MM's Fundamentals of English

MM’s Fundamentals of Writing

September 1, 2015 Volume 3, Number 1
MM’s Tidbits

This month, I’d like to share some common mistakes I noticed in the submissions from MM’s Yellow Highlights Workshop on Mechanics – the trial run.

Using character names several times each page. You need to use character names only to prevent confusion. Unless you have two men or two women in the same scene, once a page is good.

Using beats as dialogue tags. The most effective dialogue tag is said. Don’t need to be creative or use big words like responded or inquired. Characters can’t possibly smile words, chuckle words, frown words…. ACTIONS ARE NOT TAGS; they are beats.

Using participial phrases that defy logic. A participial phrase begins with a verb form, but the phrase itself is an adjective that modifies the noun or pronoun that immediately precedes or follows the phrase. The problem with participial phrases is that the main verb of the sentence AND the verb in participial phrase MUST be able to happen at the same time. Often, writers ignore that rule.

For example, Hearing the phone ring, Sharon stopped washing the dinner dishes and answered it.

Two verb forms – hearing – the participle & stopped – the main verb. She won’t stop washing until AFTER she hears the phone ring. These two actions can’t happen at the same time. It’s illogical, as Spock (Star Trek for you non-Sci-Fi fans) would say.


Workshops with MM







About MM Pollard

As an English teacher for fifteen years, the MM in Workshops with MM, and currently as editor for Black Velvet Seductions, MM Pollard has helped writers correct ungrammatical grammar, misused usage, problematic punctuation, and poor writing. Check out Testimonials on her blog, MM’s Fundamentals of English. While you are there, sign up for her monthly newsletter and even look at previous newsletters.


MM began presenting workshops four years ago and has presented on many sites, including her own. Many RWA chapters, including From the Heart RWA, RWA Online, OCC/RWA, Passionate Ink, Fantasy, Futuristic & Paranormal RW, Maryland RWA, and Florida RW, have sponsored her workshops. In February, 2015, she presented at FRW’s Fun in the Sun Conference, her dream come true!


Through her fun workshops – English class can be fun! – she is sure she can help you, too, master the fundamentals of English composition.

I’m BaaaacK!

I have sent you this newsletter because you have either taken a Workshop with MM, you have signed up for my newsletter, or because you’re someone I want to keep in touch with. You haven’t received an email from me in over a year. The reason isn’t that I didn’t want to keep in touch. To be honest, the reason is that I’m not a graphic designer. I spent so much time worrying about and agonizing over the newsletter design and fighting with the email provider that I finally just gave up.

Well, I’m back with a simple design and no sender except me and I’m excited! I plan to send out emails once a month or so with news about Workshops with MM and tidbits that will help you grasp the mechanics of writing.

If you aren’t excited to hear from me, you haven’t hurt my feelings. I know – out of sight, out of mind. So, if you would never like to receive another email from me, just send this email back to me. Just hit reply with your name on the subject line. That’s all you have to do.

<waving to all of you who are typing your name and about to hit send>

What can you expect in future newsletters? Read on. MM


News about Workshops with MM

First, expect news about Workshops with MM, and, boy, do I have exciting news to share with you today!


Announcing MM’s Yellow Highlights Workshop on Mechanics

I will offer a month-long workshop in October, 2015, called MM’s Yellow Highlights Workshop for Mechanics on the Workshops with MM Yahoo group. Students will submit 1500 words a week for four weeks. I will edit for punctuation, spelling, grammar, sentence structure, usage, and word choice with mistakes highlighted and suggestions for corrections given. I will also post lessons that address each student’s specific errors. In four weeks, I will edit 6,000 words for the basics – nothing on the how to write a novel topics like deep point of view or character arcs, but all the nuts and bolts that are basic to solid writing.

I just completed a trial run of this workshop with five students. I have included some of their comments below.

Alan: I enjoyed the comments of all types, be it mechanics only or the more subjective forms of the craft.

Fran: Thanks MM! Your comments and corrections make incredible sense. I can’t believe you caught the out-of-alignment lines. You have great eyes!

