.” roughly means “that is” or “in other words,” while “e.g.” means “example given” or “for example.” The former is used to clarify something you’ve said, while the latter adds color to a story through an example.

12) Peek vs. peak vs. pique

This is another one I often see people mess up even if they know what they mean.

  • Peek is taking a quick look at something — like a sneak peek of a new film.
  • Peak is a sharp point — like the peak of a mountain.
  • And pique means to provoke or instigate — you know, like your interest.

If you’re going to use one in your writing, stop and think for a second — is that the right “peek” you should be using?

13) Who vs. That

This is a tricky one. These two words can be used when you’re describing someone or something through a phrase like “Lindsay is a blogger who likes ice cream.” When you’re describing a person, be sure to use “who.” When you’re describing an object, use “that.” For example, you should say “Her computer is the one that overheats all the time.” It’s pretty simple, but definitely something that gets overlooked frequently.

14) “Alot” vs. A lot vs. Allot

Hate to break it to all of you “alot” fans out there … but “alot” is not a word. If you’re trying to say that someone has a vast number of things, you’d say they have “a lot” of things. And if you’re trying to say that you’ve set aside a certain amount of money to buy something, you’d say you “allotted” $20 to spend on gas.

If you’re trying to remember to stay away from “alot,” check out this awesome cartoon by Hyperbole and a Half featuring the alot. That face will haunt you for the rest of your content marketing days.

15) Into vs. In to

Let’s clarify the “into” versus “in to” debate.

They’re often confused, but “into” indicates movement (Lindsay walked into the office) while “in to” is used in lots of situations because the individual words “to” and “in” are frequently used in other parts of a sentence. For example, “to” is often used with infinitive verbs (e.g. “to drive”). Or “in” can be used as part of a verb (e.g. “call in to a meeting”).

So if you’re trying to decide which to use, first figure out if the words “in” or “to” actually modify other words in the sentence. If they don’t, then ask yourself if it’s indicating some sort of movement — if it does, you’re good to use “into.”

16) Lose vs. Loose

When people mix up “lose” and “loose,” it’s usually just because they’re spelled so similarly. They know their definitions are completely different.

“Lose” is a verb that means “to fail to keep or maintain; fail to win; cease to have,” like losing your keys or losing a football match.

“Loose” is an adjective that means “not tight” or “not closely constrained,” like loose clothing or a loose tooth.

A trick for remembering the difference is to think of the term “loosey-goosey” — both words that make up that compound word are spelled with two o’s.

17) Then vs. Than

What’s wrong with this sentence?

My dinner was better then yours.

*Shudder.* In the sentence above, “then” should be “than.” Why? Because “than” is a conjunction used mainly to make comparisons — like saying one thing was better “than” another. “Then” is mainly an adverb used to situate actions in time: We made dinner, and “then” we ate it.

18) Use of Commas

There are entire courses on correct comma usage, but let’s go over some of the more common comma use cases here …

To separate elements in a series.

Each element in a series should be separated by a comma. For example: “I brought a jacket, a blanket, and an umbrella to the park.” That last comma is optional. It’s called an “Oxford comma,” and whether you use it depends on your own internal style guide.

To separate independent clauses.

You can use commas to separate independent clauses that are joined by “and,” “but,” “for,” “or,” “nor,” “so,” or “yet.” For example, this is correct: “My brother is very smart, and I’ve learned a lot from him.”

An independent clause is a sentence that can stand on its own. Here’s how to test it: Would the second part of the sentence (following one of those coordinating conjunctions) make a full sentence on its own? If so, add a comma. If it doesn’t, leave it out.

To separate an introductory word or phrase.

At the beginning of a sentence, we often add an introductory word or phrase that requires a subsequent comma. For example, “In the beginning, I had no idea how to use a comma.” Or, “However, after reading an awesome blog post, I understand the difference.” Other common introductory words and phrases include “after,” “although,” “when,” and “while.”

To learn about more use cases for the comma, check out this blog post from Daily Writing Tips.

19) Assure vs. Insure vs. Ensure

All of these words have to do with “making an outcome sure,” which is why they’re so often mixed up. However, they aren’t interchangeable.

