Love writing? Love the tools of the language

Nothing unnatural except for an apostrophe

Here are some terms we must stop using. ‘Grammar Nazi.’ ‘Punctuation police.’ ‘Spelling snob.’

When did we start forgiving sloppiness and sneering at correctness? If you have a genuine love of the writing craft, isn’t it a point of pride to get these things right?

We are writers. Our prose is our instrument. These are not stuffy, irrelevant rules. They are essential technical skills for communication.

When we get them wrong, we trip up the reader. Or we mislead, or undermine ourselves (and here let me metaphorically wave a copy of Lynne Truss’s Eats Shoots and Leaves).

Yes, the reader might be able to guess what we really mean, or mentally correct it for themselves. But we shouldn’t do that to them. And for every reader who shrugs off a wrong apostrophe, there’s another who sees it as slovenly ignorance. (That’s me, by the way. Unnecessary apostrophes make me apoplectic.)

Forgive the missing 'c'...

But good grammar, spelling and punctuation go unnoticed. They aid invisibly and discreetly, like an exquisitely trained butler. They let your content speak and breathe for itself. They give your writing poise and control. Doesn’t every writer want that?

I appreciate that if you don’t know about it, it’s daunting. But make it part of your job to find out. If schoolish tomes put you off, there are plenty of more palatable books. If you really struggle, find a beta reader who can salvage your language for you.

To turn to publishing, let’s look at what happens when we don’t take enough care. You may already have seen this post by British writer Anthony Horowitz in the books blog of the Guardian newspaper. Look at the comments. Look at the bile heaped on books with bad grammar, spelling and punctuation (and particularly how the commenters feel this defines self-published books). If you needed proof that writers are judged on these things, look no further.

So please – no more of the N word, the P word or the S word.

My pet hates – what are yours?

Its and it’s are confused

Its means ‘belonging to it’.

It’s is short for ‘it is’.

If you’re still confused, ask yourself if you mean ‘it is’. If you don’t, it’s probably the other one. See how easy it’s?

There and their

If what you mean is ‘where’, the word you want is ‘there’. You may also use it without any meaning of its own in a sentence such as ‘if I see this mistake again there will be blood’.

If you mean ‘belonging to them’, you need ‘their’.

So there.

Reigns and reins

A horse has reins.

A monarch reigns.

You can have a reign of terror, but on a daily basis I see: ‘so-and-so took over the reigns of power’. This is wrong. They are speaking figuratively of leather straps that steer – and so the correct word is ‘reins’.

I also see ‘we had to reign in our spending’. That refers to an act of braking – which is done with a rein.

Nay, nay, nay.

Tell me yours in the comments! And recommend good books on the topic…Thanks for the pics Electricnerve and Jimmiehomeschoolmom

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  1. #1 by mrdisvan on March 4, 2012 - 10:00 pm

    The irony of the term Grammar Nazi (apart from its unforgivably lax use of that overused n-word) is that fascism is all about arrogant ignoramuses trying to bully the rest of us into accepting lies as the truth. I know which side of that equation I’d put the apostrophe-mad solecists.

  2. #3 by laurieboris on March 4, 2012 - 10:05 pm

    Some that make me cringe: distract/detract, reoccurence, blonde/blond, completely destroyed, and using a semicolon instead of a comma with a conjunction.

    • #4 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on March 5, 2012 - 1:24 pm

      Good examples. Decimate annoys me, although some dictionaries allow the more loose meaning it has now acquired. It originally meant to kill one in 10, but journalists hijacked it as a synonym for destroy, which it clearly isn’t. I cling to the original meaning because I don’t think ignorant use should be sanctioned :)

  3. #5 by Paris Franz on March 4, 2012 - 10:14 pm

    Pet hates? “Should of” instead of “should have”. Enough to make me shudder. Then there’s “who’s” and “whose” – and “whom”! My mum teaches English in Italy and has a grand old time explaining “whom”.

  4. #7 by milothecloud on March 4, 2012 - 10:23 pm

    I couldn’t help but chuckle and insert “Neigh, neigh, neigh.” at the end. (whinnies)

  5. #9 by Joel Kirkpatrick (@jbkirkpat) on March 4, 2012 - 10:25 pm

    I’ve seen the same page of text argued into distraction by two editors over the use of four commas. One thought them superfluous; the other deemed them necessary.
    As many unskilled writers as the technology has made, it has also created as many dubious experts.
    If readers needs be aware, to find the best product, so should the writer be aware, to find the best help.

