Writing Tips: Avoiding Sentence Fragments.

We all know the basic elements of writing a sentence  in English: starting with a capital letter and finishing with some kind of ending punctuation appropriate to the form of the sentence, be it a statement, a question or an exclamation.

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Most people have mastered the fact that each sentence should communicate one key idea, and that they can use punctuation and conjunctions to extend that idea.

However, the use of sentence fragments is a problem I notice frequently, both as a teacher and as an avid reader. They are not the sole domain of people still learning to write: a novel I read over the weekend was littered with them, which frustrated me so much I was sorely tempted not to finish it.

A sentence fragment is a little bit of a sentences that don’t make sense on its own, and really needs either additional information or to be attached to the previous or following sentence in order to make sense.

It’s one thing to speak or send a quick text message using sentence fragments. We do it all the time without thinking twice. When writing for someone else to read our work, though, it’s important to express complete thoughts and to make sense on the first reading.

Example: I have been busy today. Writing this essay. It’s hard going.

This example sentence  fragment can be corrected it in any one of the following ways:

  • I have been busy today, writing this essay. It’s hard going.
  • I have been busy today. Writing this essay is hard going.
  • I have been busy today: writing this essay is hard going.

While it’s true that some writers use sentence fragments for stylistic effect, and may do so very effectively, it’s also true that they need to be proficient in constructing sentences and paragraphs so that they are able to make that technique work for them.  They are useful in writing conversations, communicating a train of thought, tacking on afterthoughts, or reflecting a nervous, excited or angry character.

Most people who write sentence fragments are, alas, painfully unaware that they are even doing it. Their sentence fragments don’t work for them, because they don’t communicate ideas clearly and effectively: in fact, it tends to have the opposite effect.

As writers, we should avoid anything that frustrates or confuses their readers, particularly if they hope to develop a broad and loyal readership.

This highlights the importance of careful proofreading and editing in the writing process.

One of the most effective strategies for finding sentence fragments is to read your work aloud. Your voice and ears will alert you when things don’t sound right, much faster than your eyes will discern it. This is because your brain already knows what you intended to say, and tends to make written errors almost invisible to the eye when reading silently.  

Avoiding Sentence Fragments.
#writingtips #writingadvice

Easily Confused Words: Sputter vs. Splutter

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Today’s post comes in response to a heartfelt plea for clarification between sputter and splutter:

These two words are easily confused, not just because they sound so similar, but also because they can both relate to the way in which people speak. 

Both suggest a degree of incoherence or inability to express oneself in a composed manner. The difference is in the manner of expression: sputter is more explosive and suggestive of anger or violence, while splutter suggests confusion that comes from excitement or struggling to find the right words. 

Dona may be reassured that she has not in fact been making a terrible mistake, and most of her readers might not ever have noticed the difference.

When writing about how people speak, the choice between sputter and splutter is one of nuance and tone rather than being right or wrong. 

Easily Confused Words: Sputter vs. Splutter #words #language #blog

PS: Dona Fox writes excellent horror stories. If that’s your thing follow her and read her books!

Easily Confused Words: Stationary vs. Stationery

Yesterday I saw a sign in a shop that said “Stationary” attached to a shelf. 

They were absolutely right: that shelf wasn’t going anywhere. I suspect it’s still in the same place even now, although it’s been about 30 hours since I was there. 

This is a common mistake because people often don’t realise that ‘stationary’ and ‘stationery’ are two different words.  They sound the same, but are spelt differently and have very different meanings.

Stationary means “not moving”. 
A train stops at a station, and remains stationary while people get on and off the train. 

Stationery, on the other hand, is the sort of supplies you’d get at a Stationer’s stop: paper, pens, pencils, erasers, notebooks, and the like. 

Therefore, in order for the sign in the store to have been fully accurate, it could have said “This stationery shelf is stationary”. 

I suspect, however, that most people  would be less appreciative of such a sign than I would be. 

‘Definitely’ and ‘Defiantly’ Are Different Words.

I am still coming to terms with the fact that this post needed to be written. How do people not know these are different words?

Apparently, though, it’s an all-too-common problem. Social media is littered with posts where someone has answered with “Defiantly!” when what the responder really meant to say was “Definitely!”.

It happens in my own conversations several individuals on a regular basis. In fact, it happened again just yesterday, so I took a screenshot with this blog post in mind.