  • “To assure” means to promise or say with confidence. For example, “I assure you that he’s good at his job.”
  • “To ensure” means to make certain. For example, “Ensure you’re free when I visit next weekend.”
  • Finally, “to insure” means to protect against risk by regularly paying an insurance company. For example, “I insure my car because the law requires it.”

20) Less vs. Fewer

You know the checkout aisle in the grocery store that says “10 Items or Less”? That’s actually incorrect. It should be “10 Items or Fewer.”

Why? Because “items” are quantifiable — you can count out 10 items. Use “fewer” for things that are quantifiable, like “fewer M&Ms” or “fewer road trips.” Use “less” for things that aren’t quantifiable, like “less candy” and “less traveling.”

21) Semicolons

Semicolons are used to connect two independent clauses that, though they could stand on their own, are closely related. For example, you could use a semicolon in the sentence: “Call me tomorrow; I’ll have an answer for you by then.”

Notice that each clause could be its own sentence — but stylistically, it makes more sense for them to be joined. (If there’s a coordinating conjunction between the two clauses — like “and,” “but”, or “or” — then use a comma instead.)

You can also use semicolons to separate items in a list when those items contain commas themselves.

22) Compliment vs. Complement

These two words are pronounced exactly the same, making them easy to mix up. But they’re actually quite different.

If something “complements” something else, that means it completes it, enhances it, or makes it perfect. For example, a wine can complement a meal, and two colors can complement each other.

The word “compliment” though, refers to an expression of praise (as a noun), or to praise or express admiration for someone (as a verb). You can compliment your friend’s new haircut, or pay someone a compliment on his or her haircut.

23) Farther vs. Further

People often use “farther” and “further” interchangeably to mean “at a greater distance.”

However, in most countries, there are actually subtle differences in meaning between the two: “Farther” is used more to refer to physical distances, while “further” is used more to refer to figurative and nonphysical distances. So while Paris is “farther” away than Madrid, a marketing team falls “further” away from its leads goal. (Note: The word “further” is preferred for all senses of the word in the U.K., Australia, Canada, and elsewhere in the Commonwealth of Nations.)

The word “further” can also be used as an adjective or as an adverb to mean “additionally.” For example, “I have no further questions.”

24) En Dash vs. Em Dash

Both “–” and “—” are versions of the dash: “–” is the en dash, and “—” or “–” are both versions of the em dash. You can use either the en dash or the em dash to signify a break in a sentence or set off parenthetical statements.

The en dash can also be used to represent time spans or differentiation, such as, “That will take 5–10 minutes.”

The em dash, on the other hand, can be used to set off quotation sources, such as, “‘To be, or not to be, that is the question.’ —Shakespeare.”

25) Between vs. Among

Let’s clear this one up: The word “between” is used to refer to two (or sometimes more) things that are clearly separated, and the word “among” is used to refer to things that aren’t clearly separated because they’re part of a group or mass of objects.

So you choose between a red shirt and a black shirt, but you choose among all your shirts. You walk between Centre Street and Broad Street, but you walk among your friends.

These are just a few grammar mistakes we’ve picked up. Which ones do you frequently catch? 

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in November 2013 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

Written by Ginny Soskey | @gsosk August 20, 2015 // 8:00 AM

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Poor grammar on websites scares 59% away

Fifty-nine per cent of Britons would not use a company with poor grammar on its website. Have you checked yours recently?

A new study has revealed that 59 per cent of Britons would not use a company that had obvious grammatical or spelling mistakes on its website or marketing material, and 82 per cent would not use a company that had not correctly translated its material into English.

The research, conducted by Global Lingo, polled 1,029 UK adults on their online purchasing and browsing habits.

Those taking part were asked whether or not they tended to notice the quality of spelling or grammar or a company’s website – 74 per cent said yes.

When asked whether bad grammar or obvious spelling errors would stop them buying from the website, 59 per cent said it would, with the majority claiming that they “wouldn’t trust” the company to provide a good quality service. Others would be put off due to an obvious lack of care, or would consider the company to be unprofessional.

