Good grammar is an essential component of good writing.
Grammatically correct texts are easier to read, easier to sell, and in many cases, a firm understanding of grammar can make the writing process easier.
But for many writers, grammar is secondary. They’re in it for creative expression–they focus on telling a story, making a statement, or sharing ideas. To them, grammar is just a necessary nuisance. Read more
When I see professional signs or business documents with words spelled incorrectly, it’s like someone’s dragging nails down a chalkboard, which is something I don’t want to hear.
But I try not to get too riled up. I know that spelling isn’t easy for everyone. However, I do believe that with a little effort, anyone can learn the proper spelling of a word.
I also realize that homophones present a special challenge because when two words sound exactly alike but are spelled differently, we have to work a little harder to remember which spelling goes with which definition.
Homophones are words that are pronounced the same but have different spellings and different meanings. These confusing words have instigated many headaches among writers, editors, and readers as well as the general population.
Some homophones are easier to master than others. Luckily, today, one of our homophones has an easy, built-in way to remember what it means and how it’s spelled.
To learn more about homophones in general and to find out about other word groups with similar pronunciations and confusing spellings, read Homophones, Homonyms, and Homographs.
Hear and Here
The words “hear” and “here” have similar spellings and are pronounced exactly the same, but they have very different meanings. According to dictionary.com, here are the basic definitions of these homophones:
Hear (verb) – to perceive by the ear. I hear music.
Here (adverb) – in this place; in this spot or locality (as opposed to there). You are there and I am here.
Once you know what these words mean and that they have completely different definitions, all you have to do is find a way to remember when to use them properly in context. To do that, focus on the word “hear.” Take a close look at it and you’ll see that “hear” is simply the word “ear” with the letter h in front of it. And since you hear with your ear(s), it shouldn’t be difficult to remember that when you’re using the word “hear” in reference to listening or taking in sounds, you should use the spelling that has the word “ear” embedded in it.
Past Tense of Hear
The word “hear” is a bonus homophone because its past tense, “heard,” is also a homophone in its own right. Don’t confuse “heard” (as in I heard that song yesterday) with “herd” (as in Did you see that herd of buffalo?). Again, just remember that if it’s related to listening, it should have the word “ear” within its spelling.
Do you have any tricks you use to remember the difference between “hear” and “here?” Are there any other homophones that give you trouble? Share your tips and questions by leaving a comment.
Let’s get technical for a minute. What, exactly, is grammar?
According to Wikipedia:
In linguistics, grammar is the set of structural rules that govern the composition of sentences, phrases, and words in any given natural language. The term refers also to the study of such rules….Linguists do not normally use the term to refer to orthographical rules, although usage books and style guides that call themselves grammars may also refer to spelling and punctuation.
Technically speaking, in linguistics and academia, spelling and punctuation are not components of grammar. When we discuss the mechanics of writing, we don’t refer to grammar. We refer to grammar, spelling, and punctuation because they are separate components that provide the rules for written language.
So how is grammar meaningful if words aren’t spelled properly and if punctuation isn’t applied correctly in a piece of writing? Aren’t spelling and punctuation critical to the structure of written language?
Grammar and Orthography
There are two common ways that language manifests. It is either spoken or written. Grammar deals with how we structure the language, and it is applied to both speech and writing. Orthography, on the other hand, addresses the rules of a language’s writing system or script.
Orthography deals with spelling and punctuation because these elements are only relevant when the language is written.
After all, when you say a sentence aloud, you don’t say period, question mark, or exclamation point at the end. However, if you’re reading the sentence aloud, you need these punctuation marks to help you navigate the text, and they also provide cues that inform the way we stress words or inflect the reading.
Proper Grammar and Popular Grammar
I’m not a linguist. I’m a writer. I’m interested in linguistics and etymology, but only to the extent that these fields of study inform my writing and can help me better understand how to use the tools of my craft.
Grammar addresses how we structure our language and includes concepts such as tense agreement, modifiers, sentence diagramming, word order in a sentence, and sentence order in a paragraph.
