Saturday, 30 April 2016

The importance of hyphens

You simply cannot misuse hyphens.
Why? Because the meaning of an entire story can change.
How? Consider this article:

Obviously the article is telling a story about an eighteen-year-old who hopped trains for so many years. Cute story. But go back and read the title again.
I personally didn’t know trains could hop, let alone use a camera.
In case you missed it, the wording of this title implies that the train is eighteen years old and did the hopping. Can you see why that is?

The eighteen-year-old train hopped vs. the eighteen-year-old train-hopped.

Hyphens are primarily used when joining two words together to make a compound word. Without a hyphen, train-hopping is no longer a thing the teenager is doing. It is now a hopping train.
Compound adjectives are the easiest example here. You work a nine-hour day. You go for a half-hour walk. You write a 300-page story. You dress in an old-fashioned style.

One key way to know whether you need a hyphen or not is to ask yourself whether you could put “and” between the two words. If not, you probably need a hyphen because the two words are combining to mean something different from their separate parts. Another way to know you need a hyphen is if the words don’t make sense used separately. For example, a blue-eyed girl needs a hyphen because you cannot say the girl is blue and eyed. But if the girl has big blue eyes, that’s fine, because you can say she has big eyes and blue eyes.

If you go back to the article about the train-hopping, you’ll find in the first sentence, right at the beginning, there is another error within the hyphen category. The “18-years-old” does not require hyphens. You only say 18-year-old when you’re calling the person an 18-year-old, not describing them as 18 years old. It’s “I have blonde hair” vs. “I am a blonde-haired girl”.
One thing they did right with hyphens was using one in “eye-opening”. A hyphen used there is correct.

So hyphens are important where compound adjectives are concerned. But just to complicate things, there is a rule that states a compound adjective that follows its noun, instead of coming before it, doesn’t require a hyphen.
Chris Hemsworth is a well-known actor (the noun comes after, so a hyphen is required).
The actor Chris Hemsworth is well known (the noun comes before, so no hyphen is required).

There are phrases that need to be hyphenated too, like run-of-the-mill. That particular phrase works as an adjective. Without the hyphens it could be interpreted differently. The hyphens make it one thing instead of lots of different things – a combination of several words to create one new meaning – so they’re very important to use in these situations.

In the case of the train, that is not a compound adjective, but rather a kind of verb. This is a very specific example and it gets a bit tricky sometimes. The Chicago Manual of Style has a fantastic table ( which outlines the various compound terms and how to deal with them. I definitely recommend reading through it if you are in doubt.

At the end of the day, if what you’re saying can be interpreted differently without a hyphen, you should probably consider the hyphen. Trains should only hop in strange fiction stories, not in news articles.

If you're looking for editing or proofreading services, be sure to visit my website to check out the services and rates I offer. Thank you for reading!

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Affect or effect?

If you’ve ever been unclear on when to use what, read on!

Effect is a noun; affect is a verb.
Here’s how it might look:

The effects used in a movie can really affect your opinion of it.
The Sun affects the Earth, and those effects can always be seen.
The music affected him. That effect lasted for some time.

Okay, now they don’t sound like words anymore. But hopefully you got the gist of it!
“Affect” is what you’re doing, and “effect” is the result.
If I push you, I’m affecting you. If you fall down and get hurt as a result, those are the effects. You would hate me and never talk to me again, which would also be effects.
And when I reflect on the incident, I could say “My actions really affected our friendship” OR I could say “My actions had a bad effect on our friendship”.

One is the action, and the other is the noun.
I could keep providing examples, but you might be here all day reading this, and that could really affect your plans.

If you're looking for editing or proofreading services, be sure to visit my website to check out the services and rates I offer. Thank you for reading!

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Are you using apostrophes and capital letters in the correct way?

Sometimes mistakes happen because people ARE trying to use grammar and punctuation, but then they use it incorrectly. There are many ways this can happen, but I’m going to focus on just two of them. And there is a common theme in both: randomness.

Have a look at the following, and see if you can figure out what’s wrong.


As evident, apostrophes and capital letters are being misused quite frequently. They keep popping up randomly in places they don’t belong. So let’s clear that up.

I’ll start with
It seems to me that if you’re using them wrong, you may have forgotten what they’re there for.
An apostrophe is used either for possession, or to indicate where letters or numbers have been omitted. An “s” often just indicates something is plural. It doesn’t always necessitate an apostrophe.