“The fact that such a high percentage wouldn’t trust a company with poor spelling or grammar just goes to show crucial it is that businesses make the most of every opportunity, especially in these tough economic times,” says Richard Michie, marketing and technology director at Global Lingo.

“You only have a short amount of time to make an impression on a potential customer, and if your website or ad is riddled with grammatical errors, it’s not going to place you in a favourable light. Competition is tough, and if you don’t take the care to present yourself in as professional a light as possible, you may well be losing yourself important business.”

When consumers were asked if they had ever come across a website that was clearly translated from a foreign website into English, which then read inadequately with bad grammatical mistakes, 31 per cent of individuals admitted that this had indeed happened to them. But the impact is dramatic: just 4 per cent of this number then continued to use the website or purchase goods from it.

This works both ways, so if you are doing business internationally, ensure that your foreign-language website is mistake-free.

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The Importance of Communication for Managers

importance of communicationAnyone involved in management – whether it’s for a large or small company – knows well the relational complexities involved. Sometimes you have to give criticisms on an employees performance, other times you get the privilege of praising another employee’s performance. You’re often tasked with overseeing projects both large and small, while directing a diverse group of individuals and personalities in the process. Needless to say, communication skills are essential for any management position.

While communication in management is not always easy. You may find yourself having to work with difficult people, or with unmotivated people. But if you come to the table with the right tools to do the job, you will have an effective team of individuals proud of the work they do for you, and you can feel your own sense of pride in developing these key business relationships n the workplace.

4 Key Areas of Communication in Management

Relationship Building

Relationship building is a key discipline to master. It helps you establish trust and camaraderie with your employees. They will come to you with problems, and when the time comes that you must give negative feedback they will actually be able to hear you out. On the flip side of that coin, when it comes time to give positive feedback, your employees will take it to heart and it will motivate them to do better work. In any work environment, as a manager is important to build these relationships early on.

Employee Engagement

One aspect of the manager-employee relationship has to do with including employees in on project management and development – allowing them to give their input. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to accept every idea that comes across your desk, but the fact that you’re sincerely listening to concerns positions you as a respected and trusted leader within the company. In short, if employees truly feel like they are a part of the process, they will connect to projects in a more meaningful way, and do high-quality work.

Employee Recognition

Every manager should learn how to properly recognize employees in the workplace. However, it’s not enough to simply recognize and praise an employee in your office, you must make every effort to make recognition a very public event. Recognizing an employee for their hard work shows that you value their contributions to the organization. Again, this is another communication strategy that will motivate employees to do better.

Employee Coaching

Finally, there is the discipline of employee coaching. Unfortunately, not every employee candidate is going to walk into the office with a flawless performance record. They may fall down and make a mess a few times before really grasping the tools needed to succeed in the workplace. You, as a manager, are an instrumental part of that success. According to a Gallup survey, successful managers should be having in-depth conversations with employees about performance about once every quarter at least. It’s important that you keep these conversations as informal as possible, so you can actually connect with the employee you’re trying to coach.

Conclusion: Communication is Motivating

Communication is a life force. If employees know where they stand in the work place, and they feel comfortable in that environment, they will be motivated to do good work. Solid communication skills are not just good for the life of the company, but they help you understand how everything is going within the company. It gives you some real-world “data,” so to speak.

July 15, 2013 by


Literary Deliberations for You

Literary Analysis: Using Elements of Literature

Students are asked to write literary analysis essays because this type of assignment encourages you to think about how and why a poem, short story, novel, or play was written.  To successfully analyze literature, you’ll need to remember that authors make specific choices for particular reasons.  Your essay should point out the author’s choices and attempt to explain their significance.

Another way to look at a literary analysis is to consider a piece of literature from your own perspective.  Rather than thinking about the author’s intentions, you can develop an argument based on any single term (or combination of terms) listed below.  You’ll just need to use the original text to defend and explain your argument to the reader.

