Language Lessons Learned from Grading College Lit Papers

Ike2 Roundabout this time every year, my buddy Mike becomes Mr. No Fun At All. Every time I ask him if he wants to watch a movie or go to the park, he says he can’t. If I ask why, he grumbles something about “the end of the semester.” I’m not sure what that is, but for the last two weeks, all he’s done is sit on the sofa for hours and hours, reading and scribbling on stacks of papers and muttering to himself. He hasn’t even had time to do a blog entry. But last night, after he’d cried himself to sleep, I found this on his laptop, so I guess it will have to do:



Never use “many” when you can use “plethora,” “myriad,” or “numerous.”

Used properly, “Plethora,” “myriad,” and “numerous” are ALWAYS followed by “of”: “There were a myriad of crayons in the box,” or “There were numerous of students in the classroom.”

Profanity and vulgarity add spice to your writing. Such “adult” language also signals to the professor that you have adult opinions and cannot be taken lightly.

“It” is a mysterious entity that exists within a work of literature to tell the story or speak on the theme: “In the novel Moby Dick, it tells the story of the great white whale,” or “In the poem ‘I Heard a Fly Buzz’ it talks about death.”

“Harsh” is a generic term describing any level of unpleasantness: “The baby’s crying was harsh,” or “The sinking of the Titanic was harsh.”

“Calm” is a generic term describing anything that is not harsh.

“Graphic” means violent or bloody: “The accident on the highway was very graphic.”

“Whom” is the fancy, college-appropriate form of “who”: “He didn’t know whom was coming to the party.”

“Myself” is the word educated people use in place of “me”: “Tricia and myself wondered whom was teaching the class.”

“Which” is a fancy, college-appropriate substitute for “that”: “It came in the color which he preferred.” If one wishes to sound extra educated, always use “in” before “which”: “It came in the color in which he preferred.”

“Where” is an all-purpose signifier that refers to place, time, circumstance, or what-have-you, and is a less-stuffy substitute for “in which”: “The 19th century was a time where women were not allowed to vote.”

“Were” is an alternate spelling of “where.”

“19th century” means the 1900s. Duh.

“Next” is a transition word that magically provides a logical order wherever it is inserted into a paper: “The Supreme Court is the highest court in the land. Next, it is one of the three branches of the Federal government.”

“Although” is a handy linking word that can indicate either contradiction (“Although Jim is a thief, he is also a Christian”) or lack of contradiction (“Although Jim is a thief, he is also a liar”). When followed by a comma, it means “however” and is useful in linking sentences: “Jim is a thief. Although, he is also a Christian.” Note that “although” is only to be used at the beginning of a sentence.

Form plurals by adding ‘s: “The 1960’s were tumultuous years,” or “There were numerous of American’s on the ship.”

Words containing the letter s do not require another s to make them plural: “We had one test on Tuesday and three more test on Wednesday,” or “There was one stress in the first line and two stress in the second.”

In a related note: It is always “ask,” never “asks.” “Asked” is also questionable. To be safe, just use “ask.” Better yet, use “interrogated.” It sounds smarter.

Words ending in -y become possessive by adding -ies: “The families car was stolen” or “The cities streets were crowded.”

For most other words, the possessive can be formed by adding ‘s. Or s.  Or nothing. “Carol’s house,” “Carols house” and “Carol house” are all correct, or close enough. That whole apostrophe thing is a scam.

Commas are to be used randomly or not at all.

Semicolons are fancy commas. They are also colons.

Colons are never to be used except when they are totally unnecessary: “The flags came in a myriad of colors, such as: red, white, and blue.”

Periods are generally used to end sentences, but leaving them off now and then adds variety.

“Led” is not a word. Always use “lead.”

“Lose” is not a word. Always use “loose.”

“Notorious” means “famous”: “Mother Theresa was notorious for tending to the sick.”

“Infamous” means “really famous”: “Pope Francis is infamous around the world.”

“Penultimate” means “extra ultimate.”

When using spell check, the first option provided is ALWAYS the best choice.



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