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  1. 1. Business, IT and Engineering Division Learning to Learn Grammar 1
  2. 2. Contents PageApostrophes 3Punctuation 4Commas 7Colons 8Semi-colons 9Capital letters 10Sentences 12Paragraphs 14 2
  3. 3. ApostrophesThere are two main uses for apostrophes: 1. For possession: easy if you know the rule: when you write about someone (the possessor) possessing something, then it is shown by an apostrophe. The rule is: Put the apostrophe after the possessor and add an ‘s’ if the sound requires it:  One boy’s books =The books of one boy  Two boys’ books =The books of more than one boy  A woman’s rights =The rights of an individual woman  Women’s rights =The rights of all women  Dogs’ behaviour = How dogs (in general) behave  A dog’s behavior = How one particular dog behaves 2. For omission: even easier if you know the rule: If you leave letters out of words, then show you have left them out by putting an apostrophe instead. Examples:  He is = he’s  Is not = isn’t  Will not = won’t  You are = you’reNote: In academic English try to avoid the use of shortened words. Use the full wordwherever possible. 3
  4. 4. Punctuation  Why use it?  A handy list of punctuation marks with examples of their use  A rough guide to commas, their use and misuse  The colon  The semi-colon  Avoiding run-on sentencesWhy should you use punctuation in your writing? The simple answer is that it helps theperson who is marking it to understand the work. When you speak, you pause, your voicerises or drops and often your face and hands add non-verbal information through “bodylanguage”; all this assists in communicating your message clearly. In writing you have toremember that the readers have only what is on the paper or screen in order to understandyour message. Punctuation basically helps to indicate the pauses, rises and falls etc. whichare important for understanding.Different punctuation marks are used in different situations but all help to convey yourmessage more clearly. It is essential, in academic writing to use punctuation accurately.Your tutors will expect this and you will lose marks for not doing so. On the other hand,correctly used punctuation can help to strengthen your arguments and improve marks. Thealphabetic list below will introduce the main punctuation marks used in writing in general, notjust academic writing. 4
  5. 5. Punctuation When to use it For examplemarkApostrophe  to show that something The boy’s book. This is Alec’s pen. The belongs to someone or students’ names. The children’s toys. , something (possession) That means you use ’s for singular and s’ for plural unless the plural does not end in an s, as in the case of ‘children’. Note: There is no apostrophe used with ours, yours, hers, his, whose, its (meaning belonging to us, you, her, him , who, or it ) you’re = you are; I’m = I am; it’s = it is;  to show letters are who’s = who is; don’t = do not BUT missing in words remember that you don’t use short (omission) forms like ‘don’t’ in academic writing. Always use the full forms such as do not, who is, it is etc.Brackets  used in pairs around He always hands in his work on time (he groups of words is a well organised student) after carefully ( ) introducing an extra checking it. idea e.g. an explanation or afterthought to be kept separate from the rest of the sentence.  A sentence should still make complete sense without the words in brackets. 5
  6. 6. Capital letter  at the beginning of a Snow continued to fall. Finally a decision sentence was taken to shut the campus. A Alice Smith; Hull; The Bible; The Thames;  for names The Midwifery CouncilColon  to introduce something Students are expected to carry out a that is to follow, which range of activities: attend lectures, take : may be a list part in tutorials, produce written work, meet deadlines for assignments and sit examinations.(see below  to introduce the second Mediterranean cookery is consideredfor more half of a sentence when healthy: it uses olive oil, fresh vegetablesdetails) it explains or expands and fish. on the first halfComma  to mark a brief pause We cannot help him, unless he comes to within a sentence, such see us. , as where you would naturally pause if you(see below were speakingfor more The picnic included sandwiches, salad,details)  to separate words in a crisps, cakes and fruit. list in a sentence (but do not put a comma before “and” or “or”)Dash  to create a pause for I looked at the mark for my last essay and dramatic effect, it was – a first. _ introducing something surprising or I hear she’s a good pianist – I myself have unexpected never heard her – but she’s shy about  used in pairs in a playing in public. similar way to bracketsExclamation  at the end of an It’s just amazing! Hurry up!Mark exclamation – an BUT since academic writing should be ! expression of emotion impersonal and objective, not emotional, such as surprise, you will not be likely to use anger, delight etc. exclamation marks in your academic workFull stop  at the end of a She finally found the correct book. sentence .  to show an abbreviation etc. e.g. Mr. B.B.C. (shortening)Hyphen  to join two words Take-away, full-time - together to make a compound word 6
