Sunday, 7 April 2013

Getting it right . . . Now write!

I'm not going to rail about poor grammar. I'm not a Grammar Nazi or the Grammar Police. I am, however, someone who appreciates when appropriate grammar is used.

As a writer, I know that presenting my work in the best possible light will give me the best chance of having it looked at, and possibly contracted.

As a publisher, seeing well-presented work impresses me and tells me a lot about the author. Like --
  • Their attention to detail, or lack thereof
  • Their determination to work hard, or if they're lazy and hoping it will be fixed in editing
  • Pride in their work, or just skating by, etc.
The first step to a great presentation is using appropriate grammar. If you're like me, sometimes the easiest explanations are not the most obvious. Hopefully, this little tutorial will help you understand in which context words should be used in your writing. Let's focus on some of the most obvious.

I know you've seen the jokes about they're, their, and there. But let's break them down to see why these are unique words --
  • They're - This is the contracted (shortened) form of they are. Example: They are going to the movies becomes They're going to the movies. 
  • Their - This is a possessive word which shows ownership. Example: They had their tickets for the movie. Those are their seats. 
  • There - This word indicates position or placement. Example: Over there is the movie theater. I'm going in there to see the movie. There are some great movies playing.

They're going to the movies, using their tickets to get into the movie house over there.

Let's do another one: than vs then --
  • Than - This is a contrast or comparison word, used when balancing one statement against another. Example: I would rather see a thriller movie than a horror movie. 
  • Then - This is a time word; it shows a sequence of events. Example: Go see the movie you want and then we'll meet up afterward.

Rather than seeing movies separately, let's see your choice, then we'll see mine.

Your vs you're --
  • Your -- This is a possessive word. Example: Here is your ticket for the movie. 
  • You're -- This is a contracted word from you are. Example: You are sure you want to see this movie? becomes You're sure you want to see this movie?

Yes, I'm sure. Here's your ticket. You're seated beside me.

To, too, and two --
  • To - This is a directional word. Example: They walked to the theater. 
  • Too - This is an excess word; as an excess word, it has an extra O. Example: They bought too much popcorn. 
  • Two - This is a number. Example: The two of them enjoyed the movie.
The two of us went to the theater. We ate too much popcorn.

Lose vs loose --
  • Lose - This is a deprivation word; it indicates when something is missing. Example: Did you lose the plot of that movie? 
  • Loose - You can call this a baggy word; it's the opposite of tight. Example: I found the plot too loose for my liking.
The movie was called Every Which Way But Loose. Lose the attitude. Eastwood movies are great.

Bear vs Bare --
  • Bear - This is an endurance word, also indicates strength; think about bears. Example: I couldn't bear to see that movie again.
  • Bare - This is an exposure word; think naked! Example: The bare naked truth is that film is classic.
Maybe so, but I'll strangle you with my bare hands if you make me bear that movie again.

Affect vs effect --

  • Affect - This is an action word; a verb. Example: The dampness of the theater started to affect my breathing.
  • Effect - This is a noun word which describes a person, place, or thing. Example: If I had stayed too long, it would effect my health.
The affect of your whining is having an effect on my ability to hear you.

Note: Affect/Effect are often used in the wrong context. The easiest way to remember the difference is Affect is an Action word. They start with A. Effect is the result of affect, such as a special effect, like an explosion . . . effect and explosion both start with E.

Who's vs whose --
  • Who's - This is a contraction of who is. Example: Who's starring in the next movie?
  • Whose - This is a possessive word. Example: Whose turn is it to pay for tickets?
Whose turn to pay depends on who's in the movie.

Its vs it's --
  • Its - This is another possessive word. Example: In its context, I'm sure the movie was good.
  • It's - This is a contraction of it is. Example: It's a great comedy.
If they turned the camera on its side, it's possible I could have watched while lying down.

