Hello, as anyone who keeps up a blog knows, coming up with new entries is rough after a while. My good friend, Kath, agreed to help me out with a guest blog or two.
From the other seasoned one, Dr. Katherine Pope:
Because I more or less grew up in the Catholic school system, I am a stickler for grammar, punctuation, and proper spelling. This has nothing to do with my DMD degree. Dentists don’t really care if you can construct a proper sentence, let alone spell correctly (or write legibly, but that’s a different story entirely). No, this has everything to do with the fact that there is some honest-to-goodness dog poo that constitutes the works on FFN, AO3, FictionPress, and printed or e-published manuscripts in general.
Now, this may be a refresher course, but it might help. At least, I hope it does. So, off we go on some of the finer points, in no particular order:
The there/their/they’re conundrum. This one really frosts me. “There” is a location (i.e., She put the object there). “Their” is a plural possessive (i.e., The children put their toys away) – more on this in a moment. “They’re” is the contraction of they are (i.e., They’re all going to the store). Please, do us all a favor and get them straight.
But what about whose versus who’s? Yet another one that frosts me, though not as badly as the above example. The word “whose” is a neutral possessive, usually singular (i.e., The person whose dog is running around the neighborhood needs to buy a better leash), whereas “who’s” is the contraction of who is (i.e., Who’s going to wash the dishes?) or who has (i.e., Who’s been snooping through my closet?).
On that note, let’s talk about your versus you’re. The word “your” is a second-person possessive (i.e., I spoke with your mother). On the other hand, “you’re” is a contraction of you are (i.e., You’re invited to the party).
And one more(!) – its versus it’s. This one is very similar to the above issues. “Its” is a neutral singular possessive (i.e., The car had its brake lights on), while “it’s” is the contraction of it is (i.e., It’s going to be a great vacation) or it has (i.e., It’s been a freaking LONG winter!).
And since we’re on the “singular versus plural” subject, I’m going to rant about the word their. I hate this word when used as the lazy (wo)man’s way out. Everybody does it: Facebook, educated people, posters on Twitter. As we discussed earlier, the word “their” is a plural possessive. NOTE: EMPHASIS IS ON THE WORD PLURAL!!! The sentence should NOT say (as Facebook is so fond of doing), “It’s Katharine Pope’s birthday! Write something on their wall.” It should read, “Write something on her wall.” Similarly, the statement should not be, “Everyone likes their new work proposal” – it should be, “Everyone likes his (or her) new work proposal.” (And if anyone out there really likes his or her new work proposal, please let me know immediately so I can inquire within.) This is a personal pet peeve of mine. My middle-school English teacher, Mrs. Bosco, would be so proud.
Switching gears. Does anybody remember the old rhyme, “I before E, except after C?” This is a classic that most of us probably learned very early on. It’s a classic for a reason: it helps. Receive, deceive, conceive, and the like. Niece, friend, etc. Okay, there are always some exceptions (such as neighbor), but for the most part, this one’s a safe bet.
It’s (note the proper use of it’s) easy to look up the spelling of a word. Let’s face it, if you have a computer, or at least access to one, it’s pretty easy to look up the spelling of a word. Find a search engine, type in a word you’re not quite sure how to spell, and like magic, the correct spelling will somehow pop up (God bless the internet). While I am good at spelling, I’ve never been sure how to properly spell hors d’oeuvres, recommendation, chauffeur, and the like. Search engines make it possible – and fast. Don’t be lazy on this one! It’s too easy. No excuses.
There’s always a dictionary. Okay, so this one’s not as easy or quick as checking the proper spelling of a word on the internet. Boo hoo. If it’s available, it’ll help. I promise. (Hey, what do you think we did before there was the internet???)
DON’T rely solely on SpellCheck!!! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spelled or when I meant our. Or is when I meant his. Or my personal favorite, so when I meant some. (Don’t ask me how that one happened. I blame my keyboard.) Point is, you can be the best speller in the world, but one slip of the fingers can lead to a misspelled word, and often one that’s actually spelled correctly. Don’t rely on the computer. Double-check yourself.
Punctuation – as in, what the heck to do with colons, semi-colons, and the rest of the pack. Consider this a remedial tutorial. A period is used most of the time after a statement (i.e., “I bought groceries today.”). An exclamation point is used after a statement that contains excitement (i.e., “I just won the lottery!”). A question mark is, duh, used after a question (i.e., “Do you know what time it is?”). But those are the easy items. What to do about the rest of them? Well, a colon is used when there is a list which follows a statement (i.e., “I’m shopping for three things today: a sweater, an umbrella, and a new phone.”). A semi-colon is a little trickier, since it combines two related sentences without actually breaking them up into two sentences (i.e., “I have to show up on time for my hair appointment; the hairdresser won’t do a blowout at the end if I’m late.”).
Commas and dashes and parentheses, oh my! Commas, dashes, and parentheses can be used similarly; God knows I use them almost interchangeably. For example, this sentence can be written three ways with the same meaning no matter which punctuation is used:
Commas: The dog, owned by Kim, is going to the vet.
Dashes: The dog – owned by Kim – is going to the vet.
Parentheses: The dog (owned by Kim) is going to the vet.
The point of using any of these forms of punctuation in this example is for further clarification. Of course, one could make the argument that no punctuation is required here (as in, The dog owned by Kim is going to the vet). But then, why write the sentence in this manner? Wouldn’t it just be easier to say “Kim’s dog is going to the vet”? Why, yes. Yes it would. NOTE: This is obviously not the only way to use these three types of punctuation, but I won’t get into those now. This is a remedial tutorial, not a lesson, after all.
New topic: adjective versus adverb, and when to use them. While both are descriptive words, an adjective describes a noun (i.e., That is a gorgeous purse), whereas an adverb describes a verb (i.e., The train is moving quickly). More often than not, an adverb ends with -ly. Plan accordingly. (Heh heh, I did that on purpose.)
Random: how about the a versus an thingie? The letter a is used before a word beginning with a consonant (i.e.: a bed, a house, a bottle of Cîroc vodka). The word an is used before a word beginning with a vowel (i.e.: an orange, an aardvark, an extremely fragile ego). In the past, this concept got messed up with words that began with the letter H. Oftentimes, the word an preceded a word that began with the letter H (i.e., This is an historic election). Fortunately, modern-day rules and, frankly – in my humble opinion – common sense dictate the dropping of an for a. It just sounds better. Don’t you agree?
And finally, when in doubt, ask for help. Yes, I know this sounds obvious. But if you’re anything like me, you pride yourself on your writing and are loathe to ask for help or advice. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with doing things yourself. That’s why I wrote this post: unsolicited advice that you can use if you want or need it, and ignore if you don’t. But gauging from what I’ve been reading lately, we ALL could stand to use a little bit of help. So please, if you’re confused, ASK. Find a friend, an editor, a beta-reader, a writer whose works you admire, whoever. Write your best, and make it your best. That way, when you look back and reread what you’ve published, you won’t internally cringe and mentally flog yourself a thousand times over. Trust me, those are not good feelings to have, and ones I want to help you avoid.
Well, that’s it for now! Until you hear from me again, I can be reached at my website (drkatharinepope.snappages.com) or my Twitter account (handle: @DrKatharinePope).