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I’ve seen this topic come up quite often among amateur writers and people tend to give a confuse mix of advice. So should you use a prologue or not? Well, that depends.

The biggest problem here is that the majority of people don’t know how to use a prologue, so the first step for us is to determine a working definition to use. There’s a variety of literal and technical definitions floating around the internet but I stand by my own (as I consider it the best amalgamation of the technical and practical). Before I give my definition though, let’s go through some history (so we can understand the technical side).

 

The term is from the Greek prologos formed by pro, meaning “before,” and logos, meaning “speech.”

 

In ancient Greek tragedy, the prologue was the part of a play that set forth the subject of the drama before the chorus entered.

Why is this so important? A lot of amateur writers are using their prologue to start telling the story. That’s not a prologue, that’s your chapter one. The prologue has to “set forth the subject”. What does that mean? It needs to introduce   the context of the story and it has to be separate to your story (otherwise it’s chapter one).

So what is a prologue? It is a distinct and separate entity that introduces a story by providing information necessary for the reader to understand the text.

By nature, a prologue should be a little bit of an info dump. To “set forth the subject”, you must provide contextual information. Other information acceptable in a prologue would be back story/history and any particular quirks of your world that will clarify things to the reader (if I start writing about angels, the reader would be confused why the floors of this city are puffy white clouds). It should never connect with your chapter one smoothly, if it does then your prologue is your chapter one.

Now, why are prologues bad? Well, first of all, if you’re using it the wrong way you cast doubt on your credibility as a writer. Not a good first impression. Even if you do use it correctly, since prologues are generally info dumps by necessity, your first impression still ends up being somewhat boring. Admittedly, I’m a fan of diving into the heart of things but that doesn’t mean you have to start off with an action scene, it just means you need to open with a hook – your reader has a plethora of other books they could read, give them a reason to read yours.

Finally, I’ve been informed by a few authors and editors that prologues are generally skipped by literary agents. Other readers also tell me that they skip prologues too (though personally I read them). The general consensus of the writing world is that prologues can and should be avoided where possible. If you don’t believe me, Google “prologue bad” and you’ll find lists of published authors, writing sites and editors supporting my statement.

Perhaps the most cogent example I can give is an example from the Greek tragedy “Medea” by Euripides. As prologues were basically invented at this time for these plays, this is a fitting example. The prologue to Medea features one of the nurses talking to herself (technically, to the audience through the fourth wall) and summarising the past events leading up to this very moment (Jason’s quests and how Medea has helped him, only to be met with betrayal). This back story is necessary for the audience to understand Medea’s grief stricken state, and the psychological damage required for her to eventually commit infanticide as revenge. Without this prologue, the play would just be about a psychotic child-killing mother, but with the prologue, we understand the emotional complexity at play, adding layers and depth to the story, climaxing at the point where Medea snaps under the pressure. The fact that the nurse is relaying this information as a soliloquy instantly sets it apart from the rest of the play, so we know it is a distinct, separate entity. This is what a prologue should be – so please, use your prologues correctly.

Purple and Beige Prose:

“Brevity is the soul of wit”

– William Shakespeare.

I’ve made a post before that overlaps with this but in the interests of keeping things tidy, I thought I’d make a more extensive post specifically on this topic.

These are the two extremes of a spectrum of broad stylistic writing styles. That’s not to say your writing style is encompassed entirely as either “purple” or “beige”, but your style will definitely lean towards one of these in some aspects.

Purple prose is the most commonly known one out of the two as it is often used as a derogatory comment on the writing style (whereas not many people write with beige prose, and even if you do, it’s not entirely a bad thing). Here’s a bit of history first; the term “purple prose” originates from a quote by the Roman poet Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus, 65-8 BC) where he likened writing in purple prose to one sewing purple patches on to one’s clothing. The implication is that purple prose is too flowery and dazzling to fit smoothly into a narration of a story. It’s just overkill, like cutting your bread with a chainsaw. My favourite description of purple prose is “it’s as if the author made babies with a thesaurus”, but the easiest way to demonstrate what purple prose is would be an example. I’m very bad at writing purple prose because my brain rejects it, so I took an example off the internet and spruced it up.

