Common English Writing Mistakes

One thing that writing on this blog is reminded me of, is my complete lack of knowledge of the rules of grammar. Frankly, I have been writing for work and for fun without having any idea of what is right or wrong, just writing in the way that I think sounds correct. It’s not that I haven’t had the opportunity to learn proper grammar and I do not fault those in my educational process for not trying. I have no one else to blame other than myself because when it came to grammar for some reason I tuned it out or it just didn’t click.

So hopefully as you read this blog you’re not doing so with a critical eye, looking for perfection in writing. You are deathly not going to find it here. But I will say that is one of my goals in writing more often, is trying to improve upon my skills. Recently I came across an article that pointed out some common mistakes that people make when writing online that make them look less than intelligent. I thought that was a little extreme, but the point is true. Here are those listed in the article (that you can read great examples of by visiting)

  • Your vs. You’re ““ know when you’re using the possessive versus the contraction
  • It’s vs Its ““ again contraction versus possessive
  • There vs Their ““ are you going there or says something they own?
  • Affect vs Effect ““ I will admit this is a tough one for me, I always seem to forget which is which

Here also are a few that I have found common that hopefully if you make these mistakes by bringing them up I’d help you correct a bad habit.

Misuse of the Apostrophe
We often use contractions in the way we speak in fact we use them a lot, but that does not mean we have to use it so much in writing. Here again, I admit that because I write so informally on this blog, I often end up using contractions perhaps more than I would like to admit. Lately, because I am using a voice to text software to help me write quicker, I find that I am using even more contractions because I am speaking my thoughts rather than typing them. This is something I am putting a little effort into to try and change. Contractions are not necessarily evil, but when we use the apostrophe we need to make sure we are in fact using it correctly. I find that many people will use an apostrophe to indicate the plural of something which is incorrect and end up making a word possessive when it shouldn’t be.

Quotations And Punctuation
First off, I dislike it when people over quote things. In fact, I find that many people who use air quotes when they speak are the same people that over-quote things when they write. That point aside, I am always troubled with remembering the right way to deal with punctuation when quotes appear at the end of a sentence. For some reason, I remember or at least think I remember that there was one set of grammar rules that said you put the period at the end of a sentence inside the quotes and another set of rules that said you put it on the outside. From what I have seen, it is more accepted these days to have the period inside the quotes. Were I am faced with a dilemma is when I am quoting something that needs to be specifically typed with what appears inside the quotes, and specifically without a period in it, such as any username, password or website address. So rather than deal with looking like I don’t know my punctuation, a usually end up reforming the sentence or paragraph to try and express the same intent but in a way that doesn’t have the quotes ending up at the end of the sentence.

Transpositions
This is just another fancy word for typos. There are so many common ones that come from either typing fast or lazy fingers when you type that I can’t list them all. Here are a few though

  • form/from
  • for/fro
  • casual/causal
  • the/teh

As I said the list could be long but I point out some of these for specific reasons. With current technology, we have come to rely on spellchecking to try and make us look like we know what we’re doing. The problem is we have become lazy and just trust that the spellchecker is getting it right. The first three in my list are examples of how a spellchecker pilot something slide when it does not match our intended word. The last is a good example of words that have been because of our lazy fingers that we need to correct by simply rereading what we have written. Just those few extra seconds or perhaps minutes can go a long way to helping people take our written words more seriously.

So what are some of the common spelling or grammatical mistakes that you see as you traverse the grand World Wide Web? These can be things that you commonly see in forums which are inherently informal, or in the fast array of news sites out there that you may read? I ask this question for too self-serving reasons, 1) to invite comments and see what the readers of this blog think, and 2) to see if there are some spelling or grammatical pet peeves out there that I may do that I can correct.

So have at it, the floor is now yours.

The Show Must Go On!

Mary, the “mom”

People are upset and angry; they’re petitioning their representatives; they’re writing letters to the editor. Why? The choice for the 2009 high school play! A few weeks ago, the high school drama department announced that the 2009 play would be Rent: School Edition. My reaction went along the lines of “Cool, something different; a little edgy”. Boy, am I naïve! This week, our small town newspaper features a cover story about how upset people are and how they’re petitioning the school boards to prevent this play and a letter to the editor encouraging citizens to contact the high school and express their dismay.

