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The Comic Touch: How to Be Funny in Your Writing

A dog in a funny mask.

A dog in a funny mask.

Airplanes. Ben Affleck making a comeback after Gigli. Space travel. Women not just wearing—but totally rocking—pants on a regular basis. Justin Timberlake being taken seriously as an actor.

These are all things that people once thought highly unlikely, and maybe even impossible, yet they’re all totally accepted facts today.

The lesson here? There’s no such thing as impossible. If you put your mind to it and are willing to do the work, then gosh dang it, you can learn how to be funny.

But before we get into the how of writing humor, I’d like to delve into the why. The suspense of waiting for the how may very well kill you, I know, but what can I say? I’m a risk taker.

What are the benefits of writing humor into your story?

You may be wondering why incorporating humor into fiction and other types of creative writing is even important. You may think that learning how to be funny is secondary to learning how to tell compelling, dramatic stories.

The truth is, writing humor is important precisely because it helps create compelling and dramatic stories. Allow me to break that down into five easily digestible points that are sure to provide you with your daily dose of figurative fiber:

1. Humor can be used to give us a break from other more intense emotions.

You’ve surely heard the term “comic relief” tossed around before. Comic relief occurs when a comic scene or character appears in an otherwise tragic or serious tale. It gives the audience or reader a break from the intensity of the rest of the story.

Shakespeare is big on comic relief. Considering that his tragedies—like King Lear, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and Othello, to name a few—always conclude with the violent deaths of most of the characters, you can see how some laughs might ease the tension a bit before the imminent bloodshed.

2. Writing humor can be satiric—it can work to highlight the absurdity of a real issue.

Sometimes writing about reality can be a hefty task. Explicitly stating what’s wrong with the world, with society, with your parents, or with your less-than-complete sense of self is not always the most effective or entertaining way to communicate your message. Plus, some topics are taboo—and as fun as it is to say taboo, what this word means is that you’re not really supposed to talk about certain things. Cue satire.

Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 is an astonishing example of satire. Heller uses satire to highlight the absurdity, the illogicality, the painful contradictions, and the nonsensical confusion experienced by soldiers fighting in a world war, as well as the chaos behind the concept of war itself.

Another example of tackling a taboo subject with satire is Oscar Wilde’s hilarious play, The Importance of Being Earnest, which highlights the contradictions between appearances and reality in English society in the late 1800s. In Earnest, deviations from convention are the only ways to escape a world in which believing something is enough to make it true. In the play, this is seen in Algernon’s “Bunburying,” which is widely interpreted as a metaphor for homosexual activity (which was illegal at the time and landed Wilde himself in prison).

3. Writing humor can help create an honest connection between the reader and the narrator or character.

Just as we love the “class clown” in real life, we tend to love funny characters in books. These are the kinds of people who, if they actually existed, would make my grandmother smile wryly and say, “Oh, that one’s a character all right!” I love that woman.

A great example of using humor in writing to help the reader relate to the story is John Dies at the End, a comic horror novel by David Wong. A truly absurd book from start to finish, this comic and sardonic narrative lets the reader inside the mind of the narrator, David. We get a solid grasp of his sense of humor (complete with grammar jokes about apostrophes and dangling modifiers, I might add), but we also get the inside scoop on the intense experiences and feelings he’s having.

Considering that David has unwittingly contributed to the opening of a portal to other dimensions, complete with gods of chaos and squiggly, creepy creatures, you could say he’s going through a pretty tough time. The humor in this book also helps us fall in love with David’s partner in crime, John, who to our relief—spoiler alert—does not actually die at the end.

4. Humor can be used as a contrast to tragedy, making the poignancy of more difficult emotions hit the reader even harder.

Dave Eggers masters the contrast of comedy with tragedy in his semi-fictional memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. This book is laugh-out-loud funny. It’s crawling with Eggers’ trademark wit and astute observations about the hilarity of everyday life. Filled with wild tangents and unconventional fourth-wall confrontations, this book is sure to keep most readers on their toes.

Did I mention both of Eggers’ parents die at the beginning of the book and that Eggers must then assume custody of his young brother? Eggers, with his fantastical blurring of fiction and reality, allows the reader to almost forget this. Then, quietly, he reminds us. The result? We’re momentarily heartbroken, only to be uplifted again by Eggers’ next wild tangent. While it may be either wildly pretentious or painfully ironic, the book’s title is quite accurate.

5. Writing humorously keeps the reader interested and engaged.

Even if humor serves no other purpose in your writing, know this—most people respect a good display of wit. Even if you don’t know how to be funny in real life, I suggest you learn how to be in your writing.

Clever writing is intelligent writing, and intelligent writing is respected and encourages engagement. Shakespeare reigns supreme in the wit department, and Wilde runs a close second. For more examples of wit that just won’t quit, I recommend checking out anything written by Jane Austen, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

So there’s the why. Now where’s the how?

As promised, here is your guide to how to be funny in writing. Follow these steps, and you’ll surely be busting guts in no time at all:

1. Give up now.

If you haven’t figured out how to be funny on your own already, it’s not going to happen. What do you think I am, a wizard or something? Go on. Get outta here!

2. Wait, no! I was lying! Don’t go!

I was just doing something unexpected to try to catch you off guard. Did it work? Sometimes the element of surprise is enough to elicit a laugh when writing humor.