    • #10 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on March 5, 2012 - 1:30 pm

      Comma use is a tricky one. It’s probably where most editors will differ. I’ve worked with editors with wildly different ideas of where commas should go, all of which seemed to be soundly argued. There are places we all agree commas should be used, and places where it seems to be a matter of taste.

  6. #11 by Ileandra Young on March 4, 2012 - 10:28 pm

    Brilliant! Those samples are exactly the ones that drive me bonkers and I really kick myself when I make the same mistakes by not paying attention.
    Too right, as well, nobody wants to read poorly written prose; it’s too much hard work when you just want to enjoy a story.

  7. #13 by Mary Tod on March 4, 2012 - 10:30 pm

    Since turning to writing, I am more aware of grammar, particularly bad grammar. When I stumble on a grammar mistake in published material, I become distracted. A distracted reader is not a happy reader. I recall a blog post several months with a list of common mistakes for which that agent will instantly dismiss a query. One of the examples was the use of alright instead of all right. Being paranoid, I went through my most recent manuscript once again and found several instances of alright.

    Interestingly, Microsoft Word is quite happy with ‘alright’.

    Irregardless is one of my pet peeves. Then we have improper use of effect and affect, lose and loose, lay and lie, past and passed. I’m sure there are lots more!

    • #14 by Elle on March 4, 2012 - 11:05 pm

      OMG, ‘lose’ and ‘loose’ is definitely one of mine too. I used to read a lot of weight loss blogs, and, seriously, if I had a nickel for every time I read a sentence like “I need to loose 5lbs before the end of the month” I would be a millionaire several times over.

      • #15 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on March 5, 2012 - 1:36 pm

        Loose, oh yes. And I’d say you don’t need to make the 5lb plural, so give yourself a nickel for that too.

    • #16 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on March 5, 2012 - 1:34 pm

      I believe – and hate to admit it – that ‘alright’ is allowed in certain dictionaries. It isn’t in mine, I’ll just add.
      Past and passed… yes, I see that a lot. I can’t imagine how people mix those up.

  8. #17 by Greever Williams on March 4, 2012 - 10:40 pm

    One of my pet peeves is when someone uses unkempt without the “m”. It’s there for a reason people – let the punctuation police reign over all of us until we can rein in all these mistakes!

    One of my favorite resources is King’s On Writing. He teaches without lecturing. He uses colorful anecdotes and self-deprecating humor to create a well-structured guide. And ever since I read it (the first time), I have learned to hate the adverb in describing speech – it is much too distracting!

  9. #21 by Addy Rae on March 4, 2012 - 10:41 pm

    The two words that make me wince when misused are taut and taunt.

    Also, viscous and vicious.

    I think part of the reason people are so hostile to ‘grammar police’ is that they never learned to take criticism as anything other than an attack.

  10. #23 by Zelah Meyer on March 4, 2012 - 10:45 pm

    I have been trying to teach myself grammar, since the good old British education system didn’t! I previously relied on knowing what sounded right rather than what was right. I’m still learning and will be getting someone with considerably more experience to check my work before publication!

    However, in the meantime, I am now starting to learn about subjects, objects and all sorts of other things that used to be a foreign language to me. I still haven’t quite got the hang of when I’m allowed to use a comma – but I’m getting there!

    For the basics, “My Grammar and I (Or Should That Be Me?)” by Caroline Taggart has some useful info. Not quite enough for publishing purposes – but probably enough for helping people on a day to day basis.

    The problem you come across when trying to learn grammar from scratch, is that everything has a term you’ve never heard of. If you try to look up one term, the explanation is based on its relation to other unknown terms. Thus, it takes a while for all the bits to fall into place!

    In terms of websites, I would suggest that people check/bookmark the following:

    http://www.prismnet.com/~hcexres/style/index.html – This site deals more with grammatical sentence structure/clarity than individual grammatical terms.

    http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/ – Grammar Girl, you’ll find her referenced a lot if you’re researching grammar & her site is very useful for explaining things simply (sometimes a little too simply but that’s when you start Googling for more detailed explanations.)

