Grammar is like politics…
either you feel passionately, or you’re indifferent, and there’s little in the way of middle ground.
Grammar is also like underwear…
when it’s well put together, you hardly notice it; when cheap and dirty, it’s uncomfortable, and all you can focus on.
We’ll just get it out of the way now before you judge me for being an insufferable know-it-all:
Yes, when I read your fic, I’m judging your grammar. It influences my ability to enjoy your story. I never bash, or shame other writers. I do not flame. To do so would be wrong, mean, and counterproductive. I never criticize or nit-pick without invitation, and never publicly. The point of fan fiction is enjoyment for both writer and reader, and venom poisons everyone. I’ll also admit that maybe, just maybe, you might say I’m bordering fanatical, but it doesn’t change that a masterful grip on the English language is something anyone can accomplish with a little effort, and, quite simply, the regular reading of quality material, no University courses required.
It comes down to habit. What neurological pathways are you routing into habits? What practices are shaping your mind? The human brain has an incredible capacity to learn at any stage of life, and it’s predisposed to be incredible with language.
You’re not incapable. You’re more capable than anyone (including and especially you) has allowed you to believe.
You’re limitless and brilliant.
Do not mistake bad habits for inability.
Obviously, I have strong feelings on the subject of grammatical ignorance, and they’re not all sunshine and pink and yellow roses. If you ask my children about my reactions, they’ll tell you I often run an emotional gamut that might best be demonstrated below:
Unfortunately, one of my absolute favorite FF fandoms, Doctor Who, seems to a playground with grammar-offenders running rampant, and, either the people beta-ing are every bit as lax, or few writers care to have one – which is a shame because I often see real potential. Some might even have ambitions toward professional writing which poor habits are stunting. I know the fandom tends toward a young crowd, but if you’re old enough to publicly post your stories, you’re old enough to know these basics, or work with an adult who does.
Pleeease, pllllleeeeeeeeaaaaaassssseeeee, remember the dear Doctor is meant to be the cleverest being in the universe!!!! He’s characterized as fluent in 5,000,000,000 languages, and would never confuse when to use I and when to use me! Why write him like he’s an uneducated bro from Los Angeles?
I’m not saying you shouldn’t tell your story by any means!! God, no!! Please, always keep writing!
I’m saying you need a beta with something more than a rudimentary grasp of the English language. Betas offer their services free of ridicule, denigration, charge, judgement, and truly just want to help you make your story fantastic. Betas should not go easy on you. Their purpose is constructive criticism, not to stroke your ego. If you aspire toward professional writing, it will also give you invaluable experience dealing with said criticism because, unlike a beta, editors do not care about your feelings or potential. They’re trained by Dementors in secret. Editors are paid to find what’s wrong in your manuscript, and what will make it sell. It’s business. They’ll cut your favourite passages, and tell you to trim 10,000 words without blinking an eye. If it’s unnecessary, it’s gone, the end… until you’re Stephen King, which none of you can claim… because, pffft, like he’d read my blog. Even he had to cut some 150,000 words out of the original publication of The Stand.
So, having a beta is a win-win. We, your betas and readers, get to read well-written stories, and you get to express your creativity with a small safety net. You’ll end up with more followers, and grow exponentially as a word-smith.
I don’t understand why I still end up frustrated by this issue more than seventy percent of the time.
I honestly feel like half of what’s out there isn’t even put through spell-check.
Why? Why do you like to hurt people?
As we know, I adore fan fiction, but the quickest way to upset me into quitting a story isn’t to explore something that makes me uncomfortable. Nor will expressing opinions which differ from my own (love all that actually, means you’re making me think outside my blue box) make me click the red “x.” I don’t mind if you kill your characters, or go OOC with my beloved ones; the fastest way to alienate me is to commit any of the following with willful regularity…
These things make my skin crawl:
Wonder in place of wander.
Wondering involves query and thought. You can wonder while you wander, but you cannot “wonder off” anywhere. Look, really look at the words. Won-der and Wand-er. You can sort out which to use by the words they resemble and the way those sound. Say them out loud. Unfortunately, this mistake seems to be most often made by enthusiastic authors who like to repeat its usage over, and over, and over within their stories. I try so hard to let it go, but off they “wonder,” are subsequently looked for because they “wondered,” then are told off for “wondering,” and eventually promise not to “wonder” anymore. I… just… can’t even…
Chocked (this is said like chalk) instead of choked.