3. See what I did there? Aren’t I clever?

“Oh, the cleverness of me!” If it fits your story, making allusions to famous icons and events can put your jokes into context and help readers relate to you. Peter Pan is a go-to of mine, so you can’t have him, but anyone else is all yours. Another way to illicit a laugh is to hearken back to a previous point from your own story in a surprising way. Once you set up a world, weave together inside jokes that you share with your reader.

4. A false sense of grandeur can sometimes be funny, too. Trust me—I know.

Pretending that you know what you’re talking about is a sure way to get people to laugh at you, especially if you quite obviously don’t know what you’re talking about. Sure, it might not be the kind of laughter you’re after, but a laugh is a laugh, right?

5. Right. You wanted to learn how to be funny.

If you really want to learn how to be funny, you’re going to have to do a bit of work. Read some of the works mentioned above, and think about how humor is used in them (using my handy-dandy descriptions as a guide). Then, think about how you can incorporate humor into your own writing.

Make note of the jokes that made you laugh the hardest, and dissect them to really understand how they work before putting those mechanisms into practice.

Your jokes might not be gold at first, but in time, I’m sure you’ll find that you’re cracking jokes faster than my grandma cracks eggs for Sunday brunch. Have I mentioned yet today how much I love her?

Image Source: Braydon Anderson/Unsplash.com

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What Is an Irregular Verb? Find Out and Test Your Knowledge!

Irregular Verbs

Irregular Verbs

An Introduction to Irregular Verbs

An irregular verb is a verb that is not conjugated (changed according to tense) in the same way as most other verbs. While native English speakers learn which verbs are irregular as young children, memorizing this seemingly random list of irregular verbs can be very difficult for English as a second language (ESL) learners. Still a bit confused?

Let’s start by looking at some common regular verbs:

Regular Verbs Chart

Makes sense, right? Just add –ed, and you’ve got yourself a verb in the past tense. But this rule does not work for irregular verbs. For example, fly doesn’t become flyed, but flew. Eat doesn’t become eated, but ate, and so on. Here are more examples of irregular verbs:

Irregular Verbs Chart

For a more comprehensive list of irregular verbs, check out this dictionary of irregular verbs. Unfortunately for ESL learners, the only way to be sure about what is an irregular verb and what is a regular verb is to memorize them while reading and speaking English. With lots of time and practice, even a non-native speaker can be an expert in these tricky parts of speech!

Test Your Knowledge!

Think you know all there is to know about irregular verbs? Put that knowledge to the test with this extensive irregular verb quiz created by the language experts at Scribendi.com. For the seasoned English professional, this quiz can be a great way to brush up on some of the lesser-known irregular verbs. For the ESL learner, quizzes like this one can be a great way to test your learning progress!

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The English Language Learner’s Guide to English Prepositions

English Prepositions

Peter flew to the window. Then, he was at the window. Earlier in the night, he had flown by the window. He thought it was open, so he flew into the window. Wendy saw Peter from the window. Her breath left a mark on the window. Peter’s favorite part of the window was how it opened.

All I had to do in the above sentences was change the prepositions and alter the wording a bit, and bam! they were new sentences with completely new meanings. Still, the object of each of these sentences was the window. As you can see, prepositions are small but mighty parts of speech. To English language learners, these pesky little words can be very challenging to master.

It’s really no surprise that English prepositions are so difficult to learn. For one thing, English has an excessive number of these relational words—more, in fact, than any other language out there. On top of that, the rules for when to use each preposition can be quite arbitrary. Native English speakers know when to use each preposition only because they are so familiar with the common uses of these words, but not because there are technical, logical rules that dictate their usage.

So, you may be wondering, is it even possible for an English language learner to master prepositions? Well, that depends. Are you willing to do lots of reading, lots of writing, and lots of practicing? Then of course it’s possible! Anything is possible, after all. All it takes is faith and trust . . . and a little bit of pixie dust!

What is a preposition?

A preposition is a part of speech that indicates the temporal, spatial, or logical relationship between the object and the rest of the sentence. Common prepositions include to, of, for, by, from, about, and around. There are many others, including above, after, before, below, beneath, during, following, into, inside, near, onto, outside, through, toward, under, and upon.

Prepositions are very important to the meaning of many sentences. Just look at these sentences about Peter and the Lost Boys to see what I mean. The prepositions are in bold, and the objects are underlined.

Peter flew home to Neverland.

The Lost Boys had been waiting for Peter for hours.

Thankfully, none of the boys knew how to tell time.

Why are prepositions important?

Peter Pan Let’s look more carefully at each example. We can do this by removing the prepositions and seeing what effect that has on the sentence.

Peter flew home Neverland.

In the first example, to is needed to connect Neverland to the rest of the sentence. Without it, the sentence stops making sense after home.

The Lost Boys had been waiting Peter hours.

In the second sentence, there are two objects: Peter and hours. For establishes the role played by these objects. Without for, Peter actually becomes an adjective describing hours, which neither makes sense nor conveys the intended meaning.

Thankfully, none the boys knew how tell time.

In the final example, removing the prepositions means there is now no logical connection between none and the boys, nor is it clear how tell time fits into the rest of the sentence.

As you can see, prepositions are very important for creating meaning!

