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Inklyo’s Top 10 Blog Posts of 2016

A bottle of champagne.

A bottle of champagne.

The year 2017 is almost upon us! As 2016 comes to end, we thought we would take a look at everything that happened this year: Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize in Literature, a crazy U.S. election, and a great year of blog content for Inklyo.

In fact, it was hard to narrow our content down to just our top 10 posts. Thankfully, we had your help here. Based on how much our social media followers engaged with our content throughout the year, we’ve compiled a list of our top articles. Did your favorite make the list?

10. The Ultimate Proofreading Checklist

Our student followers found this post particularly helpful during essay season, which is probably why it takes tenth spot on the list. Although it can be tempting to skip the proofreading step after writing an essay, don’t do it! This checklist makes your final proofread quick and thorough.

9. How to Master the Cornell Note-Taking System

We are very excited to see this article in ninth spot. Not only does this system make note-taking more efficient, but it will help you study more effectively at exam time.

8. 6 Things I Learned my First Year as a Professional Editor

This post gives aspiring editors a glance into their future career. There is a learning curve with any new job, but we hope these six tips make it a little easier. Experience is the best teacher, but you can take advantage of the experiences of others to get the same knowledge.

7. 14 Ways to Make a Bad Impression on Your First Day of Work

This blog post is the ultimate what-not-to-do guide for your first day of work. First impressions are important, especially in a new position, so we weren’t surprised to see this post rank on our top blog-post list. We’re hopeful that everyone who read this post is enjoying and thriving in their new position!

6. The Order of Adjectives

Many English speakers don’t realize that there is an official order to use when using multiple adjectives to describe something—they just know what “sounds right.” To English as a second language (ESL) speakers, getting this order down is tricky. Our ESL followers enjoyed this post not only because it is highly informative but also because we used adorable puppies to illustrate the subject.

5. How to Identify Independent and Dependent Clauses

This post proved to be valuable to our followers, taking fifth place on the list. This guide helps you to identify independent and dependent clauses while relating everything back to your favorite drink: coffee.

4. Understanding Verb Moods with 15 Hilarious Tweets

Learning about verb moods can be boring, but these 15 hilarious tweets spiced the subject up! This was a fun post to write, and it’s made even better by the knowledge that our followers liked it enough to push it into fourth position on our list.

3. The Language Sandwich: An Overview of the 9 Parts of Speech

After reading this post, you will feel both informed and hungry. No wonder this article–infographic combo was the third most popular Inklyo blog post! It educates you on a key aspect of grammar—the parts of speech—using a mouth-watering illustration.

2. Becoming an Editor or Proofreader: A Comprehensive Guide

Aspiring editors and proofreaders flocked to this post, which organizes all our editing and proofreading advice in one easy-to-navigate place. It walks you through the steps of becoming an editor or proofreader from training to paycheck, making it no surprise that it was such a hit with our followers and ranked in second place.

1. 20 English Idioms with Surprising Origins

Our official most-popular post of 2016 is both entertaining and informative, explaining some of the most common English idioms. From “riding shotgun” to “biting the bullet” to “hands down,” mysteries that puzzle native English and ESL speakers alike are explained in this post.

We want to thank you all so much for reading and responding to our posts. As much as we enjoyed 2016, we are excited to see what awaits this blog in the New Year. Check out our Facebook and Twitter pages to see more great content in 2017!

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The 8 Scariest Monsters in Literature

Scariest Monsters in Literature

A scary mosnter from literature.Introduction

The thin layer of frost, brisk air, and falling leaves all signify one thing: it is finally that time of year when it is socially acceptable to eat hundreds of tiny chocolate bars in one sitting.

October is hands down the best month of the year. By day, you can enjoy the beautiful fall weather, and by night, you can indulge in your favorite guilty pleasure (besides chocolate): horror novels. Seriously, fall is an excellent time to dive into a good book, and every great horror novel begins and ends with a good monster. Don’t believe me? Check out this list of the scariest monsters in literature.


Dracula: the original vampire. He is not the sparkly vampire we are accustomed to. He was brought to life in 1897 by Bram Stoker. Dracula turns into a bat at night and can turn into a wolf during the day. Oh, in case you forgot, he also sucks blood. If that wasn’t enough, the man is as alluring as he is terrifying; he is described as a charming, handsome man that has an uncanny ability to blend into society.


Grendel is the antagonist from the poem Beowulf. He is often described as an incredibly strong giant. Not only is he large, he is also charmed in such a way that he isn’t affected by human weapons. He terrorizes Hrothgar’s kingdom and is feared by everyone (except Beowulf, of course). And it’s no wonder why—he can defeat dozens of men at a time and then eats the dead. Gross.

PennywisePennywise the clown.

Pennywise is the monster from Stephen King’s novel IT. It presents itself as a clown for the majority of the novel, terrorizing a small town. Pennywise has claws and razor-sharp teeth. Yeah, we know, it’s a terrifying image. To make it even worse, Pennywise preys on fear and targets children.

