Grammar and Punctuation

I had to find some basic grammar and punctuation websites to post in a thread on my message board, and I thought it might be a good idea to place them here too.

I don’t believe a successful writer has to have talent. Anyone can learn to write, if they have the desire to do so. Some people, however, have to work harder at it than others. No one can allow themselves to become lazy in their writing, and it’s for this reason that I believe we must all return to the basics every so often to ensure we are still on the right track.

Here are some links that should be of help:

Owl Grammar Tips


Get it write online – grammar tips

Ask Oxford – Better Writing

Edufind – English grammar and punctuation

English Punctuation – this is a module that takes you through the basic steps of punctuation.

Punctuation: Comma

In years gone by I was extremely good with punctuation. I always received top marks for comprehension and extra marks for presentation. However, with the introduction of the internet, I’ve found that I’ve become confused with some punctuation usage. I suppose reading a lot of American websites has done that.

Lately, I’ve been wanting to return to the basics (as you’ve no doubt realised by my latest blog entries), and relearn what I had always known. I discovered that in most areas I had stayed true to what is expected in Australia, but I seem to have digressed in two areas. One of those areas was the comma.

Please note that the following usage is for Australians only (it definitely does NOT apply in America, but may apply in England). You should check what your regional standard is.

The Comma

The comma makes the meaning clearer by separating parts of a sentence. It sugges a short puase and is used in the following places:

  • to separate items in a list:
    We had sandwices, fruit, a cake and milk for lunch.
    (There is no need for a comma before “and” in the above sentence.)
  • to separate lists of adjectives or adverts:
    She is a bright, friendly, happy girl.
    The dog moved slowly, carefully, quietly and warily away from the cat.

    (That second sentence is a shocker; never, ever do that in your manuscript.)
  • to separate principal cluases in a sentence:
    They were tired, but they hurried anyway.
  • to separate words, phrases and clauses at the beginnings of sentences:
    However, I wish to disagree.
    In the afternoon, the opposing team arrived.
    If you try hard, you will succeed.
  • to separate words and groups of words that add extra information:
    My dog, Honey, swam in the creek.
    The captain, our best player, scored the goal.
    Sarah, who had a sore throat, stayed at home.
  • to separate words that are said in direct speech.
    “I know,” said Mary.
    “Would you mind,” I asked, “if I sat next to you?”

Sometimes the use of the comma is optional; you can decide whether or not it is needed, for instance, either example is acceptable here:
I hurried but I missed the train.
I hurried, but I missed the train.

Always use a comma if it makes the meaning clearer.

Laid, Lain, Lay, Lie

Now this one is more for me, than you. These four words are a curse to me, because I cannot remember which word I should be using. I’ve been told a million times, I had a friend send me a photocopy of the rule, but still I don’t know.

(Note: The following usages are for Australians. They might change elsewhere in the world, so please — please — do not confuse me by telling me it’s done differently elsewhere. I need to know how it’s done in my own country.)

Laid, Lain

Laid is the past tense of the verb to lay. You always lay something in some place. The hen laid an egg; She laid the plates on the table.

Lain is the past tense of the verb to lie. You lie or rest somewhere. I have lain on the bed for a rest.

Lay, Lie

Lay is a verb meaning to put something down. To lay a path in the garden.

Lie is a verb meaning to “lie down”, “to be at rest”. It is dangerous to lie in the sun. It can also mean to tell an untruth. Do not lie to me. Lie can also be a noun. That is a lie; you know it is untrue.

Source: The Foundation Grammar Dictionary by Gordon Winch

Grammar: The Basics

The other day I shared some more unusual grammar terms with you. Today, I think we’ll return to the basics, because if you don’t know these…we’ve got a problem.

Adjective – is a describing word. It adds meaning to a noun or pronoun. fast car; windy day.

Adverb – adds meaning to a verb or another adverb. very humid; too hot.

Noun – is the name of a person, place or thing. Karen; Australia; computer; happiness. ie Karen came to Australia in 1969. Messing around on her computer brings her happiness.

Pronoun – is used in place of a noun. He is mine.

Verb – is a doing, being or having word. The dog ate his food; We are happy; They have a new teacher.

Grammar Meanings

Absolute Word – is complete in itself; it cannot be more or less. The judges decision is final. You cannot say or write more final. Some other absolute words are perfect, correct, alive, unique.

Alliteration – is the repetition of the first sounds in words. The fair breeze blew, the white form flew; seven stately stallions.

Antonyms – are words that have the opposite meaning. Good, bad; big, small; happy, sad.

Bound Morpheme – is an affix (prefix or suffix) that changes the grammar or meaning of a word but cannot stand by itself. Anti-, antiseptic; -ly, smoothly.

Classifying Adjective – is a describing word that tells us the class of the noun it describes. gum trees; Holden cars.

Compound Word – consists of two or more words joined together. They can be completely joined, as in snowman and eggplant or separated by a hyphen, as in, go-cart and jack-in-the-box. A compound word can be a noun, as already shown, or an adjective, like red-hot, or a verb, such as overtake. A compound word has a different meaning from each of its parts.

Embedded Clause – A subordinate clause within a principal clause. The girl who sat near me was my friend. (I’d be inclined to use commas with this example.)

Interjection – is an exclamatory word, that interrupts the flow of conversation, such as Wow!, Oops! and my personal favourite, Yoohoo!. It usually shows strong feeling and is followed by an exclamation mark.

Onomatopoeia – is a device in which the word’s meaning is suggested by the sound of the word. Screech, slither, scratch, crunch.

Getting it Right

I wrote this for the Writers Email Group and thought I’d put it here too.

I don’t swear…no, that’s not right, I rarely swear. If I do, people know I’m seriously angry…and run. Yet I know lots and lots of people, including women (and children), who swear on a daily basis (no matter what their emotional state). I work with all men, they swear…a lot. They try to control it when I’m around, but I hear much more than they think I do. In other words, I’m used to hearing swear words. And I’ll say now, that I don’t think less of a person if they do swear. It’s a part of life. A huge percentage of people swear in one form or another every, single day.

Right, what’s this got to do with “getting it right”.

I’m a reader. I read several genres. When I read horror, I expect to see some swearing because it’s part of the genre (as long as there isn’t too much), but with other genres (especially fantasy) I don’t like seeing swear words. I’ll put up with three or four times during the whole novel, but if it’s on every page or two then it annoys me. If it’s every paragraph, I’ll put the book down and will never read that author again.

Yet, swearing is a firm part of life and if a writer is “getting it right” doesn’t it mean that every sentence of dialogue will have a swear word in it? I accept it in life, but I don’t accept it in books.

I’m a writer, and it’s drummed into me to get the facts right, make it realistic. Yet, a manuscript filled with swear words will have a very narrow market. A young adult manuscript with the same number of swear words will find itselt out of the market altogether because part of the publisher’s marketing is to try and sell the book to schools. This brings them a huge revenue, so, if they think the book is not suitable for this market, this will make them look for a manuscript that does fit their requirements. Remember, it’s all about money.

This means that “getting it right” is only true when it suits the publishers and/or the critics, which leaves the writer in a bind, because it’s up to the writer to decide how much “getting it right” is the right thing to do.

Personally, although I know swearing is a normal part of our lives, I would prefer to escape from it in my reading adventures. Using those words when it’s appropriate is one thing, but I think showing your character’s anger without the use of certain words is the way a true writer gets the message across.

What do you think?