31 January 2012

Two, To, and Too

Another example of frequently confused homophones (words which sound the same but have different spellings and meaning) are two, to, and too


Two is a number:

     Ex.: Two days.


Preceding a noun, to can be used as a preposition:

     Ex.: I am going to the store.

When it precedes a verb,  to indicates its infinitive:

     Ex.: I like to dance. 
     Ex.: I need to eat.


Too can be used as a substitute for 'also.'

     Ex.: I want to go, too. (I want to go also.)

Too, when preceding an adverb or adjective, can also mean excessively:

     Ex.: He is walking too quickly.
     Ex.: I'm too tired. 

In Sum

If you're referring to something excessive, use the word 'too.'
To denote the number 2, use the word 'two.'
For everything else, 'to' is appropriate.

25 January 2012

There, Their, and They’re

There are some words in the English language that are pronounced the same, but are spelled differently and have different meanings (these words are called homophones). One of the more confusing examples is knowing how and when to correctly use the words there, their, and they’re


There refers to a place, either concrete (“over there by the door”) or abstract (“it's nice there”).  

     Ex.: “The keys are over there by the door.”
     Ex.: “Just set them down over there.”

Combined with the verb be (such as is, are, was, were), there can also refer to the existence of something; similarly, it can be used to introduce something for the first time.

     Ex.: “There is a new store in town.”
     Ex.: “In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit.”

If you're still unsure, you can test this by replacing there with here; if the sentence still makes sense, then you have used the word correctly.


Their is a possessive adjective which indicates that a particular noun belongs to them.  

     Ex.: They left their books on the table. (The books belonging to them.)

If you’re still unsure, you can test this by replacing their with our; if the sentence still makes sense, then you have used the word correctly.


They’re is a contraction of they and are. It is used only as a subject (who or what is performing the action) or verb (the action itself), and never as a modifier.

     Ex.: “They’re going to the movies tonight.”
     Ex.: “I’m glad they’re still serving breakfast this late in the day.”

If you’re still unsure, you can test this by replacing they’re with they are; if the sentence still makes sense, then you have used the word correctly.

Some Examples of Using There, Their, and They’re Incorrectly

“Their are a lot of people here.”
“They’re food was starting to get cold.”
“The children sat at the table to do there homework.”

22 January 2012

Prepositional Phrases

What is a Prepositional Phrase?

A prepositional phrase consists of a preposition, its object, and any associated adverbs or adjectives.

Some of the most common prepositions are: about, above, after, along, around, at, before, below, beside, between, by, during, for, in, inside, near, of, on, over, since, throughout, to, under, underneath, until, upon, with, within, and without.

Functioning as an Adverb

As an adverb, a prepositional phrase will answer the questions, “How?” “When?” or “Where?”

     Example: We drove carefully along the busy highway.
Here, the preposition along introduces the highway; the prepositional phrase “along the busy highway” acts as an adverb, describing where we drove.

Functioning as an Adjective

As an adjective, a prepositional phrase will answer the question, “Which one?”

     Example: The note from Janet indicated that she was leaving.
The prepositional phrase “from Janet” describes the note. Which note? The one Janet wrote. 

Prepositional Phrases Do Not…

contain the subject of a sentence. Because a prepositional phrase contains a noun, it seems logical for that noun to be the subject of the sentence.

Example: Neither of these cookbooks contains the recipe I am looking for.

Neither is the (singular) subject attached to the (singular) verb contains. Cookbooks, on the other hand, is part of the prepositional phrase of these cookbooks. If the cookbooks were the subject of the sentence, we would use the plural form of the verb – contain – rather than the singular – contains.  

Prepositional phrases like in addition to and along with can be misleading, because they indicate that there is more to come; they will trick you into believing that the subject is plural when in reality, it is not.

Example: Rebecca, along with her siblings, cheered when school was cancelled due to the snow.

In terms of logic, both Rebecca and her siblings are pleased by the cancellation of school. While Rebecca’s siblings exist in the sense of the real world, in the sentence, they are locked into the prepositional phrase, making Rebecca the subject of the verb cheered.


What is a Preposition?

There are over 100 prepositions in the English language. A preposition links nouns, pronouns, and phrases to other words in a sentence. A preposition usually indicates time or place in regards to the object (the word or phrase being introduced by the preposition). 

A Point in Time

At, in, and on are prepositions of time.

At denotes a specific time; in is used for months, years, or any extended period of time; and on is used for days or dates.

