- Affects and effects are not the same word. For instance, we could say that Steven Spielberg's special effects may affect us. Here is one fan's demonstration of incorrect usage of effects/affects:
This is what effects you most. There are strong forces of change surrounding you, of both good and evil.
Ms. Nitpicker can only suppose that the forces of evil are ones making us use "effects" incorrectly.
- "The concept of stay put has always seemed to allude you, Chief." (Er, no, it hasn't referred to you, Chief. It might elude, or escape, you, though.)
- A bear is a fuzzy animal. As a verb, it can mean to endure or to carry. Bare, on the other hand, is naked. Therefore this is obviously wrong:
"I've always wondered how much pain an Immortal can bare before he went mad."
(There they go, those show-offs, baring everything all over the place.)
- If you use complement correctly, Ms. Nitpicker will give you a compliment, but she probably won't need to, judging from such on-line examples as:
Such impatience. It complimented the man's short-sightedness perfectly.
No, dear, the impatience wasn't giving him praise, it was enhancing or complementing his other bad qualities.
- Calvary is a hill referred to in the New Testament. The cavalry traditionally rides to the rescue on horses, banners flying. Do you see a slight problem with this sentence?
He could only hope that Henri was kicking Tibidoux’s ass into the next county and that the calvary was going to arrive soon.
Ms. Nitpicker doubts that Calvary will be arriving anytime soon.
- The Bomb Squad did not diffuse that bomb; they defused it. You diffuse chemicals in your high school science classes, or diffuse your alcoholic beverage by adding soda, but you do not defuse it, because there is no fuse on your drink to be removed.
- Elicit and illicit are
She didn't illicit any strange looks, because no one really saw her.
(It's not illegal to look these days; perhaps she was trying to
elicit some lustful gazes, though.)
- This is wrong:
"I must admit, I wasn't looking foreword to facing Buffy, Xander, and Willow on my own."
A foreward is in introductory section in a book. He wasn't looking forward.
- Avoid himself, as in "Amanda and himself robbed the museum." Without knowing fancy rules, a quick way to check this is to mentally take out the other person. You wouldn't say "Himself robbed the museum." (Ms. Nitpicker has faith in you.) No, you would write, "He robbed the museum," so make the sentence "Amanda and he robbed the museum." The reason this sounds funny to you is that few people speak grammatically correct English, so you hear a lot of myself/himself or "Amanda and him robbed the museum." But we write more formally than we speak, don't we? Don't we? Let's not see a lot of himselves, unless there's an Irish leprechaun in your story doing a Barry Fitzgerald imitation.
- Even when there's no "himself/herself/myself" involved, use this rule of thumb: if there are two or more entities mentioned, and one is a pronoun, remove the excess entities and see if the pronoun makes sense alone.
Him and Ray hid from Francesca/Him hid from Francesca
Doesn't this make it obvious which is the correct version?
He and Ray hid from Francesca/He hid from Francesca.
- A hiss is a prolonged "s" sound. What part of this sentence can possibly be hissed?
Dawn hissed at her. “Why do you care?”
- Hopefully does not mean "with luck." Even though everyone else in America is saying it this way, you can't say:
Hopefully, Ms. Nitpicker's lecture will soon be over.
Would you say, "Full of hope, Ms. Nitpicker's lecture will soon be over"? I doubt it. Her lecture is not full of hope; you are.
Ms. Nitpicker's lecture will soon be over, she thought hopefully.
- Its means "belonging to it."
It's means "It is," or occasionally "it has."
- Lead, when pronounced "leed," means "to guide," as in "Blair will lead the Sentinel through the use of his senses." When pronounced "led" but spelled lead, it's that stuff in the paint chips in low-income housing that poisons people. After Blair leads the Sentinel, he has
led the Sentinel.
- Nobody, even in HIGHLANDER shows, gets hit by
lightening (although it does sound faster than trying to diet). Thunderstorms result in lightning.
- When you say something literally happened, you're telling us it isn't just a figure of speech. If you insist that "Spock literally froze," there better be icicles hanging from his pointed ears.
- The Immortal doesn't loose his head during a sword duel. Perhaps a bad swordsman would make the head wobble loosely on the neck, but more probably the Immortal will lose that head.
- If Blair Sandburg has been put into a hospital bed while Jim Ellison weeps, the orderlies are laying him on the bed, while Blair is lying on the bed. His backpack may be laid on the bed, too, but the in general the only time our characters themselves are "laying" in bed is when they are active in a slash or erotica story, and then they are laying someone while lyingon the bed. We use laying in places where we might use "placing" or "placed" or "place." Trust Ms. Nitpicker on this; she would never lie....
- Since peak and peek are two different words, you need to remember that "peek" has to do with looking at something, hence this is a mistake:
Rhonda peaked her head in the embrasure of the door.
Did her head come to points? Did it reach an apex? You don't peek your head, you merely peek. And what is an embrasure, anyway? Let's try "Rhonda peeked through the doorway."
- Ms. Nitpicker is going through a phase of being angered by bad grammar, but that doesn't really faze her.
- Pore and pour are not the same word. We pour ourselves a stiff drink after reading some bad fan fiction; we pore eagerly
over the latest story from one of the good fan writers. This example was therefore wrong (unless Jim had mistaken his files for his plants and was watering them):
Jim went back to his desk and started to pour over the files again, trying to find the missing link that tied all these victims together.
