Run-on Sentences

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Do you strive to be a good writer? Do you have trouble recognizing  a correct sentence? Are you guilty of writing run-on sentences? Here are some ways to solve this problem.

One of the most common mistakes beginning writers make is to use run-on sentences. When two complete thoughts are stuck together as one sentence, quite often it is a run-on sentence, and is grammatically incorrect. For a copy editor, a piece of writing that is full of run-on sentences can be a nightmare to work through.

Very often, the two parts of the run-on sentence are related, most likely talking about the same idea. The red and green highlighting shows the two sentences that have been put together to make one run-on (incorrect) sentence.

(Run-on) My house is at the end of the block no other houses are beyond mine.

The simplest way to correct this would be to make two sentences.

My house is at the end of the block. No other houses are beyond mine.

*****

(Run-on) She was only fourteen years old no wonder she was vulnerable.

She was only fourteen years old. No wonder she was vulnerable.

*****

(Run-on) I shopped in the rain today I got drenched.

I shopped in the rain today. I got drenched.

Here are other options:

1. I shopped in the rain today, and got drenched.

2. I shopped in the rain today; I got drenched.

3. I shopped in the rain today; therefore, I got drenched.

4. Because I shopped in the rain today, I got drenched.

*****

Since you have so many options, please use one of them instead of jamming two complete thoughts into one sentence without the proper conjunctions or punctuation. The simplest way to fix a run-on sentence is with a period and capital letter, but as you can see, there are other alternatives. Leaving it as a run-on sentence is not one of them.

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For information about copy editing services, please go to my website at

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How We Speak

How we speak tells our listeners a lot about us. We don’t need to sound like Wikipedia, but if we sound as if we are uneducated others tend to judge us accordingly.

I find it annoying when a person has purposely taken up the habit of using bad grammar. This usually affects how the person  is perceived  by others, and makes a negative impression.  I see  little advantage to this, unless the poor speaker is desperate to be “one of the boys” (or girls). Perhaps I’m misjudging the reason for that kind of speech, but in some cases I have seen and heard, this seems to fit.

The kind of language I’m talking about is not so much the sentences with the *F* word thrown in  before every noun and verb in the sentence, but rather something more common — using the wrong tense of see, come, say, go, and several other verbs.

Also notice the insecure use of “this” instead of “a” or “the,” with the sentences going higher in pitch at the end so they sound like a question.

Here is an example of a conversation with the errors marked in red:

Me and my buddy seen this ad in the paper? We rented an upstairs room in this boarding house? The first day I gets up early because I hears this noise downstairs? I come down the stairs in a hurry and I seen this guy? He’s leaving the house with this black bag in his hand?

I would’ve went after him, but I never seen which way he went. So I says to my buddy, “Hey buddy! I just seen this burglar take off with this black bag.”

“Oh, that’s just the guy that’s renting the downstairs room. Probably going to school. I think he’s in college.”

“Hmpf! Good thing we got our jobs. We don’t need no grammar lessons. I could’ve went  to college  but I seen the Help Wanted sign. Don’t need no grammar.”

“But your job is to be a reporter. You need good English for that.”

“Naaahhh! I’ll just get Anneli to copy-edit my work for me.”

*****

Have you heard people speaking like this? Why do you think they do it, when they know it’s not good English?

Your Reputation as a Writer

Are you a writer? Do you care about your writing?

Are you satisfied to publish your work for the world to see, when the quality of your writing is less than perfect? Sadly, some writers don’t care, but believe me, readers care.

Not many writers have flawless manuscripts.  Creativity and the mechanics of writing don’t always go together. Working with a good copy-editor  is essential.

I am a writer and a copy-editor–a good one, I think–and still, before I publish anything, I have another writer read my work and then I hire a copy-editor to read it again. I am always amazed at what they find.

I could read my own words over ten times and not see a mistake, but when I read someone else’s words, any mistakes would leap off the page at me. Why is that?

An author knows what their sentences are going to say. Our brain tricks us into thinking that those words are there, and, especially if we are reading silently, we tend to gloss over errors. When reading someone else’s work, we don’t know what is coming, so we see the mistakes more easily.

Why should you care if your writing is perfect or not?

Readers buy books expecting quality for the money they pay. As a writer, it is your obligation to give them your best.  It is a matter of pride and reputation. Do you want to be known as a good writer, or a sloppy one? Do you only want to publish a “one-hit wonder” and never write again? Would you want people to “wonder” why you bothered to publish that carelessly written “one hit”?

I’ve heard many readers say, “When I see one mistake, okay, I can overlook it, but when there is another and another, I lose track of the story and find myself just looking for that next mistake.” What a horrible thing for someone to say about your book. But so true!

When I skim over the first few pages of a book to see if I want to read it, I usually find bits of dialogue to see how that is written. If it has complicated dialogue tags, such as “inquired, responded, answered, replied, questioned,” and “shouted,” instead of “said” and “asked,” I move on to look for another book. Dialogue tags should be like punctuation–important, but not “in your face.”

