Dept. of Systems Design Engineering
Faculty of Engineering
University of Waterloo
Canada N2L 3G1
Tel: (519) 888-4567 x84970
FAX: (519) 746-4791
The document is divided into four parts, which will be of varying relevance depending upon the relative strengths and weaknesses of your writing style:
Here follow three grammar references, from elsewhere on the Internet, which may be of use, although they vary in purpose and thoroughness:
Hello! What shall we do today? Three ideas: study, read, or exercise.Pairwise punctuation (quotes, brackets etc.) have opposite spacing arrangements at the two ends, thus
In a sentence, parentheses (like these) or brackets [like these] are surrounded by spaces.
There is no space before following punctutation (like this period).
Quotes work the same way: "Hello", not " Hello "
Then he said "hello", and I shouted "hi".whereas punctuation for quoted phrases or sentences may be placed inside or outside. I have a preference for inside:
"Let's go to the library," he suggested.
Then he said "I would like to read your thesis."
Did he say "I don't know"?
Then he said, "What would you like to do?"
"it's" ALWAYS means "it is": It's raining today.
"its" is a possessive: His car, her house, its colour.
The PTA's meeting on ABCs went well.
NATO's F18s are expensive.
The part of the sentence preceding the colon must be a complete sentence!!! So the sentence ...
Our ideas are: idea 1, idea 2, and idea 3.is wrong!! "Our ideas are." is not a complete sentence, nor is it a header (discussed below). The irony is that this would have been just fine without the colon:
Our ideas are idea 1, idea 2, and idea 3.If you wish to use a colon to introduce a list, make sure that it ends a complete sentence, then followed by one or more clarifiers:
We have three ideas: idea 1, idea 2, and idea 3.
We have the following ideas: ...
Our report is very interesting: reason 1, reason 2 ...
I have a great idea: let's read a book on grammar.
My thesis contains a profound result: the solution to cold fusion.
Three ideas: idea 1, idea 2, and idea3.
An overview of our algorithm: step 1, step 2, and step 3.In each case, the header preceding the colon is a noun phrase; no verb is present.
In general, avoid colons unless you know how to use them. If you use
one, do not leave the part of the sentence preceding the colon "hanging".
We will develop an algorithm; we'll also do other stuff.
The use of the comma is more subtle and errors are frequent!
If in doubt, leave the comma out; I see more bad commas than I do missing
ones. You won't go wrong if you stick to the following:
(phrase 1) and (phrase 2). I like this and I like that. I would like to go, but I can't. I would like this, that, whatever, and that. I would like to read excellent grammar, if possible, from my students.
They are latin
acronyms, so the periods are required; furthermore they must be
followed by a comma, since their English equivalents are phrases
which would have to be followed with a comma in the same way.
Finally, do NOT
interchange i.e., e.g., and n.b. They do NOT mean the same thing!
Commas and Semi-Colons:
Most students don't use semicolons, so they consequently don't get mis-used
very much either. The rule is very simple: only put a semicolon where you could put
a period. That is, a semicolon separates two grammatically complete
Latin acronyms, articles, prepositions, if/whether, and plurals.
The short forms i.e., e.g., n.b. are very widely used, but
We will develop an algorithm; we'll also do other stuff.The semicolon case be useful in reducing the number of very short sentences in a paragraph. The phrases connected by a semicolon are meant to be somewhat more related than those separated by a period, so a semicolon can be a useful tool, if used consistently, in helping a reader to understand degrees of relationship.
The use of the comma is more subtle and errors are frequent! If in doubt, leave the comma out; I see more bad commas than I do missing ones. You won't go wrong if you stick to the following:
(phrase 1) and (phrase 2).
I like this and I like that.
I would like to go, but I can't.
I would like this, that, whatever, and that.
I would like to read excellent grammar, if possible, from my students.Removing "if possible" from the sentence still leaves us with a meaningful statement.
