Can you imagine a nutritionist who eats exclusively at fast food restaurants? A personal trainer who never exercises? A writer who can’t be bothered with grammar, spelling, and punctuation?
In most professions, best practices and tools of the trade are mandatory. If you want to be a doctor, you have to have a PhD. If you want to land a job in accounting, you need math skills. But writers can easily finagle around best writing practices, especially with the increasing accessibility of self-publishing.
Basic grammar skills used to be mandatory–not just for writers but for all high school graduates. These days, you can get out of college with a degree but no clue how to properly structure a sentence or differentiate between they’re, their, and there.
I’m a writer, but before I’m a writer, I’m a human being. And as a human being, sometimes I make mistakes.
Let’s face it, we all make mistakes–some big, some small. Today, I want to talk about what happens when we, as writers, make a mistake in our work: a typo, an incorrectly structured sentence, or a misspelling.
When writers make mistakes like these, it can be embarrassing. Occasionally, when I’m going through old posts here at Writing Forward, I’ll come across some typo or mistake and I’ll fix it. I do everything I can to ensure that this happens as rarely as possible; I proofread everything I write from my blog posts to my comments, tweets, and emails. But sometimes, mistakes slip past.
There was a time when I’d catch one of my own (published) mistakes and be completely horrified. I could feel my neck and face turning red from embarrassment and even though I’d fix the mistake, it would haunt me for hours. Did it cause me to lose a reader or a client? How many people noticed it? I just wanted to crawl under a rock — even if was just one little tiny typo. Read more
Homophones are those annoying words that sound exactly alike but have different meanings and are often spelled differently.
They give English teachers nightmares, cause headaches for students, and drive editors crazy.
We writers need to be diligent about homophones because spell-check won’t catch them, and many readers cite misspelled homophones as pet peeves.
And we never want to annoy our readers! That’s a cardinal sin. Read more
There are tons of newfangled applications, tools, and other resources and best practices that we writers can use to ensure our writing adheres to the tenets of good grammar.
Some writers swear by all the new high-tech apps, and I think it’s smart to give them a whirl and see if they offer any benefits for your writing.
I’m a lover of gadgets and technology. I’m still crazy about my iPhone, I love my Kindle, and I have a lot of fun with my iPad Mini. However, when it comes to writing, and more specifically, when it comes to proofreading and editing to make sure my grammar is correct, I’ve found that I like to stick with the basics. Read more
There’s good grammar and bad grammar, proper grammar and poor grammar. Some writers have fun with grammar and for others, grammar’s a bore. But in order to communicate effectively and for our writing to be professional (and publishable), we all need reliable grammar resources.
There is no grammar authority, no supreme court of grammar where judges strike down the gavel at grammar offenders. Grammar is not an exact science (in fact, it’s not a science at all), and even among the most educated and experienced linguists, the rules of grammar are heavily debated.
Of course, there are some basic rules we can all agree on, and these can found in any good grammar resource. There are gray areas, too, which are skillfully handled by style guides.
As writers, we need these resources. They help us navigate language so we can use it effectively. Good grammar ensures that our work is readable. And we all know that bad grammar can make a piece of writing unreadable, unprofessional, and sloppy.
In today’s world, with so much information at our fingertips via the internet, it can be challenging to find good grammar resources that are reliable and that come from credible sources. Google any number of grammar-related search terms and you’ll find page after page of articles and advice on grammar, many of which contain some of the worst grammar mistakes, a clear indication that such resources are neither reliable nor credible.
So when you choose your resources, choose wisely and make sure the authors are reputable and in a position to be postulating about grammar.
Writers must also choose resources that are appropriate to what they write. If you’re writing for a particular publication, make sure you check to see which style guide they use, and then adhere to it.
Ten Good Grammar Resources
Here are ten resources to get you started. These are a mix of websites, podcasts, and books. Some are free, others require an investment, but keep in mind that when you invest in resources like these, you’re investing in your writing.
- Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing is a fun and accessible book packed with grammar tips and geared toward writers. It’s a grammar book, but it doesn’t read like a textbook. Author Mignon Fogarty has a B.A. in English, an M.S. in Biology, and has worked as a magazine and technical writer.