I am well aware that I am a tad more liberal than the average middle-class suburbanite, even in New Jersey, but I just didn’t realize the extent of the divide. People are signing a petition because they are upset about high school kids being exposed to themes such as homosexuality, drug abuse, HIV/AIDS, promiscuity, etc. I, on the other hand, see only good from exposing them to these themes. Maybe they’ll be more tolerant of the peer who “comes out of the closet”, or more cognizant of the risk of AIDS/HIV and the dangers of promiscuity and drug abuse. I want my teenagers exposed to these themes, not sheltered from them. Am I off base? What does the rest of the family think?

Rach, the “older teen”

My high school did Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. The total body in our rendition of the play was well over ten. Ten high school students pretended to get murdered then eaten on stage. I was the stage manager, and we sold out almost every show. It was a hit, people loved it!

In case you don’t know, Sweeny Todd was a barber who killed people, then his girlfriend made them into meat pies – it’s a true story, he killed hundreds then fed them to fellow Londoners, but is significantly less famous than Jack the Ripper, who only killed five.

If my high school did Rent, there would be a lot of angry parents. I find this incredibly disturbing. Homosexuality, sex, and drugs are all considered less school appropriate than murder and cannibalism? That’s messed up. Being open and honest about sex and all types of sexuality is a good thing, murder is not. I believe that teens (and tweens) should be well educated (really educated, not just told to “say no”) about sexuality, pregnancy, and drugs.

Of course, I take a stand that most don’t seem to agree with. We let our kids watch the nightly news filled with murders, rapes, and fires – but we won’t let our kids watch movies that have naked people in them? Gosh, we sure live in a seriously messed up society.

Brad, the “dad”

This part of the family is sick-to-death-tired of people sticking their collective heads in the sand. “Exposing their children to homosexuality, drug abuse, HIV/AIDS, and promiscuity”? What, as they’ve never heard of these things before?

I admit we live in a far more urban, and some would say more ’sophisticated’ environment. To me, there’s nothing sophisticated about it. It’s just the world, and what with mass media, free and easy travel, and the global economy it seems to be pretty much the same all over. And I’ve had too many friends die of AIDS, seen too many have unwanted pregnancies and unhappy marriages, suffered from too many friends who’ve had drug problems or died of overdoses to think that avoiding “exposure” to any of the above, pretending to be unaware of them, would do anything but make matters worse. Ignorance does not breed anything but grief.

And they’re not too young. We weren’t “too young” thirty years ago when I was in high school; we just pretended we were. The first suicide I was ‘exposed’ to was back in high school. So were the first instances of promiscuity. And drug abuse. And alcohol abuse. And one of my best friends in high school “came out” in college, and two others died within the decade from HIV. Mostly because, you know, we didn’t TALK about “gay cancer” back then. And in this case, not talking about it killed them.

I know these people think that RENT somehow ‘celebrates’ these lifestyles simply by showing that some people who are gay or sick or making bad decisions still have some element of dignity and potential for happiness in the face of tragedy; that they have some fragment of hope in their lives despite everything. But RENT doesn’t make any of these challenges look particularly attractive. I can’t imagine anybody leaving the show and thinking, “Oh, boy, I sure wish that was ME!” So what’s the problem? That it’s not Annie? Or Sound of Music? No, wait, we can’t go there: Rodgers and Hammerstein might expose them to themes involving fascism, anti-authoritarianism, and people of other, less desirable, religious faiths.

Sheesh.

If you asked me, RENT shouldn’t just be allowed in your school. Attendance should be mandatory. And then they should take it on the road and bring it to OUR schools.

Sorry. That REALLY annoyed me. Probably because I’ve fought this same fight in middle schools and high school over and over and over. And like I said: I’m sick-to-death-tired of it.

Enjoy the show. It’s great.

Lauren, the “younger teen”

In EVERY high school, there are teens who are having sex, there are kids doing drugs, there are homosexual kids, and so on. (Gasp!). So, show teens how dangerous HIV/AIDS are and how important safe sex is. Let teens truly understand that there’s a reason that most drugs are illegal. Drugs are dangerous! Being homosexual is hardest during the teen years. Help those students understand they’re not alone. Doing a play is a much better way to teach these topics to teens rather than sitting in a stuffy health classroom. Also, it makes something very dangerous, such as AIDs, which most teens say “can’t happen to me”, more realistic.

