Grammar Rules! Or At Least It Used To…

which v that

Source: Writersdigest.com

Here are some great tips from Writers Digest blogger, Brian Klems. He certainly cleared up a few grammatical confusions for me. It’s been a lot of years since those Catholic grammar school English classes. Honestly, as much of a ‘grammar Nazi’ as I can be, there are times when even I can’t figure it out. Brian clears it all up succinctly and in an easily comprehensible way.

These tidbits are nice refreshers of some of the issues many people have when writing/speaking:

Lay vs. Lie (vs. Laid)

Thank god, cuz this one always has me topsy-turvy, never quite getting it right.

Here’s the difference between lay vs. lie, along with ‘lay lie’ examples and a simple chart that breaks it all down. (PLUS: laying vs. lying)

Source: Lay vs. Lie (vs. Laid) – Grammar Rules

Who vs. Whom

This one’s the easiest for me but I see their misuse all over the place.

Source: Who vs. Whom

Which vs. That

Oh, I know I get this one wrong a lot, as do many people.

Source: Which vs. That

If you like these, check out his other posts: Since vs. Because; Snuck vs. Sneaked (hint: one of them is a made-up word now a part of our American lexicon); and Leaped vs. Leapt (I never figure this one out).

For writers, grammar rules can make or break our work. We don’t have to have a Masters in Fine Arts or English. It makes sense to have a good grasp of the basic rules of grammar; then our stories will be better off and our readers will be, too. Oddly, I’m the first one to break most rules (I prefer to think they’re for other people) but, for some reason, grammar rules are the ones I choose to follow (probably because I want people to actually read and like my books and not think I’m a complete idiot). When grammar rules, stories shine. So do the writers.

Are You Stylin’? Ten Tips to Writing in AP Style

ap style2

Since Saturday I’ve been preoccupied with finding a topic for this week’s blog. Then I discovered two articles on AP style I’d saved. I’m trained to write in APA (American Psychological Association) style, which I learned while earning my BA in Psychology. There are some notable differences between them; a major difference is there are no in-text citations or reference lists in AP style. In AP style there are smaller paragraphs of 1-2 sentences; writing is clear and concise; wordiness, long sentences and jargon are used in APA style but not AP style.

The AP Stylebook, used by professional journalists, is a good referral source to improve and correct your writing. It’s a good idea to keep a copy on hand. While some rules have been abandoned in this digital age of abbreviated language, these are still important. I hope they help your technical writing skills.

  1. Use more than when you’re referring to numbers; ex: more than 10 miles, not over 10 miles.
  2. Paraphrasing – when paraphrasing a source, attribute it to the source at the beginning or end of the sentence: “Several factors could determine how quickly a fire engulfs a resident’s room, Frederick said.”Always use said, not pointed out or claimed, which can be perceived as bias. The person’s name or a pronoun always precedes ‘said.’
  3. Commas – in AP style, the comma before the conjunction is deleted: He used a hammer, some nails and a long board.
  4. Trademarked words should be capitalized but avoid if possible and use generic words: Kitty Litter vs. cat box filler, Dumpster vs. trash receptacle.
  5. Composition titles: AP style requires quotation marks around titles, not italics or underlining; however, the Bible, reference books and software do not need quotations.
  6. Most abbreviations are spelled out on the first reference and abbreviated on the second: American Psychological Association (APA); some abbreviations are acceptable in every reference: FBI, CIA, ATF
  7. Dates: abbreviate dates (Jan., Feb., etc.) with a specific date; spell out months when used alone or with a year only.
  8. State abbreviations (I always get these wrong) – spell them out when they stand alone but abbreviate when with a city, town, etc., or with datelines or text:
    1. Never abbreviate Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Texas and Utah
    2. The rest can have two or three letter abbreviations (I cheat and use the two-letter style: CT, CA, NY, etc.); see the AP Stylebook for the complete list.
  9. Prefixes – Use a hyphen if the prefix ends in a vowel and the word that follows begins with the same vowel (re-entry, anti-inflammatory). Use a hyphen if the word that follows is capitalized (the ex-Beatle Paul McCartney).
  10. Money – use a $ sign and numerals for an exact figure
    1. For amounts less than a dollar, use numerals (99 cents)
    2. Use a $ sign and numerals to two decimal points for amounts of $1 million and up.
    3. Spell out special cases (She loaned me five dollars).

As writers it’s vital we not let our guard down; we cannot contribute to the “dumbing down” of American reading and writing skills. Stay the course, refuse to take the low (grammar) road and, just maybe, we can maintain a level of literature (and journalism) undaunted by those who choose another, less intellectual path.

Write on!

 

Sources:

11 AP Style Guide Rules That Are Easy to Mess Up by Melanie Brooks, March 2012.

Writing in AP Style by Sarah Bennett, Bear Claw Center for Learning and Writing

A Bone to Pick

bad grammar3

Source: Pinterest

I can’t help it. I honestly can’t. No matter what I read, whether it’s a blog, an article in a magazine or newspaper, or a book, I can’t help but edit as I read. I instinctively pick out the grammatical errors, found online and in print all too frequently these days: run-on sentences; sentences ending with a proposition (which seems to be more acceptable but it still bugs me); incorrect words, mainly homonyms (for example: their, they’re, and there) and misused possessive pronouns (its versus it’s); not knowing when to use a (precedes a word beginning with a consonant) versus an (precedes a word beginning with a verb); and placement of commas or their overuse. They stick out like sore thumbs for me. I’m sure it harkens back to my private Catholic grammar school days (pun intended) where Catholic nuns with metal-sided rulers were quick to whip knuckles for the slightest error in English composition. Before the typewriter found its way into our home, I wrote and rewrote every paper I ever had to write, all the way up to and through eighth grade and my early high school years.

