Just For Fun

I would like to share with you some fun quizzes from Sporcle.com that can also help improve your spelling and writing!

No, I’m really serious.  How do you think I learned the Periodic Table?  I took the quiz many, many times until it stuck!

So, on to the writing related ones.

There is one with commonly misspelled words.  (It’s the fun minefield kind!)

How about the top 100 most used English words?

Not only are their vocabulary/spelling ones, there are grammar ones.  Need help with Lay or Lie?  Maybe you want to brush up on the helper verbs.  How about practicing your proofreading?

They also add fun Word Ladders almost daily, which will stretch your mind when you think about words.

HAVE FUN!  Just be careful, because the website can be very addictive.  🙂



Speaking in Bad Grammar

I just finished reading a book that I got as a gift.  It was an interesting book; not my usual style but I did enjoy it.  The only minor issue I had with it was the occasional poor grammar, particularly in dialog.  It got me thinking about writing conversations.

The grammar issues were things that are fairly common in everyday speech.  For example, the first “as” in a simile was omitted in several conversations, as in, “His bathtub was big as a car.”  It doesn’t sound wrong, exactly, just a bit odd, even if it is technically incorrect.  Because it is heard in the everyday speech of some people, it is acceptable to include it in dialog.

But should an author write that way?  I understand writing really wrong grammar, or using excessive slang or clichés, to make a point about a character.  Does dropping in the occasional slightly incorrect sentence structure have the same effect?

I haven’t decided my exact opinion on this subject.  Do you have any thoughts?

You have the sexiest grammar I’ve ever seen…

A few days ago I updated and reactivated my online dating profile.  Let’s face it; I moved to a new city.  At this point the people are work with are all, well, the people I work with, and I’m just starting to meet people outside of work.  Going on a few dates might open that door a bit more, so I decided to go for it.

Of course, within a day or so I got what we’ll call the “first bites.”  I suspect these are the guys who send a message to any new female face that shows up on the site, probably without reading her profile at all.  While it seems like a waste of time, that doesn’t bother me as much as their very common grammar and writing errors.  (I know, you’re not surprised.)

Some typical problems include a lack of punctuation and/or capitalization, texting shorthand, and the usual there/their/they’re and your/you’re challenges.  They are usually short on complete sentences as well, or just short in general.  I have my mail settings arranged so that someone has to write at least 50 characters to send me a message.  Fifty characters!  That’s short.  “Hello!  I like your profile, please check out mine.” That’s it!  Obviously “I think you’re interesting” is more characters than “u r cute,” and that’s basically the point.  Believe it or not, I had a guy who didn’t hit the 50 mark on the first try.  How do I know?  Because he held down the exclamation point until he had enough characters.  Seriously?  Why on earth does this guy waste his time (and mine) when I’m clearly not going to respond?

Are you on a dating site?  Want some advice?  Take the time to do a grammar and spelling check before you send a message!  Ladies, this applies to us, too. If you want a quality guy, make sure he thinks you are a quality girl.  When a guy sends me a grammatically correct note that is also free from spelling errors, I will take the time to check out his profile.

If a guy mentions correct grammar and/or spelling as a requirement in his profile, I will send him a message.  🙂

Making Pun…

My name is easy to turn into an adverb.  Hi Leigh (highly), Unlike Leigh (unlikely), Happy Leigh (happily)…  you get the idea.  Adverbs are an interesting type of word, and one that is often misused, so I thought I’d write a little bit about them.

A quick review for those who haven’t pondered grammar in a while: adjectives are words that describe nouns, while adverbs are words that describe verbs.  A lot of adverbs end in -ly (and make for easy puns) but not all of them have that ending.

There are a few common offenders when it comes to adverb/adjective mistakes.  My least favorite is good and well.  Good is an adjective.  It can describe places, people, and things.  Well is an adverb.  It describes actions.  So if someone asks how you are doing, the correct response is either “I am good” or “I am doing well.”  In the first one, “good” is describing you, and you are a noun.  In the second, “well” is describing doing, and doing is a verb.   Bad and badly do the same thing, and are often confused in the same way.  If you’re not sure, take a moment to think about what you are describing.  It should help you remember which one to use.

There is a line in the song “Tonight Tonight” by Hot Chelle Rae that I always sing differently than the real lyrics, because of the adverb/adjective trouble.  The original line is “watch how good I fake it.”  As the word is describing the faking, it should be an adverb, so I always sing “well” instead of “good.”

My best advice?  Keep an eye on your simple adverbs.  They tend to be the tricky ones…

Comma Commotion!

Last week I told you I’d get to the more complicated uses of our comma.  Here is that post, as promised.  All three of these uses make a sentence longer, which can make it fuller and richer.

This week, I’m using examples straight from Life in Dreams, my NaNoWriMo novel!

With a conjunction, a comma can combine two sentences. This is the same function as a semicolon, only the comma needs the help of a conjunction.  Princess Aurana had always been a delicate child, and her long sleep had made her as fragile as spun glass. Follow the same rules as a semicolon for this one.

A comma separates items on a list. Wait! We did this one before!  This is the fancier version, which looks a lot less like a list.  The princess awoke muddled, speaking unfamiliar words and seemingly bewildered by her surroundings.  That’s a list, believe it or not.  Like last week, we simplify it.  It becomes a list of how the princess awoke: muddled, speaking, and bewildered.  Now it looks like a list!