If you do a quick Google search of bad apostrophe use, you’ll find an abundance of examples! It’s kind of fun and good practise to look through them and remind yourself what NOT to do. Just because something is plural, that doesn't mean an apostrophe is needed.

I found an example where someone had written “Ladie’s room”. Perhaps the biggest mistake is that the writer has decided ladie is a word. It’s not. By placing the apostrophe where they have, it indicates the room belongs to a lady (just one lady), except ladie is not how you spell lady. If the room belongs to one lady, it should be “lady’s room”. But that’s probably not what it is, let’s be honest. It’s meant to be “ladies’ room”. You put an apostrophe AFTER the “s” in “ladies” to show possession (not before it), as it is the room belonging to the ladies.
But I also think, in the case of the bathroom type of ladies’ room, it can be written without the apostrophe because it is just labelling the room. I personally believe it can go either way, but it depends on how you interpret it. At the end of the day, ladies’ rooms are usually just titled “Ladies”, which makes things less complicated.

Just remember, apostrophes are there for
possession or omission. The frustrating part is when someone uses it in a place it doesn’t belong, and then doesn’t use it in a place where it is required.
When cannot becomes can’t, you use one to show that two letters have been removed.
When 1958 becomes ’58, you use one to show that two numbers have been removed.
And when Sauron’s ring gets destroyed, you use one to show that the ring belongs to Sauron.

Also, you don’t need an apostrophe for CDs or DVDs if you’re just talking about your vast collection. But you will need one if you’re saying “The CD’s case is missing”.
But never forget the exception: it’s/its. It takes an apostrophe when it is a contraction (it is), but requires NO apostrophe when it indicates possession (the dog lost its bone). Confusing, I know. But once you’re aware that “it” is an exception, it shouldn’t be too hard to forget.

Now, onto
capital letters.
Capital letters are used at the beginning of sentences and with the first letter of a proper noun. Also, you usually capitalise abbreviations (NASA, NGO, QLD, etc.).

Needless to say, there are plenty of examples if you search online for bad capital use too.
I found one where someone had randomly capitalised “disturbing”, which made me think it was a reference to the band Disturbed, or the movie Disturbia. But it wasn’t, so there is just no place for a capital letter there. At all.
When I’m out and about, I see signs outside shops that look a lot like the following:
“Big Sale on Shirts and Skirts” or “Mind your Step” or “Please take a Basket” or “Caution: this Surface is Hot”.

In the above examples, every capital letter should be removed EXCEPT FOR the ones at the beginning of each sentence.
Remember, capital letters should be used for
names of things, at the beginning of a sentence, or when writing acronyms, etc. If you aren’t doing any of that, let it be lowercase.
I capitalise Sydney Harbour Bridge because that is the name of the bridge in that particular harbour, but note that I did not capitalise the generic use of “bridge” or “harbour” in this sentence because they were not used as a name.

Not only are the mistakes happening too often, but there are people like me who keep noticing them. I’d like to think everyone would strive for correct grammar regardless of the work they do, but the reality is that it’s not really their priority to focus on it when they have another job to focus on. That’s why editors exist, I guess.
So, if anything, the frequency of these distracting errors in public notices and posters should indicate the necessity of proofreaders and editors in all kinds of workplaces. When you think about it, notices like these often contain an important message – sometimes a warning! – so wouldn’t it be potentially dangerous if the wrong grammar, spelling or punctuation was misleading or distracting to the intended audience? What if they miss the message altogether?
It’s not always capitals and apostrophes that are wrong. Sometimes the wrong word is used too. So I would encourage everyone who intends to write something to learn the rules, double-check everything, and brush up on things with a dictionary. If you’re writing something – anything – you have a responsibility to communicate effectively and accurately. But if you don’t care for learning or simply don’t have the time, it might be a good idea to consult someone who can help.

If you're looking for editing or proofreading services, be sure to visit my website to check out the services and rates I offer. Thank you for reading!

Thursday, 7 April 2016

The power of reading

Today I’d like to offer a friendly reminder that reading is incredibly valuable, especially if you’re a writer. You should be spending more time in libraries and bookshops, sitting in the sun with coffee (or tea if that’s your thing, or whisky if you’re like me), getting lost in a novel, finding paragraphs that resonate and characters you wish were real, in worlds you want to explore.