But when we’re dealing with written language, proper spelling is just as essential as tense agreement. It would be quite difficult to get through a written text that was not punctuated or if the majority of the words were spelled incorrectly.
Spelling, Punctuation, and Good Grammar
Oddly, I’ve found that spelling and punctuation are misused far more than structural (or grammatical) elements in writing. Most people know how to put their words in order and a writer of average skill is usually good at verb and tense agreements and other aspects of writing that would be construed as grammatical in nature.
Yet plenty of folks struggle with orthography (punctuation and spelling) even if their grammar is in good order. This makes sense because we are primarily exposed to spelling and punctuation through reading and writing. But the structure of our language comes to us through listening and speaking as well.
In other words, we writers are probably far more immersed in grammar than we are in orthography.
Putting it All Together
Technically speaking, grammar may not include spelling and punctuation, but without all of these elements in our writing, proper grammar does not equate good grammar. We talk about grammar, spelling, and punctuation because these are separate, but related, elements that work together to produce a mechanically coherent piece of writing.
Homophones are words that sound alike but have different meanings. Sometimes, they’re also spelled differently. Compliment and complement are two such words.
Since homophones sound the same, they are often misspelled. Sometimes they’re misspelled because the writer doesn’t know there are two different spellings. In other cases, misspelled homophones are the result of typing too fast or failing to proofread carefully.
Spell check will not catch these typos because the spelling is legitimate, but it’s for a word with a different meaning.
To make it easier to remember which spelling goes with which meaning, we can use mnemonic devices, which are memory tricks. Today, we’re going to learn how to remember the difference between the homophones compliment and complement.
Homophones: Compliment and Complement
The meanings of these two words are fairly similar. However, there is a difference.
Compliment can be a noun or a verb. As a noun, it indicates an expression of admiration, a formal act of regard, or good wishes. When you pay someone a compliment, you say something nice about them. To send someone your compliments is to send your regards.
As a verb, compliment simply means the act of offering a compliment. You might compliment someone’s clothes or hair. An act of kindness can also be expressed with the verb compliment: She complimented you by buying one of your books.
Like its homophone, complement can be a noun or a verb. As a noun, it indicates something that completes, enhances, or perfects another thing. You can use complement for things that go well together:
Root beer complements pizza.
It can also mean a full quantity:
There is a full complement of passengers on the plane.
As a verb, complement is simply the action form of the noun: Root beer really complements this pizza (goes well with).
Be aware that complement has many other related but more detailed definitions that are industry- or field-specific. These are applied in areas of grammar, mathematics, music, and medicine.
Mnemonic Tips for Remembering the Homophones Compliment and Complement
The only difference between the spelling of the words compliment and complement is that one has the letter i in the middle and the other has the letter e in the middle. So, all you have to do is figure out whether you need an i or an e.
The opposite of a compliment is an insult. Since insult starts with the letter i, ask whether the opposite is an insult. If it is, then you should use the spelling c-o-m-p-l-i-m-e-n-t.
When one thing complements another, it usually enhances it in some way. It makes the other thing even better. You know that enhance starts with an e, so just remember that if one thing enhances another, it complements it (with an e) and you should use the spelling c-o-m-p-l-e-m-e-n-t..
Homophones can be confusing, but by using mnemonic devices, it’s pretty easy to remember which spelling to use. Do homophones ever give you headaches? Are there any specific homophones that either confuse you or annoy you when you see them misspelled? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment!
And keep writing…
“I don’t like to end sentences with prepositions,” my friend said while we were discussing ways to restructure a sentence.
“But it’s fiction,” I told her, “In college, as a creative writing major, I was taught to learn the rules, then break them.”
In this case, it sounded unnatural to write the sentence without ending it with a preposition. Following the rules too rigidly is especially problematic in dialogue. Nobody would say “To which store are you going?” No. We say, “Which store are you going to?”
Writers need to value good grammar, but sometimes it makes sense to break the rules.
Good Grammar vs. Breaking the Rules
There are countless arguments for sticking to the rules of proper grammar, just as there countless reasons to break those rules.
