English Corner – Semicolons

Similar to commas, Semicolons are an important punctuation mark that plays a key role in many English sentences. When you think of a semicolon, think of it being a slight pause in a sentence between the two main clauses or parts that should be separated as you would do with a comma. You will want to use the semicolon in between two independent clauses within a basic sentence and this is especially true if there is no coordinating conjunction being used such as and, or, but, etc. A good example of when semicolons can be used is when you are writing a list of items or things that need to be separated from one another. This is probably the most important use of a semicolon, but it is far from being the only usage.

Semicolons are often used in the middle or towards the end of a sentence if apart of a multi-item list. You won’t see a semicolon being used at the beginning or the end of a sentence as you would with a period or a question mark. Semicolons, colons, and commas are all part of what is known as ‘internal punctuation’, which forms the backbone of a complete sentence. Semicolons can be used with other semicolons within the same sentence as it would be the case when commas are used with commas in a similar sentence.

Semicolons can be used interchangeably with commas as well within the same sentence depending on whether two different people, places, or things are being referenced separately. It is perhaps most common that the semicolon is used with another semicolon or more, but it can be used with other forms of internal punctuation. In addition, semicolons can be used with a colon (:) because the colon often precedes the semicolon(s) in a complete sentence in terms of usage.

Let us look at a few examples where semicolons are being used with a colon preceding it:

1.)   Jackie bought the following items from the supermarket today: Corn; String beans; Tomatoes; Bread.

2.)   James listed his worst fears for his teacher in the following order: Flying; Being in front of an audience; Heights; Spiders.

Let us look at how semicolons (;) can be used with commas (,) correctly within the same sentence:

1.)   George’s family included John, his older brother; Jenny, his younger sister; and Jerry, his younger brother.

2.)   There are McDonald’s restaurants all over the world including Istanbul, Turkey; Mexico City, Mexico; and Bogota, Colombia.

3.)   The astronauts had to decide about the countdown: Would they count from three, two, one; or one, two, three?

All these examples show how interchangeable punctuation marks are within a complete sentence especially when you are listing family members or restaurant chains in different cities. You can see how commas and semicolons can be used together, especially to highlight pauses within a sentence to show differences between places and/or people. Semicolons are not used as often as commas but they play an important role.

Let’s look at how semicolons are used to separate independent clauses especially when a coordinating conjunction is not being used in its place:

1.)   Tim goes to France; I go to Spain.

2.)   Jenny wanted to play tennis; I told her the courts were closed due to rain.

3.)   Jack has three dogs; Tommy has one.

4.)   I believe in UFOs; Jordan thinks I have gone crazy.

In these sentences, you are particularly going to use semicolons when the thoughts in each independent clause are opposed to each other or neutral to the other. When you want to contradict the previous clause, you can use a semicolon to highlight the difference between the two points of views instead of using a coordinating conjunction. To put it another way, coordinating conjunctions are used with independent clauses that are similar to each other whereas you use semicolons with independent clauses that are opposed or contradictory of one another. Sentences with semicolons tend to be shorter than those sentences that use commas or coordinating conjunctions, which do a better job of lengthening the sentence without making it a run-on sentence.

Lastly, a semicolon has an important usage in between sentences or within sentences when it comes to quotations. A comma can replace a period after a quotation and then is followed by a semicolon to link the two sentences together especially when the two people are in a conversation.

Let’s look at a few examples of how semicolons are used within a sentence where there are quotations cited as part of a larger story or narrative:

1.)   “I don’t want to do this,” he stated; “You have no choice in the matter.”

2.)   “Is this your home?” she asked; “Why don’t you go inside to your family?”

3.)   “Why do you look so upset?” he inquired; “What do you have to worry about these days?”

Unless followed by the beginning of a quotation or a proper noun or subject, semicolons are followed by a lower-case letter. You can see from these examples and the explanations given that semicolons are a key part of English grammar and punctuation. Whether its with connecting short independent clauses or bringing together a series of quotations, semicolons can be very useful in English writing. The most important use of semicolons remains making lists especially of different people and places along with their descriptive qualities. Please be sure to follow the example sentences I have given to form your own semicolon sentences. Keep practicing, do your best, and be sure to read this blog post again in the future to better understand this important punctuation mark.

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English Corner – The Utility of Commas

The Comma is an integral part of any English language sentence and while it may not come up all the time, it is likely to come up many of your sentences especially if they are longer than 10 sentences. The comma helps us to avoid run-on sentences or sentences that are too long-winded, which will distract the reader, and take away from the meaning of your sentence(s).

