November 2010 Newsletter

College Focus:

  UC Davis
  The Right Word:   It’s, You’re, and They’re...
Strunk & White Tip:   Rule 5: Joining Independent Clauses
  Recommended.Reading:   The Early Poems of W. B. Yeats
University of California, Davis

One of the last true college towns left in California, Davis offers a relaxed environment and hassle-free living, all while offering its students a world-class education. In California’s Central Valley, only a stone’s throw from the capital city of Sacramento, UC Davis ranks 11th among public universities nationwide (U.S.News & World Report), and one out of every 250 Californians is an “Aggie” graduate.

“I love how easy it is to get around. Coming from LA where you drive all the time, it’s really refreshing to be able to bike everywhere!” said student Erica Sklar, referencing the bike-friendly community. (There are 60,000 residents and 40,000 registered bicycles in the city of Davis.)

The largest campus in the UC system, UC Davis sprawls over 5,300 acres. Despite its size, it maintains a student-to-faculty ratio of 16:1. UC Davis students often select Davis for its academic excellence and diverse course offerings; it boasts over 100 undergraduate majors and employs distinguished professors to serve its 30,000 students.

UC Davis was originally created as the University Farm, an offshoot of nearby UC Berkeley. Given the school’s strong agricultural history, it is no surprise that the School of Veterinary Medicine is often ranked number one in the nation. Plant sciences is consistently ranked as the top in the nation in both undergraduate and graduate work, and the UC Davis College of Engineering has the largest undergraduate engineering population of all the UCs, with a total of 3,300 students. In addition to excellent science programs, the school has a first-rate social science division: its agricultural economics professors have served presidents and California governors as advisors. In the arts and humanities, Davis employs a slew of best-selling novelists, critically acclaimed poets, Emmy-winning screenwriters, and Pulitzer Prize winners.

UC Davis offers a wide variety of support to foster its students’ academic and personal development. There are over 400 student clubs and organizations, and the recently constructed Activities and Recreation Center offers students a state-of-the-art workout facility. The main campus library, the Peter J. Shields Library, is one of the top 65 research libraries in North America and contains over 3 million volumes; the university subscribes to thousands of academic journals to make research easy for its students.

Davis’s graduate programs are equally reputable. UC Davis is one of the few UCs to offer graduate nursing degrees. The School of Medicine is ranked number two in the nation for turning out primary care physicians, and the UCD Medical Center ranks among the top 50 hospitals in America. Finally, UC Davis’s King School of Law was recently ranked in the top 30 of all 200 American Bar Association-approved law schools, according to U.S.News & World Report.

To assist its students with career placement, UC Davis operates the Internship and Career Center. This unit maintains itself as the largest in the nation, placing over 5,500 students in internships yearly. Of graduates entering the job market, 89% are working within six months. Approximately two-thirds of them obtain a job either before they leave or within two months of graduation, and about 72% of students eventually continue on to graduate school.

Davis also features several trademark events, including the annual open house known as Picnic Day, which draws over 100,000 visitors to the city every spring, and the Whole Earth Festival, which celebrates artisan culture each May. Additionally, Davis is home to a year-round farmers’ market, recently voted as America’s Best (American Farmland Trust).

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  Steve High,

Strunk and White’s Rule 5:
Do not join independent clauses with a comma.

by Steve High

Rule 5 shows how you can avoid writing a run-on sentence—a serious error.

Wrong: It is nearly half past five, we cannot reach town before dark.

Some teachers call this error a “comma splice.”

It is equally incorrect to splice (join) two sentences together without a comma.

Wrong: It is nearly half past five we cannot reach town before dark.

Both are run-on sentences.

Applying Rule 5 depends upon understanding the distinction between phrases and clauses. A clause has a subject and a verb. A phrase does not.

Because every sentence has a subject and a verb, every sentence contains at least one clause. In Rule 4, we learned to punctuate clauses connected by simple conjunctions like “and.”

Clause   Clause
It is nearly half past five , and we cannot reach town before dark.

Rule 5 gives two additional ways to avoid a run-on sentence.

Write the two clauses as separate sentences:

Clause   Clause
It is nearly half past five.   We cannot reach town before dark.

Or, use a semicolon:

Clause   Clause
It is nearly half past five;   we cannot reach town before dark.

Even good writers sometimes write run-on sentences. When two ideas seem so closely related that they belong in the same sentence, however, use a conjunction or a semicolon.

