Making mistakes is part of learning. Hitting the right note comes with attention and practice.
And wanting to respect, and delight, our audience.
: how to use the colon in lists
|STANDARD PRACTICE||NON STANDARD
(usually seen as incorrect)
|I like many things, including the following: frogs, dogs and logs.|
I like many things, including frogs, dogs and logs.
|I like many things, including: frogs, dogs and logs.|
|The steps to make concrete are as follows: (1) mix the correct proportions of cement, aggregate and water, (2) pour it or stuff it where you want it to go, (3) smoothen its surface, and (4) keep it moist while it hardens for the first day or so.||The steps to make concrete are: (1) mix the correct proportions of cement, aggregate and water, (2) pour it or stuff it where you want it to go, (3) smoothen its surface, and (4) keep it moist while it hardens for the first day or so.|
|Great bread starts with the following: yeast, flour, butter and warm watery love.|
Great bread starts with yeast, flour, butter and warm watery love.
|Great bread starts with: yeast, flour, butter and warm watery love.|
What’s a colon? This : is a colon. People love using it to introduce a list.
What comes before the colon needs to be a complete sentence, grammatically speaking.
These are not complete sentences:
I like many things, including
The steps to make concrete are
Great bread starts with
The phrases “as follows” and “the following” are really useful to make a complete sentence that allows us to put a colon in front of our list.
The steps to make concrete are as follows: (1) mix the correct proportions of cement, aggregate and water, (2) pour it or stuff it where you want it to go, (3) smoothen its surface, and (4) keep it moist while it hardens for the first day or so.
Great bread starts with the following: yeast, flour, butter and warm watery love.
, commas can't do everything (comma splices)
|STANDARD PRACTICE||NON STANDARD
(usually seen as incorrect)
|I pulled an all-nighter last night. I’m exhausted.||I pulled an all-nighter last night, I’m exhausted.|
|For technical support, call us at 555-555-1234. We’re there to help.||For technical support, call us at 555-555-1234, we’re there to help.|
|She turned on the lights. There was a mess all over the floor. The cats did it.||She turned on the lights, there was a mess all over the floor, the cats did it.|
|She turned on the lights and saw a mess all over the floor. She realized that the cats did it.||She turned on the lights and saw a mess all over the floor, she realized that the cats did it.|
Sometimes we put a comma between two sentences that we feel are part of the same idea or thought. In standard practice, this is a mistake.
If it can be a full sentence by itself, don’t use a comma in front of it.
What’s a full sentence?
A full sentence has a grammatical subject and a main verb. It also makes a complete idea by itself.
FULL SENTENCE INCOMPLETE IDEA = INCOMPLETE SENTENCE
I’m exhausted. When I’m exhausted.
(What about when you’re exhausted?)
We're there to help. If we’re there.
(What about if we’re there?)
She turned on the lights. She turned on.
(She turned on what?)
The cats did it. The cats.
(What about the cats?)
She realized that the cats did it. She realized.
(She realized what?)
Do you want to know more about comma splices? Click here. Remember: If it’s a full sentence, don’t put a comma in front of it.
' apostrophes make things disappear
|Have you seen Pierrot’s dog?||Have you seen the dog of Pierrot?
(This is wordy and awkward.)
|My wife’s late for supper. This happens often.||My wife is late for supper. This happens often.|
|It’d be nice to be on vacation, wouldn’t it?||It would be nice to be on vacation, would it not?|
|Do you think it’s too late to give them a call?||Do you think it is too late to give them a call?|
|The dog has destroyed its chew toy. Again.|
(This its is correct. There is no apostrophe. Maybe it has no apostrophe to help us not confuse it with the other it's, which means "it is." It’s an exception.)
|The dog has destroyed the chew toy of the dog.
(Well, that doesn’t work. Wayyy too many words there.)
|Our guests’ requests were surprising, weren’t they?||The requests of our guests were surprising, were they not?|
|I’m tired ’cause I’m basically a night owl.||I’m tired because I’m basically a night owl.|
The apostrophe is used to show what belongs to who (or what’s part of what).
When the word that gets the apostrophe is singular, we write ’s.
When it’s plural, we don’t add the s.