I copied your comma lessons onto index cards and reviewed them as I edited my submission. I caught a few comma mistakes, but also missed a few. Your instructions, right next to my compound sentences, were extremely helpful.  I think the combination of reviewing the lessons and seeing your corrections next to the mistakes is effective. It just takes time to absorb.

Karen: Based upon my three submissions, I’ve concluded I’m not dreadful when it comes to the mechanics. That was worth the $75. Would be worth $100. Would be worth more.

The other major benefits to me were:

·        Your identification of my overuse of hyphenated words and characters’ names and my repetition of pieces of information.

·        The lessons.

I’ve reviewed 10 of the lessons. Most of them provide information I can use to strengthen my writing. For example, if I practice using different types of sentences and the strategic use of fragments, I’ll be better prepared for a workshop on pacing. (I’m not ready for that just yet.) For quite a few of the lessons, I don’t have a good handle on what is mechanics and what is beyond mechanics.

Claudia: Thank you for the feedback. I’ll go back to the MS and work on the sentences. …I’m going back to make sure I don’t leave a thought hanging as I used to. For that I have to thank you a lot.

Lois: I will review the lessons and work on them. I really enjoyed the class and I hope I learned from them as it has been a while since I’ve had English lessons.  Thanks for your patience with me. – – – – –

The cost of this workshop will be $75 for everyone who receives this newsletter. Consider it my way of saying thanks for your interest in Workshops with MM and your support over the past few years. I will limit the October workshop to ten students. I can’t see myself taking on more than ten – that’s 60,000 words – gives me tremors just thinking about all the work involved in editing that many words and writing lessons for the errors I see.

Why then, if just the thought gives me the shakes, am I thinking about offering this type of workshop? I see so many self-published books that have a fabulous story, but the mechanics of writing are bad.  Sorry, no other way to say that. I’m not judging, really. I’ve been out of school for a really long time. If I hadn’t taught English for 15 years, I’m sure I would have forgotten a lot of what I learned back in the dark ages. <smile>

So, would you be interested in taking MM’s Yellow Highlights Workshop for Mechanics in October? I’d love to know your pros and cons to this type of workshop. Please email your interest and comments to me at The registration will be on a first emailed first registered basis. Any questions? Send them to the same email address.

Check out MM’s blog MM’s Fundamentals of English for other Workshops with MM and for information on all fundamentals of English.

Here are the lesson topics I covered with my five students in the trial workshop. Of course, lessons during each workshop will vary because I choose them based on the students’ errors in their submissions.

Mechanics of Internal Monologue           Tense in Flashbacks

Strategic Uses of Fragments                  Using Find to Search for Common Errors

Numbers and Apostrophes                    Subject-Verb Agreement

Editing Strategy to Find Missing or Wrong Words

Apostrophes to Show Joint Ownership

Commas after Introductory Elements     Comma Splices

Commas and Appositives                   Comma Conventions

Telling Words                                     Writing Excellent Exposition

Simple Dialogue Punctuation                Vague –ing Words

Pronoun Cases                                     The Overly Long Sentence

Preposition and Clause Words                 Pronoun Antecedents

Beats in Dialogue                                 Fixing Problem Participial Phrases

Phrasal Adjectives and Hyphens             Concrete vs. Abstract Nouns to Show

Compound Sentence Punctuation           Compound Parts of Sentences


MM’s Tidbits

In each newsletter in the left column, you’ll also find MM’s Tidbits, short lessons on English mechanics and composition.   ⇐


MM’s Favorite Resources this Month

Here, I will post my favorite resources. You’ll find them on Amazon. Right now, my favorite books are

For the writer’s Life: The 7 Secrets of the Prolific: The Definitive Guide to Overcoming Procrastination, Perfectionism, and Writer’s Block by Hillary Rettig

Fav grammar book: The Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to the Magic and Mystery of Practical English by Roy Peter Clark

Books to improve facets of your story:

Showing and Telling in Fiction by Marcy Kennedy

She Sat He Stood: What do your characters do while they talk? By Ginger Hanson

Writing about Magic by Rayne Hall


Until next time . . .

