5 Grammar Hacks for Writers Who Hate Grammar

Want to write a book? Our proven program, 100 Day Book begins soon. Get the process to finish your book now. Learn more and sign up here.

I see this in comments on The Write Practice all the time. “I want to be a writer, but I know nothing about grammar.”

Grammar Hacks for Writers Who Hate Grammar

I don't have a degree in English or Journalism, either.

I am, though, a writer. For those of you who have decided you are a writer too, you don't need a degree in English or be an expert in grammar. There are a few grammar hacks I've learned that have helped me.

Here are five hacks to help you look like you know what you're doing when it comes to grammar:

1. Use Semicolons.

They're great. A semicolon is used when you are combining two closely related sentences.

Example:

John called me yesterday. He had a question about cats. John called me yesterday; he had a question about cats.

Don't use semicolons to replace colons, or if the sentences you are combining are incomplete.

Easy enough?

2. Be Cautious With Commas.

I used to think that commas fixed everything. If I threw commas in my sentences that it would magically make them grammatically correct.

It wasn't until my editor started correcting my comma splices in my text messages that I realized that is probably the worst thing you can do with commas. There are about 400 rules for commas, so my advice: use them with caution.

Avoid comma splices. Consider using the oxford comma (because my editor tells me to.)

Use commas when you would naturally pause when reading, and you should be fine.

3. Punctuation Stays Inside Quotations.

When using quotation marks, make sure that the punctuation stays inside the quotations (unless you live in the U.K., then the punctuation stays outside—so many rules!).

When the quote is at the end of a sentence, you may be tempted to put the period on the outside. It may look right, especially when you are starting another sentence, but don't do it.

Example:

Correct: “The most important rule of writing,” according to Joe, “is to be specific.”
Incorrect: “The most important rule of writing”, according to Joe, “is to be specific”.

4. Avoid Adverbs.

Adverbs are words that end with “ly.” They are passive and a cop-out when it comes to descriptions. You are a writer and can do better than, “He drove to the hospital quickly.”

Also, if you avoid adverbs, you don't need to learn all their complicated rules. Enough said.

5. Keep it simple.

The biggest hack to getting grammar right, is to keep it simple. If you're writing complex, compounded paragraph or sentence, or trying to use ensure vs insure, you will be bound to get something wrong. Keep it simple, for your sake, and your readers'.

Write First. Then, Worry About Grammar.

For many of us, grammar is muddy water. Our brains do not recognize or retain grammar rules.

My advice is to first write, and then edit. Don't be consumed with grammar while trying to write your book, or blog post. (It will never get done if you are constantly analyzing every sentence.)

Edit after you write, and keep these hacks in mind.

What is your least favorite grammar rule? Favorite? Let me know in the comments below!

PRACTICE

Practice these grammar hacks in your writing. Take fifteen minutes and write.

Prompt: Joe and Kellie are fighting about grammar rules over the phone. Who wins?

Post your practice in the comments below and leave some grammar-love for a fellow writer.

Kellie McGann is the founder of Write a Better Book . She partners with leaders to help tell their stories in book form.

On the weekends, she writes poetry and prose.

She contributes to The Write Practice every other Wednesday.

100 Day Book Cover

Closes in . . .

Day(s)

:

Hour(s)

:

Minute(s)

:

Second(s)

Want to Write a Book?

100 Day Book Starts Soon: Sign up for our proven program, 100 Day Book, and get the coaching, training, and accountability you need to finally become and author and finish your book. The program closes soon though, so sign up now.

37 Comments

  1. Gary G Little

    I remember always doing poorly in my Englaish classes. In 1955 we had to diagram sentences, draw lines and diagonals and put verbs, nouns, pronouns, adverbs and adjectives on the right line or diagonal. Talk about the epitome of stupid. I always wondered how Twain managed. Come to think of it, Twain didn’t. How did Clemens manage?

    I hear the myth of the Master of Fine Arts required to be an accomplished author and I wonder, “Really?” How many number one best selling authors have an MFA?