More examples

I know memorization isn’t the best way to learn, but when it comes to prepositions, it’s probably your best bet. Here’s a quick list of rules and examples of proper preposition usage to remember.

  • Peter can go home or be at home, but he has to go to his house or be at his house. He can’t go house or be at house.
  • Saying that Peter flew by Captain Hook’s ship is very similar to saying that he flew past the ship. However, saying that Peter lives by Captain Hook’s ship means he lives near the ship, not that he passes by the ship to get home.
  • Tinkerbell recovered from an injury, but she is done with pirates and she hopes for a peaceful future with Peter.
  • Peter can fly to Wendy’s window at night, noon, or midnight, but if he travels to the window at other times, he must go in the morning, afternoon, or evening.
  • Peter Pan was published in 1911, but it was published on a Friday.

Test your knowledge and learn more!

Practice makes perfect, and there’s no better way to practice than to take a quiz! If you’d like to learn more about when to use prepositions, you should take a break from Peter Pan and focus your attention instead on another magical topic: puppies! This fun quiz covers basic preposition usage with help from your favorite furry friends.

Or maybe you’re looking for more comprehensive information about prepositions. If that’s the case, check out The Complete Guide to the Parts of Speech, where you’ll learn everything you need to know about the building blocks of the English language. How magical!

Image source: Unsplash/Pixabay.com, Stevebidmead/Pixabay.com

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6 Things I Learned My First Year as a Professional Editor

Professional Editor

The past two years have been crazy for me. One minute I was a student, drowning in papers and dealing with stress-induced insomnia by ingesting large amounts of coffee (not my wisest choice), and the next I was employed as a professional editor. There I was, a recent graduate. Not only did I have an answer to the “So, what will you do now?” question, but I even had an answer that was related to my English major—you know, the one that everyone had been informing me for four years would be entirely useless upon graduation.

It felt good to silence the naysayers, and it felt even better to be gainfully employed and finally take a break from learning. Because there’s never anything new to learn with a new job—right?

Wrong, of course, completely and utterly wrong. There were tons of things to learn! Even though I’ve been working as a professional editor for nearly two years, I’m still learning new things every day. I’d like to share some of my best editing tips with you, aspiring editor, so that you may accelerate your own learning process a bit.

Editing Tip #1: Being a writer does not make you an editor, and being an editor does not make you a writer.

This is less of an editing tip and more of a reminder that editing is a very specific skill. If you’re considering pursuing a career as a professional editor, you need to be honest with yourself about what your capabilities really are. Maybe you got great marks in all your English classes, or you read three books a week. Perhaps you’ve written and even published your own work. All that is great, but it doesn’t mean you’re destined to become a professional editor.

To be an editor, you need a firm grasp of English grammar, but you also need to know how to correct others’ mistakes without eliminating their own voice. You need to be able to do this nicely. It may sound simple, but it’s rather difficult when you actually try. Some people are just plain bad at editing. Conversely, not all editors are writers. Plenty of them hate writing their own documents and prefer to polish existing writing. Remember, editing and writing are two very different skills. Though they are related, they do not necessarily always go together.

Editing Tip #2: If there’s one thing you should strive for above all else, it’s consistency.

Of course, you want to be consistently correct, not consistently incorrect. One of your most important skills as a professional editor, the one that sets you apart from non-editors, will be your ability to spot inconsistencies. This specific type of attention to detail will help you catch errors others would miss, making it extremely important. When you’re working as an editor, if you find yourself stumped about how to solve a certain problem (like, say, a formatting or style issue), the odds are pretty good that choosing to correct the error consistently will be an adequate solution.

Editing Tip #3: Be nice.

EditingCamp You might think that this one is a given, but trust me, you would be wrong. Lots of aspiring professional editors have a great deal of knowledge, and they find themselves bursting at the seams wanting to share this knowledge with clients. That’s good, but your focus as an editor should really be on correcting errors and helping clients improve their work rather than on explaining to them exactly what they did wrong. For one thing, the explanation is likely to go over their heads, and for another, you just sound like a snob when you lord your knowledge over someone else. Provide useful feedback, and be nice when correcting mistakes. Don’t be the reason that we editors have a bad rap; if you want to be part of the editing club, you have to try not to perpetuate the myths.

Editing Tip #4: With that being said, know the rules, and know them well.

Even though you’re not going to break out your correlative conjunction knowledge every time you have to correct a related comma error, you should still know what a correlative conjunction is. Studying the many nuances of English grammar will make you a better editor. If you haven’t already, consider reading a book, taking a course, or otherwise brushing up on the more complex rules of grammar. This way, when you come across a tricky clause, you’ll know exactly why and how you need to fix it.

Editing Tip #5: Google should be your best friend.

Being smart isn’t about having knowledge—it’s about knowing how to find and use the knowledge you need. The same goes for being a professional editor. Sure, you should have a good grasp of grammar rules and conventions, but you are going to encounter much that you don’t know. When that happens, your good friend Google can help. Whether you’re looking up the proper spelling of a medical term or doing basic fact-checking for a history paper, the Internet can be an inexhaustible resource to help you finish each project to the highest standard.

Editing Tip #6: Don’t skip the second pass.