The disembowelled mercenary crumpled lifeless from this leather saddle ornamented with brilliant red rubies, and sank to the clouded sward, sprinkling the parched ochre dust with crimson droplets of his precious escaping life fluid.

If you can’t see the problem yet, I worry for you. Let’s assume this needs explanation, for the sake of analysis. First of all, there are enough words in that sentence to make three sentences. Second of all, there are too many unnecessary adjectives and it just feels like you’re trying too hard (life fluid is hilarious). The true artist makes the difficult look easy – if you’re struggling to depict a man falling off his horse, you’re struggling as a writer. Finally, this sentence takes too long to read, destroying all sense of pace in the story. When you have a scene of someone dying so dramatically, you want as much impact and pace as possible, not a ridiculous essay about his death.

Beige prose:

At the opposite of the spectrum we have beige prose, which is really defined by a minimalistic style of writing – often with sentence fragments. It delivers short sentences with high impact, but over-use can lead to fragmented and disjointed narrative.

Beige prose? Witty when effective. Otherwise, dull. Use carefully.

Consistently writing in purple prose will allow the reader to adjust – typically the reader will just skim over your sentences for the general gist of what’s happening. Trust me, not many people will belabour every individual word. With beige prose, it’s not as easy to adjust. An entire book written in disjointed sentences will be jarring to the reader. I only use short sentences during scenes that require pace, such as action scenes.

I remember an article a while back condemning our future generations to a world where English literacy has suffered at all levels – particularly spelling. The cause is technology’s “auto-correct”.

In the interests of keeping English literacy at an acceptable level, I’m going to tell you 10 words that people still can’t seem to spell and how I remember it. It would suck to survive a massive global recession and be remembered just for butchering the English language.

This overlaps a bit with one of my other posts so I’ll try to make these words different.

  1. Since we’re talking about misspelled words, let’s start with that: Misspelled. Remember it this way – the prefix “mis” alludes to being wrong. “Mispelled” would be wrongly “pelled”. In the same way, it’s misstep not “mistep”.
  2. Next up is accommodate. It’s double “c” double “m”. Straight forward enough – if you’re not sure just double them because there’s enough room to accommodate them all.
  3. Professor is a crowd favourite. It’s often the butt of jokes on TV shows. I just think of the short term “Prof.” and consider that all the “f” I need.
  4. This one is definitely a problem. People are always saying “definately”. This is mostly due to how people pronounce the word these days. Remember it this way: the word “finite” is in it.
  5. A lot and never mind are both two separate words! Stop combining them! I think the culprit here is the word “anyway” which makes you think you can combine all the words that you say quickly.
  6. Don’t be embarrassed when spelling this word – just remember it’s double “r” and double “s”.
  7. Per se does not come from English (it’s Latin), so remember, it’s not “per say”.
  8. Lightning is the electrical discharge. Lightening is the process of making something lighter. Remember this by remembering that you “lighten” something.
  9. A principal is the position for a person and he is not your pal. It’s the principle of the matter.
  10. It’s separate. Remember the “par”!

I was cleaning out my computer when I found a few old poems I wrote as a kid. I’m going to leave them here so I can delete them off my computer; just for laughs and memories. The majority of these were from my last year in primary school to my junior years in high school.

Now, I’ve never been a big fan of poetry, preferring full blown novel-length stories, but I remember a few melodramatic emotions that spurred me into writing some of these. It really reminds me how sensitive a teenager is to his/her environment. These are all really short because – like I said – I wasn’t big on poetry, and I just wanted maximal emotional release in as few words as possible. Don’t get the wrong idea; not all of these are about my misfortune with girls. However, you’re free to interpret them as you like. That’s the beauty of the written language. Sometimes the words are different but the emotions are the same.

