Grammar and Public Speaking Success Help (page 3)
Grammar and Public Speaking Success
In this section, we will continue to discuss grammar usage for the purpose of effective public speaking. If you recall, usage refers to the rules that govern the form of the words we use and how we string those words together in sentences. Remember, that correct grammar and usage are essential for clear and effective communication. In this section, you will review the following areas of effective grammar usage:
- Pronouns - Personal and Indefinite
- Pronoun Agreement and Consistency
- Possessive Pronouns
- Adjectives and Adverbs
- Comparative and Superlative Adjectives and Advebs
- Prepositional Idioms
- Mechanics and Punctuation
- Punctuation Guidelines
- Comma Rules
Pronouns - Personal and Indefinite
Pronouns replace nouns. This keeps us from having to repeat names and objects over and over. But pronouns can be a bit tricky at times. This section reviews the different kinds of pronouns and the rules they follow.
Personal pronouns refer to specific people or things. They can be either singular (I) or plural (we); they can be subjects (I) or objects (me).
Pronoun mistakes are often made by using the subject form when you really need the object form. Here are two guidelines to follow:
- Always use the object pronoun in a prepositional phrase. Pronouns and nouns in prepositional phrases are always objects.
- Always use the subject pronoun in a than construction (comparison). When a pronoun follows than, it is usually part of a clause that omits the verb in order not to repeat unnecessarily.
He promised to bring a souvenir for Betty and me.
Please keep this between us.
I realize that Alonzo is more talented than I. [than I am]
Sandra is much more reliable than he. [than he is]
Unlike personal pronouns, indefinite pronouns, such as anybody and everyone, don't refer to a specific person. The following indefinite pronouns are always singular and require singular verbs:
- Everybody has a chance to win.
- Neither child admits to eating the cookies.
- Has anyone seen my keys?
The following indefinite pronouns are always plural:
- both few many several
- Both sound like good options.
- Only a few are left.
These indefinite pronouns can be singular or plural, depending upon the noun or pronoun to which they refer:
- all any most none some
- Some of the money is counterfeit.
- Some of the coins are valuable.
- None of the animals have been fed.
- All of the bread is moldy.
Pronoun Agreement and Consistency
Just as subjects (both nouns and pronouns) must agree with their verbs, pronouns must also agree with their antecedents—the words they replace. For example:
- Children will often believe everything their parents tell them.
The word children is the antecedent and is replaced by their and them in the sentence. Because children is plural, the pronouns must also be plural.
Indefinite pronouns can also be antecedents. Singular indefinite pronouns require singular pronouns:
- Everyone has his or her own reasons for coming.
- Neither of the physicists could explain what she saw.
Plural indefinite pronouns, on the other hand, require plural pronouns, just like they need plural verbs:
- both few many several
- Both of them have finished their work.
- Only a few are still in their original cases.
Finally, those pronouns that can be either singular or plural, depending upon the noun or pronoun to which they refer, should take the pronoun that matches their referent. If the antecedent is singular, the pronoun and verb must also be singular. If the antecedent is plural, they must be plural:
- all any most none some
- All of the chocolate is gone. It was delicious!
- All of the cookies are gone. They were delicious!
- None of the information is accurate; it's all out of date.
- None of the facts are accurate; they are all out of date.
Just as you need to be consistent in verb tense, you should also be consistent in your pronoun point of view. Pronouns can be:
A passage that begins in the third-person plural should continue to use that third-person plural point of view.
Incorrect: We have tested our hypothesis and the team believes it is correct. Correct: We have tested our hypothesis and we believe it is correct. Incorrect: If you prepare carefully, one can expect to pass the exam. Correct: If you prepare carefully, you can expect to pass the exam. OR If one prepares carefully, one can expect to pass the exam.