That’s it for this newsletter. Please let me know what you think about the new layout, sections, and the new workshop. Email me at If you would like to receive future newsletters, just leave your name in comments or email me at the above address. If you would like to take MM’s Yellow Highlights Workshop on Mechanics in October, email me at the above address soon. I already have three paid registrations. Ten is the max. MM

A student in one of my workshops asked about using the and a. I had written four lessons on articles and noun determiners–yes, we all know I tend to be wordy–for a forum almost two years ago. If the writer has questions, I assume others might to, so I’m posting them here as one article.

Yes, the post is long, but you don’t have to click on three more posts to get the whole picture of articles.


You’re welcome :-)



Lesson 1 The Three Articles — A, An, and The

We’ll start with an easy one — the articles — a, an, the. When you see one of these words in a sentence, you can bet (safely) that a noun is nearby. We’ll talk about nouns in the later lesson.

How to use the articles correctly:

A and an are indefinite articles, meaning they point out any noun, not a specific noun. They are both singular in number, meaning one. Examples: I am reading a good book. (one book) I love having a new car. (one car) This is an honorable gesture. (one event)

Use a before words that do NOT begin with a vowel SOUND. Examples: I am reading a good book. I love having a new car. This is a historic event. Bradbury’s story is about a utopian society.

Use an before words that begin with a vowel SOUND. I am reading an interesting book. I love having an antique car. This is an exciting time of year.

The is a definite article, meaning it points out a specific noun. The may be singular or plural, may point out singular and plural nouns.


Read the story for homework. (Not just any story, but the one I gave you to read.)

I heard the baby cry at 3 p.m. (Not just any baby, but the one that was crying at 3 p.m. I know this crying baby.)

I saw the girls in the library. (Not just any girls, but the ones I have mentioned earlier.)


Let’s look at the next three sentences and compare their meanings with the examples above.

Read a story for homework. (You choose the story. I don’t care.)

I heard a baby cry at 3 p.m. (I don’t know this baby.)

I saw girls in the library. (Usually, only boys go the library. I don’t know these girls.)


In case you are wondering, there is no indefinite article to use with plural nouns.

That’s lesson 1 — questions? Post as a reply. MM

December 23, 2012


Lesson 2: Articles — The Fine Print

Here’s the first rule: When two or more nouns joined by AND refer to different people, places, or things, use an article before each noun.


The surgeon and the nurses were super during her stay in the hospital.

The dog and the cat fight like brothers and sisters.

The professor and the leader of the dig crew argue over where to dig.

He found a coat and a scarf left in the church pew after mass.

Each example gives you two nouns. In each example, the two nouns refer to different people, animals or things. (Sorry, I just can’t call animals “things.”) If the nouns joined by AND are the subjects of the sentence, make sure that the verb agrees with your subjects.

Here’s the second rule: When two or more nouns joined by AND refer to the same person, place, or thing, use an article before the first noun only.


The lead surgeon and head of Barnes’s neurosurgery department offers her valuable advice before the surgery.

The mini Australian shepherd and love of my life is named Foster.

A student and aspiring surgeon has visited her room after her surgery to check on her.

MM is a workshop presenter and editor of Black Velvet Seductions.

Each example here also gives you two nouns. But here, both nouns refer to the same person or animal. Since student and head, for example, refer to the same person, use a singular verb to agree with the subject.

Any questions?


January 8, 2013


Lesson 3: Noun Determiners

Noun determiners go by many different names: articles — a, an, the demonstrative adjectives — this, that, these, those (as opposed to demonstrative pronouns this, that, these, those. Pronouns take the place of nouns.) possessive pronouns — my, our, your, his, her, its, their

If you see any of these words in a sentence, you can bet that a noun closely follows, in a grammatically correct sentence, that is!

A cat adopted my husband and me. A — what? — cat my — what? — husband

Not such an easy one this time!

The adorable, fluffy little fur ball purred its way into our soft hearts. The — what? — fur ball — adorable, fluffy, little are adjectives that describe fur ball. Adjectives are also noun determiners WHEN they precede the noun they describe. I avoid calling them noun determiners in this lesson because sometimes adjectives come after the noun they modify, after a linking verb. Start including verbs in the mix and you are asking for trouble. Grammar is hard enough. Why make it harder?