    I’ve found those two to be the most useful ones that I’ve found so far. :)

    • #24 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on March 5, 2012 - 1:40 pm

      At last, some helpful links – thanks Zelah. Assuming we can’t all call on your immaculately Englished hubby.

      It’s funny but I never ‘learned’ grammar. I couldn’t tell you what a dative is, and never came across that term until I studied O-level German. I learned a strong sense of what sounded right, though, from reading. I think that if you’ve always read good books and you have a reasonable sensitivity for the language, you pick it up. No need to mire yourself in jargon.

  11. #25 by Elle on March 4, 2012 - 11:02 pm

    You know what’s kind of embarrassing? I only just a few weeks ago learned the difference between ‘loath’ and ‘loathe’. For my whole life I’ve been writing it as “I was loathe to see him again.” Who knew?!

    So, while I’ll admit that I DO make mistakes — sometimes from lazy proofreading, and other times because I genuinely didn’t know the difference — it still drives me CRAZY to see improper capitalizations. Okay, I know I just wrote ‘CRAZY’ in all caps, but that was for emphasis. :) I mean when people write things like, “He had always wanted to be a Doctor. He was very interested in Medicine.”

    • #26 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on March 5, 2012 - 1:42 pm

      Brave admission, Elle! Check out hoards and hordes too… a lot of people don’t know that one.

      And capitalisations! A lot of people do this because they think the noun they’re writing is important, so it would be impolite to not give it a capital. To take your example, doctors are figures of respect, and I mean to be respectful in my sentence, ergo I will give them a capital. But only Germans capitalise ordinary nouns as a matter of course. Everyone else can go plain old lower case.

  12. #27 by Cynthia Robertson on March 4, 2012 - 11:04 pm

    Gosh, where to start!

    I find it annoying when someone insists long sentences are bad. Are they afraid of compound sentences? Have they never read a literary novel?

    I am bothered by those who fear semi-colons. And by those who use them incorrectly.

    I’m put off by writers who use the same word repeatedly, especially adjectives. It makes me want to scream: Click on your thesaurus, for Pete’s sake!

    Lastly, if one isn’t certain of the meaning of a word, look it up to make sure it’s being used correctly.

    I love your wit here, Roz. This post was a pleasure to read. :-)

    • #28 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on March 5, 2012 - 1:45 pm

      Ooh excellent point about sentence length, Cynthia. It all comes down to readability. If you trip over a sentence, there’s something wrong with it – period. But well-written sentences flow smoothly, no matter how long they are.

      And repetition. Repetition has its place – for emotional emphasis – but should be used sparingly. Like any emphatic device, it loses its power very quickly.

  13. #29 by J.C. Martin on March 4, 2012 - 11:39 pm

    “They’re”, “their” and “there” are my pet peeves. Grr… Agitates me just writing them…

    Mary, I do tend to use “alright” in speech, to denote someone speaking it quickly. Is that a no-no then?

    • #30 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on March 5, 2012 - 1:47 pm

      Some more votes for the theres – good! It’s such a common mistake and I really can’t see what’s so difficult about it.

  14. #31 by Carol Riggs on March 5, 2012 - 1:06 am

    Heheee, are you sure you didn’t mean neigh, neigh, neigh at the end there, after talking about horses and reins? Great post–and so true. I’ve been called the Grammar Queen by my critique partners. But it really IS important! especially for self-pubbers, because of the stigma.

  15. #33 by Connie B. Dowell on March 5, 2012 - 2:09 am

    I work in a writing center as a tutor. I have a lot of pet peeves, but one I see far too often in student papers is wonton use of semicolons. They aren’t just fancy commas! Grammar is important. You need to know the rules so you can break them for stylistic reasons rather than out of ignorance. Regarding it’s vs. its and their vs. there, often these are typos, though there are many people who do not know the differences between these words. I’ve spotted some of these mistakes in my own work, and I am a bit afraid that one will slip through one day and someone will shout “You’re a writing tutor? Don’t you KNOW the difference?” I do! I do! Typos happen to us all. :( In short, I do think the pejorative terms degrade linguistic precision and do no one any good, but I have met some folks who might have inspired such labels.

    • #34 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on March 5, 2012 - 1:50 pm

      Sure, typos happen – and we probably forgive them in a casual medium like a tweet or a comment. But I see writers who regularly and consistently use it’s when they should write its, and commit the ‘there’ crimes. These aren’t typos.