The possessive pronouns its, your, their, and whose are often confused with the contractions it's (it is or it has), you're (you are), they're (they are), and who's (who is). Because we use apostrophes to show possession in nouns (Louise's truck, the rug's pattern), many people make the mistake of thinking that pronouns use apostrophes for possession, too. But possessive pronouns do not take apostrophes. When a pronoun has an apostrophe, it always shows contraction.
The pronouns who, that, and which are also often confused. Here are the general guidelines for using these pronouns correctly:
- Use who or whom when referring to people:
- Use that when referring to things:
- Use which when introducing clauses that are not essential to the information in the sentence, unless they refer to people. In that case, use who.
She is the one who should make that decision, not me.
This is the most important decision that she will make as director.
Emily married Sonny, who has been in love with her since first grade.
Antoinette, who is a computer programmer, would be a good match for Daniel.
The film, which is a comedy, won several awards.
Adjectives and Adverbs
Adjectives and adverbs help give our sentences color; they describe things and actions. Adjectives describe nouns and pronouns and tell us which one, what kind, and how many. See the following table.
Adverbs, on the other hand, describe verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. They tell us where, when, how, and to what extent. See the following table.
Remember to keep modifiers as close as possible to what they modify.
As a rule, use the adjective fewer to modify plural nouns or things that can be counted. Use less for singular nouns that represent a quantity or a degree. Most nouns to which an -s can be added require the adjective fewer.
- Use less salt this time. Use fewer eggs this time.
- I had less reason to go this time. I had fewer reasons to go this time.
These pairs of words—good/well, bad/badly—are often confused. The key to proper usage is to understand their function in the sentence. Good and bad are adjectives; they should be used to modify only nouns and pronouns. Well and badly are adverbs; they should be used to modify verbs.
- I was surprised by how good Sebastian's cake was.
- Jennelle hasn't been feeling well lately.
- Her attitude is good, but she didn't do well in the interview.
Comparative and Superlative Adjectives and Adverbs
An important function of adjectives and adverbs is comparisons. When you are comparing two things, use the comparative form (-er) of the modifier. If you are comparing more than two things, use the superlative form (-est) of the modifier.
To create the comparative form, either:
- add -er to the modifier OR
- place the word more or less before the modifier.
In general, add -er to short modifiers (one or two syllables). Use more or less with modifiers of more than two syllables.
- cheaper less expensive
- smarter more intelligent
To create the superlative form, either:
- add -est to the modifier or
- place the word most or least before the modifier.
Again, as a general rule, add -est to short modifiers (one or two syllables). Use most or least with modifiers that are more than two syllables.
- Wanda is more experienced than I, but I am the most familiar with the software.
- Ahmed is clearly the smartest student in the class.
Double Comparisons and Double Negatives
Be sure to avoid double comparisons. Don't use both -er/-est and more/less or most/least together.
Incorrect: She has the most longest hair I've ever seen. Correct: She has the longest hair I've ever seen. Incorrect: Minsun is more happier now. Correct: Minsun is happier now.
Likewise, be sure to avoid double negatives. When a negative word such as no or not is added to a statement that is already negative, a double negative—and potential confusion—results. Hardly and barely are also negative words. Remember, one negative is all you need.
Incorrect: He doesn't have no idea what she's talking about. Correct: He doesn't have any idea what she's talking about. He has no idea what she's talking about. Incorrect: I can't hardly wait to see you. Correct: I can hardly wait to see you. I can't wait to see you.
Another aspect of usage is prepositional idioms: the specific word/preposition combinations that we use in the English language, such as take care of and according to.
What follows is a list of some of the most common prepositional idioms. Review the list carefully to be sure you are using prepositional idioms correctly.
Mechanics and Punctuation
Mechanics refers to the rules that govern punctuation marks, capitalization, and spelling. Like the rules that govern usage, the rules that govern sentence mechanics help us keep our sentences and their meanings clear.
