Don’t Rest on Your Laurels

“One of my favorite expressions in the English language: “Don’t rest on your laurels” means to not be complacent with what you have done and to keep moving forward.”

Complacency is the killer of any sustained success. What you have done in the past is in the past. Unfortunately, you cannot rest on your laurels for very long. One of my favorite expressions in the English language: “Don’t rest on your laurels” means to not be complacent with what you have done and to keep moving forward. Success is only temporary and while it can be lasting, if you don’t sustain what you’ve done to accomplish more, you may find yourself back at square one. You can be satisfied with your achievements and recognize them, but it is not wise to continue relying upon them when you need to be aware of what you have to do in the present and in the future.

With the current pandemic not going away anytime soon, it can be difficult to resign yourself to going with the flow, staying housebound, and waiting for things to become somewhat normal again. However, it should not be used as an excuse for you to let yourself go mentally or physically. Even if the first half of the year was a total wash for you and you put your own goals on hold, you still have a good chunk of the second half to make progress in whatever you set your mind to. Even though you may not be able to have fun as much as you like, this is a great time to reassess what is truly important to you, who truly matters to you, and how you want to be into the future. We all have extra time to think now and while that may feel like an undue burden, there is an opportunity in there to seek out what you are hoping to accomplish and will keep moving you forward during this unprecedented and difficult time.

Not resting on your laurels may sound difficult right now but it may be the perfect chance for you to move forward, to accomplish personal tasks that you’ve been putting off, and to pick up learning something new that you’ve been meaning to but never had the time before quarantine began or before you were resigned to staying at home more than you would have liked.

Each person is going to have their own set of goals and hopes but the main thing to keep in mind is that you have at least one thing that you want to accomplish that you didn’t have time for before the pandemic hit. Use your extra time even if it is just an hour or so each day to work towards a personal goal. With just one hour, you can accomplish a lot over the next five months. I would recommend setting a mental goal to hit like practicing meditation each day for 10 to 15 minutes or doing daily language practice for a new language that you would like to learn. You should also have one physical goal in mind like doing 50 pushups each day or 20 sprints or just being able to get in a form of exercise when you are not working or studying.

You cannot have just good physical health but poor mental health or vice versa. You need to work on both forms of health as they complement each other quite a bit. I truly believe that if you are making progress in both forms of health than you will be better able to confront the challenges of your day and your week. With this extra time at home, you can hit on both your mental and physical health in ways that you might not even be aware of.

If the gym is closed, go ahead and use your workout equipment at home. There are dozens of videos on how to do these kinds of exercises without needing very fancy equipment. You can also likely find stretch bands, jump rope, barbells, dumbbells, pull-up bars online to help you create that good 30-minute workout that can hit on different parts of the body. If you don’t have an outdoor space, look to your nearest park or public outdoor area to do sprints, go for a walk, go for a jog, or even do Yoga if you so desire to get a workout in.

Daily exercise is not only good for your body but it’s good for your mind as well. I think the pandemic has personally shown me as well the importance of staying fit and healthy and how it can get neglected when you are running around all the time, commuting to school or to work, and not making enough time for yourself to take care of your body. Now, with a little extra time, hopefully, we can collectively prioritize our physical health even if it’s just a simple home workout of 30 minutes.

Challenging yourself mentally on at least a weekly basis but preferably daily means learning something new to keep your mind sharp. If you are looking for work or haven’t been to school in a while, online learning opportunities are abundant from Coursera to LinkedIn Learning to Duolingo, which can challenge you to learn new skills to not only help you with your mental dexterity but can help you find a job depending on the type of industry you’re focusing on. Online learning is often less expensive than traditional means of education and since you are likely spending a lot more time in your apartment or your house, giving yourself thirty minutes to an hour per day of self-study can help you learn new skills while we are all living in this age of pandemic.

Keeping both your mental health and your physical health in mind during this trying time is very important. Not resting on your laurels even when life is influx and so many things are uncertain is not an excuse for your letting your mental and physical abilities go to waste. You are not only keeping yourself sharp to face ongoing challenges but you’re also getting out of your own head and letting your worries fall away for a little while. Wear a mask, socially distance, and wash your hands are all necessary in this current time but what’s also not being said is make sure you are taking care of both your mental and physical health too.

