Sentences with Objects

You know about the simple sentence (subject and predicate). Now we will add another element, a direct object (marked in blue).

The man wrote a letter.

The man (subject/noun) wrote (predicate/verb) a letter (direct object/noun).

The letter is the receiver of the action and answers the question “What?”

(What did the man write?)

Now we can add an indirect object (marked in red), which will answer the question “To whom?” or “For whom?”

Here are some other examples of direct objects (in blue) and indirect objects (in red).

The man wrote his girlfriend a letter.

He gave his guests the tour.

He bought his love a ring.

She paid him ten dollars.

Sometimes we want to say the same thing in a different way. By using a prepositional phrase (a group of words beginning with a preposition) we can substitute it for the indirect object by putting the phrase after the direct object. The prepositional phrase is marked in green.

“The man wrote his girlfriend a letter” becomes “The man wrote a letter to his girlfriend.”

“She paid him ten dollars” becomes “She paid ten dollars to him.”

“He bought his love a ring” becomes “He bought a ring for his love.”

You can recognize a prepositional phrase by the prepositions at the beginning.

Some prepositions are:

To, for, with, after, without, in, by, beside, among, when, at, over, beyond, through (and many others).

So there you are — direct objects, indirect objects, and prepositional phrases. You can add these to your list of “parts of speech.”

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Passive Verbs

Here are three sentence patterns. It is the third one that I’d like to talk about most today.

  1. We met this one in the previous post, basically the subject and the verb. We can add modifiers to make it more interesting.

The wintery sky changed dramatically.

  1. The subject, verb, and a direct object.

The dog bit his master.

  1. The subject and a passive voice verb (a verb that does not take a direct object. In fact, if we use sentence #2 as an example, the former object (the master) becomes the subject and the former subject (the dog) becomes the object. The passive verb tells us that something has been done to the subject.

Examples:

The master was bitten by the dog.

The house was built by the carpenter.

The car was driven by Anneli.

***Note that the passive voice (as in the examples above) is not usually the preferred choice for writers of novels. The active voice makes for much better drama. Consider these two ways of writing:

Passive:

The Corolla was driven up the new highway by Marlie. A bear was seen by her. The car was being parked at the side of the road by Marlie. The camera was picked up by her shaking hands. Just then, she was charged by the bear.

Active:

Marlie drove up the Corolla up the new highway. She saw a bear. Marlie parked the car at the side of the road. Her shaking hands picked up the camera. Just then, the bear charged her.

Conclusion:

The passive voice works well in some cases, and has its uses, but for the most part, the active verb form is better. In some cases, the passive verb form is best.

For example, we use the passive verb if something happened to someone but we don’t know who did it:

My neighbour was robbed.

The pedestrian was knocked over.

The money was taken.

Take care to check your verb forms and only use the passive form if it is called for. Needless use of the passive verb form takes the punch out of your writing.

Grammar – Sentences

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When we write, it is mainly to communicate, usually for business dealings, friendly greetings, or entertainment.

The main structure of our written language involves speaking or writing in sentences. Sometimes we can get away with using sentence fragments, a word or two to get the meaning across, or to emphasize something, but more often when we want no misunderstanding, especially in business, we use complete sentences.

With so many people texting, the use of conventional grammar and sentence structure is quickly falling away. Writing correctly is suddenly a bigger challenge than it once was.

I would like to offer a series of posts that discuss the use of “proper” grammar and sentence structure.

Today’s post is going to be simple, but we should start at the beginning.

What is a sentence?

We have sentences that serve various purposes.

Telling something or conveying an idea (declarative sentence):

My dog is a cocker spaniel.

Asking a question (interrogative sentence):

Do you like dogs?

Giving a command (imperative):

Feed my dog, please.

Expressing strong feeling (exclamatory sentence):

Watch out for the car!

