Words that Change Forms

I always question the sanity of the people who standardized the words in the English language. Why? That’s because the English language and many of the words in it are confusing. There are words that sound the same, but are spelled differently; words look nothing alike, yet have similar meanings; and words that change form depending on their usage.

Words that change form are often misused in writing because they are so commonly used. A writer must always understand that not all ways that a word is used are correct. They must consider where the word is, how it is being used, whether it fits the meaning of the sentence, and much more. How is anyone supposed to write a decent paper when there are so many things to consider when choosing a word? Let’s talk about a few rules for words that change forms and see if we make this a little easier for you.

The first set of words that change that we will look at are maybe and may be.

Maybe you should avoid hugging that skunk. This sentence uses maybe as one word. In this case, maybe is used as an adverb and means perhaps (Brians). The trick to deciding whether or not maybe should be used instead of may be is whether or not you can replace it in a sentence with the word perhaps.

Perhaps you should avoid hugging that skunk. In this sentence, the word perhaps is grammatical, so you should use maybe as a single word. Let’s try a few more:

Maybe you will be able to read this blog without falling asleep. If you replace maybe with perhaps, you still have a grammatical sentence.

This blog maybe educational for you. If you replace maybe in this sentence with perhaps, the sentence reads: This blog perhaps educational for you. In this sentence, perhaps doesn’t make sense, so you must use may be. The correct sentence would be: This blog may be educational for you.

When may be is written as two words, it is often used with other verbs to create different tenses (The University of Chicago Press 241). You may be rewarded for your actions.

The second set of words that change that we will look at are apart and a part.

A part is a noun that references a portion of the whole (Smith). A part of baking a cake is licking the beaters. In this sentence, we are talking about one stage of the process of baking a cake. Since we talk about one part of the entire process, the proper form of the word would be a part.

Apart, as one word, is used as an adverb. It describes something that is in pieces or separated (Smith). The teddy bear was ripped apart by the dog’s teeth. In this sentence, we are talking about how the teddy bear was ripped. In this case, the proper word would be apart.

Let’s try an example.

This fact is a part of life. OR This fact is apart of life. In this sentence, we are talking about how the fact is one portion of the life. In this case, a part would be the correct form.

A part from this assignment, there is also an essay due tomorrow. OR Apart from this assignment, there is also an essay due tomorrow. In this sentence, the word apart is being used to mean separate. Separate from this assignment, there is an essay. For this sentence, the second one would be correct.

These are just two of many word form changing words. The key to finding the correct usage and to become a better writer is to look up things you don’t understand. This blog is only the first step.

Works Cited

Brians, Paul. “Maybe/May Be.” Common Errors in English Usage. 2013. Web. 14 Oct. 2014.

Smith, Kevin Leigh. “Grammar Trap: Apart Vs. a Part.” On Target: A Web Newsletter with Communication Tips 10.4. Purdue

University, Dec. 2005. Web. 14 Oct. 2014.

The University of Chicago Press. The Chicago Manual of Style. 16th ed. Chicago, IL: U of Chicago P, 2010. Print.

The Beloved Oxford Comma— Don’t Mess With Her!

I was in third grade. Mrs. Neff’s high heels clicked on the floor past each student’s desk as she passed out the grammar test. I stared at the test: Commas.

I began my nervous tick of tugging on my bright blonde pig tails. I hate English, I told myself, and there are too many rules for grammar. Who cares about commas anyway? This was my first encounter with the beloved Oxford comma, a time when the Oxford comma was a concrete rule. It was none of this, “Well, you can use it or not use as long as you’re consistent.”

The Oxford comma… Even the name sounds prestigious! The Oxford comma goes by a couple different names: the optional comma, serial comma, and of course my favorite name, the Oxford comma.

The Oxford comma, which is my preferred name, is considered the optional comma before the word “and” at the end of a list. To me, it is more than an option. It efficiently deciphers any type of ambiguity. Take this for example:
With the Oxford comma: We invited strippers, Walt Disney, and Stalin.
Without the Oxford comma: We invited strippers, Walt Disney and Stalin.
Here, the importance of the Oxford comma is that the Walt Disney and Stalin are not strippers. The list needs that added comma to clarify that the strippers are its own entity and not the two men.

