Some time ago, I talked about gerunds and reviewed the basics of how to identify one. Today, I’d like to go into a bit more detail, including how to tell the difference between a gerund and a present participle, which can be tricky, even on a good day. Continue reading
Before you say anything, yes, I know. I’ve been a bad blogger. It’s been nearly two weeks since my last post. But I have a really good excuse. In addition to being swamped with editing work, I was also putting together the first issue of The Ghouls’ Review for my other, other job over at Grammar Ghoul Press. If you have some time, you should check out the magazine. There are some really awesome writers featured in the issue. Continue reading
So what exactly is verb conjugation? Well, it’s what happens when we change a verb’s form to match the properties of voice, mood, tense, person, and number (which you may remember learning about in my earlier post on verbs). Right, so what does that mean?
First, let’s do a quick review of those five properties. Voice tells us who is performing the action and/or who is receiving it (active vs. passive). Mood tells us if something is being expressed as a fact (indicative), a command (imperative), or something hypothetical (subjunctive). Tense tells us whether the action occurred in the present, past, or future. Person tells us who is acting. Number tells us whether the verb is singular or plural.
When we conjugate a verb, all of these properties may be reflected in the results. And most verbs, except auxiliary verbs, will take one of the following five forms: 1) Infinitive, 2) Simple Present, 3) Simple Past, 4) Present Participle, 5) Past Participle.
Okay, so let’s look at some examples using the verbs terrify, curdle, and shrink.
|Simple Present||terrify (terrifies)||curdle (curdles)||shrinks|
She terrifies small children.
Voice: active (she is performing the action)
Mood: indicative (it is a fact that she does this)
Tense: present (simple)
Person: third person singular (indicated by the “s” at the end of the verb)
Number: singular (because person in singular)
We are curdling blood.
Voice: active (we are performing the action)
Mood: indicative (it is a fact that we are doing this)
Tense: present (continuous, because it’s happening right now)
Person: third person plural (indicated by the pronoun “we” and the auxiliary “are”)
Number: plural (because person in plural)
You will shrink 13 heads today!
Voice: active (you will perform the action)
Mood: imperative (it is a command)
Tense: future (simple)
Person: second person (indicated by the pronoun “you”)
Number: singular (because person in singular)
If only they had been terrifying the villagers last night.
Voice: active (they should have been performing the action)
Mood: subjunctive (this is expressing a hypothetical desire)
Tense: past (perfect continuous, because it would have been a continued action)
Person: third person plural (indicated by the pronoun “they”)
Number: plural (because person is plural)
And there you have it. Conjugating verbs in a nutshell.
If you would like to learn more, check out the following resources:
- Forming and Using Verb Tenses
- Types of Verbs and Verb Tenses
- Rules for Conjugating Verbs
- Verb Forms and Tenses
In any event, the days are getting longer, the sun is shining, and I can almost imagine sitting in my backyard swing, enjoying the smell of freshly cut grass and neighbourhood barbecues…
So today, I’d like to talk about two pairs of words that sound similar, but have different meanings. The first pair we’re going to look at is attain and obtain.
Attain is a verb that refers to success in achieving or reaching something, usually through hard work or endurance. It comes from the Latin word attingere, meaning to touch.
Obtain is a verb that refers to getting or acquiring something. It comes from the Latin word obtinere, meaning to hold or acquire.
Things you attain are often abstract and intangible, while things you obtain are usually tangible or measurable. For example:
- While the evil overlord obtained the key to Sandy’s panic room, Sandy attained enlightenment. Boy was he surprised to find the panic room empty!
- There was nothing Severin Darkplane wanted more than to attain his PhD in the Necrotic Nuances of Necromancy. He would be so happy the day he obtained his diploma.
The second pair of words for today is venal and venial.
Venal is an adjective that describes either a person who is motivated by or open to bribery, or a thing that is for sale. It comes from the Latin word venum, which means for sale.
Venial is an adjective that originally referred to a sin that is not seen as depriving a soul of divine grace. These days, it also refers to something that is excusable or forgivable. It comes from the Latin word venia, meaning forgiveness.
So that one letter makes a big difference in this pair of words. But let’s look at some sample sentences, just to make it crystal clear.
- Although Marius sometimes ate a villager or two, as Mayor of Transylvania he was nothing like his venal predecessor (who he may or may not have eaten).
- While killing was definitely a mortal sin, Stan was pretty sure tricking vampires into drinking hot sauce-laced blood was venial at best.
Welcome, dear readers, to my first grammar-related post of 2014! I decided to start the year with three homophones that consistently confuse English users—both old and new. (By the way, if you don’t get the 30 Rock reference in the title, click here to be enlightened—or further confused!)
Okay, so an adjective, an adverb, and a contraction walk into a bar and the bartender says, “Oh my god, they’re everywhere!”
I know. It’s a bad joke. But the point is to explain that these three homophones represent three different parts of speech, which is why it’s important to use the right one in the right place. So let’s look at them.
This their is a possessive adjective (and a determiner), and is used to refer to something that belongs to the person or thing previously indicated.
- The angry villagers wanted their children back.
It can also be used to refer to someone whose gender is unspecified or unknown.
- Vlad heard a minion scratching in their coffin.
This there is an adverb that indicates whether something is in, at, or moving to a place or position.
- “I’m not going in there,” the villager said. “That room is full of vampires!”
It can also be used as an exclamation, either to focus attention on something or to comfort someone.
- There, there, it will all be over soon.
And this they’re is a contraction of the words they are, which are a pronoun and a verb. They is the plural form of he, she, and it. It’s generally used to refer to someone or something previously indicated. Are is the present form of the verb be. So if you use this form of they’re, you should be talking about more than one person doing something. For example:
- The villagers! They’re inside the castle!
And there you have it! Let me know if there are any other homophones you’d like me to write about.
‘Tis the season of peace, love, and helping others. So it seemed like the perfect time to talk about auxiliary verbs, which are also known as helping verbs.
Auxiliary verbs are these odd little verbs in English that are used in conjunction with other verbs to express things like voice, tense, and mood (including things like necessity and possibility). The most common auxiliary verbs are be, can, do, did, have, had, may, might, must, ought, shall, should, will, and would. Let’s look at some examples:
- The zombie dressed like a Christmas elf had bitten Steve.
- Zombie Steve’s first thought was, “I must bite Santa.”
- Armed to the teeth, Santa would destroy them all, laughing all the way.
- Amazingly, come Christmas morning, Santa had successfully exterminated all the zombies and had delivered all his presents.
Note in the last example that the first auxiliary and its verb are separated by an adverb, which is not uncommon.
A Side Note About “Be” Verbs
Sometimes you will hear people talk about “be” verbs. This is because “be” is a bit special, or irregular, as grammarians like to say. Be has eight forms (be, is, are, was, were, been, being, am) and is conjugated differently than other verbs. For example, in the present indicative form we don’t use the stem of be—instead we use am, is, or are.
- I am Rudolph.
- He is a reindeer.
- We are zombie hunters.
In its present participle form, we simply add –ing to be (being) and apply that to everyone. But if you’re using the present perfect form, you also add the appropriate indicative (am, is, or are).
- I am not being funny, you guys.
- You are being followed by the living dead.
- And she is being stalked by a zombie in elf’s clothing.
Then, when we switch to the past indicative, there are two forms: was and were. But the past participle form for everyone is been.
- I was just about to die when a red glow emerged from the fog.
- We were thankful that Rudolph and Santa saved us on Christmas Eve.
And, finally, the imperative form of “be” is, well, be.
- “Be quiet!” Santa ordered. “The zombies are everywhere.”