Microsoft Word: To Trust or Not to Trust [with your grammar]

*This post originally appeared on my previous blog on November 20, 2014 and has been updated/revised


 

[Disclaimer: The word processor I refer to is Microsoft Word 2013, on my Windows Surface Tablet which runs on Windows 8.]

I follow a company called Grammarly – if you haven’t heard of it, that’s okay, you have now so go check them out!

Back? Great. I follow Grammarly because I like the witty cartoons, links, and other content they post that focuses on grammar and spelling errors. When visiting their page, you may have discovered their main event: a  grammar checker, which boasts to “correct up to 10 times more mistakes than popular word processors.” Well, I primarily use just one word processor, the almighty Microsoft Word, so I can really only attest to its reliability in regard to spelling and grammar. I decided to see for myself if Grammarly’s grammar checker lived up to their front-page statement by committing some grammar, spelling, and what should be legal crimes against the English language.

I typed the following into Microsoft Word, and was pleasantly surprised at what I saw:

m-word-test

Hooray for those squiggly lines! They never fail to impress me; MW is smarter than many English-speaking humans I know, but let’s not worry about that right now. As you can see, Word identifies that I used the incorrect forms of “your,” “no,” and “due.” It also recognizes that “a” should be “an” when placed before “answer” (find out why here). Word also points out that I did not put the apostrophe in “don’t.”
What are my disappointments? I used “blue” instead of “blew” in the first sentence, which Word does not recognize; and “so couldn’t you.” If you read my Choice Words post on contractions, “couldn’t” does not work here. Take apart that contraction. Does “so could not you give me…” make sense? No. There is also tense contradiction in the first sentence: I start with future tense, and then switch to past tense by saying “bl[ew] down.” The “therefore” is also not necessary; a simple “so” would work in its place. Mostly satisfied by these results, onto the next step: What happens when I input these sentences into Grammarly’s grammar checker?

grammarly-test

 

 

Excellent! I really appreciate the breakdown of the different pieces analyzed; the plagiarism category is a great bonus – I did just randomly select these sentences but  I guess my subconscious is working extra sneakily. The downside to these results: I have to create an account and pay for them, which I’m not interested in doing. I do trust Grammarly, but I think this is taking the easy way out: the best way to learn  from your mistakes is to learn what makes them mistakes, not by having someone – or something – tell you what’s wrong and what to change without an explanation.

So to answer my initial question of “can you trust your word processor?” – Most of the time, you can. Microsoft Word identifies most spelling, as well as grammatical errors, in the sentences and paragraphs you type, although it’s always beneficial to proofread more than once, and have someone else proofread your work if possible (emphasis is put on “most of the time” in our answer). Should you pay for a service like Grammarly’s grammar check? Sure. I wouldn’t discourage it if it helps you form better sentences and written thoughts. However, I would more strongly recommend you turn to a grammar-nerd friend or resource for advice and explanations and maybe if you’re lucky, they will do it for free.

Looking for other resources to help you out with the tricky English language? I do recommend following Grammarly’s Twitter and Facebook posts for free advice, but also keep an eye out for more posts by yours truly; I’ll be sure to introduce you to other resources I turn to in times of need.

Happy writing!

 

The It’s Its Dilemma

*This post originally appeared on my previous blog on January 28, 2015

 


 

 

I remember when I learned the difference between “it’s” and “its.” No, really, I remember. I was in first grade, and had used “it’s” instead of “its.” After an explanation from my teacher, I was amazed at how much an apostrophe could change the meaning of a word and sentence. Now, as I peruse social media, read text messages, edit copy, and go through my emails, I realize that not everyone was given, or paid attention to, an explanation of the difference between “it’s” and “its.” Well, here’s your chance.

“It’s” is a easily recognizable as a contraction. I described those in a previous Choice Words blog post, but I will quickly just say if you separate out this contraction, you get “it is.”

“Its” is not the same – it is not a contraction. I cannot stress this enough. I almost always see “yours,” “ours,” and “hers” used correctly – “its” holds the same form as those words: a possessive pronoun. You would not put an apostrophe in those three pronouns, so do not put one in “its.”

If you do find yourself having a lot of trouble deciding which “its” should be used, just reread your sentence! Yes, it’s that simple. Here is an example:

The book was worn because its owner had read it so many times.
The book was worn because it’s owner had read it so many times.

Which sentence is correct? Read them both again, separating out the version with the apostrophe. You will immediately recognize that the first one uses “its” correctly. The book belongs to the owner, so the possessive pronoun – its – needs to be used.

As a side note, never put the apostrophe after the “s” for either “it’s” or “its.” That is incorrect no matter what. Remember, “its” is the same part of speech as “hers,” “ours,” and “yours,” and those words do not need the apostrophe to show possession as they are possessive pronouns.

