Get Into Grammar with A Word With You


[kon-stuhley-shuh n] –noun


any of various groups of stars to which definite names have been given, as Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Boötes, Cancer, Orion.

  1. the section of the heavens occupied by such a group.
  2. a. the grouping or relative position of the stars as supposed to influence events, esp. at a person’s birth.
  3. Obsolete . character as presumed to be determined by the stars.
  4. a group or configuration of ideas, feelings, characteristics, objects, etc., that are related in some way: a constellation of qualities that made her particularly suited to the job.
  5. any brilliant, outstanding group or assemblage: a constellation of great scientists.

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Origin: 1275–1325; ME constellacioun  (< AF) < LL constellātiōn-  (s. of constellātiō ). See constellate, -ion


Not exactly a fancy word, not a complicated word, not even a difficult to spell word, nevertheless it’s a good word, a word that has more to it than meets the eye. So to speak.

When first hearing this word most of us probably think of the sky sort of constellations. I love to look up at the night sky and never fail to feel absolutely humbled, wee even. I’m always aware that what I can see with my eyes is not even a tiny microcosm of the stars above me. It’s good to be humbled now and again.

Then moving onto the other definition, group or configuration of ideas, feelings, characteristics, objects, etc., that are related in some way, this is also why I like this word. It is the constellation of ideas where wonderful things can happen. Putting things together, grouping ideas, allowing pieces to fall into place can be the beginning of wonderful things.

Grammar Punk Sentence: C A 2

Feeling positively humbled by the constellation of cartographers gathered in the auditorium, Cecil hoped to have his map of Bethlehem, PA autographed by one of the attendees.

Teachers of English, grammar, and writing, challenge your students to write a sentence with two words including the letters C and A and the word constellation.

Make Time Fly with Grammar Punk

Time flies faster the older you get

This time of year makes me think of time flying, which it does. Faster and faster all the time. It feels like we were just ringing in 2010 and yet here it is 2011.   

I recently read an article about this very phenomena, our brains do seem to perceive the past happening slower when we’re young. The article equated the concept to a first kiss, not a bad analogy and one I think the vast majority of us can relate to. Apparently, the brain records new experiences differently than the more mundane ones. Scientists in a lab found that our brains use more energy to represent a memory when the memory is novel. In other words, first memories are dense, whereas more blasé memories are on the sketchy side. In even more other words, the past didn’t really pass more slowly than the present, it just feels that way.

What does this have to do with time flying and the new year, and well, anything? Who knows? I’m just saying that time flies and that it’s flying faster all the time and while I’m not exactly thrilled with the sense of urgency this flying imparts, on the other hand I am. Urgency is good. I think. What do you think? Teachers of English, grammar and writing, what do your students think? Encourage them to write an essay about the relativity of time. That’ll keep em busy for a bit.

Get Into Snowmen with Grammar Punk

Is the word Snowman Sexist?

No, that’s not really a serious question, but it’s an interesting one. There are too many ubiquitous words like it, usually titular in nature: mailman, milkman, deliveryman…you get the idea.

This blog is really about snowmen—or snowpeople—or the decided lack thereof.

As a kid there were few things more worth looking for than a good snowstorm, lots of white fluffy, not too wet, not too dry, not that styrofoam stuff snow that is absolutely perfect for creating stuff. Namely snowpeople.

Ideally the snow fell on a non-school day and we’d rush to throw on layer after layer of socks, long johns, jeans, good snow boots, wrap a scarf around your neck, tug on a stocking cap, squeze into a pair of waterproof gloves and out the door we’d tumble, waddling like penguins since we could barely move.

Then it was scoop up a good firm handful of snow, pack it with more handfuls until you could begin the process of rolling it on the ground till the small ball got bigger and bigger and bigger, big enough to form the bottom section of our snowman. Then repeat for the middle, and repeat for the head. After that the particulars vary greatly, sticks for arms, an actual carrot pruloined from dinner preparations for the nose.

And voila, one of the most treasured rites of childhood decorating the lawn until the sun come out and ruins it all. And we trundle back into the house, soaked to the skin, chilled through and happily tired to await the next snowfall. This also meant that there were few front yards that were not inhabited by a Snowman, a Snowlady, or best of all, an entire Snow Famiy.

What happened?!