Whether it is a walk in the park, learning a new skill, doing home workouts, improving your cooking, trying to keep your routine even when homeward bound is very key to coming out of this pandemic better and more resilient. It’s something I have to work on myself but it’s key to keeping up a positive and forward-looking spirit. If you have more free time on your hands, that’s natural right now. Don’t become a sloth though and look to just vegetate out in front of the television. You have to do your best to stay active, stay positive, and keep moving forward.

It can be easy to rest on your laurels when much of our lives have been upended but you have to keep making progress towards your goals in ways that are possible right now. Hopefully, you have had time to think about which goals you want to achieve in the past few months and how you want to make the most of these remaining months of 2020. It’s been a hard year for everyone around the world, but you can still make it a fulfilling one for your own development by focusing on what you can control and how you make the most of these remaining months too.

Book Recommendations – Volume XI

“There’s nothing better than sitting under your favorite tree in a backyard or out on the balcony with the sun in your face reading an engaging and enlightening book. As I have mentioned previously, Summer is the best season for reading and since a lot of other summer activities are postponed or cancelled, why not catch up on some reading?”

There’s nothing better than sitting under your favorite tree in a backyard or out on the balcony with the sun in your face reading an engaging and enlightening book. As I have mentioned previously, Summer is the best season for reading and since a lot of other summer activities are postponed or cancelled, why not catch up on some reading? Regardless if the book is fiction or non-fiction, spending a few hours each day reading a good book can make the time pass by quicker and get rid of any kind of twiddle-your-thumbs moments that can happen when you don’t have a movie, concert, or sporting event to distract you. While live events may be out of order this summer, your bookshelf is dying to have you open up a book, sit down on your favorite couch or chair, and let your mind wander to an imaginary or a real place to pass the time.

  1. The Back Channel: A Memoir of American Diplomacy and The Case for Its Renewal by William J. Burns

William J. Burns might be one of the best diplomats the United States has ever had. With over thirty years of experience and having served in two of the most important regions of the world, Mr. Burns’s story is an example of the good that diplomatic efforts can do in resolving conflicts, promoting peace, and ensuring cooperation among both allies and adversaries. He is one of only two career diplomats to have ever earned the title of ‘Deputy Secretary of State’ and he gave advice and counsel to five U.S. Presidents and ten Secretaries of State.

Mr. Burns’s storied career includes Ambassadorships to both Jordan and Russia and he held numerous Assistant Secretary positions within the State Department during his three-decade tenure. He was partly responsible for ceasefire agreements between the Israelis and the Palestinians, for helping to eliminate Libya’s nuclear weapons program, and for helping to reset U.S. relations with Russia in the early 2010s. He also shares insights in this book that were previously not publicly known involving his views on the Iraq War, the Civil War in Syria, and of the Russian aggression against Ukraine at the end of his tenure.

This 400+ page memoir is simply a must-read for anyone interested in how diplomacy works and how vital it is to maintain within a government’s foreign policy. In a time now where it has been underinvested and mismanaged, Burns’s book illuminates how big of a difference it can make and how one man’s impact can be felt throughout an entire foreign policy apparatus due to his vigorous study of culture, languages, and history in order for him to be taken seriously. The book is not only educational but is also gripping in terms of his recall of major events throughout his diplomatic career as well as the written cables that explain them. It is a real page turner and should be required reading for any student of international relations and who hopes to become a diplomat in their own future career.

2. On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican Journey by Paul Theroux

Cooperation, friendship, and understanding is important among friends, but it is even more important among your neighbors. The US-Mexico relationship has been fraught with mistrust and tension especially during the years of the Trump administration. The best way to do away with stereotypes and misgivings about each other is to visit the lesser known places of a country and visit the non-touristy areas. Paul Theroux may be the best living American travel writer today.

From his experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi in the 1970s to his trek in the American Deep South, Paul Theroux has traveled around the world over five decades and counting. His latest novel about his travels in Mexico is a must-read for Americans and anyone else looking to understand Mexico from an outside lens. While not an exhaustive take on the complex country and its people, Theroux’s book, somewhat observant and otherwise felt like you’re in the middle of his travels is both illuminating and powerful.

