Verbal Expression Review for Firefighter Exam Study Guide (page 6)
Your communication skills may be tested in another way, by seeing how well you can express a given idea orally or in writing. You may be asked to read two or more versions of the same information and then choose the one that most clearly and accurately presents the given information, the best option. The best option should be:
- grammatically correct
Imagine this situation:
It is 2:30 on Tuesday, August 22. You are driving Vehicle #25, heading west on NW 91st Street. Your coworker Alex Thorp is riding on the platform at the back of the truck. Just as you round the corner to head north on Park Place, he loses his grip and falls from the truck. You stop immediately to see if he is hurt. He says he's fine, but about an hour later his wrist hurts badly enough that he asks you to take him to the hospital. You go to the Mercy Medical Center. The doctor who examines him says the wrist is mildly fractured.
The information above can be expressed accurately or inaccurately, clearly or unclearly, logically or illogically, grammatically or ungrammatically. The following examples will show you how this works.
Check the facts for accuracy first. If the facts are wrong or confused in a particular answer choice, that choice is wrong, no matter how well written it is.
Alex Thorp was in #25 on NE 91st when he fell off onto Park Place because he broke his wrist. I stopped, but he wasn't hurt. Later the doctor said he had a fractured wrist. It was 3:30 on Tuesday, August 22.
Around 2:30 on Tuesday, August 22, Alex Thorp fell from the back platform of #25 while I was turning the corner from the west lane of NW 91st to go north on Park Place. About an hour later he asked to go to the hospital. The doctor said his wrist was fractured.
The best answer is written in plain English in such a way that most readers can understand it the first time through. If you read through an answer choice and then need to reread it to know what it means, look for a better option.
On or about 2:30 on Tuesday, August 22, my coworker Alex Thorp and I were headed westbound on NW 91st Street. As I proceeded around the corner to head northbound on Park Place, he lost his grip and suffered an unknown injury. Later we went to Mercy Medical Center to seek a doctor's attention, who said it was fractured wrist, only mildly.
Around 2:30 on Tuesday, August 22, I was driving Vehicle #25, and Alex Thorp was riding on the back platform. He lost his grip and fell as I rounded a corner from NW 91st west onto Park Place north. He thought he was all right at first, but about an hour later he asked to go to the hospital. The doctor who saw him at Mercy Medical Center said he had a mildly fractured wrist.
The best answer will present information in logical order, usually time order. If the information seems disorganized, look for a better option.
The doctor said Alex's wrist was mildly fractured. It happened when he fell off the back of Vehicle #25. He went to the doctor later at Mercy Medical Center. It didn't hurt at first. He lost his grip. I turned from NW 91st west onto Park Place north. This was Tuesday, August 22, at around 2:30.
Around 2:30 on Tuesday, August 22, Alex Thorp lost his grip while riding on the back platform of Vehicle #25 as I was driving around the corner from NW 91st west onto Park Place north. He didn't realize he was hurt until about an hour later. I took him to Mercy Medical Center where a doctor examined him and said he had a mildly fractured wrist.
In addition to accuracy, clarity, and logic, there are other characteristics of well-written, grammatically correct sentences. The next section points out some common grammar mistakes and tells you how to make the right choices on your exam.
The best answer contains clearly identified pronouns (he, she, him, her, them, etc. ) that match the number of nouns they represent. First, the pronouns should be clearly identified.
Ann Dorr and the supervisor went to the central office, where she made her report.
Ann Dorr and the supervisor went to the central office, where the supervisor made her report.
An answer choice with clearly identified pronouns is a better choice than one with uncertain pronoun references. Sometimes the noun must be repeated to make the meaning clear.
In addition, the pronoun must match the noun it represents. If the noun is singular, the pronoun must be singular. Similarly, if the noun is plural, the pronoun must match.
I stopped the driver to tell them a headlight was burned out.
I stopped the driver to tell him a headlight was burned out.
In the first example, driver is singular but the pronoun them is plural. In the second, the singular pronoun him matches the word it refers to.
The best option is one in which the verb tense is consistent. Look for answer choices that describe the action as though it has already happened, using past tense verbs (mostly -ed forms). The verb tense must remain consistent throughout the passage.
I searched the room and find nothing unusual.
I searched the room and found nothing unusual.
The verbs searched and found are both in the past tense in the second version. In the first version, find, in the present tense, is inconsistent with searched.
