Archive for the ‘Grammar’ Category

We had a very enjoyable meeting with a dozen writers attending.  Our planned presenter was ill, so we went through a list of Grammar Bugbears & Tips instead.   Thanks to both of our excellent readers.   Ralph Norton read us a poignant treatise on childhood trauma that he plans to enter in a writing contest.  Debu Majumdar, our guest down from Idaho Falls, read a story from his children’s book series about Viku and his elephant friend Hautee.  We ran out of time before Jeff Sherwood could share some of his Sci Fi/Fantasy writing.  Jeff, please bring some of your work again next time, and I’ll put you at the top of the reading list.  — Sherrie


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Here are a few writing tips to keep in mind, gleaned from Ragan’s PR Daily News Feed and from Anne Stillman’s Grammatically Correct pocketbook.

1.  Numbers/numerals.  The rule is to write out numbers one through nine, and use figures for 10 and above.  However, ages of people are always specified in numerals.  Spell out a number if it starts a sentence, unless it’s a year such as 2012.

2.  Titles.  Capitalize formal titles only when they precede an individual’s name. If the title falls after the name, then it’s lowercase.   President Barack Obama is running against Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts.

3.  Web site or website.  If your Associated Press AP Stylebook is dated 2009 or earlier, you may not be aware of this change: In 2010, the AP made “website” one word. As some of us may remember, it used to be “web site.”

4.  Email.  Another recent change: Drop the hyphen in email.  Before 2011, AP style said to write “e-mail.”

5.  Toward/towards.  AP style follows the American English form, toward.  In British English, towards is preferred. The same goes for forward, backward, upward, downward, etc.

6.  Seasons.   Seasons are never capitalized. It’s almost fall. Notice that “fall” is lowercase. Also, omit of: “In summer 2009 …”

7.  Like versus Such As.   If you can substitute “for example” into a sentence, then use “such as.”  The following sentence is incorrect: “He writes for a variety of publications like Esquire, Vanity Fair, and Time.” Instead, it should say: “He writes for a variety of publications such as Esquire, Vanity Fair, and Time.”

8.  Affect or Effect.   Generally, affect is a verb and effect is a nounYour attitude will not affect my decision.  The only effect of the medication was to make me drowsy.
(However, to complicate things, effect can sometimes be used as a verb meaning to accomplish or bring about, as in The committee tried to effect a change.)

9.  Quotation Marks & Punctuation.   Periods and commas fall within quotation marks. “No further explanation needed,” she said. “Just do it.”
Question marks and exclamation points go outside the quotation mark if they apply to the entire sentence, or inside if they apply to just the quoted part. Perhaps it would be better in this case to just “live and let live”? (outside, because the entire sentence is a question.)   I have a problem with his attitude of “What’s in it for me?”  (inside, because the question applies to just the quoted phrase. Note that no period follows the sentence, as it is implied.)

10.  Who versus Whom / Whoever versus Whomever.   Who is used for the subject of a sentence; whom is used for the object of a sentence.  Here’s the trick: Replace who/whom with he/him to see which works best in the sentence.

Whoever borrowed my pencil may keep it.  (he borrowed it, not him borrowed it.)      I want to know who sent this email.  (he sent it, not him sent it).

Whom did you visit?”  (I visited him, not I visited he.)
For whom the bell tolls.  (for him, not for he).

11.  That versus Who.   Generally use “who” for human beings and “that” for everything else.
The boy who fell from the sky.  Anybody who wants dessert may come in.
The mouse that roared.  The TV channel that has prime time family shows is best.

12.  That versus Which.   See whether the clause that the word introduces can be deleted without changing the sentence’s meaning.  If the clause can be cut use the non-restrictive which, if the clause can not be cut use the restrictive that.

Roosevelt Elementary School, which is nearby my house, is the only one that offers school lunches.
The spider that lives underground does not spin a web.

13.  Dangling & Misplaced Modifiers.    An entire phrase or dependent clause can be used as a modifier.  The rule is that the first thing following the comma must be the thing that the phrase is modifying.

Two years after finishing graduate school, Gladys’ career took off.
(This means that her career finished graduate school.)
Two years after finishing graduate school, Gladys saw her career take off.

Upon opening the pantry door, a stack of cans flew out at her.
(This means that the stack of cans opened the pantry door.)
Upon opening the pantry door, she was hit by a stack of flying cans.

Misplaced modifiers can confuse meaning as well.  The coach said on Thursday we’d have to start working harder.  Does that mean, on Thursday the coach told us that?  Or does it mean that we’d have to start working harder come Thursday?

14.  Split Infinitives.   We all learn that it is taboo to split the infinitive of a verb (to bellow, to whine, to love, to work, to go) by inserting an adverb between the words (to loudly bellow, to piteously whine, to freely love, etc.). Move the adverb to another spot (to bellow loudly, to whine piteously, to love freely).
Generally this is a good rule to follow, except when it interferes with the meaning of the sentence.  It actually is okay to split an infinitive if the alternative would introduce awkwardness, stiffness, or misunderstanding.

It is difficult for us to adequately express our gratitude.
We managed to just miss the tree.

15.  Never End a Sentence with a Preposition.  Winston Churchill debunked that rule once and for all when he said, “This is the sort of English up with which I will not put.”  If it makes the sentence sound awkward, definitely leave the preposition at the end.

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Ralph Norton requested that I try to put the meeting handout hints on our website, and a few of you agreed it would be helpful, so I retrieved and posted some of my old handouts (Dialogue, Description, Synopsis, Future of Publishing, and Word Choice) as well as last month’s handout from Ralph on The Writers Journey to get us started. I also have a sprinkling of old posts from Jocelyn. Going forward, we can do this on a regular basis.

So that you can find them easily, I reorganized the categories for our posts.  Scroll down the right-hand column of this page to Past Meeting Topics. If you are a meeting presenter and want your writing hints posted there, you may need to email me a copy so I don’t have to retype the whole thing.

Also, Cynthia requested a list of suggestions for topics because she couldn’t think of anything off the top of her head to sign up for. The categories listed will help you see what has been done and maybe inspire you to think of a topic you can speak on at a future meeting.  As always, comments and suggestions are welcome.

Your obedient servant,

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