Ultimately, each writer has to decide whether or not to be a stickler for good grammar. Some writers intentionally toss out the rules and develop a writing style outside of those rules. Others adhere to proper grammar strictly and evenly.
Maybe there’s a nice spot in the middle — where you learn the rules and then figure out when it’s appropriate or desirable to break them.
Grammar is Good
Practicing proper grammar has its advantages:
- Adhering to strict grammar rules demonstrates superior language and writing skills.
- A thorough knowledge of grammar is a sign of intelligence in a writer.
- Accurate grammar indicates a writer who has mastered the craft.
- Following grammar rules all the time adds an interesting challenge to the writing process.
- Practicing good grammar keeps the language consistent and concise with well-defined rules.
Rules Are Made to Be Broken
If you do break the rules of grammar, it sure helps to know them first. Otherwise, your writing might come off as amateurish. If you’re planning on letting your good grammar go bad (or at least naughty), then make sure you know the difference between good grammar, lawless grammar, and plain bad grammar.
- Since spoken language rarely adheres to proper grammar, writing that relieves itself of the rules can be easier for readers to absorb.
- Dialogue that sticks to the rules of grammar often sounds unnatural.
- Taking creative license with one’s art means breaking the rules.
- Bending the rules adds punch,; one example would be starting a sentence with a conjunction.
- Ignoring the rules, or tweaking them, can help a writer develop a personal style.
Your Thoughts on Grammar
Do you think good grammar is important for writers to master? Should we even bother with all those annoying rules? Many writers feel that we should focus on voice or story and leave grammar to proofreaders and copyeditors. Others say that understanding proper grammar is a basic writing skill.
What’s your position?
Share your thoughts on good grammar and breaking the rules of grammar in the comments.
Homophones can be confusing. Luckily, there’s an easy way to remember affect vs. effect.
I see it all the time: affect and effect mixed up as if they were completely interchangeable.
But they’re not.
These two homophones may sound exactly alike, but they don’t even belong to the same parts of speech!
If you’ve ever been typing along, written one of these words, and scrunched up your eyebrows wondering whether to spell it with an a or an e, then this grammar lesson is for you!
Affect vs. Effect
In the ongoing wars between homophones, affect vs. effect is one of the most brutal fights on the battlefield. One is usually a noun (but not always) and the other is usually a verb (but not always). So the war wages on, and in the meantime, misspellings and typos run rampant whenever one of these two words appears in print.
Affect is almost always a verb. It is something that happens. You are affected (by someone or something) or you affect (someone or something). This word is never preceded by an article such as an or the because it’s not a thing, it’s an action. When you’re writing, or speaking for that matter, and are unsure of the spelling, ask yourself if the word is being used as an action. If it is, then go with affect.
a = action
a = affect
Effect is a noun, and that is a thing. It’s not something you do, it’s something you have or give or something that just is. We hear this word most commonly in reference to fancy film making — you know — special effects. “The special effects in that movie were groundbreaking!” Note the use of the article, the, as in the effect. See that? Easy!
the = article
effect = noun
If you are using effect as a noun, you can pair it with the: the effect
Also note that if used with an adjective (or noun phrase), it’s effect (with an e):
- After effect
- Special effect
- Greenhouse effect
- Sound effect
- Effects of alcohol
- In effect…
- Adverse effects
- Positive/negative effects
- Cause and effect
- Side effects
That’s all for today! Do you think the battle of affect vs. effect can be won? Will we eventually learn how to spell these two homophones correctly or will they someday merge into a single word?
Do you have any homophones that you need clarified? Or are there any homophones out there that you just can’t seem to remember? Leave a comment and I’ll try to come up with a clever mnemonic device just for you! If you’re too shy to leave a comment, go ahead and use the contact form!
And if you have any tips or tricks for remembering how to spell affect vs. effect, then please share your knowledge. If you are stuck on any homophones, drop a comment. There’s a good chance your grammar question will be answered in the comments or in an upcoming post.
