Writing with style



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Phrases

A phrase is a group of related words that work together as a single part of speech. It is not a clause because it lacks a subject and/or predicate:

Under the old refrigerator,… Running from the Energizer Bunny…

Essential and Nonessential Clauses and Phrases


Essential or “restrictive” clauses and phrases cannot be removed from a sentence without changing its meaning. They usually begin with that or who.
Horses that are overly nervous are usually not good for trail riding.

Carla Davis is the only senior who won scholarships to four colleges.


Nonessential or “nonrestrictive” clauses and phrases add information, but they are not necessary to the meaning of the sentence. They are set off by commas and usually begin with which, whom, or whose:
The new Stallone movie, which has a great soundtrack, starts this weekend.

Joe, whom I love like a brother, is moving away tomorrow.




CONSTRUCTING SENTENCES




Subject (Write for College 807-808)

Predicate




Sentence beginnings

Vary your sentence beginnings to add style to your writing. Try writing some sentences beginning with each of the following:


Adjective: word(s) that describe a noun:

Small and green, the turtle stood looking at the audience.

Exhausted, the rabbit fell across the finish line thirty minutes after the turtle.
Adverb: word(s) that describe a verb:

Boisterously, the crowd yelled for David Bowie to get the show started.

Indignantly and arrogantly, the tabby cat turned her back on the cat show.


Hint: Use a comma after a long introductory prepositional phrase (four or more words).



Prepositional phrase: a phrase that contains a preposition (at, on, over, through, under, between, etc.) and the object of the preposition:

During the summer my brother skateboards everyday.

In another nine months, the dude will get his driver’s license.
Participial phrase: Since a participle is a verb that can function as an adjective (e.g., melting ice cream), a participial phrase is one that consists of a participle and its modifiers and complements:

P
Hint: A dangling participle occurs when it’s unclear to the reader what the participle modifies. To avoid this, keep the participial phrase and the noun it modifies together.
resent:
Looking for his mother, the toddler scooted under the clothes rack.

Remembering that she had a child, Bertha searched the store for her son.
Past: Exhausted from doing sit-ups, the flabby senior collapsed on the sofa.

Purchased just a few days ago, his gold class ring flashed in the sun.
Adverb clause: a dependent clause (subject and verb that can’t stand alone) that describes how, what, where, when, or why. It always begins with a subordinating conjunction (after, although, as before, when, where, while, etc.):

Before she could give her speech, Clara fell off the stage.

While the paramedics came, they resuscitated her.
Appositive phrase: a noun and its modifiers that stand beside another noun to explain or identify it:

An innocent bystander, Martin gasped at the crime he witnessed.

A red Mustang, my sister’s car was hit by a speeding vehicle of joy riders.

SENTENCE TYPES

Use a variety of sentence types to add style to your writing.


Simple sentences contain just one independent clause:

I hate spiders.


Compound sentences contain two or more independent clauses that are joined by a semicolon or a comma and a coordinating conjunction like and:

I hate spiders; tarantulas are the worst.

I hate spiders, but I do not mind snakes.
Complex sentences contain an independent clause (underlined) and one or more dependent clauses (italicized):

Although I do not mind snakes, I hate spiders.
Compound-complex sentences contain two or more independent clauses (underlined) and one or more dependent clauses (italicized):

Although I hate spiders, I do not mind snakes, and I like lizards.


SOLVING WRITING PROBLEMS



Run-ons and Fragments

Avoid fragments and run-ons, including comma splices.


A fragment is a group of words written as a sentence but missing a subject, a verb, or some other essential part. The missing element causes it to be an incomplete thought:

Fragment: Mark Twain said that at the age of fourteen. He was convinced that his parents were among the stupidest people on the face of the earth. (This is a fragment followed by a sentence. Correct it by combining the fragment with the sentence.)

Sentence: Mark Twain said that at the age of fourteen he was convinced that his parents were among the stupidest people on the face of the earth.
Fragment: When he reached twenty-one. (This clause does not convey a complete thought. What happened when he was twenty-one?)

Sentence: When he reached twenty-one, he was amazed at how much they had learned in only seven short years.
A run-on sentence is the result of two sentences run together without adequate punctuation or a connecting word:

Run on: Smoke started billowing from under a Rolls Royce in Beverly Hills then the driver doused the flames with a bottle of Evian water.

Correct: Smoke started billowing from under a Rolls Royce in Beverly Hills; then the driver doused the flames with a bottle of Evian water. (Semicolon has been added.)
A comma splice is a sophisticated kind of run-on sentence in which two sentences are connected (“spliced”) with only a comma. A comma is not strong enough to connect two independent clauses; a period, semicolon, or conjunction is needed:
Splice: The two teams faced off, neither one could make any yardage.

Correct: The two teams faced off, but neither one could make any yardage.

(Conjunction has been added.)
Splice: My brother just got his senior yearbook, he was voted “most likely to have his picture in the yearbook again next year.”

Correct: My brother just got his senior yearbook. He was voted “most likely to have his picture in the yearbook again next year.”

(Comma has been changed to a period.)


S
A semicolon is often the best way to correct a comma splice.
plice:
Our Boy Scout leader said that if we get lost in the woods at night, we should get our bearings from the sky, a glow will indicate the nearest shopping center.

Correct: Our Boy Scout leader said that if we get lost in the woods at night, we should get our bearings from the sky; a glow will indicate the nearest shopping center.

