Q is for Quince

Chaenomeles japonica
This lovely Japanese quince was flowering at the Billings Estate National Historic Site in Ottawa, Canada

Fun Q words










Quonset hut

Some more fun Q words











Confusing Q words











More Confusing Q words

enquiry, inquiry, query




queue, queuing

quintessence, quintessential

quorum, quorums






  1. Define each of the words in the “Fun Q Words” and decide whether they are nouns, verbs, or adjectives.
  2. Use each of the “Confusing Q Words” in a sentence to illustrate its meaning.


Special reading assignment

  1. The question came up, where was the quartz quarried?
  2. The quintessential quiet in the quarter acre was accentuated by the murmur of quaking aspens.


Note: This blog post is an excerpt from a book, “English Manual: Letter by Letter,” to be published in the fall of 2014.

M is for Maple Bush

Acer saccharum
Once the maple syrup is ready, you can pour a little on the snow. When it freezes, you eat it like candy.

M is for mondegreen and malapropism


Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,

Oh, where hae ye been?

They hae slain the Earl O’ Moray,

And laid him on the green./

And Lady Mondegreen.

From this poem (the last line misheard by American writer Sylvia Wright), comes the term mondegreen, meaning the misinterpretation of a phrase with a similar sound. Other examples include a line from the Christmas song, “Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer.” My friend Olive was convinced that the line

All of the other reindeer

was really

Olive, the other reindeer.

A mondegreen often makes some sort of sense. It may be years before you realize that you have made a mistake.


 A character in a 1775 play by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Mrs. Malaprop, created light comedy by using words that sound similar but have a different meaning. After that, such crazy errors have been called malapropisms. Mrs. Malaprop herself said,

She’s as headstrong as an allegory (instead of alligator).

Canadian Don Harron’s character Charlie Farquharson made hay with commentary on local and world events, using malapropisms to create double meanings and hilarious satire.

Special reading assignment

  1. In past years, each tree in the maple bush had a spigot and pail. Pails were collected by hand and transported to the sugar shack by horse and wagon.
  2. Now, the spigots drain into tubes that drain into large tubs. The tubs are then transported to the sugar shack by truck.
  3. It still takes about 40 litres of sap to make a litre of maple syrup.


Note: This blog post is an excerpt from a book, English Manual: Letter by Letter, to be published soon.


L is for Lilies

Lilium sp.
This orange garden variety is similar to the wild wood lily.

Two verbs, to lie and to lay

The two verbs, to lie and to lay have different related meanings, although they are often used incorrectly, mostly because children are told never to lie.

To lie, aside from meaning to tell an untruth (“He lied about…”), is an intransitive verb, which means that it never takes a direct object. This verb involves only the subject.

I lie down. I laid down. I have lain down under the stars.

Please, lie here on the blanket.

To lay is a transitive verb and must have a direct object, although the object may be only understood, rather than stated. A direct object generally answers the question “What?”. That is, you have to lay something down.

What did you lay down there?

I lay the pen down. I laid it here. I have laid it down.

Please lay the blanket on the grass.

Most verbs may be used as both transitive and intransitive. That is why you need a certain self-discipline to distinguish between lie and lay. Most times it doesn’t matter to anyone, but other times it may.


Some L words





lying, laying







Fun L words









  1. Create sentences using the verbs, to lie and to lay. Remember that you have to lay something down.
  2. Read the lists of L words and create a sentence for each. Make sure that you know the meaning of each word.


Special reading assignment

  1. The lady lay all the lemons in a line; only a little lime was lost. Did the lady lie about the lime?


  1. “Now I lay me down to sleep.”

— From a children’s bedtime prayer, circa 1711.

H is for Hydro Towers

Hydro lines
Hydro towers march through the landscape near Ottawa, Canada.

H is for hyphens

Hyphens (-) are little dashes that have many uses.

Hyphens in compound words

Compound words may be hyphenated (or they may be closed up together or they may be left as two separate words). Look in the dictionary for help.

Hyphenated compound words and phrases

horse-trade, hot-wire, house-sit


Closed compound words

hereinafter, hothouse, household

Open compound words

high school, hydro line, phone booth

Hyphens in confusing words

Use a hyphen to help the reader understand the sense of the word in context.

re-creation (as opposed to recreation)

co-op (as opposed to coop)

eight-part sets (as opposed to eight partial sets)

Hyphens between descriptors before a noun

Use a hyphen between the following:

two  or more adjectives before a noun

high-class home, third-floor bachelor

an adjective and a participle

hard-hitting handball game

an adverb and an adjective or participle

much-heated stew


Never use a hyphen after a word ending in —ly.  

hardly heard hymn

a noun plus a participle

hand-held device

a noun plus an adjective before a noun

cheese-free hamburger

age terms

three-year-old cheese


Do not use a hyphen if the descriptors come after the noun.

The home was high class.

The game was hard hitting.

The cheese was three years old.

Hyphens mark words split between two lines of type.

Heavenly hash is the kind of meal that many want to avoid eating because left-

overs are not appetizing.


  1. Pick up a newspaper. Find some hyphenated words and figure out what parts of speech are in the phrase.

Special reading assignment

  1. Henry hankered to measure the height of hydro towers in the right-of-way.
  2. Horrified onlookers watched the steel-built hydro towers fall in the fierce ice storm. [Near Montreal, 1989.]


B is for Black-eyed Susan

Rudbeckia serotina
A bee is seeking nectar in the flower of a black-eyed Susan.

Better and best

Use better and best to make comparisons or to make a judgement on the value of something.

As adjectives

She has a good car.

Better is used as a comparison to good.

He has a better car.

Best is used as a superlative.

They wanted the best car.

As adverbs

The car is running well.

Better is used as a comparison to well.

It had a problem, but now the car is running better.

Best is used as a superlative.

That race car runs best in its class.


How are you? I’ve been better!

How’s your day? It couldn’t be better!

How do you like your new car? It’s the best I’ve ever had.

A is for Ape

A young orangutan discovers water at the Toronto Zoo.


The meaning of the following common prefixes may help you both to understand words and to build them.


a— stands for on, in, or at

atop, alike

a— onward or away (especially for verbs of motion)

arise, awake

a— not or without

amoral, agnostic

a— to or into a state

agree, avenge

ab— off, away, or from

absent, abstain

ad— to, towards, addition, or change into

adapt, adhere, advance

aero— air or aviation

aerate, aerobics, aeroplane

al, all— everyone or everything

all-day, all night, all-purpose, all right

almost, alone, already, also, altogether

al— to, towards, addition, or change into (similar to ad—)

alliterate, allocate, allotment, allow

an— without or not

anarchy, anorexia

an—  on, adjacent, or attached

ancestor, anchor, ankle

ambi— both, around, or uncertain

ambidextrous, ambiguous

ana— anew, again, up, or back

analyst, analogy

ante— before

antecedent, antedate

anti— opposite, against

antibody, anticlockwise

arch— superior

archbishop, archduke


  1. Can you think of more examples for each prefix?