They are latin acronyms, so the periods are required; furthermore they must be followed by a comma, since their English equivalents are phrases which would have to be followed with a comma in the same way. Finally, do NOT interchange i.e., e.g., and n.b. They do NOT mean the same thing!
|Acronym||Latin Meaning||English Translation||Actual Meaning|
|i.e.,||Id est||That is||That is, specifically, thus|
|e.g.,||Exempli gratia||For the sake of example||For example|
|n.b.,||Note bene||Note well||Note well|
|QED||Quod erat demonstrandum||Which was to be demonstrated||End of proof|
Note the differences in the following three sentences:
I need a new workstation; i.e., a fast, expensive toy.
I would like a new toy; e.g., a new computer.
I want a new computer; n.b., it had better be fast.
Do you see THE dog?
What are THOSE people doing?
THIS book is interesting.
Was that A dog?
Are people doing bizarre things?
Do you want AN interesting book?
Dogs like to run.
SOME people do bizarre things.
Books are interesting.
Who are you going with?
Where are you coming from?
That is the idea I came up with.
That's something I won't put up with.
Whence are you coming?
That is the idea with which I came up.
That is something up with which I will not put. (credit to W. Churchill)
With whom are you going?
From where are you coming?
I came up with that idea.
"If" always introduces a condition, making some part of the sentence subject to the condition introduced by "if":
If it is raining, we won't go outside."Whether" tests a condition, it doesn't introduce it:
Can you tell me whether it is raining outside?Technically, the sentence
Can you tell me if it is raining outside?is stupid. It says, if it is actually raining, then tell me something; if it isn't raining, then don't say anything. As a general rule it is hard to ask a question with "if"; you almost always want "whether".
|Principal||A main thing, something significant, head of a school|
|The principal rule is this: be nice to other people.|
|Principle||A philosophy, an idea|
|Try to live based on good principles, such as being nice to other people.|
|Assure||To make sure of, giving a promise|
|I assure you that I have turned the lights off.|
|Ensure||To make sure of|
|Ensure that the lights are turned off.|
|Insure||To secure against loss of money|
|I insure my house and my car in case of damage.|
|Complement||A good fit, a natural combination|
|Chocolate and milk are complementary: they taste great together.|
|Compliment||Something free (ie, no cost), a nice statement|
|Thank you for the compliment; that was a very nice thing to say!|
|Effect||Normally a noun: anything produced by some cause|
|The effect of your actions has been significant.|
|Affect||Normally a verb: to act, to change, to cause an effect|
|Your actions will affect me significantly.|
the suffix *um pluralizes to *a, *a pluralizes to *ae, *us pluralizes to *iThe most common mistake occurs with "criteria", followed closely by "data" and "media":
One criterion, Two criteria.
One datum, Several data.
One medium, The television media.
The dataset is ...
The results are ...
The collection of data is ...
This group of people IS smart.
This bushel of apples IS heavy.
The apples in this bushel ARE red.
The set of points IS irrelevant.
|Comparator ...||Applies to ...||Example ...|
|Less, Lesser||Continuous values||I have less money than you.|
|Few, Fewer||Integer values||I have fewer dollars.|
|Great, Greater||Continuous values||I have great strength.|
|Many, More||Integer values||I can lift more pounds.|
|Less||Adjectives||This light is less bright.|
|More||Adjectives||This book is more interesting.|
Individual preferences will vary widely, and to the extent that a list is meant to look like point-form writing no grammar rules really apply. However in a formal document I would recommend the following rules for all lists:
Chapter 2: Background material 2.1 Linear Operators 2.1.1 Wavelets The text for all of Chapter 2 starts here, in some detailed discussion of wavelets ...Since Chapter 2 consists of much more than Section 2.1.1, presumably there is something which you might like to tell the reader about Chapter 2 as a whole. Thus the following is preferred:
Chapter 2: Background material A paragraph describing Chapter 2 as a whole, perhaps giving a brief overview for the reader. 2.1 Linear Operators A brief overview of this section, now limited to the topic linear operators. 2.1.1 Wavelets This is no longer the first text of chapter 2. This text focusses only on wavelets ...
Any time to state a major fact or idea that you don't develop yourself then you require a reference. Without a reference you could just be making things up. Also, use only last names in referencing other people's work, never first name or initials.
(Page last updated September 13, 2016, [an error occurred while processing this directive])