If you’re considering a career in editing, you’re likely a perfectionist. All the good ones are. I hate to be the one to break this to you, but listen—even the most anal people make mistakes. Editors are no exception, which is why one of the best things a professional editor can do is to make sure to leave enough time to complete a second pass. Ideally, you should take a break between completing your first pass and starting your second one. Depending on how much time you have and how long the project is, consider going for a walk, taking a nap, or working on something else for a while. If you don’t complete a second pass, you’ll be sure to miss very obvious errors.

Conclusion

There you have it: six editing tips from my first year as a professional editor. If you’re an amateur editor yourself, I hope you took something useful from this post. If you’re thinking about pursuing a career in this challenging but rewarding field, I hope I’ve helped you make your decision.

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The Wizarding Guide to Conditional Sentences

Conditional Sentences

Conditional Sentences

  • If I don’t read every day, I get very grumpy.
  • If I read Harry Potter enough, I’ll surely receive my acceptance letter to Hogwarts.
  • If I hadn’t read the entire series multiple times, I wouldn’t be able to write this article about wizardry and the types of conditional sentences.
  • Unless you have something against magic, you should enjoy reading this post as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.

Not only do the above sentences show how nerdy (read: awesome) I am, but they are also all conditional sentences. In fact, they demonstrate all four types of conditional sentences: the real conditional, the unreal conditional, the mixed conditional, and the special conditional. Cool, right?

Okay, so I know that learning about conditional sentences isn’t exactly as exciting as, say, Quidditch. And believe me, if I could wave my wand (11.5-inch beechwood with a unicorn hair core, in case you were wondering) and magically put this knowledge in your head, I would. However, if Harry Potter has taught me anything, it’s that people cannot be taught unless they are willing to learn. And that, my friend, is why you shall have to take up your own study of the types of conditional sentences—with my help, of course. And yes, you do have to call me “Professor.”

What Is a Conditional Sentence?

A conditional sentence describes something that is a condition for something else. That is, for one thing to occur, the other must have occurred first. Conditionals often, though not always, begin with if, like these:

If I fail Potions, I won’t be able to become an Auror.

If Snape weren’t so scary, I wouldn’t do so poorly in Potions.

Not all conditional sentences begin with if. In some examples, the conditional portion of the sentence actually occurs in the second part of the sentence. In these cases, no comma is required.

You should try out for the Seeker position if you want to play Quidditch.

Meet Harry at the pitch when you’re done Herbology class.

That wasn’t so hard, right? Learning about conditional sentences is as easy as Wingardium Leviosa—just remember to use the swish and flick, and you’ll have it down in no time! Now on to slightly more complicated spells—er, I mean, grammar rules.

Real and Unreal Conditionals

Conditionals can be real or unreal. That is, they can describe an event that has happened or is likely to happen, or they can describe an event that has not happened and is not likely to happen. Here are some examples of real conditionals.

I feel happy when I read Harry Potter.

If someone borrows my copy of The Philosopher’s Stone, that person must promise to return it within a week.

Here are some unreal conditional sentences:

If I were an Animagus, I would definitely transform into an owl.

If Rowling hadn’t written the Harry Potter books, the world would have been a less magical place.

The first example is an unreal conditional because I am not, in fact, an Animagus, and sadly, I have no hope of becoming one. The second is an unreal conditional because Rowling did write the Harry Potter books (thank goodness!).

Mixed Conditionals

A mixed conditional sentence is one that occurs when the two clauses—the if clause and the main clause—occur in two different time periods. A mixed conditional may be saying that an event that is currently occurring will cause a future event, or it may be saying that an event that has already happened is affecting a current event. These examples should help make things a bit clearer.

If you’ve ever been in a tangle with Devil’s Snare, you know how unwise it is to struggle against the plant’s constriction.

If I had attended Hogwarts like I was supposed to, I would probably be a Transfiguration professor by now.

It should be noted that like other types of conditional sentences, mixed conditionals can be either real or unreal. The above examples could be classified as either real or unreal, depending on how seriously you take your favorite fictional universes.

Special Conditionals

Of all the types of conditional sentences, special conditionals are probably the trickiest to understand. Special conditionals describe events that can only occur if something else happens first. There are five common forms of special conditional sentences: unless, whether (or not), even if/even though, only if/if only, if so/if not.

Confused? Fair enough. Allow me to shed some Lumos on special conditionals with these brief explanations and examples:

Unless: The event will not occur except under a set of specified conditions. The condition is an exception to what is otherwise the rule.

Harry would not have been able to conjure a Patronus charm unless Professor Lupin had taught him how.

Whether / Or Not: Whether is used in the place of if when there is more than one option, and or not comes into play when one of the options is the opposite of the other. Whether means that, regardless of the options, the same course of action will be taken.

Whether he wins or dies, Harry will still be upset that someone entered him in the Triwizard Tournament.

Whether it’s right or not, Harry can’t help but have a crush on Ginny.

Even If / Even Though: Even if means that, regardless of the existence of the condition, the outcome of the event will not change. Even though means that the condition certainly does exist, but it still will not affect the outcome of the event.

I will remain loyal to Professor Dumbledore even if no one else is.

I will remain loyal to Professor Dumbledore even though he is dead.

Only If / If Only: The first phrase places an emphasis on the special condition that must be met for an event to occur. If only is used in an unreal conditional to express wishes or regrets.

Ron agrees that Harry can date Ginny only if they keep the snogging to a minimum.

If only I had been born after 1998, I would certainly have received my Hogwarts acceptance letter.

