Farla's Guide to Basic Grammar:
There are a lot of rules here, and I understand that if you're not used to them, following all of them is going to be hard. So don't.
Look through and pick one rule you weren't aware of. Practice it. Try to use it properly. When you finish a story, look through and double-check all instances to make sure it's right. Eventually, you'll find you don't have to think about it, and that when you double-check, you don't find mistakes. Then come back here, pick another rule, and do the same.
If you want to comment or discuss this guide, feel free to do so in the thread here.
Let's briefly talk about paragraphing.
A paragraph is a bunch of sentences that share a similar topic. If you've had to suffer through the five paragraph essay format for school, you may have heard what I just said before. On the other hand, you may now be confused by the idea of how you can group anything without an explicit topic sentence. This is because the five paragraph essay format is not actually how you should be writing paragraphs or essays, it's just there because it's easy to grade and you go to a school that's underfunded and over-tested.
What was the topic of the previous paragraph? Was the first sentence the topic sentence? The rest of the sentences were complaining about five paragraph essays rather than what I meant by similar topic. And yet, don't all the sentences feel like they have something to do with each other? What's going on is the paragraph is talking about why you're here reading a guide and feeling confused about paragraphing. In most writing, people do not add an extra line saying, "The thing I am about to say is this." Most paragraphs do not have an explicit topic sentence.
Your thoughts are going to naturally clump around a topic and then move to another related topic. The fact that's how we work is a big part of why properly done paragraphing makes it a lot easier for the reader to follow along, and it's why learning to paragraph isn't too hard once you start. It's largely about listening to yourself and remembering to hit the enter key when you hit a good resting point for your thoughts. Sentences can be grouped into paragraphs in a lot of different ways and still be correct, so as long as you're thinking about it, you should be able to paragraph correctly.
If you find it hard to do while you're writing sentences, look back over once you've finished and rearrange things then. Also, keep your eyes open for how other people are paragraphing. Look at how paragraphs are done in published books. Look at how people around here write, and try to notice when something reads smoothly and easily verses when the story's confusing. See if you can tell what went right and what went wrong.9/18/2018 . Edited 1/27/2019 #1
Pronouns, Possessives and Contractions:
Pronouns are I/me, you, he/she/it/they. They take the place of a noun.
Possessives are a way of indicating a person/thing or pronoun owns something else.
With pronouns, you never use an apostrophe to indicate possession the way you do a standard noun. So you'd say its story not it's story, as it's means it is. This may seem odd.
This is because modern possessives are actually a contraction, which means two different words combined into one. Originally, instead of writing John's story you would write John, his story. Combine John and his and you get John's. Technically, you never use an apostrophe to indicate possession, you use an apostrophe to indicate you've combined the name with the possessive pronoun. This is why it's written hers, yours and its.
Similar reasoning is behind the distinction between who's and whose. Who's is a contraction of who is. Whose means possessed by who.
When you're not sure if you want to use an apostrophe, read it aloud to yourself as the full two words to make sure you have it right.
(Edit: There's apparently some uncertainty over if the "his" was the word or an identically pronounced word indicating genitive case, or possibly it was "es" sometimes being misspelled as "his" or something else entirely. The important part for you is that whatever the word was, it ended in an S and ended up being combined into the first word with an apostrophe to indicate the contraction, thus giving us the current format of added 's to a noun to get a possessive.)
You're going to read this. = You are going to read this. Right.
You're story is bad. = You are story is bad. Wrong.
They're heading to City Hall. = They are heading to City Hall. Right.
They're objections are invalid. = They are objections are invalid. Wrong.
In addition, if you want to indicate a possessive on a noun ending in s, the standard format is to end the word an apostrophe without a s at the end. It is also acceptable to put an apostrophe followed by an s. Never put an apostrophe before the noun's own s.
Jesus's. Right, but nonstandard.
Jesu's. Wrong. This means Jesu possesses.
To indicate a plural for a word ending in s, add an es at the end. Some English words use different plural endings based on which language we beat up for it, but you should ignore that, as English tends to get confused about which language was which. A good example is octopus. In Latin, the us ending is pluralized as i, and therefore it would be octopi, which is the standard ending used. However, octopus was a word Latin mugged Greek for, the meaning the actual plural form would be octopodes. You have probably never seen the word before because no one uses it.
