The Write Advice Newsletters


A Guide to Professional and Business Writing

A Guide to Using Good Grammar

A Student's Guide to Writing Essays

Creative Writing and Publishing

Grammar Questions People Ask The Write Advice

On-the-Job Grammar

Writing About Literature

Write @Vice

“Yours, Mine, and Ours”
Rules from Real Good Grammar Too by Mamie Webb Hixon

It’s mine’s!  A corporate professional admitted to authoring this sentence – and the egregious error – in an email response to his CEO who asked, “Who solved the programming logic issue in our work system by coming up with the logic?”

“In a reply all response to the entire company, I wrote, ‘The programming logic is mine’s,’” said the employee, who also said, “I added a new table to the database and developed a new relationship between the tables.”

This professional is clearly adept at using computerese, but his pronoun usage is diseased, as his employer pointed out: “Mr. Parsey, thank you for your great work, but please edit your emails before replying all to the entire company.  Mine’s is incorrect grammar and does not exist unless you are referring to ‘mines’ (multiple mines - Ex. Virginia has multiple coal mines throughout the state).”

Learn the lesson this professional painfully learned in a public forum: that possessive pronouns, unlike possessive nouns, do not require an apostrophe.  This closed group of pronouns includes my, mine, your, yours, his, her, hers, their, theirs, and our, ours.

Remember that neither mines nor mine’s is a possessive pronoun.  And please edit your emails.

Always write responsibly,
Mamie Webb Hixon
UWF Writing Lab Director


Pesky Pronouns: Just Between You and I
B
y Alonna Hitchcock
Former UWF Writing Lab Assistant

If you do not recognize the error in the above title, pronouns probably give you trouble. Do you say or write “Just between you and I”? Have you ever used whom – or do you avoid using whom because you are not sure when to use it? Do you say or write “Michelle is a better dancer than me” or “You are older than me”? A few simple rules should remove any confusion you have concerning these pesky pronouns.

RULE 1: Always use an object pronoun (me, him, her, us, them, whom) following a preposition.

v  Common prepositions: of, to, for, with, between, except

It’s just between you and me.

Constituents will soon learn the difference between him and his opponents.

Everyone in the group except Nizina and me attended the concert.

RULE 2:  Always use a subject pronoun (I, he, she, we, they, who) following linking verbs.

v  Common linking verbs: be, is am, are was, were, been, being

The director of the film is he.

Object Pronouns          Subject Pronouns

me                                     I

him                                    he

her                                    she

us                                      we                               

them                                  they

whom                                 who

RULE 3:  Use one of the subject pronouns in the list above after than or as when the rest of the sentence is elliptical (necessary for grammatical completeness but not for meaning).

            Michelle is a better dancer than I [am].

            You are much older than I [am].

            The chess champion plays a better game of chess than she [does].

RULE 4: Who versus Whom

v  Use who when you can substitute the word (who) for he.

Choose a candidate who has experience. (He has experience.)

v  Use whom when you can substitute the word for him. (Whom and him both end with the letter m.)

Choose a candidate whom you can trust. (You can trust him.)

Applying these rules should help eliminate the pesky in pesky pronouns.

 


Don't Pass Up Passive Voice!
By Buu-Tran Duong
Former UWF Writing Lab Assistant

"The temperature was measured to be 10°C."

"Funding for the club is provided by SGA."

Wait, are the above sentences written in passive voice? The answer is "yes," and the more exciting part is that they are still correct. Passive voice, despite its discouraged pompous and impersonal tone, is actually encouraged in scientific writing and other situations when the attention should be drawn away from the subject. 

First, before we exclaim, "But I thought passive voice should be avoided!" let’s clarify exactly what passive voice is and how to use it correctly. Passive voice is a verb form in which the subject is the receiver of the verb's action rather than the performer of the action. The usual structure of passive voice is the following: subject + auxiliary verb (be) + main verb (past participle) - the main verb is always in its past participle form (Examples: has been paid, have been written). A "by" phrase, that is, a prepositional phrase beginning with "by," can be inserted at the end of a passive voice sentence.

The utility bill has already been paid [by someone].

All the grants have been written and edited [by someone].

The following are examples of instances in which passive voice is used effectively in scientific writing:

ACTIVE VOICE: My two partners and I poured 10 milliliters of water into the container. 

