51 posts categorized "Grammar and usage"

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.

March 21, 2013

Punctuation Junction: Periods and Parentheses

Chelsea blog 2by Chelsea Lee

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

On their own, periods and parentheses aren’t too hard to use: Put a period at the end of a sentence; put material that’s helpful but not crucial to the main text inside parentheses.

But to use these two punctuation marks effectively in combination takes a little more finesse. Here are a few scenarios:

1. When part of a sentence falls inside parentheses and part falls outside, the period goes outside.

  • Correct: Students completed several psychology courses (social, personality, and clinical).
  • Incorrect: Students completed several psychology courses (social, personality, and clinical.)

The period is a strong punctuation mark—think of it as controlling the action in the sentence, which occurs outside the parentheses.

Confused streets

2. When a whole sentence falls inside parentheses, the period goes inside.

  • Correct: (Several other courses were offered, but they were not as popular.)
  • Incorrect: (Several other courses were offered, but they were not as popular).

Again, the period is strong and governs the main part of the sentence. Because the whole sentence is inside parentheses, the period goes with it.

3. These two approaches are incompatible.

  • Incorrect: Students completed several psychology courses (social, personality, and clinical. Several other courses were offered, but they were not as popular.).

Parentheses cannot enclose part of one sentence plus an additional whole sentence. If you follow one punctuation principle, then you violate the other; if you follow both principles (as shown above), you wind up with three periods for only two sentences—also an unworkable result. If you follow neither principle, you leave the reader hanging because one sentence has no ending punctuation.

Instead, there are three ways to allow the two approaches to work in parallel. 

You can separate the statements into separate sets of parentheses:

  • Students completed several psychology courses (social, personality, and clinical). (Several other courses were offered, but they were not as popular.

Rewrite the parenthetical so that it consists of one sentence rather than two:

  • Students completed several psychology courses (social, personality, and clinical; several other courses were offered, but they were not as popular).

Or drop one set of parentheses:

  • Students completed several psychology courses (social, personality, and clinical). Several other courses were offered, but they were not as popular.

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

February 01, 2013

Quotation Mark Uses Other Than Quotes

Daisiesby Stefanie

Most people know how to use quotation marks to identify material directly quoted from a source (“That’s terrific!” the editor cried; Hendrik Willem van Loon once said, “Somewhere in the world there is an epigram for every dilemma”; the first item on the questionnaire was, “How often do you engage in this type of behavior?”). In APA Style, when else is it OK to use quotation marks? I’m so glad you asked! Here are two key quotes from page 91 of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, sixth edition, to explain. (Before you awesome APA Style diehards point this out, I’m exercising some artistic license and taking advantage of the differing standards of an informal blog post and setting the two quotes as block quotes, even though they consist of fewer than 40 words each.)

To introduce a word or phrase used as an ironic comment, as slang, or as an invented or coined expression. Use quotation marks the first time the word or phrase is used; thereafter, do not use quotation marks. (p. 91)

Let’s take these cases one by one. An ironic comment is one that means something other than (often the opposite of) what it says. In the example provided in the Publication Manual, “considered ‘normal’ behavior,” the quotes around normal should indicate that the behavior under discussion deviates from what might immediately come to mind when thinking of the norm (whatever that might be). For example, what qualifies as normal behavior for an 8-year-old that has been awake for 24 hours straight with a stomach virus will not be the normal behavior of an 8-year-old child who has had a decent night’s sleep and no illness (not that I would know from experience. Actually, yes, I would). “Normal” is not precisely normal in the case of the sick, sleepless child.

Slang is an informal word or phrase that may not appear in a standard dictionary but is used colloquially; slang terms appear in scholarly writing most often when writers quote participants (yet another reason to use quotation marks!). For example, if a participant described a confederate’s relationship as “lolalam” (a slang word based on an acronym for the phrase love only lasts as long as the money) or said she was “LOLing” (laughing out loud) over the questions asked in the interview, those slang terms are loaded with meaning; using the slang term the participant used preserves and conveys that meaning to the reader.

