In this issue:

College Focus:

University of California,
Los Angeles
California Dreamin’
The Right Word: Evoke vs. Invoke
Strunk & White Tip: Strunk and White’s Rule 10
Recommended.Reading: Hard-boiled L. A. Fiction
Summer Classes:

Click below to see the class web site.
SAT English
SAT English Advanced
Creative Writing Workshop **NEW**


University of California, Los Angeles
California Dreamin’

Want to attend your “dream school” and save your parents $112,000? That’s easy. Just study hard enough to get into UCLA. Or if you’re not admitted, try one of the two strategies below for a second chance.

It won’t surprise readers of this column that three of the top ten“dream schools” are in California. The Princeton Review talked to more than 7,000 students who chose Stanford, UCLA, and USC as the schools they would choose if they could get in and pay the tuition.

The annual cost of attending UCLA is just under $14,000; going to USC costs about $42,000 a year, not including housing. Since the cost of education at a private school is $28,000 more than it would be at UCLA or another UC campus, the four-year savings in tuition and living costs is an eye-popping $112,000—or roughly equal to the average loan debt after graduate school.

Since UCLA surpasses USC academically in nearly every respect, it makes sense to drive thirteen miles west if your grades are good enough.

Two other paths to UCLA

Dr. Mary Lynn Wilson, an adjunct university professor and senior part-time tutor with Improve Your English, earned her PhD from UCLA. Her path in higher education began at Caņada Community College in San Mateo County. From there she transferred to UC Santa Cruz, where she graduated with a degree in English literature before attending graduate school.

By attending a community college first, Dr. Wilson slashed her undergraduate college costs in half—another way to help out your parents in hard times.

Some students not admitted the first time they apply can earn a UCLA diploma by transferring from another UC campus. However, this route is a much less common. Fewer than 800 of UCLA’s 16,000 transfer admissions come from other UC campuses. By comparison, more than 90% come from two-year community colleges.

Similar programs are available to students at UC Riverside and other UC campuses. Keep in mind, though, that although a handful of students every year are admitted as juniors from other UC campuses, transferring from a community college with top grades in the most demanding classes is the best route.

Transfer admission is no easier than admission as a freshman, but you have another chance to get in if you earn superlative grades as a college student.

Stephanie Tong, a former Improve Your English student, transferred to UCLA from UC Merced. She will graduate in June. By the way, Stephanie used our Write It Right handbook when applying and tells us, “It was exactly what I was looking for at the time.”

Top English writing skills are essential to get into UCLA.

Stephanie says, “I transferred from UC Merced to UCLA with the Shared Experience Program. It was an undeclared-major-only offer that came with my admissions letter from UCLA. By accepting it, I agreed to complete my lower-division courses (GE) at the UC Merced campus as a UCLA student.

“I had to work with a special academic counselor to make sure that courses I took at UC Merced would apply to major requirements at UCLA. As a program participant, I was guaranteed that I could transfer to UCLA upon completion of my second year as long as I maintained at least a 3.25 GPA. I also had the option to stay at Merced if I wanted.”

UCLA is a great reason not to look outside the Golden State for your dream school. You’ll save a fortune on tuition, and the education you’ll receive is priceless.

All you have to do is study hard.


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Strunk and White’s Rule 10:
Use the proper case of pronoun.

by Steve High

Understanding pronoun case is simple but not easy. There are only three pronoun cases in English: nominative (subjective), objective, and possessive. I can best explain the differences by example.

Nominative Case
Used for Examples Usage

Subjects, predicate nominatives

I, he, they, who She is a new girl in school. Who is she?

Objective Case
Used for Examples Usage

Direct objects, indirect objects, objects of prepositions

Me, him, them, whom
Give the ball to me.
Give him the ball.
The ball belongs to them.
To whom does it belong?

Possessive Case
Used for Examples Usage

Showing possession; stands for nouns such as boy’s or girls’.

My, mine, her, hers, their, theirs, whose It’s my ball.
That ball is mine.
That’s her ball.
The ball is hers.
It’s their ball.
The ball is theirs.

These examples of pronoun case problems are adapted from Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab (Owl).

Leave out part of compound expressions to choose the right pronoun.

Wrong: Bob and me play baseball. Right: Bob and I play baseball.
Explanation: I is part of the subject and must be in the nominative case.
Wrong: Give the ball to Jane and I. Right: Give the ball to Jane and me.
Explanation: Me is one of the objects of the preposition to and must be in the objective case.
Wrong: Us girls are going out. Right: We girls are going out.
Explanation: We is the subject; girls is an appositive.

Leaving out part of the compound expression makes the mistakes obvious:

Wrong: Bob and Me play baseball. Right: Bob and I play baseball.
Wrong: Give the ball to Jane and I. Right: Give the ball to Jane and me.
Wrong: Us girls are going out. Right: We girls are going out.