  7. 7. Question  at the end of a How did this happen?mark sentence which asks a Where is the Language Learning Centre? ? direct questionQuotation  to show that you are Brown (2009) says “This indicates that themarks (also using someone else’s data should not be trusted.”called wordsspeech  around words actually “Hello”, she said.marks or spokeninverted  around titles of books, “The Tempest” is a play by Williamcommas) films etc. Shakespeare. “ ” or ‘ ’Semi-colon  to link two sentences He never took any exercise; consequently ; and turn them into a he became very unfit.(see below single sentence when a The door burst open; a stranger walkedfor more full stop would be too in.details) abruptCommasAs a rough guide for checking your punctuation, if you read your work aloud, where youmake a major pause to draw breath (and possibly hear your voice go down in tone) youneed to use a full stop, not a comma. This marks the end of a sentence. (Some sentencescan be very short, even in academic writing.) Where you pause briefly, use a comma.However, this is only an indication of where to use commas; there is often disagreementabout how many should be used. It may be a matter of personal taste. In some cases,though, the use – or lack of use - can be important. For example “The man who was in bed 5has been discharged” lets the reader know which particular man was discharged- the onewho was in bed 5. It “defines” the man and no commas should be used. (Writing “The manhas been discharged” would probably prompt the question “Which man?”) In contrast, in thefollowing sentence commas are needed to indicate additional details which are not used toidentify the person: “The lady in bed 3, whose grandson visited this morning, needs to havea fresh jug of water”. Here, you can leave out the words between the brackets and you stillknow exactly who needs the water. There is, though, a possible problem with commas. They can be used incorrectly.It is a very common error to use a comma where a full-stop, conjunction, (“joining word”) orsemi-colon is required, for example Nursing Studies students spend time on campus, they also have regular work- placements.The problem here is something called a “comma splice” but this is not a term you need toremember. What you do need to remember is that if both parts of the sentence can be usedon their own, (they are “independent clauses”), it is wrong to connect them with a comma.Instead you can write two shorter sentences, as follows. 7
  8. 8. 1. Nursing Studies students spend time on campus. They also have regular work- placements.Alternatively you can join the two parts with a suitable conjunction (“joining word”). 2. Nursing Studies students spend time on campus but they also have regular work- placements.The third possibility is to use a semi-colon, which is explained more fully in a section below. 3. Nursing Studies students spend time on campus; they also have regular work- placements. If when you read through your work you find that you have a sentence with a comma in the middle, it is worth stopping to think whether the two parts ofthe sentence make sense on their own. If they do, you need to change the punctuation,using one of the 3 methods shown above.ColonsColons can easily be misused but if used properly can be very helpful in your writing. Theyhave a range of uses; the two main ones are explained below. A) To introduce a list ( as mentioned in the table above) The problem is that not all lists need to be introduced by a colon.What you need to remember is that the clause (group of words containing a verb) thatcomes before the colon must make sense on its own. Compare the two sentences below. 1) Students are expected to carry out a range of activities: attend lectures, take part in tutorials, produce written work, meet deadlines for assignments and sit examinations. 2) Students are expected to arrive on time for classes and lectures, to work independently, to keep appointments, to be considerate to others and to the environment.In the first sentence, “Students are expected to carry out a range of activities” makes perfectsense. It is therefore correct to use a colon before the list. In the second one, “Students are 8
  9. 9. expected to” does not make sense. Something is clearly missing. This means that no colonis needed and it would be incorrect to use one before the list. So if you have a list, rememberyou only use a colon before it if the list follows a clause that could be used on its own. B) To introduce the second half of a sentence when it explains or expands on the first halfIt can be seen as an invitation for the reader to continue reading about an idea. In thesentence below, the main idea is that the British diet is often not as healthy as it should be.After the colon, the reader finds an explanation of why this is the case. The average British diet is often considered unhealthy: it tends to contain too many fried foods, too many ready prepared foods with a high salt content and not enough fresh vegetablesAs in the case of the list (usage A), the words before the colon make sense on their own.What follows the colon is additional information. If the first part of the sentence cannot beused alone, do not use a colon.One minor complication is the question of whether or not to use a capital letter to start theword following the colon. If the explanation after the colon contains more than a singlesentence