Tag Archives: grammar

You Don’t Have To Memorize Grammar Rules To Write Clearly

As I have previously urged on this blog site, but it bears repeating, memorization of grammar rules is not a prerequisite to writing clearly. My book, “The Art of Clear Writing,” available on amazon.com/kindle books and in print, breaks with the traditional approach to teaching English grammar in that it eschews memorization of rules.

This book takes the approach that memorization of grammar rules is of little use except to pass examinations. It has been my personal experience that as you train yourself to observe and appreciate good writing, you can likewise train yourself to develop and employ good writing habits in constructing sentences. This result cannot be accomplished by memorization of rules, which will have little effect on learning and understanding the context with which words are used. But when in doubt, look up the applicable rule.

The best expression of thoughts through good grammar can be learned by observing the association of the right word with the appropriate context in a sentence. The emphasis should be on training your eye to carefully observe how grammar is used in putting sentences together and to constantly practice what you have learned in your writing. The point was well made many years ago by the late Sherwin Cody, who authored several books and self study courses on writing and learning good English. Learn grammar by “original processes”, he wrote, “not by authorities and rules.” (See: New Art of Writing and Speaking The English Language, 59, Sherwin Cody, 1933, 1938).

Clear writing can be achieved even if you are unable to apply grammatical labels to the various parts of speech contained in a sentence. Even if you can’t diagram a sentence to break out the parts of speech or if you don’t know a pronoun from an adverb, you can still learn to write clearly.

Studying the logical relationship of words in a sentence as you read is most important in learning
the practical skills of word usage. In this way you need not concern yourself with the technical definition of, for example, weak or buried verbs, as long as your eye is practiced enough to pick them
out of a sentence.

This level of writing ability can only be achieved through dedicated study and the continued practice of writing. The secret is practice, practice, practice and, also, read extensively. Read books, magazines, and newspapers to see how experienced writers put words and sentences together. This will help you develop the right “feel” for your writing.

I urge you to follow this approach.

To all of my followers, best wishes for a happy and enjoyable Thanksgiving.

Copyright 2013. Arnold G. Regardie. All rights reserved.

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You Don’t Have To Memorize Grammar Rules To Write Clearly

In my book “The Art of Clear Writing,” available on amazon.com/Kindle Books and in print, I have urged readers to use word association as a means of learning good grammar, rather than to memorize rules. This approach has worked for me and it can work for you. Here is what I wrote:

“This book breaks with the traditional approach to teaching English grammar in that it eschews memorization of rules. Memorization of grammar rules is of little use except to pass examinations. It has been my personal experience that as you train yourself to observe and appreciate good writing, you can likewise train yourself to develop and employ good writing habits in constructing sentences. This result cannot be accomplished by memorization of rules, which will have little effect on learning and understanding the context with which words are used. But, when in doubt, look up the rule.

The best expression of thoughts through good grammar can be learned by observing the association of the right word with the appropriate context in a sentence. The emphasis should be on training your eye to carefully observe how grammar is used in putting sentences together and to constantly practice what you have learned in your writing. The point was well made many years ago by the late Sherwin Cody, who authored several books and self study courses on writing and learning good English. Learn grammar by “original processes”, he wrote, “not by authorities and rules.” (See: New Art of Writing and Speaking The English Language, 59, Sherwin Cody, 1933, 1938).

Clear writing can be achieved even if you are unable to apply grammatical labels to the various parts of speech contained in a sentence. Even if you can’t diagram a sentence to break out the parts of speech or if you don’t know a pronoun from an adverb, you can still learn to write clearly.

Studying the logical relationship of words in a sentence as you read is most important in learning
the practical skills of word usage. In this way you need not concern yourself with the technical definition of, for example, weak or buried verbs, as long as your eye is practiced enough to pick them out of a sentence.

This level of writing ability can only be achieved through dedicated study and the continued practice of writing. The secret is practice, practice, practice and, also, read extensively. Read books, magazines, and newspapers to see how experienced writers put words and sentences together. This will help you develop the right “feel” for your writing.

I urge you to follow this approach.”

