Monthly Archives: February 2007

Grammar Wednesday!

Less vs. Fewer

In order to understand whether to use “less” or “fewer,” one must first understand the difference between count and non-count nouns:

A count noun is a noun which refers to things that exist as countable entities – you can point to these things and, theoretically, at least, count them. Boy, ocean, pen, house and Godiva truffles are all countable nouns:

“I saw the boy playing in the sandbox.” – how many boys? You can count them and say.

“I ate the Godiva truffles for lunch.” – how many truffles? Why, all of them, thank you very much!

Count nouns can be made plural and can exist either as a group – the truffles – or as a single entity – the boy.

A non-count noun is a noun which refers to things that can’t be counted, but which are things nonetheless. Weather, milk, snow, money, grass, and furniture are all examples of non-count nouns:

“The weather has been breezy and cold lately.”

“I prefer to make my hot cocoa with milk.”

Non-count nouns are not made plural – we don’t say things like “The weathers” or “the milks.”

Recognize that some words belong to both classes – “love” can refer to a person and, when it does, it becomes a countable noun that one can make plural; “I’ve had many loves in my life, but none like you” is an example of “love” behaving as a countable noun. “He took her love and handed her back a shattered heart” is an example”love” behaving like a non-count noun. Also understand that we can count glasses of milk or blades of grass, but not milk or grass themselves.

Quantifying the different types of nouns is where we run into problems with less and fewer.

When talking about a non-count noun, use less:

I wish we had less snow in February.

Susan had less money than Jack did, so he paid for lunch.

There seems to be less foliage on the trees this spring than last.

Use fewer when talking about countable nouns;

This check-out lane is for ten items or fewer.

The restaurant has fewer customers during dinner than they serve at lunch.

Because of budget cuts and staff reductions, the college accepted 2,000 fewer students this year.

Get it?


Filed under Grammar

Calling All Teachers!!


It is my absolute pleasure to introduce you to Susanna Shakespeare.

Elizabeth Robinson, my Capital-G-Girlfriend, has imagined, written, and produced her own one-woman show based on the life of William Shakespeare’s eldest daughter, Susanna. Geared toward middle- and high-school grade levels, the performance brings some of the bard’s most popular works to life through the eyes of his daughter.

Susanna is a headstrong, thoughtful young woman who relates her father’s writings to herself and her family in a way that almost every teenager – or anyone who’s ever BEEN a teenager – can recognize. She aptly quotes passages from As You Like It, Hamlet, and Othello – along with passages from several other plays and sonnets – and interprets them through the lenses of family life and personal creative struggles. She tells stories about her father’s relationships with her and her mother, about how she runs away to see him at the Globe theatre (and how he sends her right back home), and about the enormous impact his work had, both in her personal world and to the world at large.

When it’s all over, students are given the opportunity to talk to Ms. Robinson and to ask questions about Susanna’s life and her father’s plays and poetry – all of which are skillfully answered with a depth of understanding that comes from Ms. Robinson’s long and careful study of Shakespeare. Students walk away from the experience feeling far less intimidated by the Bard’s language, and understanding much more about the personal life of the man than they could learn from most high school text books. The character of Susanna is accessible and sympathetic; she makes a perfect gateway to an initial study of Shakespeare.

I invited Ms. Robinson to my classrooms to do a workshop when I was teaching high school, and every single student – even my most rambunctious or apathetic – was completely engaged. She interacts exceedingly well with young adults, and challenges them to read, think, and interpret passages for themselves. She takes the material apart such that students can parse out the language and see what’s really being said, and the success students feel after having correctly interpreted a passage they didn’t immediately understand leaves them excited and willing to venture further into the work. That, alone, is worth the price of admission.

Ms. Robinson takes her show to schools, community centers and other venues. I am writing this shameless plug in the hopes that you teachers, administrators, tutors, or church or community center coordinators will contact her to see about booking a show for your students. She currently tours the Northeast region of the US, but is willing to travel if enough bookings are made to make it financially feasible. If you’re teaching anything having to do with our boy William, I urge you to click on the “contact us for booking” link on Susanna’s homepage. You – and your students – will be very glad you did.


Filed under Learning, Literature, success!

