Summer hours

Hello writers!

The Writing Center will be open the following hours during summer semester:

Tuesday: 8-10 am

Wednesday: 2-4 pm

Thursday: 8-10 am

Friday: 8-10 am



Writing Center Summer Hours

Dear Summer 2012 DCTC Students,

The Writing Center will be open from 1:30 – 3:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday for individual and group tutoring. Do not hesitate to contact the Learning Center (651-423-8420) or me ( to schedule an appointment!

Happy Writing!
Pete Talbert
DCTC Writing Center Tutor

Upcoming Writing Center Closings

Dear DCTC students,

The Writing Center will be closed on the following dates:

- This Wednesday (April 4th) due to a faculty in-service
- This Friday (April 6th) due to the Good Friday holiday
- Next Friday (April 13th) as I will be attending a tutor training
- April 19th (Thur.), 20th (Fri.), and 23rd (Mon.) as I will be out of town

I apologize for the inconvenience.
As always, you can contact me at if you have any questions!

Thank you and happy writing!
Pete Talbert
DCTC Writing Center Tutor

Participles & Participial Phrases

In order to be more descriptive, many writers use participles and participial phrases to add style to their writing. Participles are tricky to construct and punctuate properly, but hopefully with a proper study of them, students can feel confident in applying them to their writing. Also, for College Reading and English Essentials, students need to be able to punctuate these phrases properly.

A participle is just an adjective in the form of a verbal. Adjectives, as we well know, describe nouns or pronouns. So, participles are just description words in the form of an –ing verb (present participle) or –ed verb (past participle).

Let’s look at some examples:

Yelling drivers are distracting on the road.
The sound of rustling leaves makes me feel nostalgic.
The defeated team felt depressed.
A high-pitched engine whine can be the sign of a broken transmission.

Just like adjectives, participles many times come before the noun or pronoun they describe. Just as we can describe a team as ‘sad,’ we can also describe them as ‘defeated’ or ‘smiling.’ Commas are not needed with participles but are needed with participial phrases.

Participial phrases are just that: a group of related words (phrase) with beginning with a participle. They can be placed at the beginning, middle, or end of a main clause.


Arriving late to the game, the team was unable to warm up.
They, being philosophy students, understood what the lecturer meant by the word epistemology.
The crowd left quietly, depressed from the film.
Broken and beaten, I lay down to rest.

As a general rule, we need commas with participial phrases because they are almost always nonessential (see the last post). If we begin with a participial phrase, we need a comma before the main clause starts. If a participial phrase interrupts the main clause, we need commas surrounding it. Lastly, if a participial phrase comes at the end of a sentence, we need a comma before the phrase begins.

Knowing where to place participial phrases can be tricky because if we place them in the wrong place, a reader may be confused as to which noun or pronoun we are describing. This error is called a misplaced modifier. To avoid this in our writing, we must place the participial phrase as close as we can to the noun or pronoun it describes.


CorrectWalking to the store, I spotted my favorite car. (The phrase ‘walking to the store’ is describing me; therefore, I placed it as close to the pronoun ‘I’ as I could.)
Incorrect – I spotted my favorite car, walking to the store. (Is the car ‘walking to the store’? Of course not, but a reader may be confused if we do not make it clear what noun or pronoun is being modified by the participial phrase.)

Works Cited

Reid, Stephen. “Phrases and Clauses.” The Prentice Hall Guide for College Writers. 8th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson. 2008. Print.

Essential Vs. Nonessential Sentence Elements

Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab (OWL) offers in-depth guides to all things English. Whether it is APA citation or grammar and punctuation rules, all students should use it as a place of reference to improve their confidence as an English student. Within the section on punctuation, the Purdue OWL has a detailed section on comma usage rules. The first two rules are imperative for every English writer to have down.
-       The first rule states that one should use a comma when combining two complete sentences with a coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so). E.g., The team played hard, but they lost.
-       The second rule states that one should use a comma to separate introductory clauses and phrases from the main clause of a sentence, like beginning a sentence with a subordinating conjunction (because, although, when, unless, before, after, if). E.g., If the team wins this game, they will be in the Final Four.

