Archive for the ‘Language’ Category

Clichés Don’t Make the World Go Round, but They Can Make Songs Better

September 4, 2017

Ira Gershwin

The Word Mavens Are Wrong

Style guides and writing teachers say we should avoid clichés like the plague. They’re bad, hackneyed, and trite. They say clichés are crutches, used by writers who are too lazy and stupid to think up new ways to say things.

But the experts wrong. Clichés have all sorts of wonderful uses.

Assisting Thought by Evoking a Visual Image

Many clichés are metaphors. According to George Orwell, an effective metaphor “assists thought by evoking a visual image.”

The anti-cliché crowd argues that no matter how strong or evocative a clichéd metaphor might be, its power dwindles with repeated use. But that ain’t necessarily so.

If you say, “Mary is burning the candle at both ends,”  a vivid picture comes to my mind which highlights the possible pitfalls of Mary’s behavior. This is an example of an outstanding metaphor that doesn’t diminish in fortitude no matter how many times you hear it.

The phrase “you’re just putting a band-aid on that problem” is another clichéd metaphor which remains evocative and effective despite repeated use.

These two clichéd metaphors are still effective because, even if we no longer light our houses with candles, candles and bandages are still part of our shared consciousness.

Metaphors—Dead, Alive, and Otherwise

But metaphorical clichés will lose vigor as words go out of fashion.  For example, the expression “hoisted by his own petard” packed a much greater rhetorical punch in an age when people commonly referred to bombs as petards.

Sometimes linguists employ the term “dead metaphor” to describe phrases like “hoisted by his own petard.” They reason that metaphors only remain “alive” as long as we can picture them in our mind’s eye.

But what if I tell you that Larry, who’s a very casual sports fan, just jumped on the Dodgers’ bandwagon? Even if you don’t know that there was a time when politicians actually hired wagons full of musicians to attract voters, it’s still easy to see what this expression means. So, is the bandwagon metaphor, alive, dead or somewhere in between?

Not All Clichés Are Created Equal

Not all clichés are created equal. And the better ones deserve respect.

Of course, many clichéd metaphors are duds. And a bad cliché is about as effective as a screen door on a submarine.

I tell students that the best way to judge the potency of a metaphor is to visualize it. For example, try to visualize yourself “throwing some shade on someone.”

The cliché “throwing shade on someone” means to deprecate a person. It’s a lousy metaphor and it sets my blood to boiling every time I hear it.

On the other hand, when Victor says, “Yo, man. I’d loved to hang out with you guys all day, but I gotta bounce,” he’s employing a marvelously robust metaphor. It tells me that Victor is so active he’s downright kinetic.

Ira Gershwin Hearts Clichés

As Ira Gershwin explains in his book Lyrics on Several Occasions, “The literary cliché is an integral part of lyric-writing.”

Sometimes lyricists cleverly rework a familiar cliché into a song. Like when Smokey Robinson says “I’m a choosy beggar, and you’re my choice.” Or when the Temptations sing “Papa was a rolling stone/Wherever he laid his hat was his home.” Or when Paul McCartney asks: “Would you walk away from a fool and his money?” Or when the Who’s Rodger Daltry laments, “I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth.” Or when Ian Hunter complains that love has left him feeling “Once Bitten, Twice shy.”

Gershwin notes that clichés are an essential part of the songwriter’s toolkit because:

The phrase that is trite and worn-out when appearing in print usually becomes, when heard fitted to the appropriate musical turn, revitalized, and seems somehow to revert to its original provocativeness.

Putting Clichés to Good Use

Here are some examples of songwriters putting clichés to good use:

Irving BerlinI’m Putting all my Eggs in One Basket

Phil CollinsAgainst All Odd

Gene AutryBack in the Saddle

Los Hermanos GershwinBidin’ my Time

Arthur HamiltonCry Me a River

Waldo HolmesDon’t Rock the Boat

Cole PorterI Get a Kick Out of You

Sammy CahnHigh Hopes

Norman Whitfield and Barrett StrongHeard it Through the Grapevine

Neil DiamondLove On the Rocks— (Nice pun, Neil)

Robbie RobertsonThe Weight (Take a Load off, Annie)

