A Complimentary Lesson about Complementary Words

February 25, 2011 by  
Filed under Grammar, Mini-Lessons

I just read an essay in which a  student wrote “I gave a complement to the author after the presentation.”   This prickly pair needs clarification.   Here’s my complimentary mini-lesson on these two complementary words: 

The sheen of the bright yellow-orange yolk truly complements the navy purple saucepan.


Complementary vs. Complimentary

Entities that go well together are complementary.

The colors blue and gray complement each other.

Two people who complete each other are considered complementary.


Complimentary refers to items given without charge, usually offered in addition to a product or service purchased. Additionally, it means to praise someone.

The hotel provides a complimentary breakfast to patrons who stay overnight.

The PR Vice President was very complimentary to the qualified intern candidate.

GG hopes this complimentary lessons complements your vocabulary!

All Together Now . . . Don’t Be Altogether Confused

February 4, 2011 by  
Filed under Grammar, Mini-Lessons

This particular prickly pair of words gets my students pondering.


All Together Vs. Altogether

A.  All Together means:

1.  at the same time

One, two, three, all together, sing: “Sweeeeet Caroline, bum, bum, bum . . . .”

2. as a group

Let’s go to hot yoga all together: it’s much more fun that way and we can laugh as we try to hold our balance!

B.  Altogether means:

1. completely

Tyler didn’t take his dog to the vet to put her to sleep until she was altogether listless and lifeless.  He kept saying that she was okay, and it was very sad.

2. total

The books that shipped today were 130 copies of Great Expectations, 50 copies of “Romeo & Juliet,” and 30 copies of The Odyssey:  210 copies altogether.

3. considering everything

Altogether, it was a fabulous trip, despite the painful sun poisoning on my feet. . . .

GG mnemonic (memory trick):  remember that all together – because it’s two separate words – is the one that needs to get into a group and get in sync. This associates the meaning with the spelling to help you remember which of these words is which.

I May “Loose” My Mind

January 7, 2011 by  
Filed under Grammar, Mini-Lessons

I may “loose” my mind if I read one more misspelling of “lose.”  I recently spotted it on a tweet, in an online newspaper article, on a real estate blog, and on a student’s paper.  It’s everywhere – even in professionally edited material.  The right ring finger must fly the swiftest on the keyboard.


It’s fun to win or lose in this game!

Lose Vs. Loose

A Bonobos ape on the loose and a Dallas Cowboys quarterback who rarely loses provide perfect examples of the difference between lose and loose.

“Lose” is a verb. You can lose your wallet or lose a game. I lose inhibitions every day when I try one new scary thing.  Paul Simon even thought of fifty ways to lose a lover.

If you’re playing Blink (the world’s fastest, most fun game!) and your opponent is winning, that means you’re losing. You’re not loosing!! No matter how uneven the card piles, you can take comfort from the fact that you’re never, ever loosing a game–unless the cards are stuck in a tree branch after a tornado and you’re knocking them loose.

You can be a winner or a loser. But you’re only looser if you just stretched out at the gym.

“Loose” is sometimes a verb and more often an adjective and, increasingly, a pain in the neck to proofreaders, editors, and perfectionist grammar geeks like myself.

You have loose change in your pocket. Loose clothes don’t fit well.  If you’re loosing chaos on the world, you’re wreaking havoc. You’re only losing chaos if your girlfriend’s name is Chaos and she wants to break up.

With all this misuse, I’m curious about pronunciation. Are there people who learned to read phonetically who see a phrase such as “loose change” and hear in their heads the pronunciation for “lose change”? For the moment, at least:

“Loose” rhymes with the end of caboose.
“Lose” rhymes with muse.

So please, please, don’t let your finger fing that extra o.  GG may lose her mind!!  😉

Hot Headlines

October 24, 2010 by  
Filed under Grammar, Mini-Lessons

Want a quick way to review parts of speech? Have students do this as soon as they enter the classroom.  I use nouns here but you can easily adapt this to other parts of speech.  This will get them engaged and bustling instantly; and, it won’t take long to complete.

My very favorite team needs a win!!!

Before class, tape three front pages of newspapers (preferably color for appeal) at three different points of your blackboard so that you leave a ‘trail’ of paper for your students to follow.

Circle (in a bold color) the headlines and sub-headings.

On the board, mark the pages #1 Start here, #2 Do this next, and #3 End here

As students enter, have them bring their notebooks and pens with them to the board.  They are to write down all the nouns they find in the highlighted headlines and sub-headings.  (have these instructions written to the left of the first article)

Once they list their nouns, they should label them abstract or concrete.

When they return to their seats, compare how many nouns they each found.  This lends itself to a discussion of “the transformers” of our language, a.k.a. the fickle ones that are different parts of speech For example, win can be a verb as in “Despite the odds, the Cowboys need to win so they can play on their home turf for the Super Bowl.”  Win can also be a noun as in “The Cowboys need a win because they truly are a better team than their 1-4 record shows.”