Yes. I most definitely did turn my friend into a hamburger to protect their identity. 

I don’t know whether autocorrect is to blame, presumably as a result of poor typing, or if it’s just plain old-fashioned ignorance. The answer to that probably varies from one perpetrator to another, but  either way, continuing to mistake one for the other is inexcusable. 

Definitely means “for sure” or “absolutely”. 
In fact, those are excellent choices for anyone who wants to agree with something, but doesn’t actually know how to spell “definitely”. 

Here’s a hint, though.
Definitely even sounds exactly as it is spelt: def-in-it-ely.
It’s phonetically straightforward.

Therefore, anyone trying to spell it should get to the ‘a’ in ‘defiantly’ and know they’re making bad choices. 

Defiantly is a word most often used by parents or teachers describing the way in which a child refused to do as they were told. 
Examples:
The child sat in stony silence, arms crossed defiantly. 
“No!” Robin yelled defiantly, “I won’t apologise for being a grammar snob!” 

You get the idea. 

It’s definitely in your interests to get this right.

Make good choices, people… please?

Frequently Mistaken: ‘who’s’ and ‘whose’

Today I received an email which included the line, “It doesn’t matter who’s responsibility it is…”

Written by a professional who should know better, it was ironic that it was me, and not them, doing a massive facepalm.

This incorrect use of the homophone “who’s” instead of “whose” is a common error, but that doesn’t make it excusable.

The apostrophe in “who’s” signals that it is a contraction— a shortening of two words into one, so that “who is” becomes “who’s”. Alternatively, it can also be a contraction of “who has”. You can tell which one it is by determining if the sentence is in past or present tense,

Examples:
That’s the boy who’s a really good actor.
Who’s in charge around here?
Who’s been eating my porridge?

‘Whose’ is a pronoun of ownership. 

Examples:
This is the farmer whose cows ate all my corn. 
Whose car is that? 

Once you know the difference, it’s fairly straightforward. That means there is absolutely no excuse for getting them wrong, even if they do sound the same when spoken.

Fun fact: “it’s” and “its” work exactly the same way.

‘Then’ and ‘Than’ Are Not The Same Word.

Some word confusions are understandable, especially if they sound the same when spoken. We call those homophones, and they sound the same even if they are spelt differently.  Examples are peak/pique/peak or there/their/they’re.

The confusion between ’then’ and ’than’, however, is a completely different matter.

Sadly, this is happening more and more, especially on social media. I don’t even spend that much time on Facebook, but it feels like I see someone saying something like “Nothing is better then this!”  or “I love you more then anything!” at least twice a day. 

Yes, they are similar. 
However, they are clearly not the same.
They don’t look the same.
They don’t sound the same. 
If one doesn’t mix up ’then’ or ’than’ with ’thin’, there is no excuse for mistaking them for one another. 

I swear, it makes my eyes want to bleed.

The two words’ meanings are so vastly different that getting them wrong just makes the person writing look  either poorly educated or plain stupid, even if they are neither. 

This is one of the best and most self-evident arguments in existence for proofreading what one is writing, anywhere and every time. 

‘Then’ rhymes with ‘when”— which is an easy way to remember that it relates to time or sequence. 
Examples: 
He put on his shirt, then his jeans, and then his boots. 
She ran up the hill, then back down again. 
When you have tidied your room, then you can go to the movies. 

‘Than’ rhymes with ‘man’ and is used for making a comparison. 
Examples:
His piece of pizza is bigger than mine. 
A triangle has fewer angles than a square. 
I would rather stay home and read a book than go to work. 

Knowing which is which, and taking care to use the right words all the time, is a simple way to protect your credibility.

And for the love of Merlin’s beard, if you call yourself an author or a teacher, get it right. It’s not that hard. 

Don’t Waver Over Your Waivers!

A mistake frequently made in writing is to say that someone “did not waiver” in their faith, or from a decision they had made.  What they really mean is that the person in question did not waver

Once again, it is a failure to choose between differently spelled homophones that is the problem here. 

Waiver: the renunciation or surrendering of  ownership, a right  or a claim
Example: The council decided to waive the annual fee for dog registration. The waiver resulted in more households registering  their pets. 

Waver: to hesitate or falter, or to flicker, quiver or tremble.
Examples: Her feelings for him wavered between passionate love and indifference. 
He did not waver in his support for the mayor, who was a woman of integrity. 
The flame of the candle wavered in the gentle breeze.