Stevie WonderSigned, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours

Al Hoffman and Dick ManningIt Takes Two to Tango

Larry Blackmon and Tomi JenkinsWord Up

Aaron Schroeder and Wally GoldIt’s Now or Never (Music by Eduardo di Capua)

by Richard W. Bray

 

Eleven Opening Lines by Nathaniel Hawthorne Proffered Without Further Comment

April 2, 2017

Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Scarlet Letter

The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognised it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison

The House of the Seven Gables

Haflway down a by-street of one of our New England towns stands a rusty wooden house, with seven acutely peaked gables, facing towards various points of the compass, and a huge, clustered chimney in the midst.

The Blithedale Romance

The evening before my departure for Blithedale, I was returning to my bachelor apartments, after attending the wonderful exhibition of the Veiled Lady, when an elderly man of rather shabby appearance met me in an obscure part of the street.

Fanshawe

In an ancient though not very populous settlement, in a retired corner of one of the New England States, arise the walls of a seminary of learning, which, for the convenience of a name, shall be entitled “Harley College.”

Wakefield

In some old magazine or newspaper I recollect a story, told as truth, of a man—let us call him Wakefield—who absented himself for a long time from his wife.

The Great Carbuncle

At nightfall, once in the olden time, on the rugged side of Crystal Hills, a party of adventurers were refreshing themselves, after a toilsome and fruitless quest for the Great Carbuncle.

Lady Eleanore’s Mantle

Not long after Colonel Shute had assumed the government of Massachusetts Bay, now nearly a hundred and twenty years ago, a young lady of rank and fortune arrived from England, to claim his protection as her guardian.

Old Esther Dudley

The hour had come—the hour of defeat and humiliation—when Sir William Howe was to Passover the threshold of Providence House, and embark, with no such triumphal ceremonies as he once promised himself, on board the British fleet.

Peter Goldwaite’s Treasure

“And so, Peter, you won’t even consider of the business?” said Mr. John Brown, buttoning surtout over the snug rotundity of his person, and drawing on his gloves.

Endicott and the Red Cross

At noon of an autumnal day, more than two centuries ago, the English colors were displayed by the standard-bearer of the Salem trainband, which had mustered for martial exercise under the orders of John Endicott.

The Birthmark

In the latter part of the last century there lived a man of science, an eminent proficient in every branch of natural philosophy, who not long before our story opens had made experience of a spiritual affinity more attractive than any chemical one.

Compiled by Richard W. Bray

First Day of College Composition Class—Syllabus, Tone, and Thesis Statement

February 19, 2017

zzzzthesis

I do more talking on the first day than I usually do. (Reminder: A teacher should always keep a lozenge in her briefcase. Better to have it and not need than to need and not have it.)

I spend the first day of English Composition class teaching about thesis statement and tone.

Of course, I go over the syllabus first. I always hated it when one of my instructors spent the entire first session covering every word of the syllabus, giving us a preview of each upcoming lecture, so I tell the students that they made it this far and they should be able to read a syllabus on their own. Instead, I focus on the required texts for the class, my grading policies, due dates for assignments, and my expectations for appropriate classroom comportment.

I stress the following sentence from my syllabus:

It is important to maintain a cordial demeanor which facilitates free and open discourse.”

In other words, in this classroom we need to be able to disagree with one another without being disagreeable.

I tell my students that it’s perfectly acceptable to say, “Professor Bray, I disagree with everything you just said for the following reasons….”

However, it is not acceptable to say, “Professor Bray, you are stupid and your mother dresses you funny.”

I beg my students to disagree. Please, I tell them, disagree with me, the authors we are covering, and anyone else in the class. That’s what we are here for, the free and open exchange of ideas. My students will receive no brownie points for agreeing with the instructor. This is true for the classroom discussions and also for their essays. Students are not graded on the positions they choose to take; they are evaluated based upon the quality and structure of their arguments and the style of their prose.

In order to teach students about thesis statements and tone, I select two short essays that vary in style and substance; usually I read them a serious article first (for example, Katha Pollitt on reproductive rights or Pat Buchanan on trade policy) and then I read them something lighter (a silly article by Jon Carroll about his cat, perhaps). Before I read the articles, I ask who can tell me what a thesis statement is, and then I type their answers into a machine which magically projects words onto a large screen for all to see.