Paul Theroux is really a true traveler and even though this is the first of his travel novels that I have read, this one felt very timely as it was released in 2019 during a time of souring relations between the two North American neighbors. Theroux spares no miles or kilometers in seeing all of Mexico that he can. From the desert Region of Sonora in the North to the Mexico mundo of Mexico City to the Southeast of the country where he visits the Zapatistas, this is an extremely educational look at modern Mexico.

Theroux’s book highlights the issues that Mexico is going through from immigration from the Northern Triangle to the ever-present threat of the drug cartels to the hopes of Mexico’s indigenous populations who believe that they have been left behind as other villages and towns hollowed out while the economic gains went elsewhere. It’s not just the issues that Theroux shines a lens on but also the beauty of the country’s culture and its warm people. As an elderly traveler, Theroux is treated with great respect and even reverence as ‘Don Pablo.’

He is welcomed as a guest, kept safe by complete strangers, and invited to interview Mexicans who normally would not talk to foreign travelers. Theroux travels all the way from Massachusetts across the border where few Americans are found to cross. He does so in his own car on his own dime and does not travel with any security or any kind of companionship. He learns Spanish and teaches writing to Mexican students. He is a refreshing kind of traveler, one who remembers to show people through a human lens and to not deal with harmful stereotypes.

Overall, ‘On the Plain of Snakes’ is an excellent travel novel for anyone interested in learning more about Mexico’s people, its culture, its struggles, and its hopes for a better future.

3. Rule Makers, Rule Breakers: How Tight and Loose Cultures Wire Our World by Michele J. Gelfand

This book has been my favorite one of 2020 and I only heard of it through a weekly David Brooks column in The New York Times Opinion section. The differences and similarities between cultures and societies is a topic that has fascinated me for years. As someone who has lived in both loose and tight countries as Mrs. Gelfand so brilliantly classifies, it is fascinating to see her extensive research come into fruition and how these loose and tight countries affect our outlook on everything from celebrations to driving to health care to tattoos.

Tight countries are cultures where norms are preserved and breaking them is frowned upon. Societal cohesion is encouraged and straying from norms is open to punishment. Loose countries are cultures where norms are often broken and breaking them usually comes with a shrug or a lack of care. Why do Germans always stop at a red light even when its 3 AM? Why do Brazilian clocks never run on time? Why do Japanese trains always run on time? Why do Singaporean laws ban gum from being chewed?

These tight and loose differences do not just extend to countries but also to states, cities, organizations, businesses and even within us. This book of ‘tight and loose’ norms highlights how we feel about any subject and how that is reflected in how we act with others. There is no right or wrong answer as to whether living in a tight culture is better or if living in a loose culture is better. Mrs. Gelfand excellently points out in each chapter how they both have their advantages and disadvantages depending upon the norm being considered.

Our upbringing, our environment, our country’s history, etc. all have effects on how ‘tight’ a culture is or how ‘loose’ a culture is. There can also be changes to a culture depending if there are big events like a terrorist attack, a pandemic, a natural disaster, etc. Cultures can tighten or loosen depending upon what is going on in the country and how people are being affected by these natural or manmade shifts to our lives.

Having seen both ‘tight cultures’ and ‘loose cultures’ up close and personal, this book has been a revelation to me in terms of explaining what I thought about only in my theories that I concocted after traveling from country to country but never really expressing it as well as she has in this great book. Mrs. Gelfand has done extensive research across many countries and continents to explain why some countries have more ‘rule makers’ and why other countries have ‘rule breakers.’ In order for our own cultures to shift from one spectrum to the other, we have to first understand why the country’s culture is the way it is and if it can shift, what benefits are there to tightening up or loosening up depending on what is going on in our lives and in our society at the time?

What are we left with? (Our Memories)

I was asked a question recently that was very deep and thought-provoking. A friend asked me if I had to choose between an old age spent losing my physical abilities but keeping my mental faculties or an old age spent losing my mental faculties and keeping my physical abilities, which one would I choose? The question gave me pause because I normally do not focus a lot on my impending aging but it’s natural to think of what life will be like once you are an elderly person. My friend did not hesitate to say that he would choose having his physical abilities intact since he is a very active person and enjoys running, hiking, and exercising at the gym.

