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:

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Why Hire a Copy Editor?

pen

You have an amazing story to tell. Aunt Mary says, “Why don’t you write a book about it, dear?” So you do, and you rush to self-publish your first book just the way thousands of authors are doing these days.

But, wait!

You may feel you’ve just written the next bestselling novel, but the truth is, most first novels are full of errors.

When you rewrite the first draft (and the second and third, and so on) except for small improvements your work will still have weak sections. You can’t fix something if you don’t know what is wrong. At some point you will need outside help. Even experienced authors benefit from an impartial eye, so that help should not come from your loving Aunt Mary. Support, yes, but writing advice, no. Not unless she’s a successful author herself.

Have you taken the time to go to a writing conference or join a writers’ group? If you have ever had your writing analyzed by an expert, you were most likely shocked by their comments. You had no idea there was still so much to learn about writing. Taking a course in creative writing, joining a local writers’ group, going to writing conferences, and reading some of the many books on writing can teach you techniques for making your novel a success. You will pick up writing tips and learn how to structure a novel.

After you’ve rewritten your novel employing all your newfound knowledge, you may think you are ready to publish. Not so. This is the most dangerous stage, where many writers become impatient and “just want to get it published.”

Take a step back. You have a wonderful plot and you’ve told the story in a way that makes the reader want to turn the pages, but you can ruin it all by publishing before it is ready. Some people say poor editing doesn’t make them stop reading. Does that mean they don’t care about the fine craft of writing? If they will read anything, regardless of quality, perhaps they will write without quality too. Not something worthy of much respect.

Imagine you are going to a job interview. Would you present yourself before the interviewer  with your hair scraggly and unwashed, wearing a beautiful brand new outfit and dirty old sneakers? Would you think it doesn’t matter because you know you’re a great person inside?  I can guarantee you won’t make a good impression. The interviewer will have nothing good to say about you. He is judging you by what he sees.

And so it will be with your book. If you want the readers to love it and recommend it to others, don’t publish it if it hasn’t been cleaned up. And I don’t mean a quick read through by Aunt Mary who declared it the best thing she’d ever read. Even that friend with a college degree who pointed out some grammatical things and a spelling mistake is not going to catch everything. Get your book professionally copy-edited and publish quality work confidently.

If you have not worked at shaping your novel with the help of books, courses, critiquing groups, and workshops, you may need a substantive editor for putting the scenes and events in the best order. Chances are that you are past this stage and feel the book is ready. Don’t hire a proofreader. That won’t do you much good unless you only want spelling, punctuation, and typos fixed, but a good copy editor will check all these things. You pay once and get the benefit of having any mistake or problem pointed out to you.

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Here are some of the things a copy editor will draw your attention to.

  • poorly phrased sentences
  • lack of balance in the sentence (perhaps where the verb at the beginning does not match with the clause or phrase you have added onto the main sentence frame)
  • overused words
  • repeated words within two or three sentences
  • incorrect grammar usage
  • incorrect capitalization
  • misuse of possessives and plurals
  • wrong word meaning
  • punctuation mistakes, especially in the use of dialogue
  • typos, missing words, and repeated words (the the)
  • incorrect information (fact checking)
  • consistency throughout the work (does Jane become Jayne later in the work?)
  • misspelled words (breath or breathe, loath or loathe)
  • misuse of homonyms (peek, peak, or pique)
  • incorrect verb tense (lie, lay, laid, lain, etc.)
  • boring repetition of the same sentence pattern
  • incorrect use of pronouns after a preposition (between him and I? or him and me?)
  • use of clichés that are not part of the dialogue

These mistakes and many more will be drawn to your attention. It’s well worth spending the time and money to have the errors corrected. A good copy editor will help make your writing shine.

 

Answers to Copy-editing

Thanks to those who were brave enough to have a try at the copy-editing job on the previous post. Here are the mistakes I found in the passage from that post. I have marked them in bold and have added explanations where I felt they were needed.

Travel from Italy to Greece

An alternative to driving the long way around from Italy to Greece is to go by car ferry. On the day we wanted to make the trip many years ago, third class tickets for the “Mediterranean Sea” (no comma) were sold out, so we had to buy first class. After waiting in line for hours, our VW van was crammed aboard (no space in a board, no comma after it) into one of the last available spaces, a cubbyhole with a low ceiling and steel walls on three sides.

Three days later, when it was time to unload, this cubicle became an oven. Temperatures soaring over 100 F.,  (add comma, remove “and”) the chaos of impatient passengers, (add comma) and disorganized unloading practices had us nearly suffocating on the engine exhaust of cars started way too soon in the closed-in (hyphenated before a noun but not after) car deck. (In those days in Italy, there were no safety regulations such as we have in Canada nowadays.) An overeager passenger in dire need of driving lessons backed up his trailer at a weird angle behind us, making it impossible for us to move. Trapped in the scorching cubicle I felt like a chicken in a slow cooker.

Copy-editing Fun

Here is a fun exercise for writers. I’ve taken part of a travel adventure and purposely put many mistakes into it. How many can you find? Count them and tell us in the comment section. I haven’t included the kind of mistakes that involve number of spaces between words or sentences, or repeated words. This exercise is very basic, showing just a sample of the most obvious mistakes that a copy-editor will find for you. Believe me, in the world of “pre-publishing,” many manuscripts look worse than the sample of writing below, but a copy-editor can save you from disgracing yourself.

So, are you  “up” for the challenge? Why not give it a try?

Travel from Italy to Greece

An alternative to driving the long way around from Italy to Greece to go by car ferry. On the day we want to make the trip many years ago, third class tickets for the “Mediterranean sea,” were sold out, so we had to buy First Class. After waiting in line for hours, our VW van was crammed a board, into one of the last available spaces, a cubby hole with a low cieling and steal walls on 3 sides.

Three days later, when it was time to unload, this cubacle became an oven. Tempatures soaring over 100 F. and the Chaos of impatient passengers and disorganized unloading practices had us nearly suffocating on the engine exhaust of cars started way too soon in the closed in car deck. (In those days in Italy, there was no safety regulations such as we have in Canada now-a-days.) An over-eager passenger in dire need of driving lessons backed up his trailor at a wierd angel behind us, making it impossible for us to move. Trapped in the scorching cubacle I felt like a chicken in a slow cooker.

If you have writing that needs the expert eye of a copy-editor, please visit my webpage anneli-purchase.com and click on the copy-editing page. I can do a free sample of editing for you.