AHHHH! Please, no. No!! One of the basics we learn early is an “e” at the end of a word make the vowel before it say its own name. Choke, Coke, poke, woke, bloke. It has a long “o” sound like oh. Without the “e” following, it has a short “o” sound like ah.
Chocked (root word chock, with two “c’s” and no “e”) means full to bursting. Chock-full. To choke (only one “c” and an “e” at the end) means to obstruct the airway in a manner which either prevents, or makes breathing difficult. It makes me want to cry when you confuse them.
Anyways. Oh, God, help me, it’s anyway with no “s.”
This spelling is only acceptable when used as speech by an uneducated character, or if you currently happen to be an impoverished, English-speaking poet from the 18th century (you are not, and will never be,) otherwise, it’s nails on a friggin’ chalkboard. “Anyway” is already informal, adding an “s” takes this adverb to a whole new level of colloquial doltishness. It’s saying, “in any way,” or, “in any case.” You wouldn’t make these statements plural, it would not make sense. We have accepted “anyways” into the modern lexicon as slang. Slang, I tell you! Slang! Is this really the way you want a genius to sound? Sure, the Doctor speaks informally in these later regenerations, but he never sounds uneducated. Still, this single letter faux pas (which makes me want to throw fragile things into brick walls) is so ridiculously common in Whofics, it makes me wonder why no one is paying attention to Ten when he says it. He never, ever adds an “s.”
Are is not the same as our.
Our indicates ownership, are does not. Are refers to a state of being. As a matter of fact, it is 2nd person singular, and the 1st, 2nd and 3rd person plural of the verb “be,” as well as the plural of the more commonly known “is.” You do not ever put an “s” at the end of are, unless you’re referring to a Greek god, or a constellation. Again, just because you pronounce something informally in a similar manner, does not the same spelling justify. Misspelling a three-letter sight word past the age of six is… well, it’s extremely frustrating to think such a large portion of adults and near-adults still do this one. Ever.
Span instead of spun.
Gaaaah!! I mean… what?!? Really?! To span is to stretch across a distance of sorts, NOT moving in a circular motion in the past tense, and you’d never, ever, ever put an “-ing” at the end of spun. Honestly, my sons used to say this when they were three and it drove me batty then too. Stop it, immediately. Span is NEVER the past tense of spin. Just, no.
Then as opposed to than.
Then refers to a period of time, past or future, but never the present. Than compares. You shower, THEN brush your teeth; I like jam better THAN Marmite, etc. It’s one letter and an entire universe of difference. We stop spelling things phonetically in primary school… and they’re four… letter… words. It isn’t that hard, it isn’t. If you can write stories about a character with an unparalleled understanding of quantum mechanics, biology, history, and literature, you can learn the difference between then and than, I promise.
An old adage says, “alright is never all right…”
HOWEVER, language evolves constantly, and alright is more recently considered acceptable by spell checkers, myself, and editors. Disagree? That’s alright, but read the following and sort which I mean: The quarterly figures are all right. Without vocal inflection, it’s nearly impossible to distinguish between whether the numbers are correct, or just passable. Alright has precedence and therefore is, in fact, alright. Yes, I called “anyways” slang, and I’m in support of this one, but, again, this word has has shown usefulness, and the other does not make sense. Purists will fight me, but if we can accept that awful is no longer just a slang bastardization of “full of awe,” we can allow that alright is not the offense it was once. It is more commonly accepted in the UK than the US, yes, but this is a British show and I don’t want to have to guess which you mean.
They’re, there, their all have separate meanings and are not interchangeable. The same holds true for your and you’re, were, where and we’re, it’s and its (never its’, please, God,) here and hear, who’s and whose, and to, too, and two.
These are the most common offenses because your spell-checker doesn’t catch them, and our brains know which we intended, so we overlook them when we proof-read. I do it too, and want to slap myself when I catch it. I’ve read, and re-read things twenty times without catching it in my own work, but you better believe I see it immediately in works written by someone else. Your beta is invaluable in this instance. Letting it slide every time, or simply not caring hurts my hearts.
Effect is a noun which can be used as a verb with the proper suffix or context. It means a change that has occurred or will occur. When an “s” is added, effects usually means results or consequences, but can mean personal belongings. Events affect you, they do not effect you, though you feel the effect.