Their answers will include:

An essay’s argument, an essay’s main point, an essay’s main point distilled into one sentence.

I tell them these answers are correct, but in my class it’s okay to state a thesis in two or even three consecutive sentences rather than trying to jam it all into one very long and awkward sentence with too many clauses and too many commas.

When I ask them where the best place to put their thesis is, they tell me it belongs at the end of their introductory paragraph. I say, “Correct.” (Good job, high school English teachers!)

This is the point where I tell them that different types of writing are bound by different types of conventions and expectations. For student essays (but not for other types of student writing such as journals) I expect them to follow specific conventions, such as placing the thesis statement at the end of the first paragraph and supporting their arguments with “evidence” (the quoted opinions of people who are assumed to know what they are talking about for one reason or another.) I tell them that the two essays we are covering today are written by professional writers for popular consumption. Such authors are under no obligation to follow any of Mr. Bray’s rules for academic writing. For example, fragments and one-sentences paragraphs can be very effective tools, but they are not generally acceptable in academic writing.  Furthermore, many professional writers believe that a thesis statement placed at the end of the introductory paragraph is a clunky device.  And I agree with them, but you will nevertheless be marked down substantially if you do not have a clear thesis statement in any paper you submit to me. However, in the essays we are about to consider, the thesis statement might be at the beginning of the essay, it might be at the end of the essay, it might be broken up and scattered throughout the essay, or it might not exist at all.

Next, I ask my students what the word tone means in relation to writing.

Probable answers include: mood, attitude, voice

I tell them that these are all good answers. I also suggest that they think of tone in relation to a person’s actual speaking voice. Many of the authors I teach are people I have seen on television so I can imagine how they would sound reading a particular essay. For example, in my head I hear how Pat Buchanan stresses and elongates the second syllable of “bamboozled,” one of his favorite verbs.

Then I ask my students for adjectives that could describe the tone of a particular piece of nonfiction prose.

I get answers such as: sad, angry, sarcastic, light, witty.

I tell them these are all good answers.

I inform them that my rule about tone is that is must be appropriate in relation to the chosen subject matter of and essay and also appropriate for the anticipated audience for an essay.

For example, if one is writing about 9/11 in a mainstream American news magazine such as Time, a witty tone would not be appropriate. Also, if one were writing an essay for young children about the adorableness of puppies, a sarcastic tone would not be appropriate.

(I briefly explain the distinction between sarcasm and verbal irony, something we will go into in detail at a later time.)

Lesson Plans

#1 Distribute first article.

#2 Instruct students to get out their writing utensils and number the paragraphs.

#3 Instruct students to look for and mark possible examples of tone and thesis statement as I read the essay aloud.

#4 Instructor reads the essays aloud.

#5 Allow students an additional seven minutes to look for examples of tone and thesis statement.

#6 Pair and share (if time permits and if you’re into that sort of thing).

#7 Review as whole class discussion.

An appropriate answer for an example of tone in the essay would be: “The author is using a verbally ironic tone in paragraph six when she says, “I just love it when my boyfriend leaves me dirty laundry to pick up.”

#8 Repeat steps 1-7 with second article.

#9 Instruct students to save the articles for later use with this exercise on strong verbs.

#10 Remind students that it’s going to be a long semester and send them on their merry little way.

by Richard W. Bray

A Few Notes on Teaching Logical Fallacies

July 3, 2016
Ted Haggard

Ted Haggard

 

Have you ever been arguing with someone and you felt that there was something wrong with her argument, but you couldn’t figure out what it was? Perhaps she was utilizing some form of logical fallacy. A fallacy is an unsound argument based on faulty reasoning. Logicians have identified scores of fallacies.

Here are some examples of common logical fallicies:

Appeal to fear

Are you sure you want to give me a ticket, officer? I play golf with the chief of police.”

Things could get pretty ugly around here if I don’t get what I want.

Appeal to pity

You should go out with me because forty-three women have already turned me down and I can’t take much more rejection.