He thought that I would agree with him and I do like to keep active as well physically but I also thought of what would happen to my mind if I could no longer process and retain information about books I love, music I enjoy, and movies where I can recite a lot of lines of dialogue from. Perhaps most importantly, I thought of all the memories I have made up until this point of both friends and loved ones and how it would be anguishing to me if I succumb to a disease of the mind where I lose sight of who I am or who my family or friends are. I think that really is a fate worse than physical deterioration because I find that our physical abilities and our peak performance do not last and Father Time will have our way with all of us regardless of how much we exercise, take vitamins, and play sports. Eventually, your body will break down especially the older you get and there is only so much you can do to spot that.

However, I tend to believe that exercising our mind and our mental capabilities can be a lot easier and take a lot less work than it takes to maintain our physical body. We live in an age where you can learn anything you want about an unlimited number of subjects. Keeping our minds sharp by studying foreign languages, learning new subjects, reading good books, writing our thoughts down in a journal are all healthy activities to kind the mind sharp. I am not an expert in terms of how to keep our mental capacities up as we go through life but I would imagine that putting your brain to the test especially with puzzles, trivia games, and sudoku especially can help you preserve what is most important to you.

Unfortunately, I have seen firsthand how sad and tragic it is for others to slowly lose their mental capacities and that is what tipped me towards the idea of focusing as much, if not more so, on giving myself the best show to work on my concentration, my memory, and my ability to learn new things. I believe that we all have that same capacity to preserve our mental capacities although it does take consistent work that not only last years but lasts decades as well.

Part of the reason why it is good to be able to exercise your brain as much as possible is because I really believe it makes you a more well-rounded and thoughtful person. Learning new things is something you should never really give up on. Having a college degree or a law degree or a medical degree is not really an excuse to stop learning and stop exercising your mind to the most you can push it.

We do not know what old age will hold, what will it be like, what abilities or faculties we will be left with but what we have control over is today and what we focus on whether that is mental or physical exercise. What I do know is how meaningful it is to remember what has happened over the course of your life and to be aware of those special memories that are yours and yours alone. In the end, what are we left with? We are left with our memories and hopefully it is more of an endless ocean than a single drop of water.

To focus today on making those memories with the people we care about and the things we enjoy doing will make old age that much sweeter. If your body one day gives out but your mind is still sharp, I think that is the better side of the deal. Obviously, it would be great to be fit as a fiddle and sharp as a tack until your last day, but I find that to be wishful thinking. I hope to remember who I am, what I’ve done, who I met, and most importantly who I loved when that time comes to reminisce and there aren’t many more memories to make.

Having memories in your mind that are fresh and seemed like they happened yesterday is the best you should hope for and what you can strive for by working today to strengthen your mental capacities as much as possible.  Your body at 70 is unlikely to be as good as your body at 70 but I’m a believer in the capacity of your mind at 70 to be as sharp as your mind at 20 within reason.

There are definitely outside factors to contend for in terms of your ability to retain your memories such as your genetic predisposition, your family history, and your own mind’s chemistry, but you can control a lot today through your own actions what memories you will be left with 50 years later. It also does not hurt to start writing down in a journal or diary on a daily basis or at least a weekly basis what happened in your life. This is especially the case if you live an exciting or an eventful life.

In addition, having photographs of yourself at different ages and in different places will jumpstart your memories and remind you of where you have been and what you did. Towards the end of your life, think of what you will have left. Yes, you will have your money, your possessions, and hopefully good physical health but I wish you also to remember deeply the memories you have made from different parts of your life and they are as vivid as possible. Your life towards the end of it should be like a cinematic movie of many parts, one as distinct from the other, and I hope you can look upon those memories you have made with great enjoyment and great fondness for what was and what it meant to you.

“Tudo Bem?”

Tudo bem? or Tudo bom? is a simple yet intriguing greeting that has been one of the most culturally interesting aspects of living in Brazil. You might be thinking what is so interesting about these two words but the greeting itself when you translate it has much more of a significance than what you would think. I find it fascinating for a number of reasons, which I will divulge during this article and it is important to keep in mind that languages including English have different ways in which people can address each other from the very neutral to the very positive.

To give some background first, I have studied a few foreign languages thus far and one of the first things you learn in any language are the greetings / salutations. The way you greet someone in another language can teach you a lot about the culture and also about the country. No one greeting is the same although the meaning is usually quite similar. What has thrown me off about ‘Tudo bem?’ is not just the brevity of it but the significance regarding its inherent positivity. I did not expect this greeting to be so prevalent, but I am fundamentally glad that it is used so regularly.