It's easy to distinguish present tense from past tense by simply fitting the verb into a sentence.
The important thing to remember about verb tense is to keep it consistent. If a passage begins in the present tense, keep it in the present tense unless there is a specific reason to change—to indicate that some action occurred in the past, for instance. If a passage begins in the past tense, it should remain in the past tense.
Check yourself with these sample questions. Choose the option that uses verb tense correctly. The answers follow after the questions.
- When I cry, I always get what I want.
- When I cry, I always got what I want.
- When I cried, I always got what I want.
- When I cried, I always get what I wanted.
- It all started after I came home and am in my room studying for a big test.
- It all started after I came home and was in my room studying for a big test.
- It all starts after I come home and was in my room studying for a big test.
- It all starts after I came home and am in my room studying for a big test.
- The child became excited, dashes into the house, and slams the door.
- The child becomes excited, dashed into the house, and slammed the door.
- The child becomes excited, dashes into the house, and slammed the door.
- The child became excited, dashed into the house, and slammed the door.
The best option will use words clearly. Watch for unclear modifying words or phrases such as the ones in the next group of sentences. Misplaced and dangling modifiers can be hard to spot because your brain tries to make sense of things as it reads. In the case of misplaced or dangling modifiers, you may make a logical connection that is not present in the words.
Nailed to the tree, Cedric saw a "No Hunting" sign. Waddling down the road, we saw a skunk.
Cedric saw a "No Hunting" sign nailed to a tree. We saw a skunk waddling down the road.
In the first version of the sentences, it sounds like Cedric was nailed to a tree and we were waddling down the road. The second version probably represents the writer's intentions: The sign was nailed to a tree and the skunk was waddling.
A dog followed the boy that was growling and barking.
A dog that was growling and barking followed the boy.
Did you think the boy was growling and barking? The second version of the sentence represents the real situation.
The best option will use words efficiently. Avoid answer choices that are redundant (repeat unnecessarily) or are wordy. Extra words take up valuable time and increase the chances that facts will be misunderstood. In the following examples, the italicized words are redundant or unnecessary. Try reading the sentences without the italicized words.
They refunded our money back to us.
We can proceed ahead with the plan we made ahead of time.
The car was red in color.
The reason we left was because the job was done.
We didn't know what it was we were doing.
There are many citizens who obey the law.
In each case, the sentence is simpler and easier to read without the italicized words. When you find an answer choice that uses unnecessary words, look for a better option.
The best option will be written in complete sentences. Sentences are the basic unit of written language. Most writing is done using complete sentences, so it's important to distinguish sentences from fragments. A sentence expresses a complete thought, whereas a fragment is only part of a complete thought.
Look at the following examples of complete and incomplete sentences.
The dog walking down the street.
Exploding from the bat for a home run.
The dog was walking down the street.
The ball exploded from the bat for a home run.
These examples show that a sentence must have a subject (usually a noun) and a verb to complete its meaning. A verb is a word that describes an action, such as run or go. A noun is a person, place, or thing, such as boy or kitchen or car.
The first fragment has a subject and a verb, but the verb in this fragment—walking—needs a helping verb to make it a complete sentence. The second fragment has neither a subject nor a verb. Exploding looks like a verb, but it actually describes something not identified in the word group.
Now look at the next set of word groups. Mark those that are complete sentences.
- We saw the tornado approaching.
- When we saw the tornado approaching.
- Before the house was built in 1972.
- The house was built in 1972.
- Since we are leaving in the morning.
- We are leaving in the morning.
If you chose 29a, 30b, and 31b, you were correct. You may have noticed that the groups of words are the same, but the fragments have an extra word at the beginning. These words are called subordinating conjunctions. Subordinating conjunctions make a phrase dependent upon another phrase. In other words, a group of words that would normally be a complete sentence will become dependent—it will need more information—when a subordinating conjunction is added. Subordinating conjunctions include words such as when, since, and because. Note the subordinating conjunctions in the following sentences:
- When we saw the tornado approaching, we headed for cover.
- Before the house was built in 1972, the old house was demolished.
- Since we were leaving in the morning, we went to bed early.
Here is a list of words that can be used as subordinating conjunctions.
Language that is specific and detailed says more than language that is general and vague.
