Good Grammar & Punctuation Make Sense

Introduction

To be an effective communicator, you must be able to use the tools of the trade, just as you must be able to use the tools of your particular profession. We may joke about the sports commentator who is famous for saying that a player done real good and the person who refers to youse uni students, but readers/listeners will not be amused if you use such terms in your professional presentations!

What I am suggesting is that you pay attention to the minimum rules for survival - ie, those rules which you have to know in order to demonstrate that you are an intelligent member of the business community, one whose ideas are worthy of consideration. There are many books on the subject and you should choose one which is written in a style you find interesting and pleasing, and then keep it by you for ready reference - there are few people who can read such a book from cover to cover and enjoy the experience!

I am a cynic in many areas and this is one of them. You can easily suffer from information overload if you try to digest all the information offered in most of these books - and I don't think you should try. Read the following brief nores and you will gain sufficient to get by - if you are interested, you can then pursue your intests elsewhere.

All I ask is that you are able to decide on a style which suits you and/or your employer - and that you are able to explain why you write and speak the way you do. Too many people - bosses in particlular! - have preconceived ideas from previous education, training, whatever - but they have no idea why they they do what they do - because it was on page 23 of a manual I once read ....

I once worked at the RAAF Staff College in Canberra, and the students on the residential staff course had to do three weeks of intensive English at the beginning. One of the pedantic staff members used to insist that they put a comma after an introductory word or phrase, so they developed a habit of talking in the bar by saying, for example, However, comma .... Twenty years after I had worked there, I met a wing commander I used to know, and he said, whilst we were reminiscing, However, comma ....!

PARTS OF SPEECH

Why do we have to learn all this? do I hear you ask ? Well, if you have to write or speak to anyone about anything, then you should use all the tools that are available to you to help you make your points efficiently and unambiguously.

You need to know enough about the parts of speech so that you know the requirements of a simple sentence

You also need to know how to add information to those simple sentences, with phrases and clauses, so that you can write interesting sentences.

 

Nouns and Pronouns

Nouns and pronouns are the bricks with which the language is built. They are the names of:

or words which replace those names, so that they do not have to be repeated constantly.

Because some of them are so important to the rest of the language, the Chief Word decreed that they should always have initial, capital letters. These are PROPER nouns and they are official titles of unique people and places - ie, there is only one, even though a couple might share the same title.

For example, there is only one Texas in Queensland - but there is another in the United States; the Principal refers to a unique position in Emmanuel College, even though there are lots of principals and colleges elsewhere. All names and titles of specific people, geographical features, books, journal articles, films etc, are spelt with initial capitals.

However, do not use capitals in the wrong place just to make what you are writing look more important than it really is:

I study chemistry and physics, or I am a member of the Chemistry Department.

 

According to Keilhofner, a mechanistic view is a tendency to see all phenomena as machine-like,

not

According to Keilhofner, a Mechanistic View is a tendency to see all Phenomena as Machine-like

 

Theological Hall Students are Industrious, Diligent, Assiduous, and even Hardworking.

Government Departments, in particular, and many other Organisations love Capital Letters - you should be Abstemious and avoid them like the Plague!

 

What do nouns and pronouns do ?

Nouns and pronouns make sentences, in that all the action centres around them - without them, there would be no show.

Do you want to know the following piece of useless information ? has a mechanical

It means nought unless some kind soul tells you who has what. Pronouns are the substitutes who come into the team when one of the nouns needs a rest: they fulfil the same functions but not nearly so well.

[I me you she they him mine that who which none some ....]

What you have to know is that nouns - and pronouns - form the subjects and objects of every sentence. Without one, there is an incomplete sentence:

Leaving only two. [We need to know who is leaving what/to whom]

eg Mrs Mulligrub died, leaving only two dollars/children

 

Pronouns are the second grade team, not quite up to the standard of the first team. In fact, their lack of skill often creates confusion amongst the professionals, who are not always sure with whom they are dealing:

If the baby doesn't thrive on fresh milk,

it should be boiled.

It was really playing for the milk team, but at first the crowd thought that it was a substitute for the baby team, and so the referee took some time out to arrange the players so that everyone knew what was going on:

If the baby doesn't thrive on it,

fresh milk should be boiled.

Nevertheless, pronouns are pretty versatile and they do have their uses:

they substitute for nouns so that you can vary your style and make your writing and speech more interesting. Reading about `the baby' all the time would become tedious, so we substitute he/ she/ (it)/ his /hers - making sure, of course, that there is no ambiguity !