Now the fun begins.  Ask which nouns are abstract.  Perhaps place a scale on the board with C (concrete) on the left and A (abstract) on the right.  For each individual word in question, ask them at one point on the scale each is.  Many words will initiate some interesting discussions.  For example, just how concrete is the word win?  It is not something we can physically touch yet can it be measured or quantified?

Bonus:  Pick articles that pertain to the current unit of study.  Sadly, most of our students don’t read the newspaper so this is a great way to sneak it in.

Lay Down the Lie

February 22, 2010 by  
Filed under Grammar, Mini-Lessons

There are so many misused words in our crazy language.  This pair is one of the most confusing because the past tense of one is the same as the present tense of the other.  ⇒ ⇒

The parents of this beautiful, precious baby laid her down for a nap.

Lay vs. Lie 


Lay means “to place something down.” It is something you do to something else.

Incorrect: Lie the coat on the chair.

Correct: Lay the coat on the chair.
(It is being done to something else.)

Lie means “to recline” or “be placed.” It does NOT act on anything or anyone else.

Incorrect: Lay down on the hammock.

Correct: Lie down on the hammock.

(It is not being done to anything else.)

But . . . the real reason lay and lie are confusing is their past tenses:

The past tense of lay is laid. (remember, to lay is to put something else down)

The past tense of lie is lay. (remember, to lie is to recline yourself)  THIS IS THE CONFUSING PART!!

Incorrect: I lay the box down here yesterday.

Correct: I laid the box down here yesterday.
(It is being done to something else.)

Incorrect: Last night I couldn’t sleep and laid awake in bed.

Correct: Last night I couldn’t sleep and lay awake in bed.
(It is not being done to anything else.)

And to add to the confusion . . . We use the past participle of verbs when we are indicating a timeline during which no specific date is given.

The past participle of lie is lain.

The past participle of lay is like the past tense, laid.

Correct: On Sunday, I could have lain in bed all day.  (indicating the action, in this case lying in bed, will be complete at some point in the future, but you don’t know when)  I KNOW THIS SOUNDS WEIRD . . . I MEAN, WHO TALKS LIKE THIS, RIGHT?!  WE SHOULD BECAUSE IT’S CORRECT!!

Correct: They have laid an average of 500 feet of sandbags a day.  (indicating the action, in this case laying sandbags, was finished at some point each day)

BTW . . . Layed is a misspelling and does not exist. Use laid!!

Some Advice on Advise

January 13, 2010 by  
Filed under Grammar, Mini-Lessons

I previously posted about using advisor vs. adviser, but I neglected to share the tricky difference between advice vs. advise.  Let me advise you, shall I? 

Advice vs. Advise

Parents give the best advice they can to their children.

advice = an opinion about how to solve a problem; guidance (noun)

advise = to offer advice; to counsel (verb) pronounced advize


Please give me some advice about what to do.

Please advise me about what to do. (The act of advising is an action or verb.) 

Like, When Do I Use As?

November 27, 2009 by  
Filed under Grammar, Mini-Lessons

“Like” must be one of the most abused words in the English language.  Like, what’s up with, like, the overuse of, like, the word “like.” Like, I don’t understand how, like, people are actually, like, communicating with as many uses of the word “like.”   Like, the most used word in, like, most high schools in America is “like.”  Whoa, I can’t do that anymore.

I don’t know how that use of “like” actually started but I’ve been on a personal crusade to alleviate it for quite some time.  I assign a speech early on during the year in which I deduct a point each time “like” is used out of proper context.  Sadly, two out of 22 students earned an A on that speech this year.  Beside this annoying misuse, “like” is often confused with “as” when making a comparison.  This may be easier to correct.  Let’s try:

Like vs. As

This looks like the dog(s) I grew up with and the cat I now own.  I miss my doggie!

This looks like the dog(s) I grew up with and the cat I now own. I miss Prissy and Cindy!


Like is a preposition used for making comparisons.  (Like can also be a verb, noun, adjective, or adverb; but, GG is concentrating on comparisons here.)  Like must be followed by a noun or pronoun:

Roman looks like my dog.    My dog looks like him.

As is a conjunction.  As is followed by a verb:

Taylor does as her friend says.     Do as I say, and as I do.

