45 posts categorized "Grammar and usage"

April 10, 2014

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie (or Is It Lay?)

Daisiesby Stefanie

Here is my dog. Rooster_1
His name is Rooster. Rooster is a grammatical dog, and he is going to help me illustrate the difference between lay and lie.

Lay down, Rooster!

Rooster_1

 

Hmm, he doesn’t seem to have done anything. That’s because he’s waiting for me to tell him what to lay down. The verb lay requires a direct object, something that can be laid down (a toy, an egg, his spiffy bandana), but I didn’t specify, so he was right to wait for clarification.

 

 

 

OK, let’s try lie. Lie down, Rooster!  

Rooster_2Good boy! When I tell him to lie down, I’m telling him that he needs to get himself down. Now that he’s down, he’s snoozing away. I really am going to let a sleeping dog lie. (Consider the titular question answered!)

Now let’s change tenses to talk about what Rooster did. Here’s where the word choices get tricky. Laid is the past tense of lay; lay is the past tense of lie. So, When I told Rooster to lay down, he didn’t know what I wanted laid down. When I told Rooster to lie down, he lay down.

 

Finally, laid is the past participle form of lay, and lain is the past participle form of lie.

Rooster had laid his rawhide chew in the ivy patch at the corner of the house.

Rooster has lain there for a while; should I wake him up?

The next time you are debating whether to use lay or lie, it may help to picture the standing dog who is waiting for instructions on what he should lay down or the lying dog who obediently followed the order to lie down.

Photo credits: @2013 by Stefanie Lazer.

March 27, 2014

Over the Hedge

Daisiesby Stefanie

I am as guilty of hedging as anyone here, if not more so. I am not, by nature, a decisive person. Couple that with work for almost two decades in scientific (Strike 1) writing (Strike 2), and I can tell you that the “facts” known today do not necessarily match those of yesterday.

Oh, oh, look what I did there! My first hedge! Using quotation marks to soften or make ironic something that does not need such treatment should be avoided.

And there, I just did it again! The words should be take the sting out of avoided, don’t they? But being to the point is helpful here. Avoid using quotation marks to hedge. There, that is much clearer. Also avoid using words like should, could, sometimes, may, and others to hedge on a point that does not need hedging.

Does not need hedging? Is that another hedge? No. The thing about scientific and scholarly writing is that hypotheses are always being tested. Theories are pushed to their limits with different experiments, be they physical or thought experiments, which are then reported in articles and books. Hedge I have yet to see an article or book end with the words “no more research is needed on this topic.” Sometimes experimental results are inconclusive. Sometimes their meaning is not clear under current paradigms. Sometimes the results are as clear as the nose on your face. When you are writing about your research, state confidently what you are confident about and qualify what you are not as certain of (or what you are certain is not certain; see my use of the word sometimes in the three previous sentences). Take time to think about what elements of your article fall into each category and present them accordingly.

When talking about other authors’ work, take your linguistic cues from them if you are equally convinced of the accuracy of their claims and conclusions. For example, let’s say I’m (a) in a fictional world and (b) writing about the Ark of the Covenant. As part of the research for my paper, I read an article in Archeology Today in which some guy named Henry Jones, Jr., says unequivocally that he found the Ark of the Covenant in the Well of Souls in Jerusalem. Maybe I’ve met Dr. Jones at a conference and I feel confident that he’s a stand-up guy, or maybe I’ve read his other work and that has all seemed legitimate, or maybe his article contains so many facts and credible sources that I’m convinced he’s telling the truth. When I am mentioning Dr. Jones’s claim, which I believe, in my paper, I am not going to say, “Jones (1963) suggests that the Ark of the Covenant was found in 1936” but “In an article published decades ago, Jones (1963) announced that in 1936, he found the Ark of the Covenant in the Well of Souls in Jerusalem.” In fact, the second example works even if I do not believe Dr. Jones’s claim: He did make that announcement in his 1963 article (he did in my fictional world, anyway). The point is, in this situation, there is no reason to hedge. “Jones (1963) found and lost the Ark of the Convenant in 1936” would be a way to uncritically report this key point from Jones’s article. If I take a more skeptical approach to Dr. Jones’s article, I can express that, too: “Jones (1963) claimed to have found and lost the Ark of the Convenant in 1936, but no other evidence supports this assertion and, in fact, the U.S. Government vehemently denied its alleged involvement.” I have clearly stated Jones’s claim, and I have countered that claim with some big grains of salt, to painfully strain a metaphor.

