Showing posts with label grammar. Show all posts
Showing posts with label grammar. Show all posts

Writing Tips on How to Spell a Word You Don't Know

It's probably happened to everyone at one time or another. You're writing and decide to use a word you're not familiar with - you don't know how to spell it. Well, the folks at Hubspot came up with some useful tips on how to figure out the spelling and they put those tips in an infograph.

Since this site is for writers and authors, I thought it'd be helpful.


Was this helpful? We'd sure appreciate knowing.


Two Ways to Format Your Manuscript
Think Your Way to Writing Success with Daily Affirmations
Getting Rid of Tattletale Words in Your Resume

More ABCs for the New Writer - F-J

If you are a new writer and you missed the A-E tips be sure to review them to get you started in your writing career.

F is for fear. 

It can be scary to begin a new endeavor. It's normal. But if it paralyzes us to the point of not moving forward, we will never be a successful writer.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Are you trying to be perfect? Nothing is perfect. 
  • Are you afraid of rejection? What one publisher rejects, another will accept.
  • Are you afraid of change? Me, too! You have to do it anyway. Watch what happens
G is for grammar.

Brush up on your grammar. A poorly written cover letter or query tells all. Be meticulous or else you may find your article or transcript submission passed over.

Thanks to the internet, grammar help is one click away.This site gives you 10 websites to assist you.

H is for hook.

To get your reader's attention and hold it, you've got to hook them with the first sentence.

Whether you are writing a book, magazine article, or resume - that first sentence is critical.

Start with a question, use descriptive words, or make the reader curious with some missing details.

  • Do you want to get in shape without going to the gym?
  • Swirling, sparkling snowflakes appeared to fall in slow motion under the yellow glow of the street lamp.
  • The air was thick with rotting garbage. We were afraid to find out what was behind the vine covered door.
I is for inspiration.

Sometimes we reach for the stars when there is no place like home.

What I mean is there is plenty to write about in your own life. You may not be aware of it.

My daughter is a photographer. When she met with the owner of a wedding site, the conversation revealed what her passion was: photographing children and families. It's not that she couldn't do weddings well, but she never realized what really inspired her and she had been doing it all along.

What are your experiences? 

What do you enjoy doing? 

Start out writing what you know. You will be amazed how effortlessly the words flow!

It doesn't stop there. In time, your interests will broaden and you will learn more about what interests you. I recently decided to take an online course on resume writing. I had done a few in the past for myself and family and enjoyed doing it. When I first started writing 4 years ago it wasn't in my mind. Recently, a resume job was posted on one of the job boards and it got me thinking. I live in proximity of 4 colleges. Advertising would be a breeze. And oh my goodness I like writing resumes! So, here we go!

J is for job boards.

As you work consistently, you are sure to connect with successful writers and authors online. I am thankful for them directing me toward reputable sites. is one of those valuable sites. Here is where you will find some tried and true job boards  to assist you in looking for freelance work.

Looking at job boards every day is part of a good routine for a successful writing career. I am amazed at the need for writers. It never ends. You are sure to find something you can do. Even if you are not sure, go for it anyway. You will feel accomplished as you regularly apply for jobs.

Next month we'll look at K - O. Stay tuned!

Please leave feedback in the comment section if you are a new writer and have tried one of my tips that have helped you.

 Image courtesy of  Naypong at


After raising and homeschooling her 8 children and teaching art classes for 10 years, Kathy has found time to pursue freelance writing. She enjoys writing magazine articles and more recently had her story, "One of a Kind", published in The Kids' ArkYou can find her passion to bring encouragement and hope to people of all ages at When It Hurts

Can You Speak Yoda? Grammarly Shows You How

Our friends over at have another infographic for us - this one a take on Star Wars.

We’re talking about modifiers (adjective, adverbs, modifying clauses) and objects, Yodified.

How does Yoda handle the following?

Modifiers and objects should be placed within a sentence?

Flexible subject-verb order?

And, do you think Yoda handles auxiliary in negation and lack of contractions?

This is a fun and interesting look at Yoda-speak and the English language. You’ve got to check it out.

Yodify your Grammar Infographic

There's even more information on the Grammarly post, so be sure to check it out!

*This infographic is attributed to


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You the Writer; You the Critiquer

Avoiding Common Punctuation Errors Part 5: Adjectives and Commas

Image by Peter Arkle

I'm back with more punctuation tips!