Beldam (The Other Mother)

Beldam is the villain from Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. In the novel, a young girl finds herself in an alternate world that is a mirror image to her own. There, she meets Beldam, the Other Mother, who cares for and loves her unconditionally.

What, that doesn’t sound scary? Did we forget to mention the Other Mother is actually a witch who wants to sew buttons onto Coraline’s eyes and steal her soul? Yeah, no thanks.

Fun fact: Beldam actually means hag or witch, which is an excellent example of a charactonym.

Patrick Bateman

Patrick Bateman is the main character from the novel American Psycho, written by Bret Easton Ellis. Though he is of the human variety, Patrick the (maybe) serial killer is super scary. He lives out his darkest fantasies, including murder and cannibalism. This book is so twisted that it has been banned or labeled R18 in several countries. This is a novel for the die-hard horror fanatics, so please don’t give this novel to children!

Frankenstein’s MonsterFrankenstein's monster.

Mary Shelley delivered one of the most iconic monsters of all time in her book Frankenstein. Dr. Frankenstein combined various body parts to create this monster, which was given life by a mysterious spark. He is eight feet tall and very strong. After being abandoned by his creator, he seeks revenge and goes on a murder spree. Perhaps tied for scariest monster in this book is Dr. Frankenstein himself, the irresponsible scientist who ignores the consequences of his actions.


J.K. Rowling introduced the world to dementors in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. They are black, wispy, soul-sucking beings that patrol the Azkaban prison. When they are brought to Hogwarts to protect the students after the infamous Sirius Black escapes prison, they attack Harry without warning.


Are you scared yet? Share some of the scariest monsters you know with us on Facebook or Twitter!

Do you know what’s scarier than all these monsters combined? Grammar and spelling errors! Check out GrammarCamp and see how you can keep your writing error-free.


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It’s in the Pages: Reading for Pleasure Makes for Better Writers

Reading for Pleasure Makes for Better Writers

Reading for Pleasure Makes for Better WritersDoes reading for pleasure make you a better writer? It’s a theory that has been tossed around and debated numerous times. Many people maintain that writing is a craft, and that all crafts should begin with an education from the masters—for instance, if you want to be a modern artist, you should go to Florence to study the works of Michelangelo and Da Vinci. Others, as represented below by the esteemed Lil Wayne, will staunchly argue that saturating yourself in the works of others will only keep you from developing your own style.

Honestly, I don’t listen to nobody else’s music but my own. It’s kind of like sports to me. You don’t see Kobe Bryant at a LeBron James game—he just works on his own game. And that’s what I do. I only listen to me, so I can criticize and analyze and all those things. —Lil Wayne

No offense to the creative habits of Lil Wayne (and I swear my disagreement isn’t at all influenced by his use of double negatives), but there is some interesting research that shows reading for pleasure can actually make you a better writer, both mechanically and meaningfully.

Early reading and performance

Research has linked early reading habits with better performance in school-aged children. Cullinan’s “Independent Reading and School Achievement” examines several studies indicating that students who engage in free reading outside of school are better developed in vocabulary, reading comprehension, and verbal fluency, which then translates into practical writing ability. Children who establish reading habits early (at the age of five) exhibit continued academic success in later years. Cullinan states that even “six years of schooling could not make up for the loss children suffered by not engaging in literacy events in their early lives.”

In a study of 230 children, the most academically successful were frequently read to by their parents, were provided with materials and spaces for pleasure reading at home, and visited libraries purely for enjoyment. Assessments of children in grades one to five revealed that “among all the ways children spent their time, reading books was the best predictor of measures of reading achievement in reading comprehension, vocabulary, and reading speed, including gains in reading comprehension between the second and fifth grade.”

A book title recognition test of middle school and young adult students revealed that those who had been most exposed to literature were also the most advanced in vocabulary, spelling, verbal fluency, and general word knowledge. In Writing: Research, Theory and Applications, Stephen Krashen notes that the highest-achieving college students report high levels of pleasure reading, especially in high school, compared to low-achieving students who engage in little to no reading for pleasure.

Krashen concludes that “voluntary pleasure reading contributes to the development of writing ability; it is a more important factor than writing frequency in improving writing.” Some famous examples include Malcolm X and Richard Wright, whose literacy success came not from formal education but from recreational reading.

Reading, language, and writing

Krashen compares the formation of writing ability to the learning of a new language. He states that reading for pleasure is the greatest boon to natural language development; the same goes for becoming an accomplished writer. Languages are best learned by indirect absorption (e.g., reading) rather than overt instruction (e.g., grammar memorization). Krashen calls the art of writing a “special dialect” that, like language, is acquired, not learned. In a paper presented at the RELC conference in Singapore in 2004, Krashen stated that “those who do more recreational reading show better development in reading, writing, grammar and vocabulary. These results hold for first and second language acquisition, and for children and adults.”

The effectiveness of recreational reading on ESL learners can be seen in this case study of a Korean woman and also in this report of Sophia, a Taiwanese girl who immigrated to the United States at the age of six with no real English ability. The Korean woman claims that her prowess in the English language comes not from grammar books but from careful study of the feel and flow of language as she encounters it in literature. Sophia’s case presents some interesting data: her English test scores drop at the end of each school year but skyrocket after a summer vacation full of voluntary free reading.