Generally don't have to concern yourself with it because es will still be an accepted version and in most cases is the more common form.
You may have noticed that the word pokemon and various types of pokemon are often written the same regardless of if they're singular or plural. There are two reasons for this. One is the tendency to use the original languages' grammar (even, in this case, when the words were translated) and Japanese does not distinguish between plural and singular. The other is that English often doesn't properly pluralize new words until they've been in use for a time. A good example here would be ninja, which currently has both ninja and ninjas as its plural. This is best shown in Pokemon fanfic by the tendency for plural forms to be appear irregularly, with older and more common species getting plural forms and newer or rarer ones written the same as the singular. For example, pidgeys and taillow.
Note there are words like deer that follow the same pattern, so this doesn't just apply to loaned or invented words.
Your means you possess something. You're means you are.
Its means it possesses something. It's means it is.
Hers and yours have no valid apostrophe form, they are always written as such.
Their means they possess something. They're means they are. There is a place that is not here.
Whose means possessed by who. Who's means who is.
Never put an apostrophe inside the base word. It's gyarados', not gyarado's.
The plural of a word ending in s is es.
If you're using plural pokemon names, it's gyaradoses. If you're not, make sure you're consistent about it.
If none of these look familiar, start at the top and work your way down once you've mastered each one.9/18/2018 #2
Proper and Common Nouns:
A proper noun refers to a specific person, place or thing. A common noun is refers to what the person, place or thing is.
Central Park is the name of the place. A park is the name for all places of that type..
If it is a proper noun, it is absolutely always capitalized. The name of a character should never appear in lower case form, nor the proper name of a particular location.
If it isn't a noun, it is absolutely never capitalized on its own.
Pokemon tends to be extremely confused on this point, both because people often use a pokemon's species as its given name, and because Nintendo is doing its best to ignore it. The debate over this is elsewhere. But proper nouns are names unique to individuals, common nouns are the generic form for all individuals of that sort, and things like verbs and interjections are never capitalized at all.
Thus the sentence This is my pikachu, Pikachu is correct. A pikachu is a common noun to refer to the little electric mouse, and Pikachu is the name that it goes by. This is my pikachu, pikachu would be wrong, as would This is my Pikachu, Pikachu.
As a side note, it is possible to use a format of my (proper noun), mostly in spoken dialogue. For example, This is my Fluffles. She's a hen. is correct, if a bit suspect. The important part is the capital letter to establish it's being used as the name of the thing in question.
The official scientific names of species follow different capitalization rules. If you plan to have scientists running about, check over those rules. This will otherwise never apply in your story. Words like pikachu and pidgey are clearly not the scientific classification.
Another subset is titles. A title should be viewed as a component of a name. A good rule of thumb is that if the word is going in front of a name, such as Professor Oak, it's a title. And just as someone named Benjamin may be called Ben without losing the capital B, you can use just the title under the same rules as the title plus name. "Hello, Professor Oak" and "Hello, Professor" are both correct. "Hello, professor" would be wrong, because it's being used as his name. However, if it's being used as a normal noun rather than a name, it's written with a lower case p. The professor walked across the room is correct, and The Professor walked across the room is wrong.
These rules go on to apply to words like Mother and Uncle. When they're used as names, they're capitalized, when they're used as normal nouns they're uncapitalized. When in doubt, try to replace the word with a name to see if the sentence makes sense.
Then a mother walked by is correct, because Then a Jane walked by would be wrong.
Then Mother walked by is correct, because Then Jane walked by would be right.
The Pokemon fandom has a particular issue that rarely crops up otherwise, where a given name refers to a group of people. The rules governing this are as follows:
If you're referring to a group of people with the same name, then the word is capitalized. There are a lot of Jacks in this room. Conversely, if you're using the name as a placeholder for people in general, who may or may not have that exact name, it's not, as seen in the phrase jack of all trades.
If you're referring to a group of people who all share a title which includes a name, then either may apply. Generally, this also shouldn't be capitalized, as pure titles normally aren't, but if people are particularly respectful of the title and people involved, it may be.
