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Department of English Grammar

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What’s up with making mnemonics for vocabulary words?

If you are studying for the SAT (or some other standardized test that includes vocabulary words), we suggest that you make as many mnemonics as possible, especially if you want to stop flipping through vocabulary books and staring mindlessly at vocabulary flash cards.

Here’s one of our favorites. It’s for the word curmudgeon, which commonly appears on the SAT.

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Here’s one more. This time, it’s for ubiquitous (definition: everywhere, commonplace):

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They’re pretty fun, right? Here’s one more: melange.

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We can go on forever and turn this into the longest post in the history of Tumblr, but we’ll spare you and just post a list of links to mnemonics we’ve created over the years:

1. lachrymose

2. sanguine

3. supercilious

4. enervate

5. altruism

6. gainsay

7. sanctimonious

8. tantamount

9. remiss

10. abjure

11. adjure

12. protean

13. insidious

14. mendacious

15. homely

16. homily

17. diffident

18. strident

19. baleful

20. truculent

21. rapacity

22. pedigree

23. caveat

24. redolent

25. rectitude

26. ephemeral

27. puerile

28. munificent

29. aloof

30. ebullient

31. parsimony

32. slake

For even more mnemonics, click on this link. It’ll take you to a search page on Twitter that features our tweeted mnemonics.

Learning—and mastering—vocabulary words can be both fun and effective.

Good luck!

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What’s up with “persons,” “people,” and “peoples”?

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For the record, both persons and people are the plural of “person.”

Although the two words can be used interchangeably, there is a lot of confusion regarding their usage.

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SUMMARY:

  • These days, we are only likely to come across “persons” in legal contexts, e.g., “The victim was killed by person or persons unknown.”
  • Now, regardless of whether we can count how many individuals there are, we use “people” far more often than “persons.”
  • "Peoples" is used to describe the men, women, and children of a particular nation, community, or ethnic group, e.g., "the indigenous peoples of Canada.”

As we end this post, enjoy this GIF of dancing people.

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What’s up with gerunds?

In simple terms, gerunds are words that end in “ing” and look like verbs but actually function as nouns.

Gerunds are often difficult to identify because they look exactly like common verbs. The following examples use gerunds:

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And since gerunds are nouns, they take possessive pronouns. Observe how possessive pronouns precede nouns; in the same way, watch how they precede gerunds:

• My cat keeps our neighbors awake. (“Cat” is a noun.)

• My snoring keeps our neighbors awake. (“Snoring” is a noun.)

Your dog cheers me up when I’m sad. (“Dog” is a noun.)

Your being silly cheers me up when I’m sad. (“Being” is a noun.)

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For a more thorough explanation of gerunds, click here

What’s up with “used to” and “use to”?

Ninety-nine percent of the time, you’ll use “used to,” not “use to.”

The following sentences are examples of how “used to" is often used:

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So what about the 1%? When is “use to” acceptable?

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Of course, if that sentence sounds awkward to you, it can also be written as “I use these two pencils to write and draw.”

Here’s another instance in which “use to” is acceptable, albeit not stellar:

  • Didn’t we use to be married? (After “did,” “didn’t,” “were,” and “weren’t,” i.e., past tense verbs.)

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tl;dr:

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What’s up with “dissatisfied” and “unsatisfied”?

Dissatisfied (not “disatisfied”) applies to people who are unhappy, frustrated, or disappointed with someone or something:

  • Professor Bower was dissatisfied with her student’s poor essays.
  • The company’s dissatisfied employees organized a boycott.
  • We were dissatisfied with our insurance company’s customer service.

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Unsatisfied refers to the feeling of wanting more of something:

  • The restaurant’s delicious but meager appetizers left us hungry students unsatisfied; we wanted more of everything.
  • I was unsatisfied with the game’s intriguing demo: it was too short.
  • I was completely unsatisfied with my 15-minute nap; I didn’t want to wake up.

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What’s up with “despite” and “in spite of”?

In spite of, despite, althoughthough, and even though all mean the same thing, but they cannot be used interchangeably. (Before moving on, read this post on “although” / “though” / “even though.”)

Luckily, there’s an easy “formula” for how to use each:

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In spite of" and "despite" do not have to be used at the beginning of a sentence, e.g., "I decided not to take an umbrella to the park despite / in spite of the rain.”

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Similarly, although, though, and even though don’t have to be used at the beginning of a sentence, e.g., “I decided not to take an umbrella to the park although / though / even though it was raining.”

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