Hollaback Health has done a lot of really good posts on grammar, spelling and punctuation and I’m not trying to rip them off. I love those bitches! But rather than leave them another five-mile-long soulful outpouring of all my favorite grammar tips, I thought I’d share them with YOU in a very special way that – with any luck – will make you hate yourself enough to want to change.*
I would also like to acknowledge the fact that people who aren’t writers are not obligated to care about this stuff. Some of you are very capable, very intelligent graphic designers, applications developers, chemists and surgeons who just franklymydear don’t give a damn about which version of your is correct.
And you know what? I’m willing to overlook it, because you’re probably smarter I am.
But if you fancy yourself a professional writer, there are a few things you need to get through your very thick and probably misshapen skull.
Also, don’t give me any horsey about how you’re lazy or in a hurry. If you expect people who read your work to take you seriously, you need to extend them the courtesy of proper grammar. Unless you think your readers are stupid. DO YOU THINK THEY’RE STUPID? DO YOU?
1. Quotes and punctuation. If you’re putting something in quotations, the punctuation goes inside the quote. Not like “this”. Not ever. No. Nope.
2. Adverbs. This is probably debatable, but AP Style and I prefer you don’t put an “s” at the end of adverbs like backward, forward and toward. (Unless you’re a Brit, in which case we’re all just staring at your teeth rather than listening to you anyway.) Also, using anyways just sounds childish. Don’t do it.
3. It’s not alright. It’s all right. Look it up.
4. Bad/Badly. You feel bad. You spell badly. When you say you feel badly about something, you’re saying the mechanism that allows you to feel things is broken. Maybe you were set on fire and you’re experiencing nerve damage? Maybe you had a lobotomy? If so, my sincerest condolences.
5. The past tense of drag is dragged. Drug refers to pharmacology. (Although I have word from my top-secret military grammar sources that snuck has become an acceptable past tense of sneak. You’ll still never catch me using it.)
6. Over/More than. I hate this one more than anything. Over means “on top of;” more than means “greater than in number.”
7. Comprise/Compose. I heard this used incorrectly on NPR the other day and nearly cried. A whole is composed, or made up of, many smaller parts. To comprise means to contain: “Crack comprises cocaine and baking soda;” but, “crack is composed of cocaine and baking soda.” Easy.
8. An ellipsis…is three periods. Three. Unless you’re intentionally being an asshole………………………
9. Passed/Past. The former is a verb. The latter is everything else.
10. The apostrophe. The apostrophe is used for possessives and contractions and never for plurals. Also: it’s is the contraction of it is; its is the possessive of it. You know what? I can’t believe I’m typing this. If you don’t know the apostrophe rule by now you should just kill yourself.
11. Big words don’t make you sound smarter. In general, try to be economical with your words and don’t speak in the passive voice. What I mean is this: “Breakfast was eaten after yoga was practiced and it was enjoyed by me.”
Active voice: “After yoga, I ate breakfast. It was good.”
Just because a sentence is longer, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better or more descriptive. And really, if you’re agonizing over ways to make a dull sentence sound more interesting, maybe you should instead ask yourself if that sentence has any value at all.
Don’t use a big word just to sound smart. Don’t use component when item will do just fine; and use is almost always better than utilize. And for goshsakes, please don’t use a word unless you really understand the meaning. You’re already on the internet for the love of god, just swing on over to Dictionary.com and LOOK IT UP.
Last, understanding the internet has bastardized the English language and blogging takes on a more casual and conversational tone, here are few things that, while technically incorrect, are not punishable offenses:
1. Incomplete sentences. They’re fine. Especially when you want to emphasize that you’re being dramatic: “This. Can’t. Be. Real.”
2. Slang. But know where the apostrophe goes when using y’all.
3. Cursing. It’s fucking mainstream.
4. Ending a sentence with a preposition. This is something I’ve given up on.
Last, to completely negate everything I’ve just told you:
Break the rules with intention. Some people have a very unique voice and their poor grammar has a purpose. If it makes you who you are, then it’s right. (But 20 bucks says this exception does not apply to you.)
*Inevitably, there are dozens and dozens of grammar, spelling and punctuation errors in this post. If you email me to tell me about any of them, I will eat your face.
UPDATE 3/24/11, 4:25 p.m.: Well, I called it. Spelled a word wrong in the title. If you were one of the exalted few who read this before I corrected it, consider yourself lucky. It’s like going to a gas station where the “3” has fallen off the sign and you get to buy gas for $.29. Except that it will probably happen again tomorrow.