Between the Lines

Kathy Steffen

by Kathy Steffen

Today’s new normal means communication is more about writing — emails, messages, social media — you name it, the written word continues to grow in importance. Mistakes take your reader out of your message. I’m feeling a bit like the Grammar Police, so I  revisited some of this column’s previous grammar advice. Here are some greatest (or worst depending on how you look at it) hits. In other words, the biggies.

Spelling Errors: Here me and take my advise, don’t by spell-check’s claims. It doesn’t always insure witch spelling is write, and the affect can be quite a gaff. (It only caught one here.)

Affect or effect: Effect is a noun (the strobe effect used in the play) and affect is a verb (the strobe light affected my eyes).

Fewer or less: Fewer can be counted, less cannot. There are fewer cars in the lot. (See—you can count them!) Drivers have less incentive to park in the lot since the rates went up.

Farther or further: Farther is physical (the store is farther than the bank) and further is metaphorical distance (her daughter is growing further from her). 

They’re, their and there: I swear, if I see these mixed up one more time on Facebook, I will scream! They’re is a contraction of they are, their is possessive (it’s their house) and there is a place (get away from there). They’re moving to their new place over there. I couldn’t resist. J

Misplaced apostrophe’s: Apostrophes are used in two situations: a contraction (don’t, can’t, won’t) and to show possession (Kathy’s car). Never in a plural situation. The animal’s are running.

It’s and its: Of course we have an exception. It is a different apostrophe animal. Use it’s for contraction (it’s mine now) but keep the apostrophe out when you show possession (the cat is playing with its fish toy).

Compliment or complement: Compliment is a flattering remark you give or receive. Complement is something that goes well with something else.

Literally. When this is misused my head literally explodes. No, wait. That happened on “Scanners.” Since literal means “adhering to fact” and literally means “without metaphor or exaggeration,” you literally can’t use literally unless what you say actually happens. Literally.

Misplaced modifier: This is my favorite kind of mistake — one I often make myself — because these will make you laugh. Maybe. This is simple, too: Don’t separate a modifier from the word it is modifying, or make sure the sentence is clear enough your reader knows what is being modified. Nope (separated): I made cookie packs for my grandchildren in Ziplock bags. (Oh dear, I hope they could breathe.) Nope (not clear): I found a glittering dancer’s shoe under the bleachers. (I wonder—does she only glitter when dancing in the sun?)

Kathy Steffen is an award-winning novelist and author of the “Spirit of the River Series:” “First, There is a River,” “Jasper Mountain,” and “Theater of Illusion.” She is grateful to write from her safe-at-home in Spring Green that she shares with her husband and cats. Find out more at www.kathysteffen.com.