Notes From Your Editor

As an editor and writer, I have to admit: Sometimes I have a lot of trouble turning off my editing eye when reading for pleasure. I leave mental red pen all over pretty much anything I read. And sometimes verbal red pen, unless I know it'll just be obnoxious. (Sometimes it does come off as obnoxious, but I'm just a geek who's trying to be helpful, I swear.)

I know most people don't have a background in formal or professional writing, and that's fine—it's a bitch of an industry, and I don't blame the world at large for not taking grammar and linguistics classes for funsies. But as a concerned citizen of the Internet (with an unhealthy attachment to the OED and AP Stylebook, I must add), I want to arm you with some mighty, mighty word-based knowledge, straight from your friendly, neighborhood editor.

Here are some hopefully helpful and only minimally obnoxious comments on some of the grammar and usage slips I see the most all over the Internet, along with some tricks to help you remember them:

A lot is two words. Think of it like this: Two words are a lot more than one word. Or think of it like this: "lot" is a word. You are identifying one singular lot when you're using the term "a lot." You wouldn't write "acoffee" to describe your Starbucks run, or "ashirt" when detailing your last Target haul.

A while and awhile are two different terms. "A while" refers to one while, basically the same way "a lot" refers to one lot. You would use "awhile" when the one word takes the place of three: "for a while."
Example: A while ago, we waited awhile for the right to vote. (Please don't ever write this sentence, because it's bad. But the usage of "a while" and "awhile" are correct.) See how if you take out awhile and use "for a while" instead it still says the same thing? When in doubt, sub it out.

Affect and effect are complicated, yes. In fact, it was only in the last few years that I developed a useful system for myself to remember when to use which. And it's dumb, but it works for me—and I am actually terrible with parts of speech—so maybe it'll work for you:
Affect is an action (How will this affect me?) and both words start with "a." Sub-it-out Test: Can you use "impact" also/instead? (How will this impact me?) If so, you want the a-word.
Effect is a consequence, and there are a whole bunch of e's in both effect and consequence. Sub it out: What are the consequences of this decision? What are the effects of this decision? When it doubt, sub it out.

When you're moving onto something without any further fanfare, you mean to say without further ado, not "adieu." Adieu means goodbye in Middle English. The play is called Much Ado About Nothing, and it's about a big old fuss being made out of bedfellows. Not people saying goodbye for no reason.

Internet is capitalized, as is World Wide Web (an accepted and in some cases preferred term, believe it or not), no matter how dubious it seems in 2015.
UPDATE: As of the latest AP Stylebook in spring 2016, this is no longer true. Hooray!

You offer a person all due respect; when you say "all do respect," it should be followed by something that all people respect. This expression is meant to convey you're giving the recipient the respect he or she is owed, or due.

And when you're singing a little ditty, it's a tune or song. A blog post, unless set to music and sung in rhythm, is not a ditty. "Ditty" is not just any old little thing. And it's definitely not a diddy. He's a rapper. Or he was before he started making clothes I guess.
Puff Daddy Puffy P.Diddy Diddy is disappointed by incorrect grammar.
(image via)
Any others that trip you up? I have tons of dumb memory devices for confusing terms and spellings right here in my pocket, if you're interested...

(P.S., please know that I was super hesitant to post this because I'm terrified it comes off really pedantic and snotty. Not my intention. I just like words a whole lot, because I guess I just don't have that much else going on in my life.)

The Blonder Side of Life

Comments

  1. Effect and Affect ALWAYS get me...I have to google it everything single time...and yes that's what I do when I don't know which way to use some words...I google LOL! xo, Biana - BlovedBoston

    ReplyDelete
  2. I like it! I'll be happy to start capitalizing "Internet," and while I hope I haven't abused "awhile" too much, I'm glad I have a way to be sure I'm using it correctly. The things that bother me the most are basic things like "your" vs "you're" and "there," "their," "they're."

    Here's a question for you! I remember reading that punctuation should go inside of quotes (like the period after "they're"). But sometimes, especially when I'm asking a question that happens to end in quoted text, it feels that the question mark being inside the quotes attributes to the question to the quoted text instead of to the whole thing. So which is better: Question mark inside of "quotes?" or Question mark outside of "quotes"?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I would like the answer to this too, please!

      Delete
  3. I love everything about this post. AND THANK YOU JESUS H CHRIST for saying something about "adieu." It makes me rage every time I see it.

    ReplyDelete
  4. i know i post shit that must make you cringe ie. i never capitalize anything but that's because i'm lazy! i also learned that you no longer need to have 2 spaces after a period (when you start the next sentence) because that's the "old school" style. not sure if that's true but another editor friend confirmed. so....is that true?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I didn't know you ever needed 2 spaces? Have I been doing it wrong all this time?!