    I then ponder my own career. I’m a software engineer. I spent 40 years writing software that was used in piece work payroll and even used in fleet ballistic submarines. Computer science degree? Are you kidding? When I graduated college they didn’t have computer science degrees. Nope, my degree is a double major in … (drum roll) psychology and religion. I figured if I couldn’t counsel the stupid hunk of silicon I could pray for it.

    Reply
    • Christine

      More power to you if you can turn degrees in psychology and religion into a lucrative career as a softwear engineer. 🙂
      In school I aced English Grammar. Alas, throughout my life I’ve also aced Procrastination and Flight from One New Project to Another such as a butterfly would envy. Sigh. “You win a few; you lose a few.”

      Reply
    • Kellie McGann

      Gary that’s so great!

      Reply
  2. Marie Eljera

    When I saw the title for this article, I thought it would be great to print out for the writer I’m currently ghostwriting for (who absolutely needs the help.) Unfortunately, there are so many grammar and punctuation mistakes that the article makes me want to jump off a tall building.

    For example: If you’re writing complex, compounded, paragraph sentence. You will be bound to get something wrong. Keep it simple, for your sake, and your readers’.

    I made a sound like that of a dying animal reading that last paragraph, and then I thought maybe it’s a joke, an attempt at irony… I must have scrolled back up to find the punchline a half dozen times, hoping… but the sad truth is, it’s probably not.

    As much as writing is artistic expression, it is also a technical craft that requires careful attention to grammar, punctuation, spelling, syntax, format, structure, vocabulary, context, and so on. These are the tools writers use to gain credibility, so don’t let ANYONE tell you it’s not important to learn or understand how these tools work. You wouldn’t hire a carpenter who doesn’t know how to use a hammer.

    And for goodness sake, please don’t use semicolons unless 1) you absolutely know how to use it and 2) a comma or period won’t work just as well. I had an English professor who would fail a paper based on the improper use of a semicolon. Most often, using semicolons is the same as using fancy words from a thesaurus that aren’t quite appropriate in context but look pretty sitting on the page. I like Kurt Vonnegut’s take on semicolons:

    “Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Hey Marie. Thanks for catching that. You’re right, there should have been an “or” there, and it’s been fixed. If you see any more, let me know! Typos happen, even in traditionally published books, let alone daily blogs, and we always appreciate the heads up.

      We definitely wouldn’t say that paying attention to the rules of grammar isn’t important, and I don’t think that this article argues that either.

      I will say that as far as Kurt Vonnegut’s hilarious semicolon rule goes, I can’t help but take that as anything but satirical, as he breaks his own rule frequently, even in the book that this quote appears in.

      All the best with your writing Marie!

      Reply
      • Marie Eljera

        Oh dear, oh dear. Joe, I really don’t mean to be a nitpicker, but the sentence should read: If you’re writing complex, compound paragraphs or sentences, you will be bound to get something wrong. Keep it simple, for your sake, and your readers’.

        Besides that, the entire article is riddled with mistakes and awkward phrasings. Furthermore, I never not use semicolons at all, I said to use them properly and only if a comma or period won’t work just as well. That’s just my opinion as an editor. Using semicolons in creative work (as oppose to academic) seems pedantic and unnecessary and will kill a piece if used incorrectly. Like Kellie said, keep it simple.

        Reply
        • Gary G Little

          I just cannot resist red-lining the editor. I believe you used the incorrect tense. “(as oppose to academic) ” should be “(as opposed to academic) “

          Reply
          • Marie Eljera

            Lol thanks Gary, I appreciate it. Although grammar probably isn’t as important in a comment posting as it is in the body of article offering advice on grammar 😉

          • Joe Bunting

            Good rule, Gary!

        • Joe Bunting

          Yep, you’re right Marie. My mistake again. That’s what you get for editing when you’re supposed to be watching your 2 year old.