If the authors of your source articles are not committing to definite conclusions, though, follow their lead. If Henry Jones, Sr., writes, “I have reason to believe that Alexandretta is the starting point for the path to the Holy Grail, but I have yet to find conclusive proof,” it is misleading to report, “Jones (1937) reported Alexandretta is the city in which the Holy Grail journey starts.” It is not up to you to clean up someone else’s hedging. In fact, it’s best if you report the uncertainty. To put it in perspective, the difference between “I think the parachute is packed correctly” and “the parachute is packed correctly” is huge. Which parachute will you choose to strap on?

Hedge only if you must. Otherwise, be as decisive in your writing as your sources and circumstances allow.

Photo: Falombini/iStock/Thinkstock.

March 04, 2014

2014 National Grammar Day

  National Grammar Day 2014

 
Happy National Grammar Day from the APA Style team!
 
For more, see http://nationalgrammarday.com/ (or #GrammarDay on Twitter)!

December 13, 2013

Accentuate the Appositive

Daisiesby Stefanie

Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose. —Gertrude Stein, “Sacred Emily”


One of the delights of life is that there is usually more than one way to describe something, and often those details matter. I may walk into a room and see a rose, a dog, and a book (I admit, my house is very messy). But that rose is of the Claude Monet variety, grown in my neighbor’s tucked-away garden. That dog is a tricolor beagle that never barks. That book with the oddly literal title is the fifth and final novel of a supernatural mystery series. The details of these items are what differentiate them from the other roses, dogs, and books that might be in the same vicinity (like I said, my house is messy).
 
An appositive is a restatement of what a thing is, in different terms, that adds to the understanding of that thing’s identity. The appositive can be short or long, restrictive or nonrestrictive; an appositive appears next to the noun it is renaming.
 
Appositives are usually set off by commas. That is, they are usually of the nonrestrictive variety, in that they provide extra information but the sentence is clear and complete even without them. By “set off,” I mean that when a nonrestrictive clause appears in the middle of a sentence, commas go both before and after the appositive (see also section 3.22 of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 6th ed., p. 83, for additional examples).

The flower, a carefully cultivated and locally grown Claude Monet rose, drew the eye of my visitor.

My faithful dog, a tricolor beagle whose main claim to fame is his complete failure as a watchdog, didn’t even stir when the stranger entered the room.

The visitor touched the cover of the book on the end table, Blood Debt by Tanya Huff.

Restrictive appositives are essential for meaning and do not take commas (see section 4.03 of the Publication Manual, p. 89). Note in the examples below that because the narrator has more than one brother and because there is more than one blockbuster movie, the specific names offered in the appositives are necessary and thus should not be cordoned off with commas.

My brother John is much more reasonable than my brothers Paul and George.

The blockbuster movie Independence Day was blaring at a ridiculous volume from the other room.

Using appositives well can add detail and life to your writing. If you have comments or questions about appositives, please write to styleexpert@apa.org or leave a comment below!

 

November 07, 2013

Is It Sometimes Okay to Begin a Sentence With a Lowercase Letter?

Tyler

 

 

by Tyler Krupa

A basic grammar rule is that the first word in a complete sentence should be capitalized. But do you know how to proceed when a name that begins with a lowercase letter begins a sentence? Or whether it is okay to begin a sentence with a lowercase statistical term (e.g., t test or p value)?

Although the two examples listed above seem to be exceptions to the rule that the first word in a sentence should be capitalized, this is not the case. Note that per APA Style, the first word in a complete sentence should always be capitalized.

So what should you do when you come across the above examples in your writing? Getting it right is simple as long as you remember the following two guidelines (see sections 4.14 and 4.30 in the sixth edition of the Publication Manual):

1. If a name that begins with a lowercase letter begins a sentence, then it should be capitalized.

2. Do not begin a sentence with a lowercase statistical term (e.g., t test or p value), a lowercase abbreviation (e.g., lb), or a symbol that stands alone (e.g., α).

To help illustrate the first guideline, let’s look at the following example:

Correct:

Van Morrison and Smith (2012) interviewed 100 participants . . .

Incorrect:

van Morrison and Smith (2012) interviewed 100 participants . . .

In the example above, even though the usual presentation of the surname van Morrison begins with a lowercase v, it is correct to capitalize the first letter of the surname when the name begins a sentence. However, note that if the surname van Morrison is used later in the sentence or in references/citations, then the lowercase v is retained (e.g., At the conclusion of the participant interviews, van Morrison and Smith . . .). For more information on how to correctly capitalize author names, see the following post to our blog.

Now let’s look at an example that illustrates the second guideline:

Correct:

We used t tests to determine . . .

Incorrect:

t tests were used to determine . . .

Incorrect:

t Tests were used to determine . . .

Incorrect:

T tests were used to determine . . .

