Grammar refresher - Claire Scobie
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Grammar refresher

Grammar refresher

Plain English word cloudGood grammar is the bricks and mortar of writing. If you want to communicate clearly in an email, a report, an article or a full-length book, it’s important to get your grammar right.

Some writers I know rely on the squiggly green lines in Microsoft Word that alert you to mistakes. Others prefer writing applications like Grammarly for proofreading because it catches those pesky errors that other programmes miss.

Participants at my workshops often complain they weren’t taught grammar at school. There are blank stares when I ask them to define an adverb or a simile.

When the copy editor was editing my novel The Pagoda Tree she pointed out some of my mistakes. I confuse the two verbs ‘to lie’ and ‘to lay’. Instead of saying ‘I laid down’ I should say ‘I lay down.’ This is because the verb ‘lay’ or ‘laid’ needs an object. E.g, I laid the table.

In contrast ‘lie’ or ‘lay’ or ‘lain’ is an intransitive verb and doesn’t need a direct object. So you can say, ‘I lay and read.’

Last year to further my knowledge, I went to Deb Doyle’s excellent Editing Essentials course at the Australian Writers’ Centre. She’s a stickler for proper grammar and how it sharpens your writing.

Here are 5 grammar tips that can help you:

  1. Make your verbs active, not passive. Not ‘I was told by the man’ but ‘the man told me.’ Less words and more dynamic.
  2. Use verbs rather than adverbs. They are the engine of your sentence. They drive a story forward. Not ‘she walked slowly’ but ‘she strolled.’
  3. Write simple subject-verb-object sentences rather than relying on several clauses in a sentence to convey meaning.
  4. Avoid using nouns as adjectives. This is common in the corporate and business world. E.g. ‘We provide alternative solution strategies’ can be ‘we provide alternative solutions’ or ‘alternative strategies.’
  5. Watch the apostrophe. People often confuse the possessive pronoun ‘its’ for ‘it’s’ which is short for ‘it is’. Or ‘your’ for ‘you’re’.

Over to you. What grammar mistakes do you make? And how do you fix them?

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