Therefore, grammar comes down mildly in favor of nurse joys but can be written Nurse Joys provided you're consistent about it. Note consistency here is on a story by story basis, as the two options may each be suited to particular types of story. If your story mostly treats the nurses as important people given a well-respected title, you may want to capitalize differently than if they're grown in vats as part of some long-term Team Rocket plot.
And remember that if you're using it as her name, it's capitalized even if you're not capitalizing the general term.9/18/2018 . Edited 9/18/2018 #3
This is the basic format of dialogue.
"Speech," she speech tag.
Notice that the start of speech has a capital letter. This is because it marks the beginning of the sentence, and you always capitalize the beginning of a sentence. It ends in a comma. This is because it's not the end of the sentence, and you don't use a period before the end of the sentence. And because it's not the start of a sentence, she is in lower case. The complete sentence includes the words after the quotation marks, and only then does it end in a period.
Speech is the words coming out of the person's mouth. Stuff like (panted) is not being said, so it doesn't belong there - if a person's panting, you can indicate this with the sound they might make at that point, like huff or by adding that they're panting in the narration outside of the quotation marks..
A speech tag is a verb (ie, an action) that indicates someone's talking and the manner they're doing so. Just because something's a verb doesn't make it a speech tag: "Hello," she ran is wrong. Even verbs that involve sound aren't all speech tags. Ask yourself if you could say a given sentence while doing the verb in question. Also, there are some speech tags that don't involve sound, like asked.
Sample speech tags:
Just because something is a speech tag doesn't mean you can always use it in dialogue. For example, asked requires a question, and replied can only be used in response to something else. Whispered and yelled aren't interchangeable. The only one that can be used in any circumstance is said. Said should be the primary speech verb you use, because it means nothing more than "a person spoke". The rest are modifiers on this concept: replied means a person spoke in response to someone else, whispered means a person spoke quietly. If you don't mean to draw the reader's attention to that modifier, you should default to said.
You may have seen long lists of alternate speech tags containing less used words. Please do not use those for reference. Generally, the reason the word is rarely seen is because sentences that need it are rare, not because it's a deep secret horded by the literary community that will improve your story when used.
Of particular note in this case is the word stated. In short, do not use stated.
One very common mistake people make is the idea stated is the same as said. The list above contains very common speech tags that are appropriate for a lot of sentences. Stated is an extremely rare speech tag that should only appear under certain narrow circumstances. It's very close in meaning to declared, but has an even narrower range of use. Stated can be used for a short, matter-of-fact declaration, ie, a statement. You may notice you don't see it in writing very often - this is because it's rarely the right word and is currently falling out of use except when used with a modifier, as in stated flatly. The normal word is mostly found these days in nonfiction documents.
Generally, just use declared for sentences you're thinking of using stated for. Or said.
Also, let's take a moment to discuss a newer scourge, spoke, which seems to be moving in to be used in place of stated.
Spoke shouldn't be used as a dialogue tag at all.
"Hey," she said -- right! "Hey," she spoke -- wrong!
I realize this sounds a bit confusing. So why?
Because "spoke" and its present tense "speaks" are supposed to be narrative actions, and they function like the opposite of "said". She spoke calmly. doesn't have to refer to any particular words she's saying, while She said calmly. is an incomplete sentence - said what?
"Hey," she said calmly. -- right!
"Hey." She spoke calmly. -- right!
She said calmly. -- wrong!
"Hey," she spoke calmly. -- wrong!
Spoke is for when you want to focus on how something's being said or the very general idea of what was said and the actual words aren't an issue, which does come up at times in writing.
A good way to avoid these kinds of mistakes is to remember English has very, very few exact synonyms. If it seems like you should be able to use spoke and said in exactly the same way with exactly the same meaning, you've probably misunderstood at least one of those words. Also, I tend to see people only using spoke, which suggests the real goal is to avoid said. Never try to avoid using a common word under the impression it makes your work better to only use hipster words. I can promise you it means you're misusing it and making things worse.
"Hello," she said. Right.
"Hello." She said. Wrong.
