10 Good Grammar Resources

good grammar

Some good grammar resources.

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.

Reliable Resources

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. This online Grammar Handbook from the University of Illinois is clear, organized by subject, and easy to peruse.
  8. 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.”
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

Good 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 for Music Lovers: Turn up the Bass and Play a Chord

homophones

Homophones for music lovers.

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.

Bass

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.

Base

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

Chord

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.

Cord

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.

Mastering Homophones

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.

Good Grammar Round-Up

good grammar round up

A round-up of good grammar articles.

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.

Punctuation Love


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.

I admit to having a penchant for punctuation. In fact, I’m smitten for the serial comma and I know the difference between dashes and hyphens. I can even show you how to use a semicolon.

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.

I’m particularly fond of which witch (which you have to admit has a nice ring to it) and affect vs. effect, two words that often confuse and are confused.

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.

Homophones: Which witch?

homophones which witch

Which witch?

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

Which witch?


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!

Why is Good Grammar Absent from Education?

good grammar

Good grammar is essential to a good education.

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?

Homophones: Two, Too, and To

homophones two too to

Learn the difference between two, too, and to.

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

Two is a noun and it’s a numeral, a word that stands for the number 2.

Example: I have two dogs.

Too

Too is an adverb, and it’s most commonly used to mean the following: also, an excessive extent, more than should be, or very.

Examples:

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

To is a preposition that indicates a direction or motion, including physical distance, abstract distance, and distance in time.

Examples:

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: Weather and Whether

homophones - weather and whether

Homophones: weather and whether.

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.

Weather

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.

Whether

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.

More Homophones

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!

Style Guides for Good Grammar and Consistency

good grammar

Using style guides for consistency and good grammar.

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
  • Authors
  • 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?

writing resourcesThe 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.

Homophones: Its and It’s

homophones

Homophones sound alike: its and it’s.

Homophones confuse some people and annoy others. I often see people online complaining about other people who can’t differentiate between the spellings of homophones like your and you’re; they’re, their, and there, and of course, its and it’s.

While I find these mistakes mildly annoying, I don’t know if I’d go so far as to call them pet peeves and I don’t feel any particular urge to vent or publicly complain about other people’s ability to spell (unless I’m discussing the quality of education in my country).

Just because the confusion of its and it’s makes me crinkle my nose a little does not mean that if I see this mistake I’m going to stop reading your blog or throw your novel into the recycling bin. It’s really not that big of a deal and is exactly the kind of typo that’s outweighed by good, strong writing.

However, I feel that writers need to take a little pride in their work. That means learning how to spell small, three-letter words and spell them correctly.


But I get it. Its and it’s are among the most difficult homophones to learn. I remember back in high school, I avoided using them altogether–simply because I was too lazy to look them up. To make matters even more confusing, these two rebellious homophones thwart the standard rules of good grammar and proper English.

Its vs. It’s

According to Wikipedia, the word it is a “third-person singular neuter (it) – used for objects and animals whose sex is unknown and as a dummy subject, e.g. ‘It is raining.’”

One of the most common spelling mistakes known to the English language occurs when people try to add possession or pluralization to the word it. Interestingly, this word cannot be pluralized, but it can be paired with the word is (it is) and then contracted (it’s).

Confused yet? Let’s clarify.

Its: the Exception to the Rule

Normally we add an s to words that we want to pluralize, and we add an apostrophe-s to show possession. A third form is adding an s followed by an apostrophe to show plural possession.

Plural: girls (more than one girl)
Possessive: girl’s (belonging to a girl)
Plural Possessive: girls’ (belonging to all the girls)

Luckily, it is always singular, so we need not ever worry about making it plural. There’s no such thing as “more than one it” (we would forgo it and use them or they). That means we can also skip over the plural possession oit entirely.

But what about when it owns something?

You’d expect that to show ownership, you’d simply add apostrophe-s to the word it. But that’s not the case. As I mentioned earlier, it has chosen to ignore the normal rules of grammar. So, we do it in reverse.

When it owns something, we add the s without the apostrophe, and we get its.

Example:

There is the car. It has wheels. Its wheels are round.

See? No apostrophe when something belongs to it.

It’s Not Plural or Possessed

The word it’s is neither plural nor possessive. When the apostrophe-s is added to the word it, you’ve got a contraction, or a shortening of two words. In this case, the phrase it is is being shortened or contracted.

If you have a hard time remembering this, try saying your sentence or phrase by replacing its or it’s with it is. If it is works, then you have a contraction and the apostrophe is required. If not, then you have possession and just an s, without the apostrophe, will do.

Got any handy tips for remembering the difference between its and it’s? Share yours in the comments!

Are there any homophones that constantly confuse you? How about ones that grate on your nerves when others use them incorrectly? Talk about it in the comments.

Homophones: Hear and Here

homophones hear here

How to remember the difference between homophones hear and here.

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

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.

Mastering Homophones

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.

Good Grammar, Spelling, and Punctuation

good grammar

Good grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

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: Compliment, Complement

homophones compliment

Homophones: compliment and complement.

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


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.

Complement

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..

Got Homophones?

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…