Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Quick Link and Request for Feedback

While Copyblogger writes specifically about, well, crafting copy, he recently posted five writing steps that apply to just about any project. Dean Rieck calls it POWER copywriting, and the acronym may help you to remember a step or two along the way to completing your languishing pieces.

If you have an opinion about the passive voice, what it is, and if or when to use it, please chime in on the on-going discussion. I try to keep an open mind, so I’d love more feedback. Does the term “passive voice” only fit one specific sentence structure? Should I find a better descriptor?

I believe that “voice” gives this particular topic much more range than one specific structure. Perhaps “inactive” or “limp” better describes the “voice” against which I have long been railing here. Please, share your opinions and let me know where you stand.

Monday, January 28, 2008

A New Word and an Apology

I found a word new to me in a short story this morning, thus justifying my small investment in the heretofore-mediocre volume. I quite enjoy those moments.

Imagine my surprise at finding that the word, desuetude, had been featured as the word of the day on the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary as recently as last month.

Should you not be curious enough to click that link, the fine folks at M-W define desuetude as “discontinued from use or exercise; disuse”. “After 15 years of desuetude, my French is a little rusty.”

I must apologize, again, for my inability to update. We’ve officially fried our fourth modem, this time (a different brand from a different ISP) when I tried to visit this blog to perform the promised template change. Suffice it to say that I had an exceedingly frustrating weekend.

As you can see, I’ve managed to sneak some on-line time in elsewhere. Please, share your thoughts and suggestions on the new template, and thanks for your patience.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Step Two: Objective Pronouns

Now that I’ve explained both the source of my frustration and how you use subjective pronouns, I’ll turn my attention to objective pronouns.

You choose the objective form of a pronoun when the word is, surprisingly, the object of a phrase, clause, or sentence. In, “She went with him,” him answers the question, “With whom?” That makes him the object of the preposition.

(Whom is an objective pronoun, but the objective form of the interrogative pronoun “who”. The more you talk and write about pronouns, the more aside you find yourself making.)

Alternatively, in “She slapped her,” you have no pronoun to give you a clue. You still have a question to answer, however. “Who did she slap?” “Her” receives the action of the verb, and that means “her” is an object, too.

I believe we’re ready for the list, now. Here it is: you, her, him, it, us, you, and them.

(“You” offers a lovely escape from the dangerous pronoun waters, allowing you to skim over problems of gender and number as well as to avoid deciding whether your pronoun acts as a subject or object. I highly recommend it to you as a form of address in relatively informal writing.)

Which pronoun you use depends entirely on its role, not on the attempted formality—or lack thereof—in your tone. You sound less dignified, not more, when you choose to say, “2-Duh danced with she and I but I didn’t touch him.”

When you find yourself about to speak a sentence of that nature (or to write a sentence involving compound pronouns), compose the sentence with only one person acting as the subject or object. Would you say, “2-Duh danced with I” or “He danced with she”? If you cannot see a problem there, I can’t help you.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Quick Note: Big Changes on the Horizon

I've been working on a complete overhaul of my template for weeks now. I have a completely new look selected but I'm nervous about implementing the change. I'm sticking with Haloscan for comments but the sidebar will be changed from top to bottom.

I hope that the transition is as smooth as it appears. I intend to make the switch next weekend, after one or two more tweaks. I apologize in advance for the inevitable bumps in the road, and for the dearth of posts lately. Once I get things settled I should have more time to post instead of fiddle behind the scenes.

In short, keep your eye on the this space. Let me know of any bugs you discover: buttons that don't work, widgets or items you liked that have disappeared, etc. I'm looking forward to the cleaner, more professional-looking layout. Once I add the tracking code for stats I should be ready. Thanks for your patience, and for reading.

Edited to say that I tried a test revision and completely slaughtered both. I will have to delete all of the sidebar page elements before I attempt to add the new ones. If anyone has done a complete template replacement, I'd love some encouragement or suggestions. Thanks! I promise another exciting pronoun post in the near future.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

More -Tion Words and the Passive Voice

Today, I'm thinking again about confounding readers by using the passive voice and -tion words. I have come to the realization that it's a nasty habit.

Can you see how that sentence wasted at least three words? “Realize” stands alone and doesn't require the crutch supplied by “come”. A stronger sentence would have been, “I realize that it is a nasty habit.”

When you add the -tion suffix, you turn a perfectly good verb into a noun that requires support from extra words. Let's try some more examples.

