I remember the first time I realized I could write. I was in Mrs. Vick’s high school typing class. We were given an assignment to create and type a fictitious resume. As you can imagine, this was a challenge because none of us had any previous work experience. The person with the most impressive resume would be hired by our teacher. I dug into my imaginative bank and created a resume that would impress even the most discerning employer. I was certain my resume would put me ahead of the competition for that dream position. Although the job was make-believe, I won!
Now two books and three short stories later, I find myself on the opposite end of the writing spectrum—I sling red ink for a living. As an editor, one of my goals is to ensure that a writer has put his or her best foot forward. Readers have become much more sophisticated, and for better or worse, they have an itch to judge. While grammar isn’t necessarily a reflection of your storytelling abilities, it does translate poorly if your finished product is wracked with errors.
It behooves every writer to have a firm grasp of basic grammar rules. Below are five common grammar mistakes I see routinely, not only in editing submissions, but in print. Don’t feel bad if you find the rules confusing. Although I am an editor, I continue to make these mistakes as well. I often have to refer to my trusted resource manuals for clarification. When I’m too frustrated, I let my editor figure it out. Yes, editors have editors.
Who and Whom
“Who” is a subjective pronoun, along with “he,” “she,” “it,” “we,” and “they.” It’s used when the pronoun acts as the subject of a clause. “Whom” is an objective pronoun, along with “him,” “her,” “it”, “us,” and “them.” It’s used when the pronoun acts as the object of a clause. Using “who” or “whom” depends on whether you’re referring to the subject or object of a sentence.
Still too hard to remember? Try this easy rule: Like “whom,” the pronoun “him” ends with “m.” When you’re trying to decide whether to use “who” or “whom,” ask yourself if the answer to the question would be “he” or “him.” If you can answer the question being asked with “him,” then use “whom.” EX: If you’re trying to ask, “Who (or whom) do you want to see?” The answer would be “I want to see him.” “Him” ends with an “m,” so you know to use “whom.” But if you are trying to ask, “Who (or whom) loves me more?” the answer would be “He loves me more.” There’s no “m,” so you know to use “who.”
Who’s and Whose
“Who’s” is a contraction of who is or, less commonly, who has.
EX: Who’s the author of that book?
“Whose” is the possessive of who.
EX: Whose book is this?
Still too hard to remember? Try this easy rule: If you can replace the word with who is, use “who’s.” If not, use “whose.”
Lay and Lie
This mistake is by far the most egregious. In the essence of time, let’s focus on present tense only. “Lay” requires a direct object, and “lie” does not. That said, you lie down on the sofa (no direct object), but you lay the remote down on the sofa (the remote is the direct object). Admittedly, this one is very tricky. Refer to the chart below.
Infinitive Definition Present
to lay to put or place lay(s)
to lie to rest or recline lie(s)
Getting it right, takes considerable thought. In my own writing, I usually figure out a way to avoid the word. When I can’t—and it’s use is necessary—I let my editor figure it out.
Affect and Effect
“Affect” is almost always a verb, and “effect” is almost always a noun. “Affect” means to influence or produce an impression. “Effect” is the thing produced by the affecting agent; it describes the result or outcome. There are a few exceptions. “Effect” may be used as a transitive verb, which means to bring about or make happen. EX: The eBook revolution effected a much-needed shift in the literary industry. There are similarly rare examples where “affect” can be a noun. A client, Deidra DS Green, introduced me to this use. EX: His affect made him seem bored at the book signing.
The last common mistake isn’t a grammar mistake, but a punctuation mistake I see time and time again—the use of quotation marks. I recently questioned one of my mentors, Deatri King-Bey, on the use of quotation marks. After giving me a tutorial she said, “Don’t overthink it.” So here goes:
Periods and commas always go inside the closing quotation marks. EX: “I am looking forward to the Romance Slam Jam,” Edwina said. “I can’t wait to meet Deatri.”
Question marks and exclamation points go inside the closing quotation marks if they are part of the text you are quoting. EX 1: Tanya picked up the phone and asked, “Are you coming over today?” The question mark goes inside the quotation because Tanya is being quoted as asking the question. EX 2: Have you heard the saying, “smart as a whip”? In this example, the question mark goes outside the quote because the quote is not a question.
Bottom line, an author’s job is to tell great stories. So what you can’t remember all the rules of grammar! Make a concerted effort to master as many as you can, but when you fall short, let your editor sort it out. That’s their job. Remember, every great writer has a great team of editors.
J’son M. Lee (Editor)
See you at www.sweetgeorgiapress.com
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