“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, and 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. Read more
Every writer I know has a different perspective on just how good grammar needs to be.
Some are sticklers who 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. Read more
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.