      Good point about style – we are artists after all. But as you say, we need to know the rules first, then we’re aware of the effects if we break them deliberately.

  16. #35 by firstnovelblues on March 5, 2012 - 2:32 am

    Been brainfarting lately with peek and peak…

  17. #38 by Sally - aka Saleena on March 5, 2012 - 10:17 am

    As others have already mentioned, ‘should of’ instead of ‘should have’, the mix-ups between ‘their’ and ‘there’, and ‘loose’ where the writer means ‘lose’ are the worst offenders for me.

    For a long time I insisted on typing ‘alright’ knowing full well that it’s technically incorrect, but changed over all instances in my novel to ‘all right’ (even though I would prefer ‘alright’!).

    • #39 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on March 5, 2012 - 1:55 pm

      Hi Sally! Those seem to be favourites – or unfavourites, depending on your point of view.

      I can’t get used to ‘all right’ as one word, any more than I could write ‘thank you’ as one word.

      I occasionally freelance on a magazine that insists ‘online’ is always one word, even at times when I would obey the normal rules of English and make it two. It gives me hives every time I have to let it stand.

      • #40 by Sally - aka Saleena on March 5, 2012 - 2:44 pm

        I must admit, I was very young when I first saw ‘alright’ and that has a lot to do with my preference, but I respect that it’s not formally accepted.

        Online … I’m guessing you mean this was in a non-technical context?

        • #41 by Sally - aka Saleena on March 5, 2012 - 2:46 pm

          Roz, you should run a poll for this. A lot of us a picking the same few words!

        • #44 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on March 5, 2012 - 8:06 pm

          Not a computing magazine, a medical one. So … I have an online (or on-line) presence, but I do things on line. But even if it was a computing magazine I’d argue for English over jargon, unless someone could convince me the ‘proper English’ version, because of the context, would look behind the times.

          • #45 by Sally - aka Saleena on March 5, 2012 - 10:20 pm

            Ah, okay. You’ll probably want to hit me for this but I used online and offline in my novel – as a computer term. :D

  18. #46 by Melanie Ormand on March 5, 2012 - 11:59 am

    Hear ye, hear ye!

    Or is that “here ye, here ye”? :)

  19. #48 by TeacherWriter on March 5, 2012 - 2:01 pm

    My biggest peeve is irregardless. That’s a double negative, people! My biggest spoken pet peeve is saying “libeary” for library. Thanks for the reminder, Roz.

    • #49 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on March 5, 2012 - 7:55 pm

      Irregardless…. how does that happen! How about ‘nukelar’? It’s ‘nuclear’, folks, and it will be if you say that again.

  20. #51 by subtlekate on March 5, 2012 - 2:06 pm

    Rediculous. Since when is it red?
    Pronoucing it pastea when it is pasta. That one really gets my goat.
    Cassel when it’s castle.
    And the one that can make me madder than a cut snake. I could care less? What! Then by all means, care less. See if I care!
    Stop me now.

    • #52 by Addy Rae on March 5, 2012 - 2:53 pm

      So far as mispronunciations go, I was corrected a few days ago for saying Valentine’s Day with an ‘m’. I had no idea I did that!

    • #53 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on March 5, 2012 - 7:56 pm

      Rediculous. This gets worse.
      I’ve heard that p-word pronounced ‘parsta’.

  21. #54 by Rebecca on March 5, 2012 - 2:14 pm

    People who “pour” over documents make me wish I had a flamethrower.

    Also, there needs to be a public education campaign about cue vs queue (and how queue is spelled).

    • #55 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on March 5, 2012 - 7:58 pm

      Ooh, good one.

      I’ve noticed the cue/queue problem but I wonder if one of them is American? (not knowing where you’re typing from…) But a very fussy American friend of mine (fussy in ways I applaud, of course) uses ‘queue’ in that way and he wouldn’t usually get it wrong.

  22. #56 by Debbie on March 5, 2012 - 5:15 pm

    I am a grammar nazi and proud of it!

  23. #58 by Jodie "Triple J" Jackson Jr. on March 5, 2012 - 5:26 pm

    I become mega-apoplectic over, “All of the sudden.” First of all, the phrase is “all of A sudden,” and secondly, I shouldn’t correct it to begin with, because the phrase is superfluous.