Like learning a language, writing successfully requires not just mechanical skill but a feel for words. Grammar lessons and exercises in story construction can certainly help fill the holes in a writer’s ability, but they pale in comparison to the foundation of skill that literature gives to aspiring writers. In the words of William Faulkner,

Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.

Exposure to fiction means greater empathy

Good writing employs sophisticated style, a feel for language, and mechanical expertise. But let’s not forget that writing is also an art and a way to connect people across continents and generations. People read to understand life; those who write do so to help others understand it. How can we, as writers, access this world of understanding and empathy to become better writers? The answer is obvious: through reading. Renowned author Neil Gaiman speaks on the effects of exposure to literature:

. . . [The] second thing fiction does is to build empathy . . . Prose fiction is something you build up from 26 letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world and people it and look out through other eyes. You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. You’re being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you’re going to be slightly changed.

A good book is good because it is relatable; it taps into the human condition to make its readers feel something. You develop this kind of skill by broadening your own emotional scope through reading.

Like any craft…

Writing requires practice. Reading supplies a foundation of style and empathetic understanding in ways that formal education cannot. Technical instruction (such as the courses offered at GrammarCamp) simply fills in the gaps to help you become an even better writer.

Can I be blunt on the subject? If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.—Stephen King


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Learning Grammar through Reading: What Harry Potter Can Teach Us about English Grammar Rules (Week 7)

Learning Grammar through Reading - Week 7


DobbyDeep breaths, everyone. We’ve come to the final Harry Potter book and the final week of learning grammar through reading using Harry Potter. It’s time to delve into Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows to destroy those Horcruxes and conquer death. It’s time for the final battle against Tom Riddle. (We only give him more power by using his other name, folks. Remember that.) And, for the purpose of this post, it’s time to learn about pronouns!

Just to recap, we’ve spent the past six weeks discussing homophones, commas, interrogative sentences, subject–verb agreement, ellipses, and exclamatory sentences. We’re going to close things by discussing pronouns, those important parts of speech that make writing a much more concise business. Laughter, tears, and spoilers ensue. You’ve been warned.

Pronouns and the Deathly Hallows

This is it, folks. The last Harry Potter book. For this very special book, we’re going to look at a very important part of speech: pronouns. Pronouns are used to replace nouns. They make speaking and writing a lot easier, as they allow us to not repeat ourselves.

Much like subject–verb agreement, house-elves seem to have quite a hard time grasping the use of pronouns. With that in mind, let’s start by looking at a quote from Dobby—one of Dobby’s final lines, in fact.

Dobby has no master!” squealed the elf. “Dobby is a free elf, and Dobby has come to save Harry Potter and his friends!”

Sorry, what was that you said? I couldn’t hear you over the sound of my HEART BREAKING. Does anyone have a tissue? I just need a minute . . . okay, I’m good. Back to grammar and stuff.

Dobby has a tendency to not use pronouns. Instead of saying I when referring to himself, he uses his name. If a person were to do this, it would be incredibly frustrating. When a house-elf does it, it’s endearing. (Double standards, I know.) He’s also about to save a bunch of people’s lives and sacrifice his own in the process, so what kind of heartless monsters would we be if we judged him for his pronoun usage? We also have to give Dobby props for his correct usage of the pronoun his as the end of the second sentence. I mean, he’s acting incredibly bravely by openly defying his abusive former masters. I’d say he’s doing pretty darn well.

Now that we’ve all had a good cry and seen what a sentence looks like without pronouns, let’s take a look at some quotes that make good use of pronouns.

He was afraid of it. Small and fragile and wounded though it was, he did not want to approach it. Nevertheless, he drew slowly nearer, ready to jump back at any moment. Soon he stood near enough to touch it, yet he could not bring himself to do it. He felt like a coward. He ought to comfort it, but it repulsed him.

The best way to explain how crucial pronouns are to this passage is to write it again without said pronouns. Here it is:

Harry was afraid of the thing making the noise. Small and fragile though the thing making the noise was, Harry did not want to approach the thing making the noise. Nevertheless, Harry drew slowly nearer, ready to jump back at any moment. Soon Harry stood near enough to touch the thing making the noise, yet Harry could not bring Harry to do it. Harry felt like a coward. Harry ought to comfort the thing making the noise, but the thing making the noise repulsed Harry.

Yikes. If we ever want to completely destroy the description of Harry’s experience with death, with Voldemort’s shriveled piece of soul, and with the departed Dumbledore, we know how to do it: just remove all the pronouns.

All around the walls, the headmasters and headmistresses of Hogwarts were giving him a standing ovation; they waved their hats and in some cases their wigs, they reached through their frames to grip each other’s hands; they danced up and down on the chairs in which they had been painted.

Harry has defeated Voldemort once and for all; Hogwarts is safe, as is the world. The former headmasters and headmistresses celebrate the victory with great cheer. As with the previous quote, this just doesn’t work without pronouns. Pronouns are as important to writing as determination is to Apparating. A lack of pronouns can cause grammatical splinching, if you will.


