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?


Lay or Lie


Do you have trouble knowing the correct form of lay or lie to use in your writing?

Why not copy and paste this chart? Print it out either with your printer or by hand, onto a piece of paper that you can keep handy by your desk for a quick reference.

A quick version of how “lie” and “lay” are used with the pronoun “I.”

To Lie (down)

I lie (present)

I lay (preterite)

I have lain (present perfect)

I am lying (present continuous)


To Lay (to set an object down)

I lay (present)

I laid (preterite)

I have laid (present perfect)

I am laying (present continuous)


To Lie (tell an untruth)

I lie (present)

I lied (preterite)

I have lied (present perfect)

I am lying (present continuous)

For more about lay and lie, you can check out my post from a year ago:

Good work! Now have a cookie.

cinnamon stars


Clauses other than Santa


An independent clause is a group of words with a noun or pronoun as a subject and a verb as a predicate. We have been calling it a sentence. When two clauses are put together and linked, they become a compound sentence (basically, two sentences in one).


The bell rang to end the last session.

We left the school.

The bell rang to end the last session, and we left the school.

Each clause could stand independently.

We also have subordinate clauses. They do not stand independently. They still have a subject and a predicate, but because they start with words such as when,  which, that, and as, they are dependent (or subordinate) to another clause.

Here are examples of subordinate clauses and independent clauses. You’ll see that the blue ones could stand alone.

As we climbed higher up the mountain, the weather became worse.

When my dog sees a cat, she wants to chase it.

She called for help which was the sensible thing to do.

We also have clauses which act as other parts of speech. Some groups of words act as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs.

Here are some examples where noun clauses act as:

a subject: That I am old is easy to see.

a direct object: Emma knows which bowl is hers.

a predicate noun: The answer is whatever you want it to be.

Adjectival clauses:

That is the dish that ran off with the spoon.

Adverbial clauses:

The show ended when the rain began to pour onto the stage.

I suppose you could call these other little clauses Santa’s Helpers. He’s the big Claus and these are all the little clauses.

Sentences with Objects

You know about the simple sentence (subject and predicate). Now we will add another element, a direct object (marked in blue).

The man wrote a letter.

The man (subject/noun) wrote (predicate/verb) a letter (direct object/noun).

The letter is the receiver of the action and answers the question “What?”

(What did the man write?)

Now we can add an indirect object (marked in red), which will answer the question “To whom?” or “For whom?”

Here are some other examples of direct objects (in blue) and indirect objects (in red).

The man wrote his girlfriend a letter.

He gave his guests the tour.

He bought his love a ring.

She paid him ten dollars.

Sometimes we want to say the same thing in a different way. By using a prepositional phrase (a group of words beginning with a preposition) we can substitute it for the indirect object by putting the phrase after the direct object. The prepositional phrase is marked in green.

“The man wrote his girlfriend a letter” becomes “The man wrote a letter to his girlfriend.”

“She paid him ten dollars” becomes “She paid ten dollars to him.”

“He bought his love a ring” becomes “He bought a ring for his love.”

You can recognize a prepositional phrase by the prepositions at the beginning.

Some prepositions are:

To, for, with, after, without, in, by, beside, among, when, at, over, beyond, through (and many others).

So there you are — direct objects, indirect objects, and prepositional phrases. You can add these to your list of “parts of speech.”

Passive Verbs

Here are three sentence patterns. It is the third one that I’d like to talk about most today.

  1. We met this one in the previous post, basically the subject and the verb. We can add modifiers to make it more interesting.

The wintery sky changed dramatically.

  1. The subject, verb, and a direct object.

The dog bit his master.

  1. The subject and a passive voice verb (a verb that does not take a direct object. In fact, if we use sentence #2 as an example, the former object (the master) becomes the subject and the former subject (the dog) becomes the object. The passive verb tells us that something has been done to the subject.


The master was bitten by the dog.

The house was built by the carpenter.

The car was driven by Anneli.

***Note that the passive voice (as in the examples above) is not usually the preferred choice for writers of novels. The active voice makes for much better drama. Consider these two ways of writing:


The Corolla was driven up the new highway by Marlie. A bear was seen by her. The car was being parked at the side of the road by Marlie. The camera was picked up by her shaking hands. Just then, she was charged by the bear.


Marlie drove up the Corolla up the new highway. She saw a bear. Marlie parked the car at the side of the road. Her shaking hands picked up the camera. Just then, the bear charged her.


The passive voice works well in some cases, and has its uses, but for the most part, the active verb form is better. In some cases, the passive verb form is best.

For example, we use the passive verb if something happened to someone but we don’t know who did it:

My neighbour was robbed.

The pedestrian was knocked over.

The money was taken.

Take care to check your verb forms and only use the passive form if it is called for. Needless use of the passive verb form takes the punch out of your writing.

Grammar – Sentences



When we write, it is mainly to communicate, usually for business dealings, friendly greetings, or entertainment.

The main structure of our written language involves speaking or writing in sentences. Sometimes we can get away with using sentence fragments, a word or two to get the meaning across, or to emphasize something, but more often when we want no misunderstanding, especially in business, we use complete sentences.

With so many people texting, the use of conventional grammar and sentence structure is quickly falling away. Writing correctly is suddenly a bigger challenge than it once was.

I would like to offer a series of posts that discuss the use of “proper” grammar and sentence structure.

Today’s post is going to be simple, but we should start at the beginning.

What is a sentence?

We have sentences that serve various purposes.

Telling something or conveying an idea (declarative sentence):

My dog is a cocker spaniel.

Asking a question (interrogative sentence):

Do you like dogs?

Giving a command (imperative):

Feed my dog, please.

Expressing strong feeling (exclamatory sentence):

Watch out for the car!


In the declarative sentence we have two parts to the sentence; the subject and the predicate. The subject is either a noun or a pronoun (I, you, he, she, it, we, they), and the predicate is a verb.

Here are some examples. The subject is in red, and the predicate is in green.

Plants grow.

Children laugh.

They shout.

We run.

Those are pretty simple sentences. Often we use articles (a, an, the) in front of a noun. We also add modifiers to describe the nouns. These are called adjectives. Modifiers that describe the verb are called adverbs.

In the examples below, the adjectives will be blue and the adverbs will be orange.

The tropical plants grow vigorously.

The happy children laugh heartily.


More about sentence structure next time.

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.