Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Peskiest Grammar Rules

I've been revising like mad. The bad revisions -- you know, the ones where you're down to making sure everything is grammatically correct and in "proper manuscript format."


Though I never did figure out what the hell Proper Manuscript Format is.

Anyway, I ran into grammar issue after grammar issue. Like the word problem, "allright." It's not a word. Neither is alot. I now have it drilled into my head that it is "all right" and "a lot."


How about the apostrophe? I ran into the possessive form of "dress." Is it grammatically correct to say "the dress's plunge" or "the dress' plunge"? According to the 15th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style, it should be the former. According to the 16th edition, it should be the later.

Seriously. For fun, here's your Oatmeal apostrophe comic of the day.


And then there is lie and lay and laid and lain. Oh Lord. Another one I can never remember. And surprise! I used it wrong every single time.


But -- and this is the most exciting news I've posted in months -- my WIP is fully revised and turned in as my MFA Thesis Novel. If it passes, I will officially graduate!!!!  Woo hoo!

We're writers. We should know the English language inside and out. But really, it's a mess, and it's much more fun to bitch about grammar rules than actually do word-by-word revisions.

So, pirates, what are your least favorite grammar rule? What are the words that you manage to use wrong every time? Any little tricks to share with the group, so we remember to use words correctly?




Hellion said...

I manage to not use "alot"--but do the "a lot"; however, I'm awful about not using "alright" when it should be "all right". And I will never figure out the lay and lie because it doesn't *sound* right to say it the proper way. *LOL*

I think the part that drove me crazy was where punctuation went. It drives me nuts when people use comma splices and don't realize it or worse say: "It doesn't matter. It's how the character talks" or "Everyone knows what I mean anyway." I want to bite the heads off snakes in rage. (Sorry, family joke.)

Then I get confused about where periods go when you use ()--are they in or out, or does it matter how the () are used? Ugh.

I have more pet peeves than least favorite rules. There are a handful of rules I'm really certain about, and when they're broken on my watch by other people, I. LOSE. MY. HEAD.

Like "If-Then" clauses. "I wish I was a clown, then I'd join a circus." No, assclown, it's I wish I WERE a clown. It's WERE. WERE!

It's and Its. I've accidentally broken this, but I honestly think most people don't know the difference. Makes me crazy. The dog did NOT wag it's tail. It's ITS tail. (See, I used both words in the sentence correctly. Come on, you can do the same.)

Hal said...

hahaha Hellie! I can totally see you baring your teeth and chomping down on a snakes' head.

It's and its drive me nuts too. Though I will say I'm a bit of a comma whore. I use them more than are correctly necessary.

But I do *like* correct grammar, and while a character can talk in dialect, and can speak in grammatically incorrect ways, that is NO excuse for mis-punctuating.

I'm also a fan of the colon: but only if it's used correctly. (that wasn't, I know.) My thesis adviser inserts a picture of a human colon into your manuscript every time you misuse it. It's disturbing. A human colon is a gross, gross thing.

Marnee said...

Fun, funner, and funnest. When I taught, kids would use these words. As in, "that's the funnest thing I've ever done."

They would say it with such conviction, with the urgency that only teenagers can have when pronouncing something "fun."

I'd smile and correct them gently, "it's most fun," while suppressing the urge to gnash my teeth and beat my breast.

GO you with the revisions and completing the thesis!! So what happens now?

Marnee said...

bwahahaha!! A colon in your MS if you use it incorrectly. That's awesome.

Hal said...

Funnest!?! Yikes.

Speaking on teenagers, this woman and her 15(?)-yr-old daughter came over to buy a baby swing from us. I asked who was having the baby -- she thought for a while, hemmed and hawed, finally came up with "My uncle's daughter." Poor girl never did come up with "cousin." lol.

As for school, I sent it to two faculty members - they read it and pass or fail me in 12 categories (like character development, plot, writing style, professional manuscript, no typos, etc). If I get more than two Fails between them (out of 24), they send me a revision list, and I have three weeks, I think, to make changes and try again. If I still have 2 or more fails, I have to take another semester. If I have fewer than 2 fails, I graduate.

I think I'm good in every category except grammar. The one guys says that if you have more than 1 typo per 4 pages, he fails you in that category. We'll see - I had a LOT of typos. I'm hoping I caught them all.

Hal said...

You'd like him, Hellie :)

Bosun said...

I hate when people say "funner". Makes me CRAZY.

*raises hand* I'm the mad comma splicer. The one who told Hellie it didn't matter. And I'm sure it mattered to the GH judges last year. I am cured now, partly thanks to Hellie's head spinning.

I know "a lot" and "all together" but often write "altogether". I know the period goes INSIDE the (). Not sure on colons and semi-colons, so I avoid them. Though I will always pronounce it "semee" colon thanks to Sr Eleanor, who would remind us a semi is a large truck charging down the road and a semee is what goes on the page.

