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Posts tagged ‘grammar’

The Top 5 Mistakes I Find as an Editor

A lot of writers won’t hire an editor. This isn’t a pitch to get your business (although, of course, I am always open to that). So since you probably won’t hire me or any of my editor cohorts, I’m going to share with you a list of the five biggest mistakes I see in manuscripts, so you can watch for them, and fix them, yourself.

Mistake #1: Writers don’t place a comma between independent clauses separated with a conjunction. Independent clauses are clauses that can stand on their own as sentences, e.g., “He took the 405 freeway to work, and he exited at the Getty Museum.” Because both “He took the 405 freeway to work” and “he exited at the Getty Museum” are independent clauses—meaning they can stand alone as sentences, you must, must, place a comma before the conjunction, “and.” This is probably the biggest, most common mistake I find in manuscripts and books. Don’t make it. It’s a very easy punctuation rule to remember.

Mistake #2: Writers place commas between independent clauses and dependent clauses. This is probably the second most common mistake I see. A dependent clause is one that cannot stand on its own as a sentence. Let’s take the above example, and change it just a little: “He took the 405 freeway to work and exited at the Getty Museum.” I took the second “he” out. That makes the clause after “and” a dependent clause, because “exited at the Getty Museum” cannot stand alone as a sentence. It is dependent upon the first clause to be understood; thus, no comma should precede the “and.”

Of course, there are other places you need—and don’t need—commas, but this isn’t meant to be a comprehensive study of the comma. If in doubt, look up comma placement in The Chicago Manual of Style or other style manual.

Mistake #3: Writers don’t know their homonyms. In just the last few weeks alone, I’ve seen characters who were unphased, waiving to people, and peaking out windows. The writer’s spellchecker should have alerted her to the fact that “unphased” isn’t even a word. She meant “unfazed.” To waive means to relinquish, to set aside. The word this author wanted was “waving.” And a peak is the highest point of something; one peeks, not peaks, out a window.

Please, unless you are 100 percent sure you are using the right homonym, look it up. The wrong choice could have your characters doing some pretty strange things!

Mistake #4: Writers rely on their spellcheckers. This is a big no-no. If ewe think you’re spellchecker will fined awl yore miss steaks, your wrong. That sentence went through my spellchecker just fine, and there are no less than eight errors in it (“ewe” should be “you”; “you’re” should be “your”; “fined” should be “find”; “awl” should be “all”; “yore” should be “your”; “miss” and “steaks” should be “mistakes”: and finally, “your” should be “you’re”). Homonym spelling errors are the most common type of spelling error I find. Do not rely on your spellchecker. It will let you down every time.

Mistake #5: Writers who make errors in syntax. For example, look at this sentence: “I saw a deer driving to work today.” Uh, no—you didn’t, unless there are some very talented deer in your neighborhood! The correct sentence structure is, “I saw a deer while driving to work today,” or, “While driving to work today, I saw a deer.” Please, don’t put the deer in the driver’s seat!

Here’s another example: “If your toddler won’t drink milk, warm it in the microwave for a few moments.” Warm what in the microwave? You’ve got a choice of antecedents here. Heaven help the toddler if you make the wrong choice! The correct structure would read, “If your toddler won’t drink milk, warm the milk in the microwave for a few moments.”

Of course, if you and I were having a conversation, we’d probably understand each other if we made these syntax errors. But you can’t count on that when people are reading your words. Make sure you have them in the correct order so your meaning cannot be misconstrued.

I cannot list every error I run across while editing manuscripts. To do so would fill a book. But if you watch for these top five mistakes in your writing, your manuscript will be a lot more polished, and you can be more confident about submitting it to your publisher.

General Rules About Abbreviations

This post outlines basic rules about abbreviations. There is a bewildering variety of standards, which will be explained in more detail in subsequent posts about specific categories of abbreviation, but the following guidelines cover an array of general types.

Use of abbreviation varies widely depending on the formality of writing employed for a given publication or a piece of content. Generally, the more formal the content, the less likely it is that abbreviation will be used, except in multiple references to terms commonly abbreviated or in tabular matter and other graphic elements.

