Thursday, 31 March 2016

Are you using the right then/than?

Another very common mistake I see everywhere is misuse of then/than. I realise they sound the same, but they have two very different meanings. So, when you use the wrong one it changes the entire meaning of your sentence.
“Then”, with the “e”, is an adverb. It indicates a point in time, or introduces a new idea or event.
You can say “First I ate dinner, and then I had dessert” or “Back then I didn’t like dessert” or “If you’re feeling sick, then you probably shouldn’t have dessert”.
But you cannot say “My dessert is better then yours”. That’s what “than” is for.

"Than" is used for comparisons and contrasts, and that’s all!
You can say “My cake tastes nicer than yours” or “I ate my dessert before dinner, rather than after it”.
But you cannot say “Than it started to rain”. That just doesn’t make sense. Also it has nothing to do with dessert.

If it helps you to remember, try thinking of the fact that comparison and contrast have the letter “a” in them, and so does “than”.
Hope this helps!

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Thursday, 24 March 2016

Takeout or take out?

I recently saw a post in which someone was asking for clarification on some grammar advice. The advice simply stated that “takeout” was the noun, and “take out” was the verb. Makes sense.
But the woman was a little unclear on how to utilise this in a sentence, and it occurred to me that for many people these rules are still confusing. So, I’d like to elaborate and hopefully clear it up for anyone who might still struggle.

In the case of takeout or takeaway (you know, pizza and other convenient yummy stuff), it is so called because you are literally taking away, or taking out, the food. That is the action, the verb.
But when you want to tell someone that you're getting takeout, you don’t want to say “I took away some pizza” or “I went to take out Thai food”. That sounds awkward, so we just call it takeout or takeaway.
The action words are combined to create a noun.

If the words aren’t combined, it's likely they mean something different. If you see “take out” written with a space, it’s probably just someone taking out the trash, for example.

If it’s written as “takeout”, it’s pizza (or it should be).

You can "take out" your girlfriend for "takeout".
But “I got take out with my girlfriend” looks weird because it’s no longer a thing, but rather an action, which simply doesn’t belong in that particular sentence.

The same would apply to “pick up”, for example. You might go to “pick up the pickup truck”. You would not, however, “pickup the pick up truck”. One is an action, the other is a thing.

It's the same reason we write "handbag" instead of "hand bag", because the second one implies a bag made out of hands. In most cases (if not all), having a space allows the first word to describe the second word, changing the meaning entirely. Once they are separate, they interact differently. Only when they're brought together to make one word do they become the noun you wish to use.

There are probably exceptions - there always are - but these are the basics. Anything more obscure can usually be Googled or looked up in various style guides and dictionaries.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Your/you're & they're/there/their

Your/you’re is a never-ending problem.

Sure, it’s quicker (by barely a second) to write “your” without the extra "e" and the apostrophe, but it simply won’t make sense if you’re using it in the wrong way. And if you’re making this mistake in a formal setting or in a work-related context, it might be viewed as kind of lazy, especially since it’s a very basic thing to know.

This is really all you need to remember:
“you’re” exists only because it is a contraction of “you are”.
Therefore, you should be using “you’re” any time you need to say “you are”. If you don’t need to say “you are”, then don’t use it. Use “your” instead.
"Your" is a possessive pronoun. 

“Your stupid” doesn’t make sense unless you’re referring to that person’s type of stupid, which is honestly kind of a weird thing to write.

“You’re cat is cute” also doesn’t make sense because it literally means “you are cat is cute”. This example is less common, but yeah, it happens.

I know we like to be lazy sometimes, or if we’re just really tired we write the wrong one out of habit. But if you’re doing it because you don’t actually understand the rule, I hope this helps to clear it up. If you don't care, I hope you find a reason to.

Always remember that where contractions are used, there’s a reason they’re there. Oh! I just unintentionally segued into another important issue!

They’re/there/their is just as troublesome. So, let me cover that quickly too.

Again, “they’re” only exists because it means “they are”. Use it when you’re saying “they are”, and not for any other reason.
“There” is the place you’re going.
"Their” is for ownership. Pretty simple.