The use of good grammar is indispensable to clear writing. The benefits of clear writing have also been explained in my book, as follows:

“In today’s world, language is predominant. It is vital to all communications, and is the key to your personal and business success. The power of the written word is far reaching and depends in turn on the quality of your writing. Writing is therefore of utmost importance.

The ability to write clearly is a requirement for anyone trying to get ahead. Without it, you have little chance to inform or persuade others. Unclear writing wastes both time and money. Your success will largely depend on how well you express yourself.

Whether you are writing for a personal or business purpose, it is the writer’s job to be clear, not the reader’s job to figure out what you’re trying to say. The March Hare’s admonition to Alice, “…you should say what you mean,” also applies perforce to writing. (See: Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, 97, Lewis Carroll, New Ed., MacMillan & Co., 1885). Remember, you are promoting yourself when you write. Poor writing will not only lead to loss of credibility but will stamp you as an amateur and may well cause your reader to stop reading. Good writing sells itself.

It’s Never Too Late To Learn!

Even lawyers, with all their education, are not always good writers. In a profession which devotes extensive time and effort to the written word, it may be surprising to learn that lawyers and judges still strive to improve their writing skills. Bryan Garner, a well known attorney and respected authority in the field of legal writing, has devoted extensive time to lecturing and writing on the subject of legal writing for judges and lawyers. His excellent writing lectures, several of which I attended, have been given across the country. One of his publications, The Winning Brief, which I used extensively as a practicing lawyer, contains a wealth of writing tips which should be useful to non-lawyers as well as lawyers. (See: The Winning Brief, Bryan A. Garner, Oxford University Press, 1999). This is another lead to pursue for those of you really serious about improving your writing.”

Copyright©2013. Arnold G. Regardie. All rights reserved.

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Use Shorter Sentences For Clear Writing

The longer and more complex a sentence is, the harder it will be for the reader to understand it or any portion of it.  No one likes to read a sentence that’s unwieldy.  Resist the temptation to include everything in one sentence.  A good rule of thumb is to express only one idea in a sentence.  This will reduce many sources of ambiguity.

Writing a company report that describes the company’s product and its pricing does not have to result in a reader’s nightmare.  Information-packed sentences leave most readers scratching their heads; they will get lost “in the trees without seeing the forest.”  The key is to strive for better organization.  Use shorter sentences in conjunction with shorter paragraphs.

The following one-sentence paragraph contains many shortcomings: 

          Before:

The ABC Natural Medicine Group   founded by Dr. Chang Zhou, a medical doctor  with many years of experience in the natural       medicine field, who was introduced to the formula used in this product while conducting research on sabbatical in a small town south of Shanghai, and was motivated to pursue the benefits of the mind-body unity of natural healing instead of following the path of      conventional medicine after seeing his father, once robust but who became sluggish, apathetic, and listless, which he attributed to         the damaging effects of a typical western diet, and will be introducing its premier high  potency, super energy health supplements later this year, composed of the highest quality, health-enhancing phyto-nutrients which allow for instant nutrient absorption, as well as other medicinal components including dried seahorses, ginseng, turtle plastron, aloe vera, and other plant and animal parts.

The difficulty with this paragraph is that it provides a lot of information without allowing the reader to take a breath or see any context.  The use of short sentences  broken up from the one long single sentence, together with some logical reorganizing of the sentence and the paragraph, provides context and makes this paragraph much easier to read as shown by the rewrite. 

          After:

The ABC Natural Medicine Group will introduce its premier, high potency super energy health supplements later this year.  They are composed of the highest quality, health-enhancing phyto-nutrients, which allow for instant nutrient absorption.

The Group was founded by Dr. Chang Zhou, a medical doctor with many years of experience in the natural medicine field.  He was introduced to the formula used in this product while conducting research on sabbatical in a small town south of Shanghai.

Instead of following the path of conventional medicine, Dr. Zhou was motivated to pursue the benefits of the mind-body unity of natural healing after seeing his father, once robust, become sluggish, apathetic, and listless.  He attributed this condition to the damaging effects of a typical western diet.