Circular Reasoning (A=B because B=A)

Lebron James is the greatest basketball player of his generation because nobody else is as good as he is.

My mom is terrific because she is wonderful.

Appeal to Common Practice

It’s no big deal to leave trash on the ground in a parking lot. A lot of people do it.

But Mom, all the other parents let their kids stay out until dawn, so you should too.

Post hoc (causal) fallacy

When the rooster crows, the sun rises. Therefore, the rooster causes the sun to rise.

The Lakers won last night because I wore my lucky sweater.

False Dilemma (or False Alternatives)

It will either be hot or cold tomorrow.

You must be a Lakers fan or a Clippers fan.

Slippery Slope

If we allow gay marriage, people will start marrying their dogs.

If we ban Hummers because they are bad for the environment, eventually the government will ban all cars.

Non Sequitur (“It does not follow”)

That man is an awful person because he is wearing a blue sweater.

I cannot eat a cupcake because it is Tuesday.

Loaded question

Have you stopped wetting your bed yet?

Do you still have a Spongebob lunch pail?

Distinction without a Difference

I’m against capital punishment, but I believe we should execute serial killers.

I don’t have a sweet tooth; I just love to eat candy.

One of the most common fallacies is ad hominem, which means attacking a person instead of addressing her arguments.

Here are two examples of irrelevant ad hominem argument which have nothing to do with the legitimacy of a person’s arguments:

1)

Dave: I think the death penalty is a good idea.
Larry: Who cares what you think? You are a stupid, pathetic loser and your mother dresses you funny.

2)

I’m not going to listen to any of your arguments because you wear Member’s Only jackets and you sleep with a Teddy Bear.

An Ad hominem argument is a great way to avoid the merits of another person’s arguments? Many English teachers say that it is never appropriate to engage in ad hominem arguments.  But is it legitimate to attack a person for being hypocritical? My answer is: Sometimes.

Here is an example of a situation where an ad hominem argument is clearly inappropriate:

Let’s say my doctor tells me after a checkup that my blood pressure is too high and I need to lose weight and I should quit drinking and smoking.   I respond: “What are you talking about, Dude? I see you drinking and smoking at my bar every night and you are seriously overweight.

My ad hominem is illegitimate in this case because my doctor is giving me medically viable advice even though he doesn’t practice what he preaches. He went to medical school and he knows what he’s talking about.

Here is an example of a situation where an ad hominem argument is appropriate:

Speaking of practicing what we preach, what about someone like megachurch preacher Ted Haggard who righteously espouses clean living and family values—until he gets caught in a hotel room with a male masseur and a bunch of meth? Does Haggard’s behavior render his message any less legitimate?  Yes, because he is bolstering his argument by holding himself up of as a paragon of someone who is living a righteous lifestyle.

by Richard W. Bray

Resources for a Lesson Plan on Tautologies and Circular Reasoning

January 9, 2015

A tautology is a grammatical construct; circular reasoning is a logical fallacy. The two phenomena are related but not identical.

A tautology is a sentence in which the conclusion is equivalent to its premise. In other words, in a tautology, the predicate can be surmised by reading the subject.

Here are some examples of tautologies:

My mother’s brother is my uncle.

Father Brown is a priest.

It is what it is.

A circular argument occurs when someone affirms her position simply by restating it in different terms. In other words, circular reasoning is an argument where the conclusion depends upon or is equivalent to its premise.

In a circular argument:

X is true because of Y.

and

Y is true because of X.

A circular argument is similar in structure to a tautology, but a circular argument includes causal reasoning (because, therefore, for this reason, etc.).

Here are some examples of circular reasoning:

My mom is terrific because she is wonderful.

People do what Dave tells; therefore, he is a great leader.

I slumbered beyond my assigned wakeup time; that’s why I overslept.

Lesson Evaluation: Explain why the following examples are tautologies, circular arguments, or neither.

Chris Rock is a hilarious comedian because he makes people laugh.

A bartender is a guy who listens to people talk all day.

Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.

Anthony is extremely strong due to his ability to bench press three hundred pounds.

If aliens didn’t create the pyramids then how come pyramids are the product of technology that didn’t exist on earth at that time?