Its — what? — way

our — what? — hearts — soft is an adjective that describes hearts

Before I close, I want to address the issue of demonstrative pronouns vs. demonstrative adjectives. This story is really funny. What is really funny? Story — Which story? This story. This describes story — demonstrative adjective

That tasted very good. What tasted very good? That — whatever THAT is. Be careful using demonstrative pronouns as the subjects of sentences. Beginning vaguely is not a good beginning. BETTER: That seafood gumbo tasted very good.

Now we need to work on very good — another lesson!

More tidbits about this, that, these and those before I go — this and that before singular nouns This book, that cat

these and those before plural nouns These books, those cats

This and these — use with nouns near the speaker We found this cat in the alley. (Cat is the one with me now.)

That and those — use with nouns away from the speaker Those cars get the best mileage. (The cars I’m talking about aren’t in my driveway, for instance.)

Any questions? MM

21 January 2013 09:31 PM


Lesson 4: The Absolute Last Lesson on Articles, Promise

This lesson on articles — the last one on these tiny but mighty words, I promise — deals with WHEN TO USE AND WHEN NOT TO USE ARTICLES and THE DIFFERENCES IN MEANING WHEN YOU DON’T USE THEM.

RULE: Do not use articles with non-count nouns that refer to all of something or something in general. Non-count nouns are nouns that can’t be made plural. (Be careful: Many nouns can be both count — one or many — and non-count — no specific number.)

CORRECT EXAMPLE WITHOUT ARTICLE: Kindness is a virtue. No article before kindness. Kindness in general.

CORRECT EXAMPLE WITH ARTICLE: The kindness of strangers was a blessing to us. Use THE because the prepositional phrase “of strangers” makes kindness specific — the kindness of strangers, not kindness in general.

CORRECT EXAMPLE WITHOUT ARTICLE: In some parts of the world, rice is the preferred grain. No article before rice. Rice is a general term here, not referring to a specific type or serving of rice.

RULE: When you use a count noun to represent a general category, make the noun plural and do not use the. CORRECT EXAMPLE WITHOUT ARTICLE: Fountains add a focal point to landscape design.

EXCEPTION TO THIS RULE: When the noun is singular and refers to a scientific class or category of items, most often animals, musical instruments, and inventions, use the.

CORRECT EXAMPLE OF EXCEPTION: The assembly line modernized manufacturing. “The assembly line” is an invention here. INCORRECT EXAMPLE OF EXCEPTION: A assembly line or Assembly line . . . .

CORRECT EXAMPLE OF EXCEPTION: The American alligator is no longer listed as an endangered species. “The American alligator” is a category of animals.

RULE: Do not use articles with most singular proper nouns. There are exceptions to this rule.

CORRECT EXAMPLE: France, Lake Erie, Mount St. Helens

CORRECT EXAMPLE OF EXCEPTION: most are made up of a common noun and modifiers. We visited the Great Wall of China last year. Robert wants to work for the FBI.

RULE: Use the with most plural proper nouns. CORRECT EXAMPLE: the Smiths, the Great Lakes, the United States of America, the Rocky Mountains, the Hawaiian Islands

That does it for articles! Any questions? MM

30 January 2013 05:56 PM



Two images that prove punctuation is important!

from Pleated Jeans

Some of the images on the website might be objectionable to some people. These were funny and very telling!  Enjoy.  MM

squirrel eating pumpkinjfk and strippers

 ‘s or just ‘ — That is the Question

A student in one of my recent workshops asked me if there was consensus on forming the singular possessive of nouns ending in s like Marcus.

I looked up the question in The Chicago Manual of Style and posted the manual’s answer for her and others.

I’m including the answer here because I’m sure others face the same dilemma  —  ‘s or ‘?

There is no consensus concerning the apostrophe rule for making singular nouns ending in s possessive. Any publishing firm can decide how it wants to handle apostrophes in this instance and call it house STYLE.

Most do follow The Chicago Manual of Style, though, so I let this book be the authority for me on any subject related to questions of style.

From edition 16, Chicago says

“7.15: The possessive of most singular nouns is formed by adding an apostrophe and an s.” One of the examples is a bass’s stripes.

