Stephen Wilbers: Pop quiz! Put your writing to the test

  • Article by: STEPHEN WILBERS , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 31, 2010 - 12:21 PM

What is your writing IQ? Here's a follow-up assessment. Ready?

Literate

1. What is a sentence fragment?

2. What is a conjunction?

3. What is the correct usage for less and fewer?

4. Write an interrogatory sentence.

Competent

1. Do commas go before or after closing quotation marks?

2. What are the comparative and superlative forms of the adjective tall?

3. Write a compound sentence.

4. Which of these sentences contains a dangling modifier? "When reviewing my French grammar book from college, the difference between cela and ceci came back to me." "Having taken up the piano again after a 40-year hiatus, I decided to attend a fantasy jazz camp."

Accomplished

1. Which is the preferred spelling: judgement or judgment?

2. When should you use commas with who clauses, as in "Ask Susan, who wrote this report, to proofread it"?

3. Write a periodic sentence.

4. Recast that periodic sentence as a loose sentence.

To achieve a performance level, you must answer three of four questions correctly in that category, and in lower categories. The answers:

Literate

1. Sentence fragments express an incomplete thought: "When you work late."

2. A conjunction is a connecting word such as and, or and but.

3. Less refers to quantity, as in "less business"; fewer refers to number, as in "fewer customers."

4. An interrogatory sentence is a question, as in "What time is it?"

Competent

1. Commas and periods go before, not after, closing quotation marks, "like this," not "like this".

2. Taller and tallest.

3. A compound sentence has two independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction, as in "She wrote the message, but she didn't send it."

4. "When reviewing my French grammar book from college, the difference between cela and ceci came back to me" dangles because the two clauses do not connect.

Accomplished

1. The preferred spelling is judgment.

2. Commas are used with who clauses that describe, as in "Ask Susan, who wrote this report, to proofread it"; they are not used with clauses that define, as in "Ask the person who wrote this report to proofread it."

3 & 4. In a periodic sentence, the main clause is preceded by a series of modifying words or phrases, as in "Drawn by the seductive notes of the steam calliope, enchanted by the rollicking melody wafting across the water, oblivious to everything but the music, Bix Beiderbecke once sneaked aboard a river boat." In a loose sentence, the main clause comes first: "Bix Beiderbecke once sneaked aboard a river boat because ... "

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