If So / If Not: This type of conditional sentence features a shortened if clause that is used because the condition has already been mentioned.

Gilderoy Lockhart is supposed to be signing autographs today. If so, Flourish and Blotts is going to be very busy.

I hope I have time to buy a new broomstick. If not, I’ll have to borrow someone else’s for now.

Conclusion

And that, dear student, concludes my lesson on the different types of conditional sentences. If you think that using Harry Potter to learn about grammar is as cool as taking down a mountain troll, you might want to check out these Harry Potter-themed articles on homophones, comma usage, interrogative sentences, subject–verb agreement, ellipses, exclamatory sentences, and pronouns.

If you’d like to learn about the other kinds of sentences, check out Inklyo’s newest ebook, The Complete Guide to Sentence Structure, on Amazon or at your local Flourish and Blotts.

Image source: Eirik_Raudi/Pixabay.com

Sentence Structure Ebook

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9 Proofreading Tips for Revising Your Essay at the Last Minute

A Quick Checklist for the Procrastination-Prone Student

Proofreading Tips

It’s two o’clock in the morning.

For hours, you’ve been frantically writing a paper that is due tomorrow. By some sweet miracle, you’ve managed to stay away from Netflix long enough to finish writing the first draft of your paper.

You breathe a sigh of relief and prepare to crawl away from the perils of your desk toward the safety of your bed. But alas, you do not make it.

Instead, terror strikes your heart. You gasp and clutch your shaking hand to your sweaty chest, for you’ve just realized that the battle is not yet won. Though you’ve finished writing, you still face one more daunting task: you must proofread your paper.

How will you do it?

You open your web browser, and though it takes almost all the willpower you have left, you resist the urge to post a Facebook update about your progress (“Currently trading in my sanity for a degree in philosophy. On second thought, likely never had any sanity in the first place”). Instead, you go straight to Google and frantically start searching for proofreading tips that will allow you to get more than three hours of sleep tonight.

Search no more, my friend. Though they won’t replace a substantial edit by a pair of fresh eyes (nothing can), these proofreading tips should help you remove the most glaring errors from your paper. Finishing that home stretch while retaining your precious mental marbles just got a bit less stressful.

But first, a disclaimer: If you struggle with the rules of grammar and punctuation, even the handiest of proofreading tips may not help you polish your paper. Unfortunately, these tips will only be helpful if you’re familiar with the errors you seek. A short-turnaround proofreading service may be something to consider if you don’t have confidence in your own editing or proofreading abilities. With that in mind, here are some proofreading tips to try.

Consistency Proofreading Tips

Ask any editor, proofreader, or college professor what irks them most about student papers, and you’ll likely find that inconsistency takes the cake. No matter how you slice that chocolate torte, writing something five different ways in the same paper is just plain wrong. The best way to eliminate inconsistency, especially after a long night of writing, is to tackle each potential inconsistency error one by one.

1. Check Capitalization and Acronyms

Names, terms, titles, and headings should all be written the same way. To find inconsistencies, scan your document for every usage of a term, and make sure each instance is written the same way. Acronyms should also be used consistently. Each acronym should be defined the first time it is used, and it should replace the term it represents for every use thereafter.

2. Check Hyphens, En Dashes, and Em Dashes

It can be easy to mix up hyphens (-), en dashes (–), and em dashes (—). They look so similar! Check out this guide to using these pesky punctuation marks, then use Ctrl + F to search your document for each instance of hyphenation and dash usage. Pay special attention to hyphenated terms!

Proofreading Tips Poster
Click to enlarge.

3. Check Spelling

Check the language setting of your word processor. Is it set to U.S., U.K., Canadian, or Australian English? To make sure the language is consistent throughout, select the entire body of text in your document (which you can easily do by pressing Ctrl + A), and choose the correct variety of English. Though this should help you find inconsistencies in spelling, be aware that Word will not catch all spelling inconsistencies. For example, realize and realise are both accepted spellings for the same word in Microsoft Word’s U.K., Canadian, and Australian English dictionaries. The same goes for words like labor/labour and labeling/labelling. To avoid inconsistencies, search your document for both versions of words that may be spelled inconsistently.

For specialized terms that Word doesn’t recognize, after checking the spelling using an online dictionary, add the terms to your Word dictionary so that every instance of the correctly spelled word is recognized. That way, only words that are actually being spelled wrong will be labeled as such.

4. Check Formatting and Headings

Read each of your headings individually, and make sure they are all formatted consistently. Then check that the indentation and spacing are the same across all paragraphs. Remember that most style guides recommend using only one space after a period, not two.

Other Proofreading Tips

Consistency obviously isn’t the only worry when it comes to proofreading. Grammar and punctuation errors are usually lurking in student papers—especially those written in a rush. If your grasp of grammar is decent, you should be able to solve most of your own problems. The trick, of course, is finding those problems. Here are three proofreading tips for detecting the errors that your eyes habitually overlook.

5. Print Your Paper

Though this will not be a feasible option for long papers, like dissertations, it can be a useful tip for shorter documents. (You’re definitely not trying to proofread your dissertation at the last minute anyway, right?) Giving your eyes a break from screen time can help make them more aware of errors that they missed before.

6. Change the Appearance of Your Paper

If printing isn’t an option, consider doing something else to change the appearance of your paper. Copying the content into a different document without formatting is one option, as is temporarily changing the font size or style.