This concludes our use of the Harry Potter series to learn grammar through reading. If you’re anything like me, all you want to do right now is curl up and reread the entire series. I want to tell you that I support you in that decision. Go ahead—indulge in the greatness that is Harry Potter.

Thanks so much for following this article series. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. If you have any other thoughts or ideas about this article, feel free to let me know on Facebook or Twitter. Maybe you’d like to tell me about what you learned reading Harry Potter, or maybe you have some questions about something you’ve read in these articles. Maybe you just want to tell me about your massive crush on Matthew Lewis or about your deep love for Neville Longbottom. Either way, please feel free to reach out! I’m always happy to chat with fellow book lovers and grammar nerds!

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Learning Grammar through Reading: What Harry Potter Can Teach Us about English Grammar Rules (Week 6)

Learning Grammar through Reading: Harry Potter Week 6


Remember earlier in the series when we discussed the use of interrogative sentences in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban? Well, if Azkaban is all about raising questions, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is all about surprises. It’s only appropriate, therefore, that we should use the sixth book of the Harry Potter series to examine the use of exclamatory sentences.

Professor SnapeI know I’ve given the “spoiler alert” warning with each of these posts, but I feel especially obligated to give it again here. Let me be very clear: this post will explicitly state major plot twists. If you haven’t read the book, this post will ruin it for you. I beg you—don’t do that to yourself! Please, for the love of all that Dumbledore holds dear, please don’t read this post until you’ve read the book!

Exclamatory Sentences and the Half-Blood Prince

It’s time to look at exclamatory sentences—that is, declarative sentences that express a strong emotion. All exclamatory sentences end with exclamation points. As mentioned before, there’s a lot of reason for strong emotion in Half-Blood Prince, as can be seen in the following examples.

“Dont you see? Voldemort himself created his worst enemy, just as tyrants everywhere do! Have you any idea how much tyrants fear the people they oppress? All of them realise that, one day, amongst their many victims, there is sure to be one who rises against them and strikes back! Voldemort is no different!

Dumbledore passionately explains just exactly how Voldemort fulfilled Professor Trelawney’s prophecy in his attempt to avert it. What’s that I hear, Lord Voldemort? Oh, yes. That would be Karma. She’s coming for your Horcruxes, and she’s not happy.

We did it, Professor!” Harry whispered with difficulty; he suddenly realised that he had a searing stitch in his chest. “We did it! We got the Horcrux!

Harry is happy to be safely back in Hogsmeade with Dumbledore after an almost-fatal quest to retrieve one of Voldemort’s Horcruxes. So happy, in fact, that he can’t help but throw a few exclamatory sentences in there. (But he doesn’t know! He doesn’t know that the danger is just beginning! Oh, the horror!)

“You dare use my own spells against me, Potter? It was I who invented them—I, the Half-Blood Prince! And you’d turn my inventions on me, like your filthy father, would you? I don’t think so . . . no!

Major, major spoiler alert: Snape is the Half-Blood Prince. Don’t worry, though—he’s a good guy. I mean, he’s not really a good guy. He’s kind of a bitter, lonely, middle-aged wizard who has a really hard time letting things go. But he is definitely a hero. It’s kind of confusing, really. Anyway, Snape doesn’t get excited very often, so you know that when he’s using exclamation points, things are gettin’ real.

The final set of exclamatory sentences we’re going to examine are the ones I couldn’t stop myself from exclaiming for approximately three days after finishing Half-Blood Prince:

“SNAPE KILLED DUMBLEDORE! Snape killed Dumbledore! DUMBLEDORE! He’s dead! Snape killed him!”

Heart = broken. Mind = blown. (I warned you that there would be major spoilers, did I not?)


Some people think reading is boring. I think those people are nuts! There is punctuation for every occasion, my friends, and exclamatory sentences are great for alerting the reader that something really important or shocking is going on. They also help keep things exciting!

Thanks for reading this week’s post. Don’t forget to check out the posts from books one, two, three, four, and five if you haven’t already done so, and feel free to reach out on Facebook or Twitter if you have something to say about this Learning Grammar through Reading series. Don’t forget to read the final post next week, which will cover pronouns in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. (If thinking about the final book in the Harry Potter series makes you want to cry, know that you are not alone—I’ve been weeping since the book was published in 2007. I guess you could say it’s been a long eight years.)

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Learning Grammar through Reading: What Harry Potter Can Teach Us about English Grammar Rules (Week 5)

Learning Grammar through Reading: Harry Potter Week 5


We’ve made it to the fifth book of the Harry Potter series and the fifth week of our lessons learning grammar through reading. This is where things get intense. So intense, in fact, that we don’t . . . know . . . if we’ll be able . . . to go on . . .

Okay, okay, so we can go on. So far, we’ve looked at homophones and evil Defense Against the Dark Arts professors, commas and basilisk fangs, interrogative sentences and boggarts, and subject–verb agreement and gillyweed. Now it’s time to study ellipses. (I know it’s not as exciting as learning the stupefying charm or Petrificus Totalus, but, alas, it is important.)