Add a missing part of the sentence to find the right pronoun.

Right: Polly likes cake better than (she likes) me. Right: Polly likes cake better than I (like cake).
Explanation: In sentence one, me is the direct object of the verb likes in the second clause. In sentence two, I is the subject of like in the second clause.
Wrong: He is as good as me (am). Right: He is as good as I (am).
Explanation: I is the subject of the second clause. In this example, the meaning of the sentence requires I (nominative case), not me (objective case).

E. B. White's sentence about Polly is in Rule 10 of The Elements of Style

Use the nominative case after a form of the verb to be.

Wrong: Who is her? Right: Who is she?
Wrong: This is him. Right: This is he.
Explanation: Who, she, and he are predicate nominatives and require the nominative case.
Wrong: Who am I talking to? Right: Whom am I talking to?
Explanation: Although it is at the beginning of the sentence, whom is the object of the preposition to. Put the preposition and object in normal order to spot the error: To who am I talking?

Some grammar books observe, as if they were doing you a big favor, that “It’s me” is an acceptable way to answer a phone call from a friend. That may be true. But so is “He ain’t here.” Ain’t is a household word, at least in some households. Speak as you like to your friends. But in writing for school or work, it’s best to follow the rules of proper usage.

Pronouns must agree with their antecedents.

Wrong: I know this girl. He is really stupid. Right: I know this girl. She is really stupid.
Explanation: Use feminine pronouns to refer to girls and women.
Wrong: I know this girl. They are really stupid. Right: I know this girl. She is really stupid.
Explanation: Use singular pronouns to refer to singular nouns.
Wrong: I know this girl. She are really stupid. Right: I know this girl. She is really stupid.
Explanation: When you change a pronoun that serves as a subject, you may need to change the corresponding verb as well.

Presently the use of they to mean he or she, although it is very common in spoken English, remains incorrect. On the other hand, the use of he to mean he or she is correct but offensive. To compound matters, he or she, if repeated often, uglifies your prose. Attempting to solve the problem by alternating he and she is stupid and introduces still more gender bias. The use of s/he is also stupid. The best solution is to rewrite most sentences so that he or she isn’t necessary.

The AP Stylebook flatly prohibits the use of he or she. Strunk and White, 4th ed., offers some strategies for avoiding he (when both men and women are meant), they (when a single person is meant). or the potentially awkward he or she.

How to rewrite sentences with incorrect uses of They

See Strunk and White (Section IV) for ways to avoid the incorrect uses of they. The Chicago Manual of Style offers a more exhaustive list of nine specific techniques:

Omit the pronoun.
Wrong: My friend said they wanted to go to the mall. Right: My friend wanted to go to the mall.
Repeat the noun.
Wrong: My friend is in my gym class, and they are also in my chemistry class. Right: My friend is in my gym class and my friend is also in my chemistry class.
Use a plural antecedent.
Gender biased: A student who wants to be a doctor should do all his homework. Gender neutral: Students who want to be doctors should do all their homework.
Use an article instead of a personal pronoun.
Gender biased: A student who throws chalk at the teacher will lose his privilege of writing on the board. Gender neutral: A student who throws chalk at the teacher will lose the privilege of writing on the board.
Use the neutral singular pronoun one.
Gender biased: If he sticks gum under the desk, a student will lose his privilege of sitting down during class. Gender neutral: If one sticks gum under the desk, one will lose one’s privilege of sitting down during class.
Revise an if statement using the relative pronoun who.
Gender biased: If an engineer can’t write well, he won’t be promoted. Gender neutral: An engineer who can’t write well will not be promoted.
Use the imperative mood.
Gender biased: A student headed to law school should prepare himself for hard work. Gender neutral: Be prepared for hard work if you go to law school.
Use he or she or him or her.
Gender biased: When a teacher enters the room, say hello to him. Gender neutral: When a teacher enters the room, say hello to him or her.
Revise the clause.
Gender biased: A student who cheats will get good grades until the teacher catches him. Gender neutral: A student who cheats will get good grades until the teacher discovers the cheating.


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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  Jen Jebens,

Evoke vs. Invoke

The difference between these two similar-sounding words can be hard to remember.

Evoke is a transitive verb that means “to call up; cause to manifest; elicit or produce.” We can evoke things mentally or physically.

Old trinkets—a pair of gloves, an empty perfume bottle, a stack of old notes—evoked in Williams’s mind the memory of a love long lost.
The psychic claimed she could evoke a spirit from beyond the grave; however, skeptics later revealed her ruse.

Steinbeck’s opening paragraph evokes the sights, smells, and sounds of Cannery Row.

The acrobat’s performance evoked cries of awe and delight from his enthusiastic audience.

Invoke, on the other hand, is a verb that means “to call upon, implore, or appeal to.” It is often used to describe the action of calling upon the divine.