Some parents know kids do these things but think “not my child”. Some parents are completely oblivious and think teens are innocent children. So many parents are unaware in one way or another of what’s going on in their teen’s life. So I think it’s the perfect play to help both the students and parents to understand and make them more aware.

Bedroom Wars

Mary, the “mom”

I’ve always tried to be consistent with my kids. I make my share of parenting mistakes, but my kids always know where I stand and what to expect from me. Except when it comes to the neatness, or shall I say, messiness, of their rooms. I just can’t seem to take a stand and stick to it. When they were younger, I made their beds and put away their laundry. I told them about it if they threw clothes on the floor, but I would pick them up. (I guess that’s where I went wrong.) As they grew, I realized that they needed to take some responsibility, so first I turned to make the bed over to them. Guess how often the beds get made. Then I found myself really busy and wondering why I was putting away laundry for three perfectly capable young people. Isn’t it enough that I wash it and fold it and deliver it to them? So, I turned that over to them. So now the older two only put their laundry away when an ultimatum is issued.

As for the overall neatness of the room, I’ve tried various approaches, all of which are variations of the concept that their rooms are their territory and their responsibility. Make as much of a mess as you want, but I’m not going to clean it up. I think that’s a great approach from the perspective that it puts the decisions and the consequences in their hands. Except, I just can’t stand it! I promise them it’s up to them and then I either go ballistic on them because their rooms are pigsties or refuse to even walk into their rooms because I can’t stand to see the mess, or not let them go somewhere until they straighten up, or I get really crazy and clean up their rooms myself (like I did last week).

Obviously, there is nothing consistent in my handling of this issue. And, I know in the grand scheme of things, clothes all over the floor isn’t such a big problem. But, it drives me crazy! So, “Dad”, how does your family handle the bedroom issue? Rach, help me out here – I know I’m driving my kids crazy. What’s a fair approach?

Brad, the “dad”

Ah, the ‘clean room’ thing. “Mom,” today I bring you a message of…well, utter hopelessness, with a little scootch of “don’t sweat the small stuff” right at the end.

We’ve been through it three times now, and we’re suffering through the third time now with The Elf, who I swear looks at me like I’m speaking Martian when I say, “clean your room.” “What?” her blank expression tells me. “What is this thing you call…’clean’? And I’m in a…what did you call it? ‘Room’? I don’t…”

We’ve had great success, I think — so far — in instilling a sense of fair play, compassion, empathy, and right action in our offspring. It’s borne us by their behavior on a daily basis, and I love them and am proud of them all the time. But not a single solitary strategy, tactic, approach, or manipulation ever made them clean their rooms. Not for more than a week. Not ever.

Leaving it alone until it’s a stinking pile of sticky-things doesn’t help. Doing it for them and hating yourself doesn’t help. Punishment, reward, lectures, grandparental intervention, weeping, shouting, and withholding everything from computer games to TV to locking them in with the stinking pile of etc. etc. … doesn’t work. Not more than once. And now that’s we’re lurching through the same challenge with the Elf as we have with the Other Ones, I’ve decided to do the one thing I haven’t tried before — the one thing that isn’t an actual felony, that is.

I’m giving up.

I visited our oldest daughter at her home recently. It was astonished at how reasonably clean and well-organized it was, and how she actually seemed to be doing her laundry and washing on regular basis. A few days later I visited the Valkyrie at college, and found her portion of the dorm room was neat as the proverbial pin, and that she had a drawer full of clean clothes she had actually — had actually (I’m sorry, I’m choking up a little here) — actually washed by herself. So in both cases, all those years of screaming and threatening and Sturm und Drang…well, it didn’t much matter. When the real rubber met the actual road, they responded to the deep-training that they received from the rest of the house and the rest of their lives to date. Turns out they take care of themselves just fine.

So in this one instance? I say let it go. Not a popular opinion, I know — not even in my own house — but if the kid is doing well in all the important areas, if he or she is treating other people well, staying away from the dangerous stuff, setting and achieving personal and family goals…then just let the room be the room, with all its issues of power-struggle, ownership, and territoriality, and only intervene in that last moment before the rats or the Health Department take over. In short: don’t sweat the small stuff, and you just might all survive to clean another day.