Don’t answer that because I already know it: video games, computer games, Tivo. All responsible for the death of Snow People! Or at the very least the serious depopulation thereof. No one builds snowmen anymore! At least not very many of them.

We recently had a few truly awe-inspiring snowstorms in a row. Lots and lots of snow on the ground. Mounds of it, all lovely and white and sparkling and…enticing, darn it! At least it should be. And if I wasn’t well past the age when freezing my…fingers off building a snowman was the be all end all, my front yard would be occupied by a whole neighborhood of snowpeople.

You people seriously need to get out there and build with the white stuff, Spring is after all, just around the corner.

Teachers of English, grammar, and writing, here’s a writing challenge for you. Ask your students to write their favorite snow-day story. Then challenge them to get out there and build a freaking snowman!

Grateful for Grammar Punk

Teaching Grammar With Gratitude, III

Being grateful for Words

If you’ve been reading this blog with any regularity at all you know how I feel about words. Long words, short words, simple words, complicated words. Serious words, silly words. Plain words, sophisticated—you get the idea.

Words are tools. Once you’re past the learning of the letters putting those letters into words is thenext step and as easy as that sounds, of course it’s not. Words are tough. Written language is not easy. It hasn’teven been around all that long in the grand scheme of things.   

The origin of language, or glottogony is hotly debated, dates ranging from 5 million years ago to a mere 50 thousand years. Written language is a big deal the vast majority of us take entirely for granted. We can’t pass down the street without being bombarded let alone helped along by our written language. We communicate with it, we comfort with it, we confront with it, we entertain with it. Language is with us and feels as if it has always been with us so the least we can do is take a moment to acknowledge, appreciate and be grateful for words.

Teachers of English, grammar, and writing, you guessed it, this is a great writing prompt for your students. Challenge them to write about and in their favorite words, discuss etiology, cave drawings, and hyrogliphics. Just do it with words.

We’re Grateful for Punctuation

I am also grateful for Punctuation. Seriously.

Punctuation is the be all end all. Literally. Punctuation tells us how to structure a sentence, a paragraph, a thought, a concept, an idea. Let’s face it, punctuation tells us how to talk.

Pretty powerful stuff.

Incredibly powerful stuff. And as with many uber-important things in life, punctuation does not get the respect it deserves. Practically none, in fact. Which is just wrong.

So what do I expect you to do about it? Besides using it each and every single time you write a sentence, no matter how simple, you mean? Use it correctly. Utilize its many and sundry subtleties and nuances. Learn what a semicolon is, for Pete’s sake!

Semicolon: punctuation mark (;) that is used to separate words in a list, or two parts of a sentence that can be understood separately. What more can you ask for?

My point is not of course entirely about the semicolon, it is about the seven other symbols used, hopefully, on a regular basis. They all serve their purpose, they’re all necessary and they are all eminently useful. Having a strong command of those puncutaiton symbols is everything.

Teachers of English, grammar, and writing, we know you’re already all about puncutuation but don’t forget to have fun with this often “dicey” concept. Grammar Punk provides colorful, interactive dice to reinforce the rules while feeling like a game. Check us out at

We’re Grateful for Grammar with Grammar Punk

Teaching Grammar With Gratitude

I am grateful for Grammar. Really. I didn’t use to be. Frankly, before becoming involved with Grammar Punk my rapport with grammar per se was not at the top of my list of things with which I was all that conversant. Notice I said per se, not practically and in an everyday sort of way but at the front of my head. Grammar was just…there. Always there. And of course that’s where it had always been and would be and should be. Always there.

Grammar is language. To be precise it’s the rules of the language, which makes it a very big deal indeed. What it isn’t is scary. What it isn’t is boring. What it isn’t is unncecessary. At least it so should not be. Grammar rules—pun intended.

We need rules. We need structure and continuity and sense. When it comes to this often ridiculously complicated language of ours, we need to know what goes where and why. Grammar is so much more than knowing the parts of speech and modifiers and gerunds and participles, grammar is structure. Grammar is the difference between rhetoric and chaos. Grammar is what shapes our thoughts and ideas and allows us to put them down so others can know what the heck we’re talking about.  Grammar is essential. Grammar is with us for always. And since this is the Grammar Punk Blog I feel I have to mention, we make grammar fun. Really.