Our guests’ requests
It’s also used to replace letters from a word when we don’t (do not) say the whole word. Here are a few examples:
|’s for is||She’s here.|
|’re for are||You’re there.|
|’m for am||I’m late.|
|’ll for will||You’ll regret it.|
|’ve for have||They’ve arrived.|
|’d for would||We’d go.|
|’d for had||You’d agreed.|
|n’t for not||He can’t come.|
|’cause for because||‘Cause he’s lost.|
|ma’am for madam||Can I help you, ma’am?|
|an’ for and||I’d like a peanut butter an’ jelly sandwich, please.|
Capital E for “English”
|We’re learning English.||We’re learning english.|
|Are you fond of German beers?||Are you fond of german beers?|
|If you like cheeses, you likely love French cheeses.||If you like cheeses, you likely love french cheeses.|
English is related to German. German puts a capital letter for every noun. That’s right. EVERY noun!
Well, in English we don’t do like the Germans do, but we do still use more capital letters than a lot of languages do.
We always put caps for
- English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Hindi, Albanian, Cree, Swahili and all other 6500 or so languages that are spoken on Earth today
- Québécois, Manitoban, Canadian, American, French, British, Latino, Columbian, Japanese, Pakistani, and all the other adjectives that we can make to describe something from a particular nationality or region or cultural community
- Sunday, Monday, Tuesday all the way to Saturday
- January, February, March all the way to December
|STANDARD PRACTICE||NON STANDARD
(usually seen as incorrect)
|After graduation, I hope to find work quickly.||After graduation, i hope to find work quickly.|
|I’m not sure that I agree.||I’m not sure that i agree.|
|I can’t recall the exact details, but I know they were lying.||I can’t recall the exact details, but i know they were lying.|
|If I were in your shoes, I’d call it a day.||If I were in your shoes, i’d call it a day.|
That little i all by itself is kind of cute.
It’s fine to use that cute little i guy all by itself in informal messages between friends.
The standard I guy is still always dressed up as a capital I.
If you’re writing something for work or something where you want to look like you know how to use standard English, use big I instead of little i.
|My boss is named Danièle.|
(It sounds like “NAYMD”.)
|My boss is name Danièle.|
|He’s a troubled person.|
(It sounds like “TRUH-bulld”.)
|He’s a trouble person.|
|She asked me whether the goods were damaged?|
(It sounds like “DA-mijd”.)
|She asked me whether the goods were damage.|
|I worked all day yesterday.|
(It sounds like “WORKT”.)
|I work all day yesterday.|
|She was surprised but happy when Sonia kissed her.|
(They sound like “sir-PRYZD” and “KIST”.)
|She was surprise but happy when Sonia kiss her.|
When we start learning English, we don’t usually hear the “ed” at the end of some words. It’s often a very soft “t” or “d” sound. Because of that, we often don’t spell those words correctly when we first start writing them.
How can we learn to write them if we don’t hear them?
When you read in English, slow down and notice “ed” endings. Practice pronouncing them out loud. If you do this, you’ll get better at remembering to write them.
Missing h in which
Sleep deprivation can affect your grades, which is why school should start later for teenagers. Sleep deprivation can affect your grades, wich is why school should start later for teenagers.
Maybe learning about wh can help us remember the h when we’re writing.
The Englishes that are used in the world today are quite different from the English that was spoken and written one thousand years ago. Take a look at this poem from long ago.
In that very old version of English, which we call Old English, there were many different spellings for who, what, where, when, why and which. These included
hwā (who), hwæt (what), hwǣr (where), hwænne (when), hwȳ or hwī (why), and hwich (which)
In each of these old spellings, the h is in front of the w. That’s because the h was pronounced at that time as part of the sound of the word. This is true for all the words in English today that have a wh sequence in their spelling.
The h sound in these words eventually disappeared from most spoken English and the spelling of these words changed as a result. Scribes began writing wh instead.
The word how is an exception. In this case, it was the w sound that mostly disappeared, but even before it was part of Old English. Phonologists believe the vowel sound basically swallowed up the w sound. We can still hear some w sound at the end of how when we exaggerate our pronunciation.