But the third and fourth rules are a little bit trickier than the first two. They state rules dealing with essential and nonessential elements of a sentence. Often times, I hear students ask what exactly these are and how to identify them. This guide will help you recognize these elements to avoid comma errors in your writing.

The overall message is this: If it is essential one does not need commas; but if it is nonessential, one does need commas.

Many times, writers couch clauses (word groups containing a subject and verb) within other clauses to modify a noun or pronoun. These are called adjective clauses. Let’s take a look at an example:


The woman who won the award last night thanked her parents for support.
[subject]           [adjective clause]                              [verb]

Dogs that are not properly trained can cause harm to furniture.
[subject]           [adjective clause]               [verb]

Ohio State, which won its last three games, will play for the championship tonight.
[subject]           [adjective clause]                                 [verb]


These adjective phrases often restrict the subject; that is, they define the subject in more detail. In the first example, it’s not just any woman but the one who won the award last night. In the second example, it is not just any dog but specifically dogs that are not properly trained.

Commas come into play when deciding whether these adjective clauses are essential or nonessential. With these three examples, try covering up the adjective clauses. Does the sentence still keep the same meaning? Is the adjective phrase just a small fact or is it essential to the overall meaning? In the last example, the fact that Ohio State has won its last three games does not change the fact that it will play for the championship; rather, this is just a side note and is therefore couched in commas. The word that signifies an essential element; the word which signifies a nonessential element.

-       Necessary to retain the meaning of the sentence.
-       Covering it up changes the message conveyed.
-       One does not need to place commas around it.
-       That

-       Acts as more of a side note rather than essential information.
-       If omitted, it does not affect the main clause of the sentence.
-       One must place commas around it.
-       Which

Stay tuned for another comma-related post on participles.
Happy Writing!
-Pete Talbert

Works Cited

Purdue Online Writing Lab. “Extended Rules for Using Commas.” 7 February 2012. Web. 12 March 2012.

Reid, Stephen. “Phrases and Clauses.” The Prentice Hall Guide for College Writers. 8th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson. 2008. Print.

Study Notes on Kant’s Ethics

“Medical Ethics” and “Introduction to Ethics” can be challenging courses for students here at DCTC. Students are asked to study ethical theories directly from philosophers’ works, which are many times written in difficult language. Kant, above all, speaks in a dense, foreign style that confuses the average reader. His major ethical work, “Groundwork to the Metaphysics of Morals,” has been notoriously difficult to pave through; therefore, I have taken the time to develop a few pages of notes on the “Metaphysics” which hopefully can alleviate some pain for students struggling through this text.

Below are the attachments. Enjoy and please contact me with any questions!

Pete Talbert
DCTC Writing Center Tutor


Kant GMM Chapter 1

Kant GMM Chapter 2

Articles: A Quick Guide for English Language Learners

For most native English speakers, using the articles a, an, or the is a no-brainer; the proper use of these words is intuitive to us because we have spoken English all of our lives. But for those non-native English speakers, articles can be daunting and confusing. This short blog post is designed to help those non-native speakers who struggle with articles and to generate confidence in all English students.

In general, articles indicate a noun is about to appear. Remember, a noun is a person, place, thing, or idea. A noun may immediately follow an article, or a modifier may be placed in between the article and its noun. For example:

The dog                                   OR                              The incredibly shaggy dog

(art.)(n.)                                                                       (art.)    (modifier)        (n.)

Now, there are two types of articles: definite articles (the) and indefinite articles (a, an).

The indefinite articles a and an are used with singular count nouns whose identity is not known to the reader. A count noun is just that—a person, place, thing, or idea that can be counted (e.g. one girl, two girls; one apple, five apples). So, when you are stating a noun that has not been previously mentioned (like when you are stating it for the first time) use a or an. For example, let’s say I am telling my friend about what I did last night: “Last night, Caitlyn and I were hungry, so we looked for a restaurant that was affordable.” In the conversation, I had previously not mentioned any specific restaurant (indefinite), and since the noun restaurant is ‘countable,’ I used the article a. If I used a noun or modifier that started with a vowel (a, e, i, o, u), I would need to use an.

The indefinite articles a and an are not used with singular noncount nouns. A noncount noun is a very tricky word to identify for non-native speakers. But, there are some characteristics of noncount nouns that can help us identify them and avoid putting a and an in front of them. In general, noncount nouns identify something intangible, abstract, or unquantifiable.

