There’s a rumor floating around that the English language was created specifically to confuse and frustrate innocent people and cause unnecessary stress every time a complex sentence is in need of construction. Whether or not that’s true, I will admit it takes time and a whole lot of patience to learn all the ins and outs of our complicated and beautiful language.
If you were lucky enough to have a few fairy godmothers for teachers—like I did—then you had inspiration floating around you like pixie dust every time a story was read aloud or a new book was assigned. And whenever it was time to practice complex grammatical subjects, you tossed the entire contents of your desk to find the precious red pencil that would help you work magic.
The Nerds Know
It didn’t take me too long to find my nerdy niche in life, and trust me, I embraced it fully, devouring book after book and finding joy in opening the dictionary to random pages to scour for obscure words. My point is this: it’s important to go to the right source when you’re trying to perfect a specific skill.
I suck at math…really, abysmally suck at it. I mean, I can do “sale math” like a whiz. I can figure out a pretty close total at a BOGO book sale or a 33% off shoe sale. I’ll walk away with a bargain, no doubt. But ask me to figure out how many gallons of gas a plane flying from Dallas to D.C. will need if the wind is blowing from the southeast at 12 mph, and I can guarantee that plane will run out of fuel and fall from the sky in a flaming blaze of glory.
You should definitely go to a MATH genius for that kind of hard-core brain pain.
Gather The Grammar Lovers
It’s true. The English language is daunting. It’s full of inconsistencies and irregularities that sneak up on every one of us and trip us up. The language makes itself pretty darned impossible, and unless you love to sit around and read grammar tutorials from cover to cover, it’s easy to step in a pothole every now and then.
Some might even say the English language is a painful mosh pit of confusion and illusion—but let’s not dwell on the negative.
Here are 5 super-easy tricks that will help you turn your sentences into masterpieces—no matter what you’re writing:
- Be you. It’s the easiest thing you can do. There’s no character study required, no pretending, no acting. Lay your writing onto the page as if you were pouring your words out of your soul. Don’t change yourself or your beliefs simply because a thought is going to be forever etched onto paper (or a digital platform) for all to see. Don’t change the words you need to write in light of—or in anticipation of—what others may think. Be true to you, be true to your words, and be true to your art. When it’s all said and done, you’ll end up coming out on top.
- Rearrange to sustain your writing mojo. If you weren’t a sentence-diagramming nerd in school, armed with a red pen and an evil heart—ready to strike down every common grammatical mistake—then you don’t understand the thrill of the hunt. But there’s a way you thwart the grammar gremlins and still come out ahead. Simply rearrange or shorten convoluted sentences and turn them into powerful, grammatically-solid sentences. It’s perfectly ok to cover your ass by switching things up. Here’s a simple example:
- Mind your nouns and verbs. (prepositions throw this off) I know, just the thought of noun/verb agreement makes many of you break out into hives, but stick with me. When readers come upon a noun/verb situation that doesn’t agree, it’s distracting. Suddenly, instead of focusing on the plot line, they become focused on proofreading and editing errors in your writing—which is exactly the OPPOSITE of what you want.
- Punctuation matters. Double-check your punctuation. Then triple-check it. Not only can your choice of punctuation completely change the meaning of a sentence, it can also be distracting if it is incorrect or simply out of place. And while we’re on the topic, let’s talk about excessive exclamation points. Cut that out. If you find yourself constantly screaming at your audience with an overload of exclams, instead of making your point come across more clearly, you’re making yourself look hysterical. I mean, who goes around all day, every day just YELLING everything in excitement??!!!!! See what I mean?
- Double-check your homophones. Ah, good ol’ homophones…loved and hated by so many. Here’s the deal. There just aren’t that many of them, and if you can memorize the difference between craft beer and light beer, if you can learn how to book tickets online, remember all your internet passwords, and even remember to send flowers on your grandma’s birthday, then you can remember the difference between there, their, and they’re. A little effort in this area will improve your writing immensely.
Pro Tip: Prepositional phrases are often the culprits when it comes to subject/verb mismatches. Why? A prepositional phrase can interrupt the subject and verb, often appearing between the two. This means you must know your prepositions and be able to pull prepositional phrases from the writing to determine subject/verb agreement. The general rule—and a good test of your writing—is if you can remove a prepositional phrase, the subject and verb should agree when put together.
Example: The set [of moon and star stickers] was perfect for her new room décor.
The prepositional phrase is in brackets, so you can see that ‘The set was…’ naturally works together. A common error is to look at the word ‘stickers’ and assume it is the subject, therefore applying ‘were’ as the verb, which is incorrect.
And there you have it…just a few simple things to watch out for and pay attention to when you’re writing. Are there more? Ohhhh hell yes. But these always seem to make it into the list of perpetual writing sins, so they needed to be mentioned.
Your writing is important, so treat it that way. Give it the time and attention it needs to look it’s absolute best when it finally hits the web or goes to print. Nothing you do deserves to be done half-assed. Do it with your full ass, writer, and you’ll feel more fulfilled and rewarded with your work.