Another hilarious example is:
With the Oxford comma: I went twerking with the puppies, Miley Cyrus, and Jennifer Lawrence.
Without the Oxford comma: I went twerking with the puppies, Miley Cyrus and Jennifer L.
Clearly, Miley Cyrus and Jennifer Lawrence are not puppies. But, the vagueness sets up a great debate for readers. In fact, my eighty-three-year-old grandma has no idea who Miley Cyrus or Jennifer Lawrence is; therefore, she might think it’s plausible that they are puppies! Yikes.
Within these examples, it is essential to use the comma. I find that using the Oxford comma does more good than bad.

Within the big four styles, I looked up the rules: AP, CMS, APA, and MLA
The AP style does not require the beloved Oxford comma. Why? I believe they enjoy uncertainty in their journalistic writing. Perhaps they dislike having a distinct style and refuse the Oxford comma.
MLA also suggests that we use commas to separate words, phrases, and clauses.
Thankfully, CMS says that when a conjunction joins the last two elements in a series, a comma should appear before the conjunction. Chicago highly recommends the practiced usage of the comma.
APA says to use a comma between elements in a series of three or more.
As far as these styles go, I believe that in the United States, there is almost a choice.
Like AP, it is a journalistic style to not use the comma, but with literal writing, it is highly suggested. Perhaps it is not mandatorily stated, but the Oxford comma is generally recommended for college writing.

In my opinion, yes, all styles should follow the same suit. It’s difficult enough as it is to remember which style follows what rules, but to make a blanket rule with the Oxford comma (Which I’m in favor of keeping), would be fantastic. Let’s make it easier for the readers. How about that idea for once?

Talk to Me: Using Dialogue

So, you want to use dialogue. Great! Dialogue is a wonderful way to add details and personality to your personal essay. But it’s good to know how to use dialogue correctly. It makes it easier on your reader and overall better for your grade. And that’s what’s really important here, isn’t it?

So why should there be any rules to dialogue? It’s just people talking. He said, she said should be enough, right? Well, see for yourself.

He said I have to go to the store. Do you want anything? he asked Why? she replied Because he said I’m going to the store. He walked to the table I need milk she said Oh, we need paper towels, too she said.

Now, how many people are in this conversation? Who said what? Did the first person ask, “Do you want anything?” or did someone else? Was “he said” ever part of the dialogue? Knowing the rules of dialogue helps clear things up.

Let’s start by looking at quotation marks. Spoken dialogue is placed inside double quotation marks. “Like so.” When a person stops talking and a new one starts, the quotation marks are stopped and started again.

Now our dialogue looks like this.

“He said I have to go to the store. Do you want anything?” he asked “Why?” she replied “Because” he said “I’m going to the store.” He walked to the table “I need milk, she said” “Oh, we need paper towels, too” she said.

Now at least we can see what is spoken and what is narration. That’s a start, but how many people are talking here? Is it just two people, the “he” and “she,” or are there several hes or several shes in this conversation? There are two things that make this easier to understand. The first is to use the proper names instead of pronouns when there is more than one man or woman in the conversation.

“He said I have to go to the store. Do you want anything?” David asked “Why?” Mary replied “Because,” David said “I’m going to the store.” Mark walked to the table “I need milk, she said” “Oh, we need paper towels, too” Susan said.

Now we have four people carrying on the conversation, but with it all squished in there it makes it hard to see who is saying what. This is where the second part comes in. Each new speaker gets their own paragraph. Even if it’s only one word, it gets a new paragraph.

“He said I have to go to the store. Do you want anything?” David asked.

“Why?” Mary replied.

“Because” David said “I’m going to the store.”

Mark walked to the table “I need milk, she said.”

“Oh, we need paper towels, too” Susan said.

Look at that, now who says what is obvious. Unfortunately, it’s still a bit messy. We need some more punctuation in there. In dialogue, whenever you use direct word like said, told, replied, anything that tells the reader this is referring to the dialogue, you need a comma after the said if the dialogue follows it or after the dialogue but before the final quotation mark if the said follows it.

If you don’t use those words and instead offer a person’s actions, then a period separates the action sentence from the dialogue. When a question mark replaces the period or comma, no extra punctuation is needed. Time to fix this up one more time.

“He said I have to go to the store. Do you want anything?” David asked.

“Why?” Mary replied.

“Because,” David said, “I’m going to the store.”

Mark walked to the table. “I need milk, she said.”

