At first glance, there might not appear to be a difference between that and which, two relative pronouns used to introduce a dependent clause in a sentence. But in careful writing, that and which have distinct uses that can drastically change the meaning of a sentence.
To be fair, writers in the UK may already be perplexed by this question, given that in British English, the words are more or less interchangeable. However, in North American English, there is a major distinction between the relative pronouns that and which. Continue reading “The Difference Between That and Which”
Decades ago, I studied abroad in Moscow, in the Soviet Union. One day, my Russian friends and I were walking along at VDNkh and came across a billboard that read Выставка Прогресса Vystavka Progressa. One friend decided to translate the billboard: “The exhibition of the progress.”
“Uh, no,” I responded. “Just ‘the exhibition of progress.'”
“I don’t know.”
Native speakers of English usually have no trouble with the use of the definite article the or the indefinite article a/an, but we can’t always explain the rule for their use. And non-native speakers, especially ones whose native languages are like Russian and lack both definite and indefinite articles, often have a really hard time figuring out when to use them.
So, for the benefit of learners of English and native speakers alike, let’s explore how definite and indefinite articles in English are used. Continue reading “Definite and Indefinite Articles: How to Use “The” and “A””
To say that our cultural consciousness on matters of gender identity is rapidly evolving is an understatement. In a few short years, our awareness as a culture went from practically none to a kind of “how could you not know that?” state. Let me give you a quick illustration.
For many years, I had the privilege of working in a campus ministry context. The community I served was a community of students committed to sharing the radical, all-inclusive love of God with a broken world through acts of worship, devotion, service, hospitality, and especially social justice. Of the religious communities on campus, aside from the Unitarians, they were by far the most progressive.
Once, at a student leadership meeting in 2010, one of the students made an announcement about the men’s group breakfast the following weekend. “So, if you like Canadian bacon and don’t have a uterus, you’re welcome to come.” In three years’ time, in that same community—a community that would invite “all female and female-identifying persons” to attend women’s group meetings—this comment would have been viewed as terribly transphobic. But in 2010, no one even batted an eye—in the most progressive and social justice-conscious religious community on a very liberal campus.
The speed of this change means that a lot of people are still catching up to the understandings of gender and how it differs from sex and biology. But it also means that even for well-meaning older folks, there are different obstacles that are hard to eradicate in quick order. Continue reading “The Fault Is in Our Grammars: Language, Gender, and Pronouns”
There’s an old joke that goes something like this:
Continue reading “Ending a Sentence with a Preposition”
Some cowboys are mingling at the bar when an Oxford graduate walks in. “Howdy, stranger,” one cowboy says. “Where are you from?”
The Oxford graduate answers, “I come from a place where we do not end our sentences with a preposition.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” replies the cowboy. “Where are you from, jackass?”
Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before!Star Trek, 1966–1969
With these words a new era in science-fiction was launched, and the mission not only of the Enterprise but of an entire franchise was declared.
But these words also irritated an awful lot of grammar purists.
“To boldly go?” they objected. “That’s a split infinitive. That’s bad grammar!”
But why? What is so wrong with saying to boldly go? To understand that, you have to understand something about the history of English. Continue reading “To Boldly Split Infinitives”
Unlike many of the so-called “grammar rules” that are really style rules, the rule against dangling participles is a good one.
A Dangling What, Now?
A participle is a verbal adjective that comes in two main varieties: the present participle, usually formed with -ing, and the past participle, usually formed with -ed. These verbal adjectives generally function the way other adjectives do:
- The flowing water pours out of the fountain.
- The disrespected attorney lost his practice.
In addition, participles can head a phrase that modifies a noun in a sentence:
Continue reading “Don’t Dangle that Participle”
- I saw the dog running down the street.
- She hit the car parked in the driveway.
- Sitting in the park, I awaited my true love.
- Beaten back by the revolutionaries, the army fled the field.
If you’ve been on social media at all and paid attention to grammar arguments, you may have seen a lot of discussion about the Oxford comma and whether writers need to use it.
The Oxford comma—or serial comma—is the comma that appears before the final item in a series, such as:
- The colors of the American flag are red, white, and blue.
- The most popular pizza toppings are pepperoni, mushrooms, and olives.
Some people insist that this final comma is unnecessary and that those sentences are just as intelligible if written:
Continue reading “Do I Need to Use the Oxford Comma?”
- The colors of the American flag are red, white and blue.
- The most popular pizza toppings are pepperoni, mushrooms and olives.
Pronouns have gotten a lot of attention lately, primarily because they have been brought to the forefront of efforts to create more inclusive language.
Those wishing to create welcoming spaces for transgender individuals will include their preferred pronouns when introducing themselves. “Hi, I’m Jamal, my pronouns are he/him,” someone might say. This is done to create a space where someone else might introduce themselves as “Jackie, pronouns they/them.”
I have written elsewhere that it can be hard for older English speakers to hear the word they as applying to a specific, defined individual. Nevertheless, the use of they to refer to a singular individual is nothing new—and nothing to fear. Continue reading “Singular “They” Is Not the End of the World”
No one disputes that good writing has to have good grammar. But what do we mean when we say “grammar”? It may not be what we’re used to thinking it is.
Take, for example, the following pairs of sentences. In each pair, make note of which one is grammatical.
- Who are you going to the dinner with?
- With whom are you going to the dinner?
- He wanted to completely destroy the enemy city.
- He wanted to destroy the enemy city completely.
- A writer should trust their instincts when composing an essay.
- A writer should trust his or her instincts when composing an essay.
- And so, we find that we are tempted to edge closer and closer to absolute certainty in doctrine, belief, and ideology. But is such certainty even possible?
- We find that we are tempted to edge closer and closer to absolute certainty in doctrine, belief, and ideology. Is such certainty even possible?
Continue reading “Grammar versus Style”
- Who would be willing to give that up? Not me.
- Who would be willing to give that up? I would not be willing to do so.
One of the great benefits of the internet age is that it is text-driven: emails, text messages, social media, and on and on. People are reading and writing more than ever.
But the quality of the writing hasn’t necessarily increased with the quantity. When everyone can publish without restriction, there will be a lot of poorly written content available. Otherwise good ideas can get lost in a sea of jumbled words and phrases.
Good writing and clear communication are essential if you want to stand out and be recognized. Your ideas will draw more attention and earn more respect when they are presented in ways that are easy to understand and remember.
An editor can help you with your writing not only by spotting the obvious grammatical and typographical errors but by helping to improve the flow and the clarity of your writing. An editor can help a writer avoid common writing pitfalls and enable the text to shine.
If you would like to improve your writing, Schaefer Wordsmithing can help you.