"Hello." she said. Wrong.
"Hello," She said. Wrong.
"Hello" she said. Wrong.
"Hello," she spoke. Wrong.
You should use said most of the time.
When not using said, use common speech tags.
Only use rare speech tags if they fit the sentence and the distinction is important.
If you're not sure if a speech tag fits, look it up in a dictionary.
Don't use stated.
Use spoke as much as you like but never as a dialogue tag.9/18/2018 #4
Verbs and Speech Tags:
There are also a number of verbs that are generally not speech tags at all, but occasionally can be used as one.
Laugh is a good example here. You can only use laugh with one or two word sentences.
"No," she laughed: okay. You can manage a short word like no in the middle of a laugh.
"That was a good joke," she laughed: not okay. You can't manage multiple syllables and full sentences in the middle of a laugh.
In most cases, you want to use said or another speech tag and add laughed as a second verb. But this can also have problems.
"That was a good joke," she said, and laughed.
Here, she's just said it's a good joke, and then laughed, something people rarely do. She either doesn't think it's a good joke and is forcing a laugh, or her statement and laugh are sarcastic, or she is a robot that has to complete the joke analysis before she can decide to laugh. You might also just use this with a more reserved character, who wouldn't burst out laughing immediately.
She laughed. "That was a good joke," she said.
You're more likely to have situations where a person laughs, then speaks. Note that laughed ends in a period - more on that in the next section.
You can also indicate that she's laughing the whole time.
"That was a good joke," she said, laughing.
Laughing, unlike laughed, has -ing at the end, which makes it an ongoing action. If the joke was funny and she's laughing over it before and after she speaks, this is how you'd refer to it.
Why is this important? Because all three things mean different actions. If she laughs once or if she's laughing the whole time will change different characters and different situations. You may even write a story where you want "That was a good joke," she said, and laughed. and when you do, you're going to want people to know that was what you meant, not just that she was laughing at a joke.
If you write sloppily, people will just assume odd wording is an error on your part. And if enough other people write sloppily, people will get used to assuming all odd wording is an error on everyone's part, even if you personally are more careful.
Not all verbs, even sound verbs, are speech tags.
If you want to use a verb as a speech tag, make sure it's possible to say your sentence in that manner.
If this is confusing you, just don't use a verb as a speech tag that you're unsure of. Pick a different speech tag to use and put the verb in the narration by itself, but pay attention to where you're putting the verb.
Minor changes can change the overall meaning
Farla wants to be able to write stuff like "That was a good joke," she said, and laughed. sometimes and have people know she means something different than just that a character both laughed and said a sentence. So please pay attention to what you write.9/18/2018 #5
Other Verbs and Dialogue.
"Hello." She smiled.
If something isn't a speech tag, it's treated as a separate sentence. This means you end the dialogue with a period (because it's the end of that sentence) and then capitalize the next letter (because it's the start of that sentence).
This, not obscure speech tags, is the way you're supposed to break up the monotony of an endless string of he said/she said bit of dialogue.
Just because it's a separate sentence doesn't mean it's necessarily a separate paragraph. A very, very common error at this point is to misunderstand the rule about starting a new paragraph with a new speaker.
"Hello." She smiled. John smiled back.
"Hi," he said.
This is extremely confusing, and turns into an utter clusterfuck quite fast.
The rule about a new paragraph for a new speaker is just a specific example of the general rule that a new subject means a new paragraph. If you have one person speaking, then a different person's action should often go in a separate paragraph too. It should always go in a separate paragraph if the next paragraph involves them as the subject.
John smiled back.
"Hi," he said.
This is just as bad. Now, instead of it seeming like John is involved in her line of dialogue, or at least a separate character than the one speaking next, it's hard to easily link up actions with speakers at all. It's also bad paragraphing, just like it is if you write narration made up entirely of single line paragraphs.
"Hello." She smiled.
John smiled back. "Hi," he said.
This keeps all of John's actions together. You can think of the paragraphs as having the subject what this character did and what this other character did, because dialogue should be thought of as just a type of action characters can take.
You can put them in front of or after a line of dialogue or in the middle.
She smiled. "Hello. How are you?"
