Monday, February 24, 2014

A Collection of Grammar Tips for Writers by Kayelle Allen

Tips for Writing 
Permission to share so long as all credits listed within the document remain intact. Credit is given where material was found online. Most of the material here is gathered from years of writing and dealing with various publishers. I hope you find it helpful. This entire post is available as a pdf handout at the end. Please click the link to download.

A while vs. Awhile (for awhile is NOT proper)

Use awhile if you could use the word for in front of it. Grammatically, a while is a noun phrase in which "a" is an article and "while" functions as a noun meaning "a short period of time"; awhile is an adverb meaning "for a while." In other words, the meaning is the same, but the structure is different: the word awhile has "for" built into its meaning.

The test of which to use is to consider whether "for a while" may be used in the sentence where we intend to place (or have placed) the word awhile – without changing anything else.
  • "I'll wait here awhile" is correct because we could also say, "I'll wait here for a while."
  • "My mother is staying awhile" is correct because we could also say, "My mother is staying for a while."
  • "I'll wait here for awhile" is not correct because we have actually used the word for twice, given that awhile = for a while: "I'll wait here for for a while."
  • "I'll be there in awhile" is not correct because we would not say, "I'll be there IN FOR a while."
  • "This may take awhile" is not correct because "This may take for a while" is not idiomatic English.
The two-word noun phrase (a while) is probably more often the correct choice than is the one-word adverb (awhile). Certainly, most misuses of a while / awhile involve using awhile where a while is the appropriate construction. ("Awhile vs A while" portion from Grammar Mudge: http://www.grammarmudge.cityslide.com/articles/article/992333/8557.htm )

Affect vs Effect

Affect for references to an influence.
Effect for references to a result.
A handy mnemonic is "A Very Easy Noun." Affect Verb / Effect Noun

Convince vs Persuade

Convince may be followed by "of" or "that" but not by "to".
Persuaded to is correct.

Die vs. Dice

One die
Two or more dice

Further vs. Farther vs. Furthermore

Farther = physical distance (think of the root FAR)
Further = metaphorical or figurative distance (further in a spiritual journey)
Furthermore = in addition, rather than distance

Less vs. Fewer

Less and fewer are easy to mix up. They mean the same thing--the opposite of more--but you use them in different circumstances. The basic rule is that you use less with mass nouns and fewer with count nouns. A count noun is something you can count. I'm looking at my desk and I see books, pens, and M&M's. I can count all those things, so they are count nouns and the right word to use is fewer. I should eat fewer M&M's. Mass nouns are things that you can't count individually. Again, on my desk I see tape and clutter. These things can't be counted individually, so the right word to use is less. If I had less clutter, my desk would be cleaner. Another clue is that you don't make mass nouns plural: I would never say I have clutters on my desk or that I need more tapes to hold my book covers together. ("Less vs. Fewer" portion taken from: http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/less-versus-fewer.aspx )

Lie vs. Lay

Lie = to recline or rest on a surface.
Lay = to put or place something.
So ask yourself which meaning applies to the sentence. Did Jane put the book on the table or did the book recline or rest on the table?
She lie/lay on the chaise by the poolside.
What is she doing? She's reclining, resting. She lay on the chaise by the poolside.
Why? She's reclining, but lay is the past tense of lie.
For lie
  • Base form: lie
  • Past tense: lay
  • Past participle: lain
  • Present participle: lying
For lay
  • Base: lay
  • Past: laid
  • Past participle: laid
  • Present participle: laying
If confused with a sentence that may use either lay or lie, an alternate method is to choose a different verb such as placed or reclined.

Might vs. May

Might - possible but unlikely "Pigs might fly."
May - possible "I may go to the store"
Exception 1: might is past tense of may. "Pigs might have flown" or "I might have gone to the store" are both correct.
Exception 2: referring to something unlikely "we may not go shopping" sounds as if you are not permitted, rather than undecided. Better: "we might not go shopping" sounds as if you are undecided. Written uses prefer "might" since there are no voice inflections to add clues. ("Might vs. May" portion taken from:

One another vs. Each other

One another refers to three or more; each other refers to two.

Was vs. Were

The word "was" is correct for things that could be true. "Were" is correct for things that could never be true or are imaginary, fanciful, or impossible. Since it is possible that he could be perfectly at home there, it is correct to say "as if he was" perfectly at home lolling there. On the other hand, if you said "He leapt across the gully as if he were a winged creature" -- he is not and could never be a winged creature (unless a shapeshifter) -- he can't sprout wings at will -- so "as if he were" is correct. The subjunctive (were) "expresses an action or state as doubtful, imagined, desired, conditional, or otherwise contrary to fact." If none of those fit, "was" is used.

Whose vs. Who's

Who's is a contraction of who is or, less commonly, who has.
  • Who's watching TV?
  • Who's ready to go?
Whose is the possessive of who.
  • Whose book is this?
  • Whose side are you taking?

Writing Directives and Concepts

Adjective order

Adjective order: number, size, color (five large red apples) no commas needed.

And then

The word "and" is only required with "then" in a compound sentence, because "then" is not a true conjunction. When appearing with only a compound verb, a comma can stand in for "and" to improve the pacing of a sentence. Sometimes "and then" still sounds better. It's an editorial call.

