Grammar and usage for writers (Part I)

Have you ever noticed that so many “grammar for writers” posts simply remind you about the difference between “it’s” and “its” and how there’s a “there,” a “they’re” and a “their”? Yes, sometimes we need a little reminder —  even the world’s greatest copy editor will make a mistake now and then — but don’t most of us know this stuff already?

I think you do. And that’s why I think it’s time to delve a little deeper into the fascinating world of grammar, usage and language.

1. You, me and I — and cake!

  • You, Katniss and I will enjoy Peeta’s freshly iced cake.
  • That cake belongs to you, Peeta and me.

These first two are easy. Here’s the trick: Simply take everyone out of the sentence except for yourself and see how it sounds.

  • I will enjoy Peeta’s freshly iced cake.
  • That cake belongs to me.

But what about his one?

  • Between you and ___, I think it’s strange that Peeta ices cakes.

You might be tempted to say “I,” but the correct answer is “me.” Why? Well, it’s because of that pesky preposition “between.” If you really want to delve into a discussion of prepositional phrases, head over here. Between you and me, I think you should just take my word for it.

2. Between you and me, I think it’s time we knew when to use ‘among.’

Speaking of “between,” here’s a pet peeve of mine:

  • They split Peeta’s cake equally between among the three of them.

Between means two. You and I can split Peeta’s cake between us, but if there are more than two people eating cake, “use among.” Your editor will thank you. If you really can’t remember this, at least send your editor some cake.

3. Fun with (sneaky) gerunds and possessives!

This is another thing that really gets under my skin because most people are doing it WRONG. The rare times someone actually gets this right, my brain goes, “Hey, this writer really knows his/her stuff.” When someone gets this wrong … well, I judge that person. Just a little bit. But then I feel bad about it and I don’t get any cake.

What is a gerund? To put it simply, it’s a noun ending in “ing” that’s trying to trick you into thinking it’s a verb. Gerunds are sneaky like that. Take a look:

  • Peeta is baking a cake.
  • Baking calms Peeta and helps him cope with PTSD.

In the first sentence, “baking” is a verb. It’s what Peeta is doing right now. In the second sentence, baking is a gerund. “Baking” is the subject of the sentence. Don’t worry, there’s a super easy way to test this: Simply replace the gerund with any other noun and see if it still works.

  • Katniss calms Peeta and helps him cope with PTSD.
  • Kittens calm Peeta and help him cope with PTSD.
  • Lamb stew calms Peeta and helps him cope with PTSD.

But what about these?

  • Peeta is a great baker. Any chance of him his baking us a cake tomorrow?
  • Peeta‘s baking is a strange hobby.

In both of these examples, “baking” is a gerund and requires a possessive just like any other noun would. I bet that 90 percent of English speakers would have said, “Any chance of him baking us a cake tomorrow?” Wrong!! In that first sentence, “baking” is the object of the preposition “of” and requires a possessive. Now, try these:

  • What do you think about him his baking such a delicious cake?
  • Gale, Peeta resents you your being more handsome than he is.

Again, drop in a noun if that helps you identify the gerund.

  • What do you think about his dog?
  • Gale, Peeta resents your dog.

4. Farther v. further

Gerunds have nearly exhausted me, but I think we can delve into a couple more simple usage issue. Here’s the rule for this one: “Farther” refers to physical distance, and “further” refers to an extension of degree or time.

  • Katniss walked farther into the arena.
  • I will look further into the matter of Peeta’s cake-baking hobby.

5. Laura, must I address you with a comma? Yes, dear reader, please do.

Just like in the photo above, you must use a comma when addressing someone directly.

  • You here to finish me off, sweetheart?
  • Isn’t it unfortunate, Katniss, that you drank that white liquor?
  • You did a great job planting that primrose bush, Peeta!

That’s it for today!

There are very few things I can blog about with some degree of authority, so I hope you found this helpful. If these regular grammar/usage posts don’t pan out, I’ll just have to start writing about one of the few other topics I consider myself to be somewhat of an expert on (i.e. cats, walking into inanimate objects, how Scott Stapp ruined music, etc.)

If you happen to have any grammar, usage or cat questions, please let me know! Until then, I’ll be eating cake.

Photo: ajesplin.blogspot.com

5 thoughts on “Grammar and usage for writers (Part I)

  1. LOVE THIS!!!

    Thank you! Can you cover subjunctives next?? I’ve seen way too many “I wish I was” sentences. Kills me!

    Hopefully you had a successful writing session without too many unnecessary references to food! ^_^

  2. I actually almost went into subjunctives tonight because that’s another pet peeve of mine…but I have A LOT of those. It’s scheduled for next week! Thanks!

    And the writing went well. I’ve knocked out another chapter! I wish I WERE able to write another one, but no one is throwing badgers at me at the moment.

  3. I would like your next post to please focus on the cutest types of cat breeds (Scottish Folds, perhaps?), why cats are better than dogs (except for Skyy), why Peeta was so into icing girls’ cakes (eww), why Liam Hemsworth is only capable of making one expression (although that does make him the perfect Gale, in my opinion) and how to bake the perfect vegan cake. And you can throw in some grammar rules, too, if you’d like. Particularly your thoughts on serial commas. And parentheses.

  4. Thanks, you guys! I’m thinking this Thursday will cover the following fascinating topics: subjunctive voice, the serial comma debate, the misplaced “only”, the difference between persuade and convince, and em dashes v. en dashes (via Kristen’s question). Thursday party! Bring out the champagne! Woooo!

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