The English language is fraught with sound-alike words that look nothing alike on the page (or screen). These homophones have given many writers headaches as they agonize over word choice while composing poems, articles, essays, and stories.
Accept and except are two such words. Though not among the most commonly confused homophones, these two words do occasionally find themselves getting mixed up and used incorrectly.
Here’s a quick way to remember the difference between accept and except.
Accept means to take or receive, agree or consent, undertake responsibility, or reconcile oneself to something. In a sense, it means to acknowledge. You can’t actually accept something without acknowledging it, except in some very far-out circumstances. Since both words start with ac, it should be easy to remember that if acknowledgment is involved, then accept belongs in your sentence.
Which sentence below is correct?
I accept your proposal.
I except your proposal.
Is the proposal acknowledged? Then choose accept.
You know what’s special? The letter x. It’s special because it’s so rarely used. Wouldn’t you agree? We could almost say that the letter x is an exceptional letter. Remember this letter and these words together: x, exceptional, except. Because except always indicates something that is special or different from the others. It means with the exclusion of, with exception, or otherwise. It marks something as unique.
Which sentence below is correct?
Everyone accept me had read the book.
Everyone except me had read the book.
Does the sentence indicate something or someone who is unique, like one person who didn’t do something that everyone else did? Mark it with an x and use except.
Accept and Except (and Other Homophones)
What other homophones can you come up with besides accept and except? Are there any that you find especially perplexing? Share them in the comments!
I recently started relearning how to play the guitar after a rather long hiatus. It’s not like I ever learned how to play it properly in the first place — so I’m a true beginner. And at times, I find it frustrating. I just want to pick the thing up and rip out a song, but I’m constantly tripping over my own fingers, and let’s not even talk about the pain that comes from pressing your fingertips against thick metal strings, repeatedly and for extended periods of time.
Writing’s not so different from playing the guitar. Sometimes we get hung up on the technicalities of the language, and the creative flow is hindered. It’s not easy to rip out a short story when you’re worrying about whether you can end a sentence with a preposition or whether your terminal punctuation marks go inside or outside of the quotation marks. These kinds of setbacks can be painful.
Learning the rules is a drag when you want to fly, but to master any craft, it’s essential to build a solid foundation. Learn the basics; memorize and practice them until they become second nature, and then you can really take off.
Good Grammar and Writing
You don’t have to learn good grammar in order to write — not the way you have to learn chords and strumming patterns to play the guitar — but it sure helps. Your poem might be captivating, your short story compelling, and your essay might be a veritable masterpiece… when read aloud. But if in writing, the grammar is shoddy, you’re going to have a hard time getting published or finding readers.
Even with years of practice and learning, questions about grammar continue to arise. I’ve seen college professors (who taught English) wonder about the rules of good grammar or turn to a handy reference book to look something up.
That’s why I believe that good grammar is a commitment, and for writers, it’s a lifelong commitment. It’s not what makes a writer, but lack of good grammar can definitely break a writer.
The Grammar Lifestyle
I’ve always been interested in grammar and being able to write well. But since I launched this blog back in 2007, I’ve become increasingly dedicated to understanding grammar. Oh, I break the rules from time to time, but I least I know which rules I’m breaking and why.
Today, I thought I’d share some tips for making good grammar part of your daily life. These tips are taken from my own experience, habits, and practices. All of them have helped me expand my grammar skills and become a better writer.
- Stop being lazy: When you’re not sure if the way you’ve written a sentence is correct, take a couple of minutes to look it up instead of rewriting it or hoping for the best.
- Invest in writing tools and resources: These include reference books that deal with grammar and style. My personal favorite is The Chicago Manual of Style.
- Make it a chore: Some chores you do every day, while others can be tackled weekly or monthly. Set a schedule for regular grammar lessons and stick to it. They don’t have to be long. You can learn something valuable in five short minutes!
- Talk about it: Turn your grammar questions into conversations. Ask others how they use language. Oddly, I find that even non-writers have interest in basic grammar questions. And if you can’t find anyone who wants to discuss good grammar, take your conversation online. Remember you should always use a credible resource, but discussing grammar-related issues is an ideal way to learn the nuances, intricacies, and to gain broader understanding.