Note that in the example above, it is not okay to capitalize the statistical term at the beginning of the sentence because doing so changes the meaning of the statistic. Therefore, in instances such as these, it is necessary to recast the sentence. However, note that it is okay to begin a sentence with a capitalized statistical term (e.g., F tests indicated that . . .). For more information on how to format statistics in your paper, see the following post to our blog.

We hope these examples clear up this point of possible uncertainty. Still have questions? Leave us a comment.

September 20, 2013

Comma Usage and Compound Predicates

DB2





by David Becker

Time for a brief review of Grammar 101! As you know, a sentence has two major components—the subject and the predicate. The subject is the person, place, or thing that the sentence is about. The predicate says something about the subject. Here is a basic example with the subject in blue and the predicate in red:

Ritija scratched the cat’s head.

A compound predicate says two or more things about the subject. A common mistake people make is to insert a comma between two elements of a compound predicate. This comma adds a pause that creates distance between the subject and the predicate, so you should not include a comma in this case, just as you would not use a comma to separate a verb from its subject or object. Here is an example that demonstrates the correct and incorrect ways to write a sentence with a compound predicate:

Correct: Ritija scratched the cat’s head and rubbed his belly.
Incorrect: Ritija scratched the cat’s head, and rubbed his belly.

However, a compound predicate with three or more elements constitutes a list, so it would be correct to separate them with commas. Commas are essential in this case to distinguish one element of the compound predicate from the rest. (Don’t forget the serial comma!)

The cat closed his eyes, purred, and twitched his ears.

Also note that a sentence with a compound predicate is different from a sentence with two independent clauses joined by a conjunction. The latter requires a comma to create a pause between two distinct thoughts that could be separate sentences. Here’s an example:

Correct: Ritija scratched the cat’s head, and the cat purred.
Incorrect: Ritija scratched the cat’s head and the cat purred.

I hope this will help you avoid incorrect comma usage in the future. For more information on when and when not to use commas, see section 4.03, pages 88–89 of the Publication Manual. If you have any other questions, feel free to contact us or comment on this post.

June 20, 2013

Forming Possessives With Singular Names

Tyler

 

 

by Tyler Krupa

I don’t think that I’m revealing a big grammar secret by letting you know that the possessive of a singular name is formed by adding an apostrophe and an s (e.g., Smith’s, 2012, study). But although this rule seems straightforward, one thing that trips up many writers is how to form possessives when the name being used ends with an s. For example, should you use “Adams’ (2013) work” or “Adams’s (2013) work”?

Per APA Style, the answer is that the possessive of a singular name is formed by adding an apostrophe and an s, even when the name ends in s (see p. 96 in the sixth edition of the Publication Manual). Therefore, in the example above, the correct usage would be “Adams’s (2013) work.” Although this presentation may look awkward to some writers, the rule for forming the possessive does not change just because the name ends in s.

However, it is important to note the following exception to this rule: You should use an apostrophe only with the singular form of names ending in unpronounced s (see p. 97 in the Publication Manual). Therefore, if you were writing a paper about the philosopher Descartes, to form the possessive with his name, you would need to just add an apostrophe (e.g., Descartes’ theory).

To help illustrate these guidelines, let’s look at a few more examples of properly formatted possessives:

Sigmund Freud’s method

Jesus’s disciples

Charles Dickens’s novels

Socrates’s life

François Rabelais’ writings (note that Rabelais ends with an unpronounced s)

We hope these examples clear up this point of possible uncertainty. Still have questions? Leave us a comment.

April 18, 2013

Punctuation Junction: Question Marks and Quotation Marks

Chelsea blog 2by Chelsea Lee

Punctuation Junction: A series about what Man at two roadshappens when punctuation marks collide.

The proper use of question marks and quotation marks in combination all depends on context: Namely, are you (a) quoting a question or (b) asking a question of a quotation? Let’s look at the two scenarios and how they impact punctuation.

1. When the quotation itself is a question, put the question mark inside the quotation marks.

  • Correct: Participants were asked, “How many days, on average, have you felt depressed over the past 2 weeks?”
  • Incorrect: Participants were asked, “How many days, on average, have you felt depressed over the past 2 weeks”?

2. When the sentence as a whole is a question, but the quoted material is not, put the question mark outside the quotation marks.

  • Correct: To what degree will social desirability influence participants’ responses to the statement “I always remember to take my medication as prescribed”?
  • Incorrect: To what degree will social desirability influence participants’ responses to the statement “I always remember to take my medication as prescribed?”

For more on how quotation marks work, see APA Publication Manual §4.07. Stay tuned for more Punctuation Junction posts coming soon! 

April 11, 2013

Punctuation Junction: Periods, Exclamation Points, and Question Marks

Chelsea blog 2by Chelsea Lee

Punctuation Junction: A series about what happens when punctuation marks collide.