Rach, the “older teen”

My parents have never forced me to clean my room. They’ve asked me to tidy up when the company is coming over (so, when my grandparents take over my room), but other than that’s it’s always been up to me. So, when I was a kid my mom made my bed. Then when I was a young teen my room was piled with CDs and clothes. Now (as an older teen), my dorm room and my room at home are clean and mostly tidy. It makes a big difference in a small room.

I like what my parents did, they just kind of left it alone. Every once in a while they asked for me to be neat. I’ve always kind of got the feeling that they just don’t care about my room. I guess it really depends on how much you see the room. And how much you want it to be neat. If you make policy like they can’t go out (or have dessert, watch TV, play a video game) unless their room is spotless, and if you stick to that – then your kids will, hopefully, start keeping things a bit tidier.

I think a fair approach is to pick one. Does it make a huge difference to you? Then get a rule going. If it only kind of matters? Then don’t make a rule and ask for cleanliness every once in a while.

Lauren, the “younger teen”

Well, in my house, I am so clean that it really isn’t a problem. (I can’t even keep a straight face trying to type that since I am the exact opposite of clean!) The majority of teens have messy rooms, especially younger teens – that age group, for some odd reason, seems to be the worst in terms of room cleanliness. Somehow, it just doesn’t bother us, but parents (or at least my parents) it drives crazy! The only reason my room is ever even a little bit tidy is that my mom refuses to come in if it’s too messy. So, no matter what, there will be folded laundry in the basket (currently I am staring at 2 huge piles) that I haven’t put away and my desk always is cluttered, but if you catch me at the right time there might not be clothes spread out across my entire floor. I think pretty much all of my friends have messy rooms so it really isn’t a big deal in my mind, although my mom, I am sure, would beg to differ.

I think that our rooms are our own place to be a complete slob if we want to be. So, parents, I would just ignore them and let us throw our clothes across the room if we want to. Also, know that you’re certainly not alone, it’s not just your teen. So, when they say no one has clean rooms, they’re not exaggerating at all. Bottom line, you may have to just suck it up for these years and let your teen be themselves in their room. Remember, “Dad,” says it will get better when we’re older.

Love the Kid, Hate the Parents

Brad, the “dad”

The Elf is having a great time in her first month as a high school student. She’s even made a good new friend, and I’m happy about that – really I am. But just last week, at her first Back-to-School Night, I met the New Friend’s parents…

…and that’s when the trouble started.

I can’t stand them. Can’t STAND them. The way they treat their daughter, their opinions about the school, their politics – heck, their taste in clothing. From the moment I met them, it was one of those things, one of those vibes. I knew in an instant that this was not going to go well.

I managed to remain bland and non-committal throughout the conversation. I managed to dodge the invitation for a barbecue and I thank the gods of commuting that our carpool is already full. But here’s the question: how much should I trust the daughter? How much should I encourage (or discourage) this particular friendship? After all, if the parents are this repellent to me, how can they produce a truly healthy child? Shouldn’t I do my best to slowly, slowly ease the Elf away from this particular friend and towards someone more appropriate? More beneficial? Or at least one with parents I don’t want to throttle?

Or is it possible I’m just being a teeny bit selfish?

Mary, the “mom”

Don’t do it, “Dad”! Don’t discourage. Don’t ease the Elf away from New Friend. Let it be.

First, as we’ve talked about here before, it’s generally not a good idea to try and tell your kids who to be friends with. It often backfires. If you believed the friend herself was a bad influence, I might condone trying to ”ease away”, but it doesn’t sound like this is the case. On the other hand, you don’t have to encourage the friendship and you certainly shouldn’t subject yourself to her parents’ company, if you don’t want to.

Second, kids aren’t always a reflection of their parents. Sometimes, as parents, this bothers us. But, thinking about it from the perspective of the New Friend, I would have hated for someone to make judgments about me based upon their opinion of my father. There is no way anyone could divine anything about my beliefs and values from my father’s politics or how he dressed or even how he talked to me.

So, my advice is don’t discourage the friendship, but don’t encourage it either. And, try to give New Friend a chance. Maybe the Elf sees something you don’t because you couldn’t see past her parents.

