Tag Archives: sentences

Let’s agree to agreement

by Mackenzie Batten

One of my most traumatic writing experiences in high school was when my literature teacher senior year told me that for each incorrect subject-verb agreement, he would take off ten percent of my final paper grade. When I graduated, I thought the harsh grading was over—but here at Principia, I have had professors with similar rules and grading patterns as my high school teacher.

Subject-verb agreement is when the subject and the verb of a sentence match—that is, a singular subject must have a singular verb and a plural subject must have a plural verb. I believe that subject-verb agreement is crucial because it helps the clarity and the flow of your writing. If you write using a singular subject and then use a plural verb, it might confuse the reader as to how many people you are writing about. So to avoid confusion and impress your teachers—here are some of the rules I have learned while trying to master this skill.

Here are the four main scenarios where confusion arises. To help demonstrate these concepts, the subjects will be bolded and the verbs will be italicized.

  1. In a sentence where the subject includes more than one noun and there is an “and” between them, use a plural verb.

Nancy is selling her house this summer.

Nancy and Bruce are selling their house this summer.

In the first sentence, “Nancy,” singular, agrees with “is,” because “is” is also singular. But in the second sentence, there is an “and” between the two singular nouns, making them a plural subject, so the plural “are” is used. That wasn’t so hard, was it? But it gets trickier, so stick with me.

  1. In a sentence where the subject uses more than one singular noun and there is an “or” between them, use a singular verb.

Emily or Ava is in the room with Barrett’s guinea pig.

In this example, the use of “or” makes the singular nouns of “Ava” and “Emily” a singular subject, so “is,” a singular verb, is correct. I know that that idea can be confusing, but just remember that the use of “or” between two singular subject means a singular verb!

  1. In a sentence where “or” is used in between a singular noun and a plural noun, the verb should agree with the closest noun.

Either Charlie or his friends work at the pub every day.

In the first sentence, the verb agrees with the plural “his friends” because it is closer to the verb. Just remember—whichever subject is closer is the one that needs to be in agreement.

  1. In a sentence where there is a quantifier—a single subject that refers to multiple people—have the verb agree with the quantifier, rather than the noun it is referring to.

Everybody knows about Principia’s rugby team.

“Everybody” is a quantifier, since it is a singular subject, it is correct to use a singular verb. I know that seems backwards because “everybody” refers to multiple people, but it is actually singular!

I hope this helped! Please come to visit any of the writing tutors if you have any more questions!

Mackenzie is a political science and economics double major. She enjoys competing in Principia’s Moot Court and on the Mediation Team.

Students’ advice to students: Buch Method Revision

by Nigel Graham

This is a special guest blog from a student in the Fall 2015 Revising and Editing (WRIT 152) class. His assignment was to write advice for other students about a specific writing or revision strategy.

While there are many revision strategies to choose from, I have found one in particular that works well for me. This is the Buch Method Revision strategy. This method has worked so well for me because it has helped me develop the content and details of my writing. These are areas that I have previously struggled in. I have found that using the Buch Method Revision (BMR) strategy has helped me to improve my writing. This strategy helps add depth, which makes my writing a lot more persuasive and clear. I think using this strategy can greatly improve your writing as well.

BMR starts by focusing on a certain paragraph. From there you will add a new sentence after each sentence in the paragraph (starting after sentence #2). The new sentence should expand on the previous one. Then, you repeat this process for each sentence until you have a paragraph that is much more detailed than the original one. Lastly, look at the paragraph as a whole to see and remove any sentences that are redundant. Not only will the paragraph be more complete in terms of factual content, but it’s likely you’ll find ways to add needed analysis.

I have used this particular method in writing my grant proposal in Revising and Editing. This was an important strategy to use for the proposal because the assignment required my writing to have lots of detail and be very clear for the reader. BMR helped me make my sentences say what I wanted them to while making clear to the reader what the message was. I have also used BMR in non-persuasive pieces. When reading the final version after BMR had been applied to my proposal, I found that my writing had a much nicer flow and was also more interesting to read since the details made the paper easier to understand. I recommend that if you use BMR, you should also do a peer review session. By doing a peer review session, my partner and I were able to pick out and remove the weaker, redundant sentences.

Nigel Graham is a senior majoring in business administration and minoring in sustainability and management information systems. His grant proposal focused on his great passion of waterskiing.

Outrun those run-on sentences

By Katya Rivers

What is a run-on sentence?