Commas should be used moderately to not to introduce many pauses within your sentences. You should be looking to use conjunctions in lieu of commas or with them depending upon the context. What you do not want to do is not use commas at all or use them too much. There is a key balance there that a writer in the English language must learn through trial and error as they develop their grammar proficiency.

What a comma (,) does in not just English but in other languages as well is to break down sentences into individual clauses with the comma acting a pause in the action to let the reader catch his or her breath. Commas are used in several scenarios but none as so important as forming a list of two or more items. In a list type of sentence, the comma is effective in separating the people, places, or things into an order from first to last to differentiate them.

If there are two or more items in the list, the comma will come before the conjunction (and, but, or) to finish out the sentence properly. This kind of arrangement forms the basis of the ‘oxford comma’, which is still being debated by English grammar scholars, but for which is popular with some English language students and is advocated for by certain teachers. The comma + conjunction combo is not only just for the oxford comma but for a wide variety of sentences.

If you had to summarize the main uses of commas in sentences, they function in terms of being placed between items for formal lists and they also establish separate yet interdependent clauses within a single sentence. The supplementary uses for commas involve being used between parts of speech such as adjectives, adverbs, and before quotations. Commas can also be used for dates related to days, months, and years in terms of how it is written.

Let’s break down the different uses of commas but listing a few examples for each type of popular usage:

Main Uses

1.      Building lists

·        Not only was Jenny captain of the Varsity soccer team but she was also President of the Chess club, and a member of the National Honor Society.

·        Felix had several things to get from the supermarket today: eggs, milk, bread, meat, and soft drinks for his daughter’s birthday party.

·        I think my grandmother, Jean, will be there along with my grandfather, Patrick, and my mother, Eunice.

2.      Separating the clauses

·        Jack wanted to go out with his friends to the movies, but he couldn’t do so because he had to finish his homework.

·        Lying to other people is not a good idea, and it often hurts other people’s feelings.

·        They were lost in the woods, hoping to get home by morning, but they were out of food and without a compass to guide them.

Supplementary Uses

1.      Adverbs and Adjectives

·        However, he was not guilty of the crime they thought he committed.

·        Moreover, they apologized to him and let him go free.

·        The dreary, sad day was encapsulated by the rainy weather.

·        President Franklin Roosevelt was fervent, unwavering in his belief in the American people’s ability to contribute to the war effort.

2.      Quotations and Dates

·        Mr. Johnson told his students, “You should always know how to use commas in sentences.”

·        LeBron was dismissive of the reporters stating, “I scored 50 points and did my best to help the team win the game.”

·        Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12th, 1809 in Hodgenville, Kentucky, United States.

·        Independence Day happened on July 4th, 1776 as the United States declared its independence from the British Empire.

As you can see from these examples, commas play a really important role in both English writing and in English grammar. There are several main uses and supplementary uses that the English language learner should be aware of. You must be able to practice each of these comma uses regardless of the purpose. In order to use commas properly, you must write your own sentences, make corrections if necessary, and get feedback from your teacher or your other classmates.

Each comma use is important whether its to separate sentence clauses, making a list of items, putting them with adjectives and adverbs, or using them for quotes or dates in those type of sentences. Without commas, you won’t have a complete sentence and you’ll run the risk of having a run-on sentence, which is what you want to avoid as much as possible in mastering English grammar and writing.

Why Do We Read?

We often hear the phrase in school that “Reading is fundamental.” Maybe it is our parents, our teachers, or our friends who play the biggest influence on us when it comes to imparting the wisdom of how important it is to read and to read a lot. I remember taking trips to the school library when I was younger to pick out a book and read during recess or after school if I were to borrow one. Sometimes, my classmates and I would go to book fairs to buy a few books for cheap where they would be different genres including action, adventure, history, science fiction, etc. I always looked forward to these book fairs or to go to the library and I was lucky enough to go to schools where reading was encouraged and how it was part of the curriculum. This freedom to pick out books to rent or to buy and to choose what, when, and how to read is one of the fundamental joys of life. However, even in our modern age, I find that reading books is not emphasized nearly as enough as it should.

While we have access to more information than ever before in more ways than ever before, there are still disappointing statistics when it comes to how much the average American is reading books. According to Pew Research, a quarter of American adults have not read a book in electronic or physical form in the past year, either in finishing part of a book or finishing the whole of it. Even with the rise of electronic books such as Amazon Kindle, audiobooks such as Audible, and the continuance of the printed book form, there is still a sizable part of the population who choose not to read books.