Reality:

Sometimes when I wake, I feel like I’m dreaming,

And somewhere, some place, the real me is screaming.

Sometimes I wonder, if I close my eyes,

Whether or not the real me dies,

And a dream of me awakens on the other side.

Fleeting:

A haunting thought,

And wistful wish,

Of a girl I ought,

Not to miss.

Soliloquy:

She speaks and I freeze.

A hundred words crash around my head.

Quick, say something before she sees!

But there’s so much I want to say,

Like how strongly I feel when I’m with you.

But there’s just no way.

I can’t find the words; I just want to sigh.

Because you don’t even realise what

Goes through my head every time I say “Hi”.

Rose:

You showed me that love was a rose,

A passionate red that never warns,

But really, to me that just shows,

That nobody sees the thorns.

Tailor:

Sailor, sailor, so star-crossed,

You never told me I was lost.

The ocean’s black sucks all my soul,

Until I no longer know my role.

Now I wander, seeking one who might,

Aid me in my lonely plight.

So tailor, tailor, seam by seam,

Unravel this tangled heart with me.

Book: 

She smiles, he frowns.

They’re on different pages, but is it the same book?

He talks, she freezes.

There’s something too serious in his look.

She leaves, he waits.

But she doesn’t come back.

Now they’re on the same page, but it’s two different books.

Just two stories that happened to cross paths.

Preamble:

Writing fiction, whether it be fanfiction or original fiction, is a hobby that has experienced a recent resurgence in popularity. I might attribute this spike in popularity to the recent success of some mediocre and terrible books, but that’s a rant I’ll have to save for later. Another factor influencing this trend is the ability to self-publish. Unfortunately, self-publishing has no quality control, and is really just the dead-end for a deadbeat writer, like a basketball player resorting to coaching primary school kids. The ultimate goal has, and always will be, to be published by a real publishing house with the means to distribute your book and pay you royalties (as opposed to self-publishing where you pay to get your book published).

Anyway, I’m a regular on a number of writing forums and have given quite a few hopefuls some advice ranging from advanced writing concepts to simple techniques. Since it’s inevitable that there will be a large increase in self-proclaimed writers (or god-forbid, authors), I figured that it was in my best interests to compile a quick 5 tips so that the stuff I’m reading in the future will – hopefully – be a little less crappy. Keep in mind these tips apply for all fiction but not necessarily academic writing – so those of you who need to do short stories at school can also boost your marks with these tips.

Fiction Writing Tips:

1. Grammar: Surprised? You wouldn’t believe how many stories are plagued by basic errors. Well this actually includes all basic English syntax. Please, if you’re going to write, make sure you have a high level (if not perfect) of spelling, punctuation and grammar. It’s infuriating trying to read something that looks as if it belongs to a primary school student with an F in English. It’s worse when you call yourself a writer with that kind of English. Not only does poor syntax distract from the story, it is really just a sign that you don’t care or are not good enough to be writing.

2. Consistency: This one is more applicable for longer stories (like novels) but should be a logical aspect of any piece of writing. Keep it consistent. If you say your main character is a red-headed girl, don’t turn her into a blonde. That should be obvious. The hard bit comes when you have a world and landscape that you need to keep consistent. Directions, environment and physical features need to be the same throughout the text. For this, I like to keep a little document that quickly summarises these things (for example: City X, west of City Y, Forest of the Lost in between, mountains to the north, etc.). Even more difficult is your characterisation. You need to be firmly aware what kind of character you’re creating so you don’t end up with the melancholy introvert being the party animal – and so you don’t end up with an entire cast of characters that are exactly the same. This relates to the category below.