Be especially careful when using transitional adverbs such as “however,” “therefore,” or “besides.”

Wrong I had never been in the place before, besides, it was dark as a tomb.
Right I had never been in the place before; besides, it was dark as a tomb.

Transitional adverbs are not conjunctions. Use them with semicolons to connect independent clauses, which can result in compact and effective sentences.

Be sure that the words on the left- and right-hand sides of the semicolon are clauses:

  Clause   Phrase
Wrong I met her on a cruise ship;   coming back from Panama.
  Clause   Clause
Right I met her on a cruise ship;   we were coming back from Panama.

A clause has a subject and a verb; a phrase does not.

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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  Teresa Kim,
senior tutor

It’s, You’re, and They’re vs. Its, Your, Their, and There
Contractions and Their Commonly Confused Homonyms

by Teresa Kim

It is simple to understand the difference between it’s and its, you’re and your, and they’re and their. If you understand what a contraction is, the logic is the same.


You form a contraction by conjoining words that commonly go side by side. The meaning of the words and their contraction is the same. When becoming a contraction, though, the phrase drops letters that would add unnecessary syllables, and we indicate the dropped letters with an apostrophe.

For instance, the words we will can form the contraction we’ll, but we’ve eliminated a “wi” that would have made the contraction two syllables. Without the apostrophe, we would have to pause every time we saw the word well to determine whether it meant “we will” or “a deep hole in the ground for drawing water and making wishes.”

It is easy to remember that an apostrophe can signal that a letter or two have been dropped. Think about how a writer like Mark Twain depicts an accent like Jim’s:

“I got to go an’ git dis water an’ not stop foolin’ roun’ wid anybody.”
                —Tom Sawyer

Even without the apostrophe, we could probably recognize long verbs that are droppin’ a g. But how would we differentiate the article an and Jim’s conjunction an’ ?

Following that logic...

When you mean it + is use it’s.
When you mean you + are use you’re.
When you mean they + are use they’re.

EX: It's too bad. You're arriving here; they're traveling there.


Its, your, and their, which students commonly confuse with the contraction homonyms above, all have to do with possession or ownership.

EX: Their dog is chewing its bone on your porch.

The dog belongs to them. The bone belongs to it (the dog). And the porch belongs to you.


To make matters more confusing, their and they’re have a third homonym, there. We use there with a linking verb to say that something exists.

There must be some mistake.
Oh, is there?

We also use there to describe a location that is not here.

We’ll go there for Thanksgiving.

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The Early Poems of W. B. Yeats
Nat Crawford,
director of tutoring

by Nat Crawford

The Irish poet William Butler Yeats made his name by writing about love, myth, and politics. His early poems, unsurprisingly, explore the complex and powerful forces of love. They capture not only the fleeting and fickle aspects of this emotion, but also its sense of power and duration.

As a young man, Yeats studied various schools of Platonism. His poetry evinces his belief in the existence of an immortal world that lies beyond this mortal one of change and decay. The philosopher reaches this world via contemplation; the poet reaches it via love. From the coals of life and breath rise the colored flames of passion that light the way to the higher, perfect world. This glimpse of immortality intoxicates the poet:

Empty your heart of its mortal dream.
The winds awaken, the leaves whirl round,
Our cheeks are pale, our hair is unbound,
Our breasts are heaving, our eyes are agleam...

Unfortunately, the reality of kettles, tea leaves, and garbage bins always intervenes, dragging the poet back down to reality. Of course, the poet has paths of escape, one being the path of beauty. In “He Remembers Forgotten Beauty,” touching his beloved reminds the poet of the lost beauty of art and deed:

When my arms wrap you round I press
My heart upon the loveliness
That has long faded from the world

Yeats goes on to describe a “loveliness” of beautiful objects—jeweled crowns, fragrant roses—that accompany passionate deeds. All beauty, he suggests, comes into the world on the heels of passionate desire.

