Fast Grammar

And who might you be?

You might have at least offered our guests some tea.

John says he has some bad news.   –Really?  What might that be?


use might to show you are annoyed or surprised by something that happened or did not happen


The Semicolon

The semicolon is an important punctuation mark, but it is often misused or omitted. The semicolon is not as final as the period, but it is stronger than the comma. Its most common use is to show a connection between two independent clauses (cause and effect, sequence, contrast, comparison). This construction guides the reader, and it should not be overused.

The semicolon is often used with a conjunctive adverb or transitional phrase. Conjunctive adverbs include: accordingly, indeed, thus, instead, furthermore, therefore, otherwise, however, besides, finally, hence, conversely, subsequently, still, nonetheless, consequently, also, and nevertheless. These words are also called independent markers.

Transitional phrases can be used after the semicolon in the same way as independent makers: in fact, of course, for example, in summary, for instance, despite + phrase, in other words, on the other hand, likewise, after all, otherwise, yet, more importantly, that is to say, in the same way, granted, as a result, in addition, and even so. These words are like signs that guide the listener or reader along the path of what you are saying.

Let’s look at some examples of how to use the semicolon correctly.

Connect independent clauses

whose meanings are somehow linked

He always scored poorly; he was a very poor student indeed.

That school is for refugee children from Myanmar; homeless kids who speak Burmese can get a free education there.

Clarify internal commas

The hotel on the corner, which was build in 1927, is a local attraction; the Art Deco interiors are strikingly beautiful.

Joseph Conrad, who was born in present-day Ukraine, is widely regarded as one of the greatest stylists of English prose; his facility with words was incredible.

Before conjunctive adverbs or transitional phrases

Conjunctive Adverb > He likes Nanjing; however, he does not want to live there.

Transitional Phrase > She enjoys swimming; as a result, she is in good health.

He was a very poor student; despite tutoring, he only did well in geography.

Clarify a list with commas

Our school has branches in Nanjing, China; Bath, England; and Xiamen, China.

I liked basketball, swimming, and baseball as a child; tennis, hockey, and fishing while in high school; but only chess and reading as an adult.

The pilot is from Nanjing, China; the co-pilot is from Berlin, Germany; the head steward is from New Delhi, India; and all the cabin crew are from Jiangsu Province, China.

Link short sentences that do not have a coordinating conjunction

I’ll have tea; she’ll have coffee.

Ann has two cars; Todd, one.

Tighten a sentence by omitting a word or phrase

“I am dead to adverbs; they cannot excite me.” –Mark Twain (omit because)

(I am dead to adverbs because they cannot excite me.)

Cause / Effect

When addressing your letter directly to an individual, use the first line of the receiver’s address; this will eliminate the need for an attention line.

Good Writing: Flow

Another takeaway from The Elements of Style is that language and thought in a sentence should flow in harmony. Like two horses harnessed to a wagon, they should pull as twins.

Consider this sentence (speaking of Voltaire):

“In his Letters he praises England as the land of liberty, tolerance, and common sense, using it, like Montesquieu, though with different motives, as a stick with which to beat France.”

Also take a look at this gem:

“But is was Voltaire, more than any other single philosophe, who forged these views into an ideology, the ideology of the bourgeoisie.”


Voltaire forged these views into the ideology of the bourgeoisie.

But is was Voltaire…            emphatic                     …an ideology, the ideology of…           the appositive phrase adds gravitas

The writer (Robert Anchor, The Enlightenment Tradition) ended a paragraph on Voltaire’s influence with the word bourgeoisie.  More importantly, it was the ideology of the bourgeoisie. The flow of thought that determines sentence structure also comes from the flow within (and between) paragraphs.

Good Writing

If you read the venerable book on grammar called The Elements of Style, you will see that rules should sometimes be broken.  In an argument parallel to Machiavelli’s dictum that it is not always rational to be moral, we might consider whether it is always good to be grammatical.

Heresy?  Consider this:


What really matters is getting your message across, and following the rules is not always the best way to do that.  First, learn the rules.

Improve Your Writing: Omit Needless Words

                                                                                                                                                                                                                           potential problems


a. The water is so deep in the river that big ships can use it.

The river is deep enough for big ships.

The river can take big ships.

b. Ann bought a sewing machine so that she can make dresses.

Ann bought a sewing machine to make dresses.

c. The doctor is so sleepy that he cannot do his job well.

The doctor is too sleepy to do his job well.

He’s dangerously sleepy.

so…that… / so…that…can…

too/enough… to + infinitive

2. I saw that my sister was making breakfast.

I saw my sister making breakfast.

that…was…present participle

that…is…present participle

3. She thinks that it is too much work to start the project over.

She thinks it too much work to start the project over.