PREFERRED PASSIVE VOICE CONVERSION: 10 milliliters of water was poured into the container. 

Passive voice focuses on the pouring of the water into the container rather than the people doing the pouring action. Distancing the writer from his/her project gives the writing an unbiased voice.

INCORRECT: Sherlock Holmes's drug addition is discussed later in the chapter. 

Avoid using repetitive and sometimes obvious language such as "It will be discussed." Naturally, you, the writer, will be the one doing the discussing. 

CORRECT: The author discusses Sherlock Holmes’s drug addiction later in the chapter. 

Passive voice gives the writing an unbiased, objective, and clear point of view on the people and events that took place, a tone that scientific papers usually require. In other cases, we hardly notice that not using passive voice would sound awkward. Would you rather say "My wallet was stolen!" (passive voice) or "An unknown person stole my wallet!"? (active voice) Since you do not know who the wallet thief is, it is unnecessary to emphasize that unknown person. It is the wallet getting stolen that is more important in the situation, so passive voice would be preferred.

However, putting emphasis on the verb rather than the subject is discouraged in business writing and other common forms of academic writing because objectiveness can lead to confusion:

The writer might want to say "The detective discovered (active voice) that the manager was a thief."  rather than "It was discovered (passive voice) that the manager was a thief.”  Passive voice, in some cases, can force out awkward and vague words such as "it," "this," etc. 


“Do You Need a Colon Cleanse?”
By Hunter Brown
Former UWF Writing Lab Assistant
Rules from Real Good Grammar Too by Mamie Webb Hixon

Have you ever used a colon in one or more of the following ways?

  • My home town is: quiet, artsy, and scenic.
  • At the old bookstore, I bought old copies of: Gulliver’s Travels, Tom Sawyer,and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
  • My friend enjoys academic pursuits such as: reading historical novels and explicating poetry.
  • This program lacks many features: for example, a search bar, a magnifying tool, and an undo button.

If these colon usages appear in your writing, you probably need a colon cleanse! The colon should be used only to separate a complete sentence from a list or an explanation.

Complete sentence      Using good grammar yields many benefits:

List/explanation          clarity, confidence, and professionalism.

 

Complete sentence      My coach shared this bit of wisdom with me:

List/explanation          “Quitters die wondering.”

 

Colon Cleansing Rule 1

Do not use a colon after a verb such as is or are.

My home town is quiet, artsy, and scenic.

 

Colon Cleansing Rule 2

Do not use a colon after a preposition such as with or of.

At the old bookstore, I bought old copies of Gulliver’s Travels, Tom Sawyer,and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

OR

At the old bookstore, I bought old copies of the following books: Gulliver’s Travels, Tom Sawyer,and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

 

Colon Cleansing Rule 3

Do not use a colon after the prepositions including or such as or verbs such as include or contain.

My friend enjoys academic pursuits such as reading historical novels and explicating poetry.

 

Colon Cleansing Rule 4

Do not use a colon before or after the words for example, namely, or that is.

 

This program lacks many features, for example, a search bar, a magnifying tool, and an undo button.

OR

This program lacks many features; for example, it does not provide a search bar, a magnifying tool, or an undo button.


VERBS, CAMERA, ACTION!
By Stewart Hoffman
Former UWF Writing Lab Graduate Assistant 

FEAR NOT! Replace "be" Verbs and Passive Voice with Action Constructions.

I once wrote advertising copy. My first attempts came back to me covered with red circles and

undeleted expletives, the mildest of which was "This stinks!" I tried to figure out why my copy lacked "pizzazz." Before a week had passed, my boss called me into his office. While I waited for him to finish his coffee before he told me to look for another job, I figured I had nothing to lose, so I started the conversation.

    "What am I missing here? Why is my stuff so bad?"

He glared at me over his cup.

    “Here’s what you “AM” missing!” he shouted. Your stuff IS so bad because it IS full of BE verbs! You also write in the PASSIVE VOICE! I want action! ACTION! ACTION! Instead of whining, get back to your desk and take a look at what I circled on the garbage you gave me.” He waved me away, punched the intercom button, and began shouting at another coworker.

