Monthly Archives: September 2008

Ask Dr. Write!

Dear Dr. Write,


I am a teacher, and I don’t understand why most students don’t take notes during class.  When I was a student, we always took notes.  Now, I hardly ever see students taking notes in class.  I happen to think taking notes helped me make better grades when I was a student.  Do you know if that could be true?

Thanks for your help,

Frustrated Teacher


Dear Teacher,


You are right!  Taking notes is an excellent way to help people understand information better as well as remember it longer.  For example, if we listen to a speaker, three days later we will remember about 10 percent of what s/he said.  However, if we listen AND take notes, three days later we will remember about 65 percent of what s/he said.  (We learn this in our CM130 class at EC.)


With taking notes, we are able to process information in three ways: listening, seeing, and doing.  First, we are listening to the speaker.  Second, we have to process that information in an additional way as we write it.  Thirdly, we see what is written.  Even when we do not go back to reread our notes, we will remember more of what we listened to that day if we take notes.


Sometimes I take notes even if I know I won’t go back and reread them.  If I were a student, I think it would be worth a try.  I would not have anything to lose and would have a better chance of learning more and making better grades.


Thanks for your letter!

Dr. Penny Write


If you would like to ask Dr. Write for advice about writing, just e-mail



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Is It “She Looks Good” or “She Looks Well”? It All Depends on Your Meaning

By The Grammar Guru


            Sometimes it seems the English language is so filled with vagaries and technicalities that some cruel grammarian must have come up with the rules just to sit back and laugh at us as we struggle to use them.  The words good and well are prime examples.  How is a writer to know when to use which word?  For example, are all of these sentences correct?  Incorrect?  A mixture?

            Sarah did good on her report.

            Jim did well on his physics test.

            Karen’s little sister was a good girl today.

            Pastor Chris spoke well in convocation.

            If you said all of these sentences are correct except the first one, give yourself a lollipop.

 As is typically the case in English, there are rules to govern usage of the two words.  Good is always an adjective, and well is usually an adverb.  If well were always an adverb, some of our problems would be solved. 

            Perhaps a little brush up on parts of speech is in order.  For our purposes here, we need to know that adjectives are words which describe nouns and pronouns. Nouns are naming words.  They name persons, places, things or ideas.  Examples of nouns are girl, Sallie, apartment, Emmanuel College, Georgia, basketball, homework, honor, and faith.  Pronouns simply replace nouns:  I, me, she, he, it, they, we, us, etc.

            Since good is an adjective, we use it to describe nouns:  Karen’s little sister was a good girl today.  We ate a good meal at the restaurant last night.  Dr. Story is a good photographer.

            Adverbs, on the other hand, modify (describe) verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs.  Fortunately for an examination of good and well, we can limit our discussion to verbs.  Verbs are action words such as shoot, dance, sing, jump, and laugh.  I could say Fred shoots the basketball, but if I want to describe the manner in which he shoots it, I would say Fred shoots the basketball accurately or Fred shoots the basketball well.

            Which brings us back to the issue of good and well.  Since good is an adjective, it will always describe a noun.  So I would drive an English teacher crazy if I were to say Fred shoots the basketball good.  In this sentence, I am describing how Fred shoots; I am not describing the basketball.  Since shoots is a verb, I need to use an adverb:  Fred shoots the basketball well. However, if I change the sentence slightly, I would need an adjective:  Fred is a good basketball player.  Now I am using a word which describes the noun player; Fred is a good player.

            Unfortunately, there is twist in the grammar rule:  Not all verbs are action verbs; some are called linking verbs—words like am, is, are, was, and were.  In addition, sensory words such as taste, smell, sound, feel, seem, appear, and look may be action or linking verbs, depending upon their use.  Following a linking verb, we need to use an adjective.  In a sentence such as Jane is beautiful, the adjective beautiful describes the noun Jane.  Or if I substitute a sensory verb for is, I would still say Jane looks beautiful. 

            To answer the question in the headline, would I say She looks good or She looks well?  If I am talking about Jane’s appearance, that means I am describing the noun Jane.  So I would say Jane looks good (looks is a linking verb in this sentence).

            However (and here is the twist) if I am talking about Jane’s health, I would use the word well.  Even though well is typically an adverb, when we need a word to describe health, we use the adjective well.

