Spelling & Grammar
Spelling & Grammar
Some of the basic rules for budding writers to consider.
NOUNS, VERBS, AND ADVERBS
In your writing, try to avoid unnecessary adverbs and adjectives, especially verb-adverb combinations. Since some people don’t know the difference between these (and at one time neither did I), here’s a recap of the basics:
1) Verbs are action words like “eating”, “running”, “burping”, and “growing”. Every sentence needs one, unless, of course, you’re aiming for fragmented prose.
2) Nouns are names of things, ideas, states, or feelings, such as “cat”, “Henry”, “bottle”, “Susan”, “cloud”, “leg”, “happiness”, and “gas”. Again, every sentence needs one (well, either a noun or a pronoun, which, incidentally, is used instead of repeating the same noun. Examples of pronouns are “he”, “it”, “they”, and “she”).
3) Adverbs are words that are (usually) tacked on to a verb (hence “add-verb”). These words almost always end in -ly, such as “quickly”, “humbly”, “happily”, “sleepily”, and “clumsily”. Not all words ending in -ly are adverbs, however; “family” isn’t (it’s a noun). Likewise, not all adverbs end in -ly; most adverbs describing the time aren’t — “now”, “then”, and “yesterday” are just a few. Also, some adverbs are hidden, like “very”, “quite”, “always”, and “just”. An adverb is usually easy to spot, though, since its placement in a line of text can vary. Note: “She ran through the woods quickly”, or “She quickly ran through the woods”, or “Quickly she ran through the woods”, or “She ran quickly through the woods”.
Lastly (see, an adverb!), beware of using verb-adverb combinations in your writing. Agents and editors hate them! Once you know why, it’s easy to share their sentiment. Example: Doris smiled happily. What’s wrong with this sentence? Well, for a start, why else would Doris smile? People generally smile because they’re happy. So “happy” is unneeded. Another example: Peter fell down the hillside quickly. Again, though the adverb isn’t next to the verb (in this case the verb is “fell”), the sentence is weak. Wouldn’t it be better to say “Peter careened down the hillside”? In my opinion that’s a much stronger sentence, and it’s shorter.
4) Adjectives can be great in writing IF THEY’RE USED SPARINGLY. However, sometimes I overuse them too; it’s easy to get carried away and want to describe every little thing you envisage. Consider: The hot, yellow sun lit the flowery valley in splendid shades of golden, warming light, whilst two swooping blackbirds sailed the endless blue sky above. Well, that case is extreme, but you get the idea (though “swooping” is actually a present participle, not an adjective). Anyway, back to the example. If you can’t tell what’s wrong with the wording, please, until you learn about writing, don’t aim at seeing your stories published! So, yes, use adjectives to add spice to your description, but remember, too much spice ruins the food! Here’s a different version of the above quote: A pair of blackbirds swooped over the sunlit valley. It not great imagery, and given time I could do better, but at least you don’t choke on the description.
No, not those kind! Here’s some of the common ones:
IT’S = it is / it has
WASN’T = was not
HASN’T = has not
WON’T = will not
CAN’T = can not / cannot
SHAN’T = shall not
COULDN’T = could not
WHO’S = who is / who has
HADN’T = had not
SHOULDN’T = should not
DIDN’T = did not
WHY’S = why is / why has
HOW’S = how is / how has
WHAT’S = what is / what has
SHE’S = she is / she has
SHE’D = she had / she would
SHE’LL = she will
HE’S he is / he has
HE’D = he had / he would
WHAT’RE = what are
WE’LL = we will
WHEN’S = when is / when has
WHEN’LL = when will
I’M = I am
I’LL = I will
I’D = I had
I’VE = I have
YOU’RE = you are
MUST’VE = must have
WHOSE relates to ownership, for example: Whose car is this?
WHO’S means “who is” and “who has”. Example: Katie, who’s my sister, lives nearby. So always remember the apostrophe is there for a reason. Whenever possible, when you write or type “who’s”, say to yourself “who is/has”, that way, if the sentence does not make sense, e.g., Who’s coat is this?, you’ll know it’s wrong (who is coat is this just doesn’t sound correct).
