Category Archives: grammar

The Language of Words

PJ Sharon here. When I began studying the writing craft about eight years ago, I hooked up with a retired high school English teacher friend of mine who suggested that I needed to learn how to “speak about language.” What she meant was that I needed to understand the difference between parts of speech, learn the ways in which we use language, and be able to differentiate the tools that help us define communication. More than basic grammar and usage, I needed to re-learn the difference between homonyms and synonyms, and idioms and euphemisms.

I find all these terms confusing on a good day! To help me keep it all straight, I get my word and grammar fix from Daily Writing Tips, a newsletter subscription that sends me…yes, daily writing tips. It keeps me learning new things, and often helps me drag some old reminders from the recesses of my 10th grade brain. I found the definitions of paranym and paronym this week and was delighted to learn a new term. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you should!

I don’t know about you, but differentiating between a paranym and a paronym would never have even been on my radar before I became a writer, began hanging out at writing conferences and taking workshops where people smarter than I seemed to understand this “foreign” language of English in a way that made me want to be “in on the secret.”

Since I’ll be at the National RWA conference next week, I thought I’d study up. After all, it’s not ALL about the shoes! And no, my feet would not be caught dead in these, LOL. I’ll be wearing flats.picture038

Here are those definitions…in case you’re interested. Courtesy of Daily Writing Tips and Wikipedia.

I’ll start with euphemisms. This one, I get. Wiki defines Euphemism as a mild or pleasant word or phrase that is used instead of one that is unpleasant or offensive.

Examples of a euphemism:

“Eliminate” in place of “kill,” “kick the bucket” instead of “die,” or “unmotivated” rather than “lazy.”

An Idiom is a phrase or a fixed expression that has a figurative, or sometimes literal, meaning. An idiom’s figurative meaning is different from the literal meaning.


It’s “raining cats and dogs,” she’s “pulling your leg,” “it’s not rocket science,” or you “spilled the beans.”

Paranyms- A euphemistic word or phrase whose literal sense is contrary to the reality of what it refers to, used especially to disguise or misrepresent the truth about something. In other words, words whose meaning is generally the opposite of that intended by the speaker.

Example: “Everlasting life:” Or in other words, “death.”

Paronyms- A word which is derived from another word or from a word with the same root, and having a related or similar meaning, (e.g. childhood and childish). Another definition is a word similar in sound or appearance to another; especially, a near homonym.

This is where all those pesky confusing words come from.

affect/effect, farther/further, alternately/alternatively, interested/interesting, corrupted/corrupt, adopt/adapt, continuous/contiguous

If you want to know the difference between Heteronyms, Homonyms, Homographs and Homophones, check out this article by Lee Masterson of the Fiction Factor, an online magazine for fiction writers that also has great tips on the language of words.

I hope you enjoyed today’s lesson.

Which vocabulary definitions throw you for a loop? (Yep…I used an idiom).


Don’t Be Guilty of #Word Crimes!

Hey there! Casey here!

Recently, Weird Al released another album which shot straight to number 1 on the Billboard Chart. Not since 1963 has a comedy album taken the top spot. Kudos to Weird Al!

And lucky for us writers, he’ s addressed a pressing issue – #Word Crimes! Please watch the following instructional video.

Be sure to laugh out loud if you feel so moved!


And then, please reflect upon Weird Al’s wisdom.

In an age where social media reigns supreme, it does seem like grammar is becoming a lost art. Sure, for us writers, solid knowledge of grammar is a must.  But it wasn’t until I chortled my way through this song, that I realized how many of these  mistakes also drive me mad.

Now, to be fair, before I began seriously writing, I’d forgotten some of those rules too. Comma placement continues to stump me. See the previous sentence – I probably used too many commas.  I don’t always punctuate dialog properly and the distinction between blond and blonde often baffles me (largely because publishers all handle it differently).

I am, by no means, a grammar nit-picker but one thing that does drive me nuts is spelling words wrong on purpose.

I’m looking at you SyFy Channel. For shame!!

I’m curious to know – which grammar mistakes drive you batty?


Avoiding Apostrophe Catastrophe–Repeat Performance

Hey, all, Suze here. I’m deep in the editing cave (working on both my own first book, which is due to my wonderful editor soon, and another project for someone else), so I thought I’d repeat my post on apostrophes from a while ago.

