Here’s to the class of 2020! Are you ready for a graduation language-use challenge?
Get a Grip on Your Grammar: 250 Writing and Editing Reminders for the Curious or Confused is turning one year old this week! Time flies when you’re having fun and scribbling up a storm. To celebrate, I’m giving away three copies of Get a Grip to whoever shares the best answers to the following question:
What is the best writing tip you’ve ever received or that you wish you’d been told?
#GetAGripWritingTip Contest Rules:
- Keep your answers 3 sentences or fewer.
- Be funny. Be honest. Be sincere. Be however you’d like to be. But share your best wisdom.
- One entry per person (i.e., a single individual can only win one book.)
- All entrants will receive Kris’s “25 Fiction Writing Redundancies” AND “25 Business Writing Redundancies,” as well as access to Kris’s monthly writing tips newsletter.
- The best 3 pieces of advice, as chosen by Kris, will be announced by noon EST on April 25, 2018. The 3 winners will be notified via email and will each receive a copy of Get a Grip on Your Grammar.
Don’t you love a good mystery? I know I do, although sometimes the writing and editing process seems a bit mysterious in itself. There are the mysteries of how the words move from your mind to fill the page, mysteries of the Muse (if one believes in such things), and maybe even mysteries over the placement of proper punctuation.
So what better person to talk about the mysteries of craft than an award-winning mystery writer with thirteen books and countless short stories to her name? Today, the talented (and always hard at work!) author Sarah R. Shaber allows us a glimpse into her writing and editing process.
If you’re in a crowd and you’re trying to get across the room, would you “wind” your way around the other people or would you “wend” your way around them?
How confident are you in your answer?
And let me ask another question: Have you ever wondered why the past tense of “go” is “went”? No? Well, are you at least a little bit curious now that I pose the question?
Knowing the answer to one will help you with the answer to the other.
It all goes back to a word-hijacking centuries ago, when there were two major terms one could use to denote traveling from place to place. One could “go,” or one could “wend.” “Going” was more direct; “wending” was sometimes less so, but I’ll get back to that.
The confusion between “wind” and “wend” often stems from the fact that people don’t think “wend” is a real word.
But it is. “Wend” is not a typo, and it is the correct word in the idiom “to wend one’s way.”
Yes, it’s a bit old-fashioned, but it pops up enough that it’s worth a conversation.
Here’s the difference between “wind” vs. “wend”:
- “To wend” is to go in a specified direction often by an indirect route; it is always to move from one place to another.
- “To wind” (for the sake of this conversation) is to move in a curving line or path.
A party guest might wend across a crowded room to get to the bathroom; a detour might wend through lesser-known city streets.
A party guest mind feel like they’re winding in circles mingling with their friends (no clear-cut A to B path); stripes might wind around a ball (they’re curving but not on a mission to get somewhere).
The difference is subtle but present. Admittedly, this is one you have to think about. Using “wend” properly is not for the grammatically faint of heart.
And what about that past tense of “go”?
Well, “wend” has fallen out of fashion a few times in its eight-hundred-year history, but its past tense didn’t always recede with it. The past tense of “go” used to be “gaed” or “oede,” depending on one’s geography. The past tense of “wend,” however, was “went,” following the same linguistic pattern as “send” and “sent.” As “wend” fell from popularity, “go” hijacked its past tense. Seriously. Word drama, folks.
Hence now, the past tense of “go” is “went.” Poor “wend” was forced to have a new past tense, “wended,” when it had its revival in everyday speech.
Who said there was anything dull about the history of language?
A welcomed question came my way last week. Or was it a welcome question? You see where I’m going here. The word “welcome” can be one that you overthink since it has so many forms. It can be an interjection (“Welcome, friend!”), a verb (“He welcomed them into his home”), or an adjective (“a most welcome language tip”).
Remember that only verbs have to worry about tense. Even if something was welcome last week or last year, if you’re using the word “welcome” as an adjective, you never need to add on that “d” or any other conjugated form. The same thing goes for interjections, of course, but I’m not convinced that’s one that you’d be confused by. (“Welcomed!” “Welcoming!”—Yep, it sounds weird no matter how you do it).
Great question, grammar-concerned friend. Does anyone have any others?
The choice of “toward” or “towards” is not a matter of right or wrong. Usually, it’s a matter of geography. Across the pond, “towards” is more common—as are related forms: “backwards,” “forwards,” “upwards,” “afterwards,” etc.
