One of the worst things about having an English Language degree is probably having people use you as a pocket dictionary. You have no idea how many times, during a conversation when a word comes up that people don’t quite know what the definition is, I guarantee they will turn to me and ask me what it means. And then you have to explain to them that your degree didn’t consist of you sitting down for 3 years and digesting a dictionary; there was actually more content than that.
Funnily enough the same thing also happens for grammar. Take today as an example, I’m at work just getting on with things, and I hear a voice call “Natasha. You did an English degree, mind taking a look at these questions for me?” Now generally my grammar is fairly good (although please don’t sit through this and point out all the mistakes I’ve made – I’m only human!) but when the subjects that you are working with a complex Pharmaceutical related words you’ve never even heard of, it becomes a lot trickier!
The one thing I’ve noticed from editing people’s work, be that in the capacity of an editor with Mardibooks or proofreading my friends’ dissertations (yes my degree subject was abused by closest friends), are the common mistakes that people make that, as an English student, you learn all about from day. So here are my top 4 tips for writers out there to get to grips with some basic grammar.
1. Commas are your friend
My boyfriend regularly accuses me of comma overload in my writing, but you’ve got to love a good comma. These bad boys are really important for separating clauses, writing those lists and can create a whole different meaning to a sentence if they aren’t used properly. It’s really useful to have good comma use when writing, for anything you write but especially in novels, as this is going to effect the flow of your text in a reader’s head.
2. If commas are your friend semi-colons are most definitely your number one enemy
Lesson 101 of my English Language degree was academic writing. I remember feeling absolutely terrified by what I was hearing, and everything I have learnt from that day has stuck with me nearly 4 years down the line. The moral of that lesson: people always use semi-colons wrong. And if you can’t use them correctly? Don’t use them at all. So I rarely do. However, for those of you who are crazy enough to want to use these, I’m going to explain how and when we use them. We use a semi colon to connect to clauses that could stand alone by themselves. For example, I ate an apple. It was red. These 2 sentences, grammatically, have all necessary components to be stand-alone clauses and by using a full stop, when we read these sentences aloud, a pause is created between them. By separating these clauses by a semi colon, we get rid of the pause between them but don’t have to use a conjunction (e.g. and, but etc.).
3. Does it need a capital?
You would be surprised how many times the odd capital letter creeps in where it isn’t supposed to, or when one is missing from somewhere. You need to use capitals:
- To start a sentence, so there must always be a capital letter after a full stop.
- For proper nouns (a.k.a for the name of something) – this one can slip people up quite a lot, for example I often see ‘university’ with a capital letter, however unless you are talking about a specific university (e.g. Oxford University) you would not need a capital letter as university is a common noun (a.k.a a thing/object). Also be careful as well when you are talking about an object that maybe referred to by its brand name, turning it from a common noun to a proper one e.g. Hoover (with a capital letter as it is a brand name) vs. vacuum cleaner (lower case as a common noun).
4. Who is he again?
One thing I’ve found from doing the editing work, is that the flow and understanding of a piece of writing can be really hindered by using pronouns (e.g. he, she, it etc.). Pronouns are used to refer to a noun that has previously been spoken about before (this noun is called the antecedent). Consider the following sentence:
‘The teacher spoke to Jason, he sounded really angry’
In this sentence, there are two possible antecedents that ‘he’ could refer to, consequently making the sentence ambiguous in its meaning.