          Reply
  3. Reagan Colbert

    What you said is so true! You don’t need a degree to be a writer; you need a story. And although the best grades I got in high school were in grammar, I find it frustrating to focus on that instead of writing. I love how you brought it down to its simplest form. Everything can be easy if you don’t over-complicate it. Thanks for the great post!
    “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”

    Reply
  4. Jackie Murphey

    According to Mignon Fogarty, only one space should be used at the end of a sentence. How do you feel about this. Microsoft Word would close you down. Also, I my grammar teacher was not an Englishman, but he taught that quotes were inside the punctuation. That has been a pain for me.

    Reply
    • Kellie McGann

      I was also taught two spaces after each sentence. I’m not sure which is the best way, but I often get lazy and only put one. (Don’t tell!)
      Thanks for the comment!

      Reply
    • Pat Cummings

      Double-spacing after the end of a sentence was a work-around to address the difference in readability between kerned, type-set text and text produced on a typewriter with its invariant letter spacing. Unless you’re writing code, you’re now using an automatically kerned “typeface” and only a single space should be used.

      Reply
  5. Patrick

    This is my first time posting here. In fact, it’s my first time actually doing the practice prompt. I appreciate anyone who reads it, and thank you, Kellie, for the tips!

    Joe: For the last time, just use a semicolon!

    Kellie: I don’t like the way they look!

    Joe: Just like you don’t like the way my mother’s fur carpet looks.

    Kellie: Don’t change the subject. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with using a comma followed by a conjunction!

    Joe: Fair enough.

    Kellie: As for you, Joe, stopping using too many adverbs.

    Joe: I used three adverbs in my last story! Just because the story before had fifteen, doesn’t mean you can ignore my improvement!

    Kellie: I’m glad you’re recognizing your own mistakes. Sorry for not recognizing your improvement. I’m not perfect, either.

    Joe: It’s fine. We just got a bit out of hand.

    Kellie: True. By the way, your mother’s fur carpet is immoral.

    Joe: Says the girl who eats meat.

    Kellie: Killing animals God put on this planet for food is one thing. Wearing their remains is another.

    Joe: Ever wonder what your shoes are made of?

    Kellie: We can go all day like this, Joe.

    Joe: That’s fine. Your first class doesn’t start for another hour. I don’t mind being your first student to show up.

    Reply
    • Kellie McGann

      Patrick that’s great! You’re a great and funny writer!
      Can’t wait to see more of your writing! Glad you liked the post!

      Reply
  6. Jean

    Hey Kellie! I can smell that this article is really for me :D. Personally, I love
    using semicolon because it gave me an excuse not to use conjunctions as much as
    possible. What I really thought is that, punctuation should stays outside the
    quotation that is why almost all of my writings, the punctuations were all
    outside ( hehe. Maybe I will make revisions of those). I love using
    adverbs because for me it sounds good, but most of the articles I read regarding
    writings suggested avoiding adverbs. I guess I need a little change on my
    writing styles. Thank you for these helpful tips Kellie.

    Reply
    • Kellie McGann

      Thanks Jean! I’m glad the tips helped!
      Keep writing 🙂

      Reply
  7. Christine

    Since I’ve always enjoyed Grammar and like to see it employed in the novels I read, I won’t complain about the rules. As if I’d ever break any! Oh, but I’m forever writing incomplete sentences, so I’d better amend that. I think it’s fine to start sentences with a conjunction. Pftt on proper grammar.

    And end with a preposition. Like Sir Winston, I don’t “up with put” anything. Idioms always come before rules, right? “Take that off,” Mabel ordered, “and put this one on. It suits you — matches the red in your eyes.”

    By the way, I’ve tutored ESL students and it’s exactly this “verb + preposition = idiomatic phrase” combo that makes English learners weep. (Plus our spelling.) Take in, take out, uptake, intake, take up, take up with, take it out on, take someone down (a notch), take someone out (2 senses), undertake, overtake, take over, a takeover, etc.

    As to punctuation: I do know how to use a semi-colon and when to use a colon; I’m still working at wiping out superfluous commas.