      Delete
  5. lol without further adieu :) I'm like, without further goodbye?
    I purposely don't capitalise some words - like religious things, internet, christmas, halloween etc. I don't know why. I'm rebelling against something.
    I always wonder if people think I can't spell when I write realise or travelling or jewellery and I hope they know I'm just British-English'ing it.

    I like Jenn's question, I have wondered that as well, but also sometimes I use punctuation inside brackets (what we call parenthesis) but it looks silly when the brackets at the end of a sentence. If that makes sense.

    I suck with affect and effect but I am learning :) Past and Passed still mess me up. I remember when I realised that a lot was two words, it blew my mind!!

    KC tells me about things on the internet - people saying 'midas whale' instead of might as well hahahahahaha I laugh all the laughter.

    I will say I didn't know the exact difference with awhile and a while so I hope I use it correctly.
    What else, what else, what else. Are you not supposed to start sentences with words like And? ok vs okay?

    Love this post - not pedantic (loved when I found out what that word meant many years ago, I used it a thousand times and my mum was like okay I get it, you like that word) or snotty at all!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I really try to use all the correct grammar because it bothers me so much also. Especially when someone uses something so obviously wrong. My biggest pet peeve is when someone says "Oh, I seen that yesterday." Seriously, it enrages me! But anyways, I don't think your post was bitchy at all. It seemed very helpful to me. :)

    ReplyDelete
  7. Haha, I understand the mental red pen. I used to have it for Serbian when I was in high school and college, but when I actually started working as an editor, I just stopped. Like, finally I was being paid for doing that and in my free time I wanted to escape it at all cost. I don't remember how much willpower it took! But I'd still say I spot typos and other mistakes way easier than other people.

    As for English, the one thing that has been freaking me out recently is seeing 'could of', 'would of'. Seriously?! I mean, I know they sound similar, if not the same, but what on Earth would make anyone think that the sound is actually 'of'??? Also, they're/their/there, but I kinda hope that it's just people being lazy... because it's so simple. I'm pretty sure we covered it in our first year of learning English.

    ReplyDelete
  8. thank you so much for the pneumonic device for affect/effect. that one never sticks with me. and I never knew about the difference between awhile and a while. I am a grammar geek (although one that could probably use some brushing up on the rules...) but I love learning about it. something that drives me nuts is when people say, "it's a mute point." no it's not. it's a MOOT point. (also its versus it's gets me every now and then too)

    ReplyDelete
  9. Since meeting you, I've cleaned up my understanding/usage of the em dash and tried a little harder to not disappoint you! There's still hope for me, I know it!

    ReplyDelete
  10. One that really bugs me is when people say they could care less about something. I want to interject with, "THEN GO AHEAD AND CARE LESS. DO YOU REALIZE WHAT YOU'RE SAYING?"(After typing that I'm curious how offensive typing in all caps actually is?)

    Another one that drives me crazy is when people confuse "everyday" with "every day." As in, "I wore my army pants and flip flops everyday last week." ....no.

    That's all I have for now. I usually don't pay very close attention to most of these things when I'm writing a blog post, unless it's a more serious post. If it's just one for fun I usually write and hit "publish" and don't proofread. How much do you hate me now? I apologize, but I just really hate proofreading.

    In closing, I just have to let you know that I'm nervous to post this because I'm sure there will be approximately 47,000 red pen marks all over it.

    ReplyDelete
  11. It took me awhile to learn the "a lot" thing... I thought it was one word for the longest!

    ReplyDelete
  12. I'm a bit scared of all the things you'd notice in my posts but this is a good reminder to edit edit edit

    ReplyDelete
  13. One thing I've started noticing a lot (after it was pointed out to me by another trained copy editor, to whom I happen to be married) is the use of fewer and less. Less is less of one thing (I'd like less orange juice, please) and fewer is fewer of lots of things (I'd like fewer oranges, please). Not sure if that makes sense... Anyway, all I'm trying to say is I do the same thing, and you didn't come across at all snotty or pedantic!

    ReplyDelete
  14. I realized yesterday that I made a massive spelling mistake on a previous post and I'd already shared the image everywhere. I seriously wanted to go bury my head in the sand haha. I've always hated editing my own writing but it was a serious reminder that it is absolutely necessary! Capitalization and affect/effect ALWAYS throw me off, your trick is so helpful!!

    ReplyDelete
  15. I love everything about this. I actually really thought about the use of "awhile" in the time of my post for today and settled on the fact that I knew it was right. haha. I think you should make this a monthly learning lesson for all of us out here. I mean I have someone in my office that mixes up sense and since...I know...ridiculous right?!