    Hey, I still had a job! I bolted back to my desk and examined the red circles. Sure enough, he’d circled the “be” verbs in my copy: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been. Then I spied the note at the bottom of the first page: “These verbs weaken your copy. So does passive voice. I WANT ACTION!!!” How could I have missed that?

    I went to work. “Slippo soap is great” became “Slippo soap gives you smoother skin.” “This detergent was called the best of all three brands by our test panel” became “0ur testers called this detergent the best of all the samples.” Wow! What a difference! I went through all my submissions, substituting action verbs for “be” verbs and active voice for passive voice. I pounded out my corrected copy and rushed it back to the boss. He looked it over, scowled, and told me I could stay on the job. I sighed to myself, “Thank you, Perry White.”

    Next time you write, try substituting active verbs and active voice in place of “be” verbs and passive voice. I’ll give you some examples:

    “She is beautiful.” Ask yourself “Why?” Answer: “Her gorgeous green eyes and silky red hair stopped me in my tracks.” You’ve answered the question and given us a reason to consider her beautiful.

    “The suspect was arrested by police after the stolen Rolex was found in his pocket.” Try this: “Police arrested the suspect after they found the stolen Rolex in his pocket.” You’ve added “punch” to your narrative by giving the police a reason for doing something.

    These sentences won’t win a Nobel Prize, but they may give you ideas that can liven up your own prose. As Perry loves to say: “Action! ACTION! ACTION!


Don’t Be That Diction Dude
By Tony Eberhardt
Former UWF Writing Lab Assistant
Rules from Grammar Shots by Mamie Webb Hixon

            Imagine this scenario: a man named Steve rushes to the bank, frantically trying to deposit a check in order to pay off his overdue mortgage bill.  He approaches the teller with cool beads dripping from his brow, and the fluorescent light creating a half-crazed glint in his eye.  The teller asks, “Can I help you?” (already revealing her lack of grammar knowledge).  Steve reaches a sweaty hand into his pocket and presses the foreign paper onto the impenetrable, bulletproof glass.  He nearly shouts, “My uncle sent me this check from Paris.  May I deposit it here?”  Without opening her mouth, the teller nods toward a sign posted to Steve’s right.  The sign reads, “We except ALL checks.”  Steve slumps his shoulders and shuffles his way out the door.  He does not hear the teller trying to call him back.

            Except is a verb meaning to omit, and it can also be used as a preposition (like but).  Accept, on the other hand, means to take and is also a verb.  These two words, words that sound alike and are of the same part of speech, carry vastly different meanings.  In the above scenario, the bank meant to use accept in its sign, and this misuse creates a mistake that confuses the grammatically aware customer, Steve.

            Know how to differentiate between except and accept.  Know how to speak and write correctly.  And, above all, know that confusing people who are clearly in a crisis through poor diction can make you that dude.  Don’t be that dude.     


“Who Needs Good Grammar Anyways?”
By Carla K. Courtney
Former UWF Writing Lab Assistant

Who needs good grammar anyways? If you don’t recognize the error in this question, YOU do!   Anyways is not a word. 

Correct grammar usage is a necessity when writing collegiate papers, business correspondence, and any other type of professional communication.  Too often, students and professionals rely on spellcheckers to flag their errors.  The danger of this reliance is that while a particular word may, indeed, be spelled correctly, it may not be the correct word for the context.

Do you ever get words confused or have trouble knowing when to use the words listed below?  If so, you are not alone.  Do you pour over a book, or do you pore over a book? When do you imply and when do you infer?  As you review the list of troublesome words, take the time to look up any you don’t understand, make a note of the differences between them, and create a vocabulary journal of your own.  It won’t be long until you feel confident using new language in your writing.  As a student, you will find that your ability to express your thoughts will improve, as well as your grades.  As a professional, you will find that you have confidence with your ability to draft quality documents, presentations, and correspondence, and you may even be rewarded with promotion for your writing skills.

Troublesome Words

censor, censure
collaborate, corroborate
discrete, discreet
elicit, illicit
emigrant, immigrant
eminent, imminent, immanent
epithet, epigraph, epitaph, epigram
financial, fiscal, monetary, economic
flout, flaunt
founder, flounder
illusion, allusion
imply, infer
pour, pore
prescribe, proscribe
ravish, ravage
sensory, sensuous, sensual
stationary, stationery
verbal, oral

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