Commas with adjectives before a noun

Cumulative and coordinate adjectives before a noun are handled in different ways. To know how to handle them, consider these possibilities.
  • If the coordinating conjunction and is inserted between the adjectives and the resulting phrase sounds perfect natural, the adjectives are coordinate and you should insert a comma. If it sounds awkward, the adjectives are cumulative and you should not insert a comma.
    • (Comma okay): She is a loyal, loving friend. She is a loyal and loving friend.
    • (Comma NOT okay): She lives in an old brick house. She lives in an old and brick house.
  • If the positions of the adjectives are reversed, and the resulting phrase sounds perfect natural, the adjectives are cumulative, and you should not insert a comma.
    • (Comma okay): She is a loyal, loving friend. She is a loving and loyal friend.
    • (Comma NOT okay): She lives in an old brick house. She lives in a brick old house.

Commas with Too

Too at the end of a sentence does not need a comma before it. It does need a comma at the beginning, and if an abrupt change is indicated within a sentence. Ex.: Then, too, he hadn't known she would be there.

Correcting Smart Quotes or Single Quotation Marks

When applying smart (curly) quotes, look for single uses with slang terms such as 'em, 'cause, etc. MS Word generally places the apostrophe curl facing the wrong way. The curl should face toward the missing letter(s) and away from the word.

Dashes Inside or Outside Quotations (Dash = Hyphen)

Dashes "--" should be outside the quotation marks at the end of a sentence that is interrupted by an action and then picked up on the other side of the interruption. Dashes are placed INSIDE the lines when the sentence is interrupted and a new paragraph begins, such as one speaker interrupting the other. Write as this with spaces:
"Text text text" -- descriptive narration -- "text text text."

Dashes Em and En (Dash = Hyphen)

An em dash is written like this: —
An en dash is written like this: –
A regular dash is written like this: -
From Word help:
1.      When you type a space and one or two hyphens between text, Microsoft Word automatically inserts an en dash ( – ).
2.      If you type two hyphens and do not include a space before the hyphens, then an em dash ( — ) is created.
3.      To turn off this feature, use Tools > AutoCorrect Options. Unselect "hyphens with dash" in both Autoformat and Autoformat as you Type.
4.      To turn on this feature, use Tools > AutoCorrect Options. Select "hyphens with dash" in both Autoformat and Autoformat as you Type.


Ellipses do not have a space between them and the words around them, unless they are at the end of a sentence. Then they have a space afterward. In Microsoft Word, the ellipse is often replaced by an automated graphic. When sharing material in email and in certain other places online this graphic is replaced by code, making the text difficult to read. For the best results when sharing excerpts online, use a traditional ellipse rather than the automated version.


  • Mouthed dialogue is italicized.
  • Character thoughts are italicized.
  • Foreign or alien words and phrases are italicized only on the first use in a document.
  • Other uses of italics follows conventional rules, such as the names of ships, short story titles, etc.

Italicize Single Letters

Italicize single letters, except for these cases: "mind your p's and q's" and "dotting the i's and crossing the t's" and for letters representing shapes (an L-shaped room, an S curve). Do not italicize single letters used as names: John Q. Public.

Formatting Tips

Publishers differ on requirements, so go with what yours require. If you self-publish, the thing to do is be consistent. Here is what I use.

Changes of POV and Scene

  • Scene breaks are indicated by four spaced asterisks, centered on page.
  • Point of view (POV) switch is indicated by a blank line with the first three words after a POV switch in all CAPS. If formatting for an ereader, you will not have a blank line. In this case, you might prefer one centered asterisk, then the first three words after the switch in all CAPS.

Words Written as Signs or Print

For signs in manuscripts, (i.e., a "No Trespassing" sign, etc.) if the POV character is looking at and reading the sign, it would be NO TRESPASSING as it would be on the sign. If it's mentioned in passing, for example in dialogue or they drove past the "no trespassing" sign, it would be quotes and in standard font/style.
Download this material as a pdf: http://is.gd/kayelle_grammartips

Kayelle Allen 

About the Author

Kayelle Allen is a multi-published, award-winning Science Fiction Romance author of unstoppable heroes, uncompromising love, and unforgettable passion. She is the owner of The Author's Secret, an author support company, and the founder of Marketing for Romance
Writers, an online peer-mentoring group.
Unstoppable Heroes Blog http://kayelleallen.com/blog
The Author's Secret https://theauthorssecret.com


Tina Donahue said...

This is great, Kayelle - lots of valuable info here. Thanks so much!! :)

jean hart stewart said...

Great information. So easy to get tripped up on some of those. I think good editors earn our praise.

Fiona McGier said...

My dad used to endlessly correct me about "lie" and "lay". I'd tell him I was going to lay down, and he'd ask me what I was going to lay down...lay ALWAYS needs an object. I can lay my book down...I can lay my body down, but I'm going to lie down.

As a sub in high schools the biggest pet peeve I have about student writing is using "of" thusly:
"He should of done that," or "She could of gone with." ARGH! I ask the students what is correct. One in every class will smirk and say, "Should HAVE", "Could HAVE." The contraction is "Should've", and "Could've." The other is totally ungrammatical.

And of course, they try to slip "text-speak" and TWITTER language into their papers...sigh.

ckcrouch.com said...

Nice post Kayelle I downloaded and saved it.

Kayelle Allen said...

Thanks for the reminders, Fiona. That "could of" is the phonetic spelling of "could've" in a way. Jean, you said a mouthful with that line about editors. Mine have saved me a lot of grief over the years. My pleasure to add to the discussion, Tina. Kathy, I hope that pdf will be a help to you. I have it in Word and refer to it more than I'd like to admit. ;)

Beverly Ovalle said...

Wonderful! Thank you for all the work in compiling this.

Kayelle Allen said...

My pleasure, Beverly. It's been compiled over years of finding great tips and answers to questions I had. I was looking at it the other day and thinking it would make a great post someday. Why not now?