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Improve Your Business Writing with Things You Learned Before 6th Grade (And Forgot): Now with Zombies!

Advanced writing skills are valuable in any industry. Not sounding like a moron is the bare minimum. I’m here to help you with that second half, so let’s get back to basics.

When I write posts on writing mechanics, I use words that talk about words. Mastering these fundamentals by knowing what a word does in a sentence is critical to improving your business writing and learning new rules independently.

PART OF SPEECH

The part of speech is the role a word plays in a particular sentence. Most words function in different sentences as different parts of speech, but more on that later.

Crap, did I leave the stove on?

Noun: The undead FINGERS clawed at the GROUND.

NOUN: person, place, thing, or idea

Examples: The coroner’s secret desire was finding a way to bring back dead people. She had difficulty sharing this dream with her friends.

Pro Tip: Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not a noun. Courage, childhood, and laughter cannot be seen or touched, but they can take on verbs to do things. They’re basically the stars of the show, sentence-wise.

This guy doesn't have a lot going for him.

Pronoun: Can YOU give HIM a hand?

PRONOUN: generic word replacing or emphasizing a noun

Examples: The government forced her to do her research in private. She was not going to let them forget it.

Pro Tip: There are different types of pronouns. They replace specific nouns (he, they) and unknown nouns (somewhere, anything), identify specific nouns (this, that), and emphasize (I did it myself). The latest language trend is verbing a noun.

Mom was right! I'll screw it on next time.

Verb: He LOST his head.

VERB: describes what a subject is doing

Examples: The coroner dropped a vial in the morgue. She was clumsy, because she worked late in her secret zombie-developing lab.

Pro Tip: Don’t mistake “action” word for physical behavior. Mental acts (thinking, wondering), ownership (have, had, has), and states of being (is, was) are all verbs even though they aren’t actions. A verb is the ONLY obligatory part of a sentence; everything else is just decoration.

That's the last time I drink two blood shakes at dinner.

Adverb: The zombie needed to pee IMMEDIATELY.

ADVERB: describes a verb

Examples: Instead of cleaning, the coroner lazily kicked the vial under a cabinet. She was blissfully unaware of the consequences.

Pro Tip: The adverb gives more information about the verb – how (beautifully), where (here), when (now), how often (daily), and to what extent (completely) the verb is doing its thing.  Many adverbs end in –ly (quickly, daily), but many don’t (there, quite). They’re pretty useless in business writing anyway. Plus, Stephen King hates them.

Even the undead have standards.

Preposition: The head is ON a platter.

PREPOSITION: describes the relationship of the object of the sentence to the rest of the sentence

Examples: The serum drifted through the room and seeped into the drawers.

Pro Tip: School House Rock. Enough said. There’s also this adorable little girl, who sings the version I learned in school. Neither are exhaustive lists, but they’ll give you a good idea.

You're doing it wrong.

Conjunction: You're going the wrong way AND you left your legs exposed. Bad zombie.

CONJUNCTION: ties two words, phrases, or sentences together

Examples: She figured she’d better go home, or she’d get too tired to drive. The drawer crept open, and three decaying fingers slipped out.

Pro Tip: Conjunctions create relationships between items by putting them together (and), creating a choice (or), establishing cause and effect (because), conditions (unless), or a timeline (then).

Brains do a body good.

Adjective: The STRONG zombie flexed his muscles.

ADJECTIVE: describes a noun

Examples: The anguished moaning echoed through the empty hallways. The half-frozen corpse staggered to his bony feet, putrid flesh dropping off in large chunks.

Pro Tip: Like adverbs, these words can generally be removed from the sentence without changing the meaning. They simply add extra information about the nouns. Describing how something looks, smells, tastes, feels, and sounds are all great ways to add adjectives to your writing. Verbs like to slum it up as adjectives every once in a while (e.g. “The dancing corpse was freaky.”). Don’t go overboard with adjectives in your business writing, or you’ll sound like an Iron Gym commercial.

Bat brains make fine appetizers.

Interjection: AH HA! I knew you were following me.

INTERJECTION: an exclamation used to convey emotion

Examples: Yikes, it’s a zombie! Yum, those brains were delicious.

Pro Tip: If you yell it when you’re excited or scared, there’s a good chance it’s an interjection. And, depending on how you use them, most expletives are interjections.

WHY NOT JUST GIVE US A WORD LIST?

