Tag Archives: spelling

grama rulz OK, innit!

Grammar - Giving your work the final hose down

Warning: You enter this grammar post at your own risk.

Once you’ve had your feedback and have chopped, pruned, rewritten and reshaped your work, you’re ready to go, right? Wrong. Next, you need to don your pernickety gloves and work on grammar, spelling and punctuation.

This type of revision is called a proofread and it is separate from the critique your friends gave re characters, story, POV, tone and structure. A proofread regards layout and correct use of language. A proofread is the final polish.

Never hand in a submission blighted by incorrect or inconsistent punctuation, bad grammar and misspelled words – thinking the story will shine through. They (the slush pile readers) will be turned off by your sloppy copy and will probably never read on into your story, so it won’t get that chance to shine through. If you’ve spent a year writing a novel, respect your work enough to spend another couple of weeks proofreading. It’s only common sense.

As you’ve probably read your own work countless times, you may be blind to copy mistakes. A keen eyed friend is invaluable here. Also you could cut a sentence sized gap in a blank page and place it over your text to check every sentence individually, with the rest of the text blanked out. This may sound painstaking but it is a very good focusing tool.

Many emerging writers are concerned about grammar, unsure of their own knowledge and application. I’ve been an English (as a foreign language) teacher for fifteen years and can recommend the following grammar self-study book (known in the TEFL world as ‘the grammar bible’): Raymond Murphy Grammar in Use. You’ll be able to pick up a cheap copy on Amazon. Spend a night or two doing the exercises, it’ll stand to you.

Also, I could wax lyrical about whether to use double or single quotes for dialogue (or to use any at all) and the difference between US and UK conventions regarding the same. However, I think the best is for you to take ten novels down from your shelf and see how the majority of them format dialogue and then apply the same convention to your work. Whichever you choose, ensure it is then consistent throughout your text.

Finally, here are some of the most common problems:

****Are you using the right “Its”?

“It’s” (with an apostrophe) is short for “it is”.

Its” (no apostrophe) is possessive (ie: the dog lost its bone).

NOTE: somewhat confusingly, when you want to use the possessive elsewhere, you do use an apostrophe: “Mary’s coat”, “John’s golf club”, “the dog’s bone.”

****Same sound, different spelling (homophones).

“They’re”, “Their” and “There”.

They’re (they are) sitting the car. They’re listening to their (possessive) music, they’ll be fine there (preposition of place) for a while yet.

****Using “done” instead of “did” and vice versa.

“Done” is the past participle of “do” and is normally used with the auxiliary verb “have”.  “Did” is the past simple of “do”.

(And if you have no idea what any of that means, you really do need to order that book).

So, you say either “I have done my homework” or “I did my homework” – and never “I done my homework,” or “he done his homework.”

****Saying “could of” rather than “could have” when using the second conditional tense or “could” as a modal verb in the perfect tense (yeah, see that grammar book).

“He could of gone to the shop,” is wrong.

“He could have gone to the shop,” is correct.

And please accept sincerest apologies for sending any of you off into a coma of boredom with this grammary post – believe me, it hurt me more than it hurt you.

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Words don’t come easy…

words words words

As a linguist and a writer, I love words. However, as a teacher of creative writing, I know that the mis/over use of words, particularly adjectives and adverbs, is the most common ‘fault’ you’ll find in the work of novice writers.

Insecurity will have new writers shoehorn as many descriptive words as they can get into a sentence – with the result akin to an over ‘bling-ed’ Christmas tree. The advanced writer will ‘show’ an emotion/atmosphere/interpretation without  resorting to a heavy-handed sprinkling of descriptive words.

It’s hard to ween yourself off adjectives and adverbs. Part of the problem is that there are so many words in the English language, a tongue with more word-families than any other language. This fact is rooted English having sprung from French and German, so there are English words that describe quite similarly (ie “loving” is from German and “amorous” is from French). And with such a lavish spread on offer, it is hard for the newbie writer to exercise restraint. Oh but, to improve, you must.

That is not to say you can’t enjoy words. English has magpied extensively from many languages. Most of my favourite words are ‘borrowed’ words and include: “pyjama” and “shampoo” which come from India (though I’m not sure of the specific languages), “Hacienda” and “siesta” which are Spanish. “Itsy-bitsy”, “paprika”, “coach”, “goulash”, “hussar” and “biro” which are Hungarian. “Smithereen”, “galore”, “banshee”, “slew”, “brogue”, “kibosh”, ‘hobo’ and “shanty” which come from Irish. I enjoy writing them, I love saying them – to paraphrase Frank McCourt, it feels like having jewels in your mouth. I’ve just got to be careful about over using ‘exotic’ words in my prose. It can look pretentious.