    Unlike Editor Marie and Kurt V, I’m 100% in favor of using semi-colons, simply because I detest machine-gun-fire sentences. That is to say, a whole paragraph of short sentences rat-tat-tatting away at me.
    As in:
    “Razelda ordered him to leave. Pete lingered, hoping she’d change her mind. But she was definite. She never wanted to see him again. He might as well accept it. There was no chance of them getting together. She was in love with the football player. Pete, a lowly carpet installer, just didn’t cut it. Finally Pete dragged himself out to his car. There he sat, head in his hands, sobbing. No one would ever love him. He may as well take a flying carpet back to Mars.”

    Reply
  8. Kashiefah Chetty

    Just removed the adverbs from my last blog post. There was a good few. Must practice using the semi-colon more 🙂
    http://www.kashiefahchetty.co.za

    Reply
    • Kellie McGann

      Can’t wait to see more of your semi-colons! They’re fun once you get the hang of them!

      Reply
  9. Katina Vaselopulos

    Practicing your rules today and from now on as I go through editing my book essays! .
    I have been practicing all the great suggestions in this blog!
    Thank you!

    Reply
    • Kellie McGann

      Katina, hope your editing goes well! That is always a challenge!
      Thanks for your encouragement!

      Reply
  10. Carrie Lynn Lewis

    Two thoughts, Kellie.

    First. On the matter of punctuation always inside the quotes, would that be true if you’re using quote marks to denote “air quotes”?

    Second. I’m reluctant to go totally adverb-free. That seems like throwing the baby out with the bath water. Yes, it is easier to use no adverbs than to figure out when they’re useful, but there are times when an adverb is exactly the right word.

    Thanks for your thoughts on grammar and for your tips!

    Reply
  11. Jan Flynn-White

    I’m personally rooting for the comma splice to make a breakthrough in popularity! As far as knocking out all adverbs, I agree with Carrie Lynn – I think they can be used sparingly and still have relevance.

    Reply
    • Kellie McGann

      Haha, if comma splices became popular, that would be great! 😉
      I agree adverbs can be used. I just know it’s better in some cases to avoid them, because they will slip themselves in!
      Thanks Jan for the comment!

      Reply
  12. Pat W

    I confuse colons and semicolons.

    Reply
    • Kellie McGann

      Pat, colons are used for lists and times (and I’m sure other things.) Semicolons are great for pairing sentences. The more you use them the easier it will get.

      Reply
      • Pat W

        Thanks. I think I had that backwards.

        Reply
  13. Marilynn Byerly

    Semicolons work in nonfiction but not so well in fiction which has a much more informal tone. For a longer explanation, go here:

    http://mbyerly.blogspot.com/2014/05/the-semicolon-in-fiction.html

    As to diagraming sentences, diagraming was created to formalize the way language works, as in a formula or equation in math. It was one of our first means of understanding the building blocks of the sentence structure.

    To this day, I will build a diagram in my head when I’m confused about a sentence’s clarity, and it has saved me more than once in having a dangling participle or misplaced modifier.

    Reply
  14. LilianGardner

    Thanks for your post, Kelly.
    I agree that correct punctuation is essential to good writing, and I love the way you’ve listed of how to use them. I use the semicolon, colon, and the dash, too, plus all the rest.
    Our prof at Grammar School drove correct grammar rules into our heads when we wrote essays, compositions, precis, and anything else. Some rules have changed but most of them remain as they were ‘then’. I do remember most of the rules, but like to brush up on them whenever there’s an occasion to do so.

    Reply
  15. Glynis Jolly

    When it comes to commas, I use what I learned when I was twelve years old in English class. Where you naturally pause or take a quick breath within a sentence is where a comma belongs. This does not mean a comma should be used to put two independent thought together though. That’s what periods are for. With that said though, the semicolon, as you said, can be used to put two independent but relative thoughts together.

    Reply
  16. Sheila B

    Even long complex thoughts and descriptipms of complex activities can be put in shorter sentences. Use periods instead of commas. Intersperse short and longer sentences for variety. The brain loves variety.

    Reply
  17. NerdOfAllTrades

    Joe pounded his hand down on the table. “I tell you, it matters.”

    Kellie sighed. “Please, Joe, don’t get so worked up. I didn’t say that grammar was unimportant when speaking; I just said that it’s more important in writing than in speech.”