Categories of noncount nouns:

-       Abstract concepts (love, beauty, freedom, poverty)

-       Activities or sports (golf, running, reading, basketball)

-       Academic subjects (mathematics, biology, history)

-       Food (lettuce, bread, sugar, flour)

For example, since lettuce is a noncount noun, I would not put an a in front of it. (E.g. I would not say, “My sandwich had a lettuce on it.” Rather I would say, “My sandwich had lettuce on it.”) Many times with noncount nouns, people use a quantifier to express an amount. In the last example, I could have said, “three pieces of lettuce,” or, “a lot of lettuce.”

The definite article the is used with most nouns whose identity is clearly known to the reader. Many times, the identity of a noun is known because for the following:

-       The noun has been mentioned already (The house we lived in last year).

-       A superlative like best, worst, most, or least is used with the noun (The most intelligent person).

-       The noun is unique or one-of-a-kind (The bright sun).

The definite article the is not used with most plural nouns. Many times, sentences speaking generally about a plural noun do not need any article at all. For example, “Pencils are often used for taking notes,” or, “Birds generally migrate south during the winter.”

Knowing when to use an article and which kind can be seemingly impossible for any English language learner, but hopefully with these four rules, you can feel more confident about them. Often, the more you read English, the better your writing improves because you can see how English sentences are constructed in a more natural way. I would advise anyone who is confused about articles, to find a book and notice how a, an, and the are used. The more reading you do, the easier you can identify when to use the appropriate word.

Happy writing…and reading!

-Pete Talbert



Hacker, D. (2009). The Bedford Handbook. 7th Ed. Boston: Bedford / St. Martin’s.

In Defense of Whom?

As the newly appointed Writing Center Tutor, I would just like to say hello and give a quick post on the eternal who vs. whom battle we as English writers and speakers face everyday.

In recent years, it seems many people have abandoned or forgotten the use of whom and have instead adopted who for almost every situation. Hopefully, with a proper explanation, we can clear up any difficulties we might  have when there is doubt as to which word to use.

Before we discuss who and whom, it is important to lay down some groundwork in regards to subjects and objects; if we have a strong grasp of these two parts of speech, learning when to use who and whom will be a snap! The subject in a sentence is what the sentence is about. It is the person, place, or thing doing the action in the sentence. Conversely, the object of a sentence (and not every sentence has an object) receives the action in some way. Now this sounds a little confusing, so when in doubt, use an example.

Example:  The boy hit the ball.

In this sentence, the boy is the subject (noun doing the action), hit is the verb (action), and the ball is the object (receives the action).

Now that we have a grasp of subjects and objects, let’s talk about the matter at hand: who and whom. Who and whoever are pronouns used for subjects.

Example: I talked to the writer who wrote my favorite book.

In this example, who is acting as the subject (person doing the action) in the second half of the sentence.

On the other hand, whom and whomever are pronouns used for objects.

Example: I am going to a new school with new classmates, whom I hope to become friends with.

In this sentence, whom is acting as the object (the person receiving the action) in the second half of the sentence.

Now, don’t you hate it when you spend weeks in a mathematics class learning a long, painstaking method for finding a solution, and then your instructor shows you a shortcut? Well, that is what I am about to do. Just like math, it is important to understand why we do certain things before we are given a trick for getting the right answer. Some writers find it helpful to replace who with he and whom with him; by replacing the word with the right pronoun, one can see whether to use a subject pronoun (who) or an object pronoun (whom).

In the who example above, if we replaced who with he and read the second half of the sentence, it would say: he wrote my favorite book. Therefore, we know who is right because it makes sense to use a subject pronoun to tell readers who wrote my favorite book.

In the whom example above, if we replace whom with him and rearrange the second half of the sentence for clarity, it would read: I hope to become friends with him. Thus, we know whom is right because it makes sense to use an object pronoun to tell readers whom I hope to become friends with.