Commas between two adjectives

When you have two adjectives in a row, sometimes you put a comma between and sometimes you don't. The fancy grammar explanation has to do with whether the adjectives are coordinate or non-coordinate, and their underlying semantic categories, but you don't really need to know all that. All you need is the rule of thumb.

Rule of Thumb:

If you can REVERSE the two words or put AND between them, and it still sounds okay, you need the comma (to show that the adjectives are equal).

If you can't reverse or put AND, you shouldn't put a comma.

Example 1:
The slippery, slimy frog (good)
The slimy, slippery frog (good)
The slippery and slimy frog (good)
You need a comma between

Example 2;
The big foreign car (good)
The foreign big car (sounds weird and unnatural)
The big and foreign car (sounds a little weird)
Don't put a comma

NOTE: If you've done the tests and it's still not clear (maybe one test sounds a little awkward, but not totally wrong), it can probably go either way, depending on what you want to emphasize. Just make the call and then don't worry too much about it.


For each sentence, insert or delete commas between adjectives as necessary.

1) I hated the stupid iron bars on the windows.
2) She worked twelve hours a day in a cold wet cave.
3) He sang to his laughing, gurgling baby.
4) They ate delicious, ham sandwiches in a bright airy diner.
5) The sleek, silk dress must have cost a fortune.
6) The fluffy purring kitten softened his hard unyielding heart.
7) We suffered through the long boring meeting.
8) They all understood the complicated, geometry problem.
9) No one wanted the old, beat-up, lawn chair.
10) Samantha's wide, happy smile shone like the warm summer sun.

Practice ANSWERS (Highlight everything from here to "End Practice Answers" to reveal them.)
1) I hated the stupid iron bars on the windows. (Correct as is)
2) She worked twelve hours a day in a cold, wet cave.
3) He sang to his laughing, gurgling baby. (Correct as is)
4) They ate delicious ham sandwiches in a bright, airy diner.
5) The sleek silk dress must have cost a fortune. (This one's a little iffy, but probably you don't want a comma because "silk dress" is one unit.  If you think "dress" is independent, and "sleek" and "silk" modify it equally, you can put the comma.  If it were "silky," you'd surely put a comma)
6) The fluffy, purring kitten softened his hard, unyielding heart.
7) We suffered through the long, boring meeting.
8) They all understood the complicated geometry problem.
9) No one wanted the old, beat-up lawn chair. (the comma between "old" and "beat-up" is correct, but you can't reverse "beat-up" and "lawn" (The lawn, beat-up chair), so you don't need a comma there.
10) Samantha's wide, happy smile shone like the warm summer sun. (Correct as is)
End Practice Answers
Any you disagree with?  Let me know below.  Because we all know punctuation can be slippery.

For more:  
Avoiding Common Punctuation Errors Pt 1:  Commas Save Lives; the Vocative Comma
Avoiding Common Punctuation Errors Pt 2:  Commas and Periods in Dialogue
Avoiding Common Punctuation Errors Pt 3:  Commas with Participial Phrases
Avoiding Common Punctuation Errors Pt 4:  The Mysterious Case of the Missing Question Mark

Melinda Brasher currently teaches English as a second language in the beautiful Czech Republic.  She loves the sound of glaciers calving and the smell of old books.  Her travel articles and short fiction appear in Go NomadInternational LivingElectric SpecIntergalactic Medicine Show, and others.  For an e-book collection of some of her favorite published pieces, check out Leaving Home.  For something a little more medieval, read her YA fantasy novel, Far-KnowingVisit her online at

Midwest Review: "Highly Recommended" Book for Writers

Title: The Frugal Editor: From Your Query Letter to Final Manuscript to the Marketing of Your New Bestseller
Carolyn Howard-Johnson
First Edition Published by Red Engine Press, Branson, MO 2007
A multi award-winning book including USA Book News best professional book
Second Edition Published by HowToDoItFrugally, 2015
ISBN, Second Edition: 978-1505713117

Available The e-book, available from Kindle, was given a nod by Dan Poynter’s Global E-Book Award.
Also available as a paperback, published spring of 2015


Reviewed by Christy Tillery French for Christy’s Bookshelf at Midwest Book Review and featured in Jim Cox’s Midwest Newsletter

As the literary market continues to tighten its proverbial belt, today's writer must assume more of the responsibilities surrounding book publishing than ever before. No longer can a writer depend on a publisher or agent to accept a manuscript in need of editing, and submitting a manuscript that isn't as near perfect as possible will, in all probability, result in rejection. To the rescue comes acclaimed author Carolyn Howard-Johnson with The Frugal Editor, the latest in her How to Do It Frugally series.