WHERE is always used in relation to a place or position. Example: Where are my trainers?
WERE is the past tense of “be”. Example: There were six people in attendance.
WE’RE is short for “we are”. Example: I’ve heard we’re going to the cinema.
TO stand for “towards”, or any other meaning that isn’t covered by the rule below.
TOO is only synonymous with “also” and “in excess”. Examples are “I, too, would think it best”, “I’ve got too much food”, and “There’s too many people here”.
LOOSE = If you’ve lost weight, your trousers are loose.
LOSE = If your trousers are loose and you don’t have a belt, you can lose your dignity. I try to remember it this way: The two Os in “loose” make the word longer, or loooooser in terms of letter spacing. Well, it works for me, all right?
YOUR is a possessive pronoun just like “their”, “his”, her”, and “our”. You use it when referring to people; that is YOUR bag, not mine.
YOU’RE means “you are”. An example is Unlike me, you’re tall.
ITS = This is another possessive pronoun. (A possessive pronoun is a word used to express ownership.) Example: In its weakened state, the cat could do little but crawl. Another example: The troll locked her in its dungeon.
IT’S = short for “it is”. Example: It’s a fine day for a walk.
THEY’RE = they are. Example: Well, as far as I can see, they’re happy.
THERE has many uses, the common ones being in relation to a place or a position. Example: My house is there. Or: There she goes.
THEIR = possessive pronoun. This is used to indicate ownership. Example: That’s their car.
AFFECT = influence something in some way.
EFFECT can be a noun or verb. Effect can mean “to bring about a change” (verb), or “something that has happened” (noun). Example: After Danny sprayed a full can of Lynx onto himself, he waited for the Lynx Effect to start affecting the women.
THEN is synonymous with “next” and “following”; it indicates that something will happen after it. Example: “We walked to the park, then I got the bus home”. Of course, it can be used at the end of a sentence, but the common use is as described.
THAN is only used when comparing something to something else, i.e., “Black cats are better than white cats”, or “I prefer spring, rather than summer”. Never use “then” in its place; the two words are NOT interchangeable!
A semi-colon (or semicolon) is used when a full stop is too harsh, yet a comma too weak. They link two clauses together. However, do not use a semicolon in place of a comma, i.e., “As I walked around the corner; I saw my old friend”.
In most cases where a semicolon is used, a full stop could be used instead, without changing the meaning of the sentence/s. An example of a correct sentence: I detest my car; it looks hideous. This sentence could also be written as two separate ones — I detest my car. It looks hideous — but depending on the length of the sentences, it may look choppy. There’s a good rule I read somewhere once (can’t remember where) which helped me learn when it’s appropriate to use (as opposed to a comma): Think of a semicolon as the word “because”; therefore, if the word “because” fits in the sentence, you can use the semicolon. Of course, as you get more confident with your grammar and punctuation you’ll see other places the semicolon can go — but it’s a good start! Also, this rule works in my earlier example. Try it, you’ll see.
Another point worth mentioning: Please, please, please switch off your grammar checker before you start editing your story! If you leave it on, at least have the sense to know that it is not always accurate. If you don’t believe me, copy these lines into your word processor:
I walked around the corner; and I saw my old friend, Bertie, who, likes, drinking, and, wandering, on weekends.
I have eaten. Some chips at lunch today. I think when I sat with my friend, Sophie.
Unless you have a really great program, chances are it’ll not highlight any errors.
I won’t talk about commas; the kind people at OWL: Online Writing Lab have done a much better explanation than I could ever do.
POSSESSIVES AND APOSTROPHES
There are no easy rules I can think of, but I’ll try to explain where to put the comma.
Ownership and Possession:
If the word is a noun (i.e. a name) and it’s not already a plural (i.e. media [thanks to The Ace for pointing that out]) and you want to show that something belongs to that person/place/object, add ‘s on the end. A few examples are Robert’s car, James’s hat, Tess’s boots, and Karen’s skirt. Some people prefer to leave the end s off the word if there’s already one on the name itself, i.e., Tess, but that’s entirely your choice, or the choice of the publishers, who have to conform to house style.
