Almost There: Writer Talk: Erin's Grammar Guide

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Writer Talk: Erin's Grammar Guide

Due to the Annes trying to finish their books, they have asked some of their favorite bloggers/writers to guest post! Enjoy!

Thank you, Tyler and Holli, for hosting me on your blog today! I am thrilled to have the chance to “talk” to your readers/blog followers!

Today, I’d like to talk about a subject near and dear to my heart—grammar. LOL! Yes, you heard me right…grammar. My family and friends often say I’m a member of the Grammar Police (actually they say something not quite so nice, but I’m rephrasing). Lest you think I’m the master of all things word related, I will confess right now…I cannot spell, at all. Seriously, I could not spell certain words without assistance if my life depended on it. My critique partners also point out my issues with formal speech (probably because I’m trying to follow all the grammar rules) and hyphenation (which for the record, I just misspelled).

You might ask, who even loves grammar, and when did you develop this affliction? Well, I went to one school up until the tenth grade and learned very little about grammar there. When I switched to a new school in the eleventh grade, my world changed. The teacher started my first day of class by saying, “Today, we will discuss predicate nominative and predicate adjective,” to which I replied, “A wha-wha?” I knew a noun, verb, and possibly an adverb, but nothing more. To her credit, my sweet teacher, Mrs. Hinton (she’s a writer too and has published books you can find here), stayed after school with me for six months to catch me up on grammar.

I ended up at a college that obsesses over grammar. Freshmen must take a course called “Grammar and Composition” and pass an end-of-the-semester test with a “C” or higher to continue on to the next class.  In preparation for that test, I took a free class offered by the head of the English department and learned all sorts of amazing tips and tricks. I passed the test with flying colors and received a position in the school’s learning center as a grammar and writing tutor. So, I spent the remainder of my college years trying to impart the grammar wisdom my high school teacher and college professors instilled.

Now that I am a soon-to-be-published author, I have the privilege of working with fellow authors. We critique one another’s “works in progress” to sharpen and improve them for submission. My critique partners recently dubbed me “The Passive Voice Hunter,” a name I quite like.

Without further ado, let me introduce common grammar/writing errors. I hope the following information will be useful whether you are a writer, business professional, student, or any other type of human being (LOL!).

1) Passive voice
The use of active voice improves writing and flow. Try to avoid passive verbs like: was, were, had been, is, has been, had been, will be.

A passive example: “I was editing my friend’s work.” 
An active example: “I edited my friend’s work.” 

2) Ending in a preposition 
Try not to end sentences with prepositions.

Example of preposition: “She didn’t know where he came from.” 
Correction: “She didn’t know from where he came.”** 

**This correction sounds slightly pompous and awkward, so the writer would benefit from reworking the whole sentence.
Reworking option (there are many other ways to change it): “He appeared by her side without warning.” 

Common prepositions: of, in, to, for, with, on, at, from, by, about, into, as, after, over, against, before

3) Commas (cue the “dun-da-dun” music)
I typically joke, “People treat commas like sprinkles.”

Here are the main rules for commas (there are more, but we’ll stick to the big ones):
a) Serial commas (this particular rule changes every once in a while, so keep an eye out on MLA). Right now, commas go before the “and” in a series. 
Example: Apples, banana, strawberries, and blueberries. 
b) Conjunction and commas. Commas can be used to separate two sentences when used with a conjunction. Common conjunctions: and, but, or, so, yet 
Example: Jenna believed her father when he told her John left, but she felt compelled to discover the reason. 
Incorrect usage of a comma: Jenna believed her father when he told her John left, but felt compelled to discover the reason. (No comma is needed in this sentence because there are not two sentences.) This sentence should read: Jenna believed her father when he told her John left but felt compelled to discover the reason. 
c) Introductory statements. When you begin a sentence with a helper statement, you should use a comma to separate the two piece of information. Introductory statements with more than three words require a comma. With statements fewer than three words, the comma is optional, but I always choose to include it. 
Example: When you begin a sentence with a helper statement, you should use a comma to separate the two pieces of information. (Clever how I did that, huh? I bet you can find a few more in my explanation as well…) 
d) Parenthetic elements. Use commas to offset information you wish to include but is not crucial to the sentence. When you place two commas (or one comma in the front and period at the end), you are signaling the reader that this information is NOT necessary. If it is necessary, do not offset in commas. 
Example 1: My best friend, Dawn, told me a hysterical joke yesterday. 
*Note—I only have one best friend, hence the name “Dawn” is unnecessary. However, be careful in these situations. “My friend Dawn told me a hysterical joke yesterday” has no comma because (hopefully) I have more than one friend. 
**To explore the note a bit further, here is another example: “My brother, Richard, graduated top in his class.” Based on this statement, you should know I only have one brother. If I said, “My brother Richard graduated top in his class,” you would know I have more than one brother. 
Example 2: Charlotte loved going to baseball games, though she preferred football.  
The football segment could be totally omitted and not compromise the integrity of the sentence. 
Example 3: He moved toward the door, placing his hand on the knob, and turned to give her one last look. 
The hand on the knob adds to the sentence but is not crucial. The sentence could be just fine without it. “He moved toward the door and turned to give her one last look.” 
e) Separating adjectives. Use commas to separate adjectives that both relate to the noun. If one adjective is describing the other, leave out the comma. 
Example: She pushed the big, yellow ball down the hill. 
Big and yellow both describe ball, so the comma needs to be there. 
Incorrect use: She pushed the bright, yellow ball down the hill. 
Bright describes yellow, not the ball, so no comma is needed. Should read: She pushed the bright yellow ball down the hill. 