you should use a capital. e.g. Mediterranean cookery is considered healthy: It uses olive oil, fresh vegetables and fish. It often also includes a moderate amount of wine and avoids the use of butter.If the words following the colon are a quotation, again a capital letter needs to be used forthe first word after the colon. e.g. The advice given by the Study Advice Service on research proposals aims to be reassuring: “Writing a research proposal is like any other form of writing.”In other cases, the best advice is probably to be consistent. Either always use a capital oralways use a lower case letter after the colon. If in doubt, you could perhaps check whetheryour tutor has a strong preference and be guided accordingly!Semi-colonsYou’ll be pleased to learn that semi-colons are both extremely useful and easy to use! 9
  10. 10. Some lists are complicated and using semi-colons makes them much easier for the readerto understand. (Always remembering to help your reader is so important.)Generally you need use only a comma to separate items in a list but in lists like the onebelow, A), commas are not enough. A) When she conducted her research she travelled to Selby, Yorkshire, Peterborough, Lincolnshire, Newcastle, Northumbria, Carlisle, Cumbria and Buxton, Derbyshire.Adding semi-colons makes the following sentence, B), much easier to read and understand. B) When she conducted her research she travelled to Selby, Yorkshire; Peterborough, Lincolnshire; Newcastle, Northumbria; Carlisle, Cumbria and Buxton, Derbyshire.Semicolons are also used to link two closely-related clauses (groups of words with a verb)which could stand on their own. For example, A) I always park in the Salmon Grove car-park. It’s not far from my office.In this case there are two, separate sentences.The two separate sentences could be separated by a semi-colon as there is a very close linkbetween them. B) I always park in the Salmon Grove car-park; it’s not far from my office.It would also be possible to link the two sentences with a conjunction or “joining-word”. Inthis case, there is no semi-colon. C) I always park in the Salmon Grove car-park because it’s not far from my office OR I always park in the Salmon Grove car-park since it’s not far from my office.When using a semicolon to connect two clauses, remember that each clause has to makesense on its own! If it does not, you cannot use a semicolon. 10
  11. 11. Capital LettersYou probably do not need as many as you may think!General principlesAs a general rule and in normal prose, capital letters should be avoided unless the word inquestion is:  the first word of a sentence  the first person singular pronoun, as a subject, ‘I’ - yes, even in e-mails; otherwise, it’s a spelling error!  a title (Mr, Mrs, Ms, Miss, Dr. …)  a proper noun.Proper nouns are the names of particular examples of the more general classes named bycommon nouns. For example, ‘man’, ‘town’, ‘car’ and ‘country’ are all common nouns;‘John’, ‘Hull’, ‘Volkswagen’ and ‘France’ are proper nouns.Each of the four common nouns above names a class which contains many individuals. Butif I say to you, “point to the man”, you cannot do it, unless something in our conversation hasalready identified which man we are talking about. If I say “point to John”, it should be easier.Similarly, you can “go to France” with some accuracy; to “go to [a] country” is less sensibleEnglish.In other words, proper nouns are more specific than common ones. It is the propernouns, along with their associated adjectives, that should have capital letters.Here are some examples:  People’s first and family names; ‘householder’, ‘wife’ and ‘manager’ are common nouns; ‘Jane Smith’, ‘Tony Blair’ and ‘Peter Wilson’ are equivalent proper nouns.  Countries, continents and other place names such as those of towns and cities or regions (Russia, Russian; Africa, African; Paris, Parisian; Andalusia, Andalusian …);‘continent’ is a common noun; ‘Asia’ is a proper noun.  Those nouns and adjectives which designate nationalities or languages (Arab, Arabic …); ‘language’ and ‘nationality’ are common nouns; ‘Japanese’ is proper, both as a noun and as an adjective.  The days of the week and months of the year. Points of the compass may or may not be capitalised, according to their status as proper or common nouns. So someone might have a ‘north-facing garden’ in the ‘North of England’ and many people live in 11
  12. 12. the ‘northern lands’ of many countries but only some in the ‘Northern Territories’ of Canada.• Particular posts (jobs) in particular contexts. Most companies have a chairman (common noun); a particular company, such as Ford, has its own Chairman (proper noun). Many countries have presidents; their constitutions usually lay down how the President is to be elected (the word ‘the’ is an indication that here ‘President’ is a proper noun with a capital); and each has its own President. John F. Kennedy was, famously, President (proper noun) of the United States. (And note how, although ‘state’ is a common noun, commonly used to mean roughly the same as ‘country’ or ‘nation’, that particular country, the United States, is a proper noun and therefore has capital letters.)