Manic Monday: The Least Sexy Writing Tool You Need

Bad Grammar English is our language

It is time, my friends, to talk about the least sexy of all writing subjects: Grammar. Specifically, let’s talk about a tool that I have found that will help you improve the quality of your manuscripts. The product? Grammarly.


I know – you’re probably rolling your eyes at me and are thinking about leaving the page. Perhaps you, like some readers, care almost exclusively about the book’s premise, plot, idea. Perhaps you, like some readers, don’t give a hang about typos and ignore poor grammar.


But not all readers feel that way. In fact, at the other end of the spectrum are grammar nazis. These people are irritated by the most minute errors. Grammar nazis take great pleasure in going onto Amazon and giving one star to a novel because of grammar errors (I saw this kind of review posted for one of my favorite books of 2011, The Night Circus).

Perhaps you’re saying, “Yes, but very few readers are that into grammar.”

Probably true. But I think the majority of readers fall between these two extremes. Most readers are annoyed by books with a significant number of typos and spelling errors. Many get irritated if a writer consistently overuses a word or uses banal and vague descriptions.

But even if the reader is not consciously aware of errors, I believe a book riddled with errors wears on the reader, if only unconsciously. If the reader actually gets to the end, she may be ‘meh‘ about the book and not recommend it, even though she generally liked the premise and the main character(s).

If you have stayed with me this long I hope I’ve made a case for why you, as a writer, should care more about the polish of your prose than most of us probably do. The attention to detail can lift a book from “just so, so” to “pretty good.” <span caption="Review this sentence for pronoun use" class="IgnoredPatterns alert" critical="true" description="

The pronoun, “I”, may use the incorrect case. Ensure the objective form of the pronoun has been used.

A pronoun (words like I, she, you, we, it, they) is a word which replaces a noun. Pronouns have different cases; the subjective, or nominative, cases are: I, you (singular), he/she/it, we, you (plural), they and who. The objective, or dative, cases are: me, you (singular), him/her, us, you (plural), them and whom. We use the objective case when something is being done to (or given to, etc.) someone.

Incorrect: No matter how loudly I yell, Mom still doesn’t listen to I.
The first “I” is the subjective, and is correct; the second “I” is objective, and should be changed to “me”: …Mom still doesn’t listen to me.

Incorrect: The baby is hungry; please feed he.
The pronoun, “he”, should be in the objective case: …please feed him.

Incorrect: The three artists do not know with who they will work next.
“Who” should be in the objective case, “whom”: …with whom they will work next.

N.B. The use of “whom” is falling out of fashion, and should only be used in very formal writing. When in doubt, it is better to use “who” than to incorrectly use “whom”.

” grammarpoint=”Pronoun used in incorrect case.” patterndate=”1339680713000″ pid=”5083253″ sentence=”It can be the difference between, “I struggled to get through that book,” to “I highly recommend this book.””>It can be the difference between, “I struggled to get through that book,” to “I highly recommend this book.”


A book free of errors cannot guarantee sales. We have all been witness to books that have topped the charts and are poorly written or full of errors.


But you and I – while we care about sales – we care more about giving the reader the best possible book we can give them. We care deeply about the product. And because we care about the prose, we owe it to ourselves – and our readers – to invest time and money into products and services that help us put out our best possible product.


What does Grammarly do? How do you know if you need Grammarly?


1. If you didn’t know that modifiers can squint, you need Grammarly. Until I began using it, I was unaware that modifiers could squint. Apparently they can, and apparently I had modifiers squinting all over the place.

What the heck is a squinting modifier and why should I care?

If a modifier is placed in a sentence in such a way that it could be modifying either of two different clauses, it’s a “squinting” modifier. And this is confusing to the reader. And that’s why you should care.

You never want to confuse your reader. Confused readers become frustrated readers and frustrated readers don’t recommend your book to their friends and don’t come back for more books by you.