3. Characters: Some of you may have heard the term “Mary Sue” before. A Sue is basically a character that is unrealistic within the mechanics of your fictional world. The more things your character has that defies reality, the closer it is to a Sue. For example, in a medieval world, your character would be pushing it if he was a cyborg with laser weapons. If your character is a beautiful girl who is good at all sports and a professional in all fields of science and knows how to overpower trained hitmen whilst also being loved by every guy she meets, then yes, you have a Sue and you’re also probably projecting some of your insecurity on to your own character.

The key to characterisation is focusing on a few key personality traits and making that character unique. Your story will be more realistic and there’ll be more depth to the environment if there’s a wide range of characters with their own unique identity. This is very difficult to achieve and is something I’ve always had to struggle with, but your goal is to avoid having a cast of characters that are identical to each other. If you remove the names of your characters and judge them solely by how they act and talk, can you tell the difference? Mannerisms and key personality traits are an advanced set of writing techniques that you can incorporate into your characters to make them stand out from the others.

Remember, humans are unique, you need to demonstrate this through your characters.

“If everyone is Han Solo, then nobody is Han Solo” – Cleveland Brown Jr.

4. Pace: There’s a term in writing known as “purple prose“. It basically means over-the-top flowery writing. I remember an amusing quote from a writing website that described purple prose as if the writer had made love to a thesaurus. The reason why purple prose is bad is because it kills all sense of pace in your story. You can’t capture the heat of a battle when you’re describing birds chirping and what not. Let me demonstrate:

“The soldiers formed up ranks and stared each other down across the no-man’s land. Two veritable walls of steel and flesh were about to collide in a bloody clash, but Hero couldn’t feel any fear as he only felt beauty. A swallow dipped across the divide and, as if sensing impending danger, pulled up quickly in a graceful arch. As they men charged, Hero could see the morning’s dew glistening on the grass, and the little shimmering lights that were flung through the air as the soldiers trampled past. The gentle kiss of the breeze was a direct contrast to the blood curling war cries and the sounds of death, and as he drew his elegant long sword, he could see deer bounding away in fear.”

Ok, so I’m not very good at purple prose because I instinctively shy away from it, but the point is – why is Hero noticing all this random crap when he’s about to enter a life-or-death situation? Wouldn’t it be more realistic and appropriate for him to be noticing his emotions and those of the terrified men around him? There’s no sense of urgency when you’re describing random things that are irrelevant to the matter at hand.

So, how do you create pace? Well, first avoid irrelevant details. If you’re writing a scene, focus on the purpose of that scene and write in a way that builds the scene and makes it stronger. If the purpose of this scene is for Hero to end up surrounded by the enemy and the corpses of his friends, then go for gritty and write the damn scene. No one cares that there was a gentle breeze kissing him, but they do care what kind of emotions were rushing through Hero, as well as the fighting itself. Second, play with sentence length. Length can play a huge role in creating pace, and even using sentence fragments is acceptable (though technically incorrect English, sentence fragments are a writing technique to generate pace). For example consider this: (By the way, “c.f.” means “compared to”)

“He could smell smoke and turned to see fire bursting through the windows to blossom out across the walls, consuming the manor in a blazing inferno.”

c.f.

“He could smell smoke and turned to see fire bursting through the windows. Flames blossomed across the walls and consumed the manor in a blazing inferno.”

c.f.

“He could smell smoke. Turning, he saw fire burst through the windows. It blossomed across the walls and consumed the manor in a blazing inferno.”

c.f.

“He smelled smoke. Turning, he saw fire burst through the windows. It blossomed across the walls and consumed the manor.”

Hopefully you can see the difference, if not between each example than between the first and last. Essentially, short sentences create impact and a sense of urgency. The first example feel as if the character is just standing there observing this fire whereas the last example has a sense of urgency. Sometimes this means going easy on the adjectives. Just remember, sometimes pace is more important than description.