“Oh, we need paper towels, too,” Susan said.

Now doesn’t that look nice? What’s better, now that you know the rules of dialogue, you can play around with it. You don’t need to always have anything with the dialogue as long as only two people are in the conversation, but don’t leave it go too long or people will forget who’s talking.

“I just started watching Doctor Who today,” Mira said with a little giggle in her voice.

Nick rolled his eyes. “It’s about time. Where are you?”

“Just watched that one with the creepy kids and the gas masks.” She shuddered.

“Wait till you get to ‘Blink.’”


He nodded. “You’ll never look at angel statues the same way again.”

Extra tips!

  •  Single quotation marks: You might have noticed in the last dialogue that the word Blink was placed in single quotation marks. This is because it is the title of an episode and in normal prose that would get quotation marks of its own. Yes, you still have to follow all the other rules of writing. To do so without making the reader think that dialogue is ending, anything that would normally be given quotation marks outside of dialogue is put in single quotes. If this happens next to the beginning or end of dialogue, then you will have three quotes together.
  • Several paragraphs of dialogue: Let’s say you’ve got yourself a talker. He talks and talks and doesn’t shut up until you have three paragraphs worth of dialogue. Well you can’t just shove all that together; you’re reader will take one look at that, say, “Nope,” and toss the paper away. But every new paragraph is a new speaker, right? Well, there is a trick to that. Don’t close the quote at the end of the paragraph. You’ll still start the new paragraph with an opening quote, but by leaving off the closing quote until the speaker is completely finished, the readers knows that the same person is still talking.

Things You Never Knew Word Could Do

It never ceases to amaze me how many students come in, having grown up with computers all their lives, and don’t know some of the most basic features Word has to make your paper formatting easier. I’ve seen students who have manually returned twice between each line to create a double spaced paper and works cited pages halfway down the page because the student didn’t know about page breaks.

Word was created in 1983,1 so Microsoft has been figuring this program out for over thirty years. They’ve made a few tweaks in that time to make it easier on you. Having some basic knowledge of its features will make your paper writing a less stressful experience (or at least not a more stressful one).

For a complete explanation of how to use these features, you can use our handy tutorial How to Use Word to Format a Paper, but for now I’ll go over some of the useful features Word offers and what exactly they do.

Double Spacing: This one may seem like a no brainer, since most people do have this one figured out, but I’ve seen enough green grammar lines on online papers to realize there are still plenty of people who don’t. Almost every teacher is going to ask that your paper be double spaced, and Word can do this for you automatically.

First Line Indent:This one is either far less known or simply ignored, because I see it not being used a lot. Just like double spacing, Word will automatically create your indent at the beginning of a paragraph. No more counting out five spaces only to hit four or six and having uneven paragraphs. No more forgetting to indent a paragraph in the middle of the paper. It’s all done for you.

Hanging Indent: This is another one that seems to be lost in the ether a lot. Whether it’s a works cited page, reference page, or bibliography, all the entries will need to have a hanging indent. This is where the second and following lines of an entry are indented in, but the first line isn’t. And guess what, the same place you can make the first line indent, you can also choose the hanging indent. No more tabbing over and screwing up the entire entry when you add a comma.

Page Break: This is going to become your best friend. I love this feature. Using page break will keep different sections of the paper from moving when you add or delete from other sections. Think about how your works cited/reference page will never stay at the top of the last page because of revisions to your paper. Make a page break for that final page and no matter what you do to your paper, the final page will not be affected. This is great any time you need something to always start on a new page.

Headers—Page Numbers: This feature is fairly well known, but I know some people still have problems finding it. Word can easily assign page numbers that will appear sequentially on each page. The thing to remember here is to use the page number feature and not try to put them in the header manually. That will only show the same number on every page.

Headers—APA Running Head: The the most common question I get about APA format is, “How do I get a different header on the first page?” I have to wonder if this feature was added just for APA. When you’re in your header, Word allows you many different ways to present your header, including having a different header on the first page. It also offers different headers for odd and even pages, but what we’re concerned with is that first page.

So, if you’re new to Word or just never looked at everything it offers, open it up and play around. It’s there to make your life easier.


1. Microsoft, “Microsoft Word Grows Up,” Microsoft, posted Jan. 4, 2007, http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/news/features/2007/jan07/01-04word.aspx