Tag Archives: grammar

Intelligent Writing–Whether You’re Smart or Not

Our writing reflects not only our ideas, but also our intelligence.  Mistakes can peg us as unprofessional, lazy, stupid or uninformed.

“We fix duel exhaust.”  Really, well I don’t have two knights battling it out in my trunk right now.

“My work experience is vast and in compass’ everything you’re looking for.”  Except mastery of your native tongue.

“I will definately be there.”  I definitely won’t.

I’m not saying you can’t make mistakes from time to time.  We all do.  Spell check is not infallible, nor is our grasp of every single word and every single grammar rule.

But, when it matters, it can make the difference between selling your product–whether it’s dual exhaust services or yourself as a job candidate.  So, don’t sell yourself short by writing carelessly.

  • Read your work out loud.  Or better yet, have someone else read it to you.  The ear can pick up mistakes the eyes can’t.  A fun trick that works quite well is having your e-reader do the talking.  This automated voice system pauses on every comma and rushes (as much as computers do) through sentences without punctuation.  It physically hurts to hear them read a poorly constructed passage.
  • Use spell check on all those squiggly-lined words.
  • Check the dictionary to make sure you’re using the right word at the right time.  Sounds like isn’t close enough.
  • Grab a friend to look over your work.  Because, trust me, everyone else will be looking…and pointing and laughing.
  • If it’s really important, grab a professional.  Freelance writers/editors are everywhere and can help you catch the mistakes that make you look bad.

You don’t have to be smart to write smart.  But, writing poorly can make a genius sound uneducated.

How picky are you at checking over the things you write?  Do you have other read your important emails or do you self-edit everything?  Have you ever used a professional editor?  If so, what was that experience like?  Would you do it again?  Have you ever sent something cringe-worthy into the world?  How did you remedy that?

Curious minds want to know.

 

Questioning Your Language Ability

Over the weekend I had the splendid opportunity to read for hours on end.  I love traveling in the car because DH is a driver not a rider, the duct tape works well on the kids the kids are fairly self-sufficent and I don’t get motion sickness. 

In addition, our closest rellies live two and a half hours away, so car time is akin to heaven for me.  Until Saturday when I ran across a sentence in a book that made my reading pleasure come to a screeching halt.

It bothered my so much I couldn’t let it go.  Three days later I’m still obsessing over it, so I thought I would bring it to you, my dear readers and fellow writers. 

The offending passage was this: They banned together against me in deciding to sell the farm.

Now I didn’t major in English, creative writing or any sort of language arts that would make me an expert on the subject, but this sentence threw me.  I read it.  Reread it.  Contemplated my definitions of banned and band.  Checked with the dictionary (thank you Kindle for the instantaneous and in depth definitions) and reread the entire page surrounding the questionable sentence.

Then I read it out  loud to DH, with the spelling lost in the verbal translation.  Even so, he made that face that told me the sentence sounded off.  Maybe.

Sheesh.  This sentence drove me to drink my dessert coffee this morning sans the hazlenut creamer.  I needed the strong stuff to get me through.

Now your job is to tell me if I am a writing failure taking my angst out on a pubbed author an English failure, or if this sentence really should have been rewritten.

My definition of banned (of which Webster kindly concurred) is that banned is the past tense of ban, which really means to exclude and is typically used in the sense of exclude from something.  Hence, the sentence would read something like this:

They excluded together against me in the decision to sell the farm.

My question is thus: doesn’t ban need an object?  IE–they banned me from the ball game after I flipped the ref the birdie.  Or, I have been banned from the library because I don’t know the meaning of shhhhshhhhshush.   

Likewise, am I wrong in my assumption that the banned the author wanted (and the editor let slip), is in fact band?

As in a combination of a thin strip of flexible material used to encircle and bind one object or to hold a number of objects together: a metal band around the bale of cotton and something that constrains or binds morally or legally: the bands of marriage and family?  And maybe even tissue that connects or holds structures together?  As defined here.

Should the sentence be: They banded against me in deciding to sell the farm?  (came together)

Or, They banned me from the decision to sell the farm?  (excluded)
 
I simultaneously love and hate reading somthing that makes me question my language ability.  I love that it stretches my understanding of the written word.  I hate when it bothers me so much I can’t function until I figure it out.  Even more so, I hate when I’m wrong.  But that’s beside the point.
Right now, I need some sort of validation that tells me my inner ear was right in hearing this sentence wrong, or I need someone to set me straight so I don’t mistakenly submit a manuscript with my incorrect version of the truth.
Banned or band?  Which is it and why?
Also, what kinds of things make you question your language ability?  Share examples of other tricky words/phrases that can help other writers on their journey.