Allen hasn’t had a drink in twenty-three years, but he isn’t really sober because he doesn’t go to AA meetings and he isn’t working the steps.

A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.

They are who we thought they were.

If I could tell you, I would let you know.

I stopped eating meat in 1987; that’s what makes me a vegetarian.

by Richard W. Bray

Flinging our Souls

December 24, 2014

aaaaaaathrush

I’m goofy for words. And I will happily read and read and read until I find a combination of words which “strikes like a chime through the mind.” Then I will read some more.

Thomas Hardy forges a concoction of meaning, sound, and feeling when he tells us that a singing little bird

Had chosen thus to fling his soul

Of course, every line of “The Darkling Thrush” is a work of art.

Poetry and language are the same thing. Perhaps the people we call poets live the music inside the words with greater intensity than the rest of us do, but all words are music.

Consider the first line of a poem by Emily Dickinson:

From Us She wandered now a Year,

There are a thousand less lovely ways to tell us that a woman has abandoned her family. And the beauty of the sound and rhythm of this line is assaulted by the sadness it conveys.

Here’s the entire poem:

From Us She wandered now a Year,
Her tarrying, unknown,
If Wilderness prevent her feet
Or that Ethereal Zone

No eye hath seen and lived
We ignorant must be—
We only know what time of Year
We took the Mystery.

There are so many things we are not told: Who is this woman? Whom did she abandon? Where? Why? The reader is left to fill in the blanks.

Robert Pinsky proffers a handy metaphor: Novelists wade through words while poets skate on their surface.

by Richard W. Bray

Great Writing Isn’t Alchemy, It’s Hard Work: Alfred Kazin’s Trip to the Beach

December 17, 2014

aaaaaa el

It’s hard for me to believe that people who read very little (or not at all in some cases) should presume to write and expect people to like what they have written, but I know it’s true. If I had a nickel for every person who ever told me he/she wanted to become a writer but “didn’t have time to read,” I could buy myself a pretty good steak dinner.

Steven King (On Writing 147)

As Stephen King notes, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot” (145).

But many people don’t realize that writing is a craft to be mastered. They think it’s some sort of alchemy that mysteriously springs out of one’s experiences. That’s why some people who know very little about writing think they could produce a great memoir or an enticing novel. They love their fabulous lives so much. They are so glamorous, so amusing, and they know so many unique people—the book would practically write itself.

With the application of talent and much work, a great writer can reveal the beauty and complexity of a common experience. In his memoir A Walker in the City, Alfred Kazin relives the train ride to and from Coney Island on a hot summer day:

       It was from the El on its way to Coney Island that I caught my first full breath of the city in the open air. Groaning its way past a thousand old Brooklyn red fronts and tranquil awnings, that old train could never go slowly enough for me as I stood on the open platform between the cars, holding on to the gate. In the dead calm of noon, heat mists drifted around the rusty green spires of unknown churches; below, people seemed to kick their heels in the air just a moment before being swept from my sight. With each homey crásh-crásh crásh-crásh of the wheels against the rails, there would steal up at me along the bounding slopes of the awnings the nearness of all those streets in middle Brooklyn named after generals of the Revolutionary War. I tasted the sweetness of summer on every opening in my face. As we came back at night along the El again, the great reward of the long parched day, far better than any massed and arid beach, was the chance to stand up there between the cars, looking down on the quiet streets unrolling below me as we passed. The rusty iron cars ground against each other, protesting they might fall apart at each sharp turn. But in the steady crásh-crásh crásh-crásh there was a comforting homeward sound as the black cars rocked on the rails and more and more men and boys in open shirts came out on the top platform fiercely breathing the wind-changed damp air. In the summer night the city had an easy unstitched look—people sat on the corner watching the flies buzz around the street lamps, or at bedroom windows openly yawning as they stared past us (137-138).

First, notice the extreme paucity of adverbs.

I tell my students that nouns and verbs should do the heavy lifting. When you choose the right nouns and verbs, fewer adjective and adverbs are required.