Let us start by breaking ‘Tudo bem?’ or ‘Tudo bom?’ down in terms of trying to translate it into English, which is not so easy on the surface. You would think it means ‘How are you?’, ‘How is everything going?’ but that is not the right translation. If we are to translate it into English, it would be more like, ‘All is well?’ or ‘Everything good?’. Instead of saying ‘Como vai voce?’ (How are you doing?) or ‘Como voce esta?’ (How are you?), I have been surprised to learn that these greetings are not as popular while ‘Tudo bom?’ or ‘Tudo bem?’ are used frequently in polite greetings whether it is with a shop keeper, bank teller, a cashier, or your neighbor from next door.

What I really like about ‘Tudo bem?’ or ‘Tudo bom?’ is that you are being positive and outgoing right from the start. Even if everything is just okay or you might be having a bad day, it is almost expected to say in response ‘Tudo bem!’ or ‘Tudo bom!’ to indicate that everything is going well and you’re doing fine even if that might be the case. To me, this represents something very unique about Brazilian culture in terms of airing on the side of being positive and upbeat. Even if you are going through some tough times or don’t think everything is alright, you are unconsciously drawn to saying that it is and to stay positive.

You do not have to always respond with ‘Tudo bem’ or ‘Tudo bom’ but during my time here, I have not really heard any answers in Portuguese with the equivalent of ‘I’m doing alright’, or ‘I’m doing okay’, or ‘I’m fine.’ Even rarer would be to say that you are not doing well, or you are sick, or you are tired. ‘Tudo bem?’ is a very casual greeting and it is usually only common to respond with the same reply or with a ‘bem’ (good), ‘bom’ (good), or even ‘tudo certo’ (all right). You don’t really say that you are doing amazing, fantastic, wonderful, or any other exuberant English equivalent when asked about ‘Tudo bem?’ but this kind of greeting in Portuguese is much more positive, and warm than I have encountered with another languages.

Greetings tend to be neutral at the outside when the person asking expects a positive answer, but the response can also be neutral or negative depending on the language used. However, I have found that Portuguese among the languages I know or have studied is the only one which leaves very little room for a neutral or negative response. I do believe that is a good thing although it can be a bit difficult to express those emotions right away. It is kind of expected to start out any interaction on a positive note by saying ‘all is well?’ and ‘all is good?’. Unless you are with a family member or a close friend, it can be tough to really express how you truly feel because they are likely not asking how you really are but just trying to be polite at the outset.

Regardless, when you compare Brazilian Portuguese to English or to Spanish, the initial greeting is much more positive in terms of the translation. While you can say ‘All is well?’ or ‘Everything good?’ in English, these are not really the initial greetings that you would use when you are talking to someone for the first time. It is much more common to say, ‘How are you?’ or ‘How are you doing?’ instead. Saying ‘Hello, all is well?’ or ‘Hello, everything fine?’ at the outside to an English speaker would be a bit strange at first whereas ‘How are you?’ is much more of a common occurrence.

In my opinion, the same could be said with Spanish where you would address someone you have never met before with ‘Como estas?’ or ‘Como vas?’, which is a very similar translation from the English of ‘How are you?’ or ‘How are you doing?’ Now, you could do something similar in Spanish with a greeting of ‘Todo bien?’ which is similar to the meaning of ‘Tudo bem?’ in Portuguese. However, from my own experience, while ‘Todo bien?’ is more acceptable and can be heard from time to time, a more proper greeting in a first interaction with a native Spanish speaker is ‘Como estas?’ rather than ‘Todo bien?’ An exception would be if you had met that person before or a few times previously and consider them to be more than a stranger. That is when ‘Todo bien?’ would be used but not really when you meet someone for the first time.

Lastly, even with Turkish, the last language I have learned, you would say to somebody new: ‘Merhaba, Nasilsin?’ (Hello, how are you?) similarly to English or Spanish but there is no formal greeting used in the Turkish language where you would ask if everything is well right off the bat. In English, Spanish, or Turkish, it seems that the greeting to ask how someone is starts off as being very neutral in its meaning whereas with Brazilian Portuguese, it is fundamentally a different story. Out of all the languages that I have learned and studied, the greeting of ‘Tudo Bem?’ is fundamentally the most optimistic and positive out of all of them.