Allegory – narrative form in which the characters are representative of some larger humanistic trait (i.e. greed, vanity, or bravery) and attempt to convey some larger lesson or meaning to life. Although allegory was originally and traditionally character based, modern allegories tend to parallel story and theme.

  • William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily- the decline of the Old South
  • Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde- man’s struggle to contain his inner primal instincts
  • District 9- South African Apartheid
  • X Men- the evils of prejudice
  • Harry Potter- the dangers of seeking “racial purity”

Character – representation of a person, place, or thing performing traditionally human activities or functions in a work of fiction

  • Protagonist – The character the story revolves around.
  • Antagonist – A character or force that opposes the protagonist.
  • Minor character – Often provides support and illuminates the protagonist.
  • Static character – A character that remains the same.
  • Dynamic character – A character that changes in some important way.
  • Characterization – The choices an author makes to reveal a character’s personality, such as appearance, actions, dialogue, and motivations.

Look for: Connections, links, and clues between and about characters. Ask yourself what the function and significance of each character is. Make this determination based upon the character’s history, what the reader is told (and not told), and what other characters say about themselves and others.

Connotation – implied meaning of word. BEWARE! Connotations can change over time.

  • confidence/ arrogance
  • mouse/ rat
  • cautious/ scared
  • curious/ nosey
  • frugal/ cheap

Denotation – dictionary definition of a word

Diction – word choice that both conveys and emphasizes the meaning or theme of a poem through distinctions in sound, look, rhythm, syllable, letters, and definition

Figurative language – the use of words to express meaning beyond the literal meaning of the words themselves

  • Metaphor – contrasting to seemingly unalike things to enhance the meaning of a situation or theme without using like or as
    • You are the sunshine of my life.
  • Simile – contrasting to seemingly unalike things to enhance the meaning of a situation or theme using like or as
    • What happens to a dream deferred, does it dry up like a raisin in the sun
  • Hyperbole – exaggeration
    • I have a million things to do today.
  • Personification – giving non-human objects human characteristics
    • America has thrown her hat into the ring, and will be joining forces with the British.

Foot – grouping of stressed and unstressed syllables used in line or poem

  • Iamb – unstressed syllable followed by stressed
    • Made famous by the Shakespearian sonnet, closest to the natural rhythm of human speech
      • How do I love thee? Let me count the ways
  • Spondee – stressed stressed
    • Used to add emphasis and break up monotonous rhythm
      • Blood boil, mind-meld, well- loved
  • Trochee – stressed unstressed
    • Often used in children’s rhymes and to help with memorization, gives poem a hurried feeling
      • While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
  • Anapest – unstressed unstressed stressed
    • Often used in longer poems or “rhymed stories”
      • Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house
  • Dactyls – stressed unstressed unstressed
    • Often used in classical Greek or Latin text, later revived by the Romantics, then again by the Beatles, often thought to create a heartbeat or pulse in a poem
      • Picture yourself in a boat on a river,
        With tangerine trees and marmalade skies.

The iamb stumbles through my books; trochees rush and tumble; while anapest runs like a hurrying brook; dactyls are stately and classical.

Imagery – the author’s attempt to create a mental picture (or reference point) in the mind of the reader. Remember, though the most immediate forms of imagery are visual, strong and effective imagery can be used to invoke an emotional, sensational (taste, touch, smell etc) or even physical response.

Meter – measure or structuring of rhythm in a poem

Plot – the arrangement of ideas and/or incidents that make up a story

  • Foreshadowing – When the writer clues the reader in to something that will eventually occur in the story; it may be explicit (obvious) or implied (disguised).
  • Suspense – The tension that the author uses to create a feeling of discomfort about the unknown
  • Conflict – Struggle between opposing forces.
  • Exposition – Background information regarding the setting, characters, plot.
  • Rising Action – The process the story follows as it builds to its main conflict
  • Crisis – A significant turning point in the story that determines how it must end
  • Resolution/Denouement – The way the story turns out.

Point of View – pertains to who tells the story and how it is told. The point of view of a story can sometimes indirectly establish the author’s intentions.