For example, I could say “My landlord is a mean, ugly, tyrannical, bossy, gruesome, overbearing man.” Or I could simply say “My landlord is an ogre.” The appropriate noun eliminates the need for several adjectives.

And speaking of adjectives, notice how Kazin utilizes several noncordinate adjectives. Coordinate adjectives are parallel, modifying their nouns independently. That’s why we separate them with commas (big, bad John; new, green car). The effect of coordinate adjectives is cumulative; however, noncoordinate adjectives, when properly employed, multiply meaning into something new and beautiful: “first full breath” “rusty green spires” “long parched day” “rusty iron cars” “comforting homeward sound“ “wind-changed damp air” “easy unstitched look.” (Alfred Kazin’s beloved mother was a seamstress.)

I’ve affirmed the elegance simple sentences. I will repeat myself: I wouldn’t want to live in a world without them. And simple sentences are even more beautiful when they are rare. Like a great jeweler, Kazin positions a great gem in the middle of his creation: I tasted the sweetness of summer on every opening in my face.

Notice the strongest character in this paragraph, the anthropomorphized train: “protesting they might fall apart at each sharp turn” “Groaning its way past a thousand old Brooklyn red fronts and tranquil awnings”

Finally, notice how Kazin plays upon the illusion that world itself is in motion: “people seemed to kick their heels in the air just a moment before being swept from my sight” “streets unrolling below me as we passed”

by Richard W. Bray

Discovering and Correcting Un-doable Subject-Verb Combinations

December 4, 2014

aaaaaaaa subject verb

These new disposable diapers work hard to keep babies dry.

I call sentences like the one above undoables. Undoables contain a subject which is incapable of performing its assigned action.

I tell my students to correct undoables by picturing the subject executing the action: Can you imagine a disposable diaper working hard?

Each sentence in the following paragraph contains an undoable. See if your students can spot them and explain why they are un-doable.

       One concern that restaurants bring up is the issue of hygiene. Cleaning products take steps to improve cleanliness. However, halfhearted activities will not prevail. Furthermore, the way that many restaurants are maintained does not keep in mind adequate procedures for maintaining a germ-free environment. Many restaurants claim to be clean, but how can we be sure this is true? Our current situation is wreaking havoc on the intestines of restaurant customers. Unhealthy food should force restaurants to have higher standards. Therefore, strict policies must win the battle of the dirty kitchen. That’s why new laws should enforce minimum standards of restaurant cleanliness. Only then will America’s stomachs earn a respite from unhealthy bacteria.

by Richard W. Bray

An Activity for Assessing Characters from a Novel (Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich)

November 23, 2014

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Here’s an activity for assessing characters in a novel. (We’ll be using Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich for this example.)

#1 Class reads a novel with several characters. This activity won’t work with The Old Man and the Sea, for example.

#2 Review nouns and adjectives.

Noun Test

My_______
His______
Her_______
Some_______
A________
An_______
These_______
Those______
This_______
That_______

Adjective Test

My __________ house is __________

My __________ sister is __________

#3 Number off students in to groups of three. (Larger groups will encourage social loafing. It’s better to have two pairs than one group of four.)

#4 Assign a character to each group. It’s ok for more than one group to do the same character.

Group 1
—Marie Lazarre Kashpaw
Group 2—Nector Kashpaw
Group 3—Lulu Nanapush Lamartine
Group 4—June Morrissey
Group 5—Lipsha Morrissey
Group 6—Albertine Johnson
Group 7—Eli Kashpaw
Group 8—Lyman Lamartine
Group 9—Henry Lamartine Jr
Group 10—Gerry Nanapush

#5 Each group uses the novel to generate answers to the following questions:

a) What are four nouns that describe your character?

Example: Nector Kashpaw–Leader, Philanderer, Father, Indian

(Discourage students from going for the easiest, least revealing answers, like man, person, citizen, mammal.)

b) What are four adjectives that describe your character?

Example: Lulu Nanapush Lamartine—Unapologetic, Brave, Concupiscent, Rebellious

c) Explain how two passages (include page numbers) reveal something about your character.

Example—Albertine Johnson

Passage: After two months were gone and my classes were done, and although I still had not forgiven my mother, I decided to go home. I wasn’t crazy about the thought of seeing her, but our relationship was like a file we both sharpened on, and necessary in that way (P 11).

