Tag s | Grammar

Tools to Tackle Grammar Gaffes

Oh my. We all have our peccadillos when it comes to English, don’t we? If I addressed them all, we’d be here til next year. So I’ll just give you the cheats…uh, tips I use most often.

Don’t be afraid of me.

Poor ol’ me has been sorely maligned, as it should be when used incorrectly. Usage such as “Jim n’ me will be happy to talk with you” stirs images of uneducated, backward folk who wouldn’t know a first-person, singular pronoun if it bit them on their knobby noses. But the answer is not to eschew me in favor of what some consider the more intelligent sounding I—not unless the usage is correct. So how do you know? Well, I could wax eloquent on subjects and objects in a sentence, but I’ve learned that there are many out there—yes, even writers– who can’t identify such in a sentence. As one such writer pointed out to me recently, grammar school was a looooong time ago. So here’s a simple test. Ask yourself, “If I took the other person out of the sentence, would the proper pronoun be I or me?” Let’s use the Jim sentence from last week: “Just give Jim and I a call” would become “Just give I a call.” Nope. Doesn’t work. So this should be, “Just give Jim and me a call…” Now let’s take Jim out of today’s me sentence: “Me will be happy to talk with you.” Unless you’re two years old, that just doesn’t work. So bring on the I! “Jim and I will be happy to talk with you.”

Myself reflects me or I.

Words like myself, himself, herself, themselves are…wait for it…reflexive pronouns. They can only refer back to the subject of a sentenc—oops. Sorry. Hmmm…how about this: Don’t worry about the why of it, just remember Myself reflects me or I. Think about it. What do you need to have a reflection? Someone looking in the window, mirror, etc. So you can’t use a self pronoun unless you’ve already used I or me  or him (and so on) in the sentence. For example, last week’s line from the commercial–“This product was tested by myself”–doesn’t work, because there’s no I or me that comes before the reflection. Now, it could say “I myself tested this product.” That’s fine, because you’ve got I to create the reflection. Should be, “This product has been tested by me and others in the medical field…” (I’m not even going to address the passive voice used in the commercial…sheesh!)

Fewer counts, less doesn’t.

If you can count the individual items you’re referring to one by one, use fewer. So in the grocery line, it’s “10 items or fewer” because you can count the individual items. Or “There are fewer steps than you imagine to getting this right,” because you can count the steps. But it’s “There’s less water in my glass than in Steve’s” because you can’t get in there and count each bit of H2O individually. Go ahead. Try it. I dare ya.

Which doesn’t matter.

Which phrases are parenthetical, meaning they’re plopped into sentences to give information you may want to know but they don’t alter the meaning of the sentence. For example, “The phrase ‘Which doesn’t matter,’ which Karen shared with us in her blog, helps you know when to use which or that.” If you pull “which Karen shared with us in her blog” out of the sentence, it still has the same overall meaning (that the phrase helps you know what to do): “The phrase ‘Which doesn’t matter’ helps you know when to use which or that.” However, consider: “The key phrase that Karen uses to know when to use which or that is ‘Which doesn’t matter.’” This sentence isn’t so much about the phrase itself, but about the fact that it’s the phrase I use. If you pull “that Karen uses” from the sentence, the overall meaning is changed and the sentence is again about the phrase, not my use of the phrase.

Okay, I think that’s enough for today. I’ll finish up next week, so feel free to ask questions or suggest issues for me to tackle.

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To Comma or not to Comma?

by Steve Laube

I came across this entry in the Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynn Truss. The book is a classic on punctuation (although based on British English usage it is still a great book). Read the story below and then answer the questions in the comment section.

On his deathbed in April 1991, Graham Green corrected and signed a typed document which restricts access to his papers at Georgetown University. Or does it? The document, before correction, stated: “I, Graham Greene, grant permission to Norman Sherry, my authorised biographer, excluding any other to quote from my copyright material published or unpublished.” Being a chap who had corrected proofs all his life, Greene automatically aded a comma after “excluding any other” and died the next day without explaining what he meant by it. A great ambiguity was thereby created. Are all other researchers excluded from quoting the material? Or only other biographers?

Which do you think he meant?

What other ambiguities with commas have you seen or written with your own hand?

Why should it matter? It is just punctuation.

Is punctuation important in book contracts?

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News You Can Use – May 29, 2012

Self-Publishing: Under 10% Earn a Living – An article out of Australia makes a bold claim. I would claim, however, that only 10% of traditionally published writers earn a living too. Of course that depends on your definition of “a living.”

100 Best First Lines from Novels – In honor of the last two weeks where we talked about “first lines” I found this article from the American Book Review that chooses the top 100.

Stephen King’s 20 Tips for Becoming a Frighteningly Good Writer – Jon Morrow extracts the best parts from King’s book on writing and then applies it to the blogger.

Six Ways Copyeditors Make Your Book Better – Linda Jay Geldens makes an excellent point. Never skip this step before putting your work out in the public.

The No-Tears Guide to Podcasting – There are many who say podcasting is an excellent way to extend your platform and engage your readers.