 

In the declarative sentence we have two parts to the sentence; the subject and the predicate. The subject is either a noun or a pronoun (I, you, he, she, it, we, they), and the predicate is a verb.

Here are some examples. The subject is in red, and the predicate is in green.

Plants grow.

Children laugh.

They shout.

We run.

Those are pretty simple sentences. Often we use articles (a, an, the) in front of a noun. We also add modifiers to describe the nouns. These are called adjectives. Modifiers that describe the verb are called adverbs.

In the examples below, the adjectives will be blue and the adverbs will be orange.

The tropical plants grow vigorously.

The happy children laugh heartily.

 

More about sentence structure next time.

Your Reputation as a Writer

Are you a writer? Do you care about your writing?

Are you satisfied to publish your work for the world to see, when the quality of your writing is less than perfect? Sadly, some writers don’t care, but believe me, readers care.

Not many writers have flawless manuscripts.  Creativity and the mechanics of writing don’t always go together. Working with a good copy-editor  is essential.

I am a writer and a copy-editor–a good one, I think–and still, before I publish anything, I have another writer read my work and then I hire a copy-editor to read it again. I am always amazed at what they find.

I could read my own words over ten times and not see a mistake, but when I read someone else’s words, any mistakes would leap off the page at me. Why is that?

An author knows what their sentences are going to say. Our brain tricks us into thinking that those words are there, and, especially if we are reading silently, we tend to gloss over errors. When reading someone else’s work, we don’t know what is coming, so we see the mistakes more easily.

Why should you care if your writing is perfect or not?

Readers buy books expecting quality for the money they pay. As a writer, it is your obligation to give them your best.  It is a matter of pride and reputation. Do you want to be known as a good writer, or a sloppy one? Do you only want to publish a “one-hit wonder” and never write again? Would you want people to “wonder” why you bothered to publish that carelessly written “one hit”?

I’ve heard many readers say, “When I see one mistake, okay, I can overlook it, but when there is another and another, I lose track of the story and find myself just looking for that next mistake.” What a horrible thing for someone to say about your book. But so true!

When I skim over the first few pages of a book to see if I want to read it, I usually find bits of dialogue to see how that is written. If it has complicated dialogue tags, such as “inquired, responded, answered, replied, questioned,” and “shouted,” instead of “said” and “asked,” I move on to look for another book. Dialogue tags should be like punctuation–important, but not “in your face.”

I look for correct usage of ordinary words such as “its, it’s, your, you’re, their, there,” and “they’re.” I look for incorrect capitalization of “mom, dad, spring, summer, fall, winter, north, south, east, west, sir, madam, heaven, hell,” and many other words. (Note that “Mom and Dad” would be capitalized, but “my mom and my dad” would not be.)

In a short sample of writing, I can usually tell whether the work has been copy-edited or not.

Yes, it costs to have work copy-edited, but the price is not unreasonable. Your reputation hangs on the quality of your writing, and once the work is cleaned up, it will stay that way forever. Unedited work also stays that way and your damaged reputation as a careless writer could follow you around forever too.

Copy-editors  do much more than correct those examples I’ve given. They will check:

  • your sentences for balance to make sure your verbs match the subject
  • if you’ve omitted or repeated words or information
  • grammar
  • punctuation
  • spelling, including homonyms
  • hyphenation
  • capitalization
  • extra spaces
  • verb tense and usage, especially for problem verbs such as “lie, lay, laid, lain”
  • point-of-view errors
  • clichés, and many other errors you may have inadvertently made.

Please visit my website and click on the page for copy-editing if you are interested in having a few pages of your work copy-edited for free.

http://www.anneli-purchase.com

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Don’t Get Too Possessive!

When should you use an apostrophe?

More people overuse apostrophes than underuse them.

Often, I see apostrophes in words that are meant to be plural, but not possessive.

e.g. The photo’s look great.

It should say: The photos look great.

