Plain Language Practice. With Zombies!

Zombie Cat by Nero-NeroI’ve been reading through some plain language resources over the last couple of days, which has inspired me to create a few before and after examples just for you. Before I get to the examples, a reminder that the goal of plain language is to make communication clear and accessible. For a full review of how plain language accomplishes that, you can read my post from last year, Getting to the Heart of Plain Language — or visit Plain Language Association International. Continue reading


How to Tell a Gerund from a Present Participle

dragon_slayer_by_adventdeo-d2gcr35Some 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

A Compliment that Complements

Dead_people_eat_brains_by_rebel_penguinHello, dear readers! It’s been quite a while, I know. Between work, family, turning 40, more work, pets, alien encounters, and more work, life has been a touch busier than normal, making it quite a challenge to get a coherent blog post written. But I’m here now to talk to you about something that came up in conversation sometime last week. Continue reading

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs: Spot the Difference

Got Zombie? by April McGuire
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

The Many Manifestations of the Present Tense

bride_of_frankenstein_by_abigaillarson-d5mm0b5Goodness! September is proving to be a very busy month, brimming with change.

Before I get to the topic of today’s post, I’d like to let you know that I have a new ultra-secret project in the works. I can’t say too much, but I can tell you that it will be a unique space for writers—and for readers too. Sometime in the next couple of weeks, I will unveil my secret project here, as well as announcing it to my email list. Keep your eye on this space for some exciting news!

Okay, moving on to today’s topic. Recently, I gave you an overview of verb tenses. And I promised to delve into each one in more detail. Today, we’re going to look at the Present Tense and its different forms.

Simple Present I ooze.
Present Progressive I am oozing.
Present Perfect I have oozed.
Present Perfect Progressive I have been oozing.

Simple Present

The simple present tense is typically used to express one of the following things:

  1. Regular or repeated actions in the present.
  2. Facts and general truths.
  3. Habitual actions.
  4. Scheduled events.

However, you’ll notice that we also used the simple present to express actions that happened in the past when we talk to each other (Amy says you snuck out last night; Franz tells us you howled at the moon).

Present Progressive

The present progressive tense is used to express an ongoing action that is happening right now. It is formed by combining the helping verb “be” (am, is, are) with the present participle (verb ending in –ing) of the action verb.

  • Steve! Your ghoul is oozing all over my clean floors!

Note: Typically, only action verbs (and not stative verbs) use the present progressive form.

Present Perfect

The present perfect tense is used to express an action that finished (or was perfected) at an unspecified time in the past, or an action that started in the past and continued to the present.

  • The zombies have eaten six brains.

It’s confusing, right? The tense is present perfect, but sometimes the action it describes takes place only in the past. Well, I didn’t name the tenses. But, for the record, we generally use present perfect to express past actions that have happened more recently (George has transmogrified at every full moon this year.), while we use simple past for events that happened in the more distant past (George’s father transmogrified one hundred years ago.).

Present Perfect Progressive

The present perfect progressive tense is used to express an ongoing action that started in the past, continues in the present, and may continue into the future. It is formed by combining has been/have been with the present participle (verb ending in –ing) of the action verb.

  • Frankenstein’s bride has been primping for hours.

As with present perfect, the present perfect progressive form is often used to express past actions that happened more recently—and this use is often indicated by adding just (Igor has just been cleaning cobwebs from the bridal suite.).

Note: Typically, only action verbs (and not stative verbs) use the present perfect progressive form.

Okay, so that is the present tense and all its forms. We’ll look at past tense in the not-too-distant future.

Image credit: AbigailLarson @ deviantART

2013 in a Vocabulary Nutshell


What a year 2013 has been! My network has expanded to include some terrific people, some of whom I met through the blogosphere and others through work and volunteering. I have also been lucky enough to work with some amazing clients who are doing interesting and important work here in Canada and around the world. In addition, I was bestowed with the great honour of becoming the Managing Editor of the Speakeasy creative writing challenge over at the yeah write blogging community.

So it’s been a good year. And, just like I did last year, I’d like to sum up 2013 with a list of my ten favourite words from the year. These words appeared in documents that I edited or in something that I wrote, either for work or pleasure.

1.  Amalgamation (noun): the action, process, or result of combining or uniting several things into one structure or organization.

  • The ghouls felt they’d been short-changed by the Undead Amalgamation of 2313, but the zombies had never been happier.

2.  Backcasting (verb): A strategic planning method where a successful future is envisioned first (beginning with the end in mind). It comes from the fishing term backcast, which refers to the backward swing of a fishing line before casting.

  • If the ghouls had completed the pre-amalgamation backcasting exercise perhaps they wouldn’t be so disgruntled.

3.  Concatenate (verb): To link things together in a chain or a series.

  • The first thing Griswold noticed about Gertrude was the speed with which she concatenated shrunken heads onto belts.

4.  Deep-rooted (adjective): Firmly embedded in thought, behaviour, or culture, and so having a persistent influence.

  • The knowledge that they shared a deep-rooted fear of sunshine and daisies brought the mutant couple even closer.

5.  Governance (noun): the action or manner of governing a state, organization, etc.

  • Many citizens of the Undead Megacity felt that good governance required a greater influx of brains.

6.  Kenning (noun): a compound expression in Old English and Old Norse poetry with metaphorical meaning.

  • Although it didn’t have the same elegance as the Old Norse blood-ember, Zoltan the Zombie Slayer liked to use the kenning death-stick to describe his axe.

7.  Lateral violence (noun): Displaced violence directed against one’s peers and community members rather than one’s true adversaries. Lateral violence often occurs within marginalized groups where members strike out at each other as a result of being oppressed.

  • The ongoing disenfranchisement among the ghouls was resulting in lateral violence, which included cutting down one’s neighbours, both literally and figuratively.

8.  Macerate (verb): To soften or become softened by soaking in a liquid (generally in relation to food).

  • Meanwhile, in the wealthy zombie neighbourhoods, the latest trend was to macerate brains in red wine before serving them.

9.  Sustainable (adjective): Able to be maintained at a certain rate or level; able to be upheld or defended; able to conserve an ecological balance by avoiding the depletion of natural resources.

  • Given the dwindling number of edible brains in the Megacity, the zombies’ newfangled lifestyle was not sustainable.

10.  Wendigo (also windigo) (noun): A cannibalistic giant; a person who has been transformed into a monster by the consumption of human flesh. Comes from the folklore of the Northern Algonquian people.

  • Having become so caught up in their own importance, the zombies didn’t notice the scale of the wendigo uprising until it was far too late.

So there’s my list for 2013. But how about you? What was your favourite word of 2013?


Linking up with this weekend’s Moonshine Grid over at yeah write.


Image credit: saied shahinkiya /

Verbs Helping Verbs


‘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.” 


Image credit: Mike Kiev /