Top 5 Grammar Challenges


Grammar was never my strong area of expertise. The more I write, edit and re-write and edit some more, the better I am at polishing this skill. There are a few things that I’ve encountered that often trip me up or seem to be a bane to writers everywhere. This week’s Top 5 takes a look at the ones that I found most noteworthy.

  1. The Semicolon;

    • Between speaking with writers, reading many online discussions and my own experience, it is quiet clear that this seemingly harmless punctuation mark causes a lot of problems. Personally I love the semicolon; I like adding additional thoughts onto previous ones. The use of it can be controversial and some people find it too complex and avoid using it all together. For a great explanation on How to use a Semicolon, check out The Oatmeal.
  2. However

    • I like this word. I didn’t realize how much I liked it until I started doing a word frequency search on a rough draft of one of my manuscripts. It was used in every chapter at least once. My editor pointed out how this word can really stop the flow of a sentence or idea and I should cut back on the use of it — and this was after I already had. After huffing and puffing about the criticism, I realized she was right. Now I’m much more cautious with how I use this word. But the problems with it it don’t end there. My grammar issue with this world relates back to the dreaded semicolon. I remember distinctively being taught in school that commas surround the word ‘however’, but this is not always the case. My editor made several corrections in my work; however I was still baffled. I scrolled through other well-known novels and saw discrepancies on the punctuation around this useful word.  After researching and trying to determine who was right, I think I’ve finally figured it out. Check out this blog on Daily Writing Tips to put you in the know.
  3. Noddedcats.gif

    • It wasn’t until I started writing a novel that I realized how many times people nod when they talk or think. This reflexive head bobbing only appears as an odd obsession when you start writing out dialogue in a story. If you’re like me and picture a scene as you are writing it, you will see a bunch of nodding, but if you note it down every time your writing becomes repetitive and seems rather pedantic. I thought maybe it was just me and perhaps it spoke of an inept ability to write…then I started pouring over highly acclaimed writing. Guess what? People nodded in their books too! And now my attention has been drawn to it, I think people nod too much (in books and IRL lol). Unfortunately, there’s no quick work around to replace this word. There are other things to write instead of ‘nodded’, but I have yet to find a blog to point you to for advice…I may have to write it myself (gasp!).
  4. Accept vs Except

    • I accept that there is a very clear indication when these words are used, except I can still get them completely mixed up. After the red pen has pointed out my predictable confusion of which word to use, you’d think I would learn…alas they can still trip me up. What’s strange is that when they have been used correctly, how to use them makes perfect sense to me—of course that’s how to use that word! However, when I’m in the thick of it, the reasoning is blurred. Thank goodness I have a patient editor to help me with these things!
  5. Ellipsis vs Em Dash

    • The more I write the clearer it is to me that some things are more about personal preference than a matter of right or wrong…or at least that’s what I keep telling myself. Especially when you are writing dialogue or someone’s thoughts these useful tools can add a much needed pause or addition —interrupting when someone is speaking is another use for the em dash. The Punctuation Guide is a good resource for how to use an em dash. So why, you may ask, is this a challenge? Sometimes I like trailing thoughts when a character speaks. It’s not that they are interrupted, it’s as if they have more to say, but are holding back or expect another character to finish the thought for them.
      • “Where you going to eat that last chocolate or…”
    • The challenge comes in with putting a period after the quotation marks: “Where you going to eat that last chocolate or…”. I just don’t like the way this looks. Another option is to add a forth dot: “Where you going to eat that last chocolate or….” But this example is actually a question so perhaps there should be a ? at the end of that sentence. If this gets your head spinning you may want to refer to the The Punctuation Guide for a full explanation on how the ellipsis can be used.
Please share your own grammar challenges in the comments or add your thoughts to my Top 5!

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