You can use the same word in a number of different ways; a word is not ALWAYS a noun or an adjective. In fact, most words play multiple roles.

For example:

The decaying flesh fell off in clumps.

The flesh was decaying off the zombie in clumps.

In the first sentence, decaying is an adjective; it describes the noun (flesh) while fell is the verb, describing what the noun (flesh) is doing. In the second sentence, decaying is the verb, an action word describing what the flesh is doing.

WHY SHOULD I CARE?

When you’re looking up whether to use elicit or illicit and you read that elicit is a verb while illicit is an adjective, wouldn’t it be nice if that meant something? Your sentence may be unique in that it does not resemble the example sentences provided on the grammar website. Business writing is rarely represented as examples anyway. Figuring out which word to use on your own based on what you already know about it is a more efficient long-term strategy for good business writing.

Plus, language is awesome.

When you look for commonly confused words or grammar mistakes, will these definitions help you understand the explanations and apply the rules in order to improve your business writing? What part of writing mechanics most stumps you? Sound off in the comments below!

Until next time, keep expanding your brand!

Jana

Expand Your Brand!

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Jana Quinn

An old ‘G’ that’s been working for QLP since it was in Bret’s basement – Jana has been writing since she made up a story about a Jana-Tiger that liked rocky road ice cream and got straight A’s. She enjoys writing about marketing and pop culture, posting a ‘Die Hard’ article as often as she’s allowed. She is inspired by the articles at Cracked and frequently wears a Snuggie in the office. You can also connect with Jana on Google+.

Comments

  1. Joseph Giorgi

    “Verbs like to slum it up as adjectives every once in a while.” Very true—but verbs work hard for the money, so we better treat them right!

    Another awesomely entertaining post, Jana! Of course, at this point, I’d expect nothing less. :)

    We should all have this page bookmarked for when we’re unsure about our sentence structure. I love the story about the incompetent lab worker that you tell while teaching us about the parts of speech. Well done!

    What part of writing mechanics stumps me the most? Hmm. Probably the correct usage of there, their, and they’re. ;)

  2. Scooby DOO!

    Conjunction Junction WHOOT WHOOT, what’s your Function!?!?

    Nice one Jana!

  3. cyberneticSAM

    This blog is amazing! Bravo! This is just another helpful zombie attack tip: never carry a gun as your zombie defense. Carry a sword; swords don’t have to be reloaded. ;D

    And here’s a fun way to learn the adverbs: to the tune of Yankee doodle! *Clears throat* “With, on, for, after, at, by, in, against, inside, of, near, between, through, over, up, according, to, around, about, beyond, into, until, within, without, upon, from, above, across, along, toward, before, behind, below, beneath, beside, during, under!”

    • Jana Quinn

      Thanks! Good call on the sword thing. You can’t run out of sword ammo! I have poor shoulder strength, so maybe something like a machete would work better.

      I had always thought of those words in your song as prepositions (we’d learned a slightly different version in 6th grade to the tune of Yankee Doodle as well), so I looked it up. Turns out that they appear to almost always be both prepositions AND adverbs, depending on whether or not they have an object (and when they do, they’re preposition and the entire prepositional phrase functions as an adverb).

      http://www.grammaruntied.com/prepositions/adv_prep.html

      MIND = BLOWN

      See, even a huge language nerd can still learn new things! Thanks! :)

      • cyberneticSAM

        Nice. Strong work! Actually, I had a brain fart; I meant preposition song but with so many words my brain malfunctioned! But thanks for looking it up. I was always thrown off by that as a kid because of how similar they seem. :)

  4. LK

    Interesting post Jana!

    Effect and Affect are words I can never seem to get down, and just when I think I have it, I get them mixed up again. GR!

  5. ASneed

    Wow, you really know your stuff Jana! Was this all in your head? Or did you have to review it yourself to write this? Just wondering….

    Funny how we learn all of these detailed basics when we’re little, but forget when we’re older. =()

    • Jana Quinn

      It was pretty much all in my head. I did look up a few of the parts of speech to find concise ways to describe what they do. If left to my own devices, each of my posts would easily be three times as long as they end up being.

      I like words. :)

  6. mary

    Excellent post I will refer to this when I work with fifth graders next year….

  7. mary

    So many people use affect and effect incorectly. It makes me crazy.

  8. Mr. RaTard

    I wish I knew how to read; this post would be so much more helpful if I could! :)

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