Affect, on the other hand, is a verb, and can only be used as a noun or adjective in certain contexts. It means to produce a change in or influence something. They are not the same thing though they sound similar and, again, are not interchangeable.
This one is harder than the others…-ish. Both have modifiers which make the rules somewhat confusing, (noun to verb, verb to adverb, verb to noun, blah, blah, blah, the definitions are still different, and learning them isn’t difficult) so it’s usually met with an eye-roll rather than frustration when I see the mistake, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t need correcting. (Double negative used for effect! …Get it? Oh, I’m lame.)
Example: …seeing the affect…
This is both wrong, and not. It all depends on how you intend it. If you mean that you are seeing the result of some influence, it is wrong, and should be effect. If you mean that you are witnessing someone’s put-upon manner, it’s right. Complicated, but once you understand the difference, it’s cake.
Lay, lei, lie, lying, lied, lain, laid, lye.
Learn them. All. Properly. I’m not going to define and give examples of each because I’ll end up ranting for hours, but you cannot just pick one and use it to mean resting on your back.
If you “laid down,” you put something down which you had previously been holding, you need serious medical attention for an unnatural condition, are a hen or egg-laying species of some sort, or need to go back to third grade English. Same with “lied down.” No. That means you told a lie in a specific direction, which makes little sense. The “d” at the end does not automatically make it the correct choice. You can lay and you can lie, but the actions have distinct tense parameters, mean different things contextually, and are dependent upon the way you structure your sentence. One among the list is a flower necklace, and another is a chemical compound that will severely burn you. If you’ve ever used those latter two to describe a period of rest, I have probably cursed you to an eternity of rolling boulders up mountains.
You’re never going to “regenerate the Doctor…”
Please, I’m begging you, stop using, “I’ll regenerate you,” as a threat. You can kill or injure him, and he will regenerate himself, but it is impossible for your characters to do it for/to him, which the above phrase implies. It’s an individual and solitary act. “I’ll regenerate you,” is like saying, “I’ll eat you some dinner.” It just doesn’t work and sounds utterly silly.
The proper phrasing is forcing/causing/triggering his regeneration, or just plain killing him.
Except and accept.
They mean the opposite, really. You accept a gift from your mother, as in you let her put it in your hands and it becomes yours. You might take exception to the fact that she bought you a year’s membership to a gym and a heavy make-up kit. You can accept concepts that you may not understand or like, making them acceptable.
Except means a hitch in the works or something you cannot accept. It’s a deal-breaker. Something undesirable. A rule that has an exception, like the sonic and its inability to work on wood. The easiest way to remember is the ‘ex’ at the beginning. You’ll invite everyone except your ex-lover.
It completely does my head in when people get this one wrong.
Drug v. Dragged
Evil. This is evil.
They DO NOT mean the same thing, as in, the definitions are different, as in they are in no way related! I get so upset when I see it, and it’s everywhere. People say this to me in conversation, and my eyes twitch. No, drug is not the past tense of drag. It’s not. No. Noooooooo. Dragged is. Drug is a noun that can only be used as a verb if you intend to give chemicals to someone to alter their cognitive function. You drug someone with drugs. You get dragged across the universe to indulge the Doctor’s fondness for fine knitting and recorder music, or dragged across the floor by a villain. No one drug you anywhere, it isn’t possible. Stop it.
Just, no. Don’t use it. At all. It may be a word, okay, it is a word, but it sounds awful, has origin in American dialect (British show, people!) and is a waste of time and letters. It means the same thing as regardless, not the opposite, or anything special enough to warrant its existence. Even if you’re using it properly, regardless is a perfectly serviceable word without adding “ir-” to the beginning. Avoid it and we’ll all be happy.
Insure v. ensure…
Insure means to purchase insurance, i.e. you have a valuable which needs monetary insurance against damage or destruction. It is not the same as ensure, which means to make sure something does or does not happen. You ensure the safety of your child, you insure a Ming vase for 2,000,000.
Like effect and affect, this is one letter, and, for some reason, highly confusing to people. I honestly think the people who commit this no-no don’t know ensure is a word, in which case, this has just become a PSA.
ENSURE IS A WORD! The more you know. —-*
….people in their thirties get that joke….