The who/whom distinction can be a tricky thing; but with the correct understanding of how the words are working in a given sentence (i.e., as subjects and objects), I believe we can have great confidence. Don’t forget to visit the Writing Center for any and all things English or just to say hello! Below I have listed my contact information and the hours of operation:

Pete Talbert – Writing Center Tutor —

Writing Center Hours — Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Monday through Friday — Room 2-103

Appointment Phone: (651)423-8420

Happy Writing!

Parallelism: as it appears on the Accuplacer

Students here at DCTC as well as at other technical or community colleges have to take the Accuplacer in order to place in certain programs or classes like college composition or the nursing program.  This test looks at students’ English and Mathematical skills and based on the results, assesses whether or not the student qualifies for these programs or classes.  Over the semester, I am going to make some posts here about the different topics covered so students may understand both the grammatical concept and what the test questions are really getting at with their specific phrasing or wording.

One such concept the Accuplacer tests is parallelism.  Parallelism, much like the mathematical concept of forming two straight lines that never cross, is about matching similar elements in the sentence to help with the flow of the sentence and often to create a memorable and poignant statement.  In summary, parallelism is  creating continuity within a sentence by matching similar elements with similar structures.

Often these elements include matching verb tenses, phrases, clauses, or ideas 

Example: “We must stop talking about the American dream and start listening to the dreams of Americans.” –Reubin Askew

When we examine this sentence, we can see that “stop talking” and “start listening” are similar structures because both have verbs in “ing” participle form.  There, however, are more similar elements to be found.  Stop and start are also verbs in their base present tense form (no -ed, s, or ing added) and the possessive adjective “American” is used twice to define “dream” and make the sentence memorable.

Example: “In matters of principle, stand like a rock; in matters of taste, swim with the current.” –Thomas Jefferson

In this particular sentence, both “stand” and “swim” are parallel because they are verbs both in the present tense just as stop and start were in the last sentence. Additionally, prepositional phrase “in matters” is echoed exactly in the start and finish of the sentence also drawing a parallel structure while the “of principle” and “of taste” prepositional phrases are echoed in structure, but not exact words.

Other presidents have created similar structures in order to deliver powerful and memorable messages:

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. – Barack Obama

Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. -JFK

It’s unlikely that you will encounter a sentence like these, however, on the Accuplacer.  It is more likely that you will have a sentence like the one below that makes a list using verbs in the present participle form (ing).

Example: “In love with water sports, Tom became obsessed with kayaking, waterskiing, and swimming.” 

This sentence makes a list of things that Tom likes to do using present participle verbs.  This could also be accomplished with the use of a colon.

In love with water sports, Tom became obsessed with the following activities: kayaking, waterskiing, and swimming.

So taking all this into account, what does a broken parallel structure look like?  Look at the following sentence and notice how the natural flow of the sentence is disrupted by the last phrase.

 In love with water sports, Tom became obsessed with kayaking, waterskiing, and he also likes to swim.

 “He also likes to swim” throws off the structure and causes the sentence to lose its parallelism and become ungrammatical.  Tom is obsessed with three things: kayaking, waterskiing, and swimming.  Changing the last word into a clause “I also like to swim” is unnecessary.

 It also helps to think of it this way: any item in this list should be able to immediabely follow the phrase “I became obsessed with” and make sense since this phrase introduces the list.  Does it make sense to say “I became obsessed with I also like to swim”?  NO.

 To help further illustrate how this concept is used on the Accuplacer, I’ve included some sample test questions from the Accuplacer websites.  Let’s take a look at one below.

Test Sample Question:  To walk, biking, and driving are Pat’s favorite ways of getting around.

A.)  To walk, biking, and driving

B.)  Walking, biking, and driving

C.)  To walk, biking, and to drive

D.)  To walk, to bike, and also driving

Most of these answers all have mixed present participles (ing) and infinitives (to + verb). The correct answer will have either all infinitives or all present participles.  Eliminate the answers that don’t work.

You should have eventually arrived upon (B) as your answer.  All the other answers are close, but they betray themselves by mixing the verb form.  Look at another sample test question below.

Test Sample Question: If you’re looking for the car keys, you should look under the table, the kitchen counter, and behind the refrigerator.

A.)  under the table, the kitchen counter, and behind the refrigerator

B.)  the table, on the kitchen counter, and behind the refrigerator

C.)  under the table, on the kitchen counter, and behind the refrigerator

D.)  under the table, on the kitchen counter and also the refrigerator.

