Tag Archives: Writing tips

Grammar Hammer: Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda

the Grammar Hammershould-of-could-have

I grew up in a southern West Virginia and heard phrases like “would of went” and “should of went” all the time. Thanks to my late grammarian grandfather, The Colonel, those phrases never made it into my vernacular. I heard “would of went” as recent as a few weeks ago listening to a group of adults discuss a recent happy hour. I winced and kept walking. There are two major grammatical problems with that phrase.

“Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda” are actually slang for the contractions “should have,” “would have,” and “could have.” I think the confusion starts with how things sound when you’re speaking.

“I shoulda called my sister last night.”

The “uh” sound gets misinterpreted for “of” instead of the contraction for “have.” I have yet to find any grammatical construction that supports “should of,” “would of,” or “could of” (and let’s go ahead and add “must of” to that list).

If we dig a little deeper, “should ___” requires a verb in the blank. “Have” is an auxiliary verb and should be used with should, would, could, might, must, and may. “Of” is a preposition.

What we’re trying to communicate here with our modal verbs (shoulda, woulda, coulda) is the correct from of the verb “go,” which is an irregular verb. Let’s conjugate, because it’s all about the participles.

Indicative

  • Present: I go.
  • Past: I went.
  • Future: I will go.
  • Perfect: I have gone.
  • Pluperfect: I had gone.
  • Future perfect: I will have gone.

Subjunctive

  • Present: I go. / I have gone.
  • Imperfect: I went.
  • Pluperfect: I had gone.

Conditional

  • Present: I would go.
  • Perfect: I would have gone.

Instead of saying, “I would of went,” or even “I would have went,” we now know that the correct phrase is “I would have gone.”

When you decide which modal verb you’re going to use, remember that the modal verb will give you more information about the function of the main verb it governs. “I should have called my sister last night.” “I would have gone to happy hour if you had called me before I fell asleep.”

And, finally, “I could have gone on and on about this topic, but I figure you have the gist of it by now.”

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at catherine.spicer@prnewswire.com.

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.

Grammar Hammer: March Forth on March 4th to Speak Well, Write Well, and Help Others Do the Same!

National Grammar Day

For my fellow grammarians and word nerds, March 4th marks what should be a national holiday for us. National Grammar Day was established in 2008 by Martha Brockenbough, founder of the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar (SPOGG). I started writing posts for Grammar Hammer in late-2012, and March 4th has a permanent place on my calendar as a day to celebrate my obsession with grammar rules.

Why is it so fun to celebrate National Grammar Day? I don’t remember ever having this much fun diagramming sentences in grade school. Now that I’m older, I can take advantage of this day to make myself a Grammartini, read some Grammar Noir, or make up a grammar haiku or two. Last year, Arika Okrent won the National Grammar Day Tweeted Haiku Contest with this brilliant entry:

I am an error

And I will reveal myself

After you press send

Truer words have never been written. The American Copy Editors Society is

My favorite grammatical error found at a local gas station

My favorite grammatical error found at a local gas station

sponsoring the 2014 contest and will announce the winner on March 4th. Okrent is one of the judges for this year’s contest.

In celebration of National Grammar Day, I will be listening to the Grammar Hall of Shame Legacy Playlist and finding all the grammatical mistakes I can in each song. I’m always on the lookout for typos in public places.

I encourage all of you to march forth and celebrate National Grammar Day.

 

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore?  Drop me a line at catherine.spicer@prnewswire.com.

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.

Grammar Hammer: When Do You Imply or Infer?

Imply_Infer-e1331580516953I always consider the words “imply” and “infer” as the ability to “get the hint.”

I was having dinner with some friends one night. At the end of our meal, the host excused himself from the table and left for a few minutes. When he returned, he had changed into his pajamas and was walking through the house, flossing his teeth. I inferred it was time to say goodnight to my host and head home for the evening. I got the hint. Granted, that wasn’t a very subtle hint, but nevertheless, I got it. If I was trying to wrap up an evening (i.e., I’m tired and ready for everyone to leave), I would have opted for a more subtle approach. I would have started yawning, implying that I was beyond tired and hoping everyone got the hint that it was time to say goodnight. I’d wait until everyone left before changing into my jammies.

Are infer and imply interchangeable if the intended meaning is whether or not you “get the hint?” Once again, we look at the common vernacular, and it is increasingly accepted either way. But, that’s not the point of this post, is it? This is why we fight.

To imply is to indicate or suggest without being explicitly stated (using my example above, I’m tired, so I start yawning a lot to subtly state that I’m ready for you to leave so I can to go to sleep).

To infer is to derive by reasoning; conclude or judge from premises or evidence (my host left the dinner table and changed into his PJ’s – time to go).

Here are a couple of quick tips to help you keep these two straight:

  1. Writers or speakers imply. Listeners or readers infer.
  2. A circle of communication has three parts – sender, message, and receiver. The sender can imply, but only the receiver can infer.

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at catherine.spicer@prnewswire.com.

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.

Grammar Hammer: Whether You Like it or Not

Today’s burning grammar question – are “if” and “whether” interchangeable? If (2)Let’s consider the possibilities:

The easy part

Use “if” in a conditional sentence and “whether” when you are offering options.

RIGHT: We’ll be able to make it to the football game if it stops raining by noon.

RIGHT: We’ll go to the football game whether it rains or not.

Now, the tricky part

Which word would you choose for these examples?

Example #1: She didn’t know if/whether her test scores were high enough in order to secure a scholarship.

Example #2:  I couldn’t remember if/whether I paid the lawn service bill.