    Joe thought for a moment about that, but then shook his head angrily. “If people use poor grammar when speaking, it’ll carry over into their writing, and vice versa. How many people have you heard using ‘LOL’ when they’re actually speaking? It’s ridiculous.”

    Kellie refused to concede the point. “Yes, sometimes things carry over from writing to speech, but not the other way around. Listen. When you write, you have the chance to go back and correct things. You can say what you want to say, how you want to say it. In conversation, it’s all about getting the message across.”

    “But to get your message across…”

    “I know,” Kellie interrupted, “the clearer, the better, but you can’t spend five minutes saying a few seconds worth of ideas, the way you can when you write. When you speak, there are these huge gaps sometimes, when you try to think of the right word, right?”

    “Sometimes,” Joe conceded, after a moment’s pause.

    Kellie took a sip from her drink, wincing. Either they were running out of syrup in the soda machine, or the owners of this restaurant were stingy and were purposely watering the drinks down. “While you’re coming up with that perfect word, you could be explaining exactly what you mean in multiple words, but instead, you’re screwing up the flow of the conversation, and it may move on without you: you may never get the point across at all.”

    “But…”

    “So,” Kellie continued as if he hadn’t said anything, “the same thing goes for grammar. It’s more important that they get the point across, rather than getting it across perfectly.”

    Joe considered this for a moment. Kellie was making sense, but there was something wrong with her analogy. “Word choice, I can see your point there, but grammar is a habit. It doesn’t take any longer to say ‘well’ instead of ‘good’ when using an adverb.”

    “It does if you’re not *in* the habit,” Kellie replied. If you want to correct it, then you have to stop yourself and keep correcting yourself each time. Slowing down the conversation just makes it harder to get all of the ideas across.”

    “I just don’t see what the problem is,” Joe hit the table again, but more gently this time, frustrated rather than angry. “Grammar is easy. The rules aren’t hard.”

    “Neither is understanding people who break them,” Kellie replied. She glanced at her watch and then kissed him on the cheek as she left. “Gotta go, sweetie.”

    Lost in thought, he didn’t realize that she had stuck him with the bill until the server came.

    Reply
    • liliangardner@gmail.com

      I like your dialogue between two people about grammar. I feel that we tend to speak like we write. I love words and how to use them approiately, even in an ordinary conversation. At times, a word wrongly used can offend. Better be careful how I say things.

      Reply
  18. liliangardner@gmail.com

    Thanks Joe for your article,
    The five hacks are well explained.

    Since we have a varitey of punctuation marks, why not use them without
    being ‘scared’ of the semicolon, for example? Isn’t it supposed to be the half-beat
    of a comma, and dividing a long sentence approiately?

    Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. 30 Days To Starting A Daily Writing Habit - […] aren’t grammar polices. You can learn the basic grammar skillsto improve your writing chop. Keilla at The Write Practice…
  2. The Ridiculous Habit That Makes A Great Writer - […] Great writers don’t suck on grammar. They write breathtaking metaphors, gripping plots and continue onward to churn out bestsellers.…
  3. How To Become A Self-Taught Wicked Online Writer - […] Kellie McGann at The Write Practice shares grammar hacks for the unskilled. […]
  4. Start A Daily Writing Habit With This Strategy - Start Tiny - […] aren’t grammar polices. You can learn the basic grammar skillsto improve your writing chop. Keille McGann at The Write…
  5. The Ridiculous Habit That Makes Great Writers - Start Tiny - […] writers don’t suck on grammar. They write breathtaking metaphors, gripping plots and continue onward to churn out […]
  6. How To Become A Self-Taught Stellar Online Writer Who Beats The Pants Off The Pros - Start Tiny - […] Kellie McGann at The Write Practice shares grammar hacks for the unskilled. […]
  7. 50+ Mind-Blowing Spelling & Grammar Tricks to Improve Your Writing – Alina Bradford, The No-Fluff Writer - […] https://thewritepractice.com/grammar-hacks/ […]

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

2.4k
Share to...