Other examples: The rabbit is Peter’s. Don’t touch David’s computer. I have Kelly’s book here.
1) To write a plural you add s on the end of the word. Most nouns work this way (though there are exceptions, such as “horses”, which are too difficult to explain … well, it’s late and I can’t be bothered to try, all right!)
So you can have one dog, or two dogs; one car, or ten cars; one person called Sally, or three Sallys.
2) Things become more complex when you have a plural noun, such as “chickens”, then want to show that something belongs to the group (of chickens). To show a plural owning something, add only one apostrophe to the end of the word, followed by the item of possession. In the case of the chickens you would write The farmer checked the chickens’ wings (i.e., the farmer checked the wings of his chickens).
Mr Jones is the dogs’ owner (Mr Jones owns some dogs).
Mr Jones is the dog’s owner (Mr Jones owns the dog — and it’s only one dog; there’s no plural.)
OTHER COMMON GRAMMATICAL ERRORS
When writing your novel, try to eliminate simple mistakes such as these:
1) In speech, commas go at the end of the sentence, inside the quote marks. Example: “You know,” said Bertie, “talking like that, I’d assume you hate me.”
2) This, as with all my advice, is only what I’ve read elsewhere and learned. Some people may argue that it’s not relevant, but I’ll write it anyway, since I know it. Okay, here it is: When writing dialogue, try to avoid tags other than “said”. The word “said” is invisible on a page, yet still some people panic about using it more than once or twice in a few pages. Instead they write “he whispered”, “he replied”, “she breathed”, “he uttered”, “she cried”, “she blustered”, “he panted”, and “he snarled”. I can at least think of one well-known author who uses these words a lot; but hey, they’re huge — why should they need to change, if everyone buys their books anyway? And I think that’s great, personally, but for unpublished authors who are aiming for publication, I’d say avoiding anything likely to contribute to a rejection slip will be beneficial.
3) Quite a few people (including a couple of published, big-named authors) use verb-adverb dialogue tags such as “he said smartly”. But unless your work is so wonderful that an agent/publisher will take you on regardless, I’ve heard the advice is to avoid these tags. Why? Well, simply put, they’re telling, not showing.
In most cases using a verb-adverb combination is the lazy way of writing. Consider:
“Well, I could probably do that, too,” he said smartly.
“Of course I’ll do better than you,” he said, folding his arms. “I always do.”
Now doesn’t the person in the second example sound more intelligent and condescending? Yet not once did I have to tell you that he’s smart, smug, and annoying. In fact, I didn’t describe him at all.
Useful tips when using Microsoft Word.
Find and Replace in Microsoft Word
Do you want to find those annoying extra spaces at the end of your paragraphs? If you do, type this into your “Find and Replace” box:
Put a “space” in, then type ^p straight after it. Now you can go through and delete all the extra spaces!
Likewise, for all those spaces that slip in before your new paragraphs, follow this rule:
Type ^p in your “Find and Replace” box, then put a “space” immediately afterwards. It will find all of your unwanted spaces before each new paragraph.
To check for double spaces in your work, type a space, followed by another space. This will highlight any pairs of spaces.
Extra grammar checker in Microsoft Word
Find your Word Options dialogue box (in Word 2003 it’s in the “Tools” menu at the top; in Word 2007 it’s in your posh menu-type button thingy in the top-left corner of your screen. You’re looking for “Options”). Once you’ve opened up the options box/screen, locate the tab/window that’s called “Spelling and Grammar” (You’re looking for “proofing” if you’re in the newer Word). Somewhere there you’ll now have a setting for “Writing Style” — it’ll probably be set to “Grammar only”. Set it to “Grammar and Style”, then click the “settings” button near it; you’ll now be presented with a screen which, if the correct boxes are ticked, enables Word to look for more advanced grammar and style errors, such as negation, possessives, subject-verb agreements, colloquialisms, clichés, split infinitives, sentence structure, and many, many more useful aids. I have my top few options set to:
Spaces required between sentences = 1
Punctuation required with quotes = inside
Comma required before last list item = always.