- Put it to practice: Every time you learn something new, incorporate it into your writing until it becomes second nature. When I learned that it wasn’t traditionally correct to end sentences with prepositions, I stopped completely until it was as natural as putting terminal punctuation marks inside of quotation marks.
- Bonus! Don’t be OCD: Well, you can be OCD if you want. I like to break the rules sometimes. Eventually, I returned to ending sentences with prepositions, but only when it was the best way to communicate an idea.
Good Grammar for Writers
Writing isn’t really about grammar; it’s about communication. A writer’s job is to share ideas, inform, and entertain. Yet grammar is essential to clear writing. If you write without understanding grammar, it’s like playing a game without learning the rules. You’ll be all over the place, your performance will be a big mess, and you won’t have a very good shot at winning.
So, make good grammar a part of your daily life. Get it into your routine, and embrace it as part of the work you have to do in order to write well.
Homophones are such trouble-makers. They confuse kids, slip past spell check, and pop up all over the place as typos and misspellings.
Homophones sound exactly alike when pronounced out loud but have completely different meanings.
To make things worse, many homophones have different spellings, which means spell check ignores them, since alternative spellings are correct.
These little devils of the English language give readers headaches and copyeditors nightmares, so it’s up to us as writers to learn how to use homophones correctly. If we can do that, we can spread proper homophone spelling and usage to the far corners of the planet.
They’re, There, and Their
I’m willing to bet that they’re, there, and their are among the most commonly misspelled and misused words in the English language. You see it all the time – in newspapers and magazines, on blog posts and comments, even on signs and advertisements – there is used where their should be, and vice versa. Throw they’re into the mix and you’ve got a big linguistic spelling mess.
It’s pretty disheartening.
But there are some easy ways to remember which homophone is correct when you’re using they’re, there, and there. And for those of you who already know how these three homophones should be used properly, let this be a reminder that we cannot rely on spell check.
This is the easiest of the three because it’s a contraction, which means that the word itself is actually two words shortened and joined by an apostrophe:
They + are = they’re
If you can say “they are” in place of “they’re” then you are using it correctly. But if “they are” just doesn’t work, then you’ll need to look to one of the other spellings of this word.
The trick to remembering how to use there is hidden inside the word itself. There refers to a distant location.
She put her books over there.
In the example above, there refers to a place. Another word that refers to a place is here, which refers to a nearby location.
She left her books here.
If you’re using there to indicate a location (i.e. over there), make sure you use the spelling that has the word here tucked inside: T H E R E
Their is a possessive pronoun. This means it’s a word used to show that someone owns something. For example:
The Smiths just washed their car.
The car belongs to them (the Smiths), and their demonstrates ownership. How to remember? Well, look at the spelling: t-h-e-i-r. Within this word is another word, and as luck would have it, this other word also implies (future) ownership. The word inside is heir.
If you’re using their to indicate ownership or possession, check to see if the word heir is within the spelling: T H E I R
Get in on the Homophones Challenge
Here are a few more sets of homophones:
Do you ever get hung up on how to properly spell and use homophones? Got any tricks for remembering correct homophone spellings? Can you think of any other homophones to add to this list?
Every writer I know has a different perspective on just how good grammar needs to be. Some are sticklers and insist on adhering to the highest standards of the literary order. Others are comfortable taking creative liberties and believe that breaking the rules is an art unto itself and a practice that should be embraced.
Me? I’m somewhere in the middle. I believe that a writer who is dedicated to the craft will take the time and invest the energy required to master the most basic tools, grammar being foremost among them. But I also believe there are situations in which it’s best to break the rules — as long as you know which rules you’re breaking and why.
Too many times I’ve heard aspiring writers shrug off good grammar, saying they’d rather focus on the story or characters, they’d prefer to use a natural, unlearned approach to keep the writing raw, or they will simply hire an editor to do the dirty work.