Get Into Grammar with A Word With You

Eminent and immanent and imminent 

I know there are difficult, complicated, even convoluted languages out there, I understand the language of Greenland is a mindbender, but English has definitely got to be up there on the list. Which of course makes the teaching of grammar that much more challenging.

We have altogether too many words that are ridiculously similar in pronunciation and spelling yet mean entirely different things. Take eminent, immanent, and imminent for example.

Eminent: of high standing; superior in position, fame, or achievement

Immanent: within something; existing within or inherent in something

Imminent: about to happen, or threatening to happen

Now the last two are honest to goodness homonyms but the first is so similar in pronunciation I’m throwing it in as well.

It’s easy to look at our language and complain that it’s occasionally overcomplicated but I prefer to think of it as well-rounded. And amazing. And challenging. Seriously, wouldn’t you prefer too many words as opposed to too few?

Awaiting the imminent arrival of the eminent Professor Plum, the class anticipated his lecture on the immanence of “dark matter” in the universe.  

Grammar Fun with Pronunciation

Teaching grammar with pronunciation!

Pronunciation is one of those concepts that never fail to intrigue me. And puzzle me. And occasionally leave me nonplussed. Okay, I’ll admit it; our language is probably a bit on the over-complicated side. We do tend to have half a dozen words that mean roughly the same thing. Fine. I still love it. Except for the words that get screwed up. A lot. Regularly. And never fail to annoy me when they do.

Here are just a couple of them: Mischievous  and irreparable.

Irreparable and irrepairable. I just saw this one on a television program in large white pint against a black background and couldn’t  believe my eyes. Irreperairable, big as life. Seriously! Microsoft Word would have given them a major red squiggly line under that word, but there it was, big as life. And of course you have to know that one of the people on the show (this was one of those reality shows talking about hoarders) kept pronouncing the word ir-repair-able instead of the correct usage, ir-repar-able. And yes, it bugged me every single time he did. C’mon, people, when the spelling tells you how it’s pronounced why does it get so twisted? And so commonly used?

Which brings me to mischievous, or, as it seems to be better known as: mis-chev-ious. Okay, now that one I’ll admit to doing that one myself from time to time until it hit me that I was wrong, wrong, wrong. There is no mischevious, the word is pronounced mis-chev-ous. Really.

 So, why do we pronounce it mischevious? Irreparable—so often comes out ir-repair-able, which isn’t a word. Joolery I’ve already griped about instead of jewelry. Joolery is not a word! Neither, as it turns out, are mischevious and irrepairable. Who knows? The “wrong” words actually contain more syllables and are even more difficult to pronounce.

So I challenge you to go out into the world and pronounce these commonly wronged words correctly. And when you hear them mispronounced, please point it out—politely—to the pronouncers. Before you know it we’ll all be speaking better. Or you’ll have a black eye.               

Get Them Writing with Grammar Punk

Writing is a skill that has to be a requirement not an option. Strong writing skills are an absolute necessity in nearly every type of employment. The stronger the skills the wider the net of opportunity waiting to be flung, the more choices become available. This onerous does fall on teachers because it is teachers who see who is getting it and who isn’t. Teachers will also tell you that, as with any skill, the best way to perfect a thing is to do it. Over and over and over again. Every single day.

We want to take that onerous one stop further. Another challenge most teachers bump up against is what to do with the kids who get it…but aren’t doing anything with it. Those students can be more frustrating than the ones who struggle with basic skills.

We need to start encouraging students to focus their writing skills to a purpose. A specific purpose. Writers need to be encouraged—to become writers.

I once had the opportunity—and privilege to talk to a group of high school juniors and seniors about writing. I came prepared to talk about honing strong grammar chops, stretching vocabularies, editing skills and stellar spelling—and I did—before we got down to the fun stuff. I had stumbled across a group of kids who got it and who wanted to use it. It just hadn’t occurred to anyone to tell them they were already doing it.

Creating writers often means supplying them with plenty to read from the get-go then staying out of their way. Some of us knew from an early age that writing was all we wanted to do. We are the exception, not the rule. Many writers need to be pointed in the right direction. Ask any artist and they’ll tell you that someone, at sometime put a paintbrush in his or her hand and pointed them to the canvas. New writers need to be encouraged, often cajoled, occasionally bullied, rarely threatened, always prodded. Don’t just tell them they can do it, prove it by giving them the tools, the structure, the skeleton and the enthusiasm—then get out of their way. Until it’s time for the next project.