Three More Tips on Grammar, Diction and Punctuation (the fourth blog in this series) . . . .

Welcome to my fourth (and, for now, final) blog on language use for business and academic writers. You have likely noticed that I address this blog to non-specialist users of language, for whom terms like “subjunctive mood” and “conjunctive adverb” are foreign and potentially intimidating words, and for whom they needn’t be. Blogging on principles of language usage is something that I’ll return to, in the future. For now, however, here are three last tips that need more time and space to explain than those from earlier postings. Credit for today’s posting goes to Heffernan and Lincoln’s Writing: A College Handbook  (NY: W.W. Norton, 1990) and to Mignon Fogarty’s Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing (NY: Henry Holt, 2008). I also draw upon my experience as a writer and editor, in the examples that follow:

(1)   What is the subjunctive mood, anyway? Well, English verbs have moods that range from commands (the imperative mood: “Go to the door!”) to matter-of-fact assertions (the indicative mood: “No one came to the dance.”) to doubtful or wishful (the subjunctive mood: “If the weather were better, we would have hiked longer.”). In Canada, most people meet the subjunctive mood while studying French or other romance languages. But it does apply to English, too!

In the wish “If I were a richer person  . . . .” the verb (to be) is in the subjunctive mood and follows “if,” a preposition which is often used to express something imagined or wished-for. The subjunctive verb often is followed by conditional verbs, such as “could” or “would” (e.g. “If I were a rich person, I could give up the 9-5 rat race.”). So the next time you hear “. . . I were. . .” remember that it is not necessarily an error (for “I was”): the speaker may be using the subjunctive mood.

(2)   “Why do I need to use conjunctions in my sentences?” one reader asks. One way to coordinate two or more parts of a sentence is to make them grammatically alike and equal in meaning. You can use conjunctions to join together two or more simple sentences (i.e. sentences with one subject, object and verb), each of which is an independent clause (i.e. meaning that it could stand by itself, as a complete sentence).  In fact, you can join two independent clauses of a compound sentence together in one of three ways: (1) a conjunction (the topic here), (2) a semi-colon, or (3) a conjunctive adverb (that I will address, in #3, below).

Conjunctions are words like “and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet” that show simple addition, addition of a negative point, contrast, logical consequence or choice. Here are some samples, to illustrate their usage:

simple addition: “The economists thought of budget cuts, and the politicians thought of votes.”

addition of a negative point: “Many of the settlers had never farmed before, nor were they ready for the brutal prairie winters.”

contrast: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars” (Oscar Wilde).

logical consequence: “My father never attended parades, for he hated crowds.”

choice: “The commander could keep his ships in the port, or order them to attack the enemy.”

(3)   A related type of word is called a “conjunctive adverb”—something that is often a bugbear of first year English students. Similar to conjunctions, the conjunctive adverb provides a way to connect two independent clauses into a compound sentence.

A conjunctive adverb is a word (or phrase) that shows a relation between the clauses it joins. Unlike a conjunction (explained in the last point), a conjunctive adverb usually plays a more powerful and emphatic role in the sentence.  Conjunctive adverbs are used to join two independent clauses together. For example, “The general had total confidence in his soldiers’ training; furthermore, he considered his battle plan to be ingenious.”

So what words are conjunctive adverbs?  Words that show addition (besides, furthermore, moreover, in addition);  words that show likeness (likewise, similarly, in the same way);  words that show contrast (however, nevertheless, still, nonetheless, conversely, otherwise, instead, in contrast, on the other hand); words that show cause and effect (accordingly, consequently, hence, as a result, for this reason); words that show a means-and-end relation (thus, thereby, by this means, in this manner); words that show reinforcement (for example, for instance, in fact, in particular, indeed) and words that show time (meanwhile, then, subsequently, afterward, earlier, later).

Here are some examples of each type:

addition: “Some conservative economists oppose legislation that restricts foreign trade; in addition, they refuse proposals to increase corporate taxes.”

likeness: “Many young Englishmen condemned the English war on France in the 1790’s; likewise, many young American men refused to fight in North Vietnam, in the 1960’s.

contrast: “The cook worked hard with the time and ingredients given to her; however, the soufflé failed to impress the judges.”

cause and effect: “Chamberlain made an ill-advised peace treaty with Hitler; as a result, England was unprepared for the German invasion of Poland.”

means and end relation: “Florence Nightingale organized a unit of 38 nurses for the Crimean War in the 1850s; thus she became a legend.”

reinforcement: “Public transportation will be vastly improved; for instance, a high-speed train will take passengers from Montreal to Toronto, in less than two hours.”

time: “At first, members of the audience were overtly hostile to the speaker; later, they cheered her on, as one of their own.”

And that’s a wrap (for now) on my series on language usage, through grammar, diction, style and punctuation. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for a new book review, in an upcoming posting!

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