Can you correct the error in the sentence below? Scroll to the bottom of today’s post for the answer.
Because I’m watching my weight, I don’t often order desert.
I spend a lot of time (ok – I’ll admit it – too much time!) on Quora. I’m glad to share my knowledge with people who are working on their English skills. But there’s one thing I wish everybody would stop asking about: grammar.
There are so many things that can go wrong with a sentence that have nothing to do with grammar: punctuation, word choice, and capital letters, for starters. (They fall into the usage category.)
And what about sounding natural? Writing powerfully? And – a big one – how about adopting some of the writing practices that professionals use?
So today I’m offering a few pointers about writing habits you need to break if you want to be a professional writer.
1. Don’t use quotation marks to apologize for a word or expression. In his book The Sense of Style, Stephen Pinker says that “Classic style is confident about its own voice.” Amen.
If a word doesn’t sound right to you, take a moment to find the exact word you want. And if you’re using a word in an unusual way, just do it! No apologies.
Jenny had a tantrum this morning because she couldn’t find her “binky.” AMATEURISH
Jenny had a tantrum this morning because she couldn’t find her binky. BETTER
2. Don’t underline unless you’re writing by hand or using a typewriter – or formatting a manuscript for a publisher who expressly asks for underlining.
If you want to emphasize a word, you can use color, a different typeface, a larger size, or a formatting option like bold or italics.
3. Never put a comma after but or and.
4. Never use the words importantly or firstly. Important and first are better choices.
5. Never write last but not least. Build to a climax: “Best of all….” “Most important….”
6. Never join sentences with a comma and however, therefore, nevertheless, moreover, or a similar word. Use a period or a semicolon.
Instant Quiz ANSWER
I struggle with double letters! The correct word today is dessert. Here’s the trick I use: I think about drinking coffee with my dessert, and I always use two sugars – and that means a double s. Clumsy – but it works!
Because I’m watching my weight, I don’t often order dessert. CORRECT
What Your English Teacher Didn’t Tell You is available in paperback and Kindle formats from Amazon.com and other online booksellers.
“A useful resource for both students and professionals” – Jena L. Hawk, Ph.D., Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College
“Personable and readable…Jean knows her subject forwards and backwards.” – Adair Lara, author of Hold Me Close, Let Me Go