Yet beauty alone does not lead the poet to the perfect world—only love can do so. In “The Lover Tells of the Rose in His Heart,” Yeats explores how awareness of beauty sets the poet on a quest to make the world perfect using the medium of a poem. Set against his thoughts of glory and beauty, the world seems full of ugliness: “The cry of a child by the roadway, the creak of a lumbering cart.” Caught up in his passion, the lover feels insulted that such ugliness persists. Yet if love makes the rest of the world seem ugly by comparison, the poet has a remedy in the permanent world of undying Platonic forms, which, he suggests, lies buried within his soul:

The wrong of unshapely things is a wrong too great to be told;
I hunger to build them anew and sit on a green knoll apart,
With the earth and the sky and the water, re-made, like a casket of gold
For my dreams of your image that blossoms a rose in the deeps of my heart.

Love leads the poet to the timeless image of the rose, which in turn inspires him to recreate a perfect world within the golden casket of his poetry.

The poet’s struggle against ugliness is part of a more general human struggle against human weakness. In “The Sorrow of Love,” Yeats suggests that since the dawn of consciousness, people feel overwhelmed by nature; why should our feelings be any more significant than the cries of birds or the beauty of trees? What sets people above the natural world, though, is their capacity to feel sorrow, and their ability to understand that emotion by reading tales of love and sorrow.

The brawling of a sparrow in the eaves,
The brilliant moon and all the milky sky,
And all that famous harmony of leaves,
Had blotted out man’s image and his cry.

A girl arose that had red mournful lips
And seemed the greatness of the world in tears,
Doomed like Odysseus and the labouring ships
And proud as Priam murdered with his peers;

Arose, and on the instant clamorous eaves,
A climbing moon upon an empty sky,
And all that lamentation of the leaves,
Could but compose man’s image and his cry.

Again, Yeats rounds off his description of the human condition by noting the distinguishing human ability to create art.

Some of Yeats’s poems speak more simply of how love comforts the mind and body.

Beloved, let your eyes half close, and your heart beat
Over my heart, and your hair fall over my breast,
Drowning love’s lonely hour in deep twilight of rest,
                —“He Bids His Beloved Be at Peace”

O hiding hair and dewy eyes,
I am no more with life and death,
My heart upon his warm heart lies,
My breath is mixed into his breath.
                —“The Heart of a Woman”

Yet love brings as much pain as comfort, particularly when it is spurned. In “The Fish,” Yeats couches his own personal pain in the story of a fish and a fisherman:

Although you hide in the ebb and flow
Of the pale tide when the moon has set,
The people of coming days will know
About the casting out of my net,

And how you have leaped times out of mind
Over the little silver cords,
And think that you were hard and unkind,
And blame you with many bitter words.

In addition to expressing heartache, the poem expresses the power of the “silver cords” of poetry to create a story that will outlast the poet’s frustrated desire. This promise is cold comfort to the flesh-and-blood poet, however; he can try turning to another person, only to cause her pain in turn when he realizes that love is unappeasable:

She looked in my heart one day
And saw your image was there;
She has gone weeping away.
                     —“The Lover Mourns for the Loss of Love”

For Yeats the Platonist, love takes people beyond the trivialities of the real world. On a simpler level, though, the heart can take people beyond their petty thoughts and hatreds, if one is true to it. Yeats expresses this thought in one of the most profound of his early poems, “The Two Trees.” In this poem, Yeats contrasts the “holy tree” of the human heart with the tree of “fatal image” that animates the human ego:

Beloved, gaze in thine own heart,
The holy tree is growing there;
From joy the holy branches start,
And all the trembling flowers they bear.
               . . .
Beloved, gaze in thine own heart.

Gaze no more in the bitter glass
The demons, with their subtle guile
Lift up before us when they pass,
Or only gaze a little while;

For there a fatal image grows
That the stormy night receives,
Roots half hidden under snows,
Broken boughs and blackened leaves.
               . . .

In another poem, Yeats expresses the belief that the human heart is stronger, its observations more true, than any moral code. Like many writers of his time, he uses his poetry to seek qualities beyond praise and blame, beyond good and evil:

Out-worn heart, in a time out-worn,
Come clear of the nets of wrong and right;
Laugh, heart, again in the grey twilight,
Sigh, heart, again in the dew of the morn.
                —“Into the Twilight”

If hope springs eternal in the human breast, it is because we feel in the heart an almost infinite capacity for renewal.

One of the most reprinted poems from Yeats’s younger period is “The Song of Wandering Aengus.” This poem perfectly captures the mood of Yeats’s early period—the first flame of love, the pang of its loss, the hope of recovering it, and the dream that the love helps to build of perfect, immortal worlds:

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire aflame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And some one called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

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