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A Simple, Fun Lesson about Participial Phrases

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Now, don’t get all hot and bothered by the expression “participial phrase.” Something that is participial has to do with the part of speech that is a participle. What’s a participle? Well, it’s complicated. Let’s just say it reminds me of a photon—which can be both a particle and a wave. In similar fashion, a participle can be a verb and an adjective. How? By forming a phrase with a verb, you create a kind of adjective that modifies (affects, alters, describes) a noun.

Okay, enough with the grammar lesson. It will make more sense once you read on.

One telltale sign of an inexperienced writer is the overuse of participial phrases to begin a sentence. Participial phrases are easily identified because they almost always begin with a verb that ends in ing or ed. If the participle is present tense, it will dependably end in ing. Likewise, a regular past participle will end in a consistent ed. Irregular past participles, unfortunately, conclude in all kinds of ways. Continue Reading…

Alternating between Alternatives

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There seems to be some confusion over the words alternate and alternative. Can they be used interchangeably? Does alternative involve only two choices? The confusion is understandable since both words serve multiple parts of speech.

Alternate can be a verb, noun, or adjective. When used as a verb, the last syllable is accented and the final a is long.

  • Verb: Joan and I alternated sitting in the front seat to keep our motion sickness under control. (Meaning: took turns)
  • Noun: The alternates to the political convention were vocal in their opposition to platform’s taxation plank. (Meaning: substitutes)
  • Adjective: We took an alternate route to the museum due to construction.(Meaning: another option/choice)

Alternative can be a noun or an adjective.

  • Noun: My morning alternative to coffee is a headache. (Meaning: a choice—caffeine or headache)
  • Adjective: Lolapalooza began as a showcase for alternative bands in the early 1990s. (Meaning: another choice, option)

Some argue that alternative refers only to two choices. Such reasoning is a logical progression from the word’s Latin root alter, meaning “the other of two.” But there is nearly universal agreement that alternative can refer to multiple options. Both Merriam-Webster and the American Heritage Dictionary define alternative as involving two or more choices. So writing “The alternatives available to a Starbuck’s customer are limitless” is correct, if not overwhelming.

Are You Predominantly Correct or Mistaken?

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I sometimes hear or read sentences like “He predominately goes to that Starbuck’s.” That word is a mouthful, and because it sounds so much like predominantly, it’s no surprise the words get mixed up.

While the meanings of the two words are nearly identical, there is a rationale for the differentiation.

  • Predominate: to hold advantage in numbers or quantity; to exert controlling power or influence
  • Predominant: having superior strength, influence or authority; being most frequent or common.

Predominate is best used as a verb, though historically it has also been used as an adjective. Predominant, however, is always used as an adjective. Both words are formed from the root dominate, for which verb and adjective usages are clearer. Continue Reading…

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