And this is coming from someone who struggles to prioritise reading. Yes, me. This post is as much for me as it is for whoever might be reading it.
Half the problem is that reading has the same effect on me as a sleeping pill might. Actually, that would be my first argument for why you should read more. If you struggle to get to sleep each night, just get into bed and read. It’s a really effective way to wind down (along with waking earlier, doing more in the day, consuming less sugar, etc. – but that’s a whole other topic)!
I would recommend, though, to avoid science before bed. Every time I read science books before bed my mind works harder trying to process the information. But definitely read science anyway.

Beyond sleepiness, there are other good reasons to read more, like learning.

You get to learn so many things. And the more you know, the better you can communicate. The less we know, the more mistakes we make. Knowledge is power. And personally I get really intrigued and impressed by anyone who has information to share, and that’s largely because I want to learn as well. Imagine what you could do with double the knowledge you have now. Imagine the people you could pass information onto, the people you might help, and the new perspectives you might gain. Others will listen to you, and everyone will be a little less ignorant at the end of the day.

When you read, you can broaden your knowledge on the geography of our Earth and the science of the stars. You can clarify a historical fact or gain a better understanding of the economy. You can delve into made-up worlds and discover their real-world influences. You can learn about the diversity of different cultures throughout the world and the many religions that humans have come up with. If you’re a writer, you’ll have a whole lot of valuable facts to draw from when it comes time to put pen to paper. But beyond that, you can learn new ways to write, new words to use, and new concepts to delve into. And let’s not forget all the grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc. that will be drilled into you in the process. The learning is endless no matter which way you look at it, whether it’s through the content or the way you share that content.

I’m also going to take a moment to talk about my boyfriend, because he is essentially a walking talking encyclopaedia and a perfect example. Any time I want to know something about anything, I tend to ask him, because 95% of the time he actually has the answer. It’s awesome, but it’s not exactly a fluke. For one, he has this incredible ability to retain information better than most people (or better than I do at least).
But first and foremost, he takes the time to read things, even and especially the things most of us wouldn’t bother to glance at. Reading is a huge part of it. His house is scattered with books upon books, he won’t go anywhere without one, and he’ll basically read as he walks.

Now, I’ll be honest, at first I didn’t get it. I thought it was a bit excessive. But he is the most knowledgeable, well-spoken, and well-written person I’ve come across. And – this is the most intriguing part – he is one of the most moral people I know. As I was typing that, I mentally flicked through other moral people in my life, and two friends who came to mind are also both avid readers. This is not to say you aren’t a moral person if you don’t read. I just believe it is one of many factors that help. I believe there is a correlation between reading and just generally understanding the world and everything in it. Understanding often leads to acceptance and empathy.

Another reason to read, particularly if you’re a writer, is for inspiration.

Knowledge is power, as I’ve already stated. But knowledge is also inspiration. The more you have to say, the more you’ll want to say it. And if it isn’t the knowledge that inspires you, often it can be writing styles, word choices, and story concepts that inspire you. Every now and then I get a glimpse of an idea from someone else’s idea, and it makes me want to expand on it.
Reading enhances one’s ability to think and to write. I firmly believe that. But I want to make it very clear – you’re not a bad writer if you don’t read very much. You could be an incredible writer regardless. It isn’t all black and white.
But I think reading does a whole lot of good, and if you are looking for some inspiration or some way to develop your writing skills, reading is the first thing to do, especially if you’re struggling. Put the pen (or laptop) down and pick up a book. If the writer in you isn’t feeling it today, maybe the reader in you can take over for a bit.
And after that, the writer might wake up.

I loved reading as a kid, but as I got older I found other things to do. I figured if I had time to read, I had time to do more important things. In the last couple of years, though, I’ve rediscovered my love for reading. It was probably due to a combination of becoming an editor and just a general increase in my inquisitive side. Plus, you know, the boyfriend and all his books.
And I know now I’m better off for it. It’s particularly useful for me as an editor, in addition to the part of me that occasionally writes. Even if you are neither an editor nor a writer, I encourage you to consider the benefits of having more books in your life. Reading more inspires me to talk more, for example. It inspires me to speak up at times I never would have before, because now I know what to say. So if you're involved in politics, journalism, debating or public speaking, you will probably benefit from reading. And even if you're not involved in those things, your life will be richer for it anyway.

Reading is the first step in learning, finding inspiration, and communicating effectively. Also, don’t forget the winding down thing.

And if none of those reasons are convincing enough, here’s a relevant article with a few extra reasons and a little science to back me up:

If you're looking for editing or proofreading services, be sure to visit my website to check out the services and rates I offer. Thank you for reading!