I have a hard time buying into those lines of reasoning. Refusing to bother with grammar is just plain lazy, especially for writers who yearn to be more than hobbyists.
10 Good Reasons to Pursue Good Grammar
So, I’ve been thinking about the reasons why writers should embrace grammar rather than make excuses for ignoring it. Here are 10 reasons why good grammar should be a central pursuit in your writing efforts:
If your work is peppered with grammatical mistakes and typos, your readers are going to have a hard time trudging through it. Nothing is more distracting than being yanked out of a good story because a word is misspelled or a punctuation mark is misplaced. You should always respect your readers enough to deliver a product that is enjoyable and easy to use.
Some musicians learn to play by ear and never bother to learn how to read music. Many of them don’t even know which notes and chords they’re playing, even though they can play a full repertoire of recognizable songs and probably a few of their own. But get them in a room with other musicians and they’ll quickly become isolated. You can’t engage with others in your profession if you don’t speak the language of your industry. Good luck talking shop with writers and editors if you don’t know the parts of speech, the names of punctuation marks, and all the other components of language and writing that are related to good grammar.
3. Getting Published
How will you get that short story, essay, or blog post published if you don’t know the basics of grammar, spelling, and punctuation? Sure, some managing editors will go over your work and clean it up for you, but most reputable publishers have enough submissions that they can toss grammatically weak work right into the trash can without thinking twice.
4. Working with an Editor
I love it when writers say they can just hire an editor. This goes back to communication. If you can’t talk shop with other writers, you certainly won’t be able to converse intelligently about your work and its flaws with a professional editor. How will you respond to feedback and revision suggestions or requests when you don’t know what the heck the editor is talking about? Remember, it’s your work. Ultimately, the final version is your call and you won’t be able to approve it if you’re clueless about what’s wrong with it.
5. Saving Money
Speaking of hiring an editor, you should know that editors will only go so deep into correcting a manuscript. It’s unseemly to return work to a writer that is solid red with markups. Most freelance editors and proofreaders have a limit to how much they will mark up any given text, so the more grammar mistakes there are, the more surface work the editor will have to do. That means she won’t be able to get into the nitty gritty and make significant changes that take your work from average to superior because she’s breaking a sweat just trying to make it readable.
6. Invest in Yourself
Learning grammar is a way to invest in yourself. You don’t need anything more than a couple of good writing resources and a willingness to take the time necessary to hone your skills. In the beginning, it might be a drag, but eventually, all those grammar rules will become second nature and you will have become a first-rate writer.
7. Respectability, Credibility, and Authority
As a first-rate writer who has mastered good grammar, you will gain respect, credibility, and authority among your peers. People will take you seriously and regard you as a person who is committed to the craft of writing, not just some hack trying to string words together in a haphazard manner.
8. Better Writing All Around
When you’ve taken the time to learn grammar, it becomes second nature. As you write, the words and punctuation marks come naturally because you know what you’re doing; you’ve studied the rules and put in plenty of practice. That means you can focus more of your attention on other aspects of your work, like structure, context, and imagery (to name a few). This leads to better writing all around.
Some people don’t have it. They charge through life completely unaware of themselves or the people around them. But most of us possess some sense of self. What sense of self can you have as a writer who doesn’t know proper grammar? That’s like being a carpenter who doesn’t know what a hammer and nails are. It’s almost indecent.
10. There’s Only One Reason to Abstain from Good Grammar
There is really only one reason to avoid learning grammar: you’re just plain lazy. Anything else is a silly excuse. Like I said, I’m all for breaking the rules when doing so makes the work better, but how can you break rules effectively if you don’t know what the rules are?
No matter what trade, craft, or career you’re pursuing, it all starts with learning the basics. Actors learn how to read scripts. Scientists learn how to apply the scientific method. Politicians learn how to… well, never mind what politicians do. We are writers. We must learn how to write well, and writing well definitely requires using good grammar.
Share your favorite reasons why writers should embrace good grammar by leaving a comment. Feel free to recommend useful writing resources and grammar guides. And keep on writing!