She thinks it impractical to start the project over.

She says starting over is too hard.



4. The nurse did not know when she should wake the patient.

The nurse did not know when to wake the patient.

She did not know when to wake him.



5. You might be late because the traffic is slow.

You might be late because of the slow traffic.

The traffic might make you late.

because… (a long sentence ending in an adjective)

6. He has gone to Tokyo in order to finish his degree.

He has gone to Tokyo to finish his degree.

He’s finishing his degree in Tokyo.

in order to

so as to

7. Reason and nature are not intrinsically at odds. In fact, if they are set asunder this is usually due to an uncongenial political system.

Reason and nature are not intrinsically at odds; if they are set asunder this is due to an uncongenial political system.

in other words,

that is to say,

that is,

in effect

in fact

8. Not only does education lead to prosperity, like in present-day China. It especially fosters optimism in the country’s young people.

Not only does education lead to prosperity, like in present-day China; young Chinese are increasingly optimistic.

It… (referring to a noun buried in a previous sentence)

9. The chef cannot prepare dinner if there is no salt.

The chef cannot prepare dinner without salt.

He cannot cook without salt.

No salt, no dinner. (this is not a sentence)

if there is no


a. St. Louis might build a new sports arena which has two outdoor tracks.

St. Louis might build a new sports arena with two outdoor tracks.

b. Mount Vernon is a city that has more interesting sites than neighboring towns.

Neighboring towns have fewer interesting sites than Mount Vernon.

that has/which has

that have/which have

Reading Exercise: Ikebana Competition

Thai Citizen Wins Ikebana Competition in Japan

Bangkok Post (12 April, 2018)

Mrs. A. Chaisura, who is originally from Lampang, has won an international competition in flower arrangement in Kyoto, Japan. Mrs. Chaisura owns a popular boutique in Bangkok, Eastern Flowers and Gifts. Her most popular creations are fresh-cut flower arrangements that are done in authentic Japanese style. In the past several years, her business has flourished. She recently hosted a wildly popular exhibition in Bangkok, sponsored by the Japanese Embassy, which showcased her amazing skill at creating beautiful flower arrangements.

Last week Mrs. Chaisura traveled to Kyoto where she took part in the 2018 International Ikebana Exhibition and Contest. Mrs. Chaisura, much to her surprise, won first place. She is the first Thai citizen, and the first foreigner since 1948, to win the competition. Afterward she thanked her teacher, Ikebana Master of the Rikka School, Mr. Yokoyama, with whom she studied ikebana when she lived in Japan during the 90’s. Rikka is known as the “upright style,” and it has recently regained popularity despite being deeply traditional.

Along with a trophy, Mrs. Chaisura won a cash prize of 400,000 Yen. Her winning arrangement was of green orchids and pine. She says that her favorite flower is the orchid, and that she wants to incorporate Thai flowers, especially Thai orchids, into her future ikebana arrangements.

1. What is the topic of this article?

2. Where did Mrs. Chaisura win the contest?

3. What was the prize?

4. What is Rikka?

5. What place did she win in the competition?

6. Where does this article come from?

7. Is Mrs. Chaisura Thai?

8. What does Rikka School mean?

9. Notice the word afterward in the second paragraph. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “In U.S. English, afterward is more common than afterwards. In British English, afterwards is more common.” Which one do you prefer?

Fast Grammar


While he was cleaning, she was cooking.

They were boating while we were relaxing on the beach.


use while for two long actions that went on together

Use Prefixes: Hypoxia on a Flight Between Osaka and Beijing

Today at 5:25 in the morning Beijing time, an airplane depressurized during its flight from Beijing to Osaka. This flight was operated by Trans-Siberian Air, an air transport company based out of Vladivostok, Russia. The aircraft was flying on autopilot at cruising altitude when an unexplained boom was heard . Fortunately, once the depressurization occurred, the pilot immediately regained control of the aircraft without further incident. However, when the co-pilot started to feel hypoxic, he transmitted an international distress call, which caused emergency services on the ground in Osaka to go into action.  In fact, panic ensued because a rumor began that an explosion had taken place, perhaps one linked to terrorism–a story that turned out to be completely untrue.  Luckily, no one was hurt.

1. What do you think hypoxia is?

2. What is autopilot?

3. Is distress something positive or something negative?

4. True or false: the word hypoxic is an adjective that derives from the noun hypoxia.

5. What does the suffix -ic indicate?

Fast Grammar


I wouldn’t agree with that completely.

I wouldn’t put it that way.

I would say that we need to consider this further.


be polite when you disagree