It is important to note that you cannot force someone to read books or to acquire knowledge through the written form, but any society does have the responsibility to give its citizens the chance and opportunity to read books at low to no cost. In order to do this, it is important to foster a great sense of importance surrounding books and the acquiring of knowledge through that medium from a very young age. Every child should have access to discounted or free books so that they learn to love reading whatever the subject may be. I was lucky enough to have access through my school, the local public library, or through being assigned books to read by teachers who cared. Every young person should be able to access the same opportunity to read and to acquire knowledge in that way without barriers.

Reading should be a fundamental right and not a luxury. To build a better society, fostering a love of reading plays a critical yet underrated role. At our core, most of us are curious about the world and we can learn so much about it if we have access to books. Reading can be quite powerful in several ways in that it expands our comprehension of the world and all its peculiarities.

Our ability to experience the word is limited so reading plays a great role in expanding our understanding of different people, places, and concepts that we may not get direct exposure to. This is especially the case when it comes to geography, history, science, etc. because while we may not experience these events or these chain reactions or these places directly, reading books is the closest any of us will get to being there in person or being apart of what happened.

Reading also forms the basis of having a strong imagination, one that can conceptualize and create new ideas based on previous books that one has read in the past or currently. Architects, engineers, politicians, scientists, writers, etc. can better develop themselves in their professions precisely because of the books that they have read from those who came before them. While you wouldn’t copy word for word the experiences or the work of others, anybody who reads can take those ideas to influence their own ideas to carry our actions that would change the world in some measurable way.

Reading books is also a needed respite from the daily anxieties and stresses that we experience in daily life. Taking 30 minutes to an hour at night or in the morning to escape to a fictional, fantasy, or previous state of the world is a way to calm the mind and to let your imagination run wild in a healthy manner. To calm yourself down, to ease into a nice book, and to let your mind wander for a little while is a key part of developing a healthy individual and is almost meditative in its calming nature.

Long after high school, college, or even graduate school, the knowledge and wisdom encapsulated in books will remain an important way to develop oneself intellectually and stoke one’s curiosity long after the first part of your life is over. Reading is a way to tap into one’s ability to be a lifelong learner and to become better in your profession or in your career pursuits. Whether you want to become an expert in your chosen field or to start a business or to run with a new idea that could change the world, books hold the key that could make your dreams a reality.

Perhaps the next time you see someone reading a book, go up to them and politely ask them about it. You should bring yourself back to that time when you were younger, and you walked down the halls of the school or local library and were curious about many books that all seem captivating. You should not let that fire go out of you as you get older. You should make the time to go to the bookstore, to the public library, or to a local fair to read something that perks your own interest. One of the worst things that we can do to ourselves is to lose that sense of curiosity and wonder related so closely with reading a new book for the first time. It is also important to bond with other readers, find out what they like to read, and whether they would be able to recommend you anything based on your personal tastes.

Cultivate that love of reading and spread it around to your friends and your family. Reading books is contagious, and people are curious so don’t be afraid to read a book at the lunch counter, on the subway, or even in a public park. We can get more people to read books again by setting the example and by imparting the knowledge and wisdom gained from books to others through our reading experience. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, “Reading is fundamental” and it should not be gone to waste.

Any active and engaged reader should also be standing up for others in terms of easy access to books, whether psychical or digital in our modern age. In your community, city, or country, you should be playing a part to make sure that public libraries stay open and are in good shape. You should donate books when you are done with them and especially to those children and adults who go without them. In addition, volunteering to read to children and/or teenagers is a great way to give back to your community. Everybody should have access to read and they should not be limited by the cost of it. That is why it is extremely important to support those politicians and community leaders who make sure the schools have libraries, that the public library is free for all, and that there are local book fairs that are cheap and are not too expensive for those citizens who want to buy books.

Without books, true knowledge and wisdom cannot be obtained. Be wary of those who do not read at all but do not insult them. Instead, try to bring them on to your side by highlighting the benefits of reading and how it has changed you to be a better learner. Reading should not be forced, of course, but it should be encouraged in helping to build a better society and a better world. Anyone can play a small part in this and I hope that you, the reader of this article, will play a small part in shaping it.

English Corner – Sentence Order and Structure

In previous ‘English Corner’ posts, I have covered ‘Personal Pronouns’ and ‘Singular and Plural Nouns’. I now would like to focus wholeheartedly on how the average English language learner can create a basic yet complete sentence that follows the SVO rule.