This little gem is a must-have for any writer, published or not, bestselling or unknown. Filled with valuable tips, The Frugal Editor touches on all aspects of self-editing, such as how to spot common grammatical errors, from superfluous adverbs to confusing dangling participles, as well as how to organize the workspace, format the manuscript, and use Word's tools to the fullest. Also included are sample query and cover letters, and pointers on correcting intrusive taglines, when to use an ellipsis, and correct spacing, to name a few. The book takes the reader step-by-step through the editing process, from rough draft to galley. No questions are left unanswered, no topics left uncovered. This generous writer goes so far as to recommend resources through other books and websites, with plenty of advice from agents and editors.

The Frugal Editor is one of those reference books every writer should have by their computer for constant use and study. Highly recommended.

Christy Tillery French


Carolyn Howard-Johnson’s brings her experience as a publicist, journalist, marketer, and retailer to the advice she gives in her HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers and the classes she has taught for UCLA Extension’s world-renown Writers’ Program.

The first edition of The Frugal Book Promoter was named USA Book News’ “Best Professional Book” and won the coveted Irwin Award. Now in its second edition, it’s also a USA Book News award winner and received a nod from Dan Poynter’s Global Ebook Awards. Her The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success was also honored by USA Book News and won Readers’ Views Literary Award. Her marketing campaign for that book won the marketing award from New Generation Indie Book Awards. The second edition e-book was honored by Next Generation Indie Awards in the e-book category and by Dan Poynter's Global Ebook Awards. The second edition paperback will be released in spring of 2015.  


Avoiding Common Punctuation Errors Part 4: Question Marks

The Mysterious Case of the Missing (or Gratuitous) Question Mark

Missing Question Marks
Everyone knows that you should put a question mark after a question.  Sometimes, however, it simply gets forgotten.  This happens more frequently in the following situations, so keep an eye out for them, and be sure to end them with a question mark, as shown below.
-Long and convoluted questions
     What is the best time of year—and I’m talking about a normal year, not like that crazy one we had in 2012, with hurricanes in winter and snow in July—for mushroom hunting in France?
-Questions with downward intonation, making them feel more like statements.
     Do you prefer red or blue?
     We aren’t in Kansas anymore, are we?
-Questions that were statements in your first draft, and which you since reworded.  It’s easy to forget to switch the corresponding punctuation.

One way to help catch these missing marks is to read aloud.  This is especially useful in discovering overly long or complicated questions (and sentences).  Train yourself so that when you see the beginning of a question, you automatically look ahead to see if you have the required punctuation.

Gratuitous Question Marks
Perhaps even more disturbing than missing question marks are question marks where they don't belong.  Just as you've trained yourself to look for questions and make sure you have the accompanying punctuation, train yourself to stop when you see a question mark, go back, and decide whether or not you need it.  As you revise, look for the following common places to find gratuitous question marks, and make sure that you cut them out, as shown below. 
-“Wonder” statements
     I wonder if bears get hot in summer. 
     I often ask myself where my life is going. 
     I was wondering what time I could come by for a consultation.
-Statements of uncertainty.
     I don’t know where the president is. 
     I’m not sure if you’re supposed to add butter or flour first.
-Commands that feel like questions
     Tell me where you stashed the money. 
     Guess who I saw today in the supermarket.*
     Let me know if you need anything. 
-Reported and indirect questions. 
     The cop asked us what we were doing out so late at night. 
     The question is whether or not we should open a new branch office in Detroit. 
     I need to know who that man is. 

None of these are questions, grammatically, even if they have a sort of question feel.  They should thus not take question marks. 

If you really want a question mark, sometimes you can rephrase. 
I wonder:  do bears get hot in summer?
I’m not sure:  are you supposed to add butter or flour first? 
The question is:  should we open a new branch office in Detroit?

*Gray Areas: 

1)  “Guess what?”  This is debatable.  Some experts say that it’s a command, and should always be punctuated as such.  Others say that it depends on the intention.  If your character is just excited, and doesn’t really expect someone to guess, stick with the more correct period (or judiciously placed exclamation point).  If your character pauses for someone to actually guess, demanding a response like a regular question, consider breaking the rule and using a question mark.

2)  Polite requests.  “Would you shut the door?” vs “Would you shut the door.”  Again, many experts claim that this is actually a command, not a question, and thus should be punctuated with a period.  Others say that, grammatically, it’s a question, and should thus take a question mark.  Very long, complicated requests like this do well with periods.  With shorter requests, however, you’re less likely to jar your reader if you simply use a question mark.  Now if you want to jar your reader, that’s a whole other story, and a great use of a period.  See below.