"Hello. How are you?" She smiled.
"Hello." She smiled. "How are you?"
Interrupting mid-sentence is trickier and will be covered in its own section.
If something isn't a speech tag, you treat it and the dialogue as individual sentences, with standard sentence punctuation and capitalization.
Group a character's minor actions together with their dialogue, not that of a different character's or in a single short paragraph by itself.
Otherwise, verbs can be arranged as you like.9/18/2018 #6
"Speech!" she speech tag.
Here the dialogue has an ending punctuation on it in the form of an exclamation mark, as if it marks the end of the sentence. But she is still lower case.
Exclamation marks (and question marks) aren't necessarily the same as a period. It's possible to have them within a sentence, although in modern day writing it's rare. Here, the exclamation mark indicates that the preceding section is said loudly, while the following section is not.
"Speech," she speech tag!
This is clearly wrong, because it means the narration is being shouted just because the person is shouting.
"Speech!" She speech tag.
This is a more common error. When written like this, the capitalization indicates the two are separate sentences, so the given speech tag does not refer back to speech.
It's very important not to make this mistake, because there are going to be other times when you want to have a separate speech tag next to a line of dialogue.
"Stop!" She swore.
Here, she has shouted (something we know from the exclamation mark) and then swore. If it was written "Stop!" she swore then stop would have to be a swear.
Swore or cursed are probably where this will come up the most - either people are trying to avoid actually writing a swear, or they're of the camp that says such things work better as suggestions than explicit. But that's hardly the only use.
"Okay, I guess you have a right to know." She explained the situation.
Your characters (usually) won't be sharing a hive mind, so if something took place that only some of them know about, the other characters will need to be told about it before they know. However, the readers were there the whole time and generally don't want to keep hearing it over and over. At that point you want to just say that one character explained. But it's best to lead up to this naturally, often by starting off with a line of dialogue.
"What do you have there?" She screamed.
Another option is that you might want to write a section very tersely. Attention to detail is very important when you're using ? because that often will override a ! in a sentence instead of being written ?!, especially if, say, FFN decided to strip any excess punctuation this week.
Here, the meaning of the sentence is very different than "What do you have there?" she screamed. It's indicating she asked the question, and then screamed (presumably, she was shown it and it was something unpleasant).
When using an exclamation mark, question mark, ellipsis or any other alternative punctuation to indicate how a sentence is said, you treat it as if it's a comma and don't capitalize the start of the narration.
"Hi!" she said. Right.
"Hi!" She said. Wrong.
However, if you mean the next speech tag to not refer to the dialogue, you treat it like it's a separate verb, which means capitalizing the start of the narration and using a period in place of a comma.
"Okay!" She explained. Right.
"Okay." She explained. Right.
"Okay," she explained. Wrong.
"Okay!" she explained. Wrong.
"Okay," She explained. Wrong.9/18/2018 #7
Similar to regular verbs, the placement of a speech tag can vary.
She speech tag, "Speech."
Notice that speech here is capitalized, even though it's coming after the apparent start of the sentence. Dialogue is treated as a separate internal sentence. You always capitalize the start of dialogue sentences regardless of if they're part of a larger sentence.
And sometimes, you'll want to put the speech tag between dialogue.
"Speech. Speech." = "Speech," she speech tag. "Speech."
This is the most common format. Here, the speech tag was put after the first sentence of dialogue and ends in a period.
Many people want to put a comma at the end, rather than a period, but the only time you do this is if you have a second speech tag in the sentence that modifies the following dialogue sentence. This lets you indicate how the original dialogue was broken up.
"Hi. This is it."
"Hi," she said. "This is it."
"Hi," she said, then said, "This is it."
Speech tags can go at the start or end of a sentence. If at the start, you end the narration in a comma and the dialogue in a period.
She said, "Hello." Right.
She said. "Hello." Wrong.
She said, "Hello," Wrong.
She said. "Hello," Wrong.
When put between two lines of dialogue, the first speech tag only refers to the first half and then ends in a period.
"Hi," she said. "This is it." Right.
"Hi," she said, "This is it." Wrong.
For the narration to end in a comma, you need a second speech tag referring to the next section of dialogue.