Two Excellent Articles about Commas: Their use and misuse – written by Ben Yagoda
Fanfare for the Comma Man
The Most Comma Mistakes

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The Chaos of English Pronunciation

Fun Friday – May 18, 2012

Quoted in its entirety from The Better Spelling Society (read their article the history of this piece). My favorite is the last stanza that reads “which rhymes with enough? Though, through, bough, cough, hough, sough, tough??”

The Chaos – by Gerard Nolst Trenité

This version is essentially the author’s own final text, as also published by New River Project in 1993. A few minor corrections have however been made, and occasional words from earlier editions have been preferred. Following earlier practice, words with clashing spellings or pronunciations are here printed in italics.

Dearest creature in creation
Studying English pronunciation,
I will teach you in my verse

Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.

I will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy;
Tear in eye, your dress you’ll tear;

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News You Can Use – Feb. 21, 2012

My Favorite Article of the Week – Please read it and make your agent happy.

What Publishers Can Learn From the Airlines– Andy Le Peau of IVP renders a very clever take on what publishing could look like if they would only emulate other industry practices.

Amanda Knox Signs a $4 Million Book Deal – Sigh…Think about it for a second. In 2005 a relatively unknown senator from Illinois got $1.9 Million for two non-fiction books, his name was Barak Obama. And right before he took office as president he signed a $500,000 advance deal for a children’s book. Former President Bill Clinton got $8 Million up front for his memoir. And former President George Bush received $7 Million for his Decision Points memoir.

Do You Ignore Issue of Copyright? – This article shows the complexity of copyright when going from one country to the next. For example, Hemingway is public domain in Canada, but not in France. Do you even care?

Men are from Google+, Women are from Pinterest – clever article

Adult vs. YA Dystopian Novels – Interesting look at the phenomenon of dystopian novels in today’s YA market. And if you don’t know what that means, click the link.

25 Subordinating Conjunctions – I was afraid to read the article too. Clever help for flat writing.

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Modern Speech

A couple weeks ago we discussed local flavor in expressions. It got me to thinking that I grew up in an era where no one thought anything of saying, “He should be shot,” or “My father is going to kill me,” for minor infractions. One of my friends noted that if a teenager said that today about her father, someone would call Social Services. After the Columbine tragedy that left so many dead or maimed at the hands of gunmen, I decided not to use any reference to shooting or killing in a cavalier manner. I believe my speech is gentler for the change.

I’m not sure every alteration has been for the better, though. The term “waitstaff” throws me. I can’t help but visualize a shepherd’s crook leaning against a corner wall, waiting for its owner to retrieve it. On the other hand, I don’t mind “flight attendant” as a substitute for “stewardess.” Have you noticed that media calls both male and female stars “actors” rather than “actresses” and “actors.” This change seems unnecessary to me.

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News You Can Use – Feb. 7, 2012

Author Says McGraw-Hill Cheats on Royalties – Details of a pending lawsuit.

What is Pinterest? –  The latest craze in Social Media Networks. AuthorMedia shows you the simple steps to sign up and tips on how to use it in the next article below.

Three Ways an Author Can Use Pinterest – Last week an editor told me how she was following a couple of her authors on Pinterest and how much she liked it.

5 Ways to Break Out of the Social Media Doldrums – Well said by Aubre Andrus.

10 Ways to Ensure No One Will Read Your Blog Post – Ali Luke give great insight

How Hard Can it Be to Write a Kids Book? – Sally Lloyd-Jones helps dispel a common myth.

A very cool six minute video envisioning a future technology. Imagine computing being done on glass walls, desks, and even National Parks. From Corning. By the way, Corning makes the “Gorilla Glass” that you find on the iPad2.

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The Editorial Process

It is important to understand the process through which a book takes under the umbrella called “The Edit.” I meet many first timers who think it is just a one-time pass over their words and that is all that will ever happen. And many who self-publish think that hiring a high school English teacher to check for grammar is enough of an edit.

There are four major stages to the Editorial Process. Unfortunately they are called by various names depending on which publisher you are working with, which can create confusion. I will try to list the various terms but keep them under the four categories.

Rewrites / Revisions/Substantive Edit

These can happen multiple times. You could get input from your agent or an editor who suggests you rewrite or revise those sample chapters of the full manuscript. Last year I suggest that one of my non-fiction clients cut the book in half and change its focus. We sold this first time author. But the writer had to do a lot of work to get it ready for the proposal stage.

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Floating Body Parts

Writers conferences and blogs talk about this topic often so I don’t pretend to be breaking new ground with this post. Yet I still see some floating body parts and cliches creep into otherwise great stories. No, I don’t mean murder mysteries depicting a stray arm floating in a river. I mean much gentler fare.

Yes, floating body parts offer the reader — and writer — shortcuts. But relying on them as description in narrative doesn’t challenge anyone’s imagination.

Rolling eyes

The offender I see most often is:

“She rolled her eyes.”

Yes, we all know this means that her eyes went from the ceiling and back. No, wait a minute. Her eyes didn’t go the ceiling and back. Her gaze went to the ceiling and back. See the difference? No pun intended.

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