7. Read Your Paper out Loud

There are two potential downfalls to this technique. The first is that reading a paper aloud actually takes much more time than most students allot for such a task, and the second is that it can be difficult to focus long enough to read the entire paper. These are the very reasons why reading your paper out loud is a handy proofreading technique: doing this forces you to slow down. It also helps stop your brain from automatically skipping words.

8. Find a Study Buddy

While not technically a last-minute tip, exchanging papers with a study buddy can be very useful when it comes to ironing the kinks out of your final draft. Make friends with a classmate at the beginning of the semester, and then send your papers to each other for a quick read before submission. One more disclaimer: make sure your study buddy is an adept proofreader!

9. Give Up . . .

. . . On doing it yourself, that is. If you’re running out of time and still not feeling confident about your final draft, check out Scribendi.com’s short turnaround times for essay editing and proofreading. For important assignments, enlisting the help of an expert editor may be the best proofreading tip of all.

Image source: B-D-S/BigStockPhoto.com

ProofreadingCamp

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Saying It All with the Compound-Complex Sentence

Compound-Complex Sentence

A red telephone.

Do you know what I love most about English grammar? How little there is to learn.

Everything is so simple, so straightforward. I never feel confused about any of it. That’s why everyone is so good at learning the ins and outs of English grammar: it’s so easy.

Ha, ha, ha. I know—I’m hilarious.

Of course, mastering the rules of any language is a challenge, but for some, English is a particularly difficult nut to crack. Take, for example, sentence structure. There are four basic sentence structures in English, and the first three—simple sentences, compound sentences, and complex sentences—are relatively easy to understand.

But what the heck is a compound-complex sentence? How many darn clauses can we possibly squeeze into one sentence, anyway?

A Quick Recap of Sentence Structure

If you’re having a hard time remembering what the different sentence structures are, take a look at the handy chart below. In the examples, independent clauses are marked by italics, while dependent clauses are in bold font.

A chart of the types of sentences.

Independent and Dependent Clauses Revisited

A quick reminder: an independent clause can stand on its own as a sentence, while a dependent clause cannot. It’s easy to distinguish the two types of clauses if you simply separate them from their sentence and see if they still make sense. For example:

I have never been a great student, but because I like grammar, I have spent a lot of time studying sentence structure.

There are two independent clauses in this sentence. These clauses can act as their own sentences:

I have never been a great student.

I have spent a lot of time studying sentence structure.

The dependent clause cannot stand on its own:

But because I like grammar.

As you can see, the dependent clause makes no sense on its own. It depends on the other clauses in the sentence to give it context and meaning. Because the full sentence contains two independent clauses and one dependent clause, it is a compound-complex sentence.

The Compound-Complex Sentence

Still confused? Fair enough. Let’s take a more extensive look at the compound-complex sentence. As mentioned, a compound-complex sentence is composed of two independent clauses and at least one dependent clause. The compound-complex sentence is a combination of the compound sentence, which combines independent clauses, and the complex sentence, which combines an independent clause with a dependent clause. Let’s look at another example, preferably one that has nothing to do with grammar itself.

Here are all the things I want to say:

I am hungry.

I could eat an elephant.

I’ll eat a muffin instead.

Rather than using three simple sentences, I can combine all three thoughts into one compound-complex sentence:

I am so hungry that I could eat an elephant, but I’ll eat a muffin instead.

The two independent clauses have been joined by a conjunction (in this case, the subordinating conjunction that), and the dependent clause has been joined to the two independent clauses using another conjunction (but).

Here is another example:

I dislike mornings.

It’s very early to be at work.

I’m excited to go back to bed.

These simple sentences can be combined as follows:

I’m excited to go back to bed, as it’s very early to be at work, and I dislike mornings.

Still Stumped?

If you’re still struggling to grasp the compound-complex sentence, why not give this sentence structure quiz a try? Not only does it cover the most complicated of the sentence types, but it also tests you on the other three types. By the time you’re done, you’ll be identifying sentence structure types faster than I can express a desire for baked goods. And let me tell you, that’s pretty darn fast.

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Sentence Structure Ebook

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14 Ways to Make a Bad Impression on Your First Day of Work

First Day of Work

First Day of Work

When you’re a kid, you have the first day of school to contend with. When it comes time to trying your hand at “adulting,” you have to meander your way through the first day of work. Your first day at a new job can be almost as anxiety-provoking as a blind date set up by your mom. It can be especially daunting if you’re obsessed with making a good impression. That’s why you should do what I do on all of my dates with my mom’s best friend’s daughter’s boyfriend’s brother: go in as if you have nothing to lose.

Striving for success is a recipe for certain failure. Making failure your goal in the first place is not only a big time-saver but also a great way to alleviate your first-day-of-work jitters. So, without further ado, here are 14 ways to make a bad impression on your first day of work. You’re welcome.