Sometimes  people use apostrophes with pronouns.

e.g.  her’s, it’s, our’s, their’s, who’s, your’s — these are all WRONG if you’re trying to show ownership. They should be written: hers, its, ours, theirs, whose, yours.

Be aware that apostrophes have two separate uses. One is for showing ownership, as in the cat’s whiskers. The other is to show that one or more letters have been taken out (contractions).

Some of the words can be confusing.

e.g. Let’s means let us, but if you meant to say that someone allows you do do something, it should be, “She lets me go to the movies.”  

Who’s means who is, but if you meant to ask who owns something, you would say, “Whose dog it that?”

And the most troublesome of all … it’s or its.

It’s means it is, but if you are attaching ownership, you would say, “The dog should pay attention to its master.”

There was a time when the general rule was to use apostrophes to show possession for people and animals (the dog’s fur, the lady’s hat), but to use “of” for inanimate things (the hood of the jacket, the eye of the needle), but this is now being disregarded in many cases. It seems to me that it’s perfectly acceptable to refer to “the car’s windshield” or “book’s cover.”

One of the most common errors I see is the use of an apostrophe  with decades.

e.g. The  Beetles were popular in the 1960s. There should be NO apostrophe.

But if you shorten the decades to refer to the ’60s. This apostrophe is correct because it shows that something has been left out — in this case,  the 19. Be sure that the apostrophe is turned to face the same direction as a comma (not as at the beginning of a quotation).

Placement: The apostrophe comes after the word that has the ownership. If it is a singular noun, then you would put the apostrophe after that noun. If it is a plural noun, then put the apostrophe after the end of that word.

e.g. This is the dog’s collar.

These are the dogs’ collars.

The use of apostrophes is more complex than one page  can do justice to, but consider this a beginner’s list of basic helpful hints.

Troublesome Expressions

As a copy editor, I come across many expressions that writers use incorrectly. The list of troublesome words and expressions could fill many pages, so I have chosen a few that many writers struggle with. I have not dealt with lay and lie, which are particularly problematic. These verbs have been dealt with in an article all to themselves under the title Lie, Lady, Lie.

Advice/advise

Advice is the noun. I give advice. Advise is the verb. I advise you to take my advice.

Affect, effect

Affect is the verb. Effect is the noun, but it can be used as a verb as well.

How does this change affect you?

What effect does it have on you?

By working together we can effect (bring about) some changes.

Aggravate

This word means to make worse, not to annoy or to anger.

Alright

The proper term is all right. I see alright used frequently, especially by American writers, but that spelling is best avoided.

Amount, number

Amount is for a mass. Number is for countable items.

Anyways, anywheres, everywheres, nowheres, somewheres

These are non-standard forms. Drop the “s.”

Awhile, abit, alot

Two words — a while, a bit, and a lot.

Between, among

Between is used with two people (This is between John and me). Among is used for three or more (We’ll divide the food among the townspeople).

Breath, breathe

Breath is the noun and breathe is the verb.

Someday, I will breathe my last breath.

Continual, continuous

Continual means again and again, while continuous means ongoing.

I could care less.

Usually the writer means the opposite of what this sentence says. Most likely, what is meant is I couldn’t care less.

Envelop, envelope

Envelop means to wrap around. Envelope is the folder you put a letter in.

I will envelop you in my arms when you give me the envelope with the money in it.

Less, fewer

Just as with amount and number, less is used for a mass (an amount) and fewer is used for something countable.

Loath, loathe

Loath is the adjective. Loathe is the verb.

I was loath to do the dishes because I loathe that job.

Of

Not necessary after the prepositions inside, off, and outside.

Incorrect as a substitute for have, as in would have, could have, and should have.

Reason why

Usually there is no need for the why.

True facts

Facts are always true, so true facts has no real meaning. Just use the word facts by itself.

Very

In most cases, very is easily omitted and not missed.

With regards to

What the writer usually means is with regard to. This expression is often not necessary, only adding wordiness to the writing, but when written as with regards to, it sounds as if the writer is adding a greeting to someone.