When you are uncertain whether to use like or as, look for a verb.  If a verb follows, you’ll know as is the word to use:

Every day the child acts more like her father. (no verb)     He acts as if he saw a ghost. (verb = saw)

**Tricky point ~ In comparisons, the verb may sometimes be left out to avoid wordiness.  In that case, you need to pretend it’s there:

Linda loves the city as much as I.  (the verb, do, is left out)

His Effect Affects Me

November 8, 2009 by  
Filed under Grammar, Mini-Lessons

This mini-lesson is one I strive to drive home with my honors freshmen at the beginning of the year. It is a mistake I see consistently early on and work to diminish the confusion. It is one of those tricky pair of words that makes us stop and think.  I have made the definition of each as succinct as possible to hopefully eliminate question:

Affect vs. Effect


This rainbow effect at sea is wonderous!

This rainbow effect at sea is wonderous!


Affect means “to produce a change in” or “to influence.”

EXAMPLE: Poor soil may affect the plants.

Effect means “the result.”

EXAMPLE: We won’t know the effect until the plants come up after winter.

And there you have it . . .

GG Bonus:  An easy way to remember the difference between effect and affect is to use the mnemonic device:  RAVEN  “Remember Affect is a Verb and Effect is a Noun”

Who is Whom?

October 27, 2009 by  
Filed under Grammar, Mini-Lessons

A student raised his hand in class today and inquired about the use of whom.  He asked if it is one of those words that has fallen out of the English language since he rarely hears it.  I told him, au contraire . . . the word is alive and well – many just don’t know how to use it appropriately.  There is actually a simple little trick for understanding which word to use!:

Who vs. Whom

Who is that behind the mask?

Who is that behind the mask?

Use who (or whoever) when I, he, she, we or they could take its place.

Who and whoever are nominative forms.


Who is in charge of the redundant meeting? (She is in charge of the redundant meeting.)

Whoever said she couldn’t write?

He said she couldn’t write.

Use whom (or whomever) when me, him, her, us, or them could take its place as a direct object or object of a preposition in the whom clause.


For whom is he writing? (He is writing for her.)

I will vote for whomever you recommend. (You recommend him.)

Whom and whomever are objective forms.

Disregard the Irregardless

October 13, 2009 by  
Filed under Grammar, Mini-Lessons

A student came up to me after class and asked if irregardless was a word.  This prompted GG’s latest mini-lesson:

Irregardless vs. Regardless

To answer my student’s question, irregardless is not a word.  It is a double negative, combining the words regardless and irrespective.  Yes, there can be double negatives in English as well as mathematics.  Let’s take a closer look:  Regardless means despite something or without regard.  If we say irregardless, we are literally saying without without regard.  This does not make sense!

Here’s an example of the correct usage of regardless:

Regardless of the obstacles, he persevered and overcame his hardships.

Regardless of the obstacles, he finished the race!

Regardless of the obstacles, he finished the race!

Between is Among the Difficult

October 2, 2009 by  
Filed under Grammar, Mini-Lessons

Here is another pair of words many of us interchange incorrectly.

Between vs. Among

Between A Rock and a Hard Place (cupcakes2 on Flickr)

Between A Rock and a Hard Place (cupcakes2 on Flickr)

Use between when you refer to to people, places, or things.

Example:  Kimm had to choose between going on a cruise and catching three Broadway shows.

Use among when you refer to three or more people, places, or things.

Example: The gold treasure was divided among the crew of the pirate ship.

Advise the Adviser

September 1, 2009 by  
Filed under Grammar, Mini-Lessons

Adviser or Advisor???

AP style tells us to use adviser rather than advisor but it does not indicate why.  I am interested in learning the reason.  Perhaps it has to do with the etymology of the word.

Maybe because the root verb (“advise”) ends in the letter E, the -er suffix is preferred to the -or suffix.  An analogous case is the verb organize, which becomes organizer (and clearly not “organizor”).

Dictionaries say these words are synonymous.  Neither seem technically incorrect or correct.

What do you think?  Comment back – do you use advisor or adviser?

Are you hoping or hopeful?

August 11, 2009 by  
Filed under Grammar, Mini-Lessons

Being hopeful is a good thing.  It is always better to see the glass half full than half empty.  Overusing the word hopefully, on the other hand,  is not such a good thing.

Hope vs. Hopefully  kevindooley on flckr

The word hopefully is an adverb.  An adverb is a word that describes a verb, so hopefully is a word that describes how something is done. Polly Pocket skipped hopefully down the grassy path means that Polly Pocket skipped in a hopeful manner down the path; it describes the way in which she skipped. It’s an active process; in other words, it’s something that we can control.

The adverb hopefully, then, should not be used synonymously with the phrase I hope since hope means a wish or a desire.  Hopefully, he will win the race is incorrect.  I hope he wins the race is the correct way to phrase that.  When we hope, the outcome is out of our control. In other words, it’s a very passive act, and using hopefully for I hope is a grammar error.  And why would we want to be passive and incorrect at the same time?

There is absolutely nothing wrong with hoping; however, we always have more success when we actively pursue things than we do when we wish for the best.  So GG’s advice is to be active and decide to use these words correctly.  🙂

Next Page »