One of the most ubiquitous grammar traps in English is the sentence fragment. A sentence fragment is a phrase or set of phrases that look like they should be a sentence, but actually aren’t. Usually that’s because they lack either a verb or a subject, making them a ‘dependent clause’, because they depend on another … More Explaining the pitfalls of sentence fragments
Do adjectives and adverbs have a place in non-fiction writing? Maybe. Used properly, adjectives and their annoying relations, adverbs, render the mundane into something extraordinary – specifically because, if controlled, they evoke emotions in readers. Control is essential: use the wrong adjectives and you reduce the work to ‘telling’, whereas what you’re trying to do … More Do adjectives and adverbs have a place in non-fiction writing?
Call it lame, but to me word play is king when it comes to jokes. Groucho Marx was a master at it. Especially when it came to exploiting the dangling modifier. I could go all technical on this, but instead I’ll just cite one of Marx’s classics, from Animal Crackers (1930), where as Captain Spaulding … More How to make jokes with a dangling modifier
Back when I was at school English spelling was simple: I had to come before E, except after C. It was an iron-clad rule. No kid or their neighbour deigned to seize the moment by disagreeing. The usual forfeit was swift reinforcement, either via some heinous and weird punishment, by seismic kick to the keister, … More Weighing in on the ancient ‘I before E except after C’ rule
Have you ever tried writing dialogue without all the ‘he said’, ‘she said’ nonsense? It’s an effective technique, though it’s easy to say ‘do this’. Harder to master. Hemingway set the gold standard – half-page strings of dialogue, often without any directions at all as to the speaker– and it was usually clear as to who … More Essential writing skills: he said, she said – without adjectives
I couldn’t stop laughing at this week’s furore over Weird Al Yankovich supposedly having an ‘error’ in a song about grammar errors. Weird Al apparently included a split infinitive in the lyrics. Oh, the (apparent) irony. Social media went nuts. Well, I beg to differ. And so, I think, would Captain James T. Kirk. Gene Roddenberry … More Essential writing skills: Weird Al is right to use a split infinitive
I posted the other week on the importance of getting the rhythm right when writing sentences. And on the incompetence of my high school English teacher, but that’s another matter. Getting the rhythm right when you write is part of the essential framework of writing – it lends interest. You can draw the reader, sometimes, by … More Essential writing skills: harsh sentences for authors