- Before the book, Grammar Girl’s podcast made her an online sensation. Her website features full written transcripts of her podcast for folks who prefer to learn via reading. If you’re listener and learn well via audio, be sure to subscribe to her podcast via iTunes.
- Washington State University’s Paul Brians has been maintaining a massive list of common errors in English, which is well worth checking out. This list is a great starting place if you want to check off your basic grammar skills to see if your writing is on the up-and-up.
- The Chicago Manual of Style is the most widely used style guide in publishing and includes a variety of rules on grammar as well. This particular guide is perfect for general writing, including fiction and creative nonfiction.
- Schoolhouse Rock was a beloved series of animated short films that gave kids growing up in the 70s and 80s a basic education in grammar. One of the most popular installments, “Conjunction Junction” is available online and you can search YouTube to find plenty more treasures from Schoolhouse Rock’s vintage collection.
- Dr. Charles Darling was a professor of English at Capital Community College for over thirty-five years, and his Guide to Grammar and Writing is available online in loving memory of him.
- This online Grammar Handbook from the University of Illinois is clear, organized by subject, and easy to peruse.
- The Gregg Reference Manual is widely used among professionals and in business. It has been called “the most up-to-date, authoritative source on grammar, usage and style for a variety of business documents.”
- There’s an app for that! Depending on your platform or device, you can find tons of grammar apps, so the answers to your grammar questions will be at your fingertips, anytime, anywhere! I’m a fan of the app “Grammar Guide” (for iPhone). But it’s pretty stripped down — it simply gives examples and no detailed information. Check your app store for a good grammar app that works for you and your device.
- Don’t go to Wikipedia to learn grammar, but if you’re trying to remember one of those pesky rules you’ve forgotten, it can usually do the trick. Note that Wikipedia is not recognized as an academically acceptable resource, but it includes sources at the bottom of each article, and these can put you on the path toward finding great resources on any subject, including grammar.
If grammar frustrates you, you’re not alone. Writing is enjoyable for most of us, but there are some aspects to it that are hard work. For some writers, grammar is a major struggle, but one that can be overcome with commitment and the right resources. Commit yourself to making good grammar integral to your writing and soon you’ll feel comfortable and confident about grammar.
As a writer, how do you feel about grammar? Love it or hate it? How often do you look up the rules? Do you have any favorite grammar resources to add to this list? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and keep writing.
Homophones are words that sound alike but have different meanings. Many homophones also have different spellings, and all too often, people mix them up.
The result is an onslaught of misspellings throughout the written universe.
Although these mistakes are understandable, they are problematic since they are contagious. If someone sees a homophone used incorrectly or misspelled enough times, they will assume the usage is correct and adopt it.
Thus the errors spread.
Ideally, we’d make sure our language doesn’t contain these types of words. I’m sure we are creative enough to come up with completely new words, but unfortunately, language evolves of its own accord, so we must make do with what we have.
Today, we’ll look at two sets of homophones that have connections to music. The first set of homophones is bass and base. The second is chord and cord. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to use only common definitions of these homophones.
Homophones: Bass and Base
Both words, bass and base, rhyme with the following words: ace, face, lace, and race.
In music, there’s a word that’s generally used in lieu of the word low. That word is bass. There’s a bass clef, a bass guitar, and even bass speakers, which make cars go boom. All of these indicate sound that is low in tone. As you can see, this word can function as both a noun and adjective:
- On piano, the left hand plays the bass clef while the right hand plays the treble clef. (adjective)
- Charlie Pace played the bass. (noun)
- Those bass speakers are too loud! (adjective)
It’s not a fish! Bass is an odd word because it looks like it should be pronounced to rhyme with class. Actually, when referring to fish, it is pronounced that way. Just remember when talking about sound and music, it’s spelled b-a-s-s and the a is a hard vowel.
This word is not nearly as fun, even though it sounds just like bass. Its meaning usually indicates the bottom or core of something. It can also mean that from which something comes. This versatile word can function as a noun, adjective, or verb.