Punctuation can help your subtlety

Example 1:
You have a scene where one character says, “Would you come in and shut the door.”
Now look at the same scene punctuated differently:  “Would you come in and shut the door?”

See the difference?  Without actually saying so, you’ve indicated in the first scene that your character is serious, or the situation’s serious, or he’s the type of person who never actually asks, but only demands. 

Example 2:
“John isn’t leaving, is he?”
“John isn’t leaving, is he.”

In the first scene, your character is worried because she hasn’t had the chance to say goodbye yet.  In the second, the shady punctuation hints that your character has just discovered that John isn’t leaving after all, and he’s disappointed.  You could also write this:  
“John isn’t leaving, is he?” Lionel asked dejectedly.
But which one is more subtle?

Other Question Marks
Of course, don’t forget that you can make statements into questions just by adding a question mark, and it’s completely legal.
We’re eating deer?
You stood in the rain all night?

Just don’t do it when you don’t mean to:  You deserve to have beautiful glowing skin?  Try our new product line.

You know the rules.  Now train your editing eyes to see the errors.  

For more:
Avoiding Common Punctuation Errors Pt 1:  Commas Save Lives; the Vocative Comma
Avoiding Common Punctuation Errors Pt 2:  Commas and Periods in Dialogue
Avoiding Common Punctuation Errors Pt 3:  Commas with Participial Phrases

Melinda Brasher spends her time writing, traveling, and teaching English abroad. She loves the sound of glaciers calving and the smell of old books. Her short fiction appears in Ellipsis Literature and Art, Enchanted Conversation, Intergalactic Medicine Show, and others. Visit her online at

Snuck Sneaked In

How did the word “snuck” sneak into the dictionary and into our “approved” form of language?

This word is one of my pet peeves, and if you are an editing client of mine, I will strongly suggest that you use the “proper” form “sneaked” unless it’s in dialogue.

I think my reaction stems from growing up in an isolated rural area where most people were not highly educated (no denigration intended—they were wonderful friends and neighbors and would do anything to help each other in times of need.

But a word like “snuck” that was used as slang by people who also said, “The kids had their pitcher took at school today,” is an indication of that same lack of education or care about proper English.

It’s like “ain’t.” That’s in the dictionary too, but it’s still not “proper” to use, except in slang dialogue.

According to, “snuck” is an irregular verb form that originated in the late 19th century dialect, but is now listed as the “simple past tense and past participle of sneak.” Merriam-Webster’s Etymology: akin to Old English snIcan to sneak along, Old Norse snIkja.

Here’s a link to an interesting article on “Sentence First: An Irishman’s Blog About the English Language"

And this is a snippet from The Word Detective’s Q&A, who seems to agree with me:
“Yes, ‘snuck’ is a real word, although it has always been classified as ‘substandard English.’ ‘Snuck’ first appeared in the 19th century as a regional variant of ‘sneaked,’ and is still considered colloquial English, but is apparently gaining in respectability among literate folk. Still, ‘snuck’ is not the sort of word to use on your resume, although ‘sneaked’ is usually not a big hit on resumes either, come to think of it. In general, however, my advice is to stick with ‘sneaked.’ Unless you're talking to Elvis, of course. I happen to know he says ‘snuck’."

What are some of your “pet peeve” words that have sneaked into the English Language?


A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in North-central Arizona. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, won the national WILLA Award. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.

How to be an instant grammar maven: a review of Grammarly

Let’s face it, none of us are perfect when it comes to spelling and grammar.  Although many word processing programs such as MS Word come with built in grammar and spell-checkers, they tend to be pretty simple and often hilariously wrong.  In an ideal world, you’d always write with a partner, checking each other’s spelling and grammar errors. Many people do just that, but it’s not a practical option for frequent postings like blogs, proposals, or even short stories if you’re writing these regularly.  Grammarly isn’t meant to substitute for a full-on edit, and certainly won’t suffice for a big piece of writing like a novel, which requires a professional proofreader, line and copy editor, but it’s perfect for blog posts, book reviews, emails and other quick pieces of writing, and is also a good first pass for anything longer and more complex.