  1. Start by forgetting to set your alarm the night before. There’s no start quite like a late start.
  2. Dress inappropriately. Everyone knows that personal style is more important than social conformity, and this rings especially true when you’re trying to make a bad impression on your first day of work. Yoga pants, anyone?
  3. Don’t just show up a bit late; commit to your tardiness. After all, you’ve already had a slow start—why stress yourself out by rushing now?
  4. Once you finally arrive at work, make an unfavorable impression on your coworkers by neglecting to introduce yourself to any of them. Ignore everyone who tries to make your acquaintance, or at most, brush them off awkwardly.
  5. Don’t ask any questions. Instead, when faced with an unknown, take your best guess and hope for the best.
  6. To continue your antisocial behavior, you should really consider eating lunch in the bathroom. Sure, Sally from the next cubicle invited you to join her in the break room, but you certainly don’t want her to think that you’re capable of normal social interaction.
  7. Demonstrate almost immediately how you may have slightly fudged the details of your resume to get the job. (Sure, you can type 70 words per minute, but only if “70 words per minute” is actually code for “40 words on a good day,” and only then after two or three lattes.)
  8. Show off your impressive multitasking abilities in the best way you know how: by texting throughout the entire day, of course. Your coworkers will be totally impressed with how you’ve managed to brush off their attempts at friendliness while clearly communicating with someone else throughout your entire first day of work.
  9. Take lots of breaks. There’s no need to be too much of a keener when you’re trying to make a bad impression. A work-to-break ratio of 1:4 should suffice.
  10. If you get bored with being antisocial and want to take a different route to making a terrible impression, mix things up by making off-color jokes by the watercooler.
  11. Don’t just swear like a sailor—swear like a drunken sailor who’s forgotten his manners.
  12. When your efforts (or lack thereof) start making you sleepy, go ahead and put your head down on your desk for a while. No one will begrudge you a short nap on your first day of work. Well, they will, but that’s the whole point, right?
  13. Ask your co-worker when payday is. Then ask your HR representative, just to be sure. Then, for good measure, ask your boss. Everyone knows that important information should be verified at least three times by three separate (but equally knowledgeable) parties.
  14. Leave early for an appointment or some other previous engagement, but be sure to reassure your boss that this kind of thing doesn’t happen often.

There you have it. Just follow these 14 tips and you’ll be sure to make a terrible impression on your first day of work, maybe even before break time. Once you’ve accomplished your goal and have subsequently lost your new job, you’ll be ready to return to the drawing board and revamp that old resume.

If you’re back to square one, or if you’re one of those rare enigmas who are actually looking for a job to keep, check out How to Write a Resume, an online course by Inklyo. With so many dos and don’ts to consider, you’ll gain all the know-how to either attain or lose any job you’d like. It’s good to have options.

How to Write a Resume

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A Guide to Reflexive and Intensive Pronouns

Reflexive and Intensive Pronouns

Reflexive and Intensive PronounsSometimes, it’s all about me. Or you. Or maybe her or him. Heck, it might even be all about it. Regardless of what the subject of a given sentence might be, it’s very likely that you’ll need to refer back to it or that you’ll want to give it a bit of extra attention. After all, it is the subject of its very own sentence. Like any good celebrity, the subject of a sentence is perfectly okay with being talked about. A lot. I don’t exactly know how to put this, but like myself, the subject of a sentence is kind of a big deal.

Think of the subject of a sentence as the star of a show. Sure, there are lots of other important players, but without that lead role, there really isn’t a story to tell or a show to put on. Before we get more into our topic of reflexive and intensive pronouns, here’s a quick reminder about what exactly it means to be the subject of a sentence.

Sentence Subjects: A Quick Refresher

There are two components that make up every complete sentence: the subject and the predicate. The subject is what or whom the sentence is about; that is, the subject is the entity performing the verb. For example:

Stella was the star of the show.

The verb in the above sentence is was. Who was? Stella was! That means Stella is the subject of the sentence (and a star in more than one respect). The rest of the sentence, was the star of the show, is the predicate. That’s right—anything that isn’t the subject is the predicate. Now that we know how to find the subject, let’s go back to our discussion about reflexive and intensive pronouns.

Reflexive Pronouns

You now know how to find the subject of a sentence. But do you know how to refer back to that subject? That’s where reflexive pronouns come in. The purpose of a reflexive pronoun is to refer to the subject of the sentence. Here’s an example of a reflexive pronoun in action:

Stella went to the matinee by herself.

The reflexive pronoun is preceded by the subject. The subject may be the noun (e.g., Stella) or the pronoun representing the noun (e.g., she, meaning Stella). Both the subject and the reflexive pronoun must be included the same clause. Who went to the matinee? Stella, the subject. Whom did she go with? Herself, also the subject. (I told you, this Stella is a star.)

There are only eight reflexive pronouns in the English language: myself, yourself, herself, himself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, and themselves. Each of these reflexive pronouns has its own personal pronoun with which it is paired:

I

Myself

You

Yourself

She

Herself

He

Himself

It

Itself

Us

Ourselves

You

Yourselves

They

Themselves

Intensive Pronouns

So far, this has all been fairly straightforward, right? Well, this new bit of information might make things a bit fuzzier: just as there are eight reflexive pronouns, there are only eight intensive pronouns. Now here comes the real plot twist: they are the same eight pronouns. What is the difference between reflexive and intensive pronouns if they are literally the same words?

Unlike reflexive pronouns, which are necessary to the sentence, intensive pronouns merely work to give emphasis to the subject or object. An intensive pronoun can be removed without the meaning of the sentence changing. Take a look:

Stella herself had never performed in a matinee.