Literary Meme

I got this from Tense Teacher, who got it from someone else, who probably got it from someone else. I fear I’m going to be embarrassed by it – I am the first one to admit that, despite my two degrees in English teaching, there is an absolutely alarming number of “classics” I’ve not read…

Look at the list of books below.
* Bold the ones you’ve read
* Italicize the ones you want to read
* Leave unchanged the ones that you aren’t interested in.
* If you are reading this, tag, you’re it!

1. The Da Vinci Code (Dan Brown)
2. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austin)
3. To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
4. Gone With The Wind (Margaret Mitchell)
5. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Tolkien)
6. The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (Tolkien)
The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers (Tolkien)
8. Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery)
9. Outlander (Diana Gabaldon) – I just read the whole six-book series and LOVED it; definitely one of my top-ten
10. A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry)
11. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Rowling)
12. Angels and Demons (Dan Brown)
13. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Rowling)
14. A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving)
15. Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden)
16. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Rowling)
17. Fall on Your Knees (Ann-Marie MacDonald)
18. The Stand (Stephen King)
19. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Rowling)
20. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)
The Hobbit (Tolkien)
22. The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger)
23. Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold)
25. Life of Pi (Yann Martel)
26. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)
27. Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)
28. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (C. S. Lewis)
29. East of Eden (John Steinbeck)
30. Tuesdays with Morrie (Mitch Albom)
31. Dune (Frank Herbert)
32. The Notebook (Nicholas Sparks)
33. Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand)
34. 1984 (Orwell)
35. The Mists of Avalon (Marion Zimmer Bradley)
36. The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett)
37. The Power of One (Bryce Courtenay)
38. I Know This Much is True (Wally Lamb)
39. The Red Tent (Anita Diamant)
40. The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho)
41. The Clan of the Cave Bear (Jean M. Auel)
42. The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini)
43. Confessions of a Shopaholic (Sophie Kinsella)
44. The Five People You Meet In Heaven (Mitch Albom)
45. Bible
46. Anna Karenina (Tolstoy)
47. The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)
48. Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt)
49. The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck)
50. She’s Come Undone (Wally Lamb)
51. The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)
52. A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens)
53. Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)
54. Great Expectations (Dickens)
55. The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald)
56. The Stone Angel (Margaret Laurence)
57. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Rowling)
58. The Thorn Birds (Colleen McCullough)
59. The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)
60. The Time Traveller’s Wife (Audrew Niffenegger)
61. Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
62. The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand)
63. War and Peace (Tolsoy)
64. Interview With The Vampire (Anne Rice)
65. Fifth Business (Robertson Davis)
66. One Hundred Years Of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
67. The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants (Ann Brashares)
68. Catch-22 (Joseph Heller)
69. Les Miserables (Hugo)
70. The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)
71. Bridget Jones’ Diary (Fielding)
72. Love in the Time of Cholera (Marquez)
73. Shogun (James Clavell)
74. The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje)
75. The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)
76. The Summer Tree (Guy Gavriel Kay)
77. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith)
78. The World According To Garp (John Irving)
79. The Diviners (Margaret Laurence)
80. Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White)
81. Not Wanted On The Voyage (Timothy Findley)
82. Of Mice And Men (Steinbeck)
83. Rebecca (Daphne DuMaurier)
84. Wizard’s First Rule (Terry Goodkind)
85. Emma (Jane Austen)
86. Watership Down(Richard Adams)
87. Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
88. The Stone Diaries (Carol Shields)
89. Blindness (Jose Saramago)
90. Kane and Abel (Jeffrey Archer)
91. In The Skin Of A Lion (Ondaatje)
92. Lord of the Flies (Golding)
93. The Good Earth (Pearl S. Buck)

94. The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd)
95. The Bourne Identity (Robert Ludlum)
96. The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton)
97. White Oleander (Janet Fitch)
98. A Woman of Substance (Barbara Taylor Bradford)
99. The Celestine Prophecy (James Redfield)
100. Ulysses (James Joyce)


Filed under little bits of nothingness, reading


grammarninja_1.gifMy mom sent me an email this morning that directed me to the Grammar Ninja.  I’ve lost a good portion of the day playing it and have been occasionally embarrased to not see some of the answers – of course, I went straight to the “Master Ninja” level because my snotty English Teacher pride wouldn’t let me start at “beginner.”