The apostrophe is the most misused punctuation mark out there. To me, incorrect use of the apostrophe and  spelling and homonym errors (I’ll discuss spelling and homonyms in a future post) are big hot pink neon signs that flash “inexperienced writer who hasn’t taken the time to polish.” Almost everybody can learn and implement these rules. And if for some reason you can’t or don’t want to (and of course there are valid reasons why this might be true), you need to find a friend or hire someone who can to go over your work before you put it out there into the world. We’re professionals, right? You wouldn’t go out of the house with uncombed hair or a big smear of powdered sugar on your tee shirt from the donut you just scarfed down, would you? Same with your writing. So here’s what I had to say about apostrophes:

Today’s topic is serious and, well, I hope you can handle it.  I’m talking about … punctuation.

Please don’t cringe in horror and run away screaming.  Many writers think of grammar and punctuation as something scary, mysterious, or incomprehensible.  I’m here, at the request of our Casey Wyatt, to let you know that it’s not.  You really don’t need to be able to define gerunds, or the subjunctive, or even the pluperfect, although those words are fun to say.  If you are already pretty good at this stuff, please stick around through to the end, because there might just be a reward!

Honestly, there are not that many grammar or punctuation rules a writer needs to follow.  This isn’t eighth grade, and no diagramming of sentences on a chalkboard in front of the whole class is required.  Most books have plenty of grammar “mistakes,” but guess what?  Good writing doesn’t have to be grammatically perfect.  It’s usually better when it isn’t, so it doesn’t sound stilted and formal.  Voice doesn’t really come through if your novel reads like a dissertation.

Let’s start with the apostrophe. You know this little guy. Here he is: ‘  (Waving madly.  Say hi!) This poor thing gets used and abused a lot. But he should really only be making an appearance in a few situations.

To take the place of letters removed in a contraction: don’t (do not), can’t (can not)  Or, if you’re writing Highland romance: Ye’ll be pressin’ that kilt, Connor McConnorhaughtlocheniantyre, before ye’ll be leavin’ my house.

To show possession:

  • If the noun showing possession is singular, use ‘s — Fiona’s snowy white arms.  Connor’s rippling abdominals.  This is true even if the singular noun ends in s — Hans’s luxurious blond hair.
  • If the noun showing possession is plural, place the apostrophe at the end — the Highland clans’ war.  The Joneses’ mailbox.

Special rules regarding the words its and it’s:

  • Use it’s ONLY in place of the words it is or it has — It’s been great knowing you Connor, but I must say good-bye.
  • Use its to show possession — The cave bear was fiercely protective of its lair.

Related to the above:

  • Never, ever, ever use an apostrophe if a pronoun is already possessive: its, hers, his, theirs, ours, yours, etc. (not it’s, her’s, his’s, their’s …)

And please:

  • Never, ever, ever use an apostrophe plus s to make a noun (person, place or thing) plural (more than one)–The cave bear’s ran after Connor (the cave bear’s what ran after Connor?). Correctly punctuated: The cave bears ran after Connor. (See the difference? The second sentence tells us that more than one bear is chasing Connor. Hope he got away!)

There are other rules, but these are the basics. If you have any questions, check out this site, which explains virtually every situation clearly:  You can also contact me, and I’ll do my best to answer your questions.

Now, for those of you who stuck with me through the lecture, here’s your treat … a gratuitous hunk!  I can’t post a picture due to copyright rules, but here’s a link for you: click here to see my number 1 pick to play Connor McWhat’shisname in the movie version of my hypothetical highland romance.

Do you have any pesky punctuation questions you want answered today?  If not, tell me about one of your high school English teachers.

Are you repeating yourself?

PJ here. I love the editing process. Well…love might be too strong a word. What I do love, though, is learning my strengths and weaknesses as a writer, and layering my story with the fine brush strokes that hopefully make the characters leap off the page and the plot keep readers riveted.

As I’m reading through a printed copy of WESTERN DESERT, my editor’s voice rings in my ear.