Okay: Anne offered a clear explanation of the problem.
Better: Anne clearly explained the problem.

Bad: We made a determination of our objectives.
Better: We determined our objectives.

Horrid: The intention of this article is to demonstrate a better approach.
Improved: Scrap that altogether. Try, “You will learn a better (safer, easier, pick you adjective) way to...”

That last, horrid example demonstrates not only using a verb to act like a noun but how, when you choose that route, you are forced into a passive construction. Consider “the intention is...” You've created a purely passive sentence by weakening your verb.

You could have written, “I intend,” a shorter phrase that includes someone doing something (abstract though the “action” may be). Doing so leads your reader around the point rather than straight to it. For a much longer discussion with a broader scope, visit Web Writing That Works.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Step One: Subjective Pronouns

If you missed it, please read my introductory post to understand why I am sounding so snarky about pronoun use.

When you use a pronoun as the subject of the sentence or a clause (as I have just and am about to use “you”), you’ve employed the subjective case of that pronoun. Please enjoy this exciting list of the appropriate pronouns: I, you, he, she, it, we, they, and who.

Now that you’ve settled down again, let’s consider why you care which pronoun forms act as subject. You treat a subject pronoun as if it were any other subject. It must agree in number with your verb and any objects.

When you create a compound sentence, such as, “She and I caught a show,” you use two subjects. The words work together just as if you’d said, “Shelly and Fred caught a show.” Using the subjective case tells your readers that you’ve made a complete sentence and that “she and I” are not the object of some other word that you’ve been foolish enough to omit or assume.

Up next: what objective pronouns look like and why you should care about that. After that, I’ll elucidate you on how to remember which pronoun belongs in which part of a sentence. Don’t worry, you can do it! [For those of you already well versed in pronoun use, please remember that I’m railing against misuse, not you. Bear with me, and I’ll post about other matters between my rants.]

After I posted this, I came across a prime example at The Grammar Blog. You see? It's not just me.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A Political Example: Affect Versus Effect

'm here to set the record straight. No matter to what do-gooder you listen, “effecting a change” is wrong.

I'm all for improving the plight of the down-trodden, saving endangered animals, and curing horrible diseases. But effect is a noun. Whoever came up with that buzz phrase (and I'm willing to bet it was a politician) was simply being clever.

Let's have an example. “I promise that I will effect a change in the school lunch program.”

You can't much improve the sentence by changing it to “affect a change”, although that would be grammatically correct. With either word, the sentence means that you are going to have some impact on a change.

Why would someone promise that? You can affect something—or have an effect on it—without actually doing more than flapping your gums. It's a promise, for instance, to sign a bill when hundreds of other people are finished doing the work.

None of that was what I wanted to write about today. I simply wanted to point out that “affect” acts as a verb. I you use it as a noun, change the first letter to an “e”. The only time you use affect as a noun is when you are writing in medical records or otherwise discussing someone's demeanor. If something “will affect” you, it will “have an effect” on you. That's it.

(Let's be honest, an altogether better sentence would be, “I will improve the school lunch program.” Change does not specify an improvement or a significant alteration. A better promise would sound more like, “I promise that bloggers will never pay taxes again,” or at least, “I will create a new Department of Grammar and appoint legbamel as the Secretary of Grammar.”)

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Quickie Post: Collective Nouns and Verb Agreement

Collective nouns name an entire group. You use them to write about the whole and to say things that apply to each of the members individually. When you apply a collective noun to a group, you treat it as singular even though it refers to any number of people.

“The Navajo people has a rich and complicated history.” Here, “people” refers to the entire tribe described by the adjective “Navajo”. Thus it operates as a collective noun.

“An army marches on its (collective) stomach.” Each soldier has one and each must be fed or the group as a whole will not act (or hold together, for that matter). If the object is not common to every member of the group then you would have to specify which members your were writing about. You end up with a specific, if undefined, number of people.

Be aware of the difference between collective nouns like army or team or media and specific groups like the Green Berets, the Chicago Bears, and reporters. Keep your collective nouns singular and your favorite sports team can take care of themselves.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Choosing Your Pronouns: An Introductory Rant

Over the past twenty-five years, or so, I have noticed an increase in the substitution of incorrect pronouns. Simple mistakes I can understand, but this burgeoning habit comes from a more insidious source.

In attempts to sound more formal and intelligent, flaky celebrities have been uttering (as haughtily as possible) sentences such as, “Bobby D came to the club with she and I, but we only drank Red Bull.” Disregarding the level of Bull in that sentence, it’s simply, grammatically, wrong.