Grammarly will not only point out all of your squinters; you will learn to stop doing it in the first place. By using the program and correcting the mistake yourself, you’ll be learning. When you do this over the course of an entire manuscript, trust me, the rule will become engrained. If the rule is engrained, you are less likely to break the rule in the future. Ergo, less confusion for your readers = happier readers. Yeah! We love happy readers.

2. If you love to use banal words such as very, even, good, bad or others like them, you need Grammarly. The program will not only point these words out, but it will recommend more juicy, specific words to use.

Why is this a problem and why should I care?

Every word should count. So make each word work for you. When is the word “very” necessary? Perhaps never. Consider “very good.” <span caption="Review this sentence for verb form use" class="IgnoredPatterns alert span9" critical="true" description="

This clause may not be clearly phrased as a question, despite the use of a question mark. Consider putting the auxiliary verb first, or using a question tag.

When we are not using one of the question words (“who”, “what”, “when”, “where”, “why”, “how”), the phrasing of questions should be clear and grammatically correct for formal writing. By putting the auxiliary verb (helper verb) first, or by using a question tag (“don’t you”, “will you”, “alright”, “no”, “hadn’t we”, “wouldn’t he”), the question is clarified for the reader.

Incorrect: He wouldn’t do that for me?
It may be unclear to the reader whether this sentence is intended as a question or a statement.. The sentence might be re-written with the auxiliary verb first: Wouldn’t he do that for me? The writer may also create emphasis with a question tag: He wouldn’t do that for me, would he?

Incorrect: You don’t like the shirt?
It may be unclear to the reader whether this sentence is intended as a question or a statement. The sentence might be re-written with the auxiliary verb first: Don’t you like the shirt? The writer may also create emphasis with a question tag: You don’t like the shirt, do you?

” grammarpoint=”Clause may not be clearly phrased as a question.” patterndate=”1339680714000″ pid=”3906179″ sentence=”That’s the most juicy description you could come up with for chocolate lava cake ?” shortdescription=”

This clause may not be clearly phrased as a question, despite the use of a question mark. Consider putting the auxiliary verb first, or using a question tag.

Incorrect: He wouldn’t do that for me?
Correct: Wouldn’t he do that for me?
Correct: He wouldn’t do that for me, would he?

“>That’s the most juicy description you could come up with for chocolate lava cake (for example)?

Once Grammarly has pointed this out to you several <span caption="Review this sentence for agreement errors" class="IgnoredPatterns alert span10" critical="true" description="

Ensure adjectives like “many”, “several”, “few” and “enough” have not been used with singular countable nouns, as this may cause an agreement error.

The noun “” is a singular countable noun, and should not be used with the adjective “”. Consider changing the adjective or the quantity of the noun.

Adjectives such as “many”, “several”, “few” and “enough” should be used to modify plural nouns. Singular nouns may be modified by words such as “a”, “one”, “the”, or “that”.

Incorrect: The man reacted quickly, with few consideration for his own safety.
As “few” is modifying “consideration”, this sentence is incorrect. One might make “consideration” plural (“considerations”), or one might re-phrase the sentence as, “The man reacted quickly, with no consideration for his own safety.”

Incorrect: Do you have enough packet of sugar?
As the noun is “packet”, it should be pluralized to agree with “enough”.

Correct: Do you have enough sugar?
As “sugar” is an uncountable noun, it can be used with “enough”.

” grammarpoint=”Adjectives “many”, “several”, “few” or “enough” used with singular countable noun instead of plural one.” patterndate=”1339680714000″ pid=”8188512″ replacements=”dozens,dozen,dozens” sentence=”Once Grammarly has pointed this out to you several dozen of times, you’ll start to get the picture.” shortdescription=”

The noun “” is a singular countable noun, and should not be used with the adjective “”. Consider changing the adjective or the quantity of the noun.

Incorrect: Do you have enough packet of sugar?
Correct: Do you have enough packets of sugar?
Correct: Do you have enough sugar?