5. Diction: In writing, diction is essentially your choice of words. You can make a huge difference by avoiding obscure, generic words. Examples of these words are: good, happy, take, read, walk, look, thing, and book. Now let me explain – first, these words are often unavoidable and are perfectly good words in the right context. However, when you’re trying to add that extra sheen to your writing, you should attempt to substitute these words where applicable. The reason is because these words lack detail and emotion. What kind of book? How does she take the book? Is there any emotion when she takes it? When she reads it?

Here’s an example from one of the forums: “She took the pieces of paper and read over them.” Now I’m going to transform this sentence, step by step, keeping in mind the main concepts in diction – focus on detail and emotion.

“She took the pieces of paper and read over them.”

c.f.

“She took the papers and read them.”

c.f.

“She snatched the papers and read them.”

c.f.

“She snatched the papers off his table and began to read them.”

c.f.

“She snatched the treatises off his table and began perusing.”

c.f.

“With keen anticipation, she snatched the treatises off his table and began perusing.”

As you should be to see, we’ve turned a generic sentence with no detail or emotion into one that conveys a sense of urgency and excitement. “Snatch” instead of “take” creates pace and anticipation. “Treatises” instead of “papers” tells us the nature of this anticipation is probably due to an academic discovery. “Peruse” instead of “read” tells us how absorbed the character is and heightens the sense of excitement, as well as conveying a bit of disbelief.

As I didn’t get to include as many idioms as I would have liked in the last post, this is a continuation on the last one.

In other news, getting Freshly Pressed in under 4 weeks of starting this blog was pretty exciting, so I did a bit of re-organising. As you can see on the left, it’s now easier to navigate to the category you’re interested in reading. I’ve made etymology its own category as I plan to go into not just expressions, but weird words and names in the future.

Without further ado, here are a few more idioms (some of these were mentioned in the comments of the previous post, to which I give my thanks and recognition; I have added a bit of research to flesh these out):

Cold Shoulder: To distance oneself from by displaying coldness or indifference.

There is some dispute over the etymology of this expression, with a commonly held belief being that visitors who overstayed their welcome at one’s house were served only a “cold shoulder of mutton”. Whilst appearing in many etymology texts, there is a noticeable lack of supporting evidence for this theory and it is thus considered “folk etymology”. The first example of this term can be found in The Antiquary (Sir Walter Scott, 1816):

The Countess’s dislike didna gang farther at first than just showing o’ the cauld shouther.

In his text, Scott uses the term “shouther” (Scottish dialect for shoulder if you were wondering) to refer to exactly that – the shoulder. There is no reference to food anywhere, though plenty of references to shoulders:

… they stood shouther to shouther.

A more compelling evidence for the common day usage of this term can be found in his later work St. Ronan’s Well (1824):

I must tip him the cold shoulder, or he will be pestering me eternally.

It is assumed that he coined this term himself and the phrase began appearing frequently after the 1820s.

Raining Cats and Dogs: Raining very heavily.

This one has no definitive origin, though a lot of folk etymology surrounds the phrase. Since I can’t really tell you where this expression came from, I can only speculate based on evidence.

One claim is that in the 16th century, the family pet would crawl into the thatched roof of a house to hide from the rain and would fall through the roof when the rain was heavy enough.

Another claim is that, due to the primitive drainage systems of the 17th century, sewers would spew out their contents during heavy rain, including the corpses of animals that had accumulated in them. Whilst it is unsure that the phrase came from this origin, the phenomenon itself is documented and appears in the poem Description of a City Shower (Jonathan Swift, 1710):

Drowned puppies, stinking sprats, all drenched in mud,/Dead cats and turnip-tops come tumbling down the flood

Another possibility is the corruption of the Greek word Katadoupoi, referring to waterfalls of the Nile and reflected through the old French word catadoupe, meaning waterfall. It is suggested that there is no logical explanation, and the term simply became popular due to humour, such as other similar phrases like “raining pitchforks”.