- The base ingredient is flour. (adjective)
- It looked like a home run but he only got to third base. (noun)
- We don’t base our opinions on falsehoods. (verb)
Base sounds just like bass but its spelled differently and doesn’t inherently deal with music or sound.
Homophones: Chord and Cord
In music, when you play three or more notes simultaneously, that’s a chord. The word chord is also used to refer to emotion.
- Can you play a C chord on the guitar?
- That episode really struck a chord with me.
You know that thing that connects your computer to the wall? That’s a cord. The same word refers to lengths of string or thin rope, such as the drawstring cord in the waistband of your sweatpants. A cord can also be a unit of volume. This word is a noun.
- Can you plug this cord into the wall?
- Tie it with a cord!
- I just ordered a cord of firewood.
Many people struggle with homophones, but they’re actually pretty easy to learn if you just take the time. If there are any homophones that cause you grief, either because you can’t seem to remember which is which or because when you see them misused, your peeve meter goes into overdrive, then leave a comment telling us all about it.
Creative writing is the heart and soul of Writing Forward, but working at the craft and consistently producing better writing is what really makes this blog tick.
Today, we sing the praises of good grammar with a round-up of articles and resources to help you master the mechanics of grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
If you’ve ever wrestled with the rules of language or struggled to differentiate between good grammar and bad grammar, then you’ll find many nuggets of wisdom in this article.
Now, let’s take a little tour through some of the grammar-related posts that have been featured here at Writing Forward over the years.
The earliest grammar post dates back to September, 2007, just a few weeks after this site was launched, and it talks about using apostrophe -s.
Do you have a favorite punctuation mark?
Homophones and Word Pairs
Like many lovers of language, I get a big kick out of studying words. That’s why there are entire sections on this site devoted to homophones and word pairs.
Homophones, homonyms, and homographs are lots of fun but so are other types of word pairs and word groups. It’s also nice when you set something down and you don’t have to ask, “Did I lay or lie it there?”
Which homophones and word pairs tie your brain in knots?
A Few Good Grammar Resources
If you need more grammar tips on a regular basis, I recommend the following resources:
Daily Writing Tips is updated almost every single day and brings you tons of nitty gritty information about grammar, language, punctuation, etymology, and more. Subscribe, because they are an indispensable resource for writers.
A Way with Words is a one-hour radio program that is syndicated over the airwaves, but is also available as a podcast. The website has a synopsis of each episode and you can listen directly from the site using the audio feature, or you can hop into iTunes and subscribe there. This is a super engaging show, and you can even call in with questions about words, language, and grammar.
I’ve also prepared a list of ten good grammar resources, which are great starting points if you are on a quest to master grammar.
Good Grammar is Great!
Every writer needs to work on developing good grammar habits. That means making a commitment to consistently grow as writer by developing writerly skills and mastering written language.
Do you have any good grammar resources that you’d like to share or do you have any ideas for grammar topics that you’d like to see covered in future posts here at Writing Forward? Share your thoughts, knowledge, and suggestions in the comments.
A reader left the following comment inquiring about the spelling of two sets of homophones:
“I have trouble with witch/which (and even so, I am not sure I have those right) and weather/wheather [sic]. any good ideas on how to keep them straight???”
I’ve already written a post addressing the difference between weather and whether.
Today, I’ll share some tips to help you remember how to toggle comfortably between the homophones which and witch.
First, We Spell Our Homophones
Spelling is too appropriate, since we are discussing witches (Get it? Spell). The first step is to memorize the correct spelling of both words:
Which witch? These two words sound exactly alike but they are totally different. In short, one of these is a mythological or supernatural individual who casts spells. The other is not a person at all; in fact it is merely a pronoun. How can you remember the difference?
- Who, what, and where are also pronouns that start with the letters wh — just like the word which as in which pronoun do you like best?
- A person may itch but a pronoun may not, and like the word itch, the witch that is a person has a t in its spelling.
- Try to remember the phrase itch the witch. Notice that witch (a person who can itch) is spelled the same as itch with a w tacked on to the beginning.