• Particular examples of institutions. Many cities have a university (common noun), but the University of Hull and Oxford University have capitals because here they are proper nouns, being the names for particular universities.When whole words are capitalised, this is the equivalent of a loud voice in speech. It isusually used in direct speech:Suddenly, he noticed the thief running off and shouted “THAT’S HIM”Capitals in titlesTitles and sub-titles of and within articles, essays or assignments may follow a differentconvention. Other than the titles of complete works for publication, the words of which arenormally all capitalised (see below), titles and sub-titles can be written in one of two ways:either as normal text, but perhaps in bold type and/or underlined, e.g.An evaluation of the theory of evolution by natural selection in the light of recentfindings in natural scienceor with the initial letters of only the nouns and adjectives capitalised, e.g.An Evaluation of the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection in the Light of RecentFindings in Natural ScienceNote also that, in general, titles tend to omit verbs and do NOT end with a full stop.Capitals in bibliographies and reference listsSimilar conventions apply to capitals in these contexts. Note where they are used in thefollowing example:Loughran J.J. and Russell T. (eds.) (1997) “Teaching about Teaching: Purpose, Passion and Pedagogy in Teacher Education” London: Falmer Press. THINK before you use a capital letter. 12
  13. 13. Sentences & ParagraphsWhat is a sentence?This is not an easy question to answer but we shall try to define the main characteristics of asentence in the written language. Those of paragraphs can only be in written form, ofcourse. Here are some examples of strings or sequences of words which could be calledsentences: He wanted to buy a suit. Go away! Because he did not have enough money, he had to wait until pay day.There are three common factors in these examples:  they all contain a simple verb or a verbal construction (in bold),  they are all grammatically correct and  they all convey a complete meaning.These are three good tests to apply to see whether or not a sequence of words formssomething which we could call a sentence. However there are grey areas: the followingsequences are all ‘correct’ but are they also acceptable as ‘sentences’ since they donot have a complete verb?  The least said the better.  Once bitten, twice shy.  No entry.  Good morning.These all express a clear message, are grammatically correct, start with a capital letter andend with a full stop.Some linguists suggest an answer to this question by saying that “All native speakers canrecognise a well-formed utterance (a sequence of words, spoken or written)”, but whether ornot it can be classified as a sentence is not always clear.So, we could say that He will arrive later this afternoon, or Later this afternoon, he will arrive.are acceptable sentences but that the following are not, since the order in which the unitscombine does not follow an acceptable syntactic pattern (i.e. the way the sentence is 13
  14. 14. structured), or because the utterance is semantically incomplete (i.e. it does not conveya complete meaning or idea): He will later this afternoon arrive. Arrive later this afternoon he will. He later this afternoon.We can see from the above that word order is often crucial to the meaning of an utterancein English.The sentences He knows the resultand He will ring with all the detailsare each correct and complete but simply joining the two together will not make anacceptable sentence. To achieve this, the word He will need to be deleted to avoidrepetition and the addition of the word when or but is required to produce: When he knows the result, he will ring with all the details.or He will ring with all the details when he knows the result.or He will ring with all the details, but he knows the result.ParagraphsAll essays, books, reports etc are divided into paragraphs – the building blocks of an essay -and there are two good reasons for this.Firstly, a long text with no breaks is an unappealing prospect for any reader and he or shewould also find it difficult to refer to any given part of it afterwards. It would have a mostuninteresting appearance on the page and perhaps be difficult to follow.Secondly, dividing it into paragraphs, each of which is a collection of closely related ideasabout a particular theme or idea, organises the arguments better for both the author and thereader. It clearly marks a progression in the arguments into visually obvious steps or parts.Whether the paragraph is descriptive or discursive, it is a good idea to have the firstsentence give a good idea of what it will contain, thus guiding the reader along the ‘pathway’you have devised.So, a paragraph could be said to be ‘a short passage or a collection of sentences, with aunity of content or purpose’ (Chambers Dictionary 1998). It is usually possible (and 14
  15. 15. preferable) to organise ideas into paragraphs. Most are of ‘medium’ length and of coursethere is no ‘rule’ about this, but it is often a good idea, as you might with sentences, to varytheir length from time to time. One or two paragraphs might be relatively long, if the ideabeing described or discussed requires this, while the occasional short paragraph can bequite ‘punchy’ and memorable. 15
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