I have to say that it took me back at first when I arrived in Brazil how common it is and how it is customary to reply with a ‘Tudo bem!’ or ‘Tudo bom!’ in reply, usually with a smile. It is a testament to the positive and upbeat culture where even if you are having a bad day and things aren’t going well, people here try to have a happy outlook on life and to boost their spirits with a ‘Tudo bem?’ and a thumbs up. I am not a psychologist, but I can imagine seeing someone smiling and wishing you a ‘Tudo bem?’ will do wonders for your day and for your overall mood.

If you can learn any two words in Brazilian Portuguese, I would recommend that you first use ‘Tudo bem(?)’ because it is probably the most important words in the language and can both be a great question and a great answer to have under your belt as you navigate this fascinating and unique culture.

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.

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.

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 – The Active Voice

Every writer has a voice but it’s important to be able to distinguish which is the correct voice to use depending upon the context. There are two main voices in English writing to be aware of: the active voice and the passive voice. In this ‘English Corner’ blog post, we will be focusing specifically on how to use the active voice in your writing, which means that the subject of the sentence is actually creating the action and not the other way around.

The ‘active voice’ adds more impact to your writing, which is why most writers use the active voice instead of the passive voice. Overall, I would argue that the active voice is more important than the passive voice yet you should know how to use both effectively as an English writer.

Active Voice Usage

Sentences written in an active voice flow better and are easier to understand. When you use the active voice, the emphasis is on the subject of the sentence, which is doing the action itself. This makes the sentence straightforward and concise. Examples are:

  • I really love this TV show.
  • Gorillas live in the jungle. 

Sentences that use a passive voice are often harder to understand. Passive voice can make a sentence awkward and vague. The emphasis of the sentence changes to the receiver of the action. Some examples are:

  • This TV show is loved by me.
  • The jungle is where the gorillas live.

Passive sentences usually have more words than active ones, which is one reason why the reader has to work harder to get the meaning of the sentence, and the sentence structure can seem disorderly. If you have a composition that is too difficult to understand, you may be able to change some passive sentences to active ones. Two examples are:

  • The electoral ballots were counted by the volunteers. (passive)
    The volunteers counted the electoral ballots. (active)
  • The flowers were stepped on by the dog. (passive)
    The dog stepped on the flowers. (active)

Active Voice Adds Impact to Your Writing

The active voice adds substantial impact to your sentence; however, you may sometimes want to use the passive voice to lessen the impact of your sentence.

  • Sometimes the active voice is used to deliberately obscure who is responsible for an action, like if a politician said, “Mistakes were made” or “Shots were fired.”
  • Businesses may use the passive voice to lessen their impact like “Your service will be shut off” which is passive, rather than “We are going to shut off your service.” which is active.
  • In crime reports, a policeman would write, “the bank was robbed” because he does not know who actually robbed the bank.
  • In a mystery novel, you may want to place the emphasis on what was taken, like “the jewels were taken” rather than focus on the unknown person who took them.

In most English sentences with an action verb, the subject performs the action denoted by the verb. These examples show that the subject is doing the verb’s action:

The boy must have eaten all of the hot dogs.

            The boy (subject) is doing the eating (verb).

Jennifer mailed him the love letter.

            Jennifer (subject) is doing the mailing (verb).

Colorful iguanas live in the Amazon rainforest.

            Iguanas (subject) are doing the living (verb).

Because the subject does or “acts upon” the verb in such sentences, the sentences are said to be in the active voice. As you go through an individual essay, article, or paper, please be sure to check that you are primarily using the active voice. The passive voice definitely has its place but if you are especially trying to be persuasive, make a congruent argument, or back up your hypothesis, then you should mainly be using the active voice in those types of writing. 

If you find that the ‘subject’ of your sentence is clearly not at the beginning and your action / object is taking its place, then your sentence is not an active one by a passive one instead. The active voice always places the subject within the first word or two at the beginning of the sentence so that the reader will be well aware of who is committing the action. Please keep in mind how to use the active voice in terms of the sentence structure, what the examples show above, and in which types of writing the active voice is mainly used. If you would like to take your English writing to the next level, you must first know what the active voice is and in a later ‘English Corner’ post, the passive voice will be discussed in terms of its usage and some examples.

