5 Grammar tips to improve your writing
Grammar. Let’s face it, you either love it or hate it.
When you’re a writer it’s something you can’t avoid. Poor grammar can be seen as laziness and a lack of respect for the reader. It’s the literary form of bad manners and presents the writer as someone who isn’t serious about their craft.
If you are looking to find an agent or publisher they will take the quality of your grammar into account when reading your submission. Whilst a good editor and proofreader will pick up mistakes and correct them, time is money and the more basic work a manuscript requires to get it to a publishable standard, the more exceptional it has to be for a publisher to be interested.
If you are self-publishing, unless you invest in the services of an editor or proofreader you face the perils of correcting your grammar alone. Make no mistake, a book strewn with grammatical errors will receive reviews on Amazon and the like which highlight them to the detriment of sales. Readers hate being distracted by mistakes and unclear sentences, they’ll be highly unlikely to buy your next book and quite probably won’t finish the one that they’re reading. They won’t become your super fan.
So, to help keep you on the straight and narrow here are our top five grammar tips to help your writing shine, based upon commonly seen errors.
1. Misusing the Apostrophe with “It’s”
You use an apostrophe with “it’s” only when the word means it is or it has. Without the apostrophe, “its” means belonging to it.
Incorrect: I don’t believe its Monday morning
Correct: I don’t believe it’s (it is) Monday morning.
Incorrect: The bird was preening it’s feathers.
Correct: The bird was preening its feathers.
2. Missing Comma after Introductory Element
A comma should be used after an introductory word, phrase, or clause. This gives the reader a slight pause after an introductory element and often can help avoid confusion.
Incorrect: In case you haven’t noticed I never use my real name when publishing my books.
Correct: In case you haven’t noticed, I never use my real name when publishing my books.
Incorrect: Before she had time to think about it Ella pulled the man back from the edge of the platform.
Correct: Before she had time to think about it, Ella pulled the man back from the edge of the platform.
3. Wrong Word Usage
There are so many words and phrases that are commonly confused and misused in sentences. Using them incorrectly can change the meaning of the sentence or lead to confusion for the reader. Given that the potential to use these commonly confused words, when in doubt, always check the definition and correct spelling of the word.
Incorrect: He excepted her offer to call the police.
Correct: He accepted her offer to call the police.
4. Comma Splice
A comma splice occurs when two separate sentences are joined with a comma rather than a full stop (period) or semicolon. Writers frequently create comma splices when using transitional words, such as however, therefore, or nevertheless.
Incorrect: My intention was to leave on the train with him, however I decided not to leave after all.
Correct: My intention was to leave on the train with him; however, I decided not to leave after all.
5. Vague Pronoun Reference
A pronoun can replace a noun, and its preceding word or antecedent should be the person, place, or thing to which the pronoun refers. Use of a vague pronoun reference (including words such as it, that, this, and which) can leave the reader confused about what or to whom the pronoun refers. Readers don’t like to be confused.
Incorrect: When Ross finally found his hamster, he was so happy. (The hamster or Ross?)
Correct: Ross was so happy when he finally found his hamster.
Of course, there are times and reasons when it is acceptable to break some of the rules of grammar, but it’s better to do so knowing what they are and why you can do so. There are some great grammar guides available both as books and online. Writing editing tools such as Grammarly and ProWritingAid can also help but it’s always better to understand something before simply accepting automated corrections.
If you are unsure about a rule, look it up. You won’t be left embarrassed, and you’ll show your readers that you respect language, love your craft and care about their reading experience.
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