Homer and Virgil often invoked the Muses to provide inspiration for their epic poems.

The starving man, in his desperation, invoked every god he could think of.

The prisoner invoked the judge’s forgiving nature to reduce his sentence.

However, it can also mean “to conjure (spirits) through incantation or charm.” Notice that this definition is very similar to one meaning of evoke. In this case, the two words can be used interchangeably.

In the horror movie, the ritual to invoke demons actually worked.

Prospero invokes Ariel, a spirit, to assist him in foiling Caliban.

If we look at Latin roots, we can understand the meaning of each word.

Evoke comes from the Latin word evocare, which comes from the prefix ex- (out) and the verb vocare (to call). Thus we can think of evoke as meaning “calling out.”

Invoke comes from the Latin invocare, which comes from the prefix in- (on, upon) and the verb vocare. We can think of it as translating into “call upon.”

Here are some other verbs derived from the same root:

Verb Latin Root Definition
Advocate (tr.) ad- (to, towards, at) To write or speak on behalf of someone or something
Avouch (tr.) From Latin advocare, ad- To appeal to; to cite or claim as authority
Convoke (tr.) con- (with) To call together; to summon to meet; to assemble by summons
Equivocate (intr.) æquus- (equal) To use words of equivocal or doubtful significance; to express one's opinions in terms that admit of different senses with intent to deceive; to use ambiguous expressions with a view to mislead
Provoke (tr.) pro- (in front of, for) To call forth; to call into being or action; especially to incense to action a faculty or passion such as love, hate, or ambition; hence, commonly to incite as a person to action by a challenge, by taunts, or by defiance; to exasperate; to irritate; to offend intolerably; to cause to retaliate
Revoke (tr.) re- (back, backwards) To call or bring back; to recall
Vociferate (either) vox, noun (voice) To cry out with vehemence; to exclaim; to bawl; to clamor
Vouch (intr.) From Latin advocare; ad- To support as being true, certain, reliable, etc.

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Hard-boiled L. A. Fiction
  Steve High,

by Steve High

Although it is possible to look at the Los Angeles area as a sunny, cheerful, and upbeat place typified by Disneyland and 30 miles of beaches, its most characteristic literature is dark, grim, and pessimistic. The poet Charles Bukowski, who lived and died in L. A., once said, “My beerdrunk soul is sadder than all the dead Christmas trees of the world.” “The rattlesnake in the playpen” is an unforgettable phrase in Joan Didion’s Hollywood novel Play It As It Lays.

But Los Angeles literature is darkest in its crime fiction. Although once dismissed by critics, the hard-boiled fiction of such L. A. writers as Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain is now the stuff of PhD dissertations. And these writers have earned the ultimate tribute from readers—their works are still in print.

Sheldon Sacks, a pioneering member of the University of Chicago’s school of criticism, wrote “The Pursuit of Lew Archer.” In this scholarly piece, he praised not just detective writer Ross McDonald but also the genre of hard-boiled detective fiction itself, which explores the riddle of “permanent human significance.”

McDonald himself said that Chandler writes “like a slumming angel and invested the sun-blinded streets of Los Angeles with a romantic presence,” a judgment echoed by Joyce Carol Oates, the poet, critic, and Princeton professor, who has said that Chandler’s prose “rises to heights of unselfconscious eloquence.”

L. A. was the home of Cain and Chandler for the same reason: both were attracted not only by the city’s abundant source material but also by Hollywood dollars.

James M. Cain said he wrote The Postman Always Rings Twice because “I needed money but quick.”

He gets Postman off to a quick start with this first sentence: “They threw me off the hay truck about noon.”

Albert Camus begins The Stranger with equal speed: “Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know.”

And no wonder. Camus acknowledged that he based The Stranger on The Postman Always Rings Twice.

Cain found the wealth he sought when Hollywood studios bought Postman and others of his novels and turned them into popular films. Cain survived four wives and wrote until his death at 85.

Not entirely by coincidence, Raymond Chandler earned the good money he was looking for in California when he adapted The Postman Always Rings Twice for the screen.

Chandler, one of the most influential writers of the last century, wrote of Los Angeles:

Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.  . . . He talks as the man of his age talks, that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness.

Although enlivened by wit and extravagant metaphor, the novels of Chandler and Cain and other hard-boiled L. A. writers are essentially dark. Richard Widmark narrates a fascinating documentary of Los Angeles depression-era corruption as Raymond Chandler found it.

Chandler’s life ended in misery. He attempted suicide in 1955 and died of drink in 1959. The only recording of his voice, slurred by alcohol, is in the BBC archives. The interviewer is a young Ian Fleming, who had just created James Bond.

Raymond Chandler left a rather modest estate of $60,000, which his heirs fought over. This unseemly outcome would not have surprised him—not in L. A.

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