Tag Archives: Grammar

“A” or “An” with abbreviations? It depends.

Scientific papers tend to contain lots of abbreviations—acronyms, initialisms,* gene symbols and protein designations, element and isotope symbols, chemical formulas, and so on—and authors sometimes have difficulty choosing the correct indefinite article (“a” or “an”) to use with  abbreviations. Continue reading “A” or “An” with abbreviations? It depends.

Compound adjectives formed with “adsorbed” and “immobilized”

Compound adjectives constructed from a noun plus the past participle of a verb are used frequently in English. Consider, for example, the sentence

The skiers raced down the snow-covered slopes.

Here, “snow-covered” is a compound adjective constructed from the noun “snow” and the past participle of the verb “to cover.” The compound describes the slopes; the slopes were covered. Covered with what? Covered with snow.

Here’s another:

The bishop placed the jewel-encrusted crown on the queen’s head.

“Jewel-encrusted” is a compound adjective modifying “crown”; the crown was encrusted with jewels.

Now let’s look a couple of analogous sentence from the scientific literature.

The surface-adsorbed nitrogen was quantified by means of a transient-response experiment.

Here, “surface-adsorbed” is a compound adjective constructed from the noun “surface” and the past participle of the verb “to adsorb.” The compound modifies “nitrogen; the nitrogen was adsorbed. Where was it adsorbed? On the surface. Continue reading Compound adjectives formed with “adsorbed” and “immobilized”

Dangling “followed”

Pick up any usage book and you’ll be sure find a discussion of dangling participles. Participles are formed from verbs but act as adjectives, and as such, they require an appropriate noun to modify. When they fail to meet this requirement, they are said to dangle. Here, I’m going to focus on a specific participle that often dangles in scientific writing: the past participle “followed.” Let’s look at some sentences.

Metal precursors were introduced into separate polymer blocks, followed by removal of the templates by pyrolysis.

What noun does “followed” modify—that is, what was followed by removal of the templates? Neither the nearest noun, “blocks,” nor the noun at the beginning of the sentence, “precursors,” will work. The author intended “followed” to modify a noun that doesn’t actually appear in the sentence, “introduction”: Continue reading Dangling “followed”

Books on grammar, usage, and writing

Grammar Handbooks

Alexander, L. G. Longman English Grammar. London: Longman, 1988.

Crews, Frederick. The Random House Handbook. 4th ed. New York: Random House, 1984.

Fernald, James G. English Grammar Simplified. New York: HarperPerennial, 1968.

Fowler, H. Ramsey. The Little, Brown Handbook. 3rd ed. Boston: Little, Brown, 1986.

Hodges, John C., and Mary E. Whitten. Harbrace College Handbook. 9th ed. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1982. Continue reading Books on grammar, usage, and writing