Each other is not one word. No, nor is never mind, and everyday (ordinary and/or commonplace) means something quite different from every day (each day), a part (one piece of a whole) is not the same as apart (separate and/or disjointed), and we won’t even go into the virulent misspelling of common words which get left in still-mangled, though one click, and five minutes using Spell-check would fix them instantly, because…
…(kill me now!) is gibberish. The bad kind. Not a word. A non-word. False. Rubbish. Bastardized grossly. Literary terrorism far worse than my addiction to sentence fragments. The word you want is ignorant, and if you’re using ignant in any context other than dialog from an ignorant character… well…
I must relay an aside here. My ex-husband was guilty of this one. Often. I will actually blacklist writers who use this word. My ex-husband also frequently confused the words facetious and feces, as in, “I was being feces,” instead of, “I was being facetious.” My children share these genes. Ignant. Not even once.
The Tardis can de-materialize, but never re-materialize. It materializes.
Re-materialize is redundant. Stop insisting Spell-check is getting it wrong. It’s not. You are. The broken red lines are there for a reason. The Tardis may be a fictional, sentient ship, but the theoretical time-travel methods it’s based upon are, indeed, the most true to existing hypotheses of any sci-fi show to date. Making up words for her method of travel isn’t necessary, they exist.
I’m not joking.
It sounds silly when the Doctor explains it in lay terms – or the Doctor himself uses silly words to simplify, but the ship has foundations in real science (B-theory, Special Relativity, Coherence Paradox, Fitch’s Paradox, and Physical Paradox Theories, Hugh Everett’s Many Worlds Theory, and Eternalism, among others.) You can easily research them all. They’re not only fascinating and inspiring to the imagination, but will give you a better concept of the wibbly-wobbly. Major sci-fi story telling win.
You like Doctor Who, and quite possibly science fiction in general, so you know the subject appeals to you, but if you just can’t bring yourself to even approach something as simple as The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene, listen to Star Talk, watch Nova, or explore anything with Carl Sagan, Neil Degrasse Tyson, Michio Kaku, Bill Nye, or many others at the helm. The new Cosmos series is incredible and fun, the original, still one of the most insiring. The Great Courses has an immense wealth of entertaining information. Greydon Square is a rapper who loves cosmology, and is brilliant in the way he weaves it into his music. Look into what they’re up to at CERN, or NASA, or any other scientific agency you might have heard acronyms for but never really knew what they did. (Hint, CERN made what you’re doing right now possible.) Figure out who Einstein was outside memes on social media, and who Stephen Hawking is outside of a man in a suped-up wheelchair with a funny electronic voice. None of it is boring, I promise, and it’s at your fingertips.
Your world is infinite; you’ve experienced 0.000000000000000000001% of what is out there and available to you, and we as a species have zero excuse to stop learning from it and each other.
I do love this word. When used properly, it can be a one-word quip capable of sending me into peals of delighted laughter, but I hate it when it’s used figuratively. Literally is absolute, not figurative. Ever. That’s the joke. You take something sarcastic or ironic, and turn it around to point out the truth. If you don’t get what I mean by this, don’t use it.
So, if something “literally blew your mind,” you’d better be on literal life-support. If you’re “literally crying with laughter,” you’d better have actual tears coinciding with actual laughter. If you’re “literally shitting bricks,” I really hope you have an ambulance on the way, or you literally don’t know how to use the word. If you’re not 100% positive what you’re stating is the genuine truth, you don’t use it. The end.
Inflammable means the same thing as flammable.
It sounds like it doesn’t, but it does, I promise. Google it if you must, but stop using it incorrectly. The easiest way to avoid problems like these is to find a good beta. I can’t encourage it enough.
Ugh… Alanis Morissette needs to use the Tardis to go back to 1995 and re-write the one song in existence that makes me want to throw myself off of a rooftop due to gross misuse of a word. The only ironic instance in her song Ironic is the statement the man on the plane makes when it’s crashing:
“…and as the plane crashed down, he thought, ‘Well isn’t this nice?'”
This line is the only real example of irony in the entire friggin’ song. The rest (every. single. last. bloody. one.) of her instances of “irony” are coincidences. They are in no way ironic. One might claim the song itself is dramatic irony in that it’s pointing out popular misuse, but I find the theory highly suspect, and if so, poorly executed.
