Thursday, January 31, 2013

Comma Clues #2: Use Commas to Separate Two or More Describers

I recently had the misfortune of seeing a sign outside a chicken franchise that read hot, juicy, chicken. You can imagine my outrage!!! It, of course, took us here at Language Lady to Comma Clues #2: Use Commas to Separate Two or More Describers (But Not Between the Describer and the Word Being Described!).

I was thrilled to find the image above to instruct you in the commas-with-describers rule because those two benchmarks are the ones that I teach in my grammar books:

1. If you can reverse the order of the words that you are placing a comma between, and the phrase still makes sense, use a comma:

a. She had on that bright, beautiful dress. (She had on that beautiful, bright dress---YES...comma is needed.)

b. She had on that, bright dress. (She had on bright that dress--NO...comma is not needed.)

2. If you can put an AND in between the two words you are placing a comma between, and the phrase still makes sense, use a comma:

a. She had on that bright, beautiful dress. (She had on that bright and beautiful dress---YES...comma is needed.)

b. She on that, bright dress. (She had on that and bright dress---NO...comma is not needed.)

For those who like technical explanations, we teach that commas go between DESCRIPTIVE adjectivest (bright, beautiful) but not between CLARIFYING adjectives (that, five, this--which are usually called something else anyway, like pronouns, etc.).

More on comma before the and in a series of three or more (bright, beautiful, and colorful dress) in Comma Clues #3! Have a lovely, grammatically-correct day!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Comma Clues #1: Creating a Compound Sentence With a Comma-Coordinating Conjunction (,cc)

   I promised you a series of comma clues, and since I am in the middle of an article about fifty sentence types, it is a good time to start that series here! Commas are a mystery to many people--and rightly so! They are extremely subjective at times across the board. And then, different handbooks and authorities stress different rules for them, making them even more elusive.

I hope to demystify them at least a little bit in this series--and give you the confidence you need to write using commas correctly.*

Note: If you are in test taking situations or contest writing situations, it is more important than ever for you to master comma, semicolon, colon, and quotation use. As a matter of fact, we have an entire unit in our upcoming SAT Essay book just focusing on these skills because when they are done correctly, it is impressive. When they are done incorrectly, it is obvious to graders. Work hard to learn these skills, students! Smile....that was my mom/teacher voice!

 Comma Clue #1: Creating a Compound Sentence With a Comma-Coordinating Conjunction (,cc)+


CS ,cc CS+

1. The spider's victims seldom escape, for they are caught in a sticky web.  

2. The victims are stuck, and they become "dinner."

3. They can not free themselves, nor can they be freed.

4. They sit in the web and wait, but they do not wait for long.

5. The spider lets the victim sit in the sticky mess for a while, or it carries the victim away to eat it right away.

6. The spider is ruthless, yet it is also known for its special "web designs."

7. The spider has special skills, so it puts these skills to good use.     



-Coordinating conjunctions (cc's) include the following with the acronym FANBOYS: For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So
-A comma must be used with the cc when combining two complete sentences into one.
-With a comma only (no cc), you would be creating a comma splice, also known as a run-on sentence--two sentences joined together incorrectly.
-Each side of the compound sentence must be able to stand alone in order to be combined with a comma-cc. 
-Complete sentence on the left: The spider's prey seldom escapes & a complete sentence on the right: it is caught in a sticky web.
-If a CS is not on one side or the other of the cc, no comma is used: The spider's prey seldom escapes and oftentimes gets eaten (no CS after and, so no comma. 

+This series, as well as upcoming series' will use the following abbreviations to teach:

   a. CS--complete sentence
   b. cc--coordinating conjunction (think FANBOYS--For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So)
   c.   CA--conjunctive adverb
   d. Sub--subordinator
   e. Prep--preposition
   f. PP--prepositional phrase
   g. sub clause--subordinate clause (or dependent clause--group of words with a subject and a verb/verb phrase that cannot stand alone)
   h. phr--phrase (group of words that does not contain both a subject and a verb that cannot stand along

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Wordy Wednesday: Homo (same); phone (sound)

We tell our students all the time that you know more than you think you know! And that if you take what you already know and apply it to what you do not know, you will soon know even more!

Take the word homophone, for instance.

Homo—means same
Phone—means sound

Thus, homophones sound the same what you hear them. Homophones are words like their, they’re, and there and to, too, and two—words that sound the same when they are spoken but only look different when written. 

I tell my students that homophones "sound" the "same" when you are talking on the phone (and all you can do is hear--you can't see the words written--either how they are spelled or in context).

We will do a lot of “word dissecting” on LL 365! That is something we begin teaching early in our curricula as it can unlock the meanings of so many words—and helps everybody learn to take what they already know and add it to what they are trying to learn.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Everyday vs Every Day

Do you like to read Language Lady everyday or every day? Let me help you with that!

Every day
1. Two words
2. An adjective (every) describing a noun (day)
3. Used when you want to say EACH day or ALL days.

1,. One word
2. Usually an adjective together (the entire word is an adjective--everyday)
3. Used when you want to say something is NORMAL or TYPICAL.