What is the SVO rule you may be asking? Good question. SVO stands for Subject – Verb – Object, which is the chronological order for which English sentences are made of. Other languages besides English may be forming sentences as Subject – Object – Verb, Object – Verb – Subject or Object – Subject – Verb but just for this particular language that we are learning which is English, we are going to stick with Subject – Verb – Object and the SVO rule.

If you have doubts about remembering that SVO stands for Subject – Verb – Object as an acronym, you can instead remember it as Some Valuable Onions (SVO) or So Very Open (SVO). These are just two examples of acronyms that you can associate with the SVO rule. It is important to remember that an English sentence will not make any sense unless it follows this particular rule and of placing these characteristics in the right chronological order.

Let’s begin with the Subject:

Subjects are often personal pronouns or proper nouns, which begin the English sentence. If you are using a personal pronoun, you would begin your sentence with I, You, We, They, He, and She if you are referring to a person. You would use a proper noun to refer to an object or a thing as ‘It.’ In addition, you can focus on using proper nouns as well that refer to specific people, places, and things. For example, you could begin a sentence with ‘The President, Albert Einstein, The Miami Dolphins, Hollywood, etc.) These proper nouns are usually formal titles referring to a person’s rank, their full name, or the title of the object or thing being referenced to.

Let’s continue with the Verb:

There are thousands of verbs that we can put in the heart of our sentences but let’s focus here on just the basic ones that are the come up the most frequently. When it comes to verbs, they usually will come right after the ‘subject’ in terms of the order to be in the middle. You also may need to add another verb or two to the sentence to make it complete with an additional subject word at the beginning if you are referencing another person in the ‘personal pronoun’ form.

When it comes to ‘verbs’, you will have the main verb of the sentence and then the ‘auxiliary verbs’ before or after the main verb which are meant to support the actual meaning of the sentence. Auxiliary verbs are not integral to basic sentence structure, but it is something to be aware of as most English sentences will have more than one verb. If you mess up the order of verbs in the sentence, do not be too concerned because that is an easy mistake to make. The key thing to keep in mind is that you are putting the verb after the subject and before the object or object(s) of the sentence.

Let’s finish with the Object:

The object of a sentence brings meaning or purpose to it so without the ending or the ‘object’ being made clear, the sentence will not function on its own within a larger paragraph or an essay. Objects can be either ‘direct’ or ‘indirect’ in terms of their relation to the subject. Types of objects include animals, people, places, things, etc. that are referenced to in some way at the end of the sentence.

A preposition can also go in front of the ‘object’ such as ‘for, to, on, with, by’ and can either be prepositions of place or prepositions of time.

Objects can be abstract, real, theoretical, or imaginary as long as they relate to both the previous subject(s) or verb(s) of the sentence. You can refer to an object directly in the sentence or indirectly depending upon the context.

It is important that the sentence when you finish writing it makes sense grammatically and in terms of using the correct vocabulary. Lastly, while you need a complete sentence, it does not have to be a run-on sentence meaning that you can break up a sentence in two or more sentences if you are saying too much.

Let’s look at a few examples going from the shortest sentence to the longest sentence:

Example #1: I like football.

Example #2: I want to play video games.

Example #3: She was not a good ballet dancer, but she was an excellent writer.

Example #4: You are not supposed to be at the music festival as you have a big test to study for tomorrow.

Example #5: Abraham Lincoln is known as the 16th President of the United States but he was also an avid reader, a lawyer, a U.S. Senator, and an outdoorsman.

Each of these examples sum up the varying levels of complexity that make up sentences in the English language. As you can see, it is likely that the longer a sentence is, the more complex it will be with additional subjects, verbs, and/or objects. The key to avoid run-on sentences is to look over your written work to make sure that the sentence is following the SVO rule but has the right vocabulary to go along with it.

The first example starts us off with one subject, one verb, and one object. The second example adds an auxiliary verb to the sentence and adds a preposition as well. The third sentence enters in a comma as well as an explanation regarding how ‘she’ was ‘not’ a ballet dancer, ‘but’ was an excellent writer. You have two objects, a preposition, and the same verb being used twice in the simple past tense. To add on to the complexity, the fourth sentence highlights the two objects as well as three total verbs and has a time frame by using ‘tomorrow’ as its indirect object at the end of this example. Lastly, the fifth and most complete English sentence discusses a real-life subject in President Abraham Lincoln and how he could have a number of other ‘objects’ associated with him. This sentence also has different verbs as well as a descriptive adjective like ‘avid’ to add some flair to this last example.