     His flight leaves at 7 PM.
     That store is not open at night.

     They always go camping in the summer.
     That movie came out in 1997.
     Her birthday is in March.

     He has a test on Monday.
     He was born on May 6.

Next, Last, Every, This

We also use the prepositions next, last, every, and this:

     I will see you next week. (Not on next week.)
     I was on vacation last April. (Not in last April.)
     I will call you this afternoon. (Not in this afternoon.)
     We get together every Christmas. (Not at every Christmas.)


In, inside, on, and at are prepositions of place.

In refers to the point itself; inside expresses something which is contained; on talks about a surface; and at refers to a general vicinity.

     There is a fly in this room.
     There is a letter inside the envelope.
     The book is on the table.
     She is waiting at home.

Higher or Lower Than a Point

We use the prepositions over and above to express an object being higher than a point:

     He hit the ball over the fence.
     The mirror is above the sink.

We use the prepositions under, underneath, beneath, and below to express an object being lower than a point.

     Some animals burrow under the ground.
     The sock was underneath the blanket.
     We sat in the shade beneath the trees.
     From the plane, the people below us looked like ants.

Close to a Point

We use the prepositions near, by, next to, between, among, opposite to express an object’s proximity to another object or point.

     Their house was near the school.
     He read his book by the trees.
     He sat between the two girls.
     There were a few flowers among the weeds.
     She sat opposite her friend.

Introducing Objects of Verbs

At: smile, laugh, look

     She smiled at the boy.
     They laughed at the comedian.
     The dog was looking at the cat.

Of: consist, smell, approve

     The project consists of many parts.
     I don’t like the smell of cigarettes.
     The man did not approve of his daughter’s new boyfriend.

Of (or about): dream, think

     She dreams of being a movie star one day.
     He was thinking about taking a vacation.

For: call, hope, wait, watch

     Did someone call for me?
     She always hoped for the best.
     I was waiting for you to arrive.
     Watch for the train.

Ending a Sentence with a Preposition

It is a common myth that you cannot end a sentence with a preposition. There are many cases in which you can; in these cases, if you left out the preposition, your sentence would no longer make sense.
The first example is very common: What did you step on?

You cannot leave out the preposition on; you could, if you wanted to, rearrange the order of the sentence and instead ask, “On what did you step?”  But “What did you step on?” is correct, and generally the way you will hear most people ask that question.

You do not, however, end a sentence with a preposition if it makes the sentence sound redundant.

For example: “Where are you at?” is redundant. “Where are you?” is sufficient enough.
Some phrasal verbs – verbs made up of multiple words, one of which is a preposition – are okay to use: Cheer up, run over, log on, and leave off.

19 January 2012

Using Semicolons

What is a semicolon?

Semicolons can be used to:

  • Connect closely related ideas.  (Example: Some prefer the Lord of the Rings books; others prefer the films.)
  • Link lists containing commas to avoid confusion between list items. (Example: I attended a seminar hosted by Alan Roberts, Professor of Mathematics; Rita Haywood, Professor of Chemistry; and Barry Grant, Professor of Physics.)
  • Link lengthy clauses or clauses containing commas to avoid confusion between clauses. (Example: Many of my friends play SWOR, Skyrim, or War in the North; I, on the other hand, play LOTRO.)
  • Imply a relationship between two ideas without actually stating that relationship. (Example: Instead of saying, “Danny washes his hands constantly because he’s afraid of germs,” you can imply this and better engage your reader by saying, “Danny washes his hands constantly; he’s afraid of germs.”)   

When not to use a semicolon:

  • When two independent clauses are held together with a conjunction (and, but, for, yet, etc.).

Commas vs. Semicolons

An independent clause is a group of words which contain a subject and a verb and express a complete thought (otherwise known as a sentence). Many independent clauses stand on their own as a sentence, while two independent clauses are sometimes linked together to form what is called a compound sentence. You can use either a comma or a semicolon to link independent clauses, so how do you determine when to use a comma and when to use a semicolon?

Commas are used when two independent clauses are linked via one of the following conjunctions: and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet.
     Example: I didn’t have enough money to buy Skyrim, so I left the store empty-handed.   

When linking two independent clauses without a conjunction, you use a semicolon.
     Example: I didn’t have enough money to buy Skyrim; I left the store empty-handed.
(You would not say: I didn’t have enough money to buy Skyrim, I left the store empty-handed.)