“They’re house is on fire” doesn’t work because “they are house is on fire” just doesn’t make sense.

So, let's use all of the above correctly in sentences:

They’re going over there to pick up their takeaway. Then you’re going to have to go to Liquorland to get your booze.”

Now hopefully I've educated you AND inspired your Friday night plans.

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Thursday, 10 March 2016

Where do I begin?

Hi, folks. Just thought I’d share something that may be helpful to the writers among you – particularly those who are experiencing writer’s block or just can’t get going.

My boyfriend is a brilliant story-teller. He has tales in his head that need to be told – so many stories that have yet to reach paper. One night he was telling me the basic synopsis of a story idea he had, and I loved it. I wanted to see it made. He said he hadn’t yet written it down or typed it up, and I asked why. His response was that he didn’t know where to start.

This is something I’ve heard a lot. And I’ve certainly experienced it too. Where do you start when you have nothing but scattered ideas? How do you write the first line or the first page when you have so much crowding your thoughts? But since I was not in his situation enduring his predicament, a possible approach occurred to me that previously hadn’t. And it may prove a useful method to consider – if not for you, then maybe for a friend. It certainly inspired my man, and even myself. And I’m glad for that, because I am often discouraged from writing at all because I never know where to start. But like many things, it helps to take small steps…

Since he was able to give me a brief synopsis – a basic outline of the characters, themes, and events – I suggested that he simply type up exactly what he had told me. And then go over the document from the beginning and expand on each part. And go back again and keep expanding. And expanding. Once you have the basic idea, you can go back and focus on each little part of an idea and work it all up with detail into something big. Before you know it, your rough synopsis is a detailed outline, and may contain details you’d never thought of before. You may be writing entire scenes just due to the focus you’re able to give to each specific part.

If you know there’s going to be a hero and a mentor, a bad guy and a love interest, and you aren’t really feeling clear about how to introduce them, just focus on who the characters are for a bit. Expand on them. Maybe you’ll work up such detail in their background and personality that eventually the words fall into place. And if you know you want to start the story with your hero, and you know the setting you wish them to appear in, start focusing on the required details. Where is the hero? Who are they with? Why are they there? How do they feel? At some point, the necessary opening might just pop up.
That’s one part of it – focusing and expanding on details until the story starts telling itself. It’s about spending time with your story’s world. The more you iron out the details and really consider the world your story takes place in, the easier it should get.
But it’s also about planning. This is the other part. Having the idea or the plot is one thing. But having the right order, layout, beginning, middle, end, etc., can be hard to determine without a little extra planning.

I remember back in school and university, we’d always be encouraged to write out our essay plans first before commencing the actual essay. I always thought it was a waste of time. I just wanted to get straight into writing, but then I’d waste days just figuring out how to start and where to go after I did. It may not sound fun, and it may not necessarily work for everyone, but plans really can be useful. Just look at your synopsis, break it up into parts, and perfect it. Give labels to all the parts of the story (chapter ideas may evolve from here too). Once you know what each part of the story needs to do, you can go back and add details in all the right places.

So, to summarise:

- Type up your rough plot in order of events (if you have that figured out). Even if you have no order to it yet, just type up whatever you do have. Sometimes just starting is the key.

- Go over it and over it, and add details until you know everything you need to know about each part of this story and all its components.

- Write up a plan and put everything in order, making it clear how it’ll start, how it’ll progress, how and when new characters are introduced, etc.

- At some point when all the details and the structure is determined, you can probably start writing it!

This approach mostly came to me through a fictional lens, but I am sure it would apply easily to non-fiction and other writing. Details and planning - that’s what it comes down to. Once you have the three resources at hand – your basic plot, your epic details, and your organised plan – “where to start” should come to you a lot easier. Well, it might.

If it doesn’t, that’s a shame. Maybe that’s just not how you do things. And that’s perfectly fine! It’ll come to you, so keep at it. I don’t actually have all the answers, but it’s worth putting this out there. You never know when your perspective can be significant for someone else.