March 2010 Newsletter

College Focus:
The Right Word:
Writing Tip:

San Jose State University
Accept vs. Except
Rule No. 1: Forming Possessives
James Joyce

San Jose State University
Silicon Valley's Paycheck Powerhouse

San Jose State University’s recent graduates are some of the best paid in the nation, earning $53,500 a year during the first five years after graduation, according to a survey by And students from its engineering departments—rated 14th in the nation among colleges offering bachelor’s and master’s degrees—earn much more.

All San Jose State University students, including those in technical majors, must pass the Writing Skills Test by their junior year. San Jose State English professor Scott Rice helped institute this exam more than 20 years ago in response to requests from Silicon Valley companies and other employers.

"The most important secrets to passing this English test are to try hard, read the directions very carefully, and follow them," he said. "Although the test is difficult for many students, especially if their native language isn’t English, the reading and writing skills needed to graduate from San Jose State are the same skills needed to be successful in any career."

Many San Jose students go to work right after earning their degrees, but some, such as Tin Tran, go on to prestigious graduate schools. Tran, who studied with Improve Your English for four years while at Los Gatos High School, will start at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine next fall.

“Going to SJSU saved me a lot of money and allowed me to spend a few more years with my family before I move to Boston for dental school,” Tran says.

“The facilities for the sciences are just as good as at UC schools, and the lab classes are usually taught by PhDs, not graduate students.”

Tran’s younger brother, Tan, also attends SJSU. Although admitted to Berkeley, he chose to stay in San Jose for his undergraduate education. Like his brother, he plans to enter either dental or medical school.

SJSU students have the chance to rub shoulders with people from the world’s most important technology companies. Dennis Schaaf, a native of Germany who studied with Improve Your English in 2004, graduated from SJSU with a degree in mechanical engineering. As a senior, he interned with Tesla Motors, now the Silicon Valley’s hottest start-up.

SJSU is part of America’s largest university—the 23-campus California State University system, which reaches 773 miles from San Diego to Humboldt. The CSU campuses have more than 430,000 students, with San Jose State contributing 29,000 students to the total. The university adds billions of dollars to California’s economy and trains 40% of the state’s engineers.

Next time: University of California, Berkeley

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Accept vs. Except

Nat Crawford,
director of tutoring

by Nat Crawford

Accept is most commonly used as a verb.

I accepted the award.

Except is most commonly used as a preposition, either by itself or in the phrase except for.

All the drivers except me skidded on the ice.

When deciding which word to use, visualize creating a sentence diagram.

Alternatively, imagine substituting the word but (the preposition) for the word accept/except.

It works! Choose except.

Doesn't work. Choose accept.

For answers to specific writing questions, email us here. Who knows? Your question may inspire our next article on The Right Word.

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Strunk and White's Rule No. 1
Steve High,
by Steve High

Form the possessive singular of nouns by adding 's regardless of the final consonant.

To form the possessive plural of nouns, follow these steps:

  1. If the noun is singular, follow rule 1.
  2. If the noun is plural and ends in s or es, add an apostrophe at the end of the word.
  3. If the noun is plural and does not end in s or es, follow rule 1.

This is the boy's bedroom.
(Boy is singular; you have only one son.)
This is the boys' bedroom.
(Boys is plural; you have two sons who share a bedroom.)
This is the children's room. (Children is a plural not ending in -s;
you have two or more children who use the room.)

Following these simple steps will lead you to the correct answer in all but a very few troublesome cases.

Possessive nouns are diagrammed in the same way as nouns used as adjectives, but they do not mean the same thing.

The Chess Club is a club for chess, not a club possessed by chess.

Boys Town, Nebraska, is a place for boys, not a town owned by boys.

Sometimes the difference between a possessive and a noun used as an adjective is hard to determine. For example, a search of corporate information reveals the following astonishing sentence, which uses boy three different ways:

Father Flanagan's Boy's Home Inc. is a private company categorized under Boys' Towns and located in Boys Town, NE.

In other cases, determining the plural itself is equally difficult. For example, a farmer troubled with snakes decided to import a predator to kill the snakes. But he wasn't sure whether to order two mongooses, two mongeese, or two mongoose. So he wrote the following letter:

Dear Sirs,

Please send me a mongoose. On second thought, make it two.

For answers to specific writing questions, email us here. Who knows? Your question may inspire our next article on Writing Tips.

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James Joyce

by Nat Crawford

James Joyce wrote some of the simplest and most elegant prose in the English language:

The evening air was pale and chilly, and after every charge and thud of the footballers, the greasy leather orb flew like a heavy bird through the grey light.

His first novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, shows the gradual development of a youth's perspective on the world. The book begins with the perceptions of a child, Stephen Daedelus, at boarding school; it depicts Stephen's simple observations (such as the one above) and naïve questions:

What was after the universe? Nothing. But was there anything round the universe to show where it stopped before the nothing place began?

As Stephen grows older, he turns to describing the joy of being young, free, and passionately alive. Here he walks on the seashore, in the midst of an important decision about whether to become a priest or an artist:

He was alone. He was unheeded, happy and near to the wild heart of life. He was alone and young and wilful and wildhearted, alone amid a waste of wild air and brackish waters and the sea-harvest of shells and tangle and veiled grey sunlight and gayclad lightclad figures of children and girls and voices childish and girlish in the air.

Religion and art are two important themes of the book, and Joyce leavens his discussions of them with humor. At one point, Stephen discusses religious faith with his friend Cranly:

Cranly, embarrassed for a moment, took another fig from his pocket and was about to eat it when Stephen said:
—-Don't, please. You cannot discuss this question with your mouth full of chewed fig.

In the last sections of the book, which consist of Stephen's diary, Stephen offers flashes of thought about beauty, politics, and the decisions that young people face. At one point he pokes gentle fun at his own behavior as a young man in love. Here he describes a conversation with a young woman he admires:

[I] opened the spiritual-heroic refrigerating apparatus, invented and patented in all countries by Dante Alighieri. Talked rapidly of myself and my plans. In the midst of it unluckily I made a sudden gesture of a revolutionary nature. I must have looked like a fellow throwing a handful of peas into the air. People began to look at us.

Like all young people, Stephen must decide between what others expect of him and what he himself wants. It is a story of discoveries, halts, errors, and decisions, and though readers know the outcome in advance, they keep turning the pages for the beauty, reflection, and humor that Joyce puts into his tale.

Later, in Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake, Joyce turned to writing sentences that stretch for pages and to words spun from all the languages of Europe. He also created a few puzzlers, such as this one:

He wished that a tale of a deed should be told of a deed not by him should by him not be told.

Joyce's name is now synonymous with difficulty, and he gloried in expansive writing, but his tightly structured poems are also worth reading. With the simplicity and elegance of his early prose, they express love and loneliness.

All Day I Hear the Noise of Waters

All day I hear the noise of waters
       Making moan,
Sad as the sea-bird is when, going
       Forth alone,
He hears the winds cry to the water's

The grey winds, the cold winds are blowing
       Where I go.
I hear the noise of many waters
       Far below.
All day, all night, I hear them flowing
       To and fro.

Because Your Voice Was at My Side

Because your voice was at my side
       I gave him pain,
Because within my hand I held
       Your hand again.

There is no word nor any sign
       Can make amend
He is a stranger to me now
       Who was my friend.


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