Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tips for English Bumblers

Readers, writers, and day-to-day users of the English language, lend me your ear. I'm seeing an alarming number of error-filled manuscripts, emails, and IM conversations. There are incorrect words being used everywhere. Should you care? Please allow me to quote Mark Twain:

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”

Twain was a bit of a smarty-pants. Now, I am not William Strunk, or E.B. White, or even Lynne Truss, but goshdarnit I can still list some Fails and Fixes to make your writing gooder… er, better.

(Disclaimer: I started by writing my own explanations, but ended up adapting the definitions from Common Errors in English Usage by Paul Brians. It is the best help site I know of, and I don’t know what else I can say to recommend it.)

Just remember two points and you’ll never make this mistake again. (1) “it’s” always means “it is” or “it has” and nothing else. (2) Try changing the “its” in your sentence to “his” and if it doesn’t make sense, then go with “it’s.”

“You’re” is always a contraction of “you are.” If you’ve written “you’re,” try substituting “you are.” If it doesn’t work, the word you want is “your.”

“There” has “here” buried inside it to remind you it refers to place, while “their” has “heir” buried in it to remind you that it has to do with possession.

Regardless of what you have heard, “irregardless” is a redundancy. The suffix “-less” on the end of the word already makes the word negative. It doesn’t need the negative prefix “ir-” added to make it even more negative.

As in “Could have, should have, would have.” A sentence like “I would have gone if anyone had given me free tickets” is normally spoken in a slurred way so that the two words “would have” are not distinctly separated. Many people hear “would of” and that’s how they write it. Wrong. (Note that “must of” is similarly an error for “must have.”)

That’s it. See? Simple fixes. This isn’t hardcore grammar. This is easy, breezy stuff. Anyone can do it. I’m not crazy.

(Image © 2009 Tracy J. Butler, from Lackadaisy.)


Misty said...

OMG!!!! I think I am in love...with your eye for proper placement/usage/spelling of grammar. It has always been a huge annoyance for me to see mispelled words or misplacement of simple prepositions. These days everyone is about the txt lingo and there is nothing wrong with it until you start to transfer it from being specifically for texting to being in your everyday language and writing(i.e,the omg in my opening!).

Shellie (Layers of Thought) said...

I am such a bad speller and my grammar stinks... no wonder my blog is not on your blog list...;)
I am thinking that perhaps I should put your blog in Layers of Thought's blog roll under writers or editors? Or make a listing resources for writers and put you there? your thoughts?

Errant Knave said...

Ha! Sorry for the slight. It wasn't intentional. I follow blogs from my dashboard, and I forget to update them on my visible blog list. Consider it fixed. And if you'd like to add me to yours, thank you. Either writer or editor works for me.

Shellie (Layers of Thought) said...

No worries - but thank you :)
I have all Layers of Thought's readers (I dislike the term followers) on the blog roll list.
I currently have you in speculative fiction since you seem to read and post around the genre a lot.
But you may be a bit more functional to writers as a whole...
let me know?
I may not comment but I do read your posts.

Deanna/ibeeeg said...

I had a whole comment typed out and gosh darn it, I lost it!!!

In a nutshell, I was going to say, great post.
These are mistakes easily done through sloppy editing which I am known for. For me, my mistakes happen from my quick typing yet not quick enough for my brain then the sloppy editing plays into the equation.
Because I always see some sort of blaring editing error on my posts, when possible, I have my husband read/edit my posts before the publishing. When I edit my own work my mind plays tricks by either filling in the blank (missing word) or fixing the mistake (not registering the mistake and unconsciously substituting the correct word). My point? These errors are not always made due to lack of knowledge.

The texting and IM-ing contribute to these errors because of the nature of the correspondence - quick send button. Also, how about the "smart words" editing. You know, when you type 'r' and the word 'are' pops into the writing. That feature can be good but mostly I think it may be detrimental to the kids as they text, IM and all that stuff a whole lot and are growing-up with it. Hoping the 'r' does not become part of their actual writing. *shrug*

Again, great post. Something for all of us to continue to be aware of.

BTW: Noticed that you have Inkygirl on your sidebar. I was just going to twitter you (today) and ask if you follow her. I do (on twitter) and notice that she posts some wonderful stuff about writers/authors. Thought that would be of interest to you, see that it is.

Also,I have been enjoying all of your writer/author type post. Very interesting.

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