The emphasis added by an intensive pronoun may serve many different purposes. In the above example, the use of herself could indicate that Stella is being contrasted to another player in the matinee. Perhaps she is going to see a friend perform. Or it could be suggesting that Stella disapproves of matinees. Without any other context for this sentence, it’s difficult to tell what role the emphasis may be playing.

Reflexive and Intensive Pronouns Compared

What happens when we remove the intensive pronoun from the example above?

Stella had never performed in a matinee.

That’s right—it’s still a sentence, and Stella is still the star of the show (though not, unfortunately, of the matinee). But what about removing a reflexive pronoun? Let’s revisit this sentence:

Stella went to the matinee by herself.

Now how about this sentence without the reflexive pronoun?

Stella went to the matinee by.

No matter how much you may or may not like cliff-hangers, you can’t deny that the above example is one incomplete sentence.

Conclusion

Now that you’re an expert on reflexive and intensive pronouns, it’s time to get out there and start talking about yourself. Go on! Tell Stella to get out of here, and become the star of your own sentences!

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Parts of Speech

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Using Correlative Conjunctions, or Why I’m Secretly a Bad Canadian

Using Correlative Conjunctions

Using Correlative ConjunctionsI’m secretly a very bad Canadian. It’s true that I love poutine and bacon (together or separately) and that I say sorry when someone else bumps into me. The occasional eh has been known to slip from my lips, and I once got an X-ray for free. But there’s one thing that makes me a very, very bad Canadian:

I hate winter.

I’m already planning my future as a retired snowbird. But with the prospect of retirement so far away, I have to find something else to look forward to. I need something to help me get through the frigid, skin-freezing torment that is Canadian winter to the wet, cool spring on the other side. That’s where spring television comes in.

Throughout the winter, knowing that my favorite shows will be returning in a matter of months is one of the only things that gets me through. It’s all I’ve been thinking about all day, which has made it rather challenging for me to write this post on correlative conjunctions. Luckily, I finally realized that I don’t need to choose between thinking about spring television and teaching you about correlative conjunctions—I can do both!

With that being said, let’s dive right in to the worlds of absurd comedy, fantasy, detective work, low-security female prison life, and, of course, grammar.

What Are Correlative Conjunctions?

As you know, a conjunction is a connector between different parts of a sentence, whether between two clauses, phrases, or words. Correlative conjunctions are conjunctions that work in pairs to show a relationship between two elements of equal importance. In other words, correlative conjunctions combine two relative parts of speech.

I think I’ll watch either House of Cards or Game of Thrones.

Just as there aren’t very many people as attractive as Kit Harrington, there aren’t very many correlative conjunction pairs to work with. The main correlative conjunctions in English are:

Either/Or

Rather/Than

Neither/Nor

Whether/Or

Scarcely/When

Such/That

No Sooner/Than

Both/And

As Many/As

Not/But

As/As

Not Only/But Also

Correlative Conjunctions at Work

Most correlative conjunctions, when shown in context, are fairly straightforward. They make comparisons between two things, whether to say that they are equal, that they are different, or that one is superior to the other. Here are some examples to help you better understand how some of the different correlative conjunctions can be put to use.

Not only do I think Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is funny, but I also think Ellie Kemper is a lovable leading lady.

Neither Stannis nor Daenerys will ever take the Iron Throne.

Both Sherlock and Elementary feature a modern-day Sherlock Holmes, though one is clearly superior to the other.

I can never decide whether I prefer Orange Is the New Black or Girls.

I do not usually enjoy politics, but House of Cards is a fantastic show.

Correlative Conjunctions and Commas

My Ideal Winter As you can see, correlative conjunctions aren’t too difficult to understand. Even if you didn’t know what they were called before now, you’ve certainly been using them in your writing for a long time. That brings me to my next point—many people incorrectly use commas with correlative conjunctions, like this:

You either love Kimmy Schmidt’s Titus Andromedon, or you hate him.

I would rather be best friends with Arya, than with Sansa.

I would no sooner choose Elementary over Sherlock, than I would eat my own hair.

All of the commas in the above examples are incorrect. As a general rule, there should not be a comma between a pair of correlative conjunctions. There are, of course, some exceptions. The most notable exception would be when a parenthetical clause interrupts the conjunction pair, as in this example:

It seems that neither Piper, one of the lead characters of Orange Is the New Black, nor Alex, her sometimes girlfriend, can stay out of trouble for long.

In the above example, the information provided about the characters makes up two separate nonrestrictive clauses. These clauses require the use of commas, and as such, it’s okay to interrupt the correlative conjunction pair (neither/nor) with these commas. Here’s one more example:

Both Kevin Spacey, who plays Frank Underwood, and Robin Wright, who plays Claire Underwood, have won Golden Globe awards for their performances in House of Cards.

Conclusion

The bad news: if you live near one of the poles, you’ll probably just have to deal with numb fingers and nose icicles.

The good news: in most places, winter doesn’t last forever. Plus, you’ve now learned all there is to know about correlative conjunctions, so you can explain to people why you would rather have the ending of Game of Thrones ruined for you than have to shovel your driveway again.

The best news: there’s still lots to learn about the parts of speech, and you’ll be able to learn it all with Inklyo’s newest ebook, The Complete Guide to the Parts of Speech, available now on Amazon. In between chapters, snuggle up and binge-watch Netflix. You can do it all!

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Parts of Speech