Tag Archives: grammar advice


010511comic-sound-effect1Onomatopoeias are great. They are one of my favorite parts about language. As a person who uses a lot of sound effects in my daily life, onomatopoeias fill me with great joy. They are so expressive, and in the comic/visual arts world, they are incredibly important. (At least I think so.) They can bring a sense of liveliness to a conversation. They are the hand jive of the English language. And everybody likes to do the hand jive, right?

What is an onomatopoeia? You ask. The New Oxford American Dictonary gives this definition:

*  *  *

Onomatopoeia |ˌänəˌmatəˈpēə, -ˌmätə-| Noun: the formation of a word from a sound associated with what is named (e.g. cuckoo, sizzle). The use of such words for rhetorical effect.

ORGIN: late 16th century, Latin/Greek. Onomatopoeia ‘word-making’ from onoma, onomat- ‘name’ + -poios ‘making’ (from poiein ‘to make’).

*  *  * 

Pretty cool, right? So why do onomatopoeias matter? Without them we wouldn’t have great words like zing, crackle, hiss, ooze, slither, snooze, and a whole host of SQ words: squish, squawk, squeak, and many, many more.

adv413powWithout onomatopoeias, Supergirl wouldn’t have as much oomph (see what I did there?) beating up the bad guy. She lets us know, that . . . “with a little effort, POW!” Her leg snaps up and she cracks the bad guy on the kisser with a resounding “UGH!”

From a comic point of view, onomatopoeias are priceless. They bring a visual element that enhances the storytelling. What was a fine picture can be enhanced by a sound descriptor.  We can really picture the scene and everything that’s happening in it.

Think of your favorite onomatopoeias and use them in casual conversation. It could be a great way to find a new friend. Or amuse the old ones you already have.

Thanks for reading, please share.

Writing is Fun; I Like to Write About Science! (a lesson on semicolons)


After my post about em dashes, a friend of mine suggested I write a post about semicolons. Those little buggers can be tricky. Since I didn’t have a clear idea of what I was going to write about this week, I thought I would go with my friend’s idea instead. I must give a tip of the hat to Mrs. Fala.

I happen to love punctuation. The fact that it can be used in so many ways makes me happy. There are some classic conventions, but if you know what you’re doing . . . you can get away with some amazing things. Writing about punctuation makes me smile. Talking about it also makes me grin; I know this makes me a writing geek, and I’m okay with that.

Back to semicolons! At one point in my school career, I took a Critical Theory class. The class was taught by a grad student with grand aspirations. Instead of inspiring us, she came off as a waspy, self-obsessed, pain-in-the-neck. Not only that, but she thought science was icky. Needless to say, she and I didn’t get along. I definitely pushed the envelop with her, and wrote a few really fun essays; including an essay with the thesis statement, Dinosaurs are Rad! I got to write about the velocirapture, so the class wasn’t a total waste.

She often called on her students to give examples of grammar and punctuation. I couldn’t tell if it was because she didn’t know, or because she liked to think we were idiots and we didn’t know. Keep this in mind; it was a three hundred level class, where one would hope that the students had a general grasp of the English language. One day she called on me. The conversation went thusly:

“Dylan, can you give us a sentence using a semicolon?” She asked.

“The house was made of logs; the dog was outside.” (It was the first thing I could think of on short notice.) I answered.

“Those two things don’t have anything to do with each other, so that isn’t a good example.” She responded, trying to negate the validity of my sentence.

“They do if you’re reading Old Yeller.” I shot back.

So, what does this teach us, other than the fact that I can be a bit of a pain-in-the-neck myself? I think, it teaches us that perception is everything. Sometimes sentences that don’t seem to have anything to do with each other should be connected with a semicolon. They want to snuggle. They want to give life to your prose.

Therein lies the crux of the semicolon; the semicolon snuggles up ideas. You use one when you have a complete sentence, but you just aren’t ready for it to end. In even simpler terms, you use a semicolon to connect two complete, compatible sentences to form one longer sentence to get at what you really want to say. When a comma isn’t enough, and a period is too much—go with a semicolon.

Thanks for reading, please share.

A Note About Gerunds

ger·und [jer-uhnd]


  1. (In certain languages, as Latin) a form regularly derived from a verb and functioning as a noun, having in Latin all case forms but the nominative, as Latin dicendī  gen., dicendō,  dat., abl., etc., “saying.”
  2. The English -ing form of a verb when functioning as a noun, as writing in “Writing is Rad.”
  3. A form similar to the Latin gerund in meaning or function.

Origin: 1505–15;  < Late Latin gerundium, Latin gerundum  that which is to becarried on, equivalent to ger ( ere ) to bear, carry on + -undum, variant of -endum,  gerund suffix*

*From dictionary.reference dot com.

* * *

Why are gerunds important? They serve all sorts of purposes. We couldn’t be coming or going without them. They can be a very effective way of adding (see) to a text. The problem comes when they are used as the start of a sentence fragment. And sentence fragments have their place, but not in most prose–especially if the fragments aren’t intentional.

One of the common mistakes that new writers make is using these sentence fragments. It makes some sense that leading with gerunds would add depth and mystery, but using them in this fashion is not proper grammar. Poetry often uses this technique, but poetry has its own rules. Rules that confuse me. There’s a reason I stick to prose and non-fiction.

I am editing a book for my lovely husband, Mr. Portmandia, and I have caught a fair number of these sentence fragments. He has given me his permission to use one of these ‘Gerund-ences’ to show you all a real life example.

Jerking upright, out of an instantly forgotten nightmare.

Where is the subject of the sentence? What happened after the nightmare? What caused the jerking? It does add a feeling of fear and foreboding, but it falls flat. It makes me think of a commonly used goodbye technique. “Have a good one!” Have a good what? “Goodbye!” works just fine, thank you.

So, what’s the solution? Rewrite the sentence! Editing is your friend.

There are a number of ways to rewrite a sentence fragment.

  • Use a comma (that’s what they’re for) to attach it to the previous sentence, if appropriate.
  • Create an ending for the sentence that tells us who the action is being directed towards. EX: Jerking upright, out of an instantly forgotten nightmare, Cassandra flicked on the light to scan the room.
  • Or rewrite the sentence completely. Leave out the gerund for another time. EX: A sound jerked Cassandra upright, out of an instantly forgotten nightmare.

Let your writing shine! Cut out sentence fragments, and leave the gerund where it is supposed to be, making your prose awesome.

Thanks for reading, and feel free to share.