Grammar is probably one of the most detested parts of language studies anyone has ever had to endure. Face it, who enjoys diagramming sentences? Some of us would rather deal with multi-variable calculus than the parts of speech.

However, correct grammar is essential if you want to be perceived as a professional writer. Unfortunately, most language skills are attained in childhood when you learned to talk, so unless you had a parent who corrected your every grammatical faux pas at that time, you probably developed some incorrect habits. One that seems quite common is “We was” instead of “We were” or “Me and my sister went to the store” versus “My sister and I went to the store.”

At some point you may have to give in and do some formal study via Struck and White’s “The Elements of Style” but in the mean time, here are a few hints.

Punctuate dialog properly. If it’s a long speech, use an open quote at the beginning of the new paragraph, but don’t use a close quote on the previous one.

Learn proper comma usage. Reading your work out loud helps determine where a pause is appropriate for clarity.

Homonyms! Misuse can label you as unprofessional, sloppy, or someone who slept through English class. There are dozens of them. If you’re the slightest big dyslexic, this will be a significant problem. This is why you need an editor!

As a bare minimum, know the difference between they’re, there, and their; your, you’re, and yore; flare and flair; bare and bear; alter and altar; hanger and hangar, pour and pore, just to name a few.

Metaphors compare two entirely different things, such as comparing the stages of life to the seasons.

Analogies compare two things that are alike in some way, then extend it beyond that.

When someone asks a question, be sure to punctuate with a “?” However, this can vary with narration. “He wondered whether the police had all the evidence” is a statement but “Did the police have all the evidence?” is a question.

Paragraphs should contain connected thoughts and have an introductory and closing sentence. Of course, this is not always easy to do when writing a novel, but essential for nonfiction.

Watch for proper subject-verb agreement. “Writing skill IS important” vs. “Writing skill and grammar ARE important.”

A grammar checker should pick up various mistakes including subject-verb agreement and using the wrong homonym. One homonym frequently used incorrectly is shutter instead of shudder. Look it up!

The proper way to punctuate dialog is slightly different than a normal sentence. Rather than a period, use a comma, followed by “he said”, etc. A question uses a ? and exclamation a ! In all cases, the “he” doesn’t need to be capitalized. For example, “I’m going to the library,” he said.

Don’t over-use exclamation points! Save them for where they’re really needed for emphasis! Too many get annoying which reduces their impact!

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