    I’m also irritated by the abuse of the prefix “mega.”

    As in, “mega-apoplectic.”

  24. #60 by Jo Carroll on March 5, 2012 - 6:16 pm

    Grammar nazi or pedant – guilty as charged. Can’t bear ‘different to’ not ‘different from’. And ‘At this moment in time’ – what’s wrong with ‘now’? Useless adjectives – nice, very, incredibly. And – in the UK – the creeping inclusion of ‘gotten’ (I know that’s a fine word in the US, but it’s not over here!)

    • #61 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on March 5, 2012 - 7:59 pm

      Yep, the differents wind me up too.
      Is ‘gotten’ creeping into English English? Noooooooooooooooooooo

  25. #62 by Jacinda Little on March 5, 2012 - 6:17 pm

    take / bring, among / between, each other / one another

    Great post, full of points I’d take to court.

    • #63 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on March 5, 2012 - 8:01 pm

      Hi Jacinda! I’ve heard take and bring transposed by people from Ireland. I think it’s standard there. But I can’t offer any excuse for the others.

  26. #64 by robincoyle on March 5, 2012 - 6:43 pm

    Your and you’re.

    Your welcome for the comment. Argh!! You’re welcome.

  27. #66 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on March 5, 2012 - 8:03 pm

    Okay, it’s a whole 24 hours since I wrote that post and I’ve got more.

    Trawl vs troll. One is a verb, meaning to drag for something and gather it up. The other is a horrid ogre.

    Underway. It isn’t one word, people. Something gets ‘under way’, not ‘underway’.

    Preventative. The word is preventive.

    That is all. For now.

    • #67 by Sally - aka Saleena on March 5, 2012 - 10:24 pm

      Whoa. Under way? Really? I used ‘underway’ because it was in the dictionary, honest! (I just double-checked now). This isn’t a US vs UK thing, is it? I’ve always been wary of my MS Word dictionary!

      • #68 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on March 5, 2012 - 11:31 pm

        Mine says ‘see under way’ and ‘weigh’. Chambers English, although it’s from 1990. But heavens, that’s not old!

        Maybe in the US it’s one word… but it hurts even to think about it.

        (Hell, a girl’s allowed to hold unreasonable dislikes on her own blog)

        • #69 by Sally - aka Saleena on March 6, 2012 - 11:22 am

          Of course you are, Roz. I’m just terrified of what grammar no-noes have crept into my novel. I’m good with grammar, but not that good. :)

  28. #70 by Warren on March 6, 2012 - 6:59 am

    As I understand it, a grammar Nazi isn’t someone who insists upon the accepted norms of spelling and usage. It’s someone who, for reasons best known only to themselves (and yes, ‘themselves’ is perfectly acceptable in modern English for a single person), despises certain perfectly valid and widely accepted constructions, or who is living in a state of denial about change in the language. So someone who insists upon getting it(‘)s right is not a grammar Nazi (as no one ever uses the wrong one on purpose), but someone who says that you can’t end a sentence in a preposition (there is nothing wrong with ‘That’s something I won’t put up with’), or should only use relative ‘that’ (there is nothing wrong with ‘The book which I read’), or shouldn’t start a sentence with ‘hopefully’ really has no grounds for complaint other than their own prejudices.

    • #71 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on March 6, 2012 - 9:37 am

      Agree with 90% of your points – and I’m surprised no one has yet argued for allowing the split infinitive. In defence of the traditionalists, they are often working on publications with a traditionally minded readership, who will see such slips as evidence of ignorance. To keep reader credibility, editors often have to be more conservative than they would like.

      The only point of yours I disagree with is the ‘relative that’ (and I didn’t even realise that’s what it’s called). ‘Which’ and ‘that’ are not interchangeable, even in the most modernly evolved version of English.

      • #72 by Warren on March 6, 2012 - 11:22 am

        It depends what kind of clause you are dealing with. In non-restrictive relative clauses, only ‘which’ is standard (as in ‘That book, which I read (by the way), was excellent’. In restrictive relative clauses, either ‘that’ or ‘which’ is standard for many speakers, especially in Britain (so that ‘The book which I read was excellent’ and ‘The book that I read was excellent’ are both fine and mean exactly the same thing). Have a look at the Wikipedia article on ‘English relative clauses’, subsection ‘That or which’ for further details.