“>dozen (or hundreds) of times, you’ll start to get the picture. Again, it becomes engrained, and you’ll write juicier, less banal words to start with.

3. If you never use commas (or use ten per sentence), you need Grammarly.

Why do we care about commas?


<span caption="Review this sentence for incomplete comparisons" class="IgnoredPatterns alert" critical="true" description="

Ensure there are no incomplete comparisons in your work; the sentence must be complete, so the things being compared are clearly identifiable.

When something is being compared to something else, the sentence must clearly identify all things being compared. Often, the comparative sentence includes a word like “more”, “less”, or “so”; the sentence also needs to include words like “than” or “that”.

Incorrect: That comedian is more straight-forward with his jokes.
The words, “more straight-forward”, imply a comparison, but there is nothing to which one can compare the comedian. The sentence might be finished with, “…than the other comedian who tells long, convoluted stories.”

Incorrect: Bryan is so funny.
The word, “so”, implies a comparison should be made. If a comparison is to be made, the sentence could be finished with, “…that it is difficult to pay attention to the teacher.” If there is no comparison to be made, “so” can be removed and replaced by a qualifier: Bryan is very funny.

” grammarpoint=”Incomplete comparison.” patterndate=”1337729397000″ pid=”5223174″ sentence=”Your prose is easier to read when you properly use commas.” shortdescription=”

Ensure there are no incomplete comparisons in your work; the sentence must be complete, so the things being compared are clearly identifiable.

Incorrect: That comedian is more straight-forward with his jokes.
Correct: That comedian is more straight-forward with his jokes than the other comedian who tells long, convoluted stories.

Incorrect: Bryan is so funny.
Correct: Bryan is very funny.

“>Your prose is easier to read when you properly use commas. If you help your reader out, you’ll have a happy reader. A reader shouldn’t have to work at reading your novel.

Have you ever had to read a sentence more than once to figure out what it means? Okay, if you’re reading a physics book, perhaps that’s to be expected. But a novel? No, you should never have to read and reread a sentence to figure out what the heck the writer is trying to say.

Misplaced modifiers, dangling participles and other freakish grammar beasts can be to blame. But the lack of or misplacement of commas can also contribute to lack of readability.

Grammarly is genius at the use of commas. If you use it regularly, you, too, may become a comma genius.

Grammarly, or similar programs, cannot replace a substantive editor. Writers still need human editors to help craft the story. But for writers, especially self-pubbers and other Indies, Grammarly will help your prose achieve a higher state of polish and readability.

Readability = happy readers. And happy readers = happy writers.

Everyone’s happy. Isn’t that wonderful?

What writing or editing tools have you found indespensible? What have you purchased that you’d gladly purchase again?



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2 thoughts on “Manic Monday: The Least Sexy Writing Tool You Need”

  1. Great post, thanks Natalie. I find grammar errors pull me out of the story and that's not good.
    I had never heard of Grammarly so will check it out.
    I did use and subscribe to the Autocrit Wiz. http://www.autocrit.com/ which you can use for basic stuff without paying. It picks up re-used words and overused words, but not punctuation etc.
    Apart from dangling modifiers (which I think is the same as squinting modifers) I have difficulty with sentences like this: “Closing the door behind him, he climbed the staircase.” The word “after” is missing, so theoretically, the two actions must be taking place at the same time which is obviously impossible. It works if the two sections can be simultaneous eg, shutting his eyes, he climbed the staircase.
    I'm sure there is a name for this….But I find this really irks me. But, hey, maybe I'm wrong and it is correct?!?
    The other thing I have a problem with is that the rules of what is acceptable keep changing. Maybe you can write a blog about that one day!

    Like

  2. Glad you found this post useful A.G.
    One could say: “He closed the door behind him then climbed the staircase.” That way you take out the passive voice “closing” and keep it in the active voice and it seems to also address the issue you raised.
    I agree, the rules change! So just when you think you've got it down, you'll find out you don't!
    But hey, it's all fun, right?!

    Like

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