Apostrophes again…and more

June 29, 2008

Apostrophes revisited. Following my blast on apostrophes in the last post, a reader has requested information on what to do when the word ends in ‘s’ already – do you just add an apostrophe and no extra ‘s’?

No! As with any other singular word, you add an apostrophe followed by an ‘s’, as in Charles’s spaniels.

However, plural words are simply followed by an apostrophe, as in the cats’ tails.

Do I say ‘different from’ or ‘different to’? Hrmph! How illiterate are we becoming! Despite their preaching to English teachers about not teaching students to read and write properly, journalists themselves just can’t get it right.

The rule is ‘different from’. There is no other option – although I suspect resistance to ‘different to’ is futile. Unfortunately.

36 Books to Read Before Finishing High School

June 28, 2008

Books to read before finishing high school

Here’s an eclectic list of books that students might like to try reading in each year level (Year 7 through to Year 12). They include:

  • Alice in Wonderland, the great, Lewis Carrol’s children’s classic
  • The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, the mystery that launched Agatha Christie
  • We are the weather makers, Tim Flannery’s lucid and compelling explanation of global warming
  • Our sunshine, Robert Drewe’s lyrical account of Ned Kelly’s life
  • Years of rice and salt, Kim Stanley Robinson’s speculative account of world history after the plague wipes out European civilisation
  • Long walk to freedom, Nelson Mandela’s inspirational and enlightening life story

Download the complete list now (36-books-to-read-before-you-leave-high-school).

The list includes fiction and non-fiction books and the selection was based on the assumption of three books read per semester (that is, six books a year). Of course, this limited what could be included and the selection process has resulted in a list which I’m sure will be controversial – so feel free to modify the inclusions to suit your own school. The list is meant to be generative and in no way comprehensive or mandatory.

For your information, selections were based on a number of – at times conflicting – criteria:

  1. Is the book of literary and/or cultural merit?
  2. Is the book suitable for the year group – language and content?
  3. Does it offer something a bit different from the norm?
  4. Will the book challenge readers in some way?
  5. Will the book encourage further reading and exploration?
  6. Are the books representative across a range of dimensions, e.g. gender, genre, eras, fiction and non-fiction, cultures etc? While I have been as careful as I could, ultimately the self-imposed limit of 36 books has also limited my ability to be entirely representative.
  7. Do the books have proven success with students? In most cases, the books are ones that have been recommended by students themselves.

Let me know what you think. What else would you include?

The apostrophe

June 27, 2008

Is it really so hard to use punctuation correctly?

This photo was taken at a roadside stall on Mount Tambourine (South East Queensland Australia), but the problem of apostrophe misuse is shamefully ubiquitous.

For the record, there should be no apostrophe in a plural word such as ‘avocados’ (and yes, that’s the correct spelling!).

Where are they used? In two circumstances only – to indicate:

  • a deleted letter, as in it’s (it is).
  • possession, as in ‘the avocado’s seed’.

Anything else deserves a public flogging!

The art of punctuation – review

June 27, 2008

The art of punctuation by Noah Lukeman (Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-861454-8)

Who is it for? Everyone-teachers and students

What is it about? Lukeman sets out to explain the use of the punctuation marks in English. After the introduction, each chapter is divided into parts: How to use it; Danger of overuse; How to underuse it; Danger of underuse; Context; What your use of the punctuation mark reveals about you; and End of chapter exercises.

While this may sound similar to Lynn Truss’s Eat, shoots and leaves, his approach is quite different and worth a place alongside Truss on your bookshelf (professional and personal).

How can it be used? The beauty of Lukeman’s book is that he (largely) avoids prescriptive rules and settles instead for a much more creative approach. As he states: ‘Punctuation is often discussed … as a way of facilitating what you want to say. Rarely is it pondered as a medium for artistic expression, as a means of impacting on the content (in a way that) it achieves symbiosis with the narration, style, viewpoint, and even the plot itself’. This belief permeates the entire book, making it useful and inspiring for English teachers. The inclusion of exercises is also helpful-and not nearly as old-fashioned as it might sound. Instead, he offers a workshop approach to the improvement of punctuation use in creative writing.

Overall, you may not agree with everything he says (I certainly didn’t), but Lukeman has written a book that many teachers will find enriches their teaching of English.