  • Narrator – The person telling the story who may or may not be a character in the story.
  • First-person – Narrator participates in action but sometimes has limited knowledge/vision.
  • Second person – Narrator addresses the reader directly as though she is part of the story. (i.e. “You walk into your bedroom.  You see clutter everywhere and…”)
  • Third Person (Objective) – Narrator is unnamed/unidentified (a detached observer). Does not assume character’s perspective and is not a character in the story. The narrator reports on events and lets the reader supply the meaning.
  • Omniscient – All-knowing narrator (multiple perspectives). The narrator knows what each character is thinking and feeling, not just what they are doing throughout the story.  This type of narrator usually jumps around within the text, following one character for a few pages or chapters, and then switching to another character for a few pages, chapters, etc. Omniscient narrators also sometimes step out of a particular character’s mind to evaluate him or her in some meaningful way.

Rhythm – often thought of as a poem’s timing. Rhythm is the juxtaposition of stressed and unstressed beats in a poem, and is often used to give the reader a lens through which to move through the work. (See meter and foot)

Setting – the place or location of the action.  The setting provides the historical and cultural context for characters. It often can symbolize the emotional state of characters. Example – In Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, the crumbling old mansion reflects the decaying state of both the family and the narrator’s mind. We also see this type of emphasis on setting in Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice.

Speaker – the person delivering the poem. Remember, a poem does not have to have a speaker, and the speaker and the poet are not necessarily one in the same.

Structure (fiction) – The way that the writer arranges the plot of a story.

Look for: Repeated elements in action, gesture, dialogue, description, as well as shifts in direction, focus, time, place, etc.

Structure (poetry) – The pattern of organization of a poem. For example, a Shakespearean sonnet is a 14-line poem written in iambic pentameter. Because the sonnet is strictly constrained, it is considered a closed or fixed form. An open or free form poem has looser form, or perhaps one of the author’s invention, but it is important to remember that these poems  are not necessarily formless.

Symbolism – when an object is meant to be representative of something or an idea greater than the object itself.

  • Cross – representative of Christ or Christianity
  • Bald Eagle – America or Patriotism
  • Owl – wisdom or knowledge
  • Yellow – implies cowardice or rot

Tone – the implied attitude towards the subject of the poem. Is it hopeful, pessimistic, dreary, worried? A poet conveys tone by combining all of the elements listed above to create a precise impression on the reader.

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8 Steps to More Concise Writing

You know you must streamline your writing, but the devil’s in the details. Here are some specifics about what to look for:

1. Remove Redundancy

Avoid double-teaming terms like “a period of one week,” “end result,” “free gift,” and “personal opinion.” Watch for phrases that echo the quality in question: “oval in shape,” “larger in size,” “shorter in duration,” and the like. Omit redundant words that are already implied as part of an abbreviated term, such as machine in “ATM machine.”

2. Reduce Phrases to Words

Replace a descriptive phrase following a noun with a one-word adjective that precedes the noun: “People who experienced at traveling know better than to label their luggage,” for example, can be revised to “Experienced travelers know better than to label their luggage.

A modifying phrase, similarly, can be reduced to a simple adverb: “Sympathizing with her concerns, he nodded in response to her complaint,” for instance, is more concisely expressed as “He nodded sympathetically in response to her complaint.”

Delete extraneous phrases such as “which is” and “who were,” as shown here: “We drove down Lombard Street, which is considered the crookedest street in the world” is easily simplified to “We drove down Lombard Street, considered the crookedest street in the world.”

3. Omit Gratuitous Intensifiers and Qualifiers

Use adverbs that intensify or qualify in moderation: “They had an extremely unpleasant experience” isn’t accurate unless a subsequent explanation justifies the intensifier extremely, and “I was somewhat taken aback” isn’t necessarily an improvement on “I was taken aback.”

4. Expunge Expletives

“There are” or “there is” is a weak way to start a sentence. “There is a telling passage toward the end of the story” lacks the focus of (and the more vivid verb in) the sentence “A telling passage occurs near the end of the essay.”