Homophones are challenging for lots of people but you can find easy tricks to help you remember the difference between words that sound alike but are spelled differently.
Next time someone asks which witch you’ll know exactly what to tell them.
Are there any homophones that give you grief? Got any tricks for remembering the difference between which and witch? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment!
A while back, I was chatting with a friend when she casually mentioned she had plans to spend an evening helping out another friend of hers with some work that needed to be done. I asked, “What kind of work?”
“She’s an English teacher. I’m going to help her grade papers.”
I experienced a moment of envy. “That sounds like fun,” I said. I love perusing written documents in search of typos, misspellings, and other grammatical mistakes. What can I say? I always endorse good grammar.
“These papers are written by teenagers,” she responded, “not so fun.”
Good Grammar is Fun and Education Should Be Too
I considered this, then remarked, “Yes, judging by the amount of writing errors I see coming from adults, those papers will probably be more red than white by the time you’re done.”
“Oh no,” she exclaimed. “No mark-ups. She just grades them. She says there are too many errors and she doesn’t have time to mark every single mistake.”
Well, if that’s the mentality of today’s English teachers or schools, it’s no wonder the written word is treated with such complete and total disregard. I said as much to my friend and then we moved along to other, less disturbing topics.
What’s Happened to Our Education System?
Since that conversation, I’ve spent ample time wondering what, exactly, the English and Language Arts teachers are teaching students, if not good grammar. Looking back, I realized that I hadn’t had a decent grammar lesson past fourth grade. My spelling and punctuation skills were largely inherited from the massive amounts of reading I did, so I didn’t need grammar lessons necessarily, but it sure would have been nice to have graduated high school knowing the difference between farther and further.
During high school, I had an English teacher who found time to teach the class dating etiquette, which was supposed to prepare us for prom. We learned things like how to step out of a car, which arm to fold your coat over, and which forks to use for salad and the main course in a fine restaurant. While I found the lessons interesting, and the teacher was one that I liked very much, I look back with much chagrin, because we really should have spent that time mastering split infinitives.
A year later, I had a teacher who proceeded to read the entire novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest out loud, in class, for several weeks, when the class should have read the novel at home and spent time in class writing about and discussing the novel.
Teachers Have a Hard Job To Do
I have a friend who teaches high school science, so I’m not completely without insight as to the many challenges that teachers must overcome: delinquent students, overbearing parents, oversized classes, and ridiculous requirements handed down by a politically-driven school board. Don’t even get me started on the bureaucracy in the public school system. So let me clear: I’m not blaming teachers. The school system itself is broken and that responsibility belongs to all of us.
Is there a solution? Why are we letting these kids down? What’s wrong with a system in which a teacher cannot mark up her students’ papers in an effort to teach them good grammar? And if this is a problem for an English teacher, what are math, science, and history teachers skimping on? Are the kids getting shortchanged?
How will those kids ever learn how to communicate effectively if they don’t learn how to read, write, and master grammar, spelling, and punctuation? In a world where written communication is becoming more and more critical, where will these kids obtain the skills they need to succeed? Or is good grammar only to be relegated to the privileged, the talented, and the self-starters?
One of our readers wrote in to ask about the homophones too and to:
I was trying to find something on how and when to use “to and too” I am having trouble in that area. I have trouble with that a lot and I tend to mess up with that. Can you help and do you already have something posted about that? I can’t find anything on it.
There’s actually a third homophone in this group, which sounds like too and to, although it’s not mixed up with them as often as they are mixed up with each other. That would be the word for the numeral 2, which is two.
Even though they have distinctly different meanings and spellings, these words can be confusing because they sound exactly alike.
The Difference Between Two, Too, and To
Luckily, each of these three homophones belongs to a different part of speech. As such, the way we use these words in sentences varies considerably, and that makes them a little easier to remember. The first step in learning to differentiate between two, too, and to is to understand their meanings.
Two is a noun and it’s a numeral, a word that stands for the number 2.
Example: I have two dogs.