"Hi," she said, adding, "This is it." Right.
"Hi," she said, adding. "This is it." Wrong.9/18/2018 #8
Interrupting a Sentence.
At times you may want to interrupt a sentence. In this case, a number of things change.
"Hi. This is it."
"Hi. This," she said, "is it."
This may seem to be violating the rule about always capitalizing the start of dialogue. But that isn't the actual rule - the rule is to always capitalize the start of a sentence of dialogue, even when it's within another sentence. In this case, the start of the sentence is this, not it.
However, sometimes you'll have sentences that could be combined or separate. For example, what if it was written "Hi, this is it." ?
The simple answer is that when it could go either way, assume the sentences are separate. The addition of a speech tag acts as an extended pause, and people will read it as two separate sentences unless that's explicitly impossible, as in the case of this is it. When in doubt, treat them as separate sentences. Splitting a sentence is something you should only do rarely.
In the rare event you have to interrupt a sentence with something that isn't a speech tag, the format is unfortunately not yet standardized properly (likely because it's so rarely used). This is how you should do it:
"Hello. How..." She paused. "...are you?"
Also acceptable are dashes for a sudden break.
"Hello. How -" She looked around. "- are you?"
Again, this is rare and really shouldn't be showing up much in your dialogue. People don't pause mid-sentence to perform some other action except under very rare circumstances, and if they're just pausing, punctuation in the dialogue should cover it. For the most part, you can get across a pause with just an ellipsis
"Hello. How...are you?"
or even an ellipsis and repeating part of the sentence
"Hello. How...how are you?"
Speech tag interruptions have commas on either side.
"Hi. This," she said, "is it." Right.
"Hi. This," she said. "is it." Wrong.
"Hi. This," she said, "Is it." Wrong.
If any other verb is used, an ellipsis or dash should be on either chunk of dialogue. The narration capitalized and end in a period.
"Hello. How..." She paused. "...are you?" Right.
"Hello. How..." She paused, "...are you?" Wrong.
"Hello. How..." she paused, "...are you?" Wrong.
"Hello. How..." She paused. "...Are you?" Wrong.
"Hello. How -" She looked around. "- are you?" Right.
"Hello. How -" She looked around, "- are you?" Wrong.
"Hello. How -" she looked around, "- are you?" Wrong.
"Hello. How -" She looked around. "- Are you?" Wrong.9/18/2018 . Edited 9/18/2018 #9
Miscellaneous Other Problems:
Then has to do with time. This happened, and then (at a later point in time), that happened. or We studied, then we took a test.
Than has to do with comparison. This is better than that. or First gen games are better than later generations.
If you want help remembering which is which, then has an e, like time. But honestly you're just going to have to memorize it. Sorry.
It's written okay. It is not an abbreviation for something else, nor is it pronounced ook, therefore it should never be written as OK, Ok, O.K. or ok.
In general, write out numbers with letters unless you're trying to be precise with multiple digits or otherwise want people to look at it from a math standpoint instead of a narrative one. You might say a person is seventy-three, that there are approximately seven and a half billion people in the world, or that the accident claimed nine lives, but if 42.38% of people enjoy oranges more than apples, then you usually want the digits and decimal point. You should think about how numbers are read differently than their word equivalents. In dialogue, you can get across that someone is being unusually precise compared to others by having them say the mouthful that is forty-two point thirty-eight percent while if you're setting up even a simple word problem, writing that 4 people want oranges and 5 people want apples makes it easier for the reader to follow.
Some sentences in English can't be written without contractions. We're a lazy people. If you're a native speaker, try reading a sentence aloud. You should automatically try to add contractions where they're necessary. If you're not a native speaker, find a beta reader to do the same. Remember that dialogue usually needs contractions, while narration only occasionally does.
Sometimes, a sentence will be technically correct but confusing. Don't cling to the fact it's technically correct, fix it. Grammar exists to help us communicate better. If it's not doing that, it's useless.
Remember, to post on this site you're accessing the internet. When you're not sure about a word, look it up. If you aren't certain how to spell a pokemon species, look it up. If you don't know some minor fact, look it up.9/18/2018 #10
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