Happy National Grammar Day! Yes, March 4 is a day dedicated to good grammar. National Grammar Day was established by the founder of the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar (SPOGG), Martha Brockenbrough, in 2008.
To honor Ms. Brockenbrough and National Grammar Day, here are some delicious little tips that can help to keep your grammar—and your writing—error-free. These tips are also great for self-editing your own work before publication.
- Their, There, They’re – Many grammar gurus claim this as their pet peeve (myself included). There are a lot of people, even the best of writers, who make this mistake because they’re not careful. A simple trick I taught myself was to take off the “t”—heir is a person (their is people), here is a place (there is a place—usually), and apostrophes almost always denote a missing letter(s), so they’re is just short for they are.
- Your, You’re – The same with your and you’re. You’re means you are. Anything else is your. When in doubt, read aloud. If you are doesn’t make sense, it should be your.
- It’s, Its – Again, the apostrophe here denotes a missing letter or letters. In this case, it’s means it is (or occasionally, it has) Its without an apostrophe is a pronoun, the same as his or hers. It is just a non-gender pronoun.
- Apostrophes – Now that we’ve established that apostrophes usually imply a contraction, it’s time to look at the other reason we have apostrophes—to show possession. There is no other use for an apostrophe, its job is to show possession or a contraction.
- Comma splices – This is another pet peeve of some editors (like me!) and grammar gurus. Comma splices are really just two sentences joined incorrectly by a comma instead of a period. (Ex: Kemari doesn’t like comma splices, they’re incorrect.) Both statements are independent clauses (meaning they can stand alone). You can insert the word and, a semicolon, or a period. In some cases, you can use an em dash, but beware using too many em dashes together.
- Should’ve, Would’ve, Could’ve – Texting and Tweeting (and IMing) has caused us to shorten our words, mostly for the sake of brevity. So sometimes shoulda, woulda, or coulda saves a few characters. And that’s okay—when you’re texting or Tweeting. But in your writing, you should never use shoulda, woulda, or coulda, unless it’s in the dialogue of one of your characters. And never, ever use should of, would of, or could of. Even in textual conversations, should/would/could of is incorrect.
- Affect, Effect – This one is a bit easier to remember. In most cases, effect is a noun and affect is a verb. The simple way I’ve always remembered? Affect is part of affection, and a is for amore, which I equate with to love. To love is a verb. Effect is usually the result of cause (cause and effect) and cause ends with e, and effect starts with e, so I know that effect here is something that has happened because of something else.
- Try to, Try and – This one is trickier, because there seem to be no clear cut rules that try and is wrong, it is just informal. However, try to is preferred by most grammarians, editors, English teachers, and any lover of the English language. According to the grammar goddess herself, Grammar Girl Mignon Fogarty, when you use try and, you separate the act of trying with the thing you’re trying to do (I want to try and dance = I want to try, then I want to dance. Whereas I want to try to dance means you want to try to dance. See the difference?)
- You and I, You and me – I have a friend who constantly corrects anyone who says you and me. “It’s you and I,” she always corrects. But that’s not always the case. There are instances where you and me (or when using a person’s name, Bob, Barbara, etc., and me) is correct. The easiest way to remember which to use is if the phrase is the subject or the object in the sentence. You and I are best friends. Tell her to send you and me the invitations. Easy peasy!
Happy National Grammar Day!