Irony (and I’m simplifying as a few types exist) is making a statement in which you actually mean the opposite of the actual words you’re using. If you are not sure you’re being a sarcastic arse (and bravo, as you can see, I love a good sarcastic arse) or if what you’re saying resembles a coincidence in any way, do not call it irony. It isn’t.
This is irony:
Point. Set. Match. The Doctor wins.
Whom should only be used when it could plausibly be replaced by him and not he. For example: To whom it may concern = It concerns him, not it concerns he. Who is almost always more common. Because he and him are typically informally swapped like teenage spit laced with mononucleosis, this confuses people. Phrases like “it is him,” are formally written “it is he,” therefore whom would not be used for “who is it?” Whom is more often used improperly than not, and all one needs to do to avoid this mistake is not be pretentious. Whom doesn’t always make you sound like you know what you’re doing.
So what I’m saying is, just use who. You’re only going to piss off Über-pedants by ignoring whom, but you’ll sound moronic by misusing it.
To infer is what you do when another person implies.
Also not interchangeable. One is like catching a ball, and the other throwing. Infer means to “read between the lines,” so to speak, not that you’re hinting about something. Most people use synonyms or clichés for infer, so, again, don’t get fancy unless you absolutely know what you’re doing.
I have an older brother who refuses to use anything but infer when he’s talking about implications, and it takes all my will power not to react like so:
I think he does it intentionally to upset me.
It’s okay to be comma-happy (Henry James used them so often, his work reads like an asthmatic after a marathon,) but it is grammatical chaos to omit them. If I have to read a sentence three times to properly understand what you’re trying to convey, it’s just not nice. For example, “…having two hours to kill Rose was not amused,” or “…they sat eating Rose with her tea and toast.”
One comma saves Rose Tyler’s life.
Be a hero.
I suppose, the golden rule is to only put into print what you’re sure of implicitly. This applies to all aspects of the craft. Proof read. Find a good beta, and never send them anything which isn’t ready to be finalized. Lay off the thesaurus, or use it in conjunction with a dictionary to make certain you have the properest usage. Pay attention to the broken red lines under words. Don’t assume you’re smarter than thousands of programmers and their dictionary sources. Eventually, it all becomes second nature, but you must learn the rules of writing before you break them intentionally to create your style. I love breaking the rules (you have become quite familiar, indeed, with my sentence fragments, and, yes, that’s what it’s like in my thoughts.) Breaking rules can set a cadence unique to each writer, just be sure you’re not doing yourself a disservice by choosing the wrong rules to ignore. Basics, like spelling and word-misuse, are non-negotiable.
All of us make mistakes with grammar, myself very much included. I always look past typos because they’re inevitable, but when people keep “wondering off,” “chocking” on things, or “anyways” is used by every character, in every chapter, and in every line of dialog or inner monologue, I want to scream. You may have an amazing plot, but I’ll never get through it because so much more goes into story telling than the idea. Language and imagery are equally important to a good story. Poor grammar mars your landscape like a rubbish heap in a garden.
If you want to write, write well. Write eloquently. Even if you’re writing about penguin shite, make it the best penguin shite story ever told. If you don’t know how, it’s okay, find a beta who does, and pay attention to his or her corrections.
You’re on the precipice of something incredible. You have stories to tell! That’s amazing, and not to be belittled. Writing is a very precious gift you’ll give to the world! It allows others to think, feel, and relate. It can challenge and inspire. Like any art form, it affirms that we are not alone. The more adept you become at expressing your ideas, the more people you can deeply touch.
And read. Often. Read everything. Try books and genres you’ve never considered. Figure out why everyone raves about certain authors, then find the underground and forgotten ones. Try non-fiction. Flirt with novellas, and commit to series. Read epics. Read short stories. Read prose. Step– no, leap, with reckless abandon, into the world of literature. You’re never too old to discover and explore. You’ll be a richer individual, a better storyteller, and amazed at how much you learn in a short amount of time.
It’ll make the Doctor a happy Time Lord too.
He might just dance with joy.
Doctor Who is the intellectual and artistic property of the BBC and its affiliates. I profit from neither the writing of this rant, nor the displaying of the pictures and gifs in any way (…unless someone actually learned something, and I never again have to read anything resembling, “Everyday the character chocked on they’re banana when they span around after they wonder off irregardless of when the Doctor tole em not too cuz there ignant anyways. Its’ really ironic. Literally.”)