Intensive Purposes: Prepositions (Part I)

writing editing essay

“You shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition.”

How many times have you heard that before? Ok, now answer honestly, how many times have you scratched your head in response, thinking What in the world does that even mean?

It’s a commonly quoted rule in the English language that prepositions are taboo. But before you can understand what it means to not end a sentence with a preposition, you first have to understand what a preposition is.

preposition: a word governing, and usually preceding, a noun or pronoun and expressing a relation to another word or element in the clause (Google)

If you made it past that technical garble, you’re probably feeling even more frustrated. Let’s focus in, however, on the phrase “relation to”; a preposition is simply a word that describes a relation to another thing. I remember it by the following: when I was a kid I had a matching game that showed a little lamb flying an airplane in various ways. Really sophisticated, I know. He would fly his plane through the clouds, above the clouds, between the clouds, under the clouds, around the clouds, and so on and so forth. I’ve had students tell me in the past that they use a similar method to identify prepositions by thinking about all of the different ways you can traverse a mountain. Those relationship words? Those are prepositions.

Chocolate Frog
The chocolate frog is in the box. For now.
There are certainly more complicated prepositions, or ones that don’t fit the “mountain” rule (I’ve tried imagining ‘until’ a mountain, but with no luck), but it’s a good place to start if you find yourself having difficulty remembering all of the different prepositions. Wikipedia (gasp!) has a pretty solid list of prepositions as well. With time, you’ll start to recognize the most common prepositions, like ‘with’, ‘of’, and ‘by’ and maybe even start noticing when they creep up in your own writing!

Tune in next time to find out how to avoid ending sentences with prepositions, and whether or not it’s a rule worth following!

A play on the misquoted phrase “for all intents and purposes”, Intensive Purposes tackles one grammar rule or English language tip — from proper punctuation to misused phrases — in an easy-to-understand mini-lesson. 

Intensive Purposes: Affect vs. Effect

writing editing essay

Take a moment and say the following words aloud: Affect. Effect.

Did you hear a difference in your pronunciation?

Maybe, and then again, maybe not. Depending on where you’re from, your pronunciation of the two words may sound quite similar, which is only one of many reasons why this pair of homonyms is so easy to confuse. As impossible as telling the two apart may appear, there is a way to tell when to use which!

‘Affect’ is typically used as a verb (unless you’re talking about the psychology term) that means to have an impact on something or someone. ‘Effect’, on the other hand, is used as a noun when talking about a ‘result’ (though there is also a verb form of ‘effect’ that means ‘to bring about’, usually in the sense of someone ‘effecting change’.)

In the sentence below, we can see both words at work…

The effects of the medicine affected me strongly.

Simply plugging in the respective short definitions, we can see that the sentence makes sense and thus is grammatically correct – “The results of the medicine impacted me strongly.”

Understanding the commonly used part of speech for each word isn’t a surefire way to tell the two apart, as both “affect” and “effect” have meanings beyond even the three mentioned above (personal effects, anyone?) but understanding their common parts of speech is a start. When worse comes to worst, remember this:

When you affect something, you cause an effect.

(Or an A/V cable. Affect/Verb, get it?)

A play on the misquoted phrase “for all intents and purposes”, Intensive Purposes tackles one grammar rule or English language tip — from proper punctuation to misused phrases — in an easy-to-understand mini-lesson. 

Intensive Purposes: Punctuating Titles

writing editing essay

Determining how to punctuate the title of a book can feel like a complete and utter mystery. Do you use quotation marks? Italics? Underline it? There are too many options! Luckily, today we’re going to demystify the art of punctuating titles of works, be they novels, short stories, movies, or anything in between.

There are two general rules to keep in mind:

1. If a title should be italicized but you are handwriting it versus typing it, underline the phrase instead. Discerning italics in handwriting is difficult, so the underline takes its place in handwriting only.