My sister and I enjoyed each other's company as we were growing up. We had a lot of fun, and I will always remember her. We did interesting things and played fun games.
As children, my sister and I built rafts out of old barrels and tires, then tried to float them on the pond behind our house. I'll never forget playing war or hide-and-seek in the grove beside the pond.
The ideas behind both of these versions are similar, but the specific example is more interesting and memorable. Choose the option that uses specific language.
Commonly Confused Words
The best answer uses words correctly. The following word pairs are often misused in written language. By reading the explanations and looking at the examples, you can learn to spot the correct way of using these easily confused word pairs.
Its is a possessive pronoun that means "belonging to it. " It's is a contraction for it is or it has. The only time you will ever use it's is when you can also substitute the words it is or it has.
Who refers to people. That refers to things.
- There is the man who helped me find a new pet.
- The woman who invented the copper-bottomed kettle died in 1995.
- This is the house that Harold bought.
- The magazine that I needed was no longer in print.
Their is a possessive pronoun that shows ownership. There is an adverb that tells where an action or item is located. They're is a contraction for the words they are. Here is an easy way to remember these words.
- Their means "belonging to them. "With some creativity, their can be transformed into the word them. (Extend the r on the right side and connect the i and the r to turn their into them. ) This clue will help you remember that their means "belonging to them. "
- If you examine the word there, you can see from the way it's written that it contains the word here. Whenever you use there, you should be able to substitute here. The sentence should still make sense.
- Imagine that the apostrophe in they're is actually a very small letter a. Use they're in a sentence only when you can substitute they are.
Your is a possessive pronoun that means "belonging to you. " You're is a contraction for the words you are. The only time you will ever use you're is when you can also substitute the words you are.
To is used as a preposition or an infinitive. As a preposition, it will suggest direction of movement; as an infinitive, it will suggest "to do. "
- As a preposition: to the mall, to the bottom, to my church, to our garage, to his school, to his hideout, to our disadvantage, to an open room, to the gymnasium
- As an infinitive, to is followed by a verb: to walk, to leap, to see badly, to find, to advance, to read, to build, to want, to misinterpret, to peruse
Too means "also. "Whenever you use the word too, substitute the word also. The sentence should still make sense.
Two is a number, as in one, two. This is a spelling you have to memorize.
The key is to think consciously about these words when you see them in written language. Circle the correct form of these easily confused words in the following sentences. Answers are at the end of the exercise.
- (Its, It's) (to, too, two) late (to, too, two) remedy the problem now.
- This is the man (who, that) helped me find the book I needed.
- (There, Their, They're) going (to, too, two) begin construction as soon as the plans are finished.
- We left (there, their, they're) house after the storm subsided.
- I think (your, you're) going (to, too, two) win at least (to, too, two) more times.
- The corporation moved (its, it's) home office.
- It's, too, to
- They're, to
- you're, to, two
The following are four sample multiple-choice questions. By applying the principles explained in this section, choose the best version of each of the four sets of sentences. The answers and a short explanation for each question follow the exercise.
- Vanover caught the ball. This was after it had been thrown by the shortstop. Vanover was the first baseman who caught the double-play ball. The shortstop was Hennings. He caught a line drive.
- After the shortstop, Hennings, caught the line drive, he threw it to the first baseman, Vanover, for the double play.
- After the line drive was caught by Hennings, the shortstop, it was thrown to Vanover at first base for a double play.
- Vanover the first baseman caught the ball from shortstop Hennings.
- This writer attended the movie Casino, starring Robert DeNiro.
- The movie Casino, starring Robert DeNiro, was attended by me.
- The movie Casino, starring Robert DeNiro, was attended by this writer.
- I attended the movie Casino, starring Robert DeNiro.
- They gave cereal boxes with prizes inside to the children.
- They gave cereal boxes to children with prizes inside.
- Children were given boxes of cereal by them with prizes inside.
- Inside the boxes of cereal were prizes. The children got them.
- After playing an exciting drum solo, the crowd rose to its feet and then claps and yells until the band plays another cut from their new album.
- After playing an exciting drum solo, the crowd rose to its feet and then clapped and yelled until the band played another cut from their new album.
- After the drummer's exciting solo, the crowd rose to its feet and then claps and yells until the band plays another cut from their new album.
- After the drummer's exciting solo, the crowd rose to its feet and then clapped and yelled until the band played another cut from their new album.
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