Monday, 21 September 2015

A visit from the grammar police!

Melissa Maygrove is my guest today. She has sum excellent advise too stop us falling fowl off the grandma police - not that I need it ;-)

My mom is a retired high school English teacher. She used to snicker while grading writing assignments. Now that I freelance as an editor, I understand why. And now that I write, I worry someone will snicker at me. We want people to laugh at our stories, but only at the parts they’re supposed to. To giggle-proof your writing, be mindful of the following.

First up are usage errors. These often occur when dealing with homophones—words that sound the same, but are spelled differently and have (sometimes vastly) different meanings. And you can’t rely on your spell-checker to catch them; it’s useless.

Take peek and peak, for example. ‘Sally peeked in the closet’ sounds fine, but ‘Sally peaked in the closet,’ well... that’s a visual we can live without.

Solution? Make a list of common usage errors, especially ones you’re prone to. Search your document for these words and make any necessary corrections. 

When using a figure of speech, make sure to get it right. You’d be surprised how many times these sayings are misspoken or misunderstood (homophones, anyone?). For example, when you mean someone is very blond, it’s ‘tow-headed,’ not ‘toe-headed.’ We don’t need that visual either.

Some of the most laughable mistakes involve dangling participles. A dangling participle is a type of misplaced modifier, and it’s an easy mistake to make when you’re tightening your prose. 

A participle is an –ing or –ed verb that is acting like an adjective. A participle phrase contains one of these and often comes at the beginning of a sentence, followed by a comma. You need to make sure the first noun after the comma is the one the phrase modifies.

Sweating bullets, I hurried to finish my algebra test before the bell rang.

In this example, ‘I’ was the one sweating bullets, so it is correct.

Running to the catch the bus, Sam's wallet fell out of his pocket. 

Some people see ‘Sam’ and think that’s the noun, but it’s not. It’s possessive—Sam’s—and ‘Sam’s’ is a modifier, not a noun. The first noun after the comma is ‘wallet.’ 

Can a wallet run?
Nope. Therefore, ‘Running’ is a dangling participle.

Try another one.

Dressed in a stunning evening gown, the man couldn't take his eyes off his date. 

Was the man dressed in an evening gown?
Probably not. ‘Dressed’ is a dangling participle.

Thanks for suffering my lesson. If you haven’t fallen asleep or gone cross-eyed yet, you might enjoy the Grammar Police Files: A List of All the Posts.

Thank you for hosting me, Patsy. 

Thanks for the advice, Melissa!

You can buy Melissa's books here (or here if you're in the US)

She also has a newsletter which you can sign up for here.



55 comments:

  1. Great tips! This is exactly why I don't like to rely on spellcheck. It's too easy to make mistakes that the computer can't catch that way!

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    Replies
    1. Spell check can help, but you're right that we shouldn't rely on it.

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    2. Thanks, Heather.
      I agree with Patsy - it can catch some things, but not all.

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  2. Replies
    1. I'd have been amaized if you hadn't, Helen.

      *braces for more corny puns*

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  3. Maybe Sally has a closet fetish?
    Good examples, Melissa!

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    1. Ha! Alex, you're a mess.
      Thanks for visiting. :)

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    2. I'm not going to think about that AT ALL, Alex.

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  4. Nope, can't rely on spellcheck! Many thanks for the tips, Melissa.

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    1. You're welcome, Fay. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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    2. It's fun to teach it new words though, Fay.

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  5. Melissa always ha something useful for us. And she wonders why I praised her left and right on my blog! Thanks for the tips, MM. You rock!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Randi. You're too kind. :)

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    2. Yep, useful stuff, Randi. Thanks for visiting.

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  6. Hi Patsy and Melissa - love the 'running' dangling participle ... great examples - and yes good tips ... cheers to you both - Hilary

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    1. I think it's easy to make that kind of mistake and not quite be able to figure out what's gone wrong. Hilary.

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  7. I love these tips! And I keep picturing a man dressed in a stunning evening gown lol

    S.K. Anthony: And They Look Like This . . .

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    Replies
    1. LOL
      You'd be surprised how often I see stuff like that in books.

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    2. It's going to have to be really stunning if he's to live it down, S.K.

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  8. I will keep this in mind when proofing a draft. Thanks.

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    1. You're welcome, Oscar. Thanks for visiting.

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    2. It helps to know what to look out for, Oscar.

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  9. Thanks, Melissa and Patsy, some very useful advice. I'll watch out for those dangerous dangling participles.

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  10. Bare or bear? Spellchecker is no help here, and the word I nearly always get wrong. It doesn't bear thinking about. The bare essentials of English grammar are confusing but we have to bear them in mind. Confused yet?

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    1. LOL

      I wasn't kidding when I said make a list. I have a homophone list with over 100 words. Each manuscript I proof gets searched for every last one of them before returning the document to the client. ;)

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    2. That's one I always have to think about, Maggie - unless we're talking naked or grizzly!

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  11. Some of the most common errors are caused, not by people, but by Autocorrect on Word eg 'you're' for 'your'.

    Another problem we have around here, where all of us (including incomers like me) tend to talk Esturarian, and the unwary type 'could of', meaning 'could have'.

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    1. Trusting spellcheck without stopping to think is a bad plan, Charlie.

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    2. True. And as far as dialect... in dialogue, that's okay.

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  12. I try hard to check my stuff, but grammar isn't my strong point, so I get help where I can, and often have to check with a reference book, or online. Thanks for sharing...

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    1. That's okay! That's what CPs and editors are for. ;)

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    2. Just type the phrase into twitter, Maria - people will soon tell you if you're wrong!

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  13. Great post Patsy and Melissa. Thank you xx

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  14. Thank you, Melissa and Patsy. This was really helpful. I've been pulled up for my dangling participles many times and this is one of the few explanations I've actually understood! Think I need a T-shirt with logo: Is my participle dangling?

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  15. Then there is the totally correct grammar, pointed out by Winston Churchill "Up with which I shall not put". As he explained, no-one would say that.

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    1. They are times (Eg dialogue) when it'd be possible to be too correct, Jo.

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  16. Those are the mistakes I would make if I don't pay close attention ;-) I write in a language that is not my own, so that certainly doesn't help.

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    Replies
    1. That must make it a lot more difficult, Vanessa.

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    2. I admire anyone who can write in a second language. Kudos, Vanessa.

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  17. That was great Melissa! You certainly made me smile.

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  18. In my latest WiP, I had two pees in a pod. LOL. Jo caught it. It's now gone.

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    Replies
    1. LOL Thank goodness for proofreaders!
      My betas find quite a few oopsies.

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Thanks so much for commenting!