1. Every day is an adjective and noun together already--do not use these two words to describe another noun! (NO: Those are our every day dishes.)

2. Everyday is an adjective alone--use it to describe another noun. (YES: Those are our everyday dishes.)

Tricky Trick to Help It Stick: A wise grammarian recommends "testing" your words by seeing if you could put the word "single" in between every and day. (EACH single day):

1. If you can put "single" in between the two words, then you want the two separate words meaning EACH day...every single day:

a. I went to the mail box every SINGLE day. I went to the  mail box every day.
b. She wrote him a letter every SINGLE day. She wrote him a letter every day.

2. If you cannot put "single" in between the two words, tehn  you want the one word meaning typical or normal:

a. I wanted to use the every SINGLE day dishes. NO. I wanted to use the everyday dishes.
b. She is the every SINGLE day kind of gal. NO. She is the everyday kind of gal. answer the first question: You like to read Language Lady every day (each day) because she is not your everyday (typical) grammar teacher! Smile...

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day!

 The third Monday in January is the day we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday--Martin Luther King Jr. Day. With every multi-word proper noun, there are potential errors for capitalizing and punctuating.

This is the case with today's holiday as well, especially since it has some words that are three words or fewer (potentially indicating we should not cap them, depending on where they fall within the proper noun). It has an abbreviation (Jr.), which makes for a potential difficulty with the period (or not) and even a comma (since many incorrectly think it should be written Martin Luther King, Jr {with a comma}).

So how about a little capitalization, proper noun, punctuation lesson to start the week off right? According to the Associated Press Style Book and the Chicago Manual of Style, this holiday should be written as follows (my notes below that):

Martin Luther King Jr. Day:

1. Proper nouns, including holidays, should be capitalized.

2. A proper noun containing two or more words should follow these capitalization rules:
         a. Capitalize the first and last word regardless of those words' lengths: Fourth of July, Training for Triumph, Ode to Joy
         b. Capitalize any internal words of a proper noun that are four letter or longer: World Book Encyclopedia
         c. Capitalize any internal words of a proper noun that are three words or fewer if they are not one of the following:
               i. Prepositions: Ode to Joy (NOT cap the prep to)
               ii. Articles/Noun Markers: "For the Beauty of the Earth"
        d. Capitalize any internal words of a proper noun that are three words or fewer if they are important to the title, regardless of the part of speech:
              i. "This Is My Father's World" (Is=linking verb important to title; My=pronoun important to title)
              ii. Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Jr. is important to title)

3. Capitalize Day in this holiday because it is part of the official title of the holiday (whereas Christmas day is not since day is not really the holiday's name).

4. Write Jr. with a capital J, lower case r., period following it--and no comma anywhere. As one of my handbooks tells it: Names do not contain commas!

5. Also note that the official holiday does not have Rev. or Dr. as part of it, though those are titles given to him. Neither one is given in the holiday (just like General or President is not used in George Washington's Birthday). (That holiday is also called Presidents' Day.)

6. Lastly, note that this holiday is also called Martin Luther King Day (with no Jr.).

Now you know how to write and punctuate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Hope it's a good one!

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Comma and the "Unofficial" Speech Tag

A comma or not following an "unofficial" speech tag? When you write a true opening speech tag (he said, she responded, he asked), you need a comma separating it from your quoted words:

She said, "I love to write Language Lady blog posts."

However, if you write an "unofficial" opening speech tag (According to Websters Dictionary, kindness is or Kindness can be defined as), do not place a comma before your quoted words. 

According to Webster's Dictionary, kindness is "an act of compassion."

Kindness can be defined as "an act of compassion."

The "official" rule on this is that other than true speech tags with quoted material following, you can not use a comma between a verb and its object or a preposition and its object:

NOT: According to Webster's Dictionary, kindness is, "an act of compassion." That would be a comma between the verb is and its object (predicate nominative in this case...) 

NOT: Kindness can be defined as, "an act of compassion." That would be a comma between the preposition as and its object (a phrasal object in this case). 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Wordy Wednesday--Wacky Words!

 In my language arts series for grades two through twelve, I have a weekly lesson called "Wacky Words." (Yeah, I'm all about alliteration. Um, Language Lady??!!) Anyway, the title fits a little better than calling them homophone lessons because not all confusing word are true homophones. Some are just, well, confusing--and wacky!

Here are some tricks and tips I have used recently in a  Wacky Word lesson. Maybe some of these will help you remember which word is which (not witch!).  Smile...