An invented or coined expression is a new word or phrase often specific to the work it is used in (although sometimes a term will catch on and start being used elsewhere, which is part of the beauty of our ever-evolving language). The example provided in the Publication Manual is the “good-outcome variable.” This term is not likely to be used or understood outside of the study it was coined for, but within the context of the study, it makes perfect sense.

Then there is our second quote from the Publication Manual:

To set off the title of an article or chapter in a periodical or book when the title is mentioned in text. (p. 91)

Quotation marks are used for full or abbreviated titles of articles, book chapters, or web pages without authors that are mentioned or cited in text (see p. 176 of the Publication Manual; note that this is how they are presented in the text, not the reference list). Examples:

In Han Solo’s (2003) article, “With a Wookiee Beside Me: How I Became the Best Rebel Pilot in Any Galaxy,” Solo recounts how he won the Millennium Falcon from Lando Calrissian in a game of Sabacc during the Cloud City Sabacc Tournament. The newspaper account of the tournament (“Sabacc Shenanigans,” 2000) corroborates Solo’s version of events.

More quotation mark questions? Let us know at styleexpert@apastyle.org or in the comments below!

 

July 26, 2012

Data Is, or Data Are?

Tyler

 

 

by Tyler Krupa

This week, we address another item on the list of APA Style points that writers find most challenging (on the basis of the article by Onwuegbuzie, Combs, Slate, & Frels, 2010; also see their guest post to our blog): the misuse of the word data.

As noted in the sixth edition of the Publication Manual (p. 79), the plural form of some nouns of foreign origin—particularly those that end in the letter a—may appear to be singular and can cause authors to select a verb that does not agree in number with the noun. This is certainly the case with the word data. As shown in the Publication Manual (p. 96), the word datum is singular, and the word data is plural. Plural nouns take plural verbs, so data should be followed by a plural verb. To help clear up any confusion regarding the proper use of these terms, I list examples of datum and data being used correctly below:

Each datum matches the location of an object to a coordinate on the map.

Although we have compiled the results, these data are the focus of another report and are not described here.

Keep in mind that most of the time the plural form data should be used. Scientific results are built upon testing things multiple times across multiple people, and we draw conclusions from the aggregate, not the individual, data points. Therefore, when referring to the collective results, be sure to use the plural form:

The data regarding age show that older participants performed just as well as younger participants.

The data challenge the notion that more directive questions are necessary when interviewing children who have mild intellectual disabilities.

Another helpful hint to remember is that the term data set is two words, but database is one word:

We generated 20 complete data sets.

It remains unlikely that the current empirical database could support such analyses.

We hope these examples help to clear up any confusion regarding the proper use of data. However, if you still have questions, feel free to leave a comment.

July 12, 2012

All or None

Tyler

 

 

by Tyler Krupa

This week, we address a common grammar error for writers: verb agreement with the pronouns all or none. Note that these pronouns can be singular or plural. The general rule to follow is that when the noun that follows all or none is singular, you should use a singular verb; when the noun is plural, you should use a plural verb (for additional information on collective nouns, see the supplemental materials to the Publication Manual). Examples of both terms being used correctly are listed below:

All of the information was correct.

None of the evidence was admissible.

All of the rats were tested daily.

None of the participants were aware of the purpose of the experiment.

All of Smith et al.’s (2010) research supports our findings.

None of the material provided by the university was used.

All of the experiments were conducted in the laboratory.

None of the data were used in the final analysis.

We hope these examples help to clear up any confusion regarding verb agreement with these terms. However, if you still have questions, feel free to leave a comment. 

Search the APA Style Blog


ABOUT THE BLOG

My Photo


About Us

Blog Guidelines

APA Style FAQs

Archives


rss Follow us on Twitter

American Psychological Association APA Style Blog

Twitter Updates