As is evident, breaking up the one long sentence into six shorter ones and three paragraphs has made the general, rambling         paragraph into three concise, specific ones.  The information only has to be read once to understand it.  Also, the components of the     medicine, dried seahorses, etc., have been deleted from the paragraph to facilitate the flow of information; these items are best left for a separate paragraph or even an appendix or supplement.

You can also shorten your sentences to make them easier to understand by replacing a negative phrase with one word that conveys the same thought. For example, “not the same” can be replaced with “different,” “does not have” can be replaced with “lacks,” and “does not include” can be replaced with “excludes.”

Avoid using longer words when shorter ones will suffice.  Instead of getting mired in a grammarian’s technical jargon as to whether a sentence contains a buried or hidden verb, you can train yourself to recognize certain words or phrases and try to eliminate or rewrite them as the context permits.  Thus, words ending in “tion” and “ment” can often be used in a different form without concern as to what grammatical label applies.  Instead of writing “You are required to make an application for a fishing license,” write “You are required to apply for a fishing ,license.”  In the same vein write “The cutback is not to be made unless authorized,” rather than “You must seek authorization for the cutback before making it.”

Copyright © 2013.  Arnold G. Regardie.  All rights reserved.

 

     

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Prepare Now For Opportunity

When Opportunity Knocks, Will You Be Ready?

I’ve been a history buff for many years.   I have taken advantage of this interest to sprinkle several historical vignettes throughout my new eBook, “The Art of Clear Writing,” to illustrate various points.  One of my favorites concerns Thomas Jefferson and the Louisiana Purchase.  I think it’s worth repeating here.

                   “Engineering the Louisiana Purchase – A Look Back

It was the hallmark of President Thomas Jefferson’s political philosophy that the Chief Executive should not have excessive power.  Yet, in 1803, when faced with the opportunity to purchase from France the vast, unexplored, Louisiana Territory that  bordered on the western side of America, he cast that belief aside and signed the agreement to buy the territory for $15 million.

Jefferson’s visionary act removed a potential threat to America’s national security.  One option was to take no action at all, thus leaving Napoleon, builder of empires, in possession of the territory.  But Jefferson, taking the advice of American Commissioners abroad, decided on the purchase.  Paving the way for this historical event was the work of Jefferson’s predecessor, John Adams, in securing peace with France during the so-called “Quasi War,” which ended in 1800.

There was considerable doubt as to the constitutional power to make such a purchase. But when the identical issue came before the Supreme Court in 1828 in a different case, Chief Justice John Marshall, speaking for the Court, ruled that “the Constitution confers absolutely on the government…, the powers of making war, and of making treaties; consequently, that government possesses the power of acquiring territory, either by conquest or by treaty.” (See:  John Marshall, Definer of a Nation, 335, Jean Edward Smith, Henry Holt & Company, 1996, quoting from American Insurance Co. v.         Canter, 1 Peters 511, (1828), a case involving the purchase of Florida, but where the issue was the same as that involving the Louisiana Purchase.)”

The Louisiana Purchase was all about Jefferson’s taking advantage of an existing opportunity to increase America’s security when the opportunity presented itself.  Jefferson, an experienced politician and statesman, recognized the opportunity and was ready when it presented itself.

Opportunities also exist in today’s world, but if you can’t write clearly you will not be in a position to take advantage of them.  This is a world of global communications.  The power of the written word is more important today than ever before.  I believe much of the flatness in today’s economy exists because individual initiative has taken a back seat to waiting for government largesse to happen.  This is wrong and goes contra to the  free enterprise economic background of this country.  Your own individual initiative can help turn things around and you can start by fixing your grammar.

To be more precise, clear writing necessitates use of correct grammar.    Recent blogs have pointed out that poor grammar plagues American businesses today.  You can put yourself in a position to take advantage of job opportunities by reading and writing extensively and on a daily basis.  This discipline will increase your ability to write clearly, sharpen your intellect, and will teach you to learn correct grammar by word association.  This approach, also promoted in my eBook, means you don’t have to rely on memorization of grammar rules to learn and use good grammar.  Memorization of such rules is acceptable, even necessary when you are a student, but once you enter the working world it is likely that you have forgotten them.  Moreover, memorization of rules and definitions will have little effect on learning and understanding the context with which words are used.  Training your eye through extensive reading and writing to carefully observe how how grammar is used in putting sentences together and to constantly practice what has been learned will improve your ability to write clearly.  This approach has worked for me.  It can also work for you.  But it requires hard work and dedication.  A now and then approach won’t work.

