The Writing Life
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The greatest novel in the history of the
will never reach publication if the author
does not have a decent
command of the English language. If your
grammar needs a brushup,
consider taking a grammar course at your
local college, or at least
invest in a good grammar text and study it.
Most of the manuscripts we
as editors see have decent grammar. However,
there are still some
common mistakes that pop up too often. We've
compiled the following
grammar tips to help you improve your
- Maintain tense. Changing from past
present tense within a scene is (almost)
- Check spelling. With all the spell
features available, there is no excuse for
- Don't always trust spell check. Many
editors remove hyphens between compound
adjectives that precede a noun,
such as "well-known writer."
- Most of the time, punctuation goes
quotation marks. "Learning the correct
grammar," Sandy said, "can be
interesting." But there are exceptions.
- Use double quotation marks for
dialogue. When it
is necessary to make a quote within
dialogue, use single quotation
marks. "Sandy said, 'Watch using single
We also see certain words misused with
frequency. These include:
- Lay/Lie. Definitely the most common
error we run
into. And no wonder. In present tense, lay means
to cause to lie down or to place. It
requires an object. Example: "He laid his
hat next to his gloves,"
where laid (past tense of "lay") is the
verb and his hat is the object. Lie means
be or to place oneself in a reclining
position. Example: "He lies on
the bed pretending to sleep." There is no
object, nothing that further
explains what or who lies, because the
verb lie modifies the subject of
the sentence (in this case, he). But it is
past tense that trips up 80
percent of the writers we work with. The
past tense of lay is laid.
No sweat. BUT -- the past
tense of lie
is lay. Ugh! (Any wonder we
Present tense: She lays the
book on the table.
Past tense: She laid the
book on the table.
Present tense: She lies on
the sofa and enjoys the
Past tense: She lay on
the sofa and enjoyed the
- Alright/All right. Alright is
no longer considered an
acceptable word. All right
the only correct spelling.
- Then/Than. Then means a time or
accordingly. Than is a comparison.
- Affect/Effect. Affect is
usually a verb meaning "to influence." Effect is
a noun, meaning "result."
Drinking does not affect his
If fact, it seems to have no effect at
- Conscience/Conscious. Conscience is
a noun meaning having
a sense of right and wrong. Conscious is
an adjective meaning to be aware of.
- Have/ Of. Use have, not
after helping verbs such as could, would,
should, may and might. I should have (not
known that. Usually this
confusion occurs because of the
pronunciation of the contracted have
('ve). So, our example sentence
could have been written: I should've
If your grammar exceeds the
you make take literary license and "adjust"
the grammar as you see fit
as long as it serves an artistic purpose.
Such as using sentence
fragments like this one for emphasis.
However, if it doesn't serve a
purpose, use correct grammar so your reader
(and publisher) will
realize that you do understand the proper
way of doing it.
One important exception is
always okay to write dialogue the way in
which characters speak.
All of our editors have a superb grasp
Review our editorial
to see how we can help improve your writing.
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