Lastly, think of the ‘active voice’ and the ‘passive voice’ as the Yin and the Yang of English writing. Both have their separate and unique uses but you can’t only have one in your writing. You must be able to know how to use both because there cannot be one without the other. 

English Corner – Fun with Adverbs

In a previous ‘English Corner’ post, we covered the topic of ‘conjunctive adverbs‘ and also briefly touched upon ‘adverbs’ in the articles on ‘basic parts of speech‘ but now I would like to go much more in depth to talk about adverbs and why they should matter to the English learner. To put it quite simply, Adverbs are a basic part of speech in English that add clarity to your written and spoken sentences. Adverbs are used to modify, change, or quantify an adjective, verb, or another adverb in the same sentence or group of words.

Without adverbs, sentences in English wouldn’t have the same zest and flair that they do with this basic part of speech being used correctly. Adverbs can draw relations between places, people, times, causes, degrees, etc. While Adverbs are not the most popular form of basic speech, you cannot be well-versed in understanding English grammar without having a formal knowledge of what adverbs are, how they are used, and what kind of examples need them within the sentences you create. Please use this article on ‘adverbs’ to improve not only your understanding of the English language but also your ability to write, speak, and use it freely. 

Traditionally considered to be a single part of speech, adverbs perform a wide variety of functions, which makes it difficult to treat them as a single, unified category. Adverbs normally carry out these functions by answering questions such as:

  • When? She always arrives early.
  • How? He drives carefully.
  • Where? They go everywhere
  • In what way? She eats slowly.
  • To what extent? It is terribly

These examples help bring light to the fact that they are all adverbial functions and may be accomplished by using adverbial clauses and adverbial phrases as well as by adverbs that are singular as well. There are many rules for using adverbs, and these rules often depend upon which type of adverb you are using. Remember these basics as expressed in the examples above, and using adverbs to make sentences more meaningful, and expressive will be easier for you.

  • Adverbs can always be used to modify verbs. Notice that the second of these two sentences is much more interesting simply because it contains an adverb:
    • The dog ran. (You can picture a dog running, but you don’t really know much more about the setting.)
    • The dog ran excitedly. (You can picture a dog running, wagging its tail, panting happily, and looking glad to see its owner. You can paint a much more interesting picture in your head when you know how or why the dog is running.)
  • Adverbs are often formed by adding the letters “-ly” to the end of adjectives. This little tidbit of information makes it very easy to identify adverbs in many sentences. There are many exceptions to this rule; everywhere, nowhere, and upstairs are a few examples where an –ly isn’t apart of the adverb itself.
  • An adverb can be used to modify an adjective and intensify the meaning it conveys.
    • Examples: He plays tennis well. (He knows how to play tennis and sometimes he wins.)
    • He plays tennis extremely well. (He knows how to play tennis so well that he wins often.)

As you read the following adverb examples listed below, you’ll notice how these useful words modify other words and phrases by providing information about the place, time, manner, certainty, frequency, or other circumstances of activity denoted by the verbs or verb phrases in the sentences.

There are many different words that function as adverbs. The following list is broken down into different categories, which list adverbs by their function. After reading, you will be able to think of additional adverbs to add to your own list – after all, there are thousands of adverbs that appear in the English language.                   

The vast majority of adverbs out there end in “-ly”. This makes it very easy to spot the adverbs in most sentences so please be on the lookout for that as you discover this basic part of speech in more detail.

Abruptly

Boldly

Carefully

Deliberately

Excitedly

Financially

Horribly

Mildly

Naughtily

Openly

Poorly

Quickly

Sadly

Terribly

Willingly

Yearly

Some adverbs tell us where the action happened. These are known as adverbs of place.

Everywhere

Here

Inside

There

Underground

Upstairs

Certain adverbs let us know when or how often the action happened. These are known as adverbs of time and adverbs of frequency.

After

Always

Before

Later

Now

Today

Yesterday

Many adverbs tell us the extent of the action.

Almost

Enough

So

Too

Quite

Rather

Very

Some adverbs are used as what’s known as intensifiers.

Absolutely

Certainly

Completely

Heartily

Really

Certain adverbs called adverbs of manner tell us about the way in which something was done.