Rach, the “teen”

I agree with “Mom” – don’t ween your daughter off this friend. You taught the Elf well, so she should be able to judge if the friend is a good addition to her growing army of teenage girls. Likewise, if this friend turns out to be iffy, she’ll know how to break it off.

Anyway, my parental units don’t know any of my friend’s parents. It’s not hard to avoid the friend’s un-cool parents. And if you really don’t want your daughter to be influenced by the friend’s parents, that’s easy: just get the friend to always hang at your house, and insist on you picking them up and dropping them off. More driving for you, but it might be worth it.

Don’t forget, everyone has messed up parents. And no one deserves to be judged by what their families are like.

In Too Much of a Hurry to Enjoy Life

In Too Much of a Hurry to Enjoy Life

Life is pretty busy these days, and I am as guilty as anyone at rushing through every day trying to accomplish as much as I can. Whether it be the work I do during the day, the projects I take on into the night, or the many activities and try to accomplish with my family, it seems I measure every day by how much have been able to get done during my waking hours. What has caused us to be in such a hurry? I do think computers have a lot to do with it, and the Internet has compounded it even more, begging us to multitask every minute of the day. Jobs expect more to get accomplished, and we try to manage conversations on the phone, instant messages being written, and reports being produced all at once. The fact that some of those chats are for fun, and that YouTube video in the background is not associated with work is beside the point. We try to consume as much information as possible, and more and more we stare at a screen for much of our day.

Now I know this is not the case for everyone, and I realize that I am on the computer far more every day than many people, but they are becoming more and more in the workforce like me. Whatever job you may do, we are seemingly always pressed for time or late for an appointment. As we rush through our day, are we simply and too much of a hurry to enjoy the journey?

In Too Much of a Hurry to Enjoy Life

This morning I found a link to a Washington Post article that discussed an experiment they made it speaks to this very fact. The Post engaged in a world-renowned violinist to play in the halls of a busy subway terminal in downtown Washington, DC. They speculated and asked others to speculate on what the results would be, whether people would stop and listen or hurry on their way. They went so far as to install a hidden camera to record the results as complex, beautiful music was played on a $3.5 million violin. Would the busybodies of that morning have their minds and souls pricked to the point that they would take a moment out of their busy day and rush to get to work to listen and appreciate this rare moment they were being presented with?

Now keep in mind the location they chose for their experiment was one that feeds into our nation’s capital, so likely the majority of the travelers that morning represent government workers; integral minds playing a role in running the systems that control our nation. These are people we would hope are better than the average at intellectual capacity, and therefore have a sense of life’s finer things and beauty. At least that is what I think.

Now of course I predisposed you to the outcome of this situation with my title to this article. With over a thousand people passing by during the 45-minute experiment, only a small handful chose to stop and listen even for a few minutes, and even fewer through a dollar or two into his open case which was presented for donations part of the experiment.

So I ask you, and myself, is this a sad commentary on the way we are treating our typical day in much of our lives? Are we in such a rush to accomplish things and is our need to be to her destination on time so important that we missed the small opportunities to appreciate the beauty around us? Do we let the drudgery of a daily routine turn us into robots such that we are unable to let the right side of our brain remain open and available? It is not every day that we have a virtuoso on the corner playing a complex musical solo, but there are many things that happen all around us that if it would stop and take a moment to enjoy them our lives would be enriched by that small break in our day.

In Too Much of a Hurry to Enjoy Life

Perhaps I’m waxing too philosophical at the point being made by this experiment provided by the Post, but I feel in reading this article I have had a small light bulb turn on my mind. Though it is difficult to measure these little things and enrich our lives, is what makes us who we are. That is hard to understand when getting the next project on or earning that extra dollar is much easier for us to measure and it affects us in a more outward way. But why is it that we work so hard? Is it not to provide the time and means to enjoy ourselves? We work so hard to accrue vacation days and the money to go on vacation and to splurge on those trips were gadgets or other things that bring us enjoyment.

Give the article a read, and one of the videos at least and see if it makes you stop and think as it did for me. If perhaps we were to focus just a little more on those little enjoyments we can get each and every day, perhaps we would be better, happier people for it. At least that’s my thought for the day, and that might to try and make that thought stick from this point forward.