A Scene: During English
| Tony likes to
ask questions. Sometimes he pretends that he doesn't understand just so
he can have some fun with the teacher and make the class laugh.
||Ms. Q, what does
this mean? I understand the rest of the rubric, but what's this about
mechanics and conventions? Is a convention a meeting where
all the mechanics go to look at the new car jacks and wrenches or
something? I know there's a convention center in the city somewhere.
||No, Tony. That's a
different kind of convention. On the rubric, Conventions means rules
They're more like agreements to do things a certain way to keep
communication clear-so that we're writing the same language, you might
||I don't understand
why this is so important that it's on the rubric with the other things.
||I'll tell you a
story, Tony. One spring break I flew to Bermuda for a vacation. As we
were leaving the airport, the taxi I was in took off down the left side
of the road. I thought, This man is we're going to hit that bus coming
the other way. But we didn't. The bus, which appeared to be heading
right for us, was also on the left side of the from its point of view.
We passed each other just like we would in the U. S., but on the
opposite side of the road.
||So, why do they
drive on the left? That is crazy.
||No crazier than
driving on the right. It makes no difference, as long as everybody
knows what the rules are. Bermuda used to be a British colony, and in
Great Britain they drove on the left, so they made the same rule in
||Did you have
trouble keeping it straight while you were there? It must have been
tough to drive.
||It was no trouble.
At that time they wouldn't let you rent a car until you'd been on the
island for a month and had a chance to get used to it. I'm sure that
prevented a lot of crashes.
||So, conventions are
to keep you from crashing?
||In a way. You could
say that following the rules or conventions prevents a lot of travel
problems: wrong turns, detours, missed directions, and getting lost.
||What kinds of rules
writing include rules for grammar, usage, punctuation, spelling, and
even word order.
||What do you mean by
||In English, for
example, an adjective usually comes before the word it modifies. We
would say, big lake, not lake big. In Spanish, conventional word order
is the opposite of ours. The adjective usually follows the word it
modifies. In Spanish, big lake would be lago grande, not grande lago.
||Is that why it's so
confusing to learn another you don't just have to learn the words. You
have to learn a million rules for using them.
||That's right. You
can know the meaning of very word in the French language, but if you
don't know the rules, you won't be able to write a single sentence.
||Okay, I get it, but
what happened to the mechanics. Didn't they get invited to the
||When you're a
famous comedian, I hope you will send me tickets for your show. Yes,
the mechanics got invited. They came to fix capitalization, use of
quotation marks and underlining, punctuation of titles, abbreviations,
||Ms. Q, does anybody
really know all of these rules? Do you?
||I'm sure I don't
know every single one. It's complicated because the rules change over
time. Also, there are different rules for different kinds of writing.
The more formal the writing, the more strict are the rules. If you're
writing a note to a friend, that's different from writing an essay for
a college application.
As Tony and Ms. Q pointed out, there are many rules in this category.
The rubric defines Mechanics & Conventions as how well your writing
demonstrates control of paragraphing, grammar, usage, punctuation, and
spelling. You don't need to worry about whether a rule belongs
under mechanics or conventions. (Authorities on writing
don't always agree.)
A handbook to explain and illustrate all of the rules would be hundreds
of pages long, so all we can do in the brief space we have here is show
you the most important rules and give you examples of breaking the
rules and following the rules.
We'll start with grammar and usage. Then we'll move on to punctuation,
then spelling, and finally mechanics.
How do I know if I'm using Mechanics correctly?
The following sections are designed to help you understand how to use
mechanics correctly, and recognize proper use of mechanics.
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