Mastering English

Troublesome English

If you want to be a writer, you'd best be on the alert for some common errors. These short pieces can really help.

How to Write Good

English is Hard to Learn

Alternative Definitions

Spell Checker Poem

Play on Words

Bad Suspense Novel Metaphors

This one has been making the writer's email rounds.

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How to Write Good

by Frank L. Visco

(expanded by Alex Lockhart)

1. Avoid alliteration. Always.

2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.

3. A writer must not shift your point of view.

4. DO NOT overuse exclamation points and all caps to emphasize!!!

5. Place pronouns as closely as possible, especially in long sentences, as of 10 or more words, to their antecedents.

6. If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.

7. Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular nouns in their writing.

8. Always pick on the correct idiom.

9. Don't verb nouns.

10. Don't never use no double negatives.

11. Each pronoun agrees with their antecedent.

12. Um, er, oh yeah. Avoid verbal static!

13. When dangling, watch your participles.

14. Use the apostrophe in it's proper place and omit it when its not needed.

15. Correct speling is esential.

16. Between you and I, case is important.

17. Using ellipses demonstrates...

18. Verbs has to agree with their antecedents.

19. Use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them.

20. If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times: Resist hyperbole; not one writer in a million can use it correctly.

21. Puns are for children, not groan readers.

22. Run on sentences cause all sorts of problems for readers and people should never use them and must try to write better and divide their sentences.

23. Use the semicolon properly, always use it where it is appropriate; and never where it isn't.

24. Hyphenate between sy-llables and avoid un-necessary hyphens.

25. Use hyphens in compound-words, not just where two-words are related.

26. Avoid cliches like the plague. (They're old hat.)

27. Employ the vernacular.

28. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.

29. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.

30. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.

31. Contractions aren't necessary.

32. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.

33. One should never generalize.

34. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: "I hate
quotations. Tell me what you know."

35. Comparisons are as bad as cliches.

36. Don't be redundant; don't more use words than necessary; it's highly

37. Profanity sucks.

38. Be more or less specific.

39. Understatement is always best.

40. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.

41. One-word sentences? Eliminate.

42. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.

43. The passive voice is to be avoided.

44. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.

45. Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.

46. Who needs rhetorical questions?

47. Be carefully to use adjectives and adverbs correct.

48. It is incumbent on us to eschew archaisms.

49. Steer clear of incorrect forms of verbs that have snuck in the language.

50. Don't string too many prepositional phrases together unless you are walking through the valley of the shadow of death.

51. "Avoid overuse of 'quotation "marks."'"

52. Never leave a transitive verb just lay there without an object.

53. Only Proper Nouns should be capitalized.

54. a sentence should begin with a capital letter and end with punctuation

55. In letters compositions reports and things like that use commas to keep a string of items apart.

56. Vary your words variously so as to use various words.

57. Use language that includes all men.

58. Good writers do not use one verb tense in one part of a sentence, and then have switched to a different tense in the next.

59. Always be looking out for "be" verbs, for they are supplying verbiage all scholars are discouraging.

60. Use delightful but irrelevant extra adjectives and adverbs with sparing and parsimonious infrequency, for they unnecessarily bloat your otherwise perfect sentence.

61. Bee careful two use the write homonym.

62. Beware of malapropisms. They are a communist submersive plot.

63. Join clauses good like a conjunction should.

64. Continuity of thought, logical development and smooth transitions are important. Never leave the reader guessing.

65. Sentences without verbs--bad idea.

66. Use parallel structure when you write and in speaking.

67. Proofread carefully to see if you words out.

[Frank L. Visco is a vice-president and senior copywriter at USAdvertising.]

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With roots in tongues spoken all over the world, written English can be difficult to grasp. Spelling and grammar, even when correct, can deceive. For a few examples, read on:

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English is Hard to Learn

We polish the Polish furniture.

He could lead if he would get the lead out.

A farm can produce produce.

The dump was so full it had to refuse refuse.

The soldier decided to desert in the desert.

The present is a good time to present the present.

At the Army base, a bass was painted on the head of a bass drum.

The dove dove into the bushes.

I did not object to the object.

The insurance for the invalid was invalid.

The bandage was wound around the wound.

There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.

They were too close to the door to close it.

The buck does funny things when the does are present.

They sent a sewer down to stitch the tear in the sewer line.

To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.

The wind was too strong to wind the sail.

After a number of Novocain injections, my jaw got number.

I shed a tear when I saw the tear in my clothes.

I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.

How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

I spent last evening evening out a pile of dirt.

Authors often wonder whether to use 'hard' or 'easy' words in their texts. And if that doesn't stump you, here's some more fun with English.

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Alternative Definitions

Attributed to a Washington Post reader's contest.

