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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Grammar Doesn't Have to be Boring

Let's face it: reading about grammar rules is boring.  Not many people pick up a grammar book when they’re feeling bored and looking for some enjoyable light reading.  Even those who purposefully turn to a grammar handbook for help  can find it dull at best, and intimidating at worst. 

If you find it difficult to read a grammar book, the internet can help.  Despite all its downfalls, the world wide web is a great place to find information – and that includes information about grammar.   Not only that, but you can find that information in different formats.  That variety means you can find the format that best caters to your learning style. 

Trial and error has taught me that the majority of my students prefer learning about grammar through videos (especially light-hearted ones where the actors dress up in costumes for no apparent reason). What follows is a selection of websites that host videos that relate in one way or another to English grammar and writing.  For your convenience, each link takes you directly to the most relevant section of the site. 

  • Video Jug : I’ve used a few of these videos in class, actually.  They’re very well done, just remember that the creators are British and therefore don’t adhere to the typesetter’s rule (i.e., their periods and commas fall outside of the quotation marks). 
  • How Stuff Works : These videos aren’t as fun, but they get the point across.  Beware of the “sponsored results” at the top of the page: they’re ads.
  •  eHow : The videos on this site have less to do with grammar and more to do with how to format and write an essay.  You’ll also find some help with citation styles (APA and MLA).
  • YouTube : There are some real gems to find on YouTube…but you have to dig through a lot of mediocre (or outright bad) videos to find them.  If you’re patient and don’t mind spending some time separating the wheat from the chaff, this is the site for you.
  • Grammar Girl : While this isn’t a video site, it IS one of the best sites to go to for grammar help.  GrammarGirl posts audio files of no more than a minute or two in length for your listening pleasure. 

By the way, these sites have help for more than just English issues.  If college algebra or physics is giving you problems, see if you can find some video tutorials that will shed some light on the subject. 

Photo credit: MiffDesigner

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

How to Use i.e. and e.g.

For abbreviations that are so commonly used, i.e. and e.g. cause massive problems for both readers and writers.

I.e. stands for id est, which is Latin for “that is.”  You use it wherever you would use the words “that is” in a sentence.   In the following examples, you could replace “i.e.” with “that is” and the sentences would still be correct.

I am the big cheese, i.e., the boss.

I am eating the fruit I like the best, i.e., the avocado.

E.g. stands for exempli gratia, which is Latin for “for the sake of an example.”  You use it wherever you would use the words “for example” in a sentence.  Just as for i.e., you could replace “e.g.” with “for example” in the following sentences and they would still be correct.

I think small dog breeds, e.g., the Chihuahua, are cute and I can’t wait to get one.

Important Japanese buildings, e.g., Tokyo Tower, usually get blown up in post-apocalyptic animes. 

 Brian Klem from The Writer's Digest suggests a couple of clever mnemonics to help you use this troublesome duo correctly.

To burn these definitions into your memory and help remind you which letter-abbreviation pairs with which definition, you can follow this mnemonic device a college friend once taught me: i.e. is "in essence" while e.g. is "eggs sample."

Correctly Punctuating i.e. and e.g.

The periods that are part of i.e. and e.g. tend to mess people up when it comes to punctuation.  The easiest way to remember how to correctly punctuate these abbreviations is to pretend they are the words “that is” and “for example” and then punctuate them accordingly. 

Take these sentences, for example:

Sam drinks hard liquor, e.g.,  whiskey, and therefore has a high alcohol tolerance.

Sam drinks hard liquor, for example, whiskey, and therefore has a high alcohol tolerance.

My favorite opera will always be the one I was named after, i.e., Bizet’s Carmen.

My favorite opera will always be the one I was named after, that is, Bizet’s Carmen.

Notice that i.e. and e.g. are always preceded and followed by a comma when in use.  The only exception to that is when they start a sentence, in which case they’re only followed by a comma.

Here’s a cute video about using i.e. and e.g. correctly, just in case you need more elucidation on the topic.

Punctuation: How To Use i.e. And e.g.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Fear of the Blank Page

How many of you have trouble getting started on a writing project?  I certainly do.  The project doesn’t have to be something as hard as an academic essay, either; it could be something as seemingly simple as writing a letter to your grandparent.  The act of creating something out of nothing seems more the province of God, not mortals, but it’s an act we engage in every time we sit down to write with a blank page staring back at us.

Facing all of that whiteness can be intimidating.  If you’re using a computer to write, the blinking cursor doesn’t help any; if anything, it seems impatient for input, like it doesn’t have the time to wait for you to think up something good.  That kind of pressure just makes it all the more difficult to get started.

As if that weren’t bad enough, when you DO manage to get something written, it has to be strong enough to withstand the scrutiny that comes from standing alone.  Even the most solid sentence starts to sound questionable when it’s the only sentence on the page. 

If you (like me) fear the blank page, don’t worry - you’re not alone.  Most of my students find it hard to start writing an essay from scratch, too.  I’d venture to say your reaction is abnormal if you don’t approach a blank page with at least a little bit of trepidation.

Tips for Getting Over the Fear

Most people resign themselves to waging war with the blank page every single time they have to start a new writing project from scratch. There are actually some things that can be done to counteract the fear, though.

For starters, write an outline.    Not only are they great for setting up a well organized paper, but if you start writing your paper INSIDE the outline, you’re not facing a blank page at the onset.   When you finish your paper, just remember to go back and delete the parts of your outline that you wrote around (e.g. “I. Introduction” ).   This is my personal choice when it comes to writing and I use it for everything from writing cover letters to writing short stories. 

Another tactic is to copy and paste “dummy text” into the document to fool yourself into thinking you’ve already made progress and aren’t starting from square one.  I learned about this trick when I was reading a famous author’s blog (I wish I could remember which author it was so I could give him/her credit for the idea).  The author would copy and paste random parts of the U.S. Constitution into a document to get over facing the blank page.  Almost any text will do, really.  Just don’t forget to go back and delete it once you make headway on your paper!

Hopefully these tips will help you spend less time staring at a blank page and more time actually writing.  As always, e-mail me or post a comment if you have a writing tip to share that works for you. 

Photo credit: Rennett Stowe