As you can see from my explanations and my examples, English language sentences are as diverse and as varied as the language itself. Whether it is three words or thirty words, one complete and compelling sentence can make all the difference in making you both a better English writer and a better English learner overall. Good luck and remember to use this post as a way to begin your quest to create excellent English sentences!

English Corner – Spot The Mistakes

Once you have learned to embrace your errors, the next key part of being an editor of your written English language work is to spot the mistakes. You need to become proficient in catching your mistakes, understanding why they were mistakes, and then fixing them. You are bound to make some mistakes with your English writing but the best way to get over that hurdle is to spot them, understand them, and fix them. It doesn’t even have to be your English when it comes to spotting the mistakes.

Beyond your own work, look at the English language wherever you go and see if there are any mistakes that other people have made. You may be able to help other writers whether they are friends, family, colleagues, or fellow students by helping them spot their mistakes and assisting them in getting them fixed.

Part of becoming proficient as an editor is getting that extra practice that comes with spotting errors in the English that others have put forward. You should always point out their mistakes in a polite and courteous manner, but you should be able to learn from their mistakes in addition to your own. Peer editing is a crucial part of becoming a better English writer and it will make you more adept as an editor too when it comes to be time to review your own work.

Most of us go about our daily lives trying to not focus on the advertisements or the notices that come across our path. However, another crucial way to boost your English language skills is to look closely at those words and phrases you see every day when you’re out and about. You may not notice it but there are sometimes silly and easily fixable errors that are in these notices and advertisements.

When you spot them, take the time to snap a photo with your phone and then when you’re home later, you’ll be able to write down the incorrect word or sentence and re-write it, so it is correct. In order to make this happen, you have to be observant and you have to sometimes get close to the notice, advertisement, or posting in public and really look carefully at it to see if the written English is right. What may be tedious at first may end up being a fun game of sorts that you can play with friends and family to improve your English.

Spotting errors does not only have to be with regards to advertisements or public notices. Despite how well edited written pieces of work are, you are likely to still find small errors in publications such as newspapers, journals, magazines, and even short stories. If you have purchased any one of these items, you should take the time to highlight the errors you find because there may be a few that have slipped the radar of the editor before it came time for publication. In addition to highlighting these errors, you should consider fixing the mistakes and even making the publisher and/or author aware of the fact that there were some mistakes left in the final version of the written piece.

The last key component when it comes to spotting English mistakes is having a way to document them whether you found these mistakes either in public or in private. It would be really beneficial to have a list of English mistakes that you have noticed and fixed as well as what was the running theme that they may have had in common. It would be wise to group those mistakes in categories whether they were grammatical errors, structural errors, or spelling errors. You could also write about the patterns of the mistakes in a journal or a Word document so you can keep track of where, how, and why you spotted those English errors.

Also, there are hundreds of activities, worksheets, and general practice problems out there that any student can use to boost their proficiency in being a better English editor. You will need to be already a decent writer to make proper edits, but you can do so at the Intermediate level or above. In addition, daily or even weekly practice by completing those ‘mistake’ correction worksheets will go a long way to become a good editor not only for yourself but for your fellow classmates or work colleagues.

There are many different websites out there where you can download, open, and use these activities for free and they are really easy to do so on your own. After completing these worksheets, be sure to get a trusted friend who is good in English or a qualified teacher or professor to look over your corrections to make sure that you did well in spotting and correcting the errors in the paragraph, essay, or article. Without proper oversight, you will not be as well off as an English editor so having a person for peer review is key in this case.

Spotting the mistakes that you make with the English language is easy enough, but it takes a lot of hard work and effort to spot the mistakes of others. However, by doing so, you’ll develop the skillset necessary to be a good Editor not just for yourself but for other English writers. Having the chance to practice spotting errors and mistakes in writing will set you apart from other learners. You should not be afraid of challenging yourself or your ego to point out the mistakes that you or others will inevitably make and then fix them.

While doing so, keep a running tally of these mistakes and understand if they are a pattern and how you can overcome making the same mistake over and over again. As I have mentioned previously, you learn through making mistakes and this is the case for both native English speakers and for English as a Second Language learners. Nobody’s perfect and we all have flaws in our language abilities. Instead of hiding from these mistakes, let us hold each other accountable and bring them out into the open so that we all may improve and become better English learners.

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