Tense about Tenses

Last night I got a complimentary, please-subscribe-to-us magazine in the mail.  I read through it, loved what it stood for and found one glaring error that prompted this post.

The issue?  A tense change in mid sentence.  Or, more exactly, two.  In one sentence.  Written by the editor.  So as not to injure the integrity of the magazine, I will rewrite the sentence while keeping the same verbs.

Last year, she placed the lamp in the window where passing pedestrians can see its beauty and hung a for sale sign on the shade.

Past, present, past.

By nature, most people speak in gramatically correct tenses.  However, when we try to convey our thoughts on paper, we often get confused.  One of the easiest ways to keep tenses consistent is to highlight them (on paper or in our minds) and read an abbreviated version of the sentence.  The example sentence might read like this:

She placed it so pedestrians can see it and hung a sign on the shade.

Written this way, it is very easy to “hear” the tense change.  Below are examples of this sentence with consistent tenses.

Past tense: She placed it so pedestrians could see it and hung a sign on the shade.

Present tense: She places it so pedestrians can see it and hangs a sign on the shade.

Consistent tense is a tense issue for writers.  Improperly written passages confuse readers.  Too many throughout an article or novel can turn readers off completely and force them to put away our writing. 

One of the biggest concerns budding writers have with present tense is the use of

Words Ending in -ed

Back in the day when English teachers wrote on chalk boards and the warm scent of mimeographed papers filled the air, we were taught that adding ed to a word makes it past tense.  However, since our language is as consistent as a summer storm, I will address this tense issue in plain English.

 Earlier in this post, I used an “ed” word right smack in the middle of present tense writing.

However, when we try to convey our thoughts on paper, we often get confused. 

In the above example, try and get are the verbs.  Confused is not.

But, isn’t confused a past tense verb?  Yes.  But not here. 

To check whether a word is a verb, put a subject (we) next to the questionable word (try/get) and read the phrase out loud.  We try.  We get. 

These make true sentences with a subject and a verb.  Their answers can be found in the rest of the sentence. 

When we try [to convey our thoughts], we get [confused]. 

If we do this with confused, our sentence is incomplete because there is no answer in the sentence.

When we try [to convey our thoughts], we confused [?]. 

Written that way, it a)becomes obvious that the tenses are wrong and b)makes absolutely no sense.  We want to know what got confused, but the sentence doesn’t tell us that and could mean anything.  For example: When we try [to convey our thoughts], we confused [the dog for a pteradactyl].

 So what is confused?  In this case, it describes us as writers.  It modifies, or makes something more clear about our present state.  For those painfully reverting back to tenth grade English, modifiers are adjectives and adverbs.

Another way to tell the difference between a modifier and a verb is to substitute another descriptor for the questionable word.  Confused becomes loud, tired or angry. 

We get loud.  We get tired.  We get angry.

If we tried to substitute these words for our verb-suspect (confused),these sentences would read: We loud.  We tired.  We angry.

Which would be fine if we still lived in caves and clubbed woolly mammoths for dinner and learned from chalkboards and mimeographed paper.

Inspired by a writing buddy who asked about tense this morning, here’s another example that will illustrate all the methods described above:

I make sure my kids get polished up every morning and double-check their teeth before they go to school.

Our verb check shows us that make, get, double-check and go are our verbs. 

I make [sure], kids get [polished], I double-check [teeth] and they go [to school] are all present tense.

Kids polished [?] is a) the wrong tense and b) does not provide the answer. 

If we substitute, we get green kids, funny kids, happy kids or dirty kids, which means that polished is a modifier.

If this post made you tense, don’t worry, most likely you are not alone.  However, if you are anything like my Oldest who thinks capturing a woolly mammoth in present day Florida would be easier than mastering grammar rules on paper, this simplified version may help put your tenses in their proper place.

~cat

*disclaimer: this post is filled with practical application and is in no way meant as a substitute for instruction on the proper use of mechanics by a trained professional such as your previous English teacher or Grammar Girl.