What makes this question slightly trickier than others is that it is not parallel by matching verb tense endings.  The parallelism comes in matching prepositional phrases by using adverbs that tell us where (under, on, behind). 

 This means C is the correct answer since it is the only option that has parallel structure by matching three prepositional phrases instead of prepositional phrases with noun phrases.

Visit the school website or the admissions office for more information on how to take practice tests online or look at the practice questions under the link “Test Resources” on this page:

Lie vs. Lay: The Controversy Unveiled

Lie and Lay are two verbs that give us a ton of trouble in both spoken and written English and have since the 14th century.  We often avoid learning the correct ways to use both of them because “it’s too complicated” or “that sounds funny to me.”  It is true that non-standard usage has become more popular than standard in regard to these two odd verbs, but that is no reason to give up on them—their survival depends on English speakers like you.

To understand Lie and Lay, it is important first to back up and understand the different kinds of verbs they are.

Lay is a transitive verb which means it must take a direct object (the part of the sentence that can almost always be replaced with “it” to make sense and receives the action implied by the verb).

Think of Transitive Verbs as verbs that have “transit,” or traveling, involved.  They have to help the subject affect the object by traveling to it.  Without the direct object, the sentence might not necessarily make sense.  Other transitive verbs are words that portray action like “hit” or “ate.”  Ex: He hit the wall with his fist.  He ate a huge sandwich.

Sometimes it helps to think of lay as set: They lay the body in the tomb. They delicately laid napkins next to every plate.

Lie is an intransitive verb which means the sentence is complete with just subject and verb.

Added information in sentences with Intransitive verbs usually are just phrases functioning as adverbs that tell us when or where.

Ex: [When I asked him to get up], he just lay [there.]  [When I get home], I like to lie [on the couch.]

He lay motionless at her feet.  Think of Lie as sit instead of set.

So now that we have some understanding of when to use the two of these, let’s look at the different forms:

Lie Lay
Present Tense  Lie(s) Present Tense  Lay(s)
Past Tense  Lay Past Tense  Laid
Past Participle  Lain Past Participle  Laid
Present Participle  Lying Present Participle  Laying


I know what you’re thinking: “why the hell is the past tense of lie, lay?”  Well, if you’re looking for someone to blame, you’ll have to reach pretty far back into history since both words come from Old English (lecgan and licgan) and even then only had subtle differences.  And, well, as all Beowulf readers know, Old English is tough stuff.

Here’s the good news:  Knowing the difference of these two can put you ahead of your peers and can actually give you a decent advantage in the job market.  Sure, it won’t be the only thing that helps you, but if you tend to mess these up in emails asking for job interviews, you may have just ensured NOT getting that particular job.  Think of it this way: if you’re going to claim that you’re “detail oriented” on your resume, shouldn’t you make sure you’ve paid attention to little important details such as this difference? (The asnwer’s YES by the way).

Let’s do some practice:

 When I yelled at my dog to get out of my chair, he looked up for a moment and then put his head back down, continuing to (lie / lay) there in peace.

 When I was younger, I used to work every summer (laying / lying) brick for a local construction company.

 I don’t know why Carl (lay/ laid) his socks on the kitchen table.

As I walked through the matted sections of brush, I could see where the coyotes (had lain/ had laid) for the night.

If you’re tired, you should (lay / lie) down

Find the direct object in the following sentence: With all his strength, he threw the football across the field.

Find the direct object in the following sentence: Tyler laid sod for two summers and then decided he was more of an indoor person.

Lie is an _______________ verb and lay is a ____________ verb.

The city (lay/lie) helpless at the feet of the approaching conqueror.

Lie and Lay originate in what ancient germanic language?

On a final note:  Remember that even though it may seem easier to just use lay in all places instead of knowing when to use lie and lay separately, you will put yourself at risk doing so.  The cornerstone of every business is communication, and that means the ability to connect to many different people from many different backgrounds.  Some people may think nothing of your mistake if you use these words incorrectly, but others will immediately notice, in which case you run the risk of becoming stereotyped or distrusted.  It’s only six words; know the difference and practice it in order to keep your language alive.