 

There is only one [hobby horse!]problem concerning the use of pronouns which need bother us - the too frequent use of it. Effective communication means transfer of unambiguous meaning, so if you are going to use it, then make sure that your reader will know precisely what you mean by it. (!)

Avoid expressions such as It has been proved that ... or It is suggested that ... because they are ambiguous and repetitious [what comes after that, is what is suggested - so you are saying the same thing twice]. Be specific and positive, and say: Smoking leads to lung cancer [if the proof is an obvious one] or Bratner has proved that ...

 

A Case of Number and Sex

In many languages, nouns, pronouns and adjectives change their spelling according to their function in the sentence and whether or not they are singular or plural; in addition, adjectives may change if the nouns they are associated with are masculine, feminine or neuter. I seem to remember that when I was studying Latin, and Greek is no different, adjectives could have 36 different endings!

In English, most of these variations have disappeared, though there are a few to remind us of the old days, and a look at them may help when you are studying other languages. The cases are:

 

Nominative

subject of the sentence

The Lord said ....

Vocative

addressing directly

O Lord!

Accusative

object of the sentence

and He gave David ....

Genitive

possessive

This is the Lord's Table

Dative

to or for

Give thanks to God

Ablative

by, with, from

Blessings from the Lord

Apologies to the purists for any mistakes - 'tis a long time since I studied Latin!

In most cases [is this a pun?], we keep the same form of the noun; the vocative is almost extinct, the genitive is shown by the word of or by an apostrophe, and we show the dative and ablative by using prepositions. However, a remaining good example of changes in spelling is shown with personal pronouns:

Pronouns may be:

nominative [subject of a verb],

objective [object of a verb or governed by a preposition],

possessive or reflexive,

as shown in the following table:

Nominative

Objective

Possessive

Reflexive

Singular

Ist person

I

me

mine

myself

2nd

you [Thee]

you [Thou]

yours [Thine]

yourself [Thyself]

3rd

he, she, it

him, her, it

his, hers, its

himself, herself, itself

Plural

Ist person

we

us

ours

ourselves

2nd

you

you

yours

yourselves

3rd

they

them

theirs

themselves

The dative and ablative are to me, by me, from me, etc

A common tendency today, in the interests of political correctness and possibly simplicity, is to refer to the singular he or she as they, where the sex is unknown. If someone wants to contact us, then they should ring .... I find such expressions anathema, and my answer is, as often where there is a problem - rephrase the sentense to avoid it - if any people wish to contact us, then they ... I suspect the easy way out is the lazt way out, but I may just be showing my age. [I do have some friends who refer to me as Gombi - Grumpy Old Man of Bribie Island!]

 

Numbers of nouns are usually shown by simply adding an s or es to the end of the word [with a slight change in spelling sometimes], but there are a few nouns that still show their origins, especially words taken into English from other languages. Name the plurals of:

stadium radius bus appendix library mouse fish

 

Gender variation is rapidly disappearing from our language - perhaps a result of the political correctness mentioned above? Many of those for animals remain, but the ones for people are rapidly disappearing - perhaps only to be found on quiz shows?

cow bull : cattle kine [?] and a separate spelling for a little one?

boar sow : pig[s] swine

actor actress [one of the commonest today - everyone is an actor]

author authoress

aviator aviatrix

husband wife

monk nun

Why do some go, and some remain? Perhaps it depends on their origins.

 

When I enterered journalism, my first job entailed working for an editress. You will gather from that deliriously old-fashioned label that this was back in the unenlightened days when female actors were actresses and Amy Johnson was fondly remembered as an aviatrix.

English is a difficult language because of the variations to 'the rule', and a tendency [unfortunate?] is to remove the rules, eg, to call everyone an actor, regardless of sex. A hippopotamus and another hippopotamus are hippopotamuses or hippopotami? If you wish to be correct, and/or stick to the old rules, learn the basics and get a good reference book for the difficult bits!

 

What do I have to Remember about Nouns and Pronouns?

The most important things to remember are:

a. They are the titles of people, places, things; or substitutes for such real names.

b. Titles Of Unique Ones Have Capital Letters [but not any old noun just to make it look important]

c. You must have at least one in every sentence.

d. Make your pronouns unambiguous - leave no room for doubt; you may know what you mean - effective communication means that you can transfer exactly the same meaning to your reader - without that person having to query you.

e. Whenever numbers are involved, make sure that everything agrees:

I is writing my assignment

You is not going to do that

Me and Jim was going to the pictures

None of us are likely to fail

 

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