A run-on sentence consists of two or more independent clauses that have been joined without appropriate punctuation or a coordinating conjunction. Dividing a run-on sentence into concise, meaningful units can help to clarify your message.

First, an independent clause is a group of words that can stand alone as a sentence. You can tell because it has both a subject and a verb and forms a complete thought. Second, a coordinating conjunction is a word that joins two independent clauses. You can remember these as FANBOYS: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so.

How do I find it?

  • Locate the independent clauses; it may help to underline the subject-verb pairs.
  • Make the separation clear by drawing vertical lines between independent clauses.

How do I fix it?

  • Use a period and proper capitalization to separate the independent clauses into two (or more) complete sentences,
  • OR use a comma followed by a coordinating conjunction to connect separate but related independent clauses,
  • OR use a semicolon (;), colon (:), or em-dash (–) as appropriate to separate related independent clauses,
  • OR change one independent clause into a dependent clause and join the two clauses, using appropriate punctuation,
  • OR rewrite two fused independent clauses as one cohesive independent clause.

Let’s see it in action:

Incorrect: One way to confront a problem is to seek advice it can come from someone with more life experience.

Correction A: One way to confront a problem is to seek advice; it can come from someone with more life experience.

Correction B: One way to confront a problem is to seek advice. Frequently, guidance can come from someone with more life experience.

Correction C: One way to confront a problem is to seek advice from someone with more life experience.

Katya Rivers is a senior majoring in religion.

How to wrangle semicolons

by Anna Tarnow

I love semicolons. They’re versatile little helpers that can go where either periods or commas might otherwise be placed. But you also need to be careful with them. You can’t just stick them into any sentence for no reason at all. Below is a list of the right times and places to use semicolons.

  1. In between two grammatically complete sentences that deal with the same idea (i.e., The dragon hoarded treasures in his cave; his acquisitions included a giant ruby, a magic sword, and a submarine.)
  2. In lists that have commas in the items (i.e., The dragon muttered his inventory in his sleep.  “One giant ruby, stolen from Narnia; one magic sword, stolen from Finn and Jake; and one submarine, stolen from the US Navy.”)
  3. Before “however” (and the “however” must be followed by a comma) (i.e. The dragon was very happy with his hoard; however, he sometimes felt like his obsessive treasure-counting was getting in the way of his love life.) Note: This applies to “therefore” as well.
  4. Before a coordinating conjunction (i.e., The dragon had met someone from GoldenMatchDragon.com last week; but they hadn’t hit it off and he decided to take a break from online dating.)

Some semicolon warnings:

  1. Use semicolons judiciously. One every couple of paragraphs is fine.
  2. Don’t end an introductory clause or phrase with a semicolon. This is because semicolons say “this idea is complete” when placed after a clause or phrase, and introductory clauses and phrases are not complete—they’re setting up for the real idea that comes after them.

Info drawn from Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace (11th edition) by Joseph M. Williams and Joseph Bizup. It’s a pretty handy book—I highly recommend getting a copy!

Anna Tarnow is a junior majoring in English and enjoys working on the Pilot newspaper, where she is editor-in-chief.

Five foolproof thesis tips

by Meredith Hamilton

When trying to formulate a thesis statement it is easy to feel overwhelmed. If you have spent an extensive amount of time researching your paper topic, you might not know how to focus your information. If you don’t know the point you’re trying to argue, then you might be struggling with turning a general statement into a claim. No fear! Here are five tips for better thesis statements:

  1. WRITE OUT ALL IDEAS. Write down all of the ideas that interest you on a piece of paper. Decide which ideas are most relevant and narrow your list down to one or two ideas. If you have more than one idea, think of how they relate to each other. These connections will make your thesis statement cohesive. If you only have one idea, you’re already on your way!
  1. CREATE A QUESTION. Formulate a question that you want your paper to answer. Your answer is your thesis statement. The more specific the question, the more focused the answer. For example if I were to write a paper about Jane Austen, I might ask: How do Jane Austen’s novels promote or detract from feminism? Don’t be afraid to write the first answer that comes into your head. You can revise and refine your thesis statement as many times as you need to!
  1. ELIMINATE UNNECESSARY INFO. Cut out the parts of your thesis statement that you can explain in your introduction paragraph. You can’t explain all of your ideas in one sentence! Let the supporting information precede your thesis. This info will lead your reader to your claim and ultimately make for a stronger, more organized, paper.
  1. SWITCH SENTENCE COMPONENTS. If your thesis statement isn’t sounding right, try switching the end of your sentence with the beginning. This is especially helpful when dealing with compound sentences. Allow yourself to see your thesis with fresh eyes and consider how the new sentence construction affects it. It might not work, but don’t be afraid to try it out!
  1. EMPHASIZE DIFFERENT WORDS. Read your thesis out loud several times, emphasizing different words each time. This can reveal nuances you hadn’t noticed before. By emphasizing different sections of your thesis you sometimes realize you’re focusing on the wrong ideas. This will also give you a new look at your statement.