        • #73 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on March 6, 2012 - 11:59 am

          The way I prefer to clarify it is this: ‘The house that Jack built’, but ‘The house, which Jack built, is small and pokey…’ subordinate clause for the second, if we’re getting technical.
          But your example, ‘The book which I read’ (not ‘the book, which I read, …’) isn’t correct.

          • #74 by Warren on March 6, 2012 - 2:24 pm

            Except that “The house which Jack built” (without the commas, meaning exactly the same as “The house that Jack built”, i.e. a restrictive relative clause, not a non-restrictive one) is fine for many speakers and writers of standard English in Britain and elsewhere. Again, I refer you to the Wiki article. Anyway, this is getting besides the point, which is that we should expect writers to follow standard written English practice, but that many of the supposed rules aren’t rules at all but are mistakes and peeves promulgated by people who argue only from their own authority.

            • #75 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on March 9, 2012 - 1:21 pm

              Regardless of what Wiki says, all the publishers I’ve worked for – whether books or magazines – have unanimously regarded ‘the house which Jack built’ as sloppy and incorrect.

            • #76 by Warren on March 9, 2012 - 1:41 pm

              Some of the publishers I’ve worked with have, others haven’t, it depends upon house style of course. But you can usually convince them otherwise if you point out that ‘which’ in this use is not only considered fine by linguistically informed grammars such as the ‘Cambridge Grammar of the English Language’ (not just Wikipedia!), but is also used by such well known English authors as Dickens, Greene, Orwell and Tolkien (and many others – just pull up a book preview on Google books and do a search for ‘which’).

      • #77 by Diane on March 8, 2012 - 8:06 pm

        You know what Wiston Churchill said about splitting infinitives… that it was the kind of thing ‘up with which I cannot put.’ Other than these ‘accepted’ phrases, it should not be acceptable.

        • #78 by Diane on March 8, 2012 - 8:11 pm

          Ahh! I mean, of course, ending a sentence with a propositional phrase…. Now that I’m driving myself crazy, I’d better go make lunch.

          • #79 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on March 8, 2012 - 8:59 pm

            :) Thanks for dropping by, Diane!

          • #80 by Warren on March 9, 2012 - 8:37 am

            Alas, he didn’t. The story has been mangled through time, although I wish it was true! And in any case, it stands as a nice example of the lengths to which people try to follow ‘rules’ which don’t really exist at all.

  29. #81 by James T Kelly on March 6, 2012 - 9:39 am

    Huzzah! Well said. It seems like people are all too willing to knock anyone who writes properly. Dashing off a text message with “your” instead of “you’re” is one thing, but marketing material and emails and letters that don’t use correct grammar just look unprofessional at best. At worst it changes the entire meaning of the sentence!

  30. #83 by Sally - aka Saleena on March 6, 2012 - 11:25 am

    Okay, now I have a question: How do you decide (in British English) when to use ‘s’ and when to use ‘z’ in words containing ‘ise’ (ize)? I’ve never worked it out. I can’t stand the letter z and use s every single time. But if there’s a logical rule for it, I’d love to know.

    • #84 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on March 6, 2012 - 12:07 pm

      Good question. One opinion is that Americans tend to prefer ‘ize’, English English tends to favour ‘ise’. But that’s not the whole story. Some English dictionaries favour ‘ise’ for words with a French derivation (eg analyse) and ‘ize’ for others. Microsoft Word peskily transforms everything to ‘ize’ as far as I can tell.
      What publishers, magazines and newspapers do is pick one dictionary and stick to its spelling rules for everything. That also goes for hyphenation, optional double letters, words like ‘judgement’ which may also be ‘judgment’. They then inevitably come across a variation they can’t stand, and start making lists of exceptions, which form part of their own idiosyncratic house style and stops everyone having arguments.
      Some dictionaries are more progressive than others. For UK English, Collins seems to strike a nice balance between correctness and modern use.

      • #85 by Sally - aka Saleena on March 6, 2012 - 3:06 pm

        Thanks Roz. That helps. I’ve got a Collins dictionary which I’ve been using since ’92. Time to update it though, I think. Language usage seems to evolve much faster these days.