Too is an adverb, and it’s most commonly used to mean the following: also, an excessive extent, more than should be, or very.
Also: You’re writing? I’m writing, too.
An excessive extent: There are too many homophones.
More than should be: She bought too much food.
Very: He was not too pleased with the results.
To is a preposition that indicates a direction or motion, including physical distance, abstract distance, and distance in time.
I’m going to the store.
She works from nine to five.
We’re learning grammar–from sentence diagramming to homophones.
Mnemonic Devices for Homophones
When you have a hard time remembering homophones, or anything else for that matter, try developing a mnemonic device that will help you recall information quickly and easily. Sometimes you can use images, other times you can use words and sentences.
For example, to remember the names of the nine planets in order from the sun outward, I was taught the following sentence (this was back when there were nine planets): My very educated mother just served us nine pizzas. This helped my classmates and me remember that the planetary order was: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto.
Pluto’s no longer a planet, so the elementary school teachers are going to have to tweak that sentence a bit, but it gives you an idea of how you can develop tricks for remembering things, and homophones are no exception. Images and word associations are also helpful for mnemonics.
How to Remember Homophones Two, Too, and To
Remember Two with a Three
All three of these homophones have the letters t and o in them. Only one has the letter w. If you turn w on its side (counterclockwise), it looks a lot like a three (3), which is a number that comes right after number two (t30).
Remembering the Difference Between Too and To
Remembering the difference between too and to is a little more difficult than remembering that two is a number. But there’s a solution. One of these words has one o and the other has two o’s. That’s right, the word too has too many o’s. If you can remember the phrase “too many o’s,” you can also remember that if the too you’re using means “in excess” or “also” (all so many), then you’re good to go.
Do you have problems with any particular homophones? Got an idea for a post about homophones? Leave a comment.
Homophones are words that sound alike but have different meanings. They confuse readers and writers, and are often the source of frustrating spelling mistakes.
There are lots of tricks available, to help you differentiate between homophones. In some cases, you can use mnemonics to remember which spelling to use. In other cases, you just have to memorize the words, their meanings, and their spellings.
In any case, it helps to understand the structure of language so that you can more easily recognize words (including homophones) and how to use (and spell) them properly.
For example, knowing how to diagram a sentence and being able to identify parts of speech will give you an advantage when it comes to telling the difference between homophones.
Weather and Whether
The words weather and whether are typical homophones and especially confusing ones. They sound exactly alike and are spelled quite similarly. A third, incorrect spelling often appears, which is a combination of the two spellings (wheather). Luckily, they have vastly different meanings and there are some tricks we can use to remember all of them.
Wheather is NOT a word
It would make perfect sense if the spelling w-h-e-a-t-h-e-r were used for the word that refers to the climate outdoors because embedded in that spelling is the word heat. Unfortunately, this spelling simply does not exist. There is no heat. So if you’re using either of these homophones, remember that the letter string h-e-a-t should not appear. No heat.
This word is a NOUN and it deals with sunshine and storms. It may not be 100% tangible but we can certainly feel the weather on our skin when we step outside.
Ever notice that the weather affects your appetite? On cold days soup sounds tasty and on hot days, nothing hits the spot like an ice cream or an icy slush. Yes, the weather may help you decide what to eat. Notice that the word eat is conveniently buried inside the word weather.
This word is a conjunction, close relative of the famous and, or, but, and yet, and it’s often used to determine something: tell me whether or not you’ve finished this blog post.
Using the phrase whether he writes or not, we can form a mnemonic device that will help us remember how to spell this homophone.
You see, the only difference in spelling between the two homophones weather and whether is that after the w, one has the letters ea and the other has the letters he. As I’m sure you realize, he is an actual word (ea is not, in case you were wondering).
If you can remember the phrase, whether he writes or not, you can easily recall that whether, which is a conjunction, has he within its spelling. Say it over and over: whether he, whether he, whether he. You’ll have it memorized in no time.
Got any tips you’d like to add for remembering how to tell the difference between these homophones? Have a grammar question of your own or a set of homphones that give you aches and pains? Leave a comment!