The few things I do get right (besides the comma splicing) are also thanks to Sr Eleanor. Makes me feel bad we called her Sr Skelator.

Donna said...

I don't have too much heartburn over grammar things. What usually makes me crazy is when people can't get certain words right. Like when people use "breath" instead of "breathe". Or one I just saw on Twitter: when people WANT to say "voila", but they say "viola".

I worry more about people who think they know the rules, and are adamant about it, but are WRONG. LOL Like when someone says that punctuation ALWAYS goes inside quote marks. That isn't ALWAYS true. But if they were judging a contest entry, you could get marked down for being right. LOL

Bosun said...

This reminds me there are things I was taught in school about puntuation that have now changed. That's my problem. I write the way I was taught to write. And today, that is not always correct.

Damn it.

Hal said...

Glad Hellie got you straightened out, Ter. But I agree it's total shit that the rules change with each generation. How the hell are you supposed to help kids with homework if they keep changing crap?

Sr. Skelator.....hahaha. Though I've never heard it pronounced "semee". I think that might throw me off. (and see - that period went outside the quotation mark, and I'm *pretty* sure that's correct).

Hal said...

Viola instead of Voila. *snort*

Donna, people who are sure they are right when actually wrong are generally obnoxious, but I agree that it's even worse when they're a grammar nazi, and also wrong. haha. And of course, googling the correct answer to prove it is hit-or-miss, because they're always that one website that is also wrong, which they gleefully point to. Ugh.

But I agree - a contest mark for a grammar error that wasn't actually an error is infuriating. Especially when you can't track them down to explain *their* mistake. haha.

Hal said...

Though for the sake of full transparency, I do often write wierd when I mean weird, so I shouldn't laugh too hard at people who write viola instead of voila :)

Bosun said...

To be fair, "voila" is not English. LOL! Do they get a pass for misspelling a French word?

Hal said...

French words are freaking hard to spell anyway. I tend to use the word bureaucrat a lot, and I never spell it right the first try.

Hal said...

ha! excellent point.

Bosun said...

I keep forgetting to say CONGRATULATIONS ON GETTING THIS MS FINISHED!! I know you were on a tight deadline. Have you slept at all in the last few days? LOL!

Hal said...

I turned it in Monday night, got a couple hours of sleep before the small sprog woke up and wanted to play. I've been running on fumes. But last night, I went to bed at 9, and finally today feel like a normal human being again.

Although, the hubs cleaned while I was frantically revising! And I mean, folded laundry, dusted, swept and vacuumed, CLEANED. It was amazing.

Bosun said...

Bonus points to the hubs. Makes me think we should take the sprog for an overnight pirate excursion so you could thank hubs properly. Or just sleep some more. LOL!

Will be heading out shortly. Driving to Charlotte to Scuttlebutt's house today and then on to M&M in the morning. I think I packed everything. Maybe. If not, too late now!

Chance and I will try to check in as often as we can from conference land.

Hellion said...

I don't think I'd fail someone in the category for having more than 1 mistake per 4 pages. Maybe every 2 pages....

I'm trying to remember if I've ever said the word "funnest".

And I'm with Donna--I know there are times when periods and quotation marks are switched up and I can't remember which is which and what is correct. I'd probably be one of those obnoxious people who'd argue about it even though I was wrong.

Okay, so I should remove the word "probably" from that last sentence. SUE ME. I'm just trying to help.

Donna said...

I think "the rules" should be helpful to the reader. And not one of those things that are used to browbeat people with. Kinda like those old laws like "you can't carry a pig into a bar on Thursdays after 3 p.m." that are supposedly still on the books. I have to believe there was a NEED for that kind of rule at one point. They couldn't have gotten together and said, "Let's come up with a crazy rule they'll quote on some newfangled social media site in the future." LOL

As for "voila" being a French word. . .I figure if you want to use it, ya oughta know HOW to use it. But that's just one of MY rules ("try not to make yourself look goofy if you can avoid it"). LOL

Hal said...

If someone took he baby overnight, I'd probably sleep. haha.

Hal said...

Apparently there's a law on the books in St. Louis that says "You can't drink beer from a can while sitting on the sidewalk." I really want to know where that one came from :)

Ter - yay! Drive safe, and let us know what you learn!

Donna said...

Hal, exactly -- you don't usually enact a law unless there's a LOT of people doing something (because it's a laborious process to enact a law). So I need to know WHY everyone was doing the crazy thing that made them decide they had to make it illegal. LOL

Terri, make sure you say hi to Leigh Michaels at the conference. I already warned her that you and Chance were gonna be there. :)

Hal said...