  31. #86 by Zelah Meyer on March 6, 2012 - 12:17 pm

    Something I picked up to help knock my stories into shape, is a copy of Serenity Editor with the Word add in: http://www.serenity-software.com/index.html (There are several other editing programs out there as well.)

    I was particularly drawn to the fact that you can install a directory that adds the ability to search for ‘Britishisms’ or ‘Americanisms’ in your writing. So, not only will it flag up words that have different spellings (gray versus grey) but it will also flag up words that have a different word in the other version of English (boot versus trunk). It also searches for homonyms, cliches, long sentences, big words, repetitions, missing commas and many other things.

    As a Brit who will be publishing in US English (Americans are more likely to enjoy my happy ever after stories than fellow Brits are with our tradition of gloomy, gritty tales) it looks very useful.

    I also have a copy of The Chicago Manual of Style (and of course the internet) to double check if I’m not sure about anything. :)

    I’m sure I’ll still get pulled apart for my grammar, because someone will always find something that is wrong or that they think is wrong. However, by the time my work has gone through Serenity, my editor husband & at least one other proof-reader, I should hopefully not shame the self-publishing world too much!

    • #87 by Sally - aka Saleena on March 6, 2012 - 3:03 pm

      Thanks for that Zelah! I used two forms of English (US and UK) in my last book depending on character POV and could have done with some help from that software. But it’ll come handy in the future.

    • #88 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on March 8, 2012 - 9:02 pm

      That’s a really interesting resource, Zelah. Thanks for sharing it!

      I find American English is quite a minefield. However good that package is, it still might be a good idea to run your text past a bona fide American just in case.

  32. #89 by Daniel R. Marvello on March 7, 2012 - 12:40 am

    Darn. I thought I’d be able to contribute “your” and “you’re,” but sure enough, way down at comment 75, Mr. Kelly beat me to it.

    As for “alright,” I did a fair amount of research on it at one point and discovered that the word has come in and out of vogue at various times over history. At one point “all right” was considered incorrect! Currently, “alright” is generally considered incorrect although it is acceptable in informal usage such as dialog. So, it seems your character may use “alright,” but you may not.

    Before I discovered how uptight people get about the word “alright,” I tended to use the version that looked best to me:

    “Alright, I can go along with that.”
    vs.
    “Are you sure you feel all right?”

    The truth is that I can’t get too excited about rules that have people arguing both sides. If there’s no definitive guideline, we should all just get over ourselves.

    • #90 by Sally - aka Saleena on March 7, 2012 - 11:32 am

      Daniel, I hear you. Language is an ever-evolving thing and it’s also democratic. If enough people go against a particular grammar rule, despite the initial resistance, it will become the accepted norm eventually.

      Nevertheless, I do agree with Roz that we writers at least have a duty to take care with it, not withstanding creative license. ‘You’re’ when you mean ‘your’ is unforgivable of course! But ‘alright’ might be all right. ;)

    • #91 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on March 8, 2012 - 9:04 pm

      Daniel, great to see you here – it’s quite a party. But even if ‘alright’ is creeping into some dictionaries and house style guides, it hurts me to type it.

  33. #92 by Carol Lovekin on March 7, 2012 - 12:00 pm

    So long as I’m not expected to give up the Oxford comma, I’ll happily sign up for the grammar & punctuation police.

    And I am liable to gratuitous scorn when in the presence of people who say, ‘anythink’ when they mean, ‘anything.’

  34. #94 by John Thiesmeyer on March 7, 2012 - 3:11 pm

    One of the best resources for settling word vs. word questions (and many other language questions) is Bryan Garner’s *Modern American Usage” (3rd ed.). He’s done the research, explains the differences between BrEng and AmEng, tracks changing fashions, and is VERY thorough. The book is organized like an encyclopedia, so you can look things up quickly.

  35. #98 by Linda on March 8, 2012 - 3:45 pm

    I get itchy when I see an apostrophe for a plural noun, as in a recent sign I spotted: “The Play Center is for kid’s to let loose!”

    • #99 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on March 8, 2012 - 9:07 pm

      That is one of the most heinous crimes. I think if we spot stray apostrophes we should be perfectly entitled to scrub them out with a marker pen. And not be prosecuted for vandalism.