In the U.S., “toward” is more common—as are “backward,” “forward,” “upward,” “afterward,” etc.
I guess I’m conventional and follow the crowd on this one—my crowd being American. Either one you choose, though, make sure you’re consistent about it. If your writing waffles between the two, it’s jarring not only for your reader, but also for your national identity. There’s no such thing as a grammatical dual-citizen.
A bit over two years ago, when I started this blog, I wasn’t sure if I would ever get to tip #100. Was this a worthy endeavor? Would people even care? Was there anyone out there who was as particular about this stuff as me? One hundred tips later, thanks for following, folks. It’s been a great journey, and I look forward to it continuing.
And speaking of which (yes, you can start sentences with “and” on occasion), last week, I said I’d have an announcement. Here it is:
My top 100 writing tips will be published in 2015. More on that soon, but without further ado, let’s get to today’s writing tip.
“Mother, May I?” is so much more than a game. It’s a lesson in respect and grammar, isn’t it? The game isn’t called “Mother, Can I?” (You know where I’m going with this…)
I feel like most people know the difference between when we should use “may” and when we should use “can,” but no one takes the time to get it right. “May” is all about permission. “Can” is about physical ability.
“Can I go to the bathroom?” (I sure hope you can.)
“Can I walk down the street?” (It’s possible, but it might not be happening.)
“May I take three giant steps forward?” (Yes, you may.)
We’re all sloppy on this one, so I present a challenge to all of us. Channel the second grade teacher who first introduced you to this rule. Imagine the look on her face every time a student said this incorrectly. Take that look to heart. Embrace it. Internalize it. Then do the grammarians in the world (and yourself) a favor, and say it right.
When do you use “I”? When do you use “me”? Across the nation, teachers (and editors) squirm with this one every day. We really don’t know how it feels to be that little word that’s so often messed up. It’s so short and innocent sounding. Let’s make an effort to get it right once and for all, folks.
When there’s more than one person in the sentence, the I/me decision seems to explode, so let’s just focus on this single piece. My favorite advice is to think about how a line would be written without the others involved.
If someone said, “Me and Tom Petty are free, free fallin’” (hint: not correct), I’d tell that person to removed Tom Petty.
“Me is free fallin’,” they’d respond.
Wait, what? We all hear that wording as incorrect. “I am free fallin’” sounds more natural for good reason. It’s proper.
This trick works for subjects and predicates alike.
“He’s dancing with Mary Jane and I” might come out of some over-correcting mouths, but does “He’s dancing with I” really sound right? No, no, it doesn’t.
“He’s dancing with me.”
Do you hear the difference? Your ear already knows. Trust it.
Let’s get to the point
Let’s roll another… hmmm… maybe not.
**insert blues-y harmonica solo here**
When you have multiple adjectives in front of a noun, you separate them by commas, right? Usually. There are a couple exceptions, and colors are one of them. Do you remember this exception to the rule when you write?
The adorable white cat is in shock.
His shiny pink pool toy boggles his little kitty mind.
It’s so hard to keep his paws on the hard, wooden floor, when his simple, grammar-loving worldview has just shifted.
Did you catch all of the different uses of commas with adjectives ahead of a noun? For those paying attention, you might have caught that the other exception to the comma rule is size (as in “little kitty mind”).
Commas are captivating, aren’t they? (Oh, there I go making you shake your head again.)
Happy writing, everyone!
Misplaced Modifiers sound like items lost in the laundry. Somehow, you always lose a button and a darn modifier ends up in the wrong location. No? Let’s try this again.
Grammar terminology intimidates for some reason. Why, I’m not quite sure, but it may go back to strict English teachers in our formidable years. Misplaced modifiers are actually quite simple to understand. A modifier is a word or phrase that modifies (or describes) something. A misplaced modifier is when that descriptor seems to be describing the wrong thing.
That sounds silly, right? Sure. But it happens ALL THE TIME.
Glistening in the morning sun, the fisherman cast his line out to the water. (Did you catch the misplaced modifier? The “water” is “glistening in the morning sun,” not the “fisherman.”)
The hunter crouched in hiding waiting for a deer to come along with a bow and arrow. (Wait… Who had the bow and arrow?)
Misplaced modifiers can be subtle, confusing, or just plain funny, but be careful with your language. Of all the things we misplace, our ideas shouldn’t be one of them.