I look for correct usage of ordinary words such as “its, it’s, your, you’re, their, there,” and “they’re.” I look for incorrect capitalization of “mom, dad, spring, summer, fall, winter, north, south, east, west, sir, madam, heaven, hell,” and many other words. (Note that “Mom and Dad” would be capitalized, but “my mom and my dad” would not be.)

In a short sample of writing, I can usually tell whether the work has been copy-edited or not.

Yes, it costs to have work copy-edited, but the price is not unreasonable. Your reputation hangs on the quality of your writing, and once the work is cleaned up, it will stay that way forever. Unedited work also stays that way and your damaged reputation as a careless writer could follow you around forever too.

Copy-editors  do much more than correct those examples I’ve given. They will check:

  • your sentences for balance to make sure your verbs match the subject
  • if you’ve omitted or repeated words or information
  • grammar
  • punctuation
  • spelling, including homonyms
  • hyphenation
  • capitalization
  • extra spaces
  • verb tense and usage, especially for problem verbs such as “lie, lay, laid, lain”
  • point-of-view errors
  • clichés, and many other errors you may have inadvertently made.

Please visit my website and click on the page for copy-editing if you are interested in having a few pages of your work copy-edited for free.

http://www.anneli-purchase.com

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Don’t Get Too Possessive!

When should you use an apostrophe?

More people overuse apostrophes than underuse them.

Often, I see apostrophes in words that are meant to be plural, but not possessive.

e.g. The photo’s look great.

It should say: The photos look great.

Sometimes  people use apostrophes with pronouns.

e.g.  her’s, it’s, our’s, their’s, who’s, your’s — these are all WRONG if you’re trying to show ownership. They should be written: hers, its, ours, theirs, whose, yours.

Be aware that apostrophes have two separate uses. One is for showing ownership, as in the cat’s whiskers. The other is to show that one or more letters have been taken out (contractions).

Some of the words can be confusing.

e.g. Let’s means let us, but if you meant to say that someone allows you do do something, it should be, “She lets me go to the movies.”  

Who’s means who is, but if you meant to ask who owns something, you would say, “Whose dog it that?”

And the most troublesome of all … it’s or its.

It’s means it is, but if you are attaching ownership, you would say, “The dog should pay attention to its master.”

There was a time when the general rule was to use apostrophes to show possession for people and animals (the dog’s fur, the lady’s hat), but to use “of” for inanimate things (the hood of the jacket, the eye of the needle), but this is now being disregarded in many cases. It seems to me that it’s perfectly acceptable to refer to “the car’s windshield” or “book’s cover.”

One of the most common errors I see is the use of an apostrophe  with decades.

e.g. The  Beetles were popular in the 1960s. There should be NO apostrophe.

But if you shorten the decades to refer to the ’60s. This apostrophe is correct because it shows that something has been left out — in this case,  the 19. Be sure that the apostrophe is turned to face the same direction as a comma (not as at the beginning of a quotation).

Placement: The apostrophe comes after the word that has the ownership. If it is a singular noun, then you would put the apostrophe after that noun. If it is a plural noun, then put the apostrophe after the end of that word.

e.g. This is the dog’s collar.

These are the dogs’ collars.

The use of apostrophes is more complex than one page  can do justice to, but consider this a beginner’s list of basic helpful hints.

Repetition, Repetition!

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Copy-editing involves much more than finding errors in punctuation, spelling, and grammar. Working with authors on their manuscripts, I recognize errors similar to those I made in my early writing.

One of the more common bad writing habits I’ve noticed in my editing jobs is the overuse of words and phrases.

Repetition

We all have pet phrases that we tend to overuse. Watch for repeated words. If possible, avoid using the same word twice in one sentence and check for repetition within a paragraph. Often they are words we overuse even in our speech—some of mine were “maybe,” “just,” and “so”—but more than being annoying to the reader, what starts out to be only a bad habit can damage your writing in more serious ways.

If you know what your pet repeated words are you could use Find in your Word program and it will take you to each instance of the repeated word, giving you the option of changing it to something more interesting. I would wager that you’ll be shocked at the repetitions you’ll find when you look for some of your pet expressions. For example, have you noticed how many times I’ve used the word “pet” in this post? I rest my case.

Another method that is surprisingly simple but works very well is to read your work out loud. You’ll be amazed at what you find. You’ll make corrections automatically because what you wrote doesn’t “sound right” when read aloud.

Why not give it a try and read a page of your writing out loud?

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Troublesome Expressions

As a copy editor, I come across many expressions that writers use incorrectly. The list of troublesome words and expressions could fill many pages, so I have chosen a few that many writers struggle with. I have not dealt with lay and lie, which are particularly problematic. These verbs have been dealt with in an article all to themselves under the title Lie, Lady, Lie.

Advice/advise

Advice is the noun. I give advice. Advise is the verb. I advise you to take my advice.

Affect, effect

Affect is the verb. Effect is the noun, but it can be used as a verb as well.

How does this change affect you?

What effect does it have on you?

By working together we can effect (bring about) some changes.

Aggravate

This word means to make worse, not to annoy or to anger.

Alright

The proper term is all right. I see alright used frequently, especially by American writers, but that spelling is best avoided.

Amount, number

Amount is for a mass. Number is for countable items.

