Friday, March 9, 2012

Ima teachu sum gramma! #writetip

This week in my critique group we had some schooling by our friendly neighborhood grammar nazi. (*waves* Hi, Libby)
She knows her stuff. Most of the seeds she plants in our brains are about improving our punctuation. Because of her, I know I've improved my WIP. Now agents and editors won't laugh at it. Well, not because of my punctuation anyway.
I think there are a lot of writers out there need help with grammar. Those of us educated in the good ole US of A, didn't get much tutoring in this area at school. Not a whole lot in my thirteen years at a variety of elementary schools, junior highs or high schools were spent diagramming sentences.
If you're like me you got some of your best grammar knowledge from Schoolhouse Rock. It took me five years of teaching to be clear on adverbs. Should've just watched this again.

Not even in the six (yeah, I said six) years I spent in college (that's University to you Commonwealth English speakers) did I have an English grammar class. And I was an English major.

I didn't learn my aspects and tenses until I went to Europe to become and English teacher. Now I know my present perfect from my past continuous and my third conditional from my butt.

Still, most of Eats Shoots and Leaves goes over my head. Punctuation is just not my thing.

One of my favorite resources for grammar-flub fixes is Mignon Fogerty's Grammar Girl series. I started listening to her podcasts about six years ago and now I know the difference between lay and lie.  Her example is the song Lay down Sally. Lay means to hold something and set it down. So if we take this song grammatically it means the singer was asking someone to go over, grab poor Sally and flop her down on the bed. Maybe he was a voyeur. But "Lie down Sally" just doesn't have the same ring to it.

I don't often have a problem with using the correct word. However, effect and affect continue to elude me no matter how many times grammar girl tells me some fun mnemonic to remember which to use when.
Here's a fun little chart I found for confused words.

15 Grammar Goofs That Make You Look Silly
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Triple points for including a zombie in their tips.

There are gajillions of other resources out there. If you don't have a go to, and you are a writer, get one.
There isn't a whole lot available for free from Amazon that wasn't used in say, the eighteenth century grammar school. This one isn't too bad.

How to Speak and Write Correctly
I'm a transformational grammarian, meaning I believe the English language is figuratively a living, breathing organism, and thus changes, or transforms over time. Old grammar rules are lost or ignored over time and new uses for words and grammar are developed. For example - 'ain't'. 
Now, you know your mama told you this isn't a word and you shouldn't use it, right? Well in fact it is a word. It originally debuted in the English language as a contraction of 'am' and 'not', and was used primarily but the upper crust of society. 
"I ain't going to tell you how to speak correctly." but not "You ain't eating that pie." 
However over the past thirty or forty years 'ain't' has been used more and more as any form of the verb 'to be' (am, are, is, etc) + 'not'. A prescriptive grammarian (read: grammar snob who wishes we all still spoke Latin) would say you can not use the word ain't, but the rest of the world accepts it in slang and informal language.
How to Speak and Write Correctly is a bit outdated, and prescriptive, but lots of the rules still apply. If you're really hard up for a grammar guide, one-click this one.
I give it three stars.

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