If you haven’t read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix just yet, I advise you to do so before you continue reading this post. Unless, of course, you’re a fan of spoilers, in which case, please do read on.

Ellipses and the Order of the Phoenix

Phineas Nigellus Black's portrait.In non-fiction, ellipses (. . .) serve specific functions. They can either be used to show that something has been omitted from a quotation, or they can be used to show that the writer has taken a pause. The former use is much more common in academic writing of any kind. There are different ways to format ellipses. These vary depending on the style guide being used. Some style guides require a space between each period in an ellipsis, while others require no spaces at all. (In case you’re confused, ellipses is the plural form of ellipsis.)

What purpose does the ellipsis serve in fiction writing? This type of punctuation is usually found within character dialogue. It usually indicates a pause. Basically, it helps the reader imagine exactly how characters are saying their lines of dialogue. Let’s look at a few examples from Phineas Nigellus, Nymphadora Tonks, and Ron Weasley.

“You know, Minister, I disagree with Dumbledore on many counts . . . but you cannot deny he’s got style . . .

Phineas Nigellus—or, rather, his portrait in the Headmaster’s office—is commenting on Dumbledore’s impressive disappearance. Nigellus is not Dumbledore’s biggest fan, so he’s somewhat reluctant to compliment Dumbledore’s “style.” Ellipses are used in this quotation to show that Nigellus is reluctant to make this statement; it is as if he is trying to stop himself from saying it. If you were a disgruntled former Slytherin Headmaster, you might find yourself relying heavily on hesitant punctuation as well.

Nymphadora TonksHer eyes widened as they fell on the broomstick in Harry’s right hand. It was his pride and joy, a gift from Sirius, an international-standard broomstick.

“And I’m still riding a Comet Two Sixty,” said Tonks enviously. Ah well . . . wand still in your jeans? Both buttocks still on? OK, let’s go.

Tonks is jealous of Harry’s broomstick. An ellipsis is used here to show that Tonks is changing the topic, as there is no point in her brooding in envy over Harry’s Firebolt when they are about to embark on a very dangerous journey. On a more serious note, all wizards- and witches-in-training should heed Mad Eye Moody’s previous warning about keeping wands in their back pockets. After all, “Better wizards than you have lost buttocks, you know!”

“I’ll make Goyle do lines, it’ll kill him, he hates writing,” said Ron happily. He lowered his voice to Goyle’s low grunt and, screwing up his face in a look of pained concentration, mimed writing in midair. “I . . . must . . . not . . . look . . . like . . . a . . . baboon’s . . . backside.

The ellipses used in this quotation give the reader information about the way Ron is saying his line. He is adding long pauses between each word because he is imitating Goyle. He is poking fun at the length of time it would take Goyle to write lines. This surely isn’t Ron’s most mature behavior, but what else could Dumbledore have expected when he made Ron a prefect?


Sometimes in life, you just . . . don’t quite know . . . what to say. Even wizards and witches have to take a bit of a pause sometimes, and that’s where ellipses come into play. If you have something to tell me about this post or any of the others so far, or if you’d just like to chat about Harry Potter, drop Scribendi a line on Facebook or Twitter.

Don’t forget to check out next week’s post, which is going to take a look at exclamatory sentences in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. How exciting!

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Learning Grammar through Reading: What Harry Potter Can Teach Us about English Grammar Rules (Week 4)

Learning Grammar through Reading: Harry Potter Week 4

Subject–Verb Agreement and the Goblet of Fire

Dobby the house-elf sporting his socks.I’d like to start today’s lesson with a disclaimer: If you don’t find house-elves to be adorable in every way, you aren’t going to be a big fan of this post. But unless your name is Malfoy, I really doubt that’s going to be a problem.

So far in this series, we’ve covered homophones, commas, and interrogative sentences. Today’s Harry Potter lesson is going to look at subject–verb agreement. Or, as I like to call it, “that thing that no amount of magic can make Dobby learn.” As I’ve mentioned before, this post most definitely contains spoilers. Don’t ruin this magical story for yourself if you haven’t read it yet: go, read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and return only after your mind has been thoroughly blown.

Learning Subject–Verb Agreement from House-Elves

For most native speakers of English, subject–verb agreement is an automatic process. Most people don’t have to think about properly conjugating verbs when they are speaking, as subject–verb disagreements very obviously sound incorrect. In written language, however, or for non-native speakers of English, subject–verb agreement can be a bit more difficult to grasp.

Luckily for us, house-elves don’t have a great grasp of subject–verb agreement, either. Let’s take a look at some mistakes made by Dobby the house-elf to learn more about subject–verb agreement.

Socks are Dobby’s favourite, favourite clothes, sir! he said, ripping off his odd ones and pulling on Uncle Vernon’s. I has seven now, sir . . . but, sir . . .” he said, his eyes widening, having pulled both socks up to their highest extent, so that they reached to the bottom of his shorts, “they has made a mistake in the shop, Harry Potter, they is giving you two the same!”