2. Long works get italicized; short works or parts of longer works get quotation marks.

What do I mean by “long” and “short” works? Long works are just what they sound like, and what you likely think of when the word “title” first comes to mind. Novels, for example, are long works. Movies are long works, too. Conversely, short stories are short works, as are the names of television episodes, for instance.

So what does this all look like in terms of grammar, then?

I’m currently reading Vicious by V.E. Schwab.

LOST was a wonderful yet weird television show, of which one of my favorite individual episodes is “Live Together, Die Alone”.

Neil Gaiman’s most recent short story collection, Trigger Warning, contains the chilling story, “Click Clack the Rattlebag”.

Long works. Short works. Easier to remember now, right?

A play on the misquoted phrase “for all intents and purposes”, Intensive Purposes tackles one grammar rule or English language tip — from proper punctuation to misused phrases — in an easy-to-understand mini-lesson. 

Intensive Purposes: You and I

writing editing essay

Someone once told me that they always use ‘you and I’ because it sounds better and, “that’s just the way it’s supposed to be, right?” Wrong.

Believe it or not, there is a difference between saying ‘you and me’ and ‘you and I’. First of all, the two words connected by ‘and’ form either a compound subject or compound object, depending on where you use them in your sentence. If the two “people” are doing the action, they are the subjects in the sentence. If the action is happening to them or they are on the receiving end, the phrase is considered a compound object. When you are talking about yourself and someone else as the subjects in a sentence, you use ‘you and I’; if the two occur as objects, you use ‘you and me”.

That sounds confusing. How do you know which to use? And is there a trick to avoiding all of this convoluted subject/object business? You bet.

If you’re unsure of which form to use, try this test: eliminate one of the “people” from the sentence. So in the sentence “Jill and me ate 3,000 pierogies,” we could cover up “me” and say, “Jill ate 3,000 pierogies.” Makes perfectly good grammatical sense, right? Now try the same thing with the other person: “Me ate 3,000 pierogies.” Sounds silly, doesn’t it? We’d never say that in a real conversation, but we would say, “I ate 3,000 pierogies.” And there you have your answer: “Jill and I ate 3,000 pierogies.”

Similarly, “For our birthdays, the magical Universe gave Marissa and me a Parsons desk from West Elm.” We can apply the same trick — “gave Marissa a…desk” works, and so does “gave me a…desk.” Grammar success.

A play on the misquoted phrase “for all intents and purposes”, Intensive Purposes tackles one grammar rule or English language tip — from proper punctuation to misused phrases — in an easy-to-understand mini-lesson. 

Intensive Purposes: Proper Nouns

writing editing essay

A noun is a person, place, thing, or idea. Easy, right?

Then why do so many people get nouns wrong!? Particularly — proper nouns.

Proper nouns are specific people, places, things, or ideas. I didn’t just go to a university, I went to the University of Pittsburgh. It seems like a simple distinction, but you’d be surprised at how many people either slip up, or just don’t know the difference. The main culprit? Family members, and not in the way that you may think.

Sure, everyone’s got some family member on Facebook who never seems to get her grammar right, but I’m talking about “names” of family members that tend to give people a hard time distinguishing between words that need capitalized and those that don’t. My aunt is a great lady, for instance, and we always hang around in the kitchen at holidays, manning the wine, stealing chicken nuggets, and wondering from what planet her daughters came from. However, “aunt” doesn’t get capitalized unless I’m specifically saying “Aunt Patti” — a goof that many seem to make.

Unless you’re saying “Uncle Dave” or “Aunt Carmen”, these titles don’t get capitalized, just like “biology” (the general topic) doesn’t get capitalized unless you’re actually talking about The Very Particular Class Named “Biology”. Give your proper nouns some special treatment.

A play on the misquoted phrase “for all intents and purposes”, Intensive Purposes tackles one grammar rule or English language tip — from proper punctuation to misused phrases — in an easy-to-understand mini-lesson.