Briskly

Cheerfully

Expectantly

Randomly

Willingly

___________________

Now that you are more familiar with what ‘adverbs’ are, have seen a good amount of examples of how they are used, as well as been shown a list of the most popularly used ones, you should be better able to use adverbs correctly in written or spoken sentences. Please be sure to study the definition of an adverb, the different ways it can be used, and the list of words that are adverbs themselves. If you do not apply the information that you learn about adverbs such as in this article, you won’t be able to improve your English grammar as much as possible. Good luck and remember to have some fun with adverbs!

English Corner – Conjunctive Adverbs

Today’s English grammar topic is one that is often overlooked but can really help you become more advanced in using the language if you know how to do so correctly and by following the rules behind it. What I am referring to are ‘conjunctive adverbs’ which can help improve your sentences in terms of the meaning and to explain further about each independent clause within the sentence.

Conjunctive adverbs are words that are used to join two or more independent clauses into one sentence. A conjunctive adverb can help you to create a shorter sentence that still contains the necessary details to be complete. When you use a conjunctive adverb in a sentence, it’s necessary to follow the main rule otherwise it won’t work out.

The main rule for the placement of a conjunctive adverb is to put a semicolon (;) before it and a comma (,) after it. There are very few exceptions to this rule and without observing it, the sentence structure will suffer as a result. 

Example

  • We have many different sizes of this shirt; however, it comes in only one color.

Some examples of conjunctive adverbs are: accordingly, also, besides, consequently, finally, however, indeed, instead, likewise, meanwhile, moreover, nevertheless, next, otherwise, still, therefore, then, etc.

More Examples

  • The due date for the midterm paper has passed; therefore, I could not submit mine on time.
  • There are many history books; however, some of them may not be accurate.
  • It rained hard; moreover, lightening flashed and thunder boomed.
  • The tired baby fell asleep; then, the doorbell rang, waking her up.
  • The law does not permit drinking and driving anytime; otherwise, there would be many more car accidents.

Conjunctive adverbs look like coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or, so, for, yet, nor); however, they are not as strong as coordinating conjunctions and they are punctuated differently. Compared to coordinating conjunctions in particular, there are many more words out there that can function as conjunctive adverbs. There are a lot less coordinating or subordinating junctions out there when compared to the amount of adverbs that can be used for conjunctive purposes. 

A conjunctive adverb is also used in a single main clause. In this case, only a comma (,) is used to separate the conjunctive adverb from the rest of the sentence. There’s no semicolon (;) in the case of these examples so it’s important to remember that you don’t always need a comma and a semicolon together in between your conjunctive adverb.

  • I woke up very late this morning. Nevertheless, I wasn’t late to school.
  • She didn’t take a bus to work today. Instead, she took the commuter train.
  • Jack wants a toy car for his birthday. Meanwhile, Jill wants a dollhouse for her birthday.
  • They returned home. Likewise, I went home after the party.

List of the Most Popular Conjunctive Adverbs

  • accordingly
  • additionally
  • also
  • anyway
  • besides
  • certainly
  • comparatively
  • consequently
  • conversely
  • elsewhere
  • equally
  • finally
  • further
  • furthermore
  • hence
  • henceforth
  • however
  • in addition
  • in comparison
  • in contrast
  • incidentally
  • indeed
  • instead
  • likewise
  • meanwhile
  • moreover
  • namely
  • nevertheless
  • next
  • nonetheless
  • now
  • otherwise
  • rather
  • similarly
  • still
  • subsequently
  • then
  • thereafter
  • therefore
  • thus
  • undoubtedly
  • yet

Overall, there are dozens of conjunctive adverbs that can be used in the English language but the ones I’ve listed above are definitely the most common. The job of an adverb is not to always connect two main clauses but it can happen so it’s important to be aware of how and when the ‘conjunctive adverb’ can be used in a sentence.

We do sometimes used adverbs to connect ideas together. In addition, conjunctive adverbs are supposed to connect words, phrases, and clauses together in order to create great sentences that flow really well and have a deeper meaning. By using conjunctive adverbs well, you can provide smooth transitions in a sentence from one independent clause to another one. The conjunctive adverb has a really important purpose within English grammar and I hope this blog post will help you, the reader, to use it to better your writing skills and reading comprehension.