Five Pedantic Pointers to Help You Pen More Proper Prose

Updated on October 18, 2015
KristinTablang profile image

Kristin Tablang is the lifestyle assistant editor at Forbes.

With perhaps the exception of rude strangers and pesky public transportation delays, absolutely nothing irks me more than a published writing blunder. Probe my closest kin and they’d be quick to tell you that I have a relentless (and sometimes super annoying) habit of pointing out even the teensiest grammatical and typographical offenses, from spelling mistakes in restaurant menus, to comma splices (painfully) magnified and displayed on colossal billboards.

Now, don’t get me wrong—my tendency to behave like an extreme word stickler does not mean I’m an incredible expert on the English language, but I do think that as a part-time SAT writing instructor and a contributing writer and editor at several online publications, I possess a slightly plumper bag of tricks than the average Jane when it comes to writing.

That said, I’ve taken some of my greatest writing pet peeves and transformed them into some handy tips on how to become a more astute writer.

Read on for a few jots of gen to help you improve your writing skills!

Translation: "WE are learning grammar. Grammar matters to US."
Translation: "WE are learning grammar. Grammar matters to US." | Source

#1. Be wary of “you and I . . .”

Just because it may sound “more mature” to use I over me, doesn’t mean it’s right to do so in every context. Subject and object pronouns aside (I won’t bore you with a long and winded explanation), just keep in mind this nifty technique to determining which pronoun to use when, so you can fully refrain from ever sounding like a wannabe erudite:

If you can replace the pronoun coupling with us, use “you and me,” but if you can substitute it with “we,” use “you and I” instead.

For example: “Since they aren’t coming, it’s just going to be you and me tonight.”

You wouldn’t say, “Since they aren’t coming, it’s just going to be we tonight,” would you? If anything you’d say, “ . . . It’s just going to be us tonight"--ergo, you and me!

Now that you’re clued in, you should never, ever, EVER again utter a phrase similar to: “Between you and I, I’m quite the eloquent speaker . . . ” because what you’re really saying is, “Between we, I’m quite the pretentious fool!”

#2. Learn when to use “who” versus “whom”

Similar to the “you and I vs. me” case, “whom”—though it might sound slightly more sophisticated—isn’t always correct to use. I won’t bother delving into the technicalities of objective versus nominative pronouns, because let’s face it: very few people would care to hear the dry grammar spiel. So I’ll let you in on a little shortcut, and we’ll leave it at that!

Here we go:

Take whatever sentence you’re pondering, convert it into a question, and then answer it. If the answer engages the use of “he,” “she,” or “they,” use “who.” If it uses “him,” “her,” or “them” though, use “whom.”

Pose the sentence into a question, and then answer it.
Pose the sentence into a question, and then answer it. | Source

Let’s try an example, shall we?

"The girl(s) to who/whom these suitcases belong to will return in a jiffy.”

Who do the suitcases belong to?

They belong to her (or them, if plural).

Based on the rule above, the statement should then read:

“The girl(s) to whom these suitcases belong to will return in a jiffy.”

Here’s another:

The meandering wayfarer(s) who/whom got lost eventually found his (or their) way home.”

Who got lost? He (or they) did . . . which means the sentence should say:

“The meandering wayfarer(s) who got lost eventually found his (or their) way home.”

Just remember: whoM and hiM (both end with "m!")
Just remember: whoM and hiM (both end with "m!") | Source

#3. Know the difference between "more/better" and "most/best"

Whenever you make a comparison that involves only two subjects, avoid employing superlative adjectives (and by that, I mean words that typically end with st, such as most, best, greatest, funniest, prettiest, smartest, fastest . . . you get the picture).

Instead, use a comparative adjective (i.e., with the exception of “more,” words that end with er, such as better, greater, funnier, prettier, smarter, faster, etc.). If you’re comparing three or more subjects, however, do use the superlative!

For instance, it would be preposterous to say:

“Of the two racers, the fastest runner will most likely win,” since there are only two racers (subjects) being compared. It should instead read: “Of the two racers, the faster runner will most likely win.”

However if it had stated, “Of the three racers, the fastest runner will most likely win,” the use of the superlative form would’ve been just fine!

That said, let me add that there are no such things as “more easier,” “more harder,” and “most toughest” (you get the picture).

Adding more or most to the front of comparative/superlative adjectives just creates a redundant phrase! You could technically also say “more easy/hard” and “most tough,” but it’s more proper and concise to use their shortened forms (i.e., “easier/harder” and “toughest”).

#4. Remedy your run-ons

I spot run-ons plaguing colossal print ads all the time in New York City. Not too long ago, a gigantic billboard promoting Matilda the musical caught my attention as I was meandering through Times Square. Highlighted by a row of astonishingly bright spotlights, it proudly displayed a single-sentence accolade for the show, evidently submitted by the New York Post:

“Everybody knew Matilda was good, they just didn’t know how good.”

Matilda Billboard in Times Square, NYC
Matilda Billboard in Times Square, NYC

Though Matilda might be fantastic, this printed praise isn’t (in the sense that it’s not grammatically sound, of course).

No? Don’t see it? Well, let me explain:

A run-on is not—as many people believe it to be—a ridiculously long sentence.

Au contraire, run-ons can be super short; for example, the phrase: “I win, you lose!” is, in actuality, a run-on!

Run-ons—also known as “comma splices”—are born when a comma mistakenly conjoins two related, yet independent clauses (in layman’s terms, two full sentences). In the abovementioned instance, the phrases “I win” and “You lose” can each stand alone as a complete sentence, so they shouldn't be combined by a comma!

So . . . how can you fix a comma splice?

You’ve got three options:

1) Split it up into two separate sentences (“I win. You lose.”);

2) Replace the offending comma with a semi-colon (“I win; you lose.”); or,

3) Insert a conjunction (e.g. and, nor, but, or, for, yet, so) after the comma (“I win, so you lose.”)

Easy as pie!

Source

#5. Properly position your punctuation (within quotes!)

Spotting commas, periods, question marks, and exclamation points placed outside of quotation marks always makes me cringe, since they’re all supposed to be placed before the closing quotation mark, not after!

Colons and semi-colons, on the other hand, do belong outside them.

“Here’s an example,” “Here’s an example.”

“Here’s an example”: “Here’s another example!”

. . . “Is this an example?” (Why yes, yes it is.)

Also, whenever you insert a quote within a quote, use single quotation marks around the inside quote, and double quotation marks around the entire statement.

For instance: As printed in the nonsensical tale, “The boy cried ‘Wolf!’ when the cow jumped over the moon.”

Note that the quote within the quote—“Wolf!”—is surrounded by single quotation marks, while the outer quote, “The boy cried . . . over the moon,” is bounded by doubles.

Last but not least, "The article said, ' . . . here's an example!'" (Note that that punctuation mark is inside the double and single quotation marks!)

Source

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • KristinTablang profile imageAUTHOR

      Kristin Tablang 

      4 years ago from New York City

      Hi Cherylann and Shari,

      Thanks so much! Stay tuned for more pedantic pointers . . . there are plenty more on the way :)

      Cheers,

      Kristin

    • Shari Renae Hicks profile image

      Shari Hicks 

      4 years ago from Dayton, Ohio

      I love this article. It is very helpful for people who want to write books or for people who are learning the English Language.

    • Cherylann Mollan profile image

      Cherylann Mollan 

      4 years ago from India

      I found this article very useful. The humorous examples will surely help me remember these tips better. :) Great job!

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://owlcation.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)