When we’re writing, we run into a lot of technical issues. Where do the quotation marks go? When is it correct to use a comma? How should titles be formatted?
Some of these questions are answered by the rules of grammar, spelling, and punctuation. But other questions are not addressed by grammar. There’s no official rule for how to format a title.
We writers need trusted resources that we can use to resolve all of these issues, especially if we want to produce work that is both grammatically correct and stylistically consistent.
Style guides answer grammatical questions and provide guidelines for consistency. But there are lots of different style guides, from the The AP Stylebook to the The Chicago Manual of Style. Which one should you use?
Who Uses Style Guides?
- Students, scholars, and other members of academia
- Scientists, doctors, and those who work in specialized fields such as law or government
- Journalists and reporters
- Any writers who want their work to be consistent should use a style guide
What, Exactly, is a Style Guide?
A style guide is a manual that establishes rules for language, spelling, formatting, and punctuation. Within academia, these guides also provide standards for citations, references, and bibliographies. Many disciplines have their very own style guide, such as the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association.
According to Wikipedia, “…consistency is the major purpose of these style guides. They are rulebooks for writers, ensuring consistent language.”
These manuals promote good grammar and ensure consistency in areas where grammar is unclear. Style guides answer all those burly writing questions that are absent from the rules of grammar. Yet at the same time, the average style guide also answers those questions that deal specifically with the rules of good grammar. Basically, it’s an all-purpose writing resource.
Where Do I Get One?
You should be able to pick up any standard style guide at your local library or bookstore. University libraries and college bookstores should have a greater selection of specialized style guides. Of course, you can always order through Amazon or the online book seller of your choice.
Many large companies and corporations use their own internal style guides, so if you are writing for a such an organization, they may need to provide you with their own style guide.
When is a Style Guide Appropriate?
A style guide is almost always appropriate. Since a style guide’s primary function is to render a work consistent and ensure good grammar, any work will benefit from its application. That includes creative writing, freelance writing, and blogging!
In many cases, a style guide is not only appropriate, it’s mandatory. If you’re writing for submission, it’s a good idea to check a publication’s submission guidelines to see if they require writers to use particular style guide.
Why Should I Use a Style Guide?
A style guide will make your work more consistent. Did you use a serial comma in the first paragraph, but leave it out in the third? Have you used italics in one post to refer to a book title, but in another post used quotation marks?
By establishing standards, a style guide will help you streamline your work. After you’ve used a particular set of guidelines for awhile, the writing process will flow more smoothly since you won’t have to stop and deliberate on grammar and style. Your readers will be pleased too, since inconsistency causes confusion.
How Do I Choose?
In many cases, the matter of which style guide to use is not left up to the writer. As mentioned, publishers will provide guidelines explaining which style guide is required.
Most newspapers adhere to The Associated Press Stylebook on Briefing on Media Law (often called The AP Stylebook), whereas a small press publisher might ask you to use The Elements of Style (often referred to as Strunk and White). Professors and teachers generally require students to use the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, Sixth Edition.
What about freelance writers, bloggers, fiction writers, and everyone else?
The most popular style guide for general use is The Chicago Manual of Style, and this is also the style guide commonly used for manuscripts (i.e. novels and anthologies). Many other writing guides are based on Chicago or will defer to it for any areas of style that they do not specifically address. It covers formatting, includes rules for good grammar usage, and provides a roadmap that ensures your work is mechanically consistent.
For general use, Chicago is by far one of the best writing resources on the market, and for me, it’s been one of the best investments I’ve made for my own writing career.
Which Style Guide Should You Use?
If you’re writing for a newspaper, you might want to go with AP. I’m not a big fan of AP because much of their style is dictated by saving space for the printing press (thus the absence of the serial comma). I think Chicago is more useful for freelancing and copywriting as well as authoring and blogging.
However, having both won’t hurt, and any serious writer would be wise to start building a collection of style guides that might prove useful throughout the course of one’s career.
So, do you use a style guide, and if so, which one? Are there other writing resources that you can’t live without? Share your favorites in the comments.