Dobby starts off strong in the above quotation. Are is the correct form of to be to go with the noun socks, as socks is plural. I’m afraid, however, that it is grammatically all downhill from here. Because the subject in the second sentence is the first-person singular I, the verb form for to have should be have. Similarly, the next sentences should say they have and they gave. Though I’m sure you get the concept at this point, let’s look at two more examples, just because Dobby is adorable and we love him:

“But most wizards doesn’t want a house-elf who wants paying, miss.”

Correction: “But most wizards don’t want a house-elf who wants paying, miss.” Because the word wizards is plural, the correct form here is not does not (doesn’t), but do not (don’t). Just as most wizards do not want to pay their house-elves, most house-elves do not want to use proper grammar. That’s just the way of the wizarding world.

You has to eat this, sir! squeaked the elf, and he put his hand in the pocket of his shorts and drew out a ball of what looked like slimy, greyish green rat tails. “Right before you go into the lake, sir—Gillyweed!”

Correction: “You have to eat this, sir!” If the subject were a different pronoun—namely, he or she—then has would be correct. It turns out that when you’re saving someone’s neck by providing the answer to one of the Triwizard Tournament challenges, it doesn’t much matter how well you construct sentences. Who’d have thought?


Subject–verb agreement can be tricky, especially for non-native speakers of English. I hope this article has given you a greater understanding of this topic. If nothing else, I hope it has inspired you to treat your house-elves with the dignity and respect they deserve.

Remember to check out next week’s post, which will cover the use of ellipses in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and feel free to give a shout on Facebook or Twitter to let me know how you’re liking this study of Harry Potter so far. Ten points to your house for anyone who can convincingly reach out to us using the syntax of a house-elf—personally, my bet is on Ravenclaw.

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Learning Grammar through Reading: What Harry Potter Can Teach Us about English Grammar Rules (Week 3)

Learning Grammar through Reading: Harry Potter Week 3

Interrogative Sentences and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Minerva McGonagall as her animagus.So far in this series, we’ve used some of the best quotes from Harry Potter to learn about homophones and common comma usage. Today, we’re going to look at the third book in the series, the one that causes readers to start having a lot of important questions about the story, like, who is this Sirius Black guy, anyway? What actually happened on the night of Harry’s parents’ deaths? What kind of person was James Potter? And, most importantly, what kind of Patronus would you cast if you had to face a Dementor?

In honor of all the questions brought up by the third Harry Potter book, this article is going to take a look at the four different types of interrogative sentences.

Warning: This post contains spoilers. I won’t apologize for any of them, but I will encourage you to read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban before proceeding. I’m sure it’s something you’ve been meaning to get around to anyway, right?

Introduction to Interrogative Sentences

There are several types of sentences. The major sentence types are declarative sentences, imperative sentences, exclamatory sentences, and interrogative sentences. Interrogative sentences ask questions. They always end with question marks, so they are very easy to identify. There are four types of interrogative sentences: yes or no interrogatives, alternative interrogatives, wh- interrogatives, and tag questions. Let’s look at each type in greater depth.

Type 1: Yes or No Interrogatives

“You think the dead we have loved truly ever leave us? You think that we dont recall them more clearly in times of great trouble?”

Dumbledore is using interrogative sentences to make Harry question his beliefs about death. These questions are examples of yes or no interrogatives, as yes or no are the only possible answers to these questions. When it comes to using these types of sentences to prove a point, Dumbledore is pretty much a trained professional. Though, to be fair, what isnt Dumbledore a pro at?

Type 2: Alternative Interrogatives

“Did you check the lunar chart and realise that I was always ill at the full moon, or did you realise that the boggart changed into the moon when it saw me?”*

Ah, yes, that awkward moment when Hermione knows that Lupin is a werewolf but doesn’t know that Sirius Black isn’t a murderer. Lupin is wondering how Hermione discovered his canine attributes, so he asks her a question using an alternative interrogative sentence; that is, he gives her more than one possible answer framed within the question itself. Of course, in this case, the answer is “both.”

Type 3: Wh- Interrogatives

“There is no need to say any more, Miss Granger. Tell me, which of you will be dying this year?”

Professor McGonagall is using a wh- interrogative—that is, an interrogative question beginning with a wh- word (who, what, where, when, why, whom, whose, which, and—an exception—how)—to figure out why her Transfiguration class is feeling so down after their Divination lesson with Professor Trelawney. Professor McGonagall is the only teacher I know who can pull off interrogative statements as well as she can pull off turning into a cat while still commanding the respect of her students. She’s also the only teacher I know who can turn into a cat—but, I digress.

Type 4: Tag Questions

“That was the best Defense Against the Dark Arts lesson we’ve ever had, wasn’t it?”

Neville's boggart: Professor SnapeIn the above quotation, Ron uses a tag question. That is, he “tags” a question onto the end of a declarative sentence. Ron is asking the others to confirm his thought that the Defense Against the Dark Arts lesson was the best they’ve ever had. Tag questions tend to be used quite a lot by people who are insecure about their own perceptions or opinions. Then again, if we had just seen Professor Snape in a lacy dress, we would probably think it was a pretty great lesson, too.