  36. #100 by Melanie Marttila on March 8, 2012 - 4:32 pm

    I know I’m late to the party, but my two biggest peeves are more about usage than grammar per se: irregardless and impact.
    Regardless means without regard to. Adding the “ir” is a classic double negative. In other words, a no-no :)
    Impact: unless the writer is referring to a meteor falling to the earth, “A” does not impact “B”; Rather, “A” has an impact on “B.” It’s a noun.
    Impacted, as a verb, either refers to the aforementioned meteor, or something that has been very tightly squeezed together. The way I remember this is thanks to my mom, who worked in a hospital for years. She once told me of an unfortunate condition called “fecal impaction” that often presented in homeless, substance-abusing patients, or those severely dehydrated due to disease. Thus one can correctly say, “his feces were impacted.” The graphic nature of the condition always helped me keep that one straight.
    By the way, I’m reclaiming the term grammar nazi. If you can’t be bothered to write correctly … no novel for you!
    With all respect,
    Melanie Marttila.

    • #101 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on March 8, 2012 - 9:09 pm

      Melanie, you’re not alone in disliking ‘irregardless’ – but it’s worth saying again.

      I’ve heard a lot of people grumble about ‘impact’ (which I hate too in that form) but none so memorably. Sad to say, I’ve worked on a medical magazine for years and have seen rather too many pieces of copy that have discussed ‘impact’ in the form you have introduced it! (Spooky…)

  37. #102 by Diane on March 8, 2012 - 7:57 pm

    One error that just drives me crazy is an apostrophe stuck into a plural, as in, ‘My friend’s will be here soon.’ Your friend’s what? Car? Dog? Tell me!

    Or the overuse of ‘just’ to emphasize, as in ‘One error that just drives me crazy.’ It is used that way so often, it hardly seems to retain its original meaning. Our use is unjust.

    But I am old-fashioned.

    • #103 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on March 8, 2012 - 9:11 pm

      Apostrophes – check. Another offensive use of apostrophes is the phrase ‘Dos and don’ts’. I’ve seen it written as ‘Do’s and don’ts’ – which is not only wrong, it’s not even following the rule it attempts to set up by putting the apostrophe in the first word (ie they should write don’t’s)

    • #104 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on March 9, 2012 - 1:23 pm

      I also meant to echo your dislike of ‘just’!

  38. #105 by Diane on March 8, 2012 - 8:00 pm

    By the way, my ‘emphasize’ is -ize in the American Heritage Dictionary, 1985 edition.

    • #106 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on March 8, 2012 - 9:12 pm

      Good point about the ‘ize’, but I happen to know Sally was asking in the context of UK English. You weren’t to know that, though – and I didn’t say!

  39. #107 by Jayz on March 9, 2012 - 9:33 pm

    I have to point out that -ize is the OED preference, on the grounds of relating those words back to their Greek roots.

  40. #109 by kzackuslheureux on March 11, 2012 - 5:07 pm

    This was a wonderful post. I can really appreciate it. I grew up dyslexic,, hating grammar, barely able to read. I NEED spell-check to communicate. And I thank God for it. But because I have had to work so hard to even navigate a novel. I began a love affair with proper grammar, spelling, and lovely letters. I can really appreciate your standard of excellence. As I try (TRY) to teach my sons, if you don’t care about what you’re doing, then don’t bother doing it. If you do anything, do it well!
    Thanks for doing things well.

    • #110 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on March 11, 2012 - 7:46 pm

      Some of us find grammar and spelling easy; it comes as easily as breathing. But you have had to put real work in. Thanks for your lovely comment and congratulations on your persistence.

  41. #111 by mike on March 13, 2012 - 5:51 am

    One of favorite writers often, excuse me, generally, (darn near ALWAYS), uses the word “bring” when he should be using “take.” One man in LA tells the man in DC to “bring the kidnapped victim to Atlanta.” He does it all the time, and I hear it often on TV. My wife is tired of hearing me yell at the TV, but now she knows how and when to use the right word.

    • #112 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on March 13, 2012 - 8:07 am

      I can imagine that’s irritating, Mike, but using ‘bring’ instead of ‘take’ is actually an Irish construction. If your writer isn’t Irish, perhaps he comes from somewhere else where that’s acceptable. Unless you know, though, it drives you barmy.

  1. Weekend Grab Bag – From Writing Tips to Jedi Squirrels « Angela Quarles
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