5. Negate Nominalizations

“The report gave an analysis of the accident” uses a phrase where a single word suffices. (This is known as a nominalization, or smothering a verb.) When you see a “(verb) a/an (noun)” construction, convert the noun into a verb and replace the phrase with it. In this case, “The report analyzed the accident” is the more concise result. As with deletion of expletives, a stronger verb is an additional benefit.

6. Delete Superfluous Phrases

“At the present time,” “for all intents and purposes,” and “in the event that” are just a few of many meaningless phrases that clutter sentences. Trim them to tighten your writing.

7. Avoid Cliches

Likewise, “face the music,” “litmus test,” “tried and true” and other timeworn phrases add nothing to your writing but words; they’re useful only for padding a word count, but instructors and editors (and readers) will notice.

8. Eschew Euphemisms

Generally, words that disguise concepts degrade language, which is all about expressing, not repressing, meaning. For example, “collateral damage,” in reference to warfare (and, by extension, to all interpersonal relationships), invites derision. However, use of some euphemisms, such as those for human disabilities, is a well-meaning effort to preserve the dignity of the disabled, though some people argue that such cosmetic wording actually harms people by diminishing the seriousness of their condition, or that it is for the benefit not of the disabled but of people who would rather not be reminded of the disabled.

by Mark Nichol

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The practice of saying “o’clock” is simply a remnant of simpler times when clocks weren’t very prevalent and people told time by a variety of means, depending on where they were and what references were available.

Generally, of course, the Sun was used as a reference point, with solar time being slightly different than clock time. Clocks divide the time evenly, whereas, by solar time, hour lengths vary somewhat based on a variety of factors, like what season it is.

Thus, to distinguish the fact that one was referencing a clock’s time, rather than something like a sundial, as early as the fourteenth century one would say something like, “It is six of the clock,” which later got slurred down to “six o’clock” sometime around the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries. In those centuries, it was also somewhat common to just drop the “o’” altogether and just say something like “six clock.”

Using the form of “o’clock” particularly increased in popularity around the eighteenth century when it became common to do a similar slurring in the names of many things such as “Will-o’-the wisp” from “Will of the wisp” (stemming from a legend of an evil blacksmith named Will Smith, with “wisp” meaning “torch”) and “Jack-o’-lantern” from “Jack of the lantern” (which originally just meant “man of the lantern” with “Jack,” at the time, being the generic “any man” name. Later, either this or the Irish legend of “Stingy Jack” got this name transferred to referring to carved pumpkins with lit candles inside).

While today with clocks being ubiquitous and few people, if anybody, telling direct time by the Sun, it isn’t necessary in most cases to specify we are referencing time from clocks, but the practice of saying “o’clock” has stuck around anyway.

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Bonus Fact:

  • The word “clock” is thought to have originally derived from the Medieval Latin “clocca,” meaning “bell,” referencing the ringing of the bells on early town clocks, which would let everyone in a community know what time it was.
  • Contrary to popular belief, the clock tower in London commonly called “Big Ben” is not named “Big Ben.”  Rather, it is named “Elizabeth Tower,” after Queen Elizabeth II; named such during her Diamond Jubilee (the 2012 60th anniversary of her accession to the throne).  Before that, it was just called “Clock Tower.” So why is it so often called “Big Ben”?  That is due to the great bell inside the tower that chimes the hour out and goes by that name.  Over time this has morphed into many calling the clock tower itself that even today, despite the recent, very public, name change.
  • The Tower of the Winds in Athens, which lies right under the Acropolis, is thought to be the first clock tower in history, constructed sometime between the 2nd century BC to 50 BC.  It contained eight sundials and a water clock, along with a wind vane.
  • If you’ve ever wondered what a.m. and p.m. stand for, wonder no more: a.m. stands for “ante meridiem,” which is Latin for “before midday”; p.m. stands for “post meridiem,” which is Latin for “after midday.”
  • The International Space Station orbits about 354 kilometers (220 miles) above the Earth and travels at approximately  27,700 km/hr (17,211 mph), so it takes about 92 minutes to circle the Earth once. For this reason, every 45 minutes the astronauts on-board see a sunrise or a sunset, with a total of 15 – 16 of each every 24 hours.