  1. Hear—There is an ear in hear.
  2. Here—There is not an ear in here.
  3. There—It is here and there. There is a here in there!
  4. Their—The word heir, which can mean ownership, is in the    word their, and their is a pronoun that shows ownership!
  5. See—Do you see two eyes in the word see ?
  6. Boar--Boar has an a and is an animal.
  7. Then--Then has an e and means next. According to one of my students (Isaac!), then means when.
  8. Isle-- Isle is like the word island.
  9. Chord--Chord has an h like chorus (both musical).
10. Compliment--Compliment has an i--I like compliments.
11. Sensor--Sensor relates to the senses.
12. HerdHerd of deer—almost the same letters in a different order!
13. Heard—Heard has the word ear in it
14. Through---It is rough when you go through hard times
15. Threw— He threw a new screw.
16. Pair—Love is in the air for this loving pair.
17. Pare—After he caught it, he was gong to pare the hare.
18. Pear—A pear half looks like an ear—and has the word ear in it.
19. Desert—has one s and you only want to be stuck in the desert one time!
20. Dessert—has two s’—and you want two desserts!
21. Main—The main (for first) murderer was Cain—both spelled ain.
22. Mane—The lion has a mane and is not tame!
23. Its—pronoun that shows ownership—never use an apostrophe to show ownership to a pronoun; that makes a contraction.
24. It’s—always say the two words uncontracted---if you say it is when you see this word, you will never use it’s for possession—the dog lost it’s (it is!?) collar—WRONG.
25. Sense— He was tense, so he lost his sense.
26. Cents—There are one hundred cents in a dollar and one hundred years in a century.
27. Since— Since the prince was tense he began to wince.
28. Presence— Can you think of a trick?
29. Present—have you ever heard the saying that “the present is a true present”?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Paragraph Is a Unit of Thought

Last week I talked on the Language Lady Facebook page about how many times I had said "A paragraph is a unit of thought" in three days of teaching. (Too many to count!) And promised a post about designing paragraphs, paragraph breaks, and general paragraph help. Here you go!

Dividing paragraphs is one of the most challenging aspects of writing for young writers and adults alike (along with many other challenging aspects!). That is why when people who do not write a lot write a full page with no paragraph breaks. That is also why middle school writers start writing and have no idea when to indent--so they randomly pick a spot ("Hmmm....looks like I've written enough to change paragraphs now...") and indent. 

While paragraph division isn't always simple to determine (I admit to looking at a lengthy paragraph and thinking those middle school thoughts myself at times!), there are some tips that can make the process easier. 

1. Think of the "main idea." 

Remember all of those achievement tests that had you color in the little oval for a reading selection's main idea? Well, turns out that is actually a skill you might need!

When you are writing (assuming you don't have an amazing outline to write from--see next item!), ask yourself what the main idea of the paragraph you are writing is? Then keep writing until you start writing something that is not about that main idea!

I know that sounds simplistic, but it truly is the way to determine paragraph breaks--because, as I mentioned earlier--a paragraph is a unit of thought. When that thought changes, you should change paragraphs. Then you have a new "main idea" of the paragraph.

2. Write from an outline. 

I know, outlines are for people who have more time than you have. However, if you want to write clear, concise paragraphs, you should learn to outline. (Stay tuned to Language Lady. I will teach you how to outline painlessly. Honest!)

In the fifty curriculum books that I have written over the past dozen years, every single writing project I have created has a student commit to the paragraph's topic in an outline before anything else. I use dozens of outlining techniques in my books--Paragraph House for second graders, split paper technique for comparing/contrasting writing, formal outline for research papers, scene outlines for stories. But every type of outline I teach has one common characteristic: the Topic of Paragraph line.

When you create a paragraph-by-paragraph outline, you learn to write strong paragraphs without even realizing that you are learning to write strong paragraphs. Why? Simply because you are committing to what each paragraph will contain right off the bat. And you are forced to change paragraphs (start a new one) at the right time. Try it! 


3. A paragraph generally contains three or more sentences. 

 I say generally because nowadays, especially on blog posts and inspirational writing, this rule of thumb is broken all the time. However, for those in school turning in reports and essays, it is still an important rule of thumb.

A paragraph might contain three or four sentences, or might contain eight or nine, but generally, a paragraph of fewer than three sentences is not truly a paragraph. And a paragraph of twelve sentences probably needs to be broken into two paragraphs (with the first paragraph being Part I of the topic and the second paragraph being Part II of the topic!). 

This rule of thumb is a help to a new writer on the shorter end of the spectrum. A new writer needs to know that he can write three or four sentences for a paragraph, and it will still be a paragraph. (Let's give those new writers every break we can!)

4. Teach very new writers to write the "paragraph is a unit of thought" way by having them write on a subject with clear paragraph topics.  


I know some of you adults are tuning me out here, and I understand! Language Lady has a diverse audience of adults who want to know where to put commas in and how to speak and write eloquently in the work place to teachers and homeschooling parents and students! So I will try to give you a little of everything! 

In this instance, though, if you are a parent or a teacher (or both), this little tip can really help your young writers. (I'm all about making learning easier for young ones!) In my younger books, I like to expand from one paragraph writings to multi-paragraph writings by taking a topic that is simple to divide: Three Best Pets, Four Great Presidents, Five Zoo Animals. 

By making the paragraph breaks so obvious, a new writer can't go wrong! He is not going to write about cats in his dog paragraph. In this way, it is really like writing three one-paragraph reports and "squeezing" them together. It starts new writers out in a fool-proof method--and gives them immediate success.

So whether you are a teacher instructing a little guy in his first two -paragraph essay or a college student writing eighteen pages of a final research paper, always keep in the forefront of your mind that a paragraph is a unit of thought. (And don't forget to outline!) Smile...)