Periods, exclamation points, and question Confusing signsmarks are three types of end punctuation—that is, they indicate the end of a sentence. Two properties of end punctuation are (a) that they are almost never used in combination with one another (even though sometimes it seems like they should be) and (b) that there is a hierarchy among the marks that determines which one you should use for a given sentence.

Follow the guidelines below to ensure you use end punctuation correctly in your APA Style papers.

1. If a sentence seems to call for both a period and an exclamation point or both a period and a question mark, use only the exclamation point or question mark, respectively. These marks are stronger than the period and take its place.

  • Correct: The therapist began the session by asking, “How do you feel today?” The patient replied, “I feel 100% improved!”
  • Incorrect: The therapist began the session by asking, “How do you feel today?”. The patient replied, “I feel 100% improved!”.

2. If a reference title ends in an exclamation point or question mark, this mark takes the place of the period that would have otherwise appeared after the title. These marks are stronger than the period and take its place.

  • Correct: Raftopoulos, A. (2009). Cognition and perception: How do psychology and neural science inform philosophy? Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Incorrect: Raftopoulos, A. (2009). Cognition and perception: How do psychology and neural science inform philosophy?. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

3. Only the exclamation point and question mark can ever appear in combination, to indicate an exclamatory question (this will rarely be used in an academic paper, however).

  • Correct: When the professor told John he would have to repeat the psychology course, John’s eyes grew wide as he exclaimed, “What?!” Then he ran from the room.
  • Incorrect: When the professor told John he would have to repeat the psychology course, John’s eyes grew wide as he exclaimed, “What?!.” Then he ran from the room.

For more on periods, see §4.02 of the APA Publication Manual.

Keep an eye out for more Punctuation Junction posts coming soon!

March 28, 2013

Punctuation Junction: Commas and Semicolons

Chelsea profileby Chelsea Lee

Punctuation Junction: A series about what happens when punctuation marks collide.

Commas and semicolons separate parts Trafficof sentences from one another. Although each mark has plenty of uses on its own, there are several more complex scenarios in which the marks are used together. Learn how to avoid grammar gridlock by following the punctuation guidelines shown below.

1. Separate independent clauses joined by a conjunction (and, or, but, etc.) with commas; separate independent clauses not joined by a conjunction with semicolons. Use commas within clauses as needed. 

  • Correct: Some errors are more major than others; for instance, calling a tiger a mouse is a larger error than calling a tiger a lion, and adults may be less forgiving of large errors than small ones.
  • Incorrect: Some errors are more major than others, for instance, calling a tiger a mouse is a larger error than calling a tiger a lion, and adults may be less forgiving of large errors than small ones.

2. Separate items in a list with commas; however, if any item already contains commas, separate the items with semicolons. 

  • Correct: Even in families where books are absent, leaflets and magazines offer text-based information about consumables and services; e-mails and text messages can give information on the whereabouts, plans, and activities of friends; and computers may be used to find out about films or prices of consumables and holidays.
  • Incorrect: Even in families where books are absent, leaflets and magazines offer text-based information about consumables and services, e-mails and text messages can give information on the whereabouts, plans, and activities of friends, and computers may be used to find out about films or prices of consumables and holidays.

3. Separate multiple citations within one set of parentheses with semicolons; separate author(s) and date within citations with commas. 

  • Correct: Recent research in developmental psychology has explored this issue, often using the term selective trust to describe the ability to distinguish who should be trusted from who should not (e.g., Bergstrom, Moehlmann, & Boyer, 2006; Clément, 2010; Harris & Corriveau, 2011; Harris & Koenig, 2006; Heyman, 2008; Heyman & Legare, in press; Koenig & Harris, 2005).
  • Incorrect: Recent research in developmental psychology has explored this issue, often using the term selective trust to describe the ability to distinguish who should be trusted from who should not (e.g., Bergstrom Moehlmann & Boyer 2006, Clément 2010, Harris & Corriveau 2011, Harris & Koenig 2006, Heyman 2008, Heyman & Legare in press, Koenig & Harris 2005).

For more on how commas and semicolons are used independently, see Publication Manual §4.03 and §4.04. Keep an eye out for more Punctuation Junction posts coming soon!

***

Examples 1 and 3 adapted from “Knowing When to Doubt: Developing a Critical Stance When Learning From Others,” by C. M. Mills, 2013, Developmental Psychology, pp. 404, 406. Copyright 2013 by the American Psychological Association.

Example 2 adapted from “Reading to Learn: Prereaders’ and Early Readers’ Trust in Text as a Source of Knowledge,” by E. J. Robinson, S. Einav, & A. Fox, 2013, Developmental Psychology, p. 512. Copyright 2013 by the American Psychological Association.

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