It’s bad enough to hear people on television and in movies starting sentences with, “Me and Julie are…”. How much worse to hear people deliberately use “I” as an object because they want people to take them seriously? And for the worst thing of all, people emulate how famous people talk.

Celebrities behave badly and speak poorly; they have for a hundred years. There exist only so many avenues for a poor grammar aficionado to address their lax grammatical and “vocabularial” standards. I hereby take a stand against the pronoun abuse that becomes more and more prevalent.

I will post my pronoun manifesto in sections over the coming two weeks. If you cannot wait for more information, click “pronouns” in the tag cloud to the left and join the movement. Vive la resistance!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

A Vocabulary Breadcrumb Trail

Today I share yet another trail of language-related sites that I recently followed. You never know where you'll end up, when you start on the Web. I've removed the back-tracking for brevity's sake.

For those of you who enjoy sharing your love of words with others, head over to My Favorite Word and read just that. People submit their favorite words and a reason why they love them.

Evan Morris and Kathy Wollard cull the entries and post them by letter in batches of a dozen. Recent entries include multifarious, smitten, and absquatulate. How can you resist the call of the wild vocabulary?

In their link list, you find World Wide Words from Michael Quinion. You can move from single words to turns of phrase and a pronunciation guide. Mr. Quinion also offers to answer your questions, should you not find them already addressed in the extensive index.

Should you wish to further expand your knowledge, follow the link from World Wide Words to the proudly proscriptivist Vocabula Review. This is a monthly e-zine covering a wide range of writing and language topics.

You can enter their writing contest (for $20 and by May 30th, annually), explore the Department of Elegant English, and read about improving your writing. Indulge your inner curmudgeon and expand your knowledge at the same time.

As a final step in today's breadcrumb trail, head from The Vocabula Review language links page to a fun list called, “Complex statements for the simple-minded...” Snicker over such gems as “A Plateau is the highest form of flattery.” You may find a few of the examples jejune or trite, but the list serves as a good reminder that being cute can bite you in the butt, when you're writing.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Back to Basics: Conjunctions

Three types of conjunctions link words, phrases, and clauses into coherent sentences. You don't need to know the “technical” terms, but understanding how they work will help you use them more effectively. You can also eliminate run-on sentences where you've used them for evil rather than good.

Co-ordinating Conjunctions

The FANBOYS coordinate words and sentence parts to explain to your readers how they interact or relate to each other. I know I've written it several times, but for those who don't know “who” the FANBOYS are, I'll specify: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so. “Bob and I went to the movie theater but nothing appealed to us.” Here “and” links Bob and me together while “but” tells you how the independent clause that follows relates to the first half of the sentence.

Subordinating Conjunctions

While you can coordinate just about anything, you can only subordinate dependent clauses. It comes to me that I should write a post about the difference between clauses and phrases. In short, when you have a few words that include a related noun and verb but don't constitute a full sentence, you have a dependent clause.

You'll need an independent clause to create a full sentence, and a subordinating conjunction to tell your audience how the to two relate. Such words as if, after, because, when, and while show readers how the dependent clause fits into the action of a sentence. “Until you find your shoes, Shelly will loan you her slippers.” “Until” explains for how long Shelly is willing to loan you those slippers.

Correlative Conjunctions

Should you find a pair of conjunctions in your sentence, you are likely to have used correlative conjunctions. They only appear in twos because their job is to coordinate two equivalent items. When you write, “I bought not only the complete series but the soundtrack as well,” you are using “not only” and “but...as well” to explain to your readers how these elements relate to each other. Would you like more examples? “Either you understand correlative conjuctions or you don't.” “I danced to both the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Squirrel Nut Zippers.”

“Whether I post this or delete it, I better understand conjunctions.” In this example, “whether” acts as both a correlative and a subordinating conjunction. As I wrote, the technical terms do not matter. Knowing that the first part of the sentence is dependent, needs a conjunction to link it, and requires a second element to be complete matters more than being able to call those pieces by their names.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year, All!

I had intended to do an exciting...something for my 200th post today, but instead I worked on my complete template overhaul. So instead, allow me to post my best wishes for the new year and a promise that big changes are afoot, here at One Step Forward.

By the way, if you're a Blogger template expert and are willing to lend a hand, I'll gladly accept and will give you credit on the new deisgn. Drop me an e-mail through the link on the left. Thanks!