As for me, I go by the earliest evidence we can find, found in the comedy The City Wit or the Woman Wears the Breeches (Richard Brome, 1653) where it is said:

It shall raine … Dogs and Polecats

While a polecat is not biologically a cat (feline species), it’s not hard to imagine this fact being overlooked over time. The term itself first appeared word for word in A Complete Collection of Polite and Ingenious Conversation (Jonathan Swift, 1738):

I know Sir John will go, though he was sure it would rain cats and dogs.

Based on the fact that Swift mentioned dead animals during heavy rain in his earlier poem, I’m inclined to believe that the phrase originated from this phenomena.

Sleep tight; don’t let the bed bugs bite: Sleep well

Many of you may recognise this from the old nursery rhyme (you can Google this rhyme yourself if you want it), but the meaning of the term is twofold.

First, sleep tight referred to the old beds before mattresses existed. Beds were elevated rectangular frames with ropes tied across in a weave for the sleeper to lie on. Obviously, knowing this, sleep tight refers to not having these ropes sag and drop the occupant to the floor (tight meaning the ropes were tight, in case you missed the nuance). According to historian Dr. Jerry Lee Cross, the “sleep tight” is common knowledge amongst historians as the modern bed is little over a hundred years old.

As for the bed bugs; well they exist. The scientific name for the blood sucking insect is Cimex lectularius. There were some folk practices for sleeping in a way that avoided these bed bugs from feasting on you. As the bugs are wingless, it was common practice to put cans on the bedposts with kerosene (like a moat) so that the bugs wouldn’t climb across. They also had to avoid letting their sheets touch the floor, lest the bugs climb up that way. Curiously enough, this may have programmed the sheet-floor response into us. I’m not sure how many others experience this but as soon as my blankets touch the floor I yank them back up. It’s not that I think my floor is dirty, I just don’t like my blankets on them.

Well this post got longer than I expected and it’s only three idioms but I’ll cut it short here. Tune in later for another instalment!

The English language is full of strange idioms, many of them that we use without understanding how that phrase came to being. I only have time for a few but I might add more later. Let’s take a look at them shall we?

Train of thought: The process and direction of one’s thoughts

From the early 14th century, the word “train” meant a “drawing out or delay” of something. In the mid-15th century, the word evolved to include a “retinue or procession”. The first example of the term “train of thought” was attested in the 1650s whereas the first use of the word “train” in the sense of a locomotive. As a result, the idiom “train of thought” has nothing to do with trains (the transport) and is more likely to derive from a “delay” of a “procession” of “thought” (hence losing your train of thought).

Cup of Joe: Coffee

There are a few theories on this one. I’ll talk about the two most popular ones here.

The first is attributed to Secretary of the US Navy, Josephus Daniels (1862-1948), for banning all US Navy ships from serving alcoholic beverages. As a result, sailors resorted to the next strongest drink: coffee.

The second is a reference to a “cup of jamoke” as coffee is a compound of Java and Mocha. The term jamoke has been used in popular culture before, hence a “cup of joe” being derived from a “cup of jamoke”.

Beat About/Around the Bush: To avoid getting to the point

The earliest example of this term was recorded around 1440 in the poem Generydes – A Romance in Seven-line Stanzas. 

Butt as it hath be sayde full long agoo,
Some bete the bussh and some the byrdes take.

This anonymous poem exists only as a single handwritten manuscript in the library of the Trinity College and Cambridge. The implication of this was that it was worse to “bete the bussh” than to “take the byrdes”. The next earliest example of the modern day phrasing of the term can be found in George Gascoigne’s Works, 1572.

He bet about the bush, whyles other caught the birds.

Technically, the correct phrase, if you stick to the origins of the word, would be “beat about the bush” but the incorrect US version took over in around 1980 so now most people say “beat around the bush”.

Gung Ho: Over-enthusiastic attitude towards doing something

This word was adapted from the Chinese military motto meaning “work together” (the word being kung ho). Lt. Col. Evans Carlson used this term frequently during World War II, where he would hold gung-ho meetings for his troops. They would discuss their problems and orders at these meetings. The expression became even more popular after the movie Gung Ho! in 1943 depicting a marine who did everything it took to get the job done.