    ReplyDelete
  16. Hahaha! I love this post. Although, I am not always on my game with the words I use, I do try to use the correct ones. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! We all have slips from time to time. I just wanted to clear up some misunderstandings I see out there ;)

      Delete
  17. Oh, my grammar-loving friend, this is the best. I'm sure there have been plenty of times you've wanted to take a virtual red pen to my posts (and for the record I would really rather know than look like a dumbass, so feel free to do so). Even though I don't have as much formal training as you do in English, per se (omg speaking of can we just talk about "per say"?! Makes my skin crawl, as does any butchering of Latin phrases...), but I do love and appreciate language in general and I definitely notice when someone repeatedly makes the same errors. I don't think any of us use perfect grammar 100% of the time in blogging, and some of that is a personal/stylistic thing, but you can totally tell the difference between that and when someone is trying to say something that they actually have no idea how to write.

    ReplyDelete
  18. OMG - love this. Also, without fail, I find a typo or misspelled word in every. single. post. AFTER I post it. Uggh.

    ReplyDelete
  19. I am not amazing at grammar, but I do at least attempt to try! Your description of effect and affect has to be the BEST one I have ever seen!!! Why couldn't they describe it out like that in school??? My favorite thing about seeing rude comments and thoughts blasted on Facebook, newspaper articles, blog comments, wherever.....is that most of the time their grammar is so atrocious that they don't even fully make their point!!! How can someone take them seriously?

    ReplyDelete
  20. YES. I loved this post as a fellow editor/writer. I mentally edit EVERYTHING whenever I read it. I wish there was an off button sometimes haha.

    ReplyDelete
  21. I'm surprised how many college grads and grad school graduates that I work with don't know the "a lot" rule!

    ReplyDelete
  22. Hahaha, love this! I had an AP English teacher in high school who would purposely use a different colored pen, like green or purple, to make edits because she knew how everyone felt about those red marks everywhere! I still get tripped up with awhile vs a while. I think you should do another one of these on proper punctuation- you're a good teacher!

    ReplyDelete
  23. Love this post. I think because of what I do Im pretty ok grammar wise and where I fail in my writing (which has stalled temporarily for thesis) Im sure you will correct me. I have to say though "affect" and "effect" drive me crazy in blogland. I never have trouble with these but I see so many people get it wrong and I don't want to offend anyone by correcting them. Le sigh!

    ReplyDelete
  24. This post didn't come off snotty at all! Embarrassingly, I always have to double check "peek & peak" and "passed & past". But at least I check! I hate when bloggers continue to make glaringly obvious mistakes (your/youre, here/theyre/their, and its/it's DRIVE ME CRAZY)! If it's an odd mistake, sure we all deserve a pass, but misspellings in every blog post are the quickest way to make me unfollow.

    ReplyDelete
  25. This post gives me all the joy! I rebel against capitalizing internet for some reason, although now that I think about it, it is a proper noun, so it should be capitalized. We were just always told to be consistent. I can do consistent! I also rebel against the punctuation being inside the quote marks on occasion after reading that it was a regional thing to put it inside or outside (sometimes the British just do things better, hello serial comma).

    I can forgive typos/autocorrect but I can't forgive poor grammar, "I seen them yesterday." ARRRGGHHH. I still correct Teh BFF when she says shit like that. NO. I don't care if you live in the sticks. You have a master's degree and you are not allowed to use shit grammar. NO. EVER.

    ReplyDelete
  26. I have a memory from 6th or 7th grade english class and our teacher had A on one wall and LOT on the other wall-- like randomly just for the purpose of teaching us it was two words-- obviously it worked if I still think about it, haha. I admit to being SO bad with effect and affect, so I am loving your tips on the words to substitute to see which one works! I know there are others that I mess up- so please do another one of these posts!

    ReplyDelete
  27. I seriously love this post. I am always mentally correcting people's grammar and writing online. Don't get me started on Facebook statuses ha ha! I know that I goof up a lot, but I try my best to use the correct words and spellings :)

    ReplyDelete
  28. Balls of laughter! In the most appropriate way possible. For me, it's actually "past" and "passed". It sounds silly now that I write it here, but you know! :D

    ReplyDelete
  29. Obviously late on reading this but SO glad to see it. For as much as grammatical and typographical errors bother me, I should have been an editor or proofreader. The biggest one that annoys me lately... for all intents and purposes. Yet everyone and their mother wants to say "for all intensive purposes". Oy!

    ReplyDelete
  30. Bookmarking forever!!!!!

    I have a question about -- when do you use them instead of brackets? And punctuation with quotes and brackets at the end of sentences.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

I'd love to hear from you. Please make sure your settings let me reply to your comment by email.