Using it couldn’t be simpler.  You just go to the Grammarly website, drop your text into the box and click on “check your text”.  Within a few minutes (really!), the system goes through your text for a whole range of common grammatical errors including such things as sentence fragments, double negatives, mis-use of subordinate clauses, mis-matched tenses, run-on sentences (my personal issue), and lots more that you’ve probably forgotten since you studied grammar at school.  Of course, it also picks up spelling errors and does other clever things like checking your work for originality. It will even show you where the original is from if you’ve inadvertently lifted someone else’s work. I can think of a few infamous authors who should have used that feature. 

Some of the corrections are quite subtle and instead of just finding errors, Grammarly provides suggested solutions.  For example, in the first draft of this blog post, Grammarly found an instance where I’d used ‘and’ twice, and there were a number of suggestions for enhancing the work with better words and synonym suggestions, one of which was to change “it’s excellent and quite perfect” to just “quite perfect”. Some of my sentences were tagged as ‘wordy’ and suggestions were made for removing extraneous words like “really”. 

You can choose from a range of checking options including general, business, academic, Technical Creative, and Casual, each of which changes the overall heuristics, the synonyms suggested and the amount of rigour applied.   You can paste in your text online, or download a version for MS Office, which  allows you to check through a document with a single click on the “Check” box.  As someone who tends to write quickly and rather sloppily, and then mentally fix my own errors when I proofread, Grammarly is a reputation saver.  I use it now for almost everything I write, and the result is a lot less embarrassing errors, and better copy.  Best of all, Grammarly keeps track of your errors and creates a personal writing handbook that you can use to become a better writer.  Just review your handbook to see the errors you tend to keep repeating and you can make a conscious effort to eliminate them, learn about the parts of grammar usage that keep tripping you up, and improve your overall skills.  

As the premium version of Grammarly is a subscription based product, it’s not particularly cheap.  Annual subscriptions run around $140, or $30 a month, but if you use it to check everything you write, the per unit price is pretty reasonable.  Saving your reputation from embarrassing grammar mistakes (I’ve certainly made a few doozies) especially in such things as query letters, and ultimately improving your English is priceless.  You can take a free trial of the premium version at the Grammarlysite and can also get hold of Grammarly Lite, which will check anything you write on the internet (including your social media posts) for free.  

My PhotoMagdalena Ball is the author of the novels Black Cow and Sleep Before Evening, the poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Quark Soup, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Sublime Planet, Deeper Into the Pond, Blooming Red, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and Imagining the Future. She also runs a radio show, The Compulsive Reader Talks. Find out more about Magdalena at

Writing Tip: Critiques are Essential

Having been a moderator of a children's writing critique group and a reviewer for multiple genre as well as an editor and ghostwriter, I read a number of manuscripts and books. Reading both well written books and books that lack polish, it's easy to tell which authors haven't bothered to have their work critiqued or edited.

Seeing the unnecessary and unprofessional mistakes of writers publishing unpolished work, I always stress the importance of belonging to a critique group. Even experienced authors depend on the unique perspective and extra eyes that each critique member provides.

The critique group can catch a number of potential problems with your manuscript, such as:

1. Grammatical errors
2. Holes in your story
3. Unclear sentences, paragraphs, or dialogue
4. The forward movement of the story
5. Overuse of a particular word, adjectives, and adverbs
6. Unnecessary words to eliminate for a tight story
7. Unnecessary or excessive scenes that should be eliminated to ensure a tight story
8. Character continuity
9. Manuscript formatting
10. Head hopping

The list goes on and on. And, there are even more potential problems to be watched out for when writing for children. It's near impossible for even an experienced writer to catch all of his or her own errors.

Your critique partners will also provide suggestions and guidance. Note here, it is up to you whether to heed those suggestion and comments, but if all the members of your group suggest you rewrite a particular sentence for clarity, hopefully a light will go off and you'll pay attention.

Along with having those extras sets of eyes to help you along, you will begin to see your own writing improve. You will also be able to find your own errors and those of others much quicker. This will help you become a better and more confident writer.

Now, while the critique group does not take the place of an editor, they do help you get to the point where you think you're ready for submission. At this point, it is always advisable to seek an editor to catch what you and your critique group missed. And, believe me, there will be something in your manuscript that wasn't picked up on.

When looking into joining a critique group, be sure the group has both new and experienced writers. The experienced writers will help you hone your craft through their critiques of your work.

If you haven’t already, join a critique group today.

Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author and children's ghostwriter. She is also an author/writer online platform instructor with WOW! Women on Writing.

You can check out Karen’s e-classes through WOW! at:

And, be sure to connect with Karen at:


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Authors Need to be Realistic

By Terry Whalin  @terrywhalin Over the years, I’ve met many passionate writers. One brand new writer told me, “My book is going to be a best...