Friday, November 5, 2010

Friday grammar lessons, part 1 of 4

It's November. Time to be thankful. I am thankful that I don't often confuse parts of our language, or speak in a way that befuddles the listener. It IS amazing to me though, how many people DO confuse common words so easily, every day. There are misuses, incorrect spellings and well, things that are like sandpaper under my skin.

I am The Grammar Police and I'm here to help you dear friend.... learn it or I'll write you a ticket. (No clue what this ticket involves but I'm sure it's equivalent to receiving a threatening letter from the THA). You can find these correct grammar & word usage rules, and a plethora of other really useful information, in A Writer's Reference by Diana Hacker. It's one of the few books that I've held onto, and actually used, after college.

There are four areas that have a tendency to drive me nutty. Want to make me cringe? Use one of these things incorrectly several times a day around me. The categories are:

1. They sound alike but are spelled differently and don't even mean the same thing. Homo-what did you say?
2. Problem-Child phrases.
3. They don't sound alike, why are they confusing?
4. Slang and The Isle of Misfit Words (aka where your pet peeve resides).

I'll "tackle" each one of these over the four Fridays in November . Today, it's Homonyms, and I've got some hints that should help clear up the confusion.

Homo-what did you say? Homonyms!! Homonyms are words that sound alike but have different meanings. The most common instance of this is their, there and they're. But as you'll learn, there are a few more of these being used incorrectly every day. The problem with Homonyms is that when we speak, there's no way to discern a difference in spelling. Often, people never really learn the difference when they're learning to spell or use the words so it doesn't stick with them. Here are some of the most commonly confused homonyms:

There - refers to location or in reference to quantity (adverb and an expletive)
Their - possessive form of they (pronoun)
They're - contraction of they are
HINT - They're over there in their house.
There can also be used in reference to a quantity (the expletive) - There are 5 dogs.

Too - also (adverb)
To - direction (preposition)
Two - a number
HINT - I want to go too! Where? With them to the zoo at two.

Your - possessive form of you (pronoun)
You're - contraction of you are
HINT - You're going to your grandparent's for the weekend.

Accept - receive (verb)
Except - exclude (preposition)
HINT - He would accept a hug from everyone except her.

Affect - influence (verb)
Effect - result (noun), also to "bring about" (verb)
HINT - The drug had no affect on his cold, despite having numerous side effects. Effect as a verb would be to say, "The teacher tries to effect learning."

Capital - city (noun)
Capitol - building (also a noun)
HINT - In Sacramento, the capital of California, lawmakers meet in the capitol to discuss new laws.

Elicit - to evoke (verb)
Illicit - illegal (adjective)
HINT - She was unable to elicit information about her neighbor's illicit behavior from his brother.

Immigrate - coming to
Emigrate - coming from (country of origin)
HINT - both are verbs - It's a bit difficult to use these in a sentence together. However, you can use this rule - Emigrate starts with E and means to EXIT the country of your birth, where Immigrate starts with I and means to come INTO the new country or location.

Principle - a fundamental/basic truth (noun)
Principal - the head of an organization (most commonly thought of as a school principal) or a key player in a group (also a noun)
HINT - The principal has "pal" in it - so the Principal of the school is your pal. Also - The principal ttries to teache you many of life's guiding principles.

Then - denotes time (adverb)
Than - to compare (conjunction)
HINT - I thought the dinner was more than I could eat, but then I burped and had room for more!

Allusion - indirect reference
Illusion - misconception or false representation
HINT - Did you catch his allusion to Freud? High ceilings give a room the illusion of a larger space. 

Stay tuned next week when we'll cover what I lovingly refer to as Problem-Child Phrases.

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