Clear written communication is important for everyone, no matter what college or career path you choose. Mistakes with punctuation, spelling and grammar could lower school grades and limit career growth. Exceptional writing skills will carry you through life, opening doors and accurately conveying your thoughts, feelings and knowledge to others.
Although we all know the “I” before “E” except after “C,” rule, most students of higher learning, as well as many adults, don’t know the following basic spelling rules:
Words Ending with E or Y:
- When adding a suffix that starts with a vowel, such as “ing,” to a word ending in “E,” drop the “E,” as in rope to roping.
- When adding an ending to a “Y” word with a consonant before “Y,” change it to “I,” as in carry to carried.
- When ending with a vowel and “Y,” most words can remain the same when adding “ed” or “ing,” such as stay, to stayed or staying.
Q and X:
- The letter “Q” is always followed by “U,” as in queen
- “S” never comes directly after “X” without adding an “E,” as in fox to foxes
- The trouble with English spelling rules is that there is always an exception. For this reason, always look up a word in a dictionary
- Spellcheckers don’t always find mistakes in words like, “their,” “they’re” and “there” or “your” and “you’re”
- One way to illustrate this disparity is with the sound, “sh,” which is found in, but not limited to:
Show, Ocean, National, Sugar, Mansion, Passion, Fuchsia, Suspicious.
Although most students in college or high school know the basic grammar rules, these are the ones they break the most:
Passive Vs. Active Voice: Make the subject of the sentence carry out the action instead of being the subject that the action happens to:
- Wrong: My dinner was eaten.
- Right: I ate my dinner.
- If you can add “by zombies” at the end, it’s passive voice!
Comparisons: It is only possible to compare things that are the same:
- Wrong: The laws in America are more lenient than England
- Right: The laws in America are more lenient than the laws in England
Misplaced Modifiers: These are descriptive words or phrases that need to be beside the word they modify to avoid confusion
- Wrong: He served hotdogs to his guests from the grill.
- Right: He served hotdogs from the grill to his guests.
- Who or what is from the grill? The guests or the hotdogs?
Subject-Verb Agreement: Keeping tenses straight will help your subject and verb agree:
- Wrong: Each of the women in the class were nurses.
- Right: Each of the women in the class was a nurse.
Parallel Construction: Two or more concepts in one sentence that are parallel should be the same in grammatical style:
- Wrong: To provide farming tools to the village is like building their future.
- Right: Providing farming tools to the village is like building their future.
Pronouns: Should agree with and refer directly to a noun whether it is singular or plural:
- Wrong: My English professor talks loud, but they also talk way too fast.
- Right: My English professor talks loud, but he also talks way too fast.
- Avoid confusion by separating introductory and independent clauses and words from the rest of a sentence, making them easier to comprehend.
- Separate lists of three to four items, free modifiers, quotations and phrases from the rest of a sentence, with the exception of clauses that begin with the word, “that”.
Colons and Semicolons:
- If the first part of a sentence can stand by itself, use in the following: research papers, essays and formal letters.
- If you use a semicolon; whatever follows must be capable of standing alone
- Indicate possessive nouns, such as Jean’s bike
- Replace missing letters in contractions, like “He’s funny.”
- When a plural word ends in “S,” put the apostrophe after the “S,” as in the Smiths’ house or bananas’ peels
- Never use apostrophes to indicate plurals: “list of tasks” is not “list of task’s” or “choice of sodas” is not “choice of soda’s”
- Show quotes or reference terms, such as:
- “I lost my tooth,” said the child.
- The term “astronomy” means the study of stars.
- Require commas to introduce quotes, “like this.”
- Uppercase the first word in a full quotation, such as, “Life is short.”
Dashes and Hyphens:
- Em-dashes are longer and more casual in use than the shorter en-dash
- En-dashes show ranges of numbers or time and reads as “to” or “through,” like chapters 3-8 or from May-September
- Use both sparingly and only when a comma can’t do the job
- To join words like eco-friendly or time-sensitive, use a hyphen
- Before using one for the first time in a piece, write out the full word with the acronym in parenthesis, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); thereafter, just use the letters, as in FBI
English spelling, grammar and punctuation is difficult to master, because it is in constant flux as usage changes and the language evolves. Yet practice makes it easier. Following these simple rules will help your written communication be easier to read and your message clearer.
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