“The possessive of plural nouns (except for a few irregular plurals, like children, that do not end in s) is formed by adding an apostrophe only.” One of the examples is puppies’ paws.

“7.16: Possessive of proper nouns, letters, and numbers. The general rule extends to proper nouns, including names ending in s, x, or z, to both their singular and plural forms, as well as letters and numbers.”

Some examples:

Singular forms: Kansas’s legislature, Dickens’s novels, Jesus’s adherents

Plural forms: the Lincolns’ marriage, dinner at the Browns’ home

This is where it gets interesting:

“7.17: Possessive of words and names ending in unpronounced “s.” In a return to Chicago’s earlier practice, words and names ending in an unpronounced s form the possessive in the usual way (with the addition of an apostrophe and an s). This practice not only recognizes that the additional s is often pronounced but adds to the appearance of consistency with the possessive forms of other types of proper nouns.”

Some examples:

the marquis’s mother

Albert Camus’s novels

Exceptions to the General Rule – you knew there had to be exceptions, right?

“7.19: Possessive of nouns plural in form, singular in meaning. When the singular form of a noun ending in s is the same as the plural (i.e. the plural is uninflected), the possessives of both are formed by the addition of an apostrophe only. If ambiguity threatens, use of to avoid the possessive.”


politics’ true meaning

this species’ first record (or better, the first record of this species)

7:20: “For…sake” expressions. For goodness’ sake, for righteousness’ sake – no s after apostrophe

for expedience’s sake, for Jesus’s sake – add s after apostrophe

Chicago’s final words on the subject

“7:21: An alternative practice for words ending in “s.” Some writers and publishers prefer the system, formerly more common, of simply omitting the possessive s on all words ending in s – hence “Dylan Thomas’ poetry…. ” “Though easy to apply and economical, such usage disregards pronunciation and is therefore not recommended by Chicago.”

BTW, I’m presenting a workshop on apostrophes and commas in September sponsored by Outreach International RW. For details, click on the link here. If you think apostrophes are a mess, just wait to you see all the comma rules!


Guess what? I’m going to speak at the Florida RW Fun in the Sun Conference, February, 2015. The conference will be held on the Royal Caribbean ship Liberty of the Seas — yes, a cruising conference in the Western Caribbean with a stop at Cozumel, Mexico.

When I started giving workshops, I dreamed of giving them in person, so this opportunity is the first step in making that dream come true. I’ll present a one-hour talk on either commas or genre clichés — the conference committee hasn’t let me know which topic yet.

Even though presenting in person was a dream when I first began giving workshops, I admit I’ve become comfortable with giving online workshops. I have grown accustomed to the privacy of this format. I stepped out my comfort zone big time when I sent FRW two proposals for its conference. I got my husband to promise that if the chapter invited me to speak, he would go with me so that I wouldn’t have to go alone.

Well, FRW invited, and now we are looking forward to leaving Illinois next February, going south, and visiting Mayan ruins. March, 2015, is our 30th anniversary. The cruise will be special for that reason even if I’m so nervous I tell jokes that no one thinks is funny — I tend to do that when I’m nervous — and people walk out on me — my greatest fear! Wish me luck.

Have any of you cruised on Royal Caribbean? On Liberty of the Seas? Been to Cozumel? What did you enjoy and what would you skip if you go again? We’ll only have a day in Cozumel, so I want to make the most of that short time.



I have sent March’s newsletter to subscribers. If you aren’t a subscriber, you can subscribe by clicking on the subscribe button to the right. If you would like to view March’s email, click on newsletter archives.


Happy viewing,



Workshops with MM – April – June, 2014

Here’s is a list of workshops I will present in April. If you would like more information on May and June workshops, click on the heading Workshops with MM: April – June above.

Editing with a Machete is a great short workshop on writing tighter stories by making big cuts. I think every writer should sign up for Write in Passive Voice and Be Passed over by a Publisher — yes, there is a passive verb in the title. Do you know what it is? Flashbacks covers the do’s, the don’ts, and the how of writing flashbacks. Engage Your Reader with Attention-Grabbing Prose is a fabulous workshop for anyone who wants to work on varying the sentence structure to create more interesting sentences in manuscripts.