Go try it – it’s fun (in a sick, snotty English teacher sort of way…)


Filed under Grammar, Learning, little bits of nothingness

Thursday Thirteen

Thirteen things I’m sick of saying to my students:

1. Don’t start sentences with “So.”

2. Don’t start sentences with prepositions – they are meant to connect words, phrases, or clauses, not to introduce a new idea.

3. Break your writing into paragraphs, please. One long paragraph is unacceptable. One long sentence is grounds for justifiable homicide.

4. Proofread your writing before you submit it to me. Better yet, have someone ELSE proofread it. Make the corrections that proofreading suggests.

5. Don’t include words or phrases like “ya know?” or “anyhoo” in writing you are submitting for a grade. Try to write in a professional voice.

6. Spell out “at,” “you,” “with,” and “because” in writing you submit for a grade. Putting “@,” “u,” “w/,” and “cuz” in papers for school will lower your grade significantly.

7. THERE is a pronoun or an adverb – “put it there” or “there were roses in the garden.” THEIR is a plural possessive – “their coats are in the closet” or “their dorm room is on the second floor.” Figure this out.

8. A lot is TWO words.

9. READ the assignment. If you were asked to write a three paragraph description, write THREE paragraphs and actually DESCRIBE something (see #3).

10. I do not accept late homework, regardless of how sorry your story is, unless we’ve previously agreed to adjust the due date. Check your syllabus or talk to a classmate if you don’t remember the TWO HUNDRED TIMES I’ve repeated this policy.

11. Yes, I read everything you write. If I asked for ten pages from all of my twenty students, I will read ALL TWO HUNDRED PAGES. If you put in the effort to write it, I will put in the effort to read it. Please don’t stick random song lyrics or a “howdy, Mrs. Chili – are you still reading this” in the middle just to test me.

12. You may revise anything I’ve graded and hand it back for another shot at a better grade. I’m not guaranteeing that you’ll GET the better grade, but I will reconsider anything that has been reworked.

13. I do not give grades, you earn them. If you hand me nothing, I hand you back a zero. By the same token, if you hand me something spectacular, I will celebrate you publicly if you’ll let me.


Filed under General Griping

THIS Is Why I Don’t Accept Late Homework

I offer you a writing journal entry from one of my stronger students – unedited and in its entirety:

I have finally realized that I am tired of being a good student.  I always do my homework and hand it in on time, though everyone else – except one – in my classes does not.

The same teacher always gets mad and punishes us by giving us more work or a quiz, etc.  I feel tired of doing all my work how and when I’m supposed to and still getting in trouble for everyone else, just because they don’t do their work.  This is college.  If the kids don’t want to do the work, fine.  Then they are paying to fail.  That should be enough punishment. 

In case you were wondering, I am not the teacher who gets mad and gives more work.  I do get mad – but I get mad here, not in front of them.  As a response to her entry, I wrote that she’d spoken my heart in her writing, and that I refuse to accept late work specifically because it undermines the efforts of students who, like her, do what they’re supposed to do when they’re supposed to do it.

I was heartened to read this journal entry when I did; I’ve been more than a little discouraged lately, and seeing this did quite a bit to help me see that they’re not ALL going down in flames.


Filed under concerns, General Griping, Teaching

Grammar Wednesday!

Alternately titled, “What the Hell is a Gerund, Anyway?”

A gerund, quite simply, is the “ing” form of a verb that is used as a noun.

Her acting was the best in the play.

The team’s playing is the only thing that keeps them together; none of them would be friends off the field.

A gerund phrase is just that – a noun phrase where the noun is really a verb that has changed its proverbial spots:

Poking sticks into lions’ cages is just asking for trouble.

or my personal favorite, seen on a bumper sticker:

Slapping a yellow ribbon bumper sticker on the back of your gas-guzzling SUV during a war for oil makes you look like an asshole.

Have questions?  Need clarification?  Have Grammar Wednesday fodder?  Leave me comments, please!

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Filed under Grammar