Lay vs lie --
  • Lay - This is a multi context word, so it's important to understand how it's used. Examples: Lay of the land, meaning the appearance of the countryside. A lay preacher, means someone who is not ordained within a church. Lay down the law, means to give orders pertaining to the law or rules. Lay down your weapons, means to put weapons down.
  • Lie - This is also a multi context word. Examples: To lie down, means to put yourself in a horizontal position. To lie, means to tell an untruth.
I'll just lay it out there. It would be a lie to say I enjoyed the movie.

Who vs that --
  • Who - This is a possessive word which relates to people. Period. Example: She is one who enjoys comedy movies.
  • That - This is an indication word. Example: That woman enjoys comedy movies.
Incorrect: She is a woman that enjoys comedy movies.Correct: She is a woman who enjoys comedy movies.

Incorrect: He is a man that's going places.
Incorrect: He is a man whose going places. (see what I did there?)
Correct: He is a man who's going places.
Correct: That man is going places.

Desert vs Dessert --
  • Desert - This is a place with a lot of sand. Often very hot and dry. Example: The Sahara is a desert.
  • Dessert - This is what you have after a meal. The key to remembering how to spell dessert is with the double Ss. You always want more dessert, but you don't want more desert. Example: Baked Alaska is a great dessert.
I love ice cream for dessert but wouldn't want to eat it in the desert because it would melt too fast.

Lightning vs lightening --
  • Lightning - This word means just what it says; that flash of light in the sky on a stormy night. Example: Lightning slashed across the sky.
  • Lightening - This word means to lighten/brighten something. Example: I am lightening my wardrobe by giving what I don't want to charity.
Did you see the lightning last night? Yes, it had a lightening effect. (see? I did it here too!)

Principal vs principle --
  • Principal - This is the head of most schools. Easy to remember, as a principal should be considered the school prince and he's your pal. Example: The principal in the movie really supported his students.
  • Principle - This word means fundamental truth or foundation . . . rules. Example: His principles were outstanding.
The principles of the school were laid down by the principal. (did it here too!)

Stationary vs stationery --
  • Stationary - This words means to stand still. Example: I ride a stationary bike.
  • Stationery - This is what you write on. Example: Remember, before email, when we used to write letters on stationery?
It's virtually impossible to write on stationery while riding a stationary bike.

Note: An easy way to remember the difference in these spellings is stationary has an 'a'. If it's stationary, it ain't going anywhere.

How about some simple spelling fixes to close out this article?

Adamant - There is no 'e' in this word. The easiest way to remember how to spell this word is from the 80s singer Adam Ant. Sad but true!

Definitely - There is no 'a' in this word. The key to spelling this word correctly is in the word itself . . . definitely. 

Embarrass - They key to embarrass is in the word itself . . . bare ass. OK so the spelling is a little off, but it sounds the same. You're embarrassed when you show your bare ass, right?

Vacuum - You know what a motor sounds like, right? Vroom. That's the key to remembering how to spell vacuum; they sound the same and have double vowels . . . uu and oo . . . which sound the same. Example: My dogs are afraid of the vacuum because it goes vroom.

But wait, there's more. Just when you think you've got a handle on the English language, British English sneaks up and smacks you on the back of the head with words such as --

Color vs colour
Favorite vs favourite
Flavor vs flavour
Airplane vs aeroplane
Aluminum vs aluminium
Labor vs labour
Center vs centre
Liter vs litre
Meter vs metre
Theater vs theatre
Offense vs offence
Mustache vs moustache, etc.

And don't get me started on --

Elevator vs lift
Truck vs lorry
Chips vs crisps, etc.

That's a whole other topic ;-)

These are just a handful of examples on how you can remember to improve your writing. Can you name a few others that are confusing to you?

3 comments:

  1. Wait -- using American spellings is "improving" your writing? O.O Uh...

    One of my pet peeves: people who say "jealous" when they mean "envious" >_< If you want what someone else has, you're envious, you're not jealous.

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  2. Similarly, sympathy and empathy. Do I see amother article in my future? ;-)

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  3. Excellent article! It's wonderful to see grammar discussed in plain English rather than technical speak. I may be an English teacher by trade, but some explanations are way too hard to follow. Thanks for an easy to read reference!

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