1. Coffee (n.), a person who is coughed upon.
2. Flabbergasted (adj.), appalled over how much weight you have gained.
3. Abdicate (v.), to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.
4. Willy-nilly (adj.), impotent
5. Negligent (adj.), describes a condition in which you absentmindedly
answer the door in your nightie.
6. Lymph (v.), to walk with a lisp.
7. Gargoyle (n.), an olive-flavored mouthwash.
8. Flatulence (n.), the emergency vehicle that picks you up after you are
run over by a steamroller.
9. Balderdash (n.), a rapidly receding hairline.
10. Testicle (n.), a humorous question on an exam.
11. Rectitude (n.), the formal, dignified demeanor assumed by a proctologist immediately before he examines you.
12. Oyster (n.), a person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddish
13. Circumvent (n.), the opening in the front of boxer shorts.
14. Frisbeetarianism (n.), The belief that, when you die, your soul goes
up on the roof and gets stuck there.
15. Pokemon (n), A Jamaican proctologist.

And from 2005:

1. Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you
realize it was your money to start with.

2. Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly

3. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops
bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows
little sign of breaking down in the near future.

4. Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of
getting laid.

5. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the
subject financially impotent for an indefinite period.

6. Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

7. Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person
who doesn't get it.

8. Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

9. Hipatitis: Terminal coolness.

10. Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)

11. Karmageddon: It's like, when everybody is sending off all these
really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's
like, a serious bummer.

12. Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day
consuming only things that are good for you.

13. Glibido: All talk and no action.

14. Dopeler effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when
they come at you rapidly.

15. Arachnoleptic fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after
you've accidentally walked through a spider web.

16. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets ;into
your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

17. Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a worm in
the fruit you're eating.

And the pick of the literature:

18. Ignoranus: A person who's both stupid and an asshole.

Do you rely heavily on your computer's spell checker? It beats nothing, but watch out!

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Spell Checker Poem

I have a spelling checker -
It came with my pee cee
It plane lee marks four my revue
Miss steaks aye can knot sea

Eye ran this poem threw it,
Your sure reel glad two no.
Its vary polished in it's weigh -
My checker tolled me sew.

A checker is a bless sing.
It freeze yew lodes of thyme.
It helps me awl stiles two reed,
And aides me when aye rime.

To rite with care is quite a feet
Of witch won should be proud.
And wee mussed dew the best wee can,
Sew flaws are knot aloud.

And now bee cause my spelling
Is checked with such grate flare,
Their are know faults with in my cite;
Of non eye am a wear.

Each frays come posed up on my screen
Eye trussed to be a joule.
The checker poured o'er every word
To cheque sum spelling rule.

That's why aye brake in two averse
By righting wants too pleas.
Sow now ewe sea why aye dew prays
Such soft wear for pea seas!

-- Author Unknown

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English is filled with strange and flexible idioms. Sometimes a dictionary just isn't enough.

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Play on Words

1. A bicycle can't stand on its own because it is two-tired.

2. What's the definition of a will? (It's a dead giveaway).

3. Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.

4. A backwards poet writes inverse.

5. In democracy it's your vote that counts. In feudalism it's your count that votes.

6. She had a boyfriend with a wooden leg, but broke it off.

7. A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion.

8. If you don't pay your exorcist you get repossessed.

9. With her marriage she got a new name and a dress.

10. Show me a piano falling down a mine shaft and I'll show you A-flat minor.

11. When a clock is hungry it goes back four seconds.

12. The man who fell into an upholstery machine is fully recovered.

13. A grenade thrown into a kitchen in France would result in Linoleum Blownapart.

14. You feel stuck with your debt if you can't budge it.

15. Local Area Network in Australia: the LAN down under.

16. He often broke into song because he couldn't find the key.

17. Every calendar's days are numbered.

18. A lot of money is tainted. It taint yours and it taint mine.

19. A boiled egg in the morning is hard to beat.

20. He had a photographic memory that was never developed.

21. A plateau is a high form of flattery.

22. The short fortune-teller who escaped from prison was a small medium at large.

23. Those who get too big for their britches will be exposed in the end.

24. Once you've seen one shopping center you've seen a mall.

25. Those who jump off a Paris bridge are in Seine.

26. When an actress saw her first strands of gray hair she thought she'd dye.

27. Bakers trade bread recipes on a knead to know basis.

28. Santa's helpers are subordinate clauses.

29. Acupuncture is a jab well done.

30. Marathon runners with bad footwear suffer the agony of defeat.

Bad Suspense Novel Metaphors

A single drop of sweat slowly inched down Chad's brow -- a tiny,
glistening Times Square New Year's Eve Ball of desperation.

Her blazing eyes danced like Astaire and Rogers, but since they
were crossed, it was an ocular tango, and my eyes had to foxtrot just
to maintain eye contact.

She had a voice so husky it could have pulled a dogsled, and the
gun she was holding gave me a bad case of barrel envy.

The neon sign reflected off his gun, like the moonlight reflects
off my brother-in-law's bald head after a night of beer drinking and

Her parting words lingered heavily inside me like last night's
Taco Bell.

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Mastering English