Take the cake: Taking a prize symbolising victory or success

While it is widely believed that the phrase originated from the strutting competition known as the “cake-walk” in which the winner would have been said to have “taken the cake”, where cake was often the prize. This was popular within the black community of Southern USA in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

However, this expression has existed since the early 5th century BC where the Greeks used “take the cake” as a symbol for taking the prize. In 420 BC Aristophanes wrote “The Knights” (a criticism of the powerful Athenian politician Cleon).

If you surpass him in impudence the cake is ours.

The term “take the biscuit” is used the same way.

Early bird (takes the worm): Opportunity goes to those that are prepared

This is a tough one; the first recorded example can be found in John Ray’s A collection of English proverbs 1670, 1678.

The early bird catcheth the worm.

However, this suggests that the word was already in popular usage.

EDIT: I’ve added a part 2 with another three idioms.

Too often do I get carried away championing the Grammar Nazi cause that I forget to educate in a less scathing way. This is an odd habit of mine considering I used to be an English tutor – a patient and encouraging one too (I’d like to think).  I blame the impersonal nature of the internet for my blunt, borderline-mockery of those that commit errors relating to English syntax, although I’ve mentioned before that I generally don’t bother correcting people unless they’re trying to correct someone else – and getting it wrong. I’d like to think this absolves me of some of the gravity of my crime – I leave the oblivious alone and hunt the self-proclaimed Grammar Nazis who obviously need a bit of a lesson themselves.

Anyway, to amend my sins I’ll quickly throw together some of the most common errors that I see so that this can be used as a reference for those trying to fix up their English (to whom I give my utmost respect – props for your effort). I don’t believe absolutely perfect grammar is necessary, and I have many well-educated, intellectual peers who have problems with English syntax themselves, but a good degree of English writing is necessary for professional credibility, and also for its own sake. What I find hilarious are people who attempt to be deep and meaningful with incorrect grammar – it sort of undermines your credibility when you don’t know what you’re saying. I think it would be plagiarism for me to go linking funny grammar fail photos, so I’ll let you guys Google them yourselves. I also don’t want to offend my Facebook friends by using theirs. Suffice to say, in a world comprised mostly of idiots, it’s nice to be able to stand out by using proper English. By the way, for those who don’t know, in linguistics, syntax is the study of the principles and processes of constructing sentences. I use the word syntax because I don’t want to be incorrect by calling something a grammar mistake when it’s actually spelling, punctuation or diction, for example (so yes, the term Grammar Nazi is actually a misnomer, which I find ironic). Syntax sort of encompasses all of that.

Ok, I ramble a lot; my posts are way too long. If you avoid all of these errors, your English is passable and you should be left alone by all but the most seasoned of Grammar Nazis. These are off the top of my head so I may miss some conditions. Here’s the list:

10 Common English mistakes:

  1. You’re means “you are”. Your means something belongs to or is associated with you. (You’re always late to your classes.)
  2. An apostrophe followed by the letter “s” ( ‘s ) is used to indicate possession, except for the word “it’s” which means “it is”. I find this one particularly amusing because people often say “Grammar Nazi’s” to indicate plural, which is incorrect. To indicate the possessive of a plural, you put the apostrophe after the “s”. However, if it’s a name ending with “s”, you still put an apostrophe with an “s” after the name. (Jess’s grammar is horrible. It’s quite obvious that she never paid attention in school; the teacher claims that she always got on the other students’ nerves.) Edit: Actually, there’s some debate over whether you need to add the apostrophe “s” after a name ending with “s”. My academic view is that you should, but it would take up too much space to support that argument here. Suffice to say, just make sure you’re consistent in your own writing.
  3. To indicate the plural of a word, generally you add an “s” to the end. If the word ends with the letter “y”, you change the “y” into an “ie” and then put the “s” on the end (-ies). Some exceptions include the plural form of “he” and “she”, “that” and “this” (they, those and these, respectively). (The baby’s eyes glared sinisterly at the other babies. They stared back with equal menace.)
  4. Words should be capitalised at the beginning of every sentence and after ever period/full-stop. Names and significant terms should also be capitalised (which is why Grammar Nazi should be capitalised, as it is an established term used to name somebody who corrects other peoples’ grammar). This should be pretty obvious so I’m not going to give an example. If you can’t do this correctly, I honestly think you need to go back to primary school – and I say that without any hint of insult intended. Also, capitalising randomly in the middle of your words and sentences makes you look like a douche.
  5. Then is used to indicate the next event after a certain time. Than is used to compare things. (He read the poorly constructed comment, then realised that he was far more educated than the other guy.)
  6. A liar is somebody who lies. I have no freaking clue what a lier or a lyer is. The act of committing a lie is lying. 
  7. Affect is a verb; it is the action of causing an effect, which is a noun. (His atrocious grammar affected the Grammar Nazis’ sensibilities to good effect.)
  8. Farther is used to indicate a measurable distance. Further is used for abstract distances, such as time or events. (He ran farther ahead but could predict no further catastrophes).
  9. Multiple negatives can be used for dramatic effect, but most of the time people use them incorrectly. If you use more than one negative in a sentence, you’re complicating things and you’re cancelling out the effect of your negatives. “He hasn’t never done nothing wrong” actually means he always does things wrong. See how confusing and stupid that is? If you want to say “He’s never done anything wrong” then just freaking say it normally.
  10. I’m not actually sure what the proper name for this error is but please, never say “more better” or anything along those lines. More is an adjective. Adjectives are used to describe nouns and pronouns only. Better is an adverb. You do not use adjectives in front of adverbs. Just say “better”, it already has the meaning of “more” incorporated into it.

Obviously, there’s many more mistakes that people make, but if you can manage to avoid these then congratulations! You are now the top 10% (a statistic that I can’t back up with any sources, but seriously, you’re now special because you’re no longer just another incoherent writer whose comments speak poorly of your education).

As a reward, here are some cool words (in my opinion) that you can try using to make yourself sound even more awesome.

  1. Ubiquitous – Omnipresent; found everywhere
  2. Pulchritudinous – Physically pretty; appealing to look at
  3. Paradigm – A set of forms and processes that is used as a model or example
  4. Paramount – Of great importance or impact
  5. Tantamount – Equivalent; equal to
  6. Guile – Cunning; deceitful
  7. Machiavellian – Characterised by the traits of deceit, manipulation and cunning
  8. Effervescent – Bubbly; lively
  9. Comeuppance – A consequence that one has earned, usually negative
  10. Enthrall – To captivate; to hold power over

With great grammar comes great responsibility. Enjoy your newfound power and may it help you in your social life, academic life and professional life (and it probably will if you used to tork lyke dis).

To start with, here’s a funny picture I noticed at one of the beauty/cosmetic stores in the city. Some of you may already be chuckling to yourself, but I’ll work under the assumption that not everyone can see what’s wrong with this advertising poster.

“Beauty is never closer”.

That’s a very unfortunate description for a store that supposedly sells products to make the consumer more beautiful. I think what they were going for was something along the lines of “Beauty has never been closer”. What their little slogan means is that no matter what you do, you will never get closer to beauty – as in you will never be beautiful. “Here, buy these beauty products! They will never make you beautiful though. Thank you for your purchase, these products won’t make you any prettier. Hope to see you again.”

Not that I’m on a particularly zealous English literacy crusade or anything, but it sort of undermines your professional integrity when your advertisement completely contradicts the purpose of your business’s existence. It would be nice to see an increase in appreciation for quality writing though. I kind of feel as though the literary arts are dying, especially with the recent popularity of mediocre to appalling texts lately – but that’s a whole different rant.

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