31 Dec 2012

Expect better

Submitted by Karl Hagen
Many students (and some test-prep companies) like to trash the SAT for its shoddy, ambiguous questions. For such students, I suppose, complaining is a way of coping with their own stress and imperfect performance. It's easier to cope with missing a question if you can convince yourself that it was unfair. In point of fact, though, truly problematic questions on the SAT are extremely rare. Every once and a while, it does happen.
26 Jan 2011

Is being evolved

Submitted by Karl Hagen
I was watching an old PBS documentary, Life Beyond Earth, with my son tonight when the narrator quoted the famous ending of Darwin's The Origin of Species:

There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone circling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

The progressive is most commonly used to indicate a temporary condition, namely that: 1. the event takes time to occur, rather than happening all at once; 2. the event lasts for a limited time. With some verbs, the progressive shows that the event is not necessarily complete: (40) Simple past: I read Margaret Atwood's latest novel yesterday. (41) Past progressive: I was reading Margaret Atwood's latest novel yesterday. Because progressives specify a block of time, they are frequently used for actions that overlap some other point in time:
A form of the verb ending in -ing is traditionally called a present participle, or occasionally an -ing participle. Although we will use the traditional term, note that "present" does not mean that the participle has a tense of its own. Phrases formed with present participles are not limited to appearing in present-tense sequences: (36) Reaching the summit of the mountain, Bob let out a shout of triumph.
30 Mar 2009

Do me a favor

Submitted by Karl Hagen
The next time you start bitching about "grammatical errors" that set your teeth on edge, have the decency to make the things you complain about actual issues of grammar. Grammar is a somewhat vague term, but it certainly includes syntax, as well as a good chunk of morphology. And a case can be made for certain parts of semantics. But spelling errors, such as the confusion between "affect" and "effect," certainly aren't grammatical problems. And I would argue that most questions of word usage, that is those that turn on pure semantics (e.g.
The practice of diagramming sentences first began in America in the middle of the nineteenth century. Set against the full history of grammatical study, diagramming is a relative newcomer. Language has been studied systematically since at least the second century bce in the western world, and even earlier in India. Yet sentence diagrams—visual depictions of the relationships among words—were developed only after over 2000 years of study. From our vantage, the desire to visualize sentence structure may seem like an intuitively obvious move.


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