Grammar tips from The Oatmeal


The Oatmeal has some great comical grammar posts to help you remember how to use a semicolon, the proper use of the word “literally” and more. They are so useful that I bought the set and put them up on the walls of the Toronto Star’s training room. 


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X-bar theory = X-bar syntax


X-bar theory (= X-bar syntax) is a linguistic postulate according to which all phrases and sentences in languages are structured according to a certain (syntactic) model; this model can be made explicit through a linguistic analysis and consequently can be depicted graphically with the help of strictly hierarchical diagrams.

The X-bar theory was developed within generative (transformational) grammar. Its “generative” character is shown in that 1) all grammatically correct phrases or sentences are assumed to be structured according to certain principles (rules) and 2) all languages are assumed to have similar basic principles or rules.

Chomsky (1970) and Jackendoff (1977) are considered to be the founders of the X-bar theory.

Below is an example (see the end of the post for the explanations) of a phrase analyzed with the help of the X-bar theory.


X-bar theory conventions (terminology, abbreviations, and symbols/labelling):

  • X is the head (hence, X-bar) – the…

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Order matters how?


Write about what?

YodaPuppetWhile diction determines word choice, syntax determines where the words are placed. Language without syntax are words strung together with no method to the madness–in other words, nonsense. Our normal syntax mimics what we have heard before. Unique syntax requires mixing up that order without creating nonsense.

Do you recall Yoda’s distinctive style of speaking in the Star Wars movie series? Simply take the predicate object or predicate adjective at the end of a sentence and move it to the front. Voila–Yoda speak. “But what is a predicate object and predicate adjective?” you ask mystified. Basically it is everything in a normal syntax that follows after the verb.

Learning how to use syntax to create a unique voice requires a fundamental knowledge of grammar. I recall creating lengthy diagrams parsing complex sentences in my junior high days. But, diagramming went out of vogue (probably due to lack of time) just like…

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Word Traffic Court

Alphabet Story

“How does this sound? I read aloud my newest blog entry to my husband.  “I know the syntax isn’t exactly correct.”

“That’s so,” he said.  “Sounds a little off.”

“Hey, I’m using poetic license,” I said in my defense.

“Ah, if that’s the case, I think they should take away your license.”

As I  edit my latest work in progress, ( patting myself on the back at reaching close to 50,000 words) it looms large about how much poetic license I can take and yet adhere to the rules I learned so long ago. (The decade being the ’50s when learning to diagram sentences was a requirement)   I made an A in grammar, by the way, but  does being a stickler about all that make for interesting writing? I am leaning toward the view that although correct use of syntax is important, it is not  necessary to adhere in all…

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Grammaticism defined

gram·mat·i·cism [gruh-mat-uh-siz-uhm] Show IPA
noun Rare.
a point or principle of grammar.
a grammatical definition.
1600–10; grammatic(al) + -ism Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2013.


First Post

Let’s understate the import of this blog by asking one question: What is grammar? Simply and redundantly put – grammar is how language works.

One simplistic rule of thumb I like to use: Are your ducks in a row? If they are, then, presumably, logic is at work. At least some sort of logic.

ducks n a row