Punctuation marks are the symbols used to separate sentences, express emotions, and show relationships between objects and ideas. Correct punctuation makes your meaning clear and adds drama and style to your sentences. Poor punctuation, on the other hand, can lead to a great deal of confusion for your readers and can send a message other than the one you intended. For example, take a look at the following two versions of the same sentence:
- Don't bother Xavier.
- Don't bother, Xavier.
These sentences use the same words, but have very different meanings because of punctuation. In the first sentence, the comma indicates that the speaker is telling the reader not to bother Xavier. In the second sentence, the speaker is telling Xavier not to bother. Here's another example of how punctuation can drastically affect meaning:
- You should eat Zak so you can think clearly during your interview.
Because this sentence is missing some essential punctuation, the sentence says something very different from what the author intended. The speaker isn't telling the reader to eat Zak; rather, she's telling Zak to eat. The sentence should be revised as follows:
- You should eat, Zak, so you can think clearly during your interview.
Punctuation helps to create meaning, and it also has another important function: It enables writers to express a variety of tones and emotions. For example, take a look at these two versions of the same sentence:
- Wait—I'm coming with you!
- Wait, I'm coming with you.
The first sentence clearly expresses more urgency and excitement thanks to the dash and exclamation point. The second sentence, with its comma and period, does not express emotion; the sentence is neutral.
There are many rules for punctuation, and the better you know them, the more correctly and effectively you can punctuate your sentences. The following table lists the main punctuation marks and guidelines for when to use them:
Many mechanics questions will deal with commas, the most common punctuation mark within sentences. The presence and placement of commas can dramatically affect meaning and can make the difference between clarity and confusion. The previous chart lists four comma uses, but there are several others. What follows is a complete list of comma rules. If you know them, then you can be sure your sentences are clear. You will also be able to tell whether or not a comma is needed to correct a sentence.
Use a comma:
- with a coordinating conjunction to separate two complete sentences. Note that a comma is not required if both parts of the sentence are four words or less.
- Let's eat first, and then we will go to a movie.
- I'm definitely older, but I don't think I'm much wiser.
- I love him and he loves me.
- to set off introductory words, phrases, or clauses.
- Next year, I will stick to my New Year's resolutions.
- Wow, that sure looks good!
- Because the game was canceled, Jane took the kids bowling.
- to set off a direct address, interjection, or transitional phrase.
- Well, Jeb, it looks like we will be stuck here for a while.
- His hair color is a little, um, unusual.
- My heavens, this is spicy chili!
- Sea horses, for example, are unusual in that the males carry the eggs.
- between two modifiers that could be replaced by and.
- He is a mean, contemptible person.
- (Both mean and contemptible modify person.)
- Incorrect: Denny's old, stamp collection is priceless.
- Correct: Denny's old stamp collection is priceless.
- (You cannot put "and" between old and stamp; old describes stamp and stamp modifies collection. They do not modify the same noun.)
- to set off information that is relevant but not essential (nonrestrictive).
- Essential, not set off:
- The woman who wrote Happy Moon is coming to our local bookstore.
- (We need this information to know which woman we're talking about.)
- Nonessential, set off by commas:
- The dog, lost and confused, wandered into the street.
- (The fact that the dog was lost and confused is not essential to the sentence.)
- Essential, not set off:
- Witnesses who lie under oath will be prosecuted.
- Nonessential, set off by commas:
- Leeland, who at first refused to testify, later admitted to lying under oath.
- The price for the cruise includes breakfast, lunch, dinner, and entertainment.
- The recipe calls for fresh cilantro, chopped onions, diced tomatoes, and lemon juice.
- "Let's get going," he said impatiently.
- Rene Descartes is famous for the words, "I think, therefore I am."
- Joseph said, "Please forgive me for jumping to conclusions."
- She was born on April 30, 2002.
- Please print 3,000 copies.
- Tiberio Mendola, MD, is my new doctor.
- Please deliver the package to me at 30 Willow Road, Trenton, NJ.
- What it is, is a big mistake.
- After I, comes J.
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