I hope you find this helpful, and if you have any requests for other explanations, write a suggestion in the comments.

Happy writing!

Seasonal Pluralization & Other Errors

‘Tis the season for bookish gifts, literary awards, and pluralization troubles. Greeting cards and holiday imagery are usually littered with seasonal sentiments and last name conundrums – so today we will get to the bottom of common mistakes made with plural (and non-plural) titles as well as other errors.

capitalization copy

When used in a sentence, the “merry” before Christmas is usually incorrectly capitalized:

We wish you a Merry Christmas!
We wish you a merry Christmas!

The same goes for New Year’s Day and Eve:

Have a safe and Happy New Year!
Have a safe and happy New Year!

Of course, the argument can be made for capitalizing all the words on a holiday greeting because of personal preference. To this I say: do your thing, chicken wing. It’s your personal greeting, after all; I’m just here to tell you what is stylistically correct (I myself prefer to capitalize all first letters Oprah style. YOU’RE a capital letter! YOU’RE a capital letter!).

apostrophes copy

These, however, do not lend you the privilege of stylistic liberty. Pluralization may just be one of the many challenging parts of language, or at least the English language. What do I do if the word ends in “s”? What about “es”? Why is my life so hard? Breathe – here are some fun holiday themed explanations for using apostrophes correctly.

Season’s Greetings NOT Seasons Greetings or Seasons’ Greeting’s

The greetings belong to the season. Since season is a singular noun that doesn’t end with an s, to show the possession an apostrophe followed by an s is the correct way to start this sentiment – and no apostrophe is needed for greetings since its s just indicates there is more than one greeting.

New Year’s Day or New Year’s Eve or Happy New Year NOT New Years’ Day or Happy New Year’s

Again with the possessive. The Day and Eve belong to the New Year, a singular noun not ending in s, so to show that possession an apostrophe followed by an s is correct.
New Years is incorrect, and especially when you end it with an apostrophe. Remember, the day belongs to the New Year (not the New Years); yes, an apostrophe after a noun ending in s to show possession is acceptable, but this is a case of incorrect spelling rather than incorrect apostrophe usage.

Last Names

Quite possibly the most butchered item on a Christmas or general greeting card. If you only learn one more thing in your entire life, learn how to write your name in all scenarios.

I’m talking about you, Hoffman. Greetings from the Hoffman’s makes me wonder if you ran out of characters to put on your card; the Hoffman’s what? Greetings from the Hoffmans tells me you, your spouse, and your children send me greetings; there’s no need for the apostrophe because you aren’t indicating possession of an object.

And you, Jones. Please remember that since your name ends in s, an es is required to show plurality. Happy holidays from the Joneses.

And no need to change your name, Mr. and Mrs. Avery. For irregular nouns, like man, child, and bunny, adding an s or es to make them plural does not work. However, this does not apply to proper nouns. Your name is your name; even the English language gives you a pass on its spelling. Happy New Year from the Averies is acceptable if your last name is Averie. Otherwise, Happy New Year from the Averys is correct.

Of course, if you’re inviting guests over for a party, don’t throw away your knowledge of possession as if it’s your aunt’s fruitcake. You’re invited to the Smith’s holiday bash and The Avery’s annual Christmas party are two examples of correctly written possessive statements (the Jones’ home and the Jones’s home are both correct).

 

I hope this doesn’t stop you from sending greeting cards, but instead pushes you to proofread and double check your work – it will be especially important as you pour over your cards’ design after a few spicy eggnogs.

 

 

A Word on Contractions

*This post originally appeared on my previous blog on October 31, 2014


Don’t, won’t, can’t, shouldn’t, couldn’t, it’s (which will have a post of *its* own), and more.
I believe in high school I was told it was better to use two words than one contraction. If I remember correctly, I did not use one contraction in any of my college application essays. This practice varied throughout my college career, and while now I prefer not to use contractions, I don’t completely avoid them. Many people, if not most, use contractions when they speak and write. But is this wrong?

According to the AP Style Guide and the Chicago Manual of Style, contractions are acceptable when speaking and informally writing, but if you are preparing an academic paper, leave out the apostrophe and use both words. The Chicago Manual of Style also indicates that contractions are sometimes a stylistic feature, and could diminish an author’s tone or purpose if taken out during editing.
My advice: use contractions only if you can identify the words making up the contraction, and avoid them in professional or formal academic situations. Unless of course, their acceptance is made clear.

Here’s a test: Identify the two words that make up “won’t.”