In formal writing, journalistic contexts, and some informal content as well, terms are spelled out on first reference, followed by abbreviation in parentheses, as in “The Global Positioning System (GPS) uses satellite signals to fix the location of a radio receiver on or above the earth’s surface.” Thereafter, the abbreviation is used exclusively.

However, this tradition applies to single pieces of content, so that—unless, for example, an entire publication is devoted to articles about GPS technology—two articles in a publication that mention it will independently introduce the full spelled-out version of an abbreviation on first reference. Note, too, that specialized publications will likely abbreviate all references to widely used terms in that specialty.

Abbreviations consisting entirely of uppercase letters (including NY, US, FBI, and NASA) or that end with an uppercase letter (as in PhD) are not followed by a period; some publications retain periods in these types of abbreviations (at least two-letter ones), but that style is in decline. Abbreviations that end with a lowercase letter (a.m., Dr., i.e., etc.) are generally followed by a period.

Acronyms (abbreviations of phrases using initial letters of each word to form new word, such as AIDS) are almost invariably styled in all capital letters, though some, such as laser and scuba, have lost their uppercase form, and Nasdaq is treated as a proper noun. Initialisms (abbreviations of phrases using initial letters of each word, each of which is pronounced, such as FBI) are also generally capitalized. When using an article before an abbreviation, choose a or an depending on the first sound, not the first letter, of the abbreviation: “an NBA [en-bee-ay] team” but “a NASA [nasa] program.”

Avoid ampersands except in proper names (“Johnson & Johnson”) and in widely known abbreviations (“R&D,” for “research and development”).

Daily Writing Tips : 28 Nov 2016 

“Species” and Its Descendants

An assortment of diverse words stem from the Latin word species, which had two distinct meanings, one of which is “a particular kind, sort, or type”—the pertinent sense for the following terms.

special: This word, coming into English from Old French, originally meant “better than ordinary” but later acquired the additional senses of “marked by a distinguishing quality” and “limited in function, operation, or purpose”; the noun specialist carries the latter connotation in describing someone with a narrow set of skills. The variant especial, taken from an Old French term meaning “important” or “preeminent”—treated in Modern French as spécial—originally had the same meaning as special but later acquired the additional senses of “particular” and “peculiar,” as well as “intimate.” The adverbial form, especially, is now much more common than the adjectival form.

specie: This technical term for coins, as opposed to paper currency, stems from the phrase “in specie,” meaning “in the actual or real form,” which in turn derives from an identical-looking phrase in Latin that means “in kind.” (The notion is that coins actually have monetary value, whereas paper currency merely represents such value.)

species: Species denotes a distinct type of life-form, but this biological sense was preceded by multiple now-rare connotations such as “appearance,” “notion,” and “resemblance.” Originally, it was associated with a classification in logic.

specific: This word, meaning “particular,” “precise,” or “special,” is an antonym of generic, just as, in biology, a species is more, well, specific than a genus. (Like species and specific, genus and generic are related.)

specious: This term has undergone the most deviation from its original sense, which is “fair” or “pleasing.” (It stems indirectly from the Latin word species by way of speciosus, which means “good-looking” or “beautiful.”) Now, it pertains to superficial attractiveness or false validity or value.

spice: This unexpected descendant of special, which denotes plant products used to season foods, derived from a later sense of species in Latin of “goods or wares,” pertaining to spices as a commodity. The additional, centuries-old, figurative sense of “something that provides relish or zest” survives, but the meanings “sample” and “trace” do not.

The second sense of the Latin term species, derived from the verb specere, is discussed in this post.

Daily Writing Tips, Posted: 30 Sep 2016 09:09 PM PDT

Using Correct Grammar

Those grammar classes seem like eons ago. Now we’re writers and we’re not as sure as we used to be. Years of exposure to lazy writing and editing by publishers and the media make things sound right, just because we’ve heard them over and over. As an editor, I’m offering some tidbits that I hope will help you refine your writing.

