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Do you get a lot of green and red squiggles on your document? (More about this)

Do you try to make the computer happy in order to get rid of those green squiggles? (More about this)

Do you rely on spell check to catch your spelling mistakes? (More about this)

If you answered a resounding "yes" to any of these questions, you need this information.  This is not EVERYTHING about English grammar -- that's a different study for people interested in languages, linguistics, and meaning.  Rather I will focus on the most common grammar problems writers tend to run into.  If you already know what kind of problem you have, click on the link to it below.  If you don't, start with the first link.  Remember, there can be several pages for the following links!

bullet Punctuation
bullet Simple sentence
bullet Compound sentence
bullet Complex sentence
bullet Punctuation Summary
bullet Pronoun problems
bullet Modifier problems
bullet Parallel problems

But first, a little about what I mean when I say "grammar."  A common understanding of grammar is necessary for communication.  (Communication requires TWO people understanding the same rules the same way.)

  

With one person using his own rules, it's expression.

With two people understanding the same rules, it's communication.

      

Thus, grammar is the vehicle that takes us where we want to go:  the land of mutual understanding.  Imagine this vehicle as my '68 Mustang -- really beat up on the outside -- the front bumper held on by duct tape, windows impossible to roll down or up, etc.  However, it has a 350 boss engine and can get me where I want to go in no time!

When dealing with grammar, many of your teachers will say you can't start a sentence with "but." Or you should never end a sentence with a preposition.  Or a run-on is a sentence that goes on and on and on.  All of these are style issues, not grammar issues.  You can get where you want to go even if you do those supposedly "wrong" things.  In the car world, these same teachers would be saying you need to fix those windows and make sure the bumper is attached correctly.  More than that, they are concerned with the beauty of a sentence -- whether it flows nicely.  That's like being concerned with the body work and paint job of a car.  It really doesn't make you get there more quickly, but it's a much nicer ride. 

It's no wonder students confuse style issues with grammar issues.

In the grammar information on the pages linked above, I will tell you the absolute musts -- what's necessary to get you where you want to go.  Those are the grammar issues.  When the chance comes up, I might mention style issues, but I will be sure to say they are stylistic and really depend on you and your choices.

Now to check out my grammar.  Click on the categories bulleted above.  And have fun!

Connie

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Green & red squiggles
Everyone gets them -- at least the green squiggles.  Often the grammar check on word processing programs is set to catch any possibility that might be a mistake.  In my own writing, nine times out of ten, what grammar check flags as a "fragment" is not.  And many times, it doesn't catch the true fragments.

Does this make you worried?  I know many people who rely on grammar check to help their papers come out perfect.  And if it's wrong so much of the time, what can you do?

Well first, you need to be able to recognize if it really is wrong when the computer flags it as such.  Second, there are times when you will choose for it to be "wrong" grammatically (because your style requires it) and can just ignore those green squiggles.

So, of what use is grammar check if it's wrong so much of the time?  It does help.  If you're typing something up and miss a word or so, the computer might catch that.  Don't turn it off.  Instead, just know how to deal with what it does catch. 

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Making the computer happy --
Often my students will turn a perfectly fine sentence into a run-on by trying to make the computer happy.  Or they turn what should be a statement, such as, "Had she learned her lesson, she would not be in jail," into a question just because grammar check thinks it should end with a question mark.  You can have a document with no green squiggles and still have multiple problems.  (See the information on spell check below.)  The solution?  Know your grammar. 

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Spell Check:
Spell check knows only what words appear in the English dictionary.  So, of course, it flags my name -- Gulick -- because that's not an English word, and it suggests "garlic" as an alternative.  It would be ridiculous for me to change the spelling of my name just because the computer suggested it.  And yet, people do similar things.  I remember reading a self-published book, in which the author obviously relied on his computer's spell check.  He changed the name of Yellowstone Park in Wyoming to Yellow stone Park, which made spell check happy.   

Spell check is great for catching those frequent typos -- like hte.  But because it doesn't flag words that do occur in the dictionary, it won't notice this typo:  We got in he car.  (Should "he" be "the" or "her"?)  So let's say your document is completely red-squiggle-free.  Are you sure all your words are spelled correctly? 

The following sentence is perfectly fine according to spell check:  Never the less, we wasn't aloud two sing at there table, accept once or twice, but not allot.  How many spelling mistakes can you find?  (There are six spelling mistakes, and one grammar mistake.)

The solution?  Keep a list of commonly confused words near your computer, and as you are about to type one of those words, be sure you check and know exactly which word you want.  And it might be good to actually learn the usage of the most common ones:   "there," "their," and "they're."  

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This page last updated Thursday, August 14, 2014, by Connie Gulick.