Oh, and don’t use “ain’t.” The statement “ain’t ain’t a word if it ain’t in the dictionary” is negated by the fact that it is defined in some dictionaries. However, it is NOT (I’m not using the contraction here for) intelligent English, and in my opinion, should NOT be used at all. “I am not” or “they are not” are also easier to say than the weird “ai” arrangement. So do yourself a favor and avoid it at all costs.

Happy speaking!

Word? Image? Phrase? Pictograph – of the Year

As you may have heard, the Oxford Dictionaries released 2015’s Word of the Year. Or, more accurately, the first ever pictograph of the year. The “Face with Tears of Joy” emoji is one I have used in texts and on social media, and I have to admit I respect the reasoning behind choosing an emoji, and this emoji in particular, for the Word of the Year: because it is “the ‘word’ that best reflect[s] the ethos, mood, and preoccupations of 2015” based on statistical evidence that shows it is the most internationally used emoji. To justify the selection further, the Oxford Dictionaries research also shows that overall emoji usage has been increasing over time.

So what does this mean for language? Some writers disagree with the selection, and even offer other emoji options that would be better contenders for this title; while others point out that emojis can relay emotions and feelings that can be lost in textual conversation (although this doesn’t mean they are accepted as important “words”). And of course, there’s the social media court that is battling ruthlessly over this issue; I’ve seen supporters, deniers, and undecided opinions on this extremely important social issue.

When I heard the emoji news, my first reaction was to balk. You have to be kidding me I thought as my eyes rolled around hundreds of times in their sockets. My classic literature loving, English major, previous Writing Center tutor, Word of the Day featuring self (which is most of my self) cringed at the though that OH MY GOD EMOJIS ARE TAKING OVER THE WORLD WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN TO OUR VOCABULARY?!? *Crying face emoji.*

Oh yeah, that’s right, I love emojis! I like creating emoji phrases that nobody can decipher and sending a flood of my emotions to my friends and significant other through pictographs whether they enjoy it or not – it’s a fun little way (for me) of telling them how I feel, telling them what I’m thinking, and letting them know how bored I am.

But for the majority of my conversations – probably about 98% – I am speaking English. I still need to know how to talk on the phone; I still need to know how to construct a professional email; I still need to know how to write actual, intelligent words, phrases, and sentences with letters and punctuation. Sure, emojis have gained in popularity because our technology has changed and our communication avenues are changing, or broadening across different platforms. But I’m not convinced that this threatens other traditional forms of communicating. If I put a girl-with-bunny-ears emoji (my favorite) next to a sun emoji in an email to my boss telling him yes, 10:00am on Wednesday is fine for the meeting, I would have another meeting to go to that would address why the f*** I’m putting weird symbols in my emails and how inappropriate that is.

As far as the argument “An emoji isn’t a word,” I can see where people have their qualms. However, if you type “word definition” into your Google search bar, here is the result:

noun: a single distinct meaningful element of speech or writing, used with others (or sometimes alone) to form a sentence and typically shown with a space on either side when written or printed.

I’ll let you mull over that. *Sly smile emoji*

Overall, should we be up in arms about this Word of the Year? No, because although I love discussing language and “threats” to the institution of the English language (which has evolved greatly over time, by the way), there are far more pressing issues that Facebook and Twitter court should be concerning themselves with. *Punching fist* *peace sign* *cute bow* *toasting beer glasses* emojis.

 

A or An ?

Today I’m featuring another post I published on my previous blog one year ago. The post has aged, but the lesson is timeless.

*This originally appeared on my previous blog on November 5th, 2014

Today, while I was catching up on episodes of The Tonight Show (hey, I’m doing that now!) and eating lunch, I opened this game on my phone – it’s called Compulsive – and was browsing its features. I clicked on the “Awards Page” and a hover over one of the awards produced the image shown below. First of all, an app/smartphone game that gives the user an award – that cannot be put on a resume, mind you – for an hour straight?!? Yikes. But I’m not here to discuss the problems with doing that, I’m here to discuss the error that appears in the caption, which I will take a second to show you now:

Google Play - A Hour

“A hour.” I hope that when you say it out loud, it sounds odd to you. Because it is not correct.

When deciding to use “a” or “an,” take a look at your next word. Usually you can tell by looking at the first letter of the word; if it’s a vowel, use “an.” A consonant, use “a.”

EXCEPT: the rule of “a” or “an” really applies to the sound of the first letter. The above image from the seemingly popular game in Google’s Play Store is the best example of this. Although “hour” begins with a consonant, this is one of those “trickster” English words that starts with a silent letter. Since it is pronounced “our,” “an” is the correct article to use. Therefore, the above image should read: “Play for an hour…” and my recommended ending would be “…if you feel like wasting part of your day by mindlessly connecting blocks of the same color.”