Questions about "Grammar" (Usage, Spelling, Syntax, Punctuation, . . .  the whole kit-and-caboodle)

Nuts and Bolts: What are the formal terms for the grammar of English?: the parts of speech; verb tenses; verb moods (indicative, imperative, subjunctive); the parts of a sentence.

"What is a past participle?" (Simple answer: a verb used as an adjective [modifying a noun] and ending in ed, -en, -d, -t, -n, or -ne as in the words asked, eaten, saved, dealt, seen, and gone--"Puzzled, he look it up on the Internet.")  "What is a gerund?"  Because present participles add "-ing" to verbs ("Crying babies attract attention"), they can be confused with gerunds, verbs that act as nouns ("I like sailing"; "Fooling around will do you good").

"What is past perfective tense? Did I make that term up?" See the "participle" and "gerunds" link above.  (Simple answer: yes.  You made it up.  But you were working from an imperfect memory of the real tense, the "past perfect"--"Once I had known what the past perfect tense was, but I have forgotten it.")  A "perfect" tense verb (past, present, future) indicates an action that is continuing ("Bob had fixed the goat"; "has fixed the goat"; "will have fixed the goat"), vs. a simple past/present/future which happens once and ceases ("Bob fixed the goat").

"What are the rules for superlatives - better/best - adding er to the end of adj / more + adj "

"What are the most common grammar mistakes that we as future tutors should look out for?"  (Simple answer: the mistakes that occur most frequently in the paper before you, but be careful to look for families or mistakes that might arise from the same unlearned rule or mistakenly learned rule, as when confusion about apostrophes' function creates a writer's inability to use them in genetive/possessive constructions and when she's creating contractions.  It's funny how often its use confuses people!)  People can create lists of pet peeves and personal shibboleths, but they're rarely satisfying except to their authors.

Usage, AKA "being a word" and "using a word in syntax": usage differences for further/farther (Simple answer: many users say they're synonyms but grammar cranks use "further" metaphorically and farther with actual distancs.) & lay/lie (Simple answer: "lay" is used with things one controls and "lie" is used when one reclines one's self and to name falsehoods.)

"Passive/active voice - is passive voice always regarded as "worse" than active?" (Simple answer: it depends on whether the agent/actor is as important as the action, and on whether you know "who done it.")

"Does 'none' take a singular or plural verb?" (Simple answer: is what you have "none of" a singular or plural noun?  For "geese," "I look at the pond but there are none."  For the right time, "I looked for my watch but I have none.")

When is it correct/necessary to use the word “that?” For example, “Yang studied their online interactions in addition to reflective journals that the students were asked to keep.” Or, “Yang studied their online interactions in addition to reflective journals the students were asked to keep.” "Yang says (that) these six processes help students externalize their own writing process so that they may visualize it and therefore create better papers." Is (that) needed? 

I honestly struggle with antecedents in general. I sometimes get confused with when to use which, that, who, whom, etc. (Simple answer: "that" is restrictive, referring to the specific thing preceding it, and "which" is not, so it refers to the thing as a class or group; who is the "subjective case" and operates as a sentence's subject, whereas "whom" is objective case, and operates as the object of the verb or a preposition.)

Synonyms--words whose meanings are very nearly identical (interesting but from 2010, not our class): The difference between "healthful" and "healthy"?  The difference between "addicting" and "addictive"?;   "composed of” vs. “comprises”?; When to use “bring” vs. “take.” I NEVER remember the correct usage!; "Toward" versus "towards" - I always think "towards" sounds strange - is it grammatically correct?

Spelling, AKA "orthography," turning phonology into written characters:

Is it spelled “therefore” or “therefor?”   (Simple answer: it's "therefore" unless you are a lawyer and your client has been offered something to be repaid with another something "therefor."  The O.E.D. does not recognize this usage.)

Homophone spelling, a special case of spelling accuracy that changes the word's meaning:

What is a good method for remembering the difference between "conscious" and "conscience" when you are writing?  (Simple answer: stay conscious [a mental function] of the confusion when editing and preserve your conscience [a moral or spiritual function] by looking out for your readers.)