This morning was no different when I opened an email from a writer’s blog I follow. His specialty is advice on finding paid work as a freelance writer. Today’s blog was so full of blatant errors I couldn’t take his advice seriously. Immediately I thought does he write like this for clients? The article overflows with grammatical errors: excessive/incorrect word use (using most when best is appropriate, the overuse of very and just, and redundancy, to name a few); misuse of homonyms (verses instead of versus when talking about writing a comparison article); and past/present tenses and singular/plural nouns all in the same sentence. I gave up before I was halfway through the blog.

Back in June, I wrote a blog titled Graphic Un-Design, where I moaned about a new book cover that did not materialize as I’d hoped. What bothered me was the quality of the final product. I wrote “how devalued graphic design work has become with the advent of the Internet” and that so much of the work lacked “style and originality.” I believe this to also be true of English grammar and writing in general, what with the advent of the Internet and the plethora of “online experts.” Far too often, I read articles and blogs where people are writing as they talk instead of editing for flow and clarity (and, ugh, spelling). A lax attitude has superseded the ability to accurately convey information. Writing, a once proud field where it was as important to be grammatically correct as it was to inform and entertain, is now chock full of lazy copy, prose, and poorly presented information. This younger generation concerns themselves less with the details because they’re more focused on having their say, regardless of how they say it, and no matter how ambiguous the message.

We cannot give up the good fight to maintain our writing integrity if we want our work to be taken seriously. Take advice from people who write as well as they speak (and vice versa) because it raises the bar – and demands more of us and our work.

That is my bone to pick.

Grammar, It Ain’t That Hard, Right?

Is grammar dead? Read any number of internet articles, including those written by journalists and professional writers, and you just might think so. In a previous article, I criticized the overuse of the word thing. It is supplemented far too often as a noun where a more respectable and appropriate noun would do. Grammar clarifies both our writing and our thinking. They are forever joined together; the more clear and precise our thinking, the more clear and precise our writing. Hence, a better story or article is the result of that positive relationship. The lazier our thinking is, logic dictates, then the more muddled our writing is. As writers, we want to inform and/or entertain our readers, so doesn’t it make sense to keep our words as precise and concise as possible?

I was (un)fortunate enough to have been sent to a private Catholic grammar school for eight (long) years. I have vivid memories of nuns with their rulers and clackers, kept at the ready for any expression of unacceptable behavior, including mistakes in grammar when called upon to read (yes, out loud) or conjugate (yes, out loud). The following is an excerpt from a funny and informative grammar book, Who’s (…Oops!) Whose Grammar Book Is This Anyway? by C. Edward Good. The scene is eerily familiar to me (my comments are in parentheses):

“Up front, under the watchful eye of Miss Hamrick – our no-nonsense English teacher – Billy Wombie tries to diagram a sentence on the chalkboard. Momentarily uncertain where to put the prepositional phrase, he regains his composure and finishes with a flourish, smirking at Damron, the troublemaker in back taking aim with spit was in cafeteria straw.

Miss Hamrick spots him. “Up front with you, Damron. On your feet. In front of the class.” (I have similar embarrassing memories.)

“All right, Damron. Now perhaps you can help the class with verb conjugation.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Damron dutifully responds.

“Good. Now conjugate the verb to ride in the third person.” (How many of you have done this or can do this now?)

Third person?” Damron groans. He knows what will come. (I’m groaning, too, I’ve been here.)

“Third person. That’s right, Damron. No go ahead.”

“He rides, he rode, he will ride…”

“Damron, be fair. Include all third persons.” (Still following?)

“He/she rides…”

“No, Damron. Don’t forget to include it.” (Sheesh. You getting this?)

Beads of sweat forming on his troubled brow, Damron begins, “He/she/it rides, he/she/it rode….”

The class erupts, delighting in Damron’s pronunciational discomfort.

“He/she/it rides, he/she/it rode, he/she/it will ride, he/she/it has ridden, he/she/it had ridden, he/she/it will have ridden.” (I still don’t know how to use all but the first three; better read more of the book.)

“Very good, Damron. Now the progressive tenses.” (Huh? Don’t remember those…)

“He/she/it is riding, he/she/it was riding, he/she/it will be riding, he/she/it has been riding, he/she/it had been riding, he/she/it will have been riding.” (I give up.)

Grammar, a forgotten relic of the past? Nowadays, schools aren’t offering it in their English classes. Why not? As you can see above, it’s vital to understand the tenses and which one to use. I, for one, will be reading more of this delightful book so I can be more like Miss Hamrick. Sheesh.

 

good grammar

 

 

You Have Too Many Adverbs, We Need To Operate ASAP

A funny, enlightening view of one of my less-than-desirable writing skills (and many others’, I’m sure). Read on…

P. S. Hoffman

Yesterday, I went to the Doctor’s to have my brain tested. She came into the room, staring at her charts, shaking her head.

“P.S. Hoffman, I’m afraid I have some bad news.”

“What is it? What’s wrong with me?”

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