At least when one waves at the waves, the spelling is the same so you can’t get it wrong!

A Fit of Pique.

I get really annoyed when I see people writing about peaking someone’s interest. 

A mountain is peaked. A cap can be peaked. 
People can even look peaked: in this sense, it means they are pale. 
A career can peak. 
In fact, someone’s interest in something can peak, right before it declines again. 

While they sound the same, the correct term for having caused intense interest or curiosity, is piqued

To pique someone’s interest is to heighten or arouse it. In other words, it is to stimulate their curiosity or attention. 

A fit of pique is an episode of annoyance or irritation – such as might happen, for example, if someone’s negative emotions are piqued. 

A related word is piquant, which means provocative, tantalising, spicy or tangy. Food that excites the taste buds or a story that excites the imagination can both be described as piquant. 

The other homophone is peeked. This is the past tense of peek: to take a quick look, or a sneaky one. 

So… now that I’ve piqued your interest with my fit of pique, and you’ve peeked at my post… I’m sure your interest has long since peaked. 

See? Homophones can be fun!

Don’t Pour Over Those Books!

I’ve read a couple of different posts and even in a couple of books recently about people “pouring over” documents or books. 

I wondered at first if this was one of those things Americans do with words that nobody else does, but I checked, and it’s not. It’s simply an error caused by confusion by words that sound the same even though they are spelt differently and mean completely different things. 

What the people in question should be doing is poring over their books. 
To pore over books or documents is to be completely absorbed in what one is reading or studying. It suggests thoughtful application and concentration. 
The gerund is poring. 

To pour over books is just going to make a mess, and probably ruin them completely.  It’s really not advisable.

Reader Life: Those Horrible Feelings You Get When A Book Is Absolutely Awful.

A reader describes the disappointment of finding a book she had been looking forward to was awful.

ereader pexels-photo-12627

During my lunch break today, I started reading a book I’d been looking forward to reading. I’d bought it because the story looked really interesting, and I was keen to give a new-to-me author a shot.

By the time I had read a few pages, I knew there were problems. The story didn’t go anywhere. More and more errors that should have been edited out were creeping in. Although marketed as a horror story, there were no hints that it was going to turn into one anytime soon… except in a grammatical sense, perhaps.

Still, I persisted. I figured that it had to get better. Right?

Sadly, it didn’t. It got worse. By the time I quit, there were numerous confusions of tense, and multiple blatant errors of spelling, syntax and word choice on a single page. By page 23, there still wasn’t a hint of anything remotely creepy, macabre or scary in the story. That really was the core of my problem – I was bored by writing that wasn’t even really a cohesive story, regardless of its intended genre.

I don’t like quitting. I really don’t. But when my dudgeon starts to rise because I’m not getting the escape I had hoped for in the middle of a ridiculously busy week, and I’ve wasted the time I had set aside to give my brain a break, it’s time to stop. In all honesty, most of the students in my Year 9 English class make fewer mistakes on a page than this writer, and he just hasn’t bothered editing anything, let alone getting anyone– professional or otherwise– to do it for him… I’m done.

In the past, I’ve let one or two authors know via private communication where there are a few really glaring errors that needed fixing. Those things have been fixed, and their book is better because of it. I’ve withheld my review until things were corrected, so that I could give a review that wasn’t full of complaints about errors. Most authors are receptive to that if it’s done discreetly and politely, with constructive help rather than criticism.

This time, though, I’m not going there. I simply don’t have time to fix this book – it’s time consuming, but not impossible, to correct spelling or grammatical errors; how, though, do you fix a broken plot that never does what it promised to do? The problems with this book are far more fundamental than a lack of editing.
angry-2191104_960_720It makes me sad to have to add another title to the small handful of Indie books I’ve read that just weren’t up to scratch. Of the hundreds I’ve read, the vast majority have been great, and some have been among the best books I’ve ever read. It makes me angry that people are willing to sell something which gives other far more disciplined and talented Indie authors a reputation they don’t deserve. The temptation to name and shame is enormous, but I won’t do it.

I’m simply going to walk away and pretend I didn’t pick it up in the first place.

I’ll console myself, and reward myself for my own diplomacy, by setting aside another hour tonight to read something really good from one of my ‘One-Click” authors. That is something guaranteed to make me feel better.