- A head that is shaking moves left to right. A nod is a head moving up and down. In most cultures, you cannot shake your head yes, and you cannot nod your head no. Try it. Then stop having your characters shake their heads yes. This fan-writer needed to take out "negatively" and put in a comma:
Blair was shaking his head negatively and Jim grabbed his arm.
- Eyes and the sun shine. This has nothing to do with the word show; therefore, this is wrong:
"Chief, the feeling goes both ways," Jim said with a grin that shown in his eyes.
The word you are searching the dark for is shone.
Now that Ms. Nitpicker has shown it to you, use it properly.
- The place where the cult is holding the meeting is the site of the meeting, and the fact that they are naked makes them an amusing sight. Similarly, you use the gun sight to focus on your target, but you cite sources for your thesis.
- Nobody snuck anywhere. They
sneaked, unless the word appears in dialogue. (Remember that in fiction the dialogue is full of lousy English, and rightly so.)
- Sole means "only." A soul is an intangible spiritual asset reputedly possessed by human beings. Hence Ms. Nitpicker's confusion with a sentence like,
The fight was not the soul source of interest to the Sentinel; seated there he could monitor the Guide.
- You sow seeds, and sew things tightly together. This is wrong:
If I wrote books, I’d have the Pulitzer sown up right about now.
Ms. Nitpicker is sure her Pulitzer is sewn up so tightly it shall not escape her. Vote early and often.
- When the hero gets shot, the force of the bullet or phaser blast probably knocks him supine, or on his back. Think "supine is spine." Those of you (and there are many) who have him falling prone have left him on his belly, which often makes his succeeding actions unlikely or even impossible.
- Thankfully does not mean "luckily." You may NOT say:
Thankfully, it started ringing and Simon promptly
"Thankfully" describes how an action was performed. ("Ms. Nitpicker's lecture is over!" she cried thankfully.) In the example above, the phone was not full of thanks; it has no feelings.
- There is a place, as in "Put it over there." Their means "belonging to them," as in "I love their muscular bodies." But they're is short for
"they are," as in "They're going to suffer in Jane's new story."
- When a tree is cut down, the logger hollers, "Timber!" If he pronounced it "tamber," it would be a wholly different word, spelled "timbre" and meaning tone or resonance. Ms. Nitpicker assumes the following was said in a wooden voice:
It was said in a low timber, concern showing in it.
Also, things don't 'show' in a voice, they resound. We use eyes to see, and you can't see a voice.
- When you're using too to mean "also," put a comma in front of it. For instance, "Roy Rogers was like that, too." You CAN say "Tonto was too submissive for my tastes," without commas, because there you're using "too" to mean "excessively." You may not use
to for either one.
- Your sadistic villain may take a vicious kick at the hero's ribs. A slight variation in spelling changes the meaning to thick, gooey, sticky, and gelatinous. That makes this sentence strange:
Wounds that I thought were closed, that I thought were safely ensconced in the past, had been viscously ripped open, allowing the pain and horror to emerge once more.
- Who's is short for "who is," as in "Who's writing all this bad stuff?"
Whose should only appear in sentences like "She loved the FBI agent, whose enthusiasm for the paranormal was appealing."
- You really mustn't say, as one author did, "Therefore, he was the only one that could stop Ellison." Objects are a that. We refer to people as "who" (or even "whom," in extremely persnickety cases). This is wrong:
You are of a race who cheats, lies and steals.
Remember, "who" is a person, an individual (not an object or a number); an entire race is a "that."
- There is no such word as "woah." Americans do say, "Whoa!" Originally it was said to our horses in order to stop them; now it's a common exclamation.
- "We can't just leave her to wreck further havoc on this world." No, we can't. Mostly because she won't demolish the havoc, she will inflict or wreak it.
- Your means "belonging to you."
You're means "you are," as in "You're going to die." It is NOT written "Your going to die." British readers have suggested that the American habit of pronouncing both words "yer" has caused the confusion...but Ms. Nitpicker has seen British fen make the same mistake.
- Always put qualifiers as close as possible to the verb they are modifying. For instance:
Without a sound, one of the men slowly pulled a garrote from a fanny pack, while the other removed a baggie that contained a white cloth from his pocket, then removed the cloth from the plastic bag, and dropped the bag onto the ground.
Here, “from his pocket” doesn’t describe the white cloth, it modifies how or where he “removed” something, so it should read, “removed from his pocket a baggie that contained….”
- If you have a plural subject or object, you must use a plural verb. This is wrong:
There was a million things he wanted to say.
Since "things" is plural, there "were" a million things he wanted to say. You wouldn't say "They was going there," would you? Of course not.
One fan solemnly asked,
Is Dawson and McLeod that close? Ms. Nitpicker can only sigh, "No. They isn't."
Similarly, you can't say "Everyone wishes they could kill Ms. Nitpicker," even if it is true, because "they" is plural and "everyone" is, oddly enough, singular. It has to be something like "Everyone wishes she could kill Ms. Nitpicker" or "All writers wish they could kill Ms. Nitpicker."
PICK ANOTHER SECTION, WHY DON'T YA?
I think I need more guidance. Send me to HOLY MOTHER GRAMMATICA'S GUIDE TO GOOD WRITING. Maybe I should visit BAD FANFIC! NO BISCUIT!.
Copyright © 1999 - 2013, Jane A. Leavell. All rights reserved.