Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

Posts Tagged ‘grammar

Available now: Wordwatch for Kindle

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Wordwatch for KindleWell, the cover looks good… (that bit wasn’t me).

Here’s the blurb:

This is a basic guide to writing well. Aspects of grammar and punctuation that commonly cause confusion are demystified in plain English. You’ll find clear instructions on the correct use of possessive apostrophes, commas, speech marks, hyphens and semicolons.

Other topics include the subjunctive, split infinitives, and the difference between ‘fewer’ and ‘less’. You can also learn more about active and passive sentences; commonly used foreign words and phrases; and word classes, including nouns, adjectives and verbs.

Also included is a brief, no-nonsense guide to politically correct language.

Coming soon: a paperback version.

Available on Amazon.com and Amazon UK.




Is it a verb? Is it a noun? An introduction to the gerund

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Some words are ugly and some grammatical concepts are very tricky indeed. And sometimes ugly combines with tricky. But I know you like a challenge.

Exhibit A: the gerund.

Don’t go — the butler’s serving drinks afterwards.

This explanation involves verbs and nouns.

Because — drum roll — a gerund is a verb that takes it upon itself to be noun. But only when it feels like it, of course.

Government health warning: This is quite a difficult area and grammarians disagree over its finer details. The following is just a brief insight but may explain some of those ‘strange’ constructions you sometimes see. Also, a little basic knowledge of the gerund can come in handy when writing or speaking formally.

Deep breath.

Verbs that can become nouns end in ‘ing’, for example, ‘leaving’ as in the following:

Would you mind me leaving?

Would you mind my leaving?

But which version, strictly speaking, is correct? Well, the second version is correct because ‘leaving’ is being used as a noun, making it a gerund. A good test is to replace the word you are not sure about with another similar word that is definitely a noun (and not one of those pesky words that can be both a verb and a noun):

Would you mind me absence?

Would you mind my absence?

The first example is obviously wrong.

And here’s a slightly trickier example of the gerund in action:

I like that man wearing aftershave.

I like that man’s wearing aftershave.

The first sentence means that I like the man (who happens to be wearing aftershave).

The second means that I like the fact that he’s wearing aftershave.

You can see that the verb ‘wearing’ has become a noun in the second sentence because it is preceded by a possessive apostrophe.

This doesn’t cover everything about gerunds, but it’s a good start. Next time someone mentions it you can look intelligent and murmur ‘verb acting as a noun’, and that’ll be you off the hook.

Here’s some more info on gerunds.

Picture: ajschwegler


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A woman without her man…

Good grammar and punctuation aren’t optional extras:

A woman without her man is nothing.

With the correct punctuation all becomes clear:

A woman: without her, man is nothing.

Double take

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DNA molecule closeup
Image via Wikipedia

Sometimes I hear something and it won’t stop buzzing around in my head. I don’t see why I should suffer alone.

I was watching a TV programme about Francis Crick and James D. Watson who jointly discovered the DNA molecule.  At one point, the commentator said:

Crick and Watson had one major advantage: each other.

Isn’t that two major advantages? No, it’s just one. I think.

Isn’t it?


Written by Wordwatch

02/08/2010 at 7:08 am

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