I was the same way a few years back, and that’s when I was an English teacher!
Yeah, I knew nothing about proper English grammar when I started teaching English in China in 2008, and it wasn’t really until 2010 that I had to learn.
See, at that point I got into smaller classroom settings where students could actually learn, and I had to start answering questions about the fundamental infrastructure of the English language.
That sucked, mainly because it meant I had to learn all this boring stuff.
Continuous tense, present continuous tense, past progressive tense, adverbs of frequency, adjectives of personality, gerunds, participles…and on and on and on!
Is it any wonder so many writers give up? I mean, who wants to learn the nuts and bolts? We just want to drive the fucking car!
I learned the nuts and bolts because I do a lot of editing work for people, and chances are good that on any given day of the week that you read this blog, I’m editing something…either my own dross or someone else’s.
So here are some things I see a lot of, mistakes if you will, and their possible solutions.
Quotations and Punctuation
“Tom and I walked home from the theatre.”
Which one of these is correct? Does the punctuation – in this case a period – go inside the quotation marks or outside?
It goes inside, and I make that correction a lot. One “editor” told me that in the UK they go outside. I’m not sure about that, and honestly, I think it’s bullshit.
“Give me the money”, he said.
“Give me the money,” he said.
What if you’re using a comma? That’s not really punctuation is it, so I can probably do something a little–
<Smack upside the head>
No, you can’t just change rules around because you think it should be this way or you think it would be nice or maybe just because the rules don’t apply to you.
We see this a lot on the roads – some people don’t use turn signals, do U-turns, and go through red lights. The rules don’t apply to them either, and how does that make you feel? I’ll be honest – it makes me feel like giving them a swift kick in the nuts.
Today I want to go over a few points:
- Numbers: You’re always going to do any number above 20 with a hyphen. “Twenty-one…Ninety-nine…One hundred and thirty-seven.”
- Age: This one is interesting. The accepted form is 5-year-old boy or five-year-old boy. For a long time I did 5-year old, which I don’t think is quite correct.
- Compound Adjectives: I was doing the age thing wrong because I was treating it as a compound adjective…4-car garage…two-bedroom house…8-legged creature.
- Avoiding Ambiguity: When you want adjectives to describe certain words, typically in a three-word grouping, you need to put the hyphen in the correct spot. So ugly-ass house is going to tell you that the house at the end of the street is really a fucking eyesore. Ugly ass-house tells you that the house at the end of the street, the one that was built to look exactly like an ass, looks ugly. This site here has a couple other hyphen examples.
“Give me my money,” he said.
“Kill her,” he said.
“Fuck you,” she said.
That gets damn boring, a whole page of ‘said’ down one straight line though, huh?
Why not do something like this:
He frowned. “Give me my money.”
Frank laughed and rubbed his brow. “Just kill her.”
She narrowed her eyes at the two men. “Fuck you.”
That presents the opposite problem, in that no one is ‘saying’ anything. So you have to mix it.
He frowned. “Give me my money.”
Frank laughed and mopped his sweaty brow. “Just kill the bitch,” he said with a laugh.
She narrowed her eyes at the two men.
“Fuck you!” she shouted, then threw out her arm. The hidden garter-gun flew out from beneath her sleeve and she grasped it in her palm a split-second later. Frank’s eyes went wide, just before a dark, red hole appeared between them.
Fuck, thought Burt, and then a second later he was laying on the floor beside Frank, both men dead as doornails...(cont.)
Why be redundant? If you’re using an exclamation mark (!), then do you really need to use the word exclaimed? I mean…you just showed me…why the hell are you telling me again.
I’ve got one for you:
Frank stepped in shit.
“Hey, Frank – you just stepped in shit!”
Why the hell would Frank want you to tell him he just stepped in shit? He knows, doesn’t he? I mean, look at his fucking face – and look at it now, after you’ve told him what he already fucking knows.
Using an exclamation point and then saying ‘exclaimed’ is the same thing.
“It is a nice day.”
“Yes it is a nice day, Ted.
“We are going to Idaho still, right?”
“Yes, we are driving tonight, with Bobby.”
“He will like that.”
“I did not know he hates driving.”
“I did not know that either.”
“We will have to drive slow.”
“Yes, we will do that.”
Guys, it’s called an apostrophe (‘) and I’d use the hell out of it. Here’s how that conversation should look:
“It’s a nice day.”
“Yes, it’s a nice day, Ted.”
“We’re going to Idaho still, right?”
“Yes, we’re driving tonight, with Bobby.”
“He’ll like that.”
“I didn’t know he hates driving.”
“I didn’t know either.”
“We’ll have to drive slow.”
“Yes, we’ll do that.”
I don’t know what else to say on this, other than you have to self-edit a lot of your own stuff before you catch this enough to permanently change your writing style.
Unless your writing style’s supposed to sound like a robot that has all the screws tightened up. Or just a new author that doesn’t have a clue.
Trust me, either of those things will kill your chances. So learn grammar, read books, or make a lot of money so you can hire people like me.