Semicolons are also used when linking two independent clauses via a conjunctive adverb (an adverb which connects independent clauses) such as: moreover, therefore, consequently, otherwise, nevertheless, thus, etc.
     Example: I didn’t have enough money to buy Skyrim; consequently, I left the store empty-handed. 

Semicolons can also be used when linking two independent clauses via a transitional phrase, such as: in addition, in contrast, in the meantime, more importantly, for example, in the same way, on the contrary, on the other hand, that is to say, to summarize, by all means, of course, in fact.
     Example: I didn’t have enough money to buy Skyrim; as a result, I went home empty-handed.

18 January 2012

It's or Its?

I'll admit that now that I've gotten past the challenge that was my introductory post, I wasn't quite sure how to go about blogging from there - Do I jump right in or gradually go from topic to topic? As I was sifting through some notes I'd compiled on my computer, I came across a photo I took while shopping at a well-known retailer a few weeks ago.

I censored the retailer's tag, because in all fairness, it's not their fault for selling a product which the designer failed to check before mass-producing.

Apologies for the flashes

This brings me to our first lesson: It's vs. Its.


It's is a contraction, made up of a pronoun (it) plus a verb (is or has).

"It is raining" is the same as "it's raining."
"It has been raining" is the same as "It's been raining."

The best way to test this is to replace the contraction with "is" or "has." In the photo above, "a dog wags it [has] tail with it [is] heart" makes absolutely no sense; therefore, the use of "it's" is wrong.


Its, on the other hand, shows possession.

Of course, we do use apostrophes to show possession in many cases ("the dog's tail," "Susan's book," etc.), which is likely why there is some confusion when it comes to it's and its.

Its differs from possessives like "Susan's" in that it is the neuter form of him or her; the best way to determine if you're using its correctly is to substitute it with one of these words (or with another posssessive, such as: my, our, your, or their) to see if it makes sense. In the photo, "a dog wags her tail with her heart" still makes sense, so we know that the correct form is its.

Further questions? Leave a comment below!

16 January 2012

Allow Me to Introduce Myself...

Who Am I?

I’m Britta! I’ve been a writer for most of my twenty-one years, having grown fond of reading and writing from a very early age. There was no computer in my household growing up; there was just a vast collection of books – mainly my father’s treasury of science fiction (Asimov, Bradbury, Keyes, Crichton) and my mother’s trove of Stephen King. I fell in love with these writers and their unique writing styles. I loved their stories so much that I began to try my hand at creating my own. I soon discovered other writers whose work interested me – Tolkien, Kafka, Sartre, Sagan, and so on – and my love of reading and my desire to follow in these writers’ footsteps only soared that much higher. 

My interest has generally been in writing short stories of fiction – I was never fond of journalism or nonfiction until I took a creative nonfiction course in college about a year ago. I had also never considered the idea of blogging until I began my Tolkien blog, “Use Well the Days” last July. With the success of that blog, and the writing jobs that soon followed, I decided to start a second blog – this one dedicated to writing and editing (as you’ll find out, I’m a stickler when it comes to spelling/grammar). 

What is the Purpose of This Blog?

I have been growing increasingly shocked and disappointed by all the mistakes I see in writing today. Common mistakes which can easily be corrected. Simple spelling errors that accidentally went unnoticed or were deliberately disregarded. I cannot correct the latter scenario, but I can help with the former by frequently posting tips and information regarding the “Do's” and “Don't's” of spelling and grammar. My aim is not to criticize those who do make mistakes – we all make them – but to discuss why they are wrong and how they can be corrected for future reference.

It is also my hope to be able to post some of my personal writings as well – film/book reviews, perhaps some short stories (or excerpts) here and there, and so on.

What Experience Do I Have?

Beyond the aforementioned life-long experience as a writer, I am nearing the end of my college journey, and will soon have a Bachelor’s Degree in English/Linguistics. (I currently hold an Associate's Degree in Liberal Arts, with a concentration in English.) Once my B.A. is obtained, I’ll likely go on to graduate school. 

As of June 2011, I have been a contributing writer for the Middle-earth News (part of the Middle-earth Network) and recently became a volunteer writer for the Mythgard Institute. These projects mainly showcase my abilities as a journalist/reporter; it is my hope that this blog will display my other writing talents.  

I am always open to feedback and suggestions. If you have any questions or would like me to cover a certain topic/issue, by all means, let me know and I’d be happy to take care of it!