Phrase vs. Clause
A phrase is a group of grammatically related words that does not contain a main verb. T e wards in the phrase act as a unit, usually functioning as a part of speech. For example:
The girl is in school today, but tomorrow she is going to hunt. Notice that ” in school ” and “to hunt” are phrases functioning as adverbs describing a place or activity. “The girl” is a phrase in the sense that the words go together as determiner and noun, but it does not function as a part of speech.
A clause is a group of grammatically related words that does contain a main verb_
Some clauses can stand alone as complete sentences. Such clauses are called main or
independent clauses. For example: The girl is at home today, but tomorrow she is going hunting.
The two clauses in this sentence are “The girl is in school today” and “tomorrow she is going to hunt.” The joining word “but” is simply a connecting word; it does not belong to either clause. Either clause, therefore, can stand alone, expressing a complete thought:
The girl is in school today. (complete thought) Tomorrow she is going to hunt. (complete thought)
Other clauses are prevented from standing alone because they begin with words that limit their meaning, words like because and when. Such clauses are called subordinate or dependent clauses. For example: The boy quit school because he missed too many classes. “The boy quit school” is a complete thought and, therefore, a main clause. “Because he missed too many classes ” is an incomplete thought and, therefore, a subordinate clause. The “because” leaves us wondering what went before.

COMMON ERROR: A common writing fault is to separate two independent clauses with a comma (with no conjunction after it).
INCORRECT: They have a fly casting class here, the students like it.
CORRECT: They have a fly casting class here. The students like it.
or
CORRECT They have a fly casting class here, and the students like it.

What’s the Object?
As a part of the sentence, an object is a word that receives the action of an action verb. For example, in the sentence The batter hit the ball, the action of hitting has a receiver, ball. The ball receives the action and is, therefore, called the object of the verb.
There are two kinds of objects: direct and indirect. The word that receives the action of the verb is called the direct object. When the direct object is passed indirectly to another receiver, that receiver is the indirect object. For example: My sister writes me long letters.
The direct object is “letters.” The indirect object is “me.” “Letters” receives the action of writing, while “me” receives the letters. One way to tell the two objects apart is that the indirect object usually comes directly after the verb.
Another way to determine which object is which is to ask these questions about the verb:
1. “Writes” what? Answer. “letters,” so direct object.
2. “Writes” to whom or for whom? Answer: “me,” so indirect object
Some verbs that often take indirect objects are: write, send, tell, give, buy, and sell.

Interrogative Pronoun?
Standard forms of this pronoun include: what, which, who, whom, whose. These pronouns are used to introduce questions: What are the odds? Who left the gate open? Which is mine?
NOTE: The subject pronoun “who” has the object form “whom.” It is the pronoun most often misused in the media today.
The tendency for many speakers is to avoid whom altogether and use who as both subject and object. This is no longer viewed as a serious error. However, using whom where the subject form is called for is an error to be avoided at all costs. For example:
ACCEPTABLE: Who are you calling?
CORRECT Whom are you calling?

INCORRECT: Whom is coming with us to the lodge?
CORRECT Who is coming with us to the lodge?

Demonstrative Pronoun
Standard forms of this pronoun are: this, that, these, those. These pronouns are used to stand for a noun and separate it from other entities. For example:
Is this the one you wanted? land me those.
NOTE: Generally speaking, use this and these to indicate items near the speaker, and that and those for items farther away. Notice that demonstrative pronouns replace the noun. The same words – this, that, these, and those – are also used as “demonstrative determiners” or demonstrative adjectives.” For example: This woods is dark. (Here “this” is specifying the noun “woods,” telling us which woods.)

Relative Pronoun
The relative pronouns are that, who, whom, which, where, when, and why. Like other pronouns, the relative pronoun replaces a noun. Like a conjunction, it serves as a joining word
between clauses. For example:
That’s the man who shot my deer.
The word “who” is a relative pronoun. It stands for “man” and it (inks the main clause “That’s the man” to the dependent clause “who shot my deer.”

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