*****

To find out more about Anneli Purchase, follow these links:

Anneli’s Website

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Dang Those Dangling Modifiers

You don’t have to be an author to know how important parts of speech and grammar rules can be. I wasn’t doing anything writing-related when I saw the importance of sentence structure one day.

Not having seen rabbits eating up my garden for several months, I was sure the owls had taken care of my problem. I realized that I was not going to be that lucky when my husband came home and announced, “I saw a rabbit driving down the road.”

The smart aleck in me couldn’t resist saying, “Oh, what was he driving?”

You see how easily we leave parts of our sentence dangling, making the meaning unclear. Dangling modifiers are more common than you might think. They make our writing look bad, but they certainly provide some entertainment for the copy-editor.

Very often, phrases that modify a noun or pronoun are placed carelessly into a sentence. When they contain verb forms and are left dangling, without a definite indication of what they are modifying, the results can be disastrous to our writing.

Here are some examples of dangling modifiers.

  1. Gerund phrase:

After finding out about the actors, the movie did not seem as appealing to us.

(It sounds as if the movie found out about the actors.)

  1. Elliptical phrase (where some words are omitted and meanings presumed to be understood):

Weapons ready, the duel was fought.

(Did the duel have the weapons ready?)

  1. Participial phrase:

John heard an owl walking through the woods.

(Was the owl walking through the woods?)

  1. Infinitive phrase:

To drive a car a licence must be held.

(Does this mean I have to hold it in my hand while driving? Or does it mean that if I don’t have a licence I won’t know how to drive a car?)

  1. Prepositional phrase:

With only a dollar in his pocket, it seemed useless to try to go far.

(Who is “it”? Does “it” have a dollar in “his” [whose?] pocket?)

  1. Appositive

A magnificent mansion, the door opened to show a grand ballroom inside.

(Is the door the same as a mansion?)

Misplaced Modifiers

Other problems with modifiers happen when they are misplaced, as often happens with qualifiers such as “only” or “almost.”

Some examples follow. Note the difference in meaning when the word is placed in various locations.

  1. Her cousin only drives their car. (He doesn’t wash it or fuel it up.)
  2. Her only cousin drives their car. (She has no other cousins.)
  3. Her cousin drives only their car. (He doesn’t drive anyone else’s, or he doesn’t drive their truck or van.)
  4. Her cousin drives their only car. (They have no other car except that one.)
  5. We almost saw ten whales. (We saw none because we got to the spot too late.)
  6. We saw almost ten whales. (We saw eight or nine of them.)

Placement of modifiers matters a great deal.

Squinting Modifiers

One more type of modifier causes ambiguity in a sentence. Often it is placed between two possible elements, and we have no way of knowing which it is meant to describe. We call it a “squint” modifier, perhaps because it seems to squint and we can’t tell which way it is looking or which element it is meant to modify.

Some examples:

My mother told me sometimes to watch where I’m going. (Did she tell me sometimes, or should I only watch where I’m going sometimes?)

She said every day to wash my face. (Did she say it every day or should I wash my face every day?)

The squint can also appear at the end of the sentence.

My dogs chased each other in the yard when I called them for a good reason. (Did the dogs chase each other for a good reason, or did I call them for a good reason?)

The fisherman was smiling when he caught the fish without even knowing it. (Did the fisherman not know that he was smiling or that he caught the fish. OR, was it the fish who didn’t know it was caught?)

While dangling, misplaced, and squinting modifiers can be a source of amusement, they do not provide the kind of entertainment we strive for in our writing. They can be very sneaky and are sometimes hard to detect. Be watchful and try to avoid them.

And while you’re being watchful, keep an eye out for that rabbit driving down the road. Most likely he was driving a brown VW Rabbit.

To find out more about Anneli Purchase, follow these links:

Anneli’s Website

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Facebook
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