            To sum it all up, keep in mind the following:  good is always an adjective, and well is an adverb unless it is referring to health.  Then well becomes an adjective. 

If your head is not spinning yet, you may want to try your hand at picking the correct word for the following sentences.  The correct answers are at the end of the article.   See how well you can do at making a good score!


1.       Trevor and Hazel play tennis (good, well).

2.       You did (good, well) on your speech today.

3.      That meal Kelly baked was (good, well).

4.      Mr. Stark is a (good, well) writer.

5.      Pastor Chris has a (good, well) sense of humor.

6.      I heard Jim was ill, but now he looks quite (good, well).

7.      That (good, well) steak was (good, well) cooked. 

8.      Did you do (good, well) on that assignment?


Answers:  1. Well (well describes the verb play);  2. Well (well describes the verb did); 3.  Good (good describes the noun meal); Good (good describes the noun writer);  5.  Good (good describes the noun sense); 6.  Well (well here is referring to Jim’s health); 7.  Good (good describes the noun steak) and Well (well refers to the verb cooked); 8.  Well (well describes the verb did.)


So, how well did you do?  Did you do a good job?


To further extend your knowledge, visit the Online Writing Lab at Purdue:


And have a good day!

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Putting Lipstick on a Pig

Putting Lipstick on a Pig


By Grammar Guru

Why do those pesky pronouns persist in rearing their problematic pates?  Part of the reason could be a lack of understanding about types of pronouns and how they work.


What if you are not a grammar guru and aren’t interested in learning about subjective case, objective case, and possessive case pronouns?  Can you still learn to use pronouns correctly without knowing grammatical terminology?


Thankfully for the grammatically challenged, the answer is yes.


Few of us over the age of three, for example, are likely to say, “Him plans to go to class today.”   We instinctively know that the pronoun should be “He.”  We just picked that bit of information up by listening to grownups speak.  The reason we use “he” rather than “him” is that we need a pronoun which can be used as the subject of the sentence (thus a subjective case pronoun). 

Typically, however, errors in pronoun usage occur in compound constructions.  Many have trouble knowing which pronoun to use if the pronoun is joined with “and” to another subject in a compound construction.  Do we say “Him and me plan to go to the movie,” “Him and I plan to go to the movie,” or “He and I plan to go to the movie”?  Or do we avoid the whole problem by deciding to stay at home?


The correct pronoun choice in a compound construction can be discovered by breaking the sentence into two:  Say “Him plan(s) to go to the movie,” and “Me plan(s) to go to the movie.”  Obviously, both of these choices are wrong.  That’s because both of the pronouns are objective case pronouns, not the needed subjective case forms.


So next we may try “Him and I plan to go to the movies.”  Broken into two sentences, we say “Him plan(s) to go to the movie” and “I plan to go to the movie.”  We are halfway there!  “I” is correct, but the “him” is still wrong.


Technically what we have done in joining “Him and I” together is that we have unequally yoked a subjective case pronoun with an objective case pronoun.   Or—to put it in current political parlance, we have put lipstick on a pit bull—or a pig, depending upon your political persuasion. 

If you prefer to leave politics completely out of the discussion, you might say it’s like wearing plaid walking shorts with a tux jacket.  It just isn’t pretty.


Many well-educated people sometimes make this kind of mistake, especially in prepositional phrases.  In an attempt to be correct, people sometimes “hypercorrect” by saying something like “Would you like to go to lunch with Mark and I?” 

When I hear that, clanging sounds go off in my head, I swoon, and someone has to scrape me off the floor because the speaker has unequally joined two words together.  What the speaker has literally said is “Would you like to go to lunch with Mark?  Would you like to go to lunch with I?”  The “I” may sound pretty and educated, but it is simply the wrong pronoun.  In that sentence we need to use “me.”  “Would you like to go to lunch with (Mark and) me?”


It should come as no surprise that there is a grammatical reason to use “me” in the above sentence.  For those of you who are still reading and may have a touch of the grammar guru in you, the reason is that for objects of prepositions we need to use objective case pronouns.  (See the connection?  Isn’t that clever?)  But the above speaker has come up with a sentence that sounds neither educated nor pretty.


That pit bull (or pig) is wearing lipstick again!


Would someone keep him out of my makeup bag, PLEASE!

(For more information on pronoun usage and pronoun case, visit )



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