Archive | October 2011

Grammar Tips for the Average Joe (or Jo-Ann)

Okay, so as an editor, I admittedly deal with grammar more than the average Joe (or Jo-Ann).

In fact, when my Hillary (now 14) was in first grade, I rode on a school bus with her class as a field trip chaperone. (Yes, I rode on a bus with 75 first graders–without a sedative, which is pretty much the equivalent of childbirth without an epidural.  I did that, too.)  Anyway, enroute I overheard the following conversation between Hillary and a classmate:

Little Boy:”Hey, Hillary, what does your mom do for a job?”

Hillary: “She corrects people’s spelling.”

It was humbling, to say the least.

Most people’s livelihood doesn’t depend on knowing how to spell properly or knowing how to conjugate verbs. HOWEVER, and I say this in all caps because it’s IMPORTANT, the degree to which you DO pay attention to spelling and grammar can make a big difference in how well you get on in the world.

That’s because bad grammar can make you look, well, bad. 

I’ve been doing some playing around with different topics on my blog, Facebook, and Twitter, just to get a feel for what kinds of things people seem to respond to and be interested in.  Guess which of my Facebook posts of late has gotten the most response?  The one about grammar!  (Although, the one about getting moles out of my yard seems to be running a close second.) It seems folks care more about grammar (and moles) than one might think. People do notice how well you do (or don’t) express yourself.

Here’s a fact: if you want people to take you seriously, you need to at least half-way sound like you know what you’re talking about. And if you can’t get at least the basics of either spoken or written English right, how credible of a candidate are they going to consider you for a job, position, speaking engagement, etc.? It may not be a fair judgment of your actual abilities. But I’m telling you, it’s REALITY.

I came across an article that speaks to this–so far as it relates to writing–in a succinct and user-friendly way. So, rather than re-invent the wheel, I’ll just re-post it for you here.  Hope you enjoy … and if it’s helpful, all the better!

——

(Note: this next part is an excerpt from an article on CopyBlogger.com, by Brian Clark.)

What are some mistakes that can detract from your credibility? While we all hope what we have to say is more important than some silly grammatical error, the truth is some people will not take you seriously if you make dumb mistakes when you write, and buying from you will be out of the question.

Here are five mistakes to avoid …

1. Your vs. You’re

This one drives me insane, and it’s become extremely common. All it takes to avoid this error is to take a second and think about what you’re trying to say.

“Your” is a possessive pronoun, as in “your car” or “your blog.” “You’re” is a contraction for “you are,” as in “you’re screwing up your writing by using your when you really mean you are.”

2. It’s vs. Its

This is another common mistake. It’s also easily avoided by thinking through what you’re trying to say.

“It’s” is a contraction of “it is” or “it has.” “Its” is a possessive pronoun, as in “this blog has lost its mojo.” Here’s an easy rule of thumb—repeat your sentence out loud using “it is” instead. If that sounds goofy, “its” is likely the correct choice.

3. There vs. Their

This one seems to trip up everyone occasionally, often as a pure typo. Make sure to watch for it when you proofread.

“There” is used many ways, including as a reference to a place (“let’s go there”) or as a pronoun (“there is no hope”). “Their” is a plural possessive pronoun, as in “their bags” or “their opinions.” Always do the “that’s ours!” test—are you talking about more than one person and something that they possess? If so, “their” will get you there.

4. Affect vs. Effect

To this day I have to pause and mentally sort this one out in order to get it right. As with any of the other common mistakes people make when writing, it’s taking that moment to get it right that makes the difference.

“Affect” is a verb, as in “Your ability to communicate clearly will affect your income immensely.” “Effect” is a noun, as in “The effect of a parent’s low income on a child’s future is well documented.” By thinking in terms of “the effect,” you can usually sort out which is which, because you can’t stick a “the” in front of a verb. While some people do use “effect” as a verb (“a strategy to effect a settlement”), they are usually lawyers, and you should therefore ignore them if you want to write like a human.

5. The Dangling Participle

The dangling participle may be the most egregious of the most common writing mistakes. Not only will this error damage the flow of your writing, it can also make it impossible for someone to understand what you’re trying to say.

Check out these two examples from Tom Sant’s book Persuasive Business Proposals:

After rotting in the cellar for weeks, my brother brought up some oranges.

Uhh… keep your decomposing brother away from me!

Featuring plug-in circuit boards, we can strongly endorse this server’s flexibility and growth potential.

Hmmm… robotic copy written by people embedded with circuit boards. Makes sense.

The problem with both of the above is that the participial phrase that begins the sentence is not intended to modify what follows next in the sentence. However, readers mentally expect it to work that way, so your opening phrase should always modify what immediately follows. If it doesn’t, you’ve left the participle dangling, as well as your readers.