And you don’t only construct literary art from words but they also set the tone of the piece and there are certain words and phrases that are closely associated with particular genres of writing. Romance type novels I associate with “tawny” and “chiselled”. SciFi writers invent words to name their machines, planets and creatures such as “Klingons” and “Zogathons”.

Words are fun, go ahead and celebrate words – but do so in moderation…


That’s Easy For You to Say…

Words… as a writer and a linguist, I love words. They are the writer’s main tool and there is a particularly lavish spread on offer for the English-speaking writer.

English is a word-rich language and there are more word-families in English than any other language. Crudely, one could say that the English language sprung from a marriage of French and German. For this reason, English has many words from its parent languages that describe quite similarly (ie “loving” is from German and “amorous” is from French). English has also magpied extensively from other languages. Most of my favourite words are ‘borrowed’ words and include: “pyjama” and “shampoo” which come from India (though I’m not sure which specific languages), “Hacienda” and “siesta” which are Spanish. “Itsy-bitsy”, “paprika”, “coach”, “goulash”, “hussar” and “biro” which are Hungarian. “Smithereen”, “galore”, “banshee”, “slew”, “brogue”, “kibosh”, ‘hobo’ and “shanty” which come from Irish. It seems the more obscure or exotic the etymology, the more intriguing and beautiful the word. And I enjoy writing them, love saying them – to paraphrase Frank McCourt, it feels like having jewels in your mouth.

You don’t only construct literary art from words but they also set the tone of the piece and there are certain words and phrases that are closely associated with particular genres of writing.

Romance  type novels I associate with “tawny” and “chiselled”.

SciFi writers invent words to name their machines, planets and creatures such as “Klingons” and “Zogathons”.

Do you associate words with a particular genre? Do you have favourites? I’d love to hear them…


Late Developing Dyslexia, anyone??

No, strike that… I think it’s spelled….

I think I’ve just  diagnosed myself as dyslexic. One of my students, a Portuguese cocaine smuggler, has a habit of switching letters in words when noting from the board. I spoke to the literacy tutor about him who recommended I give him a standard dyslexia diagnostic. As English is not his first language, I sat with him as he went through the questions  – and I answered in the affirmative to substantially more than he did!

It was all stuff like ‘do you mix up right and left’ ( I can never remember which is which!) do you muddle phone numbers when noting (all the time!) do you make mistakes when writing cheques (all the time! – so much so that I’ve got a sample cheque tacked to my wall so I can copy) do you need paper to do simple maths (of course!) do characters sometimes dance on the page (yes, but I thought that was my eyesight) do you get confused when relaying stuff like telephone messages (yes, and people get very frustrated/annoyed with my circuitous way of explaining things). Is you handwriting bad (mine is illegible, which is why I prefer to type – the only good thing about my handwriting is it sometimes hides my appalling spelling – which is another sign).

The result was the Portuguese drug smuggler: scored 10 (over nine meant there was likely a problem) and I scored 15! Which means I’m banjaxed.

OK, this isn’t a total surprise. I’ve long had my suspicions. The mixing of digits in telephone numbers has worried me that I might have some sort of numerical dyslexia but I wasn’t even sure that that existed – but (according to this diagnostic at least) it does. And I’ve long since known that I don’t think in the same logical, linear way others often do. And this shows in my writing, I tend to go all around the place before getting to the point and this is a problem.And I’ve had problems with my coordination when driving too (an that’s another indicator apparently).

I’ve been reluctant to do a dyslexia test, partly because I didn’t want to know and if I’ve coped so far and have managed to edit newspapers, get an MA and win awards for my writing I can’t be too bad a case – or perhaps dyslexia is not that bad a condition. I’m thinking that left to their own devices, most mild dyslexics will develop their own coping mechanisms.

Also, I have on occasion, met people who’ve told me they were dyslexic and SOMETIMES I’ve felt, no dammit I could see it a mile off, that they were using the condition either as an excuse for not achieving or by way of making themselves sound interesting or special – “I would have got a first/got into Oxford but I’m dyslexic and it wasn’t discovered until the night before the results came out…” or “I’m a one-legged, dyslexic vegan. What do you do?” So, I’ve been a bit suspicious of the dyslexic label for a long while, though I know its just that 1% that give the suffering 99% a bad name.

Anyway, my diagnosis is just my own but it was done honestly and using the literacy standard dyslexia diagnostic and judging by it I’m at the more severe end of the scale. None of this means anything, nothing needs to change – but it might explain my thought patterns a little more (to me) and it might help me know what and where to watch out when I’m writing.

euS xo