Thursday, November 10, 2016

Grammatically Speaking

So, you want to write. There are a few things you need to know and the greatest of these is grammar. I'm not saying that you must know how to parse a noun or diagram a sentence, but as a writer, you do need to know what's correct and what isn't. Bad grammar isn't something you can pass off as your writing style. That isn't style, that's laziness.
Bad grammar is rampant, even in big name authors' books. The main error I've spotted is LAY, LAID, LIE. I've mentioned this before, because it's a biggie and it bugs the ever loving crap out of me. It is so common place, most people don't even know they are wrong. What's sad, however, if that their editors don't seem to know either. That's a sorry commentary on editing. You don't have to know why something is wrong, in fact, the explanation would confuse us both. Instead, I'm giving some examples below.

She LAY down on the bed.
He LAY on the floor.
The book LAY on the backseat.

She LAID the book on the bed.
He LAID his head down on the floor.
We LAID new carpet.

Go LIE on the bed.
Don't just LIE there.
I'm going to LIE down.

There is a trend toward over correcting, as well as avoiding LAID because of the sexual connotations. If the verb bothers you on some deep, emotional level, don't use it. If you do use it, use it correctly. If you aren't certain, ask someone. Ask several someones. Chances are, they don't know either, so keep asking until someone tells you it's wrong—they are probably right.

Along these same lines, a few tips to help you remember the correct use of a few simple words:

There's – A contraction meaning There Is. There's a fly in my soup!
Theirs – A pronoun showing ownership. The fly in your soup is theirs.
You're – A contraction meaning You Are. You're sure it's their fly?
Your – A pronoun showing ownership. Do you want it to be your fly?
They're – A contraction meaning They Are. They're going to ask for their fly back.
There – A location. Fine, then set it over there.

That being said, let us continue. Not every word ending in S requires an apostrophe. For example:
THEIRS (again) not Their's
HERS not Her's
These pronouns show ownership, but they are not the same as adding an apostrophe S to a noun in order to show ownership (A possessive noun)
Mark's bassoon.
Mary's car.
The cat's pajamas.

Grapes, pickles, cards, pigeons, antelopes, buffoons – these are all plural words (plural meaning more than one) They don't require an apostrophe UNLESS you are going to show possession with them:
The PIGEONS' birdseed went bad and I had to buy more.
The ANTELOPES' territory is getting smaller.
(And in this case, the apostrophe goes AFTER the S because it is possessed by more than one.)

Have I totally confused you all by now? Probably. To me, these things are as common as breathing, but I was raised by an English professor and a teacher, so I learned from birth how to say things correctly. I also used to teach high school A.P. English and have been writing and editing most of my life. This isn't hard. Really, it's not. People want to make it hard and forget what's right and what's wrong, mostly because it isn't important enough to them to remember. Meanwhile, in the muddle of mistakes, your message is lost.
It's the little mistakes that make an author look stupid. What if your book become a best seller? The Grammar Gurus get hold of it and ridicule you publicly for being too stupid to get your grammar right. Don't let that happen to you. Ask questions, read books, take classes. Learn the tools of your craft. Whether you like it or not, that includes grammar.

© 2016 Dellani Oakes

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