I do, I do!
OK, I’m joking.
Even though I like to write about writing, I don’t consider myself a grammarian and if you want to write, please don’t let fears you have about grammar stop you writing.
If you’ve been to school, if you read, and if you spend time considering the written word, you know more than you think.
Stephen King says as much in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. He also advises writers to get on with the business of writing, but to keep grammar on top of their toolbox.
With the master’s advice in mind, here are fifteen grammar grammar lessons to keep on top of your toolbox:
1. Which and That
Which is used to inform.
That is used to define.
This is the house that Jack built.
This house, which is mine, was built by Jack.
2. Punctuation Matters
Lynee Truss explains this best in Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation
She uses this example:
A woman, without her man, is nothing.
A woman: without her, man is nothing.
The first sentence explains a woman is nothing if she doesn’t have a man in her life.
The second explains that a man is nothing if he doesn’t have a woman in his life.
Can you see the difference?
3. Girl’s and Girls’
If the apostrophe comes before the S, there is one girl.
If the apostrophe comes after the S, there are many girls.
The girl’s cake implies one girl owns the cake in question.
The girls’ cake implies several girls own the cake in question.
4. Fewer and Less
Fewer refers to people or things in the plural.
Lesser refers to things that can’t be counted.
I wrote fewer posts this week than last week.
I write less often when I’m tired.
5. Effect vs Affect
To effect is to bring about change.
To affect is to influence.
Barack Obama wanted to effect change. In reality, he affected changed.
6. It’s and Its
“It’s” is short for it is or it has, where as its is a possessive pronoun.
It’s a fine day.
The car is broken down. The car is known for its unreliability.
7. Farther and Further
Farther implies a distance that can be measured.
Further describes a time or quantity.
Russia is farther away from the United States than Canada.
My knee injury is causing further problems for me.
8. Nauseous vs Nauseated
To be nauseous means to have the ability to make others feel sick.
To be nauseated is to be made feel sick by something.
The green steak is nauseous.
I was nauseated by the steak meat.
9. You’re and Your
You’re is an abbreviation for you are.
Your means possession.
If you made it this far, you’re learning about grammar.
I hope your grammar is improving.
10. Compliment and Complement
A complement adds something to something else, where as you give someone a compliment when you want to tell them something nice.
Coriander is a complement for chicken.
I compliment you on your choice of ingredients sir!
11. Principal and Principle
A principle is a fundamental truth or standard.
A principal is the most important participant or a high rank.
Schools have principals, but I have principles.
Literally means something actually happened and that what you are saying is true.
I was literally green with envy.
This means, I actually turned the colour green because I was feeling jealous.
Avoid use literally when writing metaphors.
13. Incorrect Words
Step forward: okay, nevermind, irregardless, alright and alot.
Instead say: OK, never mind, regardless, all right and a lot.
14. Then and Than
‘Then’ means one event proceeded another, where writers use ‘than’ for comparison.
I went to the garage. Then, I went to the shop.
I have less money than you.
15. May and Might
‘May’ means there’s a real possibility of something happening.
‘Might’ means there is far more uncertainty about this event.
You may fail this grammar test if you don’t study.
If you stay up late the night before the grammar test, you might fail it.
Don’t let grammar stop you finishing your next piece of writing.
King writes grammar lessons are “mostly a matter of cleaning the rust off drill bits and sharpening the blades of your saw.”
In other words, concern yourself with grammar but don’t become so concerned about grammar that it stops you finishing what you started.
If you’d like to read more about grammar, I recommend reading Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss and The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White.
I also recommend subscribing to Grammar Girl on Quick and Dirty Tips for useful and free grammar lessons.
What are you favourite grammar lessons? Please let me know in the comments section below.
Did you find this post helpful? Please let me know in the comments section below.