Anyways, anywheres, everywheres, nowheres, somewheres

These are non-standard forms. Drop the “s.”

Awhile, abit, alot

Two words — a while, a bit, and a lot.

Between, among

Between is used with two people (This is between John and me). Among is used for three or more (We’ll divide the food among the townspeople).

Breath, breathe

Breath is the noun and breathe is the verb.

Someday, I will breathe my last breath.

Continual, continuous

Continual means again and again, while continuous means ongoing.

I could care less.

Usually the writer means the opposite of what this sentence says. Most likely, what is meant is I couldn’t care less.

Envelop, envelope

Envelop means to wrap around. Envelope is the folder you put a letter in.

I will envelop you in my arms when you give me the envelope with the money in it.

Less, fewer

Just as with amount and number, less is used for a mass (an amount) and fewer is used for something countable.

Loath, loathe

Loath is the adjective. Loathe is the verb.

I was loath to do the dishes because I loathe that job.

Of

Not necessary after the prepositions inside, off, and outside.

Incorrect as a substitute for have, as in would have, could have, and should have.

Reason why

Usually there is no need for the why.

True facts

Facts are always true, so true facts has no real meaning. Just use the word facts by itself.

Very

In most cases, very is easily omitted and not missed.

With regards to

What the writer usually means is with regard to. This expression is often not necessary, only adding wordiness to the writing, but when written as with regards to, it sounds as if the writer is adding a greeting to someone.

*****

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Dang Those Dangling Modifiers

You don’t have to be an author to know how important parts of speech and grammar rules can be. I wasn’t doing anything writing-related when I saw the importance of sentence structure one day.

Not having seen rabbits eating up my garden for several months, I was sure the owls had taken care of my problem. I realized that I was not going to be that lucky when my husband came home and announced, “I saw a rabbit driving down the road.”

The smart aleck in me couldn’t resist saying, “Oh, what was he driving?”

You see how easily we leave parts of our sentence dangling, making the meaning unclear. Dangling modifiers are more common than you might think. They make our writing look bad, but they certainly provide some entertainment for the copy-editor.

Very often, phrases that modify a noun or pronoun are placed carelessly into a sentence. When they contain verb forms and are left dangling, without a definite indication of what they are modifying, the results can be disastrous to our writing.

Here are some examples of dangling modifiers.

  1. Gerund phrase:

After finding out about the actors, the movie did not seem as appealing to us.

(It sounds as if the movie found out about the actors.)

  1. Elliptical phrase (where some words are omitted and meanings presumed to be understood):

Weapons ready, the duel was fought.

(Did the duel have the weapons ready?)

  1. Participial phrase:

John heard an owl walking through the woods.

(Was the owl walking through the woods?)

  1. Infinitive phrase:

To drive a car a licence must be held.

(Does this mean I have to hold it in my hand while driving? Or does it mean that if I don’t have a licence I won’t know how to drive a car?)

  1. Prepositional phrase:

With only a dollar in his pocket, it seemed useless to try to go far.

(Who is “it”? Does “it” have a dollar in “his” [whose?] pocket?)

  1. Appositive

A magnificent mansion, the door opened to show a grand ballroom inside.

(Is the door the same as a mansion?)

Misplaced Modifiers

Other problems with modifiers happen when they are misplaced, as often happens with qualifiers such as “only” or “almost.”

Some examples follow. Note the difference in meaning when the word is placed in various locations.

  1. Her cousin only drives their car. (He doesn’t wash it or fuel it up.)
  2. Her only cousin drives their car. (She has no other cousins.)
  3. Her cousin drives only their car. (He doesn’t drive anyone else’s, or he doesn’t drive their truck or van.)
  4. Her cousin drives their only car. (They have no other car except that one.)
  5. We almost saw ten whales. (We saw none because we got to the spot too late.)
  6. We saw almost ten whales. (We saw eight or nine of them.)

Placement of modifiers matters a great deal.

Squinting Modifiers

One more type of modifier causes ambiguity in a sentence. Often it is placed between two possible elements, and we have no way of knowing which it is meant to describe. We call it a “squint” modifier, perhaps because it seems to squint and we can’t tell which way it is looking or which element it is meant to modify.

Some examples:

My mother told me sometimes to watch where I’m going. (Did she tell me sometimes, or should I only watch where I’m going sometimes?)

She said every day to wash my face. (Did she say it every day or should I wash my face every day?)

The squint can also appear at the end of the sentence.

My dogs chased each other in the yard when I called them for a good reason. (Did the dogs chase each other for a good reason, or did I call them for a good reason?)

The fisherman was smiling when he caught the fish without even knowing it. (Did the fisherman not know that he was smiling or that he caught the fish. OR, was it the fish who didn’t know it was caught?)

While dangling, misplaced, and squinting modifiers can be a source of amusement, they do not provide the kind of entertainment we strive for in our writing. They can be very sneaky and are sometimes hard to detect. Be watchful and try to avoid them.

And while you’re being watchful, keep an eye out for that rabbit driving down the road. Most likely he was driving a brown VW Rabbit.

To find out more about Anneli Purchase, follow these links:

Anneli’s Website

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