In both of these cases, either word is correct. “If” or “whether” can be applied interchangeably for indirect questions (example #1) or yes/no questions (example #2).

Finally, the grammar geek part

Use “whether”:

  • After prepositions
  • Before infinitives
  • When the sentence contains a two-part option
  • If the alternatives lead the sentence

EXAMPLE: Whether or not I’ve saved enough money, I’m going to Paris next spring.

If this helps, remember that using “if” introduces one condition and “whether” introduces alternative possibilities.

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at catherine.spicer@prnewswire.com.

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.

Grammar Hammer: More Than vs. Over

via Dee Ann Adams

via Dee Ann Adams

In a really great article published on Mediabistro, author Shawn Paul Wood narrows down the top five grammar issues that PR people still can’t agree upon. The one I find most peeve-inducing is the difference between “more than” vs. “over.” Just as Wood explained, I’d always learned that “more than” refers to quantities and “over” when it comes to spatial relationships. But according to my research, there is no hard and fast rule that fully sets the record straight.

My first line of defense is my handy-dandy AP Stylebook.  It says, “See over” when I look up “more than.” When I look up the word “over” in the AP Stylebook, it says is “generally refers to spatial relationships,” but then offers the encouragement to “let your ear be your guide.”

If I’m letting my ear be my guide, I would never refer to my age as being “more than …” (come on, a lady never reveals her age). Let’s just say I’m “over 29” and be done with it.  I would also never say I have “over 10 gray hairs” (which reminds me I need to schedule a much-needed appointment so I can cover up the more than 10 gray hairs I may or may not admit to having).

For as many references that I can find listing out the above rule (“more than” for numbers, “over” for spatial relationships), there are just as many that say it’s a  style preference.  I leave it to you, dear reader, to consult your favorite style guide (and your ear) to determine which word is best for the context and content that you are carefully crafting.

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at catherine.spicer@prnewswire.com.

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.

Grammar Hammer: Why Would a Good Man Such As Yourself Do a Thing Like That?

Why would a good manThis week’s topic explores the proper use of “like” versus “such as.” While we love to pepper our sentences with this classic crutch word, grammatically speaking, there is a very specific time and place for like.

For those about to take the GMAT, this little tidbit will help you get at least one question right. The technical use of the word “like” should be used for comparison, NOT for examples. An example should be introduced by “such as.”

Example: Cathy plays several musical instruments such as the flute, the piano, and the kazoo.

In this example, I’m telling you specific examples of instruments I play. Technically, if I said I played instruments like the flute, the piano and the kazoo, you could speculate as to what type of instrument is “like” a flute (pan flute, recorder, tin whistle), a piano, and a kazoo.

Outside of the GMAT world, though, the big grammatical sticking point is becoming all but obsolete. Follett said in Modern American Usage (1966) that “such as” leads the mind “to imagine an indefinite group of objects” while “like” suggests “a closer resemblance among things compared.”

In layman’s terms, test-takers should remember this:

  • Use “like” when emphasizing similar characteristics.
  • Use “such as” when introducing examples.

For the rest of us in the English-speaking world, there isn’t much distinction between using “like” and “such as” in a casual setting. Therefore, consider the context and if a more formal tone is needed, and you need to show an example of how the shoe fits, use “such as.” Otherwise, I don’t think you’ll confuse or offend anyone if you continue to use “like.”

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at catherine.spicer@prnewswire.com.

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.

Grammar Hammer: Hypothetically Speaking…

Image via Screened

It’s not often that we get into science when we start talking about writing. So, this week, we’ll delve into a little geek-speak and look at the differences between hypothetical things and theoretical things.

Hypothetical refers to things that are “assumed by hypothesis; of, pertaining to, or characterized by hypothesis; given to making hypotheses.” The fourth definition involves the principles of logic of either a highly conjectural/not well supported by available evidence proposition or a conditional proposition.

Theoretical refers to something that is “of, or pertaining to, or consisting in theory.” Theories are a coherent group of tested general propositions, commonly regarded as correct.

Here’s the kicker – theory/hypothesis; hypothetical/theoretical – the dictionary lists them as SYNONYMS. Sigh, ok, so what’s a well-meaning word nerd to do? Common usage has these two words being fairly interchangeable when considering something “speculative.”

“Hypothetically, if I run 10 miles a day, I’ll lose weight.”

“Theoretically, if I run 10 miles a day, I’ll lose weight.”

If I run 10 miles a day, I’ll lose weight – is that a theory (tested general proposition, commonly regarded as correct) or a hypothesis (a proposition set forth as an explanation for the occurrence of some specified group of phenomena)? Remember that a theory started out as a hypothesis, and through proven experiments, became a fully-tested theory. A hypothesis starts out as an educated guess on what we think will happen. Proving ourselves right or wrong will take that hypothesis to a theory.

My #1 writing tip is to always consider your audience. If I’m writing for a scientific journal, I’m going to make darn sure that I’ve got my hypotheses and theories in separate corners and dragging them out in appropriate context, lest I be raked over the coals by someone with multiple advanced degrees and published works on a particular theory.  In less formal writing, I don’t know that anyone else would really know the difference.

Quick recap:

  • Educated guess? Hypothesis.
  • Proven and generally accepted as true? Theory.

This topic came up as we were trying to troubleshoot a technical issue, so it is really interesting to look at this in that context. When asked if the fix we were trying to put in would work, should we have said, “Theoretically, yes.” or “Hypothetically, yes.”?

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at catherine.spicer@prnewswire.com.

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire and will probably never run 10 miles a day, ever.