Explanation: This passage demonstrates the tension in the relationship between Albertine, a strong-willed young woman, and her mother Zelda. Albertine is upset because her mother did not immediately inform her about the passing of her Aunt June.

d) What are two things your character wants? (Kurt Vonnegut informs the aspiring novelist to make sure your characters want something, even if it is just a glass of water.)

Example—Gerry Nanapush

1. Freedom
2. To see Shawn, his newborn son

by Richard W. Bray

Don’t Send a Conjunctive Adverb To Do a FANBOYS’ Job

September 5, 2014

Conjunctive Adverbs

I am begging you, in the name of all that is good and beautiful in this world, don’t send a conjunctive adverb to do a FANBOYS’ job.

A clause is a group of words which contains a subject and a predicate. In other words, a clause can function as a simple sentence all by itself. A simple sentence, as I told you before, is a group of words that tells us what someone or something is or a group of words that tells us what someone or something does. Here are two simple sentences (clauses):

I would love to give you a ride to Phoenix.

My car just had a nervous breakdown.

You might choose to join these clauses together in one complex sentence using the subordinator although:

Although
I would love to give you a ride to Phoenix, my car just had a nervous breakdown.

You could also join them together using the word but, which is one of the FANBOYS:

I would love to give you a ride to Phoenix, but my car just had a nervous breakdown.

Another strategy for emphasizing the connection between these two clauses is to use a conjunctive adverb. The following words are conjunctive adverbs: accordingly, also, besides, consequently, conversely, finally, furthermore, hence, however, indeed, instead, likewise, meanwhile, moreover, nevertheless, next, nonetheless, otherwise, similarly, still, subsequently, then, therefore, and thus.

However, you must separate the two clauses utilizing a period or a semicolon. Then place the conjunctive adverb at the beginning of the second clause. Most conjunctive adverbs should be followed by a comma when they are placed at the beginning of a clause (but not then). (Don’t capitalize the conjunctive adverb if you choose to use a semicolon.) Here are some examples:

I would love to give you a ride to Phoenix; however, my car just had a nervous breakdown.

I would love to give you a ride to Phoenix. However, my car just had a nervous breakdown.

One reason this can be confusing is that many conjunctive adverbs can be placed at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of a sentence, punctuated like the following examples:

However, we did not see any more yellow-bellied sapsuckers.

We did not, however, see any more yellow-bellied sapsuckers.

We did not see any more yellow-bellied sapsuckers, however.

Indeed, Donatello is the most valiant of all the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Donatello is, indeed, the most valiant of all the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Donatello is the most valiant of all the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, indeed.

What you must not do under any circumstances is connect two clauses together with a comma and a conjunctive adverb as though that conjunctive adverb were merely one of those common FANBOYS. (Conjunctive adverbs deserve more respect than that.)

If you are still confused, try this. First, memorize the above list of conjunctive adverbs. (Or, if that seems too daunting a task, simply have them tattooed to the underside of your left forearm.) If you want to know when you are abusing a conjunctive adverb by placing it between two clauses with nothing but a comma for protection, simply cross it out. If you discover clauses on both sides of the conjunctive adverb, do the right thing and provide it with a period or a semicolon.

Evaluation. Correctly punctuate the following sentences. (Warning: I sneaked in a few FANBOYS and/or subordinators.)

I need to comb my hair in front of my eyes then I will be as cool as Justin Bieber.

Sharon won’t mind that I borrowed her new dress without asking besides I’ll return it before she ever finds out.

I was a skaterboy therefore she said, “See you later, boy.”

It’s not my fault that your weeping willow died for I am merely a tree surgeon, not a miracle worker.

My homemade cinnamon buns moreover made me the most popular person in the William Hung Fan Club.

I want to be rich and famous so I am going to introduce myself to Rihanna.

I will show all my dance moves to Rihanna subsequently she will marry me.

Rihanna won’t respond to me on twitter even though I have downloaded all of her songs and memorized the lyrics.

Rihanna’s bodyguard told me to stay away then she got a restraining order.

by Richard W. Bray