This concludes today’s Harry Potter lesson for learning grammar through reading. Have you learned anything new about interrogative sentences today? Did you find this lesson interesting, or would you rather just read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban instead? What would your Patronus look like? What about your boggart? There’s quite a lot to think about after reading this book, don’t you think?

Please remember to check out next week’s article, which will cover subject–verb agreement and will feature everyone’s favorite house-elf. If you liked today’s post, please feel free to reach out on Facebook or Twitter.

*Note: This quote has been slightly altered from its original form.

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Learning Grammar through Reading: What Harry Potter Can Teach Us about English Grammar Rules (Week 2)

Learning Grammar through Reading: Harry Potter Week 2

Commas and the Chamber of Secrets

Tom Riddle Last week in our “Learning Grammar through Reading” series, we covered the first Harry Potter book with our discussion of common English homophones. Today we’re going to pick up our grammar lesson by taking a look at comma usage in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. It’s all Tom Riddle, Moaning Myrtle, and Basilisk fangs from here on out. And, you know, grammar stuff, too.

As I did before, I must warn you that this post contains spoilers, and I must ask that, if you have not read the Harry Potter series, you do so immediately. Run, do not walk, to the closest library or bookstore. I won’t even be mad that you haven’t read this post yet, as long as you promise to come back when you’re done reading. (If you’ve already gone and come back, I already know what you’re here to say. You’re welcome.)

Introduction to Commas

Commas are tricky little pieces of punctuation. Even the most experienced writers and editors sometimes struggle with correct comma usage. I could write an entire article on comma usage alone, but instead I am going to focus on three of the most common uses of commas.

Comma Use 1: Offsetting Non-Restrictive Clauses

“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

A non-restrictive clause adds extra information to a sentence. This information is not essential to the meaning of the sentence. In the above quote, Dumbledore is speaking to Harry. Harry knows that Dumbledore is speaking to him, and the reader does as well. Still, Dumbledore feels the need to say Harry’s name, because he’s old, he’s wise, and he’s Dumbledore—he can get away with stuff like that. Harry is offset by two commas because it is a non-restrictive clause.

Comma Use 2: Separating Items in a Series

“Voldemort,” said Riddle softly, “is my past, present and future, Harry Potter. . .”

Spoiler alert: Tom Riddle is Voldemort. Or rather, Tom Riddle will become Voldemort. If you’ve read the book—which, I believe, we’ve already established that you have—you know what I’m talking about. In the above quote, commas are being used to separate items in a series. Tom Riddle messes with all our minds by referring to himself in the third person and warping our sense of time, something he definitely couldn’t have done without his artful use of commas.

Some of you may be wondering why there is no comma following present in this quotation. This type of comma, known as a serial comma, is typically not used in British publications, so you won’t find it in the Bloomsbury editions of the Harry Potter series. If you’re reading the U.S. versions, published by Scholastic, the above sentence will read like this:

“Voldemort,” said Riddle softly, “is my past, present, and future, Harry Potter . . .”

Don’t ask me why Americans and Brits can’t seem to agree on the use of the serial comma. I don’t have the answer. If I did, I would probably also know how Gilderoy Lockhart was ever hired as the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher despite his raging incompetence. I don’t have all the answers, people.

Comma Use 3: Joining Independent Clauses with a Conjunction

There had been no more attacks since those on Justin and Nearly Headless Nick, and Madam Pomfrey was pleased to report that the Mandrakes were becoming moody and secretive, meaning that they were fast leaving childhood.

Mandrakes.An independent clause does not need additional information to make sense; that is, it can stand on its own as a logical sentence. Madam Pomfrey’s clause, like Madam Pomfrey herself, can totally stand on its own. (Shout out to independent witches everywhere!) Even though independent clauses can act as their own sentences, it’s sometimes nice to put related clauses together in one sentence. It adds variety to sentence structure, making writing sound better and more natural. There are a few ways to combine independent clauses. One of these ways is to use a comma with a conjunction (words like and, for, but, so, and yet). The information about Justin and Nearly Headless Nick is related to the information about the Mandrakes, which is why these clauses have been joined rather than made into two separate sentences.


Thanks for reading this week’s Harry Potter grammar lesson. If you missed last week’s article on homophones in Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone, please consider checking it out. If you have something super important to tell me about Harry Potter, commas, or magic in general, please feel free to comment on this post on Facebook or Twitter! Don’t miss next week’s article, which is going to look at interrogative sentences in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. It should be intense. Not quite as intense as Severus Snape interrogating Ron Weasley about Polyjuice Potion, but pretty darn close.

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Learning Grammar through Reading: What Harry Potter Can Teach Us about English Grammar Rules (Week 1)

Learning grammar through reading

Homophones and the Philosopher’s Stone

Hermione taught you the importance of paying attention in class.Harry and Ron taught you about the bumpy roads that even the strongest of friendships sometimes must travel—even if you happen to be driving a flying car. Dumbledore taught you that you must be foolish to become wise, Voldemort taught you the meaning of the phrase “self-fulfilling prophecy,” and Hermione taught you the importance of paying attention in Herbology class if you ever plan to escape from a tangle with Devil’s Snare. I could go on for days about the valuable life lessons I’m sure you learned from reading Harry Potter, but instead, I think I’ll teach you yet another lesson.