A well-constructed thesis statement sets your paper up for success. Always remember to ask yourself these questions: Is it debatable? Am I making a claim? Does it make sense? If your answer is yes, you’re on your way! If you’re not sure, use these tips to reevaluate. Happy thesis crafting!

Meredith Hamilton is a sophomore majoring in political science and English. Two of her favorite college experiences thus far have been studying abroad in England and Spain. 

Passive acceptance

by Genevieve Bergeson

Many of us have heard it before; many of us will hear it again: the infamous term “passive voice.”

Some instructors say in bold, capitalized, and not-at-all passive voices, “DO NOT USE PASSIVE VOICE,” as if it stands alongside splint infinitives and end-of-sentence prepositions as the cardinal (albeit mythical in some circles) sins of writing.

I have a confession. Let me whisper it to you.

It is okay to use passive voice. Sometimes it’s even preferable.

While it is true that passivization can impede clarity and concision (especially when used excessively), it is not a grammatical error; it is a stylistic tool for emphasis. Specifically, the subject of the sentence receives the action instead of doing the action.

Observe:

The mouse ate the cheese. (Active)

The cheese was eaten by the mouse. (Passive)

In the first case, the subject, the mouse, performs the action of eating; in the second, the subject, the cheese, experiences the action of being eaten. A nifty trick: To switch between passive and active voices, move the main words (e.g., cheese, eat, mouse) of the sentence.

Use passive voice…

  1. To emphasize the object or recipient of an action, not the doer of the action. [Note, this can also divert or hide blame.]

The mice in the science lab were accidentally let loose by the teacher’s assistant.

  1. When the doer is unknown or you wish to make the doer anonymous.

Class is canceled! (Which, I must say, is much more exciting than “The science teacher canceled class.”)

Be alert! While forms of “to be” (am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been) are good clues, they do not guarantee passive writing.

  • As a linking verb, “to be” simply describes something’s state of existence: the cheese is holy, er,
  • In progressive tenses, “to be” is a helping verb that indicates continuous activity: The mouse was nibbling the block of Swiss when the cat entered.

I invite you, therefore, to counter resistance—passive and aggressive—to this misunderstood element of style. Intentionally employing the passive voice can bespeak a mouseterful command of the written word.

Genevieve Bergeson, a former Principia College writing tutor and post-graduate teaching intern, delights in all things creative—art, words, and music. She has authored and illustrated the children’s book Racing Pajamas (read more at drawstheeventide.com) and has several other stories in the works.

Write detail by painting the picture

by Katya Rivers

Some of you love to write; others don’t. This is completely normal. Writing isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But before you toss it out the window, let me introduce writing to you as an art form—and something that can actually be fun. If you apply yourself wholeheartedly, writing can open your eyes to observational skills, critical thinking, and creativity, and it expand your thinking overall.

So how can writing be fun, you ask? It all lies with descriptive detail, observation and communicating what you see and experience to your audience. You can use descriptive writing to

  • make scenes realistic and memorable
  • help readers experience an emotion
  • share your feelings more clearly
  • bring characters to life
  • convey key ideas, especially complex ideas
  • help readers feel like they are in the scene, the narrative or the story

Here are a couple of suggestions to help you write descriptively and spice up your papers.

  1. Use the details to create a strong mood or feeling about the subject
  2. Make sure to draw on all five senses: sight, touch, hearing, taste and smell
  3. Consider including figures of speech, the imaginative comparisons that will evoke feelings in your readers.

Here is an example of descriptive writing in a short story, but keep in mind that academic papers can include some of these moves. After reading the following passage from Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher,” and reflect on it. Ask yourself what you felt. What emotions did the author evoke in you, what was effective? Was it the word choice? The tone? And then apply your gathered information to your own writing.