It is important to remember that writing is a form of salesmanship – you are selling yourself.  Developing trust in your reader depends  on the credibility emanating from your writing.  Attracting that trust can be achieved only if you dedicate yourself to improving your writing skills.  Employers are more selective in this economy, with jobs at a premium.  Clear writing skills will help to make you stand out from the crowd.

Check out my new website, www.agregardie.com.

The next blog will be posted on Friday, August 31, 2012.

Copyright 2012.  Arnold G. Regardie.  All rights reserved.

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For Clearer Writing, Use Personal Pronouns.

 Use personal pronouns.

Meet the personal pronouns.  They are your friends and will help you to write more clearly.

If you use personal pronouns, the quality of your writing will substantially improve, no matter what level of sophistication your reading audience has. Pronouns help your readers relate better to your writing by visualizing themselves in the text.

Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th Ed. p. 995), defines a pronoun as “any of a small set of words in a language that are used as substitutes for nouns or noun phrases and whose references are named or understood in the context.”   The noun it replaces is called the antecedent.  Thus, in the sentence, “Gold is not only a rare metal, but it has become a symbol of wealth,” “Gold” is the antecedent of “it”.

As a reminder, the most common types of personal pronouns include I, you, he, she, it, we, and they.  Pronouns can vary in person (first, second, or third) and in number (singular or plural). Why use them? Even with a knowledgeable reader, use of personal pronouns will dramatically improve the clarity of your writing.  They will,

–    help keep sentences short and concise.

–   provide the information your reader wants to know in a logical order,

–   assign responsibilities and requirements clearly.

Pronouns also aid in reader understanding of your writing because they eliminate ambiguity and minimize abstract language by encouraging the use of more concrete, everyday words.    They also help to lock in reader interest by allowing you to “speak” directly to your reader and specify exactly who is being addressed. Remember that you are speaking to the one person who is reading your document, even though it may affect the public at large.  For example,

You should carefully review your ballot before voting,

is clearer and more definite than,

The ballot should be carefully reviewed before voting.

Use of personal pronouns may also avoid the awkwardness of the he/she dilemma.  Thus,

I saw Ken and Linda at the ballpark today and bought them each a hotdog,

is better than,

I saw Ken and Linda at the ballpark today and bought him and her a hotdog.

You must provide the requisite information, including name, address, and telephone number, when replying,

is better than,

The addressee must provide his or her name, address, and telephone number when replying.

Good teachers should not lose their tempers,

is better than

A good teacher should not lose his or her temper.

Use of the pronoun in the foregoing examples eliminates confusion and allows the sentences to flow more smoothly.

A Pronoun Must Agree With Its Antecedent.

A pronoun must agree with its antecedent in gender, number, and person.  The following words when used as antecedents are deemed to be singular:  each, every, any, no one, thing, body either and neither (except when they refer to plural sets) are singular.  Here are some examples:

Everybody did his best [Not their].

Every one raised his hand.  [Not their].

Each person must have  his ticket. [Not their].

Neither [Albert nor Louis] speak with an accent. [Not speaks].

Kind and sort are also singular:

I like that kind of pants.  [Not those].

That kind of scissors is very sharp.  [Not those].

But where the antecedent is plural, the pronoun must still agree:

Both know their trade.

Other antecedents may be singular or plural:

Most of this is mine.  Most of these are useless.

A collective noun usually takes a singular pronoun:

The assembly has given its report.

The team has played its last game.

The jury has reached its decision.

Sometimes, however, a collective noun may be thought of as separate individuals.  In that case a plural pronoun is appropriate, as in the following:

The jury disagree.

     

Copyright © 2012.  Arnold G. Regardie.  All Rights Reserved.

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