P.S. You may find it amusing to know that I have never learned the formal rules of grammar. I learned to write by reading obsessively at an early age, but when it came time to learn the “rules,” I tuned out. If you show me an incorrect sentence, I can fix it, but if I need to know the technical reason why it was wrong in the first place, I go ask my wife.

Thanks, Brian, well said!  ~A.

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Letting Go

There’s something that often strikes me when I hear remarkable stories about people who overcome tragic abuses, losses, and injustices and go on to live lives full of joyful and dynamic impact. How do they DO that, I wonder?

It’s a sharp contrast to others I encounter who DON’T have that same peace and joy and freedom—who live life scarred and beaten down, bitter, and full of self-pity.  What makes the difference?

I think it’s the freedom of forgiveness.

I put a little post on my FB page the other day about unforgiveness vs. forgiveness and—oh my goodness!—it was my most commented post ever!  I think it’s because the tension between the two is so common to the human experience.

The desire NOT to forgive, to hang on to offenses, is a temptation for all of us.  So why don’t we ‘fess up, admit it, and talk about it more?

Jesus did.  He said we’re supposed to forgive those who hurt and offend us even up to “seventy times seven.” That’s a pretty radical suggestion! It’s way beyond our humanness sometimes.

That’s why I think much of the work necessary to truly forgive happens first through prayer. Prayer is a way I can interact personally with the Father’s heart—a heart that is full of infinite forgiveness and unconditional mercy and love (unlike my own).

That’s not religion.  That’s relationship. When I connect with Him, by faith and through prayer, those qualities can become mine. He gives me the desire and power to forgive, and the strength I need to do so. That’s the only way I can fulfill Jesus’ radical commandment to forgive seventy times seven.

I’m speaking from experience here, not just theory. I’ve had to forgive hurts and injustices just like anyone else. Big ones and little ones.  It’s a day-to-day exercise, isn’t it?

One of the biggest forgiveness tests for me came once when I had to go back into the very environment where I had been been wounded and subjected to a significant injustice.  Could I do it? It was hard to think of coming face to face with my offenders. But having forgiven them first in my heart, through prayer and in concert with my Father’s heart, I was ready to do it with my actions.

It was one of the most healing things I’ve ever done.

When we forgive, WE’RE the ones who are set free. It’s not so much about letting the other person “off the hook.” WE are the ones released from the prison of unforgiveness.  That was certainly my experience! And I hope it’s yours, too.

 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you.  Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.

Colossians 3:13

 

Is there a person, an offense, or an injustice you want to forgive, but are having trouble with it?

Can I suggest doing it WITH GOD FIRST, in your heart, through prayer?

THEN put it into practice with your thoughts, words, and actions.

Was it any easier?

I’d love to hear your forgiveness stories!

 

 

Family Togetherness

We had a fun weekend … Husband and I took the Youngest Two and  Dog  over the mountains to see Eldest Son and his Beautiful Wife, and to get a bit of a Getaway ourselves. Middle Daughters were in New York and London respectively. Not wanting to be stuck home missing them, we decided to embark on a trip of our own!

Base camp was a beautiful resort winery perched on the Columbia River Gorge. We had a gift certificate that needed using (thank you very much!) which entitled us to one night in a gorgeous cliff house overlooking the pool and canyon.  Stunning.

The resort was having a harvest festival so we got in on some activities like this cooking demonstration by Chef Bear and his assistant where we learned Useful Things like how to make Homemade Ricotta Cheese and what to do with the plethora of Homegrown Tomatoes that may be spilling out of your garden (what luck, that’s me!). Roast ’em, process ’em, then throw ’em in ziploc bags in the freezer till you’re ready to make spaghetti sauce out of  ’em.  (Who knew?)

I won’t post the recipe for the Homemade Ricotta Cheese until I actually try it myself.  Sounds a little sketchy to me.

In the morning, above-mentioned kids joined us for a fabulous brunch.  Seriously amazing.  Of course, all Youngest Daughter wanted was chocolate cupcakes and giant shrimp.  Together on the same plate.  Ugh.  Oh well, that’s the beauty of a buffet.

Before we parted company, we all took a hike.  I started off calling it a Nice Walk but we quickly discovered the downside of a resort built on a cliff.  Going down is a Nice Walk.  Coming back up is a Gruelling Hike. Everyone rebelled.  Except the dog, and only because he can’t talk.  It was still fun.

Then home again. Glad we took time to spend together this weekend.  Family Togetherness is a Big Deal to our family. There’s a lot of things maybe we haven’t done right, but I do know we’ve made a point of this one. Our kids are our Best Friends.  🙂

What are some ways your family spends time together and builds “family togetherness?”