It’s almost a dirty word these days, isn’t it? When most people think about grammar, they have flashbacks to elementary school or junior high where they were forced to diagram sentences or answer dozens of questions about things like gerunds and dangling modifiers. But grammar is not your enemy. Grammar is your friend.
Even writers, who spend hours and hours trying to get their words to align exactly so, are often freaked out by grammar. Haven’t we all read quotes or comments by various writers about how they think grammar gets in the way of their creativity? They think grammar is the enemy.
Grammar is not your enemy.
Now, I won’t try to convince you that grammar is the type of friend with whom you’d split a bottle of wine and spill your deepest secrets. But maybe you can think of it as a childhood friend you haven’t seen in years but remember fondly or your old college roommate you still call once a month. However you think of it, it’s essential that you learn to at least tolerate it because understanding grammar and making it work for you will make you a better writer.
Sure, most readers are not going to be able to recognize specific grammar errors by name. They don’t remember (or never learned) the terms “predicate,” “indirect object” and “antecedent.” But when they come across an error, they’ll probably notice that something isn’t right; something bumped them out of the story. A strong understanding and command of grammar will help your writing fade into the background so that your story can stay front and center, where it should be.
Let me add in a quick caveat. There is one place where grammar can be, if not the enemy, not a good friend: your first draft. Don’t worry about grammar until you are in the editing and polishing stage!
About now, you may be asking yourself: if this is supposed to be a grammar column, where’s the grammar?
It’s coming! Now that I’ve convinced you of the importance of grammar and encouraged you to at least tolerate it (I hope!), it’s time to move on to specific helpful hints and tips. Each month’s column will feature several examples of common grammar errors. And while I may occasionally explain the “rules” behind the grammar, I’m not going to bog you down with tons of terms. Instead, I’ll try to show you why things are wrong in a way that’s easy to understand and, more importantly, easy to apply to your writing.
So here’s one quick tip to tide you over until next time: “its” vs. “it’s”. This is an easy one to learn, but it took me years to do it consistently.
Just remember: “it’s” ALWAYS means “it is.” So if you can replace “it’s” with “it is” and your sentence still makes sense, you’ve got it.
EXAMPLE: “You have no idea how much it’s worth to me,” she cried.
Substitute “it is” and you have: “You have no idea how much it is worth to me,” she cried.
You’ve chosen the right form! How about this one:
EXAMPLE: “Put the book back in it’s place, please,” he requested.
What happens if you substitute “it is” in this example? It becomes: “Put the book back in it is place, please,” he requested.
Oops! That doesn’t work. You need to use “its” in this sentence (which is the possessive form of the word… but don’t think about it that way if grammar terms scare you!).
Even if you aren’t ready to completely embrace grammar yet, try to keep a positive attitude about it. Remember: it’s your friend, not your enemy!
One last note: As obsessive as I am about grammar, I’m also human. While I will do my best to avoid any errors in these columns, if you notice anything I got wrong, please point it out in the comments! I’m always happy to learn something new!
Rachel is a full-on, hardcore grammar freak. Her favorite punctuation marks are parentheses, em dashes and ellipses. She still loves adverbs, but is trying to wean herself off of them. And she truly believes that it’s okay to split an infinitive. In addition to her grammar obsession, Rachel writes light contemporary romance – occasionally with a paranormal twist – and is published in short fiction.