A comma can set off a descriptive phrase.  This means you can take a description that belongs at the end of a sentence and move it to elsewhere in the sentence.  A common one is to move it to the beginning.   After sixteen years of magical slumber, the Princess Aurana had awoken on the morn of her 25th birthday. You can also stick it in mid-sentence, where it becomes a fancier version of My mom, Linda, sent her love.  Here’s a longer version.  King Ferrick and Queen Lizette, hoping against hope that the Oracle had spoken truth, had spared no expense in preparations for this day.

This is where it gets tricky, and can become a matter of personal preference.  You don’t have to use a comma to separate the descriptive phrase.  You can also use parentheses or dashes.  Here is the same sentence with all three, for comparison:

The happy news spread quickly when, as foretold, Aurana opened her eyes.
The happy news spread quickly when (as foretold) Aurana opened her eyes.
The happy news spread quickly when – as foretold – Aurana opened her eyes.

I personally prefer the commas.  I think it looks cleaner and is less likely to draw my eye ahead in the writing.  There may be someone out there who knows the subtleties of when each of these is appropriate (if you’re reading this, please comment!) but I am not that person.

Commas are confusing, because they are so common.  I usually stick with this rule of thumb: if you are speaking it out loud and would pause, you need to use a comma.  (Unless, of course, you need something stronger, like a semicolon or colon.)

On a side note, yes, the beginning of Dreams sounds a lot like Sleeping Beauty.  These are all examples from the first five paragraphs of the novel – the resemblance is simply a setup for the rest of the story.  🙂

Comma, Comma, Chameleon

Sunday is grammar day!  Today is the first day of the comma.

The comma is the multi-tool of punctuation.  (Unfamiliar with a multi-tool? Think Swiss Army knife, but cooler.)  It is versatile, frequently used, and there when you need it.

Of course, because it is so multi-talented, it’s going to require more than one post.  Today I’m going to focus on three of the most common uses.

A comma separates items on a list. We’re all familiar with this one, right?  He needed eggs, flour, butter, and sugar at the store.  Here’s the kicker: the commas between the items are required, but the last one (before the and) is optional.  I personally prefer to leave it out, but it is really entirely up to you.  Just be consistent in your document!  You can do it differently between your school essay and your novel, but pick one way and stick with it within each.  Just a note: a comma is also used to separate a list of descriptors.  He was a sweet, loving boy.  In this case, there is no “and,” so all the commas are required.

A comma sets off a quotation.  Again, this is simple and straightforward except when it isn’t.   When the comma comes before the quote, it’s always the same.  Jack asked, “What happened?”  When the comma comes after the quote is when it gets tricky.  It replaces the period in a statement and goes inside the quote marks (if you’re writing in American style).  “I slipped down the stairs,” I replied.  If the quotation is a question or exclamation, you ditch the comma.  “Are you serious?” he answered back.  “Really!” I said.  If you have a sentence that’s confusing, my best advice is to put the comma before the quote.  Jack laughed as he remarked, “I can’t take you anywhere!”  (That’s not a true story, by the way, but it could happen.)

A comma marks a name or descriptor.  My mom, Linda, was excited to buy my book.  Jack, my best friend, hasn’t read it. You’ll use this is if the sentence doesn’t need the name or descriptor.  Take the part between the commas out and both sentences still work.  It also applies when you’re using it at the end of the sentence, although then it only needs one comma.  This is my mom, Linda.

Those are some of the common uses of commas.  Next week (after I play with my writing and refer to my grammar references) we’ll jump into some of the trickier uses!


The Colon: Not Just For Digestion Anymore!

I’ve decided after my fun semicolon post that it might be interesting to do occasional grammar-related posts on Sundays.  (Why Sundays?  Why not?)  This week I’d like to address the colon.

(I’m pausing now to let a scene from Real Genius run through my head.  Okay, that was fun.  Now back to the grammar!)

Colons have a few basic uses and one less common use.

First , as you can see in the title of this post, the colon can be used to indicate a subtitle.  This is a fairly familiar use; we see it often on books.

Another common use is to indicate the start of a list.  This can be a simple list, like “There are four things he needed at the store: flour, sugar, milk, and eggs” or a more complex list, as in “I only ask for three things in a friend: willingness to listen, time to spend with me, and the occasional pet sitting.”  I have a brief word of caution with more complex lists: make sure that all of the items in your list are in the same form.  If one is a noun, they all should be, and if they are verbs, they need to be in the same tense.  For an easy way to make sure that your complex list is done correctly, simplify the items.  Willingness, time, and pet sitting are all nouns.  You can also pull out just the verbs and compare their tenses if you’re not certain.

Colons can also be used to indicate a quote or an example.  For example: this sentence.  As for quotes, the colon generally serves to introduce a large block quote, but you might see it occasionally in shorter ones.  Want an example?  He often used a famous saying: “I have a dream.”

So far our colon has served several roles as an indicator.  But I mentioned something earlier about a less common use.  (I’ve already used it once in this post; did you spot it?)  It is a sentence connector that can link two independent clauses.  But wait, wasn’t that how we used the semicolon?  How do we know the difference?  A semicolon brings together two sentences that are related.  The colon does more than that.  It adds emphasis to one of the two sentences.  This is often used when one sentence leads naturally into the second (sometimes because it is a cause and effect) or when the second sentence reinforces the first.  My use above?   “I have a brief word of caution with more complex lists: make sure that all of the items in your list are in the same form.”

Grammar can be fun!  Do you have any requests or suggestions for future grammar posts?

I should give credit where credit is due!  To verify the accuracy of my personal usage of grammar, I refer to A Writer’s Companion by Richard Marius, and I have double-checked that I am using colons correctly before I share their use with you.  🙂

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