(Comma has been changed to a semicolon.)


VERB PROBLEMS



Shifts in Tense

Avoid unnecessary shifts in tense of verbs. Switching back and forth between present, past, and/or future tense creates an awkward and confusing effect. Stick to the tense you start with unless there is an excellent reason for changing:


Wrong: The disc jockey reads the dedication but failed to play the song.
present past

Right: The disc jockey read the dedication but failed to play the song.

past past


When writing about literature, generally stick with the present tense:

In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain presents a nostalgic tale of boyish adventure along the Mississippi River. In one scene Tom Sawyer tricks his friends into whitewashing the fence, and moreover they agree to pay him for doing his chore.

When writing about history, stick with past tense:

Mark Twain wrote Tom Sawyer after the Civil War, but he set the story before the war.



Subject and Verb Agreement

Make sure that a verb agrees with its subject (singular or plural):

A young woman lives next door. Young women live next door.

Singular subject and verb Plural subject and verb


Hint: Do not be confused by other words coming between the subject and the verb:

The student as well as her parents is invited to honors night.



singular subject singular verb

Use a plural verb with compound subjects connected with and:

Making the soccer team and keeping up my grades are my two highest priorities.
Use a singular verb with these singular indefinite pronouns: either, neither, one, everybody, another, anybody, everyone, nobody, everything, somebody, and someone:

Everybody is going to the dance after the game.

Either Joe or Sal is giving me a ride home at 11 p.m.

Hint: Do not be confused by other words coming between the pronoun and the verb:

Each of the three girls is planning to buy a new outfit for the dance.

singular pronoun singular verb

Some other indefinite pronouns (all, any, half, most, none, and some) may be either singular or plural depending on the meaning of the sentence:



Some of the show was hilarious. Some of the actors were hilarious.

All of the homework seems simple. All of the exercises seem simple.

Half of the popcorn was gone. Half of the cokes were gone.


When the subject follows the verb, as in questions and in sentences beginning with here and there, be careful to find the subject and make sure that the verb agrees with it:

There are many hardworking students on the honor roll this semester.



plural verb plural subject


Active and Passive Voice

F


Hint: Any form of the helping verb be (be, am, is, are, was, were, being, been) is a clue that your sentence may be written in passive voice.

To change to active voice, begin with the person or thing doing the action.


or a stronger writing style, use active verbs, whenever you can, rather than passive verbs. With passive verbs the subject of the sentence is the receiver of the action; passive verbs make writing slow moving and impersonal.
Passive: The island was deluged by a hurricane.

Active: A hurricane deluged the island.
Passive: A dangerous rescue was made by volunteers after dark, but no sharks were encountered.

Active: Volunteers made a dangerous rescue after dark but encountered no sharks.


PRONOUN PROBLEMS



Pronoun Agreement

Make sure that a pronoun agrees with its antecedent. The antecedent is the noun (or pronoun) that the pronoun refers to or replaces:

When Matilda dances, she makes the whole dance floor sway and bounce.

antecedent pronoun
Use a singular pronoun to refer to such antecedents as each, either, neither, one, anyone, anybody, everyone, everybody, somebody, another, and nobody:

Everybody must learn how to turn his car alarm off.

Either Sue or Jane needs to let me borrow her vocabulary book.

Hint: Often an error in pronoun agreement is made to avoid sexism. When pronouns such as a person or everyone are used to refer to both sexes or either sex, you should either offer optional pronouns or rewrite the sentence in the plural form:

Optional pronouns: Everybody must learn how to turn his or her car alarm off.

Plural form: People must learn how to turn their car alarms off.


Nominative and Objective Cases of Pronouns

Use the nominative case when the pronoun describes the subject of a clause. Usually the nominative pronoun describes who or what is doing the action. The following are nominative: I, you, he, she, it, we, they, who, whoever.


I wish that he had a new glove.

They need to get one for him before the next game.

Otherwise Steve and he are going to warm the bench.

Who can pick out one without a hole in it?


Use the objective case when the pronoun describes the direct or indirect object of the sentence, in other words, when it describes who or what is receiving the action. An objective pronoun should also be used within a prepositional phrase when the pronoun is the object of the preposition. The following are objective pronouns: me, you, him, her, it, us, them, whom, whomever.

Throw the ball to her; she’s open. (Her is the indirect object of the verb throw.)

My dad is taking my brother and me to practice.

(Brother and me are direct objects of the verb is taking.)

Dwayne sat behind Norman and us.



(Norman and us are the objects of the preposition behind.)

We did not hear whom the coach had named.



(Whom is the direct object of the verb had named.)


Hint: To test whether to use I or me in a compound subject or object, try the sentence with only the pronoun to see which one fits.

Sally and (I/me) went to the movies after work.

(When I take away the phrase Sally and, I realize that I fits best.)

Robert is planning to meet Sally and (I/me) there.

(When I take away the phrase Sally and, I realize that me fits best.)





Clear Pronoun Reference

Avoid ambiguous references that occur when the pronoun could refer to more than one antecedent:

Joe is a big Bugs Bunny fan; he (?) taught me everything I know about comedy.

(Which one taught me about comedy, Bugs Bunny or Joe?)
Avoid confusing general references by always following such words as this or that with a noun:

Confusing: The Padres won their game last night even though Tony Gwynn struck out. That could be the turning point of the season.

Clear: That game could be the turning point of the season.


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writingwstyle -> Writing with style

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