Learning grammar through reading is a great way to pick up on the nuances of the English language while also learning about the culture of English literature. The Harry Potter series was originally written with a young adult audience in mind, which means that it is easy to read but still contains mature themes and a fantastic story arc. With that in mind, this seven-week-long series will use quotes from all seven Harry Potter books to unpack some common English grammar and punctuation rules. After all, what better way is there to learn grammar than with a little bit of magic?

WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the Harry Potter series, bookmark this page and come back after you’ve done so. I’m serious. Read it. Go. Now. Then come back. I’ll miss you.

Introduction to Homophones

We start our grammar quest at the beginning, with the first book in the series: Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone, or—if you’re in the US—Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Today we will use the story of Harry’s first year at Hogwarts to learn more about homophones. Homophones are words that sound the same but have different meanings. Some homophones are spelled the same, while others aren’t. An example of a pair of homophones is the words witch and which. Hermione Granger is a witch. Hermione must decide which is more important: following the rules or helping her friend defeat the Dark Lord. Homophones with different spellings are often mixed up by people who have trouble with spelling and grammar. In particular, there are three groups of commonly confused homophones.

Group 1: Their/There/They’re"There are some things you can't share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them."

 He couldn’t know that at this very moment, people meeting up in secret all over the country were holding up their glasses and saying in hushed voices: “To Harry Potter—the boy who lived!”

Their indicates possession. It means that something belongs to someone. In the above quote, wizards all over the country are holding up the glasses from which they are about to drink—their glasses—in honor of Harry.

There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them.

There is a somewhat tricky word to define, as it has several meanings. It can act as an adverb that indicates a place or a manner, or it can be used as a pronoun to introduce sentences in which the verb comes first, as in the above quote that begins with There are and explains just exactly how Hermione becomes friends with Harry and Ron. If it does not indicate possession and is not a contraction of they are, there is the correct spelling.

“Don’t worry, the Weasleys are more than a match for the Bludgers—I mean, they’re like a pair of human Bludgers themselves.”

They’re is a contraction: it is a combination of the words they and are. In the above quote, Gryffindor’s Quidditch captain, Oliver Wood, is talking to Harry about both Fred and George Weasley and how they are akin to Bludgers.

Group 2: Your/You’re

“Miss Granger, you foolish girl, how could you think of tackling a mountain troll on your own?”

There is nothing more embarrassing than getting in trouble with Professor McGonagall—except, perhaps, using the wrong your. Like their, your is a pronoun that indicates possession. In the above example, Hermione has told Professor McGonagall that she tried to take on the troll alone—that is, all on her own.

“I hope you’re pleased with yourselves. We could all have been killed—or worse, expelled. Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to bed.”

Just like they’re is a combination of the words they and are, you’re is a contraction of the words you and are. If you’re ever in doubt about which spelling of your/you’re to use, simply replace it with you are to determine if the sentence still makes sense. In the above quote, Hermione hopes that both Harry and Ron are pleased about their encounter with Fluffy, the three-headed dog. She’s a very smart girl, but I think her priorities are a bit off sometimes.

Group 3: To/Too/TwoWords of wisdom from Albus Dumbledore.

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.”

Like there, to is a difficult word to concisely define, as it has many definitions. It can act either as a preposition or an adverb. In the above quotation, Professor Albus Dumbledore imparts some of his famous wisdom, advising Harry to leave the Mirror of Erised behind. A word to the wise: if Albus Dumbledore gives you advice, you listen. If Albus Dumbledore tells you to hop around on one foot wearing a tutu, you do it. He’s Dumbledore, guys. He’s Dumbledore.

“There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it.”

Too is an adverb with two possible meanings: it either means additionally or as well, or it refers to an excess of something, as in the above quotation from Professor Quirrell. Quirrell is paraphrasing Lord Voldemort here when he explains that an excess of weakness—or too much weakness—is the only thing stopping some people from pursuing and acquiring power. Remember what I just said about listening to Dumbledore? Yeah, the opposite rule applies to Voldemort. He’s Voldemort, guys. Voldemort.

“Oh, honestly, dont you two read?”

The definition of two is simple. This spelling refers to the number 2. In the above quotation, Hermione is questioning Harry and Ron for not knowing what the philosopher’s stone is. She is asking whether the two boys read, hence the spelling of two. This is something I often ask pairs of people who say they’ve never read Harry Potter.


This concludes our look at Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Don’t forget to check out next week’s post, where we’ll take a look at commas using Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. If you have any thoughts or questions about today’s article, please don’t hesitate to reach out by commenting on this post on Facebook or Twitter. If you liked what you read today, please consider sharing it with your friends. Friends don’t let other friends remain uneducated about homophones, nor do they ever back down from a game of wizard’s chess. These things are what friendship is all about.