There are parts of the world where the h is still heard when people say wh words, including in parts of Ireland, Scotland and the southern United States.
|One of my goals is to help people who are less fortunate.||One of my goal is to help people who are less fortunate.|
|We use actuators to create a desired movement, such as pushing or pulling an object.||We use actuator to create a desired movement, such as pushing or pulling an object.|
|Some of my assignments take many hours to do if I want to do them well.||Some of my assignment take many hour to do if I want to do them well.|
|My mother works at an old folks’ home.||My mother work at an old folks’ home.|
|It takes discipline and perseverance to reach our goals.||It’s take discipline and perseverance to reach our goal.
(Technically, we can say “our goal” here if we really only have one goal. However, it sounds more natural to say “our goals.”)
|It’s better to call timeout when this happens.||It’s better to call timeout when this happen.|
In English, we add s where there is more than one of something, just like in French.
Two apples. Deux pommes.
In English, we add s on the third person singular for the simple present verb tense:
It looks good. You look good.
It feels arbitrary, but that’s just the way it is. This happens in French also, but with the second person singular in the présent de l’indicatif.
Ça parait bien. Tu parais bien.
Words that never get an s
|Thank you for all the advice.||Thank you for all the advices.|
|I have a lot of information to share.||I have many informations to share.|
|She has two assignments due tomorrow.|
She has some homework due tomorrow.
|She has two homeworks due tomorrow.|
|The black probes are usually for the negative pole, but it doesn’t really matter.||The blacks probes are usually for the negative pole, but it doesn’t really matter.|
|I’m a seventeen-year-old girl.|
I’m seventeen years old.
|I’m a seventeen-years-old girl.|
|There are many good ideas and several possible solutions.||There are many goods ideas and several possibles solutions.|
|She is the author of four research studies.||She is the author of four researches.|
In English, it’s not possible to count advice, information and homework. Instead we count pieces of advice, pieces of information, and homework assignments. We can also say bits of information.
In English, we never put “s” on an adjective. French is different that way.
|The first problem is the money.||The first problem it’s the money.|
|Going on a date can be a lot of fun.||Going on a date it can be a lot of fun.|
|To know the cause is to know the solution.||To know the cause it’s to know the solution.|
|The first time I had a car accident was destabilizing.||The first time I had a car accident, it was destabilizing.
(Actually, this example would often be considered acceptable in spoken English and informal writing. Perhaps when the first part of the sentence is longer, the “it” helps our brains process the idea better.)
|I lost my phone. My life’s over.||I lost my phone. My life it’s over.|
If it’s clear and it uses fewer words, it’s better.
Clear with fewer words is better.
This, that, these, those
(or acceptable but awkward)
I just got my acceptance letter. This is the best day of my life. I just got my acceptance letter. That is the best day of my life.
Yesterday we arrived late. That was the first time we were late. Yesterday we arrived late. This was the first time we were late.
(a bit awkward)
I’ve misplaced my phone. This isn’t the first time this happens. I’ve misplaced my phone. That isn’t the first time that happens.
(a bit awkward)
Here are our team’s suggestions. We think these are great ideas.
(This means we feel close to the ideas, literally or figuratively.)
Here are our team’s suggestions. We think those are great ideas.
(awkward if we feel close to the ideas, literally or figuratively)
We have your team’s suggestions. We think those are great ideas.
(This means we feel a bit distant toward the ideas, literally or figuratively.)
We have your team’s suggestions. We think these are great ideas.
(awkward if we feel a bit distant toward the ideas, literally or figuratively)
This (singular) and these (plural) are for what we feel close to. It can be close physically or in a more abstract sense.
I like this chocolate in my hands.
I like these suggestions you just made.
That (singular) and those (plural) are for what we feel less close to. It can be further away physically or in a more abstract sense.
I like that chocolate in your hands.
I like those suggestions from the other day.
A question in a question (sort of)
|Do you know what time it is?||Do you know what time is it?|
|Can you tell us what she has done?||Can you tell us what has she done?|
|He works near where the stadium is.||He works near where is the stadium.|
|Please share what you are thinking.||Please share what are you thinking.|
|I’m surprised by who she dates.||I’m surprised by who does she date.|
|How do you know if it’s hungry?||How do you know if is it hungry?|
It might look like a question in a question or a question in a regular sentence. These are called embedded questions. This means that the part that looks like a question is buried inside the rest of the sentence.
When that happens, we put the subject in that part in front of the verb in that part. We say it is, not is it.
The rest of the sentence is like a question if it’s a question, and like a regular sentence if it’s a regular sentence.