Suddenly there shot along the path a wild light, and I turned to see whence a gleam so unusual could have issued; for the vast house and its shadows were alone behind me. The radiance was that of the full, setting, and blood-red moon, which now shone vividly through that once barely discernible fissure, of which I have before spoken as extending from the roof of the building, in a zigzag direction, to the base. While I gazed, the fissure rapidly widened—there came a   fierce breath of the whirlwind—the entire orb of the satellite burst at once upon my sight—my brain reeled as I saw the mighty walls rushing asunder—there was a long tumultuous shouting sound like the voice of a thousand waters—and the    deep and dank tarn at my feet closed sullenly and silently….

—Edgar Allan Poe, “The Fall of the House of Usher”

The author uses sensory details to paint a word picture of a person, place, scene, object, or emotion (see the bold words). Descriptive writing is about painting your message—you want your audience to engage, do be curious and intrigued or provoked. Detailed writing allows you to connect to your audience most effectively. What’s pretty neat about descriptive writing is that it not only helps your readers grasp your message, but it also serves as an effective tool to explain and persuade. So, write on!

Katya Rivers is a senior majoring in religion.

Reining in your creative genius

by Samantha Bronkar

Have you ever had writing moments when thoughts flowed directly through your fingertips onto paper? Rather than letting the flow of inspiration stop so you can find a perfect word or phrase, you can be free to express ideas as easily as they enter your mind.

The kicker? Revision.

If a writer wants to embody joyous, inspired thoughts on paper, she must also take on the task of reviewing her ideas individually and collectively. She must evaluate her ideas for validity, clarity, and flow.

Below are three questions that can guide your editing process:

How can I say this sentence more clearly? Take this question one sentence—one phrase, even—at a time. First drafts are often full of cluttered and unclear sentences. Once you stumble across a confusing or long-winded sentence, try breaking it down into its basic elements. Figure out what it was you were trying to say in the first place. When you understand what you wanted to say, simply say it! In the words of Jack Kerouac, acclaimed American novelist and poet, “One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.” Rough draft thoughts can be messy. Revision is the time for tweaking and refining; this is the step when useless words, phrases, or sentences can be removed.

Does this sentence (or thought) help my argument? Look at your paper as a whole. First, decide what your thesis or purpose is in the paper. Next, take on the introductory sentence for each paragraph. Your introductory sentence should guide the rest of the paragraph. If you come across a sentence that seems to counter your main purpose, or sidetrack from it, the sentence may belong somewhere else in the paper, or the thought is irrelevant altogether. Tying each point back to the original thesis can help determine a sentence’s importance (or weakness).

Does this paragraph make sense in the context of my entire paper? (Is it being a good neighbor?) Does it prove my thesis? Some paragraphs can be complete and insightful on their own. However, they must also work with the other paragraphs to prove the thesis. Start with one paragraph. Read through it and decide the purpose it serves in your entire paper. With that overall goal in mind—your thesis—move on to the paragraph following it. The following paragraph should build on the material from the previous one, and both of these—along with all the others—should work together to prove your original thesis or point.

Help yourself out by leaving plenty of time to revise. In your rough draft, you should feel free to be messy, ask big questions, and take leaps of faith. Let your inspiration flow! Before the final is due (and hopefully not the night before), take the time to re-evaluate your initial thoughts and refine them. Remember, revising should be the largest part of the writing process!

Samantha Bronkar is an English major, and she is a member of the women’s soccer and softball teams at Principia College.

Out loud and backwards

by Laura Tibbetts

Sometimes, by the time you have written a paper, revised it thoroughly, and gotten to the final stages of editing, you’ve read through it so many times that you practically have it memorized. Even if you haven’t quite reached that point, you might at least have a basic idea in your mind of how the sentences look and sound. If that is the case, it can sometimes make be difficult to notice small grammatical mistakes as you’re reading.

When this has happened to me in the past, I have found it helpful to follow some advice I received from my dad, who was an English major at Principia. His suggestion was to read papers out loud and backwards. Just to clarify, that does not mean reading the entire paper backwards word-for-word. Instead, you read each sentence forwards, starting at the final sentence and working your way backwards until you reach the beginning of the paper.

This is helpful for two reasons. First, reading the paper out loud causes you to look at individual words more carefully than you might if you were reading in your head. It changes the pacing of how you are reading, which also helps you to notice mistakes that you might not otherwise see. Second, reading the paper backwards prevents you from getting caught up in the flow of the paper and allows you to focus on each sentence individually, which helps you edit more carefully.

The out-loud-and-backwards technique has helped me on multiple occasions, and I hope it helps you, too!

Laura Tibbetts is a French and art major, and her favorite college academic experience so far has been studying abroad in France.