Maybe that was the earliest version of a flash mob. Everyone carrying their pig into a bar on Thursday night, or drinking moonshine from a jar on sidewalks. haha. They used carrier pigeons to coordinate.

P. Kirby said...

I don't sweat grammar and punctuation too much. If I put my mind to it, I'm a decent copy editor. If. I. Put. My. Mind. To. It.

Trouble is, I'm so scattered, that obvious mistakes, errors that can be seen from Mars by a blind spaceman, sneak past me all the time. Shee-it. They don't so much "sneak" as sit on the page, waving neon signs.

Lately, I've made a lot of really embarrassing mistakes with words like "heals" and "heels," "decent" and "descent." I've also developed an awful tendency for the misuse of possessives when I mean plural and vice versa. I know better. But my stupid fingers don't.

Oh, well.

Hal said...

Pat - I'm always shocked as well by the errors that fly right past me. I mispelled my heroine's name at one point, and never noticed it. Yikes. And I swapped "dregs" for "dredges" (though I'm still not fully sure I get that one - lol).

I'm the same way as you, though. If I concentrate, I can spot most mistakes. It takes a lot of concentration, though, and I have WAAAY better things to think about then commas and homonyms.

CateS said...

congrats on your achievement... 2 tips for proofreading... read it from the end to the start or read the text out loud... Both ways slow you down enough that you 'see' what is written rather than what you thought you wrote... 30 years as a secretary...

2nd Chance said...

Me biggest sin is overuse of ellipses...and don't tell me to use an M dash...I don't get the diff.

But are these grammar rules?

Since I'm writing in a make believe world with pirates and time travelers...I let a lot slide. The locals cut words off, the gentry speak without contractions...seems to be the biggest pet peeve of my new editor...contractions. I don't always like 'em.

And really...what the hell is a comma splice?

2nd Chance said...

Hellie's gonna slap me, ain't she?

Hellion said...

I see my math is at work again. That 1 mistake per 4 pages seemed harsh--so I meant to double the pages, not cut them in half. Yikes.

Yes, I'm going to slap you again. You better count yourself fortunate I like your books. Though I don't notice any big grammatical errors littering your pages, so that's probably part of it.

Comma splice: run on a sentence. Basically, where you'd put your comma, you should be using a semicolon. (Is that word hyphenated or not? I don't get those rules either!)

Hal said...

Chance, I use a lot of ellipses too. I have to force myself to get into the habit of typing them in the proper format (which I know, according to the Chicago Manual of Style, is . . .)

But no contractions drives me nuts-o. If I can hear a stuffy, aristocratic voice talking that like when I read it, it can be a really effective tool.

Hal said...

Hi Cate - welcome! Excellent advice. I've done the backward thing for short sections, and found it very effective. The problem I run into is patience. Reading 400 pages backward would drive me out of my mind (if I still have one to be driven away from, of course)

Irisheyes said...

I'm right there with you, Hal. Ever since I started blogging, wow has it been 5 years ago, already? (Sheesh times flies), I've been way more conscious of grammar and spelling errors. I know going back over and correcting them in my ms would be torture.

The mistakes that really get me are the your/you're and to/too/two. I mean, I can maybe see messing up to and too, but two?! I complain to the hubby all the time cause his grammer is atrocious. I don't care how many degrees he has or how much money he pulls down annually, if he can't differentiate between your and you're I'm gonna think he's an idiot!

I really shouldn't talk, though, cause I'm one of those comma whores and until a year or so ago I was probably one of those people making Hellie pound her head on her desk with my use of its/it's. I try to be careful, Hellie, honest. If at all possible I avoid using them all together (?). In fact, I've been known to re-work entire paragraphs to avoid using words I'm unsure of. We won't even talk about my dangling participles and misuse of every punctuation mark out there. I never could figure out the colon/semi-colon thing.

And to make matters even more infuriating, I've just about gotten to the point where I'm comfortable using the $10 words I can look up on to make sure I'm not making a complete fool of myself and the 25 cent words I learned in kindergarten are escaping me more times than I can count. I think my brain is on the downward spiral. I'm pretty sure it is leaking more knowledge than it is soaking up these days!

Irisheyes said...

Oh, and congrats on finishing and submitting! I'll keep my fingers crossed that you pass and get to graduate! (Did I mention I'm an exclamation point whore, too!)

Have fun and M&M Ter and Chance!

2nd Chance said...

What, they are supposed to be . space . space . space? No f*cking way! Now, my publisher likes them to be ... . when I end a sentence with them. Drives me nuts.

I almost bought a Chicago Manual of Style. Then I saw the price.

Run on sentences? Moi?

At least, generally, when I do a run on sentence I make it quite plain that I know I'm doing it and I just don't care because it's supposed to be a bit annoying and denotes a brain that can't shut up.


The contractions? I don't insist on me characters never contracting...but when they are purposefully being formal. They don't contract.