Coming June 24, 2013!
Coming June 24, 2013!
She has pointed out a specific weakness many times, but I couldn’t see it for myself until I read it on a printed page. There are just some things my eyes don’t pick up on the computer screen. In my case, it’s the glaringly repetitious -ing sentence structure that results in lots of “telling”. It seems I have a habit of structuring my sentences as follows:

We stopped only when necessary and took turns driving, making good time and closing in on our destination.

All in all, it’s not a horrible sentence, but repeating this pattern frequently can really bog down the writing. This is clearly a case of “telling”–beginning with a subject/verb construction, using –ing words, and making it a weak sentence that is unnecessarily long. Ooops! I did it again! Did you catch it? I’ve used two phrases connected by a comma, requiring me to use the gerund form of the verb in the second phrase. Darn it! I did it yet again! I can’t seem to help myself, LOL. Believe me, it was an eye opener when I finally saw it. Hopefully, I’ve taken care of the problem through most of the manuscript. If not, I’m certain my second round with an editor will catch it.

As for strengths, I’ve been told I have a knack for description. Here’s an example of using description to ground the reader in place and to paint a picture of the scene.

In the distance the Western mountain ranges turned a deep purple under clouds of smoke from wild-fires gone unmanaged. The coastal winds from the ocean beyond carried the wayward flames toward the desert, but with nothing but sand and cactus, they would die of starvation long before they reached us or the city of Las Vegas.

Although this could be considered telling, in just a few sentences you get a clear picture of the environment and lots of information about what’s happening. Like most writers, I struggle with brevity—the art of saying more with fewer words—but I’m definitely improving.

Do you know your strengths and weaknesses? Do you have any particularly stubborn habits that bog down your writing?

Nanowrimo-ing Monkey #3 – English!!!!!

Hidey-Ho Scribblers – J Monkeys here coming at you from the very end of day 16 of 2012 Nanowrimo.  Don’t know about Nano?  Click here.  Of the 60,000 words I want to write in November, I’ve got 22,000 done so far. 

But here’s the thing…I write in English and sometimes that pesky language trips me up.  For example, last week, I read the book Sanctus (click here for my review – well, really more of an endorsement) had plenty of characters to route for.  Or rout for.  Or as it turns out, root for. 

Ooooooooh – the English language can be a nightmare!  Family lore says that of the four languages my great-grandfather spoke fluently, English was the hardest one for him to master.  I can see why.  I’ve blogged before about how our fine language got this way (click here) but man, those homophones kill me! 

Sure, I’ve got my its/it’s down pat and my there/their/they’re and my to/too/two, but it’s these less frequently used homophones that get me every time.  Homophones, for those who don’t remember their 4th grade grammar lessons, are words that are pronounced the same but have different meanings.  Check out the bit in Wikipedia – I did not know that homophones which are spelled differently are actually called heterographs. 

Route (as it turns out) is a path for traveling, rout is an overwhelming defeat and root can either be the part of a plant that leaches nutrients from the ground or a way of cheering someone on.  Seriously?!  How can one word (root) have two so different meanings?  Well, let’s not forget about “cleave” which is both a homonym and an antonym with it’s two meanings: to cling and to split.  Evidently we can blame the Germans for that one – both words are from Old High German. 

I’ve written before about my trouble with peek, peak and pique.  And grill/grille.  Don’t think spell check or even grammar check are going to help you there.  I can’t tell you how often grammar check wants me to use the wrong ‘there.’  Frustrating!

These crazy words and their meanings are particularly hard for beginning readers.  I’ve got one living in my house and we’ve developed a particular cheer for those times when English makes no sense at all.  Ready?

Make fists with both hands, raise them above your head, look down toward the floor and shake those fists yelling through clenched teeth, “Ennnnngliiiissshhhhhhhh!” 

Yes, I stole this coping technique from my friends the Peacocks (and yes, I borrowed their colorful last name for my pirate in The Peacock’s Tale).  I’ve borrowed another great English coping mechanism from them, too.   Rating words on a scale from everyday to never-to-be-used.  But that’ll be the topic of next week’s blog.  Stay tuned!

Today’s secret: I have a bachelor’s degree in English – meaning I’ve studied it longer than many folks – and it still trips me up!

Today’s question: what words trip you up?