Liz Bureman has a more-than-healthy interest in proper grammatical structure, accurate spelling, and the underappreciated semicolon. When she's not diagramming sentences and reading blogs about how terribly written the Twilight series is, she edits for the Write Practice, causes trouble in Denver, and plays guitar very slowly and poorly. You can follow her on Twitter (@epbure), where she tweets more about music of the mid-90s than writing.
See Liz's other Write Practice activity outside of the forums
We’ve covered when to use quotation marks. But when you throw question marks and exclamation points into the mix, things can get a little tricky. Let’s demystify this quotation mark conundrum, shall we?
Buckle up. We may experience some turbulence.
The Tenuous Relationship Between Question and Quotation Marks »
A few years ago, I rented a car. Normally this wouldn’t be a memorable event. But an appalling misuse of grammar burned it into my mind, and years later, I haven’t forgotten.
You see, when I went to the airport to return the rental, I saw this wonderfully instructive sign:
Please… LEAVE “KEYS” IN CAR!
And this brings me to today’s grammar lesson: how and when to use quotation marks.
When Do You Use “Quotation Marks”? »
If the semicolon was just a little less top-heavy, then it would be a comma, and rightfully used and appreciated. Sadly, many writers have a confused relationship with the semicolon, not really sure how or when to use semicolons in their lovely sentences.
Don’t worry, little semicolon. Your virtues will not be lost on this audience as long as I have a say in it.
2 Ways to Use the Semicolon »
People ask me all the time (and by all the time, I mean never), “Liz, what is your favorite grammatical/punctuational structure?” It’s hard to narrow it down to just one (although you’re probably already aware of my love for the Oxford comma), but if I happened to be in a life-or-death of language situation, it would probably be the parenthetical statement.
I bet you already figured that out.
Parentheses: How to Use ( ) Correctly »
You’ve probably heard people decry the use of the passive voice. “Avoid it at all costs!” they say. That’s a little misleading; the passive voice isn’t always bad.
However, you must understand what it is and learn to recognize it so you can choose how to use it effectively.
Active vs. Passive Voice: The Complete Guide »
We avoided it as long as we could, but it was bound to come up sooner or later. Today, we’re covering the apparent mother of all grammatical quandaries: who vs. whom. What’s the difference between these two tricky pronouns?
Who vs. Whom: Or, How to Misuse a Pronoun »
This weekend in Denver is apparently supposed to be b-e-a-utiful. Weather reports are calling for temperatures in the 60s and 70s, and it’s going to be a great weekend to spend outside in the park. The only problem with this is that I’ll be in Philadelphia during this amazing weather spot. It will not be in the 60s and 70s in Philly. It will be in the 40s. That’s further than I’d like to be from those glorious spring temperatures.
Wait. Further? Or is it farther?
Further vs Farther: What’s the Difference? »
When I was in high school, a drama teacher that I had my sophomore year made everyone in my class keep a journal. He kept them in his office, but never read them, and we would write every morning we had class. Some of us took the exercise more seriously than others (there was a minimum three line requirement), but after that year, he gave us the notebooks to keep. I had enjoyed journaling so much that I continued.
It was a great way for me to get my thoughts recorded, although it wasn’t the prettiest writing I’ve ever done. If you’re looking for an alternative way to tell a story, there are a couple reasons to try a diary or epistolary format.
3 Reasons Diaries Are Essential to Your Story »
A few weeks ago, our group of friends was planning a potluck. One of the girls said she was planning on making vegetarian chili, cornbread, or baking cookies. I cringed internally because the flow of the sentence was wrong and hurt me on the inside. The issue: mismatched parallelism.
Parallelism: Keep Your Verb Tenses Consistent »
English is full of words that seem the same, but have subtle differences in their spelling and usage. These tricky words seem designed specifically to trip you up. Recently, we tackled ensure vs. insure. Today, let’s take on another vocabulary conundrum: upwards or upward? Toward or towards?
Or does it even matter?
Is it Toward or Towards? Upwards or Upward? »
Here’s a problem I’ve encountered a lot: the confusion of ensure vs. insure. But wait, those two words are the same, right? Well . . . kind of, but not exactly.
Let’s un-muddle them, shall we?
Every time I hear the word “ensure,” I think of the high-protein flavored beverage that I will never drink. But we’re going to use this ingestible product to help you remember how to use ensure. Win-win (kind of).
When to Use Ensure vs. Insure »
You know what’s really fun to edit? Dangling participles. What’s a participle? Glad you asked.
A participle is an adjective form of a verb, usually formed by adding the suffix –ing to the verb. For example, you might go for a light 15k in your running shoes. Or your sister might be screaming because she burned herself with her curling iron. Make sense?
Let’s take a closer look and find out where these participles go wrong.
Don’t Leave Your Participles Dangling »
Let’s say you’re living the dream and writing a chapter of word problems for a grade school math textbook. You’ve got a girl named Mandy who has sixteen apples. You’ve got a guy named Frank who has four fewer apples than Mandy.
Wait. Is it four fewer or four less?
Let’s discuss, shall we?
Fewer vs. Less: 10 Items or ____ »
Sometimes we need to revisit the basics. We should never assume that we’re above them; there’s a reason that the saying “pride comes before a fall” is still common.
And there is little that brings a writer’s soaring and magnificent prose crashing back to earth faster than using the wrong form of there/their/they’re.
Today, let’s look at these three very different words.
Never Confuse There, Their, and They’re Again »
Possessives are a funny thing. When used correctly, they add much-needed clarity to our sentences. But they seem to confound our apostrophe rules.
Let’s sort out this grammar conundrum, shall we? With these rules mastered, you’ll clear up your readers’ confusion and use possessives like a pro.
How to Use Possessives to Show Ownership »
Sometimes you have to get back to basics. All writers are guilty of making mistakes at some point, and they kick themselves for months after an astute reader notices that they added one too many o’s to their “to.” Once that’s in print, you can’t take it back.
So today, I’d like to draw attention to one common mistake so that you will hopefully never have to take it back: the then-vs.-than debacle.
The “Than” Versus “Then” Debacle »
My elementary school experience included three years of Latin in fourth through sixth grade. Believe it or not, that language learning actually came in handy
Parataxis and Hypotaxis: How Greek Makes You a Better Writer »
If there’s one significant thing that Joe and I have historically disagreed on, it’s the role of grammar in a writer’s toolbox. We complement each other well because as much as I love grammar and sentence structure, he equally embraces the dismissal of commas and the implementation of run-on sentences for art’s sake. When you get down to brass tacks though, I have to admit that he kind of has a point: grammar is somewhat arbitrary.
The Importance of Correct Grammar »
We all know there is a difference between I and me. Simply put, “I” is a subject, “me” is an object. Generally speaking, there aren’t any issues when you’re only referring to yourself.
The confusion starts when your first person character is joined by third person companions.
I vs. Me: Being Self Centered Can Be Good »
Oh, relative pronouns. You crazy, crazy kids. You can cause so much frustration with your misplaced thats, whos, and whichs. Let’s have a chat and sort you all out, shall we?
Let’s say you’re telling a story about Weston, a neurologist with a bionic elbow. When do you use which relative pronoun?