Punctuation--"pointing" the sentence to help readers parse its structure: 

"Comma use. I know I tend to overuse them, so could we go over general rules and how to apply them?"  

"Dash vs. semi-colon and dash vs. comma. I know that you are supposed to use dashes to "make a point", and I like to use them, but I've been told that I use them incorrectly even when I am trying to emphasize something. "

"When you're quoting a full sentence and it ends with a ? or !, do you end the sentence with ?". (put the period outside quote marks) or ?" (don't worry about putting a period)"

"Why do we sometimes demonstrate subordinate clauses by surrounding them with commas, and sometimes with parentheses? Is one more correct? How do you tell which one is better?"  (Simple answer: the more dramatic the punctuation (as in a striking diversion like this), the greater the separation of the subordinate clause from the independent clause, and the less dramatic punctuation, usually, the less the separation.  Unless it leads to misreading, it's style.)   When does the punctuation go inside the parentheses? (When does it go outside)?

"Single quotes (') vs. double quotes ("). Is there ever a situation in which you put something inside single quotes? 'Like so?' When and why?"  (Simple answer: British quotations start with single quotes and use double quotes for quotations within a quotation ['Sam "the Fool" Johnson', he answered, 'is the man who standardized spelling'.--note "British" comma and period placements.].  American quotations start with double quotes and use single quotes for quotations within a quotation ["American 'jingoist' journalists," he retorted, "were probably responsible for our weird deviations from British punctuation conventions."--note "American" comma and period placements.].)

Punctuation beyond the comma: dashes versus semi-colons; What's the difference in usage between hyphens and colons? - Independent and dependent clauses, how they are related to commas and semicolons, and whether using them perfectly really matters.;

Is it okay to end a sentence with a preposition?   (Because English word order determines meaning, the location of your preposition within the sentence can sometimes have significant effects.)

Pronoun Reference--When writing a paper that is discussing he or she, should we aim to be politically correct and write "he or she" or just choose one of them?  I definitely have trouble with the ourselves/ourself/themself/themselves Will the use of "they" and "them" that has already been assimilated into mainstream spoken English become officially accepted by grammarians?   How can we solve the problem when tutoring?  (Simple answer: generalize in the plural when talking about human beings.)

Kirsch, Gesa.  “The Politics of I-Dropping.”  College Composition and Communication. 45:3 (October 1994) 381-3.  Web.

Myers, Miriam Watkins.  “Current Generic Pronoun Usage: An Empirical Study.”  American Speech 65:3 (Autumn 1990) 228-237.  Web.

Stotko, Elaine M. and Margaret Troyer, “A New Gender-Neutral Pronoun in Baltimore, Maryland:  A Preliminary Study.”  American Speech.  82:3 (Fall 2007) 262-79.  Web.

Style--the "kit-and-caboodle" of compositional form, that which is not required or prohibited, but which transmits aesthetic values

Can we have more than one style?  How does style communicate meaning?

Document Format:

"Why do we have to double space all of our essays? Even the ones we submit electronically? I mean, I understand when the teacher wanted to be able to write notes in the extra space. But most of the time nowadays its digital or the notes are at the end. I hate reading double spaced things!"  (Simple answer: people who read paper copies wish to write notes in the extra space, and they're cranky old conservatives who like double space because it's always been that way.  People who read online single-spaced documents also typically have to put up with teeny tiny type and will eventually go blind, so there!

Published style guides offer guidance for large groups of readers and writers who share common communications goals--news writers and readers, Associated Press (AP free guide from Western Washington U.); literature analysis and linguistics writers and readers, Modern Language Association (MLA summary from Purdue OWL), American Psychological Association (APA text summary from Purdue OWL), University of Chicago Manual of Style (U. Chicago summary from Purdue OWL), Council of Science Editors (CSE short guide from Juniata College)

Free Online Grammar, Punctuation, and Sentence Diagramming Sites

Updated MLA Style for Works Cited Format (2009)