Though there are plenty more grammar rules I could share, I think I’ll stop before your eyes glaze over (if they haven’t already—LOL). Often, it’s hard to see the errors in your own work. Asking friends, family, or co-workers to proofread your material before you send it out can be most helpful. My beta readers (Kim Sharp, Ginny Hunsberger, Danielle Craver, and Dawn Ward) as well as my critique partners (Mary Waibel, Michelle Pickett, and Meradeth Houston) locate the grammatical, spelling, logic, and voice errors in my pieces. I encourage you to find a group of people to help you as well.

If you have grammar questions, please feel free to ask. I love to talk “shop.” Thanks again for hosting me, Tyler and Holli!

Also, if you want to know more about me and my upcoming novel, The Prophecy, please like me on Facebook (Erin Albert Books), follow me on Twitter (@ErinAlbertBooks), and/or visit my website www.erinalbertbooks.com.

Until next time,
Erin

Erin Albert is an author and fitness trainer. Since she picked up Morris the Moose Goes to School at age four, she has been infatuated with the written word. She went on to work as a grammar and writing tutor in college and is still teased by her family and friends for being a member of the "Grammar Police." In her free time, Erin enjoys acting, running, kickboxing, and, of course, reading and writing.

Remember to check Erin out at:

Facebook - Twitter - Website

15 comments:

  1. Thanks for hosting me, ladies!! :)

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    1. No problem!! Thanks for stopping by!

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  2. You done good Erin. Serious. :-?

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    1. Eric-- I had to wait for my "bad grammar seizure" to pass before I could reply! ;)

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  3. I learned a neat trick in high school on determining whether or not a word was a preposition. I still use it today. When in doubt I say, "The dog walked [suspected preposition] his master." It works for most of them. Good post Erin! :)

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    1. Dale-- Cool trick! I love learning tips and tricks for grammar!! :)

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  4. The first time I met Lady Erin - well. I didn't exactly meet her. Actually, I tripped over her gun barrel. But that can happen when you stumble across an international assassin as she lies in the tall grass, waiting for the President of... Well. Waiting.
    So there I was, flat on my back and an empty glass in my hand. I figured it was as good a time as any to preposition her. Of course, I didn't actually _intend_ things to end with the preposition - what I had in mind involved a little cafe I knew and a bottle of Chianti. I knew what I wanted to say, and I knew I wasn't going to stop, not even to take a breath. But Erin had other ideas. her gun hand swung - and everything went black as she put me into a comma. If I'd been a big, hulking hero I'd have felt quite parenthetic (but I wasn't - so I didn't).

    Heh. My apologies Erin wise one (blush). I couldn't resist :-).

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    1. Oh dear, that's absolutely hilarious!

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    2. LOL!!! I so miss reading/seeing your humor, Graeme! Thanks for the laugh!!!

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  5. Oh Graeme-- You trip me out. But you outed my spy status on the internet, dude!! ;)

    Glad to see you recovered from your comma... ;)

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  6. Great post Erin. I'm working to improve my violations of all three of these grammar rules. Who knew I'd learn more about English now than when I was in school??

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  7. Mary-- I know, right? LOL!! I've learned so much more as an adult!!

    I can tell in your writing already, btw!! <3

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  8. Great tips! I plan to share these with my students. @aliciabooks

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