I hope to see you in class in April. MM


Workshop: Editing with a Machete

Instructor: MM Pollard, editor, Black Velvet Seductions

When: April 7-20, 2014 with Workshops with MM

Workshop description:

You’ve decided to play surgeon and cut the fat (scenes that go nowhere, minor characters that add nothing, plot twists that add words but not much plot) from your baby (your manuscript). In this two-week workshop (5 lessons), MM Pollard will show you where and how to cut the excess without too much pain and agony.

In lessons titled Hacking Away with a Machete, Using Pruning Shears, and Triage for Your Wounded Story you’ll learn how to cut large portions of your manuscript and how to repair the holes left by the massive cutting.

No writer likes to cut, but your characters and your editor will thank you. Will it hurt? Only a little, but you’ll be happy with your new slim and trim manuscript. Promise.

Reward for doing your homework: MM will offer feedback on every assignment posted when due. Think of homework as opportunities for mini-edits by MM.

Workshop is $15 without an edit. For $25 and completion of all homework, MM will edit 1000 words of your writing. See details at Workshops with MM.

Workshop: Write in Passive Voice and Be Passed Over by a Publisher, sponsored by NEORWA

Instructor: MM Pollard

When: April 1 – April 28, 2014

Workshop description:

In Write in Passive Voice and Be Passed Over by a Publisher, you will receive the equivalent of a master’s degree in passive voice, one of the writing errors that spell rejection by agents, editors, and publishers. We will cover what active voice and passive voice mean, how to form the passive voice, including a verb lesson, and how to form the active from the passive. We will cover the reasons not to use passive voice verbs and the few instances where passive voice is the best choice. By the end of this workshop, you will have everything you need to identify and correct passive voice writing in your writing.


Cost for the workshop is $15 for NEORWA members, $20 for all others. You do not have to be an RWA member to take our workshops!

Flashbacks that Please Your Editor and Don’t Confuse Your Reader – 4 weeks, sponsored by From the Heart RWA

Instructor: MM Pollard

When: April 7 – May 2, 2014

Workshop description:

Flashbacks are a device that a writer must use with care, or she might lose her reader in the distant past, never to see that reader again. Eight lessons will cover kinds of flashbacks, uses for flashbacks as well reasons not to use flashbacks, and the mechanics involved in writing flashbacks.


Fees and How to register:

FTHRW Non-Members: $25.00 before March 31, 2014

Workshop: Engage Your Reader with Attention-Grabbing Prose, sponsored by LowCountry RWA

Instructor: MM Pollard, editor, Black Velvet Seductions

When: April 1-24, 2014 Workshop Description:

Your story lives or dies on the sentences you write to tell it. Do your sentences give your story life and breath, or do they strangle the life out of your story with boring, same-old, same-old sentence structure?

Remember, variety is the spice of life — for your story. In this workshop, MM Pollard will cover basic sentence structure and give you concrete ways to vary that structure to engage your reader’s interest. She will share what a writer needs to know to write spectacular sentences that make the reader want to continue reading.

You’ll have plenty of chances to practice the many ways to vary sentence structure; in other words, you’ll have homework. MM will give you feedback on every homework assignment you post.

Reward for doing your homework: MM’s personal feedback on every assignment. Think of homework as an opportunity for mini-edits by MM.

Workshop fee is $20.00.

Click on Black Velvet Seductions when you Register for this Workshop.

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5 Star Reviews of Workshops with MM — Find More in Testimonials

Hi MM,
This was without doubt the most constructive workshop I've ever taken. It has helped me tighten and improve my writing. I've done many workshops in the past decade, and this one is right at the top of my list. It was tough compared to most. Your expectation that we participate regularly and do homework is what made the difference. It helped me absorb the work instead of glancing over it and *thinking* I got it. Not to say I'm a pro now by any means, but as I wrote a few paragraphs last night my mind was tweaking as I went. Editing will be much easier!

You've become my favorite English teacher of all time. I had a rather stern one in Irish boarding school. You reminded me of her, but in one month you taught me much more than that poor woman managed to teach me in two years.

Thanks very much for everything. I'll be looking into your upcoming classes in 2013. Happy Holidays.

Best Wishes,

October 2015
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