Sunday, 25 September 2011

‘Isn’t it ironic, doncha think?’ Er, no actually, no it’s not.

I’ve come over all teacherly thanks to my course, so I thought I’d go into full English mode and point out a few common errors made by lots of writers. Including me. Looking at my list, these pesky little details may not seem like a big deal, but being aware of them could be the difference between an agent deciding to read your manuscript or not, so they might be worth taking note of.

1. Lay down/Lie down. When you’re talking about a person, ‘lay down’ is past tense, and ‘lie down’ is present tense. So you never ever ask someone to ‘lay down’ you ask them to ‘lie down.’ I first became aware of this when some lyrics of a song were bothering me because they were grammatically incorrect, ‘…someone to lay with’ and I mentioned it to a friend. She was confused at what I meant. That was when I realised just how common it is to use ‘lay’ for present tense regarding a person. Chickens lay eggs, people lay tables, but people don’t lay down. I don’t care if 90% of the English-speaking world is saying it, it’s still wrong. You want further proof? Word just underlined ‘lay’ with green, to show that it’s grammatically incorrect. The word it wants me to change it to? ‘Lie.’

2. All right. You don’t really hear about this much, but there’s actually no such word as ‘alright.’ It should always, always be ‘all right.’ Two words. I don’t know why. Just is.

3.Ironic. ‘It’s like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife…’ This is not actually irony. ‘A situation is…ironic (situational irony) if the actions taken have an effect exactly opposite from what was intended.’ Having lots of spoons is not the opposite result of wanting a knife. ‘If the speaker is rifling through a silverware drawer which is known to contain knives, then this is ironic. If she's in a spoon factory, it isn't.’ I’ll let Marco from Animorphs explain it a little better: ‘We’re going to bring on global warming because we ran too many leaky air conditioners? We used too much spray deodorant, so now we’ll be doomed to sweat forever?…That’s irony. Note to Alanis. That is irony.’   

4. Him and I/Me and Her/She and I. (Etc) So you write the sentence ‘him and I went to the cinema,’ and you’re not sure if it’s right? Break the sentence down. ‘I went to the cinema’- fine. ‘Him went to the cinema’- not so much. It becomes obvious it should be ‘he and I went to the cinema.’ Always break the bits up if you’re not certain. ‘Me and her went swimming’. ‘Me went swimming’ – no. ‘Her went swimming’. Also no. So what should it be? ‘She and I’ would work, but ‘we’ is a lot neater. If still in doubt, try and use ‘we’ or ‘us’ to avoid confusion.

5. Run/Ran Bid/Bade Grit/Gritted Spit/Spat. I am especially guilty of this one, but there are some words that always seem to end up being written in present tense, even when the writer is writing in past tense. It’s always things we know when we stop to think about it, but somehow we slip up on certain words because they just seem to work in present tense. I think part of the problem is that they rhyme with some words that are in past tense, or words that don’t have a past tense. Like ‘hit.’ You wouldn’t say ‘hitted’ or ‘hat’. You’d say ‘I hit the ball’ which could be either past or present tense. ‘Grit’ and ‘Spit both rhyme with ‘Hit’ so when I’m writing and listening to the flow of the words, rather than thinking about them individually, I find that they sneakily sound like they work. Unfortunately, this isn’t really one you can check, apart from keeping a close eye out for the blighters whilst editing.   

6. Until/til/till. We shorten the word ‘until’ a lot. What we often forget is that the shortened version of ‘until’ is ‘til’ not ‘till.’ A ‘till’ is a cash register. Careful with this one. Kate Middleton was caught using ‘till’ instead of ‘til’ in a letter and was mocked for it by the press. Which just goes to show you never what snobs out there will be judging you on your grammar rather than what you’re saying.

7. Compliment/complement. They’re two separate words. Who knew? I think most people know what a compliment is: ‘you like nice’ ‘your eyes are pretty’ ‘I love the way your greasy hair shines in the moonlight.’ Ok, that last one was backhanded, but still, you get my point. It’s to say something nice about someone/something. So you probably know what complement is too- when two things/people bring out the best in each other and work well together, they complement each other. And they’re spelt differently- even though they mean very similar things. Go figure.

8. And this last one is just because it irritates me no end, but has absolutely nothing to do with writing. A person who doesn’t eat meat but eats fish is not a vegetarian. They’re a pescetarian. No creature of any kind = vegetarian, no meat = pescetarian. As a vegetarian, I get asked a lot if I eat fish. *Headdesk.* I think people should now know the answer to that one.

Just a quick note- due to my now much, much busier schedule, I don’t know how regularly I’ll be updating my blog. I’ll try to do at least Wednesdays and Sundays- hopefully more if I can find the time! J


Laila Knight said...

Lay and Lie are my downfalls. For the life of me I can't get ther right. I keep an eye open for the little green squiggly line on Word to help me ascertain. I wish you good writing. :)

Rachel said...

Hello :) great post, and I wanted to let you know, I've given you a blog award! Stop on by to pick it up :D