Friday, July 24, 2009

Bad Grammar is a Common and Easily Remedied Problem

Tips from an English Teacher Extraordinaire

Most people would not think of bad grammar as a career limiting factor. But it is.

Picture this ever so common situation:

You apply for the job of your dreams, only your cover letter to the employer contains sentence fragments and apostrophe mistakes. This gives a negative first impression which can lose you an interview.

Or a college student turns in an essay only to have the professor return it covered in red ink with a grade of D.

In the professional world and in school, errors in your writing can get in the way of your success.

Many people will say that they don’t like grammar and don’t understand it,” says Marian Anders, a college English teacher for the past 20 years.

So Anders is on a mission to change the way grammar is taught. She says, “We need a new way of learning grammar that is quick, easy, and logical so that adults and students can fix the mistakes in their writing without driving themselves crazy.”

Anders’ new book My Dog Bites the English Teacher: Practical Grammar Made Quick and Easy does just that.

According to Anders, learning to write correctly is like learning to drive a car. It’s a necessary skill that people need to learn. But you don’t need to learn how to rebuild a transmission, or even know what a transmission is, in order to be a safe and capable driver. And you don’t need to know the intricacies of traditional grammar to write well. “As long as your sentences are correct, who cares if you don’t know the difference between a direct object and an indirect object?” Anders says.

Anders developed an approach which she calls Practical Grammar to teach people what they need to know while avoiding unnecessary information.

Grammar mistakes are a problem for many college students, but they can also cause adults to be passed over for employment or promotion,” she says. “Ninety-five percent of the grammar that you need to know is straightforward and relatively easy. You can learn the final five percent if you want to, but for most people, knowing the basics is plenty.”

According to Ms. Anders, here are some common mistakes people make and how to fix them:


The most common cause of this mistake is putting a period in the middle of a sentence:

Trisha went to the beauty parlor. To get her nails done.

Fix the fragment by taking out the period:

Trisha went to the beauty parlor to get her nails done.

Run-on Sentence

This mistake happens when two sentences are incorrectly joined into one long sentence:

Jake was starving he ate six hamburgers.

Comma Splice

This is just like a run-on except there is a comma between the two sentences. A comma is not enough to join two sentences.

Jake was starving, he ate six hamburgers.

There are several ways you can fix run-ons and comma splices.

You can use a semi-colon to join the two sentences into one long sentence:

Jake was starving; he ate six hamburgers.

Another method is to use a comma with a word like AND or SO:

Jake was starving, so he ate six hamburgers.


Use an apostrophe to show ownership:

Gwendolyn’s car

Use an apostrophe to show that letters have been left out:

Sylvester hadn’t brushed his teeth, so Marie wouldn’t kiss him.

Don’t put an apostrophe in every word that ends with S.

Sign in the mall: Pant’s 25% off

The apostrophe in pant’s is incorrect because the pants don’t own anything and no letters were left out. The sign should simply say,

Pants 25% off

Modifier Mistakes

A modifier is a word or group of words that describes something.

Felix ate a bologna sandwich.

The modifier bologna is describing the sandwich.

A modifier mistake can make you say something you didn=t intend to say:

For her birthday, I gave a new purse to Jasmine with brass buckles.

It sounds like Jasmine has brass buckles! Instead say

For her birthday, I gave Jasmine a new purse with brass buckles.

Capitalizing Family Titles

Should you capitalize words like MOM, DAD, GRANDMA? Sometimes.

Capitalize family titles when you could replace the title with the person’s first name:

When Mom and Dad came home, the kids were playing Frisbee with Grandma’s wig.

It sounds fine to replace the family titles with their names:

When Sue and Bob came home, the kids were playing Frisbee with Barbara’s wig.

If you can’t replace the family title with the person’s name, don’t capitalize the family title:

My dad caught the wig in mid-flight and returned it to my grandma.

Here it wouldn’t sound right to use the names:

My Bob caught the wig in mid-flight and returned it to my Barbara.

My Dog Bites the English Teacher: Practical Grammar Made Quick and Easy is easy to read and is a very enjoyable and effective way to learn how to write correctly.

Available at bookstores nationwide and online.

For more information visit

This book is for people who want to improve their writing. Clear explanations and step-by-step directions show how to find and fix mistakes in writing such as fragments, commas, and others. Stick with the basics in the first five chapters, or read to the end and learn the intricacies of traditional grammar.

This book shows writers how to identify and fix fragments, comma splices, run-ons, commas, apostrophes, and other common mistakes using a logical, step-by-step method that always works.

About the Author

Marian Anders has taught English literature, grammar, and composition to college students for the past twenty years. She developed her practical grammar teaching method to make English easier and less miserable for her students. She served as English department chair at Pierce College in Puyallup, Washington, and currently teaches at St. Augustine’s College in Raleigh, NC. She is also the co-author of Step-by-Step: Teaching Grammar the Easy Way with Stefan Anders.

What People Are Saying

“I always hated English, but this isn’t too bad.”

- college freshman

“I read this book before taking my college placement exams, and I found it very helpful.”

-Sherry Storrs-Casanova, North Carolina

“I’ve always been a good writer, but I made some mistakes with punctuation. This book showed me how to fix them.”

-Zach Quirk, California

“I really loved this book because it helped me with the things that I didn’t quite get in high school. Now I’m getting A’s on my college papers.”

-Shenelle Moolenaar, U. S. Virgin Islands

“My students finally understand grammar and punctuation, and now these lessons are so much easier for them and for me.”

-Darrel Powell, High School English teacher, Washington

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