Grammar: Common Mistakes To Avoid - article

In every novel, you fight dragons, lawyers, sci-fi sorcerers, bad relationships, or other evil. Yet writers often forget to prepare for their true nemesis: bad grammar. Here are a few tips to help you make readers take your book seriously.

Subject/verb agreement: Sometimes in a long sentence with lots of commas and lots of description, you forget how to conjugate your verb. "What?" you say. "This is English, not high school Spanish class! No conjugations!" Yet English does have conjugations--generally two or three for each verb. Most verbs, like "sing" have singular and plural--"sing" or "sings." You knew that already, but sometimes we, in our verbosity and richness of description, etc. writes it wrong. You probably caught that mistake--"write" should replace "writes"--but so often writers miss these simple errors in their own work. Read your work aloud, and you will conquer the cruel cronies of confused conjugations!

Misplaced modifier: Usually, a single word modifier goes right in front of the word you want to modify. In which of these scenarios do you want to find yourself? "I almost slayed all the dragons with my magic missile." OR "I slayed almost all the dragons with my magic missile." The different placement of the modifier, "almost," changes the meaning. In the first "almost" modifies "slayed": you nearly destroyed the fiery beasts, but missed. Maybe you severely injured all dragons, but they all still live, or maybe you "almost" fired the missile but opted for peace last minute. In the second sentence "almost" modifies "all." You slayed most of the dragons, and a mere few linger alive.

Apostrophes: This confuses people because for normal nouns like dog and cat and the ten-foot-tall gorilla, we use apostrophe and "s" to symbolize possession. "Dog's bone," "cat's meow," and "ten-foot-tall gorilla's pretty maiden" all work. However, pronouns exist to replace the noun and make possession assumed. Anything near a pronoun without apostrophe signifies possession automatically: "your" and "its" need no apostrophe. Any time you see an apostrophe near a pronoun, think two words: "you are" for "you're," "it is," for "it's." Here’s a tip: "Pronoun and possession both start with a P, so anytime pronouns possess don't use apostrophe!"

Quotation marks: A friend once wrote an entire novel with all her quotations like this: "He ate candy." she said. Remember, punctuation expresses meaning. A period means the sentence has ended, and both the sentence before and after it can stand alone. In the second sentence above, "she said" cannot stand alone because the author did not capitalize the "s"-- so the period lies. The comma inside a quotation mark tells you that the quote has a relationship with the person who said it. "He ate candy," she said. Inside quotation marks, use single quotes. For example, "He said, 'she has twelve cows in her room,' she explained.” Inside those single quotes, use the double quotation marks.

Take care to follow these tips, and armed with the simple tool of good grammar, right writing will win out in the end.

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