Frequently Asked Questions About Grammar
Our "crash course" grammar guide for fanfic writers
This list isn't meant to be a complete course in English usage and grammar. Rather, it's a compilation of common mistakes we've seen in fanfic. Take a look at the list below. Do you make any of these mistakes? If so, here's a chance to learn the rules, with an L&C twist, of course. :)
If you would like further help with grammar than is given here, we highly recommend Charles Darling's Guide to Grammar and Writing, a very user-friendly and helpful site. It is divided into sections dealing with all forms of punctuation, as well as sentence parts, use of tenses and other aspects of grammar.
Don't see your "pet peeve" listed in the examples below? Send it to us. Maybe we'll add it to the list! Put "Crash Course" in the subject line.
Punctuation should go inside the quote marks when writing dialogue.
EXAMPLE: “Lois, I love you,” whispered Clark.
EXAMPLE: “Jimmy,” Perry called, “where is my coffee?”
WRONG: “Lois, I love you”, whispered Clark.
Don’t add spaces immediately inside quotes in dialogue. This one is guaranteed to drive your General Editor crazy!
WRONG: “ Where are you, Clark? ” asked Lois.
RIGHT: “Where are you, Clark?” asked Lois.
Don’t leave a space between a word and the punctuation following it.
WRONG: “So, where are we going ?”
RIGHT: “So, where are we going?”
WRONG: “Lois! You are crazy !”
RIGHT: “Lois! You are crazy!”
Don’t add a comma if the quote ends with a question mark or exclamation point. (In other words, don’t use double punctuation.)
WRONG: “Clark, what in the world are you doing?”, asked Lois.
RIGHT: “Clark, what in the world are you doing?” asked Lois.
Likewise, when a piece of dialogue ends in an ellipsis (the speaker trails off), don’t end the ellipsis in a comma -- this is also double punctuation.
WRONG: “You won’t...,” Lois began.
RIGHT: “You won’t...” Lois began.
When dialogue is followed by a speech verb (said, yelled, murmured, grunted, complained, muttered, screamed etc), the piece of dialogue ends with a comma and the sentence continues.
WRONG: “I saw Lex Luthor today.” She said.
RIGHT: “I saw Lex Luthor today,” she said.
When dialogue is not followed by a speech verb, the sentence ends with the end of dialogue and a new sentence begins.
WRONG: “I saw Lex Luthor today,” she avoided Clark’s gaze.
RIGHT: “I saw Lex Luthor today.” She avoided Clark’s gaze.
When you want to switch speakers in a piece of writing, start a new paragraph:
“Don’t do anything dangerous,” Clark warned. “Who, me?” Lois answered, grinning.
“Don’t do anything dangerous,” Clark warned.
“Who, me?” Lois answered, grinning.
Possessive Form when the subject ends in s:
In general, when you pronounce the possessive s, then it is included in the written form. Thus, the possessive of Lois is Lois’s, sometimes written Lois’.
EXAMPLE: Clark poured Lois’s stale coffee into the sink.
EXAMPLE: Clark poured Lois’ stale coffee into the sink.
Possessive Form when the subject ends in s and is a plural:
When the subject is a plural (eg, the Kents, or Clark’s parents), then the apostrophe comes after the s. For surnames, it is not usual to add another s to the end.
WRONG: The Kent’s farm is just outside Smallville.
WRONG: The Kents’s farm is just outside Smallville.
RIGHT: The Kents’ farm is just outside Smallville.
RIGHT: Clark’s parents’ home is a farmhouse.
Use of Commas:
For an excellent guide to comma usage, see http://www.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/commas.htm. One good rule to remember at all times is that a comma does not merely indicate a pause. So don’t put a comma just because, if you were reading the sentence aloud, you’d pause for breath!
Some examples to avoid:
Commas do not come automatically after words such as but or and.
WRONG: But, he hadn’t said that he loved her.
WRONG: “And, I still love you.”
WRONG: “Or, we could go to the movies.”
This, however, is RIGHT:
RIGHT: “But, Clark, where were you?”
The reason for the comma here is that, when addressing someone, his or her name is always treated as a “parenthetical element,” with commas before and after — see the website above for a further explanation of this.
Commas are not necessary before such words as yet or now.
WRONG: Clark sighed; he couldn’t tell her, yet.
WRONG: “Jimmy! It’s time to go, now.”
You don’t need a comma every time you have more than one adjective before a noun.
WRONG: The large, black man smiled at Lois.
RIGHT: The large black man smiled at Lois.
The guiding principle here is that you should use a comma where it could logically be replaced by ‘and’. We would not say “the large and black man”, therefore no comma is required. Here, however, a comma is correct:
RIGHT: “You pigheaded, stubborn woman!” Clark yelled at Lois.
because it would be logical to say “you pigheaded and stubborn woman”.
Comma splices/run-on sentences
Where two independent clauses are joined by a conjunction (e.g., and, but, for, yet, so, or), a comma is adequate punctuation.
EXAMPLE: Jimmy got into Intergang’s server, but he didn’t manage to find the data.
EXAMPLE: Clark spun into Superman, yet he waited before taking off.
EXAMPLE: Lois had finished her phone call, so she was ready to go.
Where there is no co-ordinating conjunction joining the two independent clauses, using a comma creates a comma splice or run-on sentence:
WRONG: Jimmy got into Intergang’s server, he didn’t manage to find the data.
RIGHT: Jimmy got into Intergang’s server; he didn’t manage to find the data.
· two independent clauses joined by a semi-colon.
RIGHT: Jimmy got into Intergang’s server. He didn’t manage to find the data.
· two independent clauses separated by a period and new sentence.
RIGHT: Jimmy got into Intergang’s server, yet he didn’t manage to find the data.
· two independent clauses joined by a co-ordinating conjunction
WRONG: Clark spun into Superman, he waited before taking off.
RIGHT: Clark spun into Superman, but he waited before taking off.
RIGHT: Clark spun into Superman. He waited before taking off.
RIGHT: Clark spun into Superman; he waited before taking off
WRONG: Lois had finished her phone call, she was ready to go.
RIGHT: Lois had finished her phone call; she was ready to go.
RIGHT: Lois had finished her phone call. She was ready to go.
RIGHT: Lois had finished her phone call, and she was ready to go.
Where there is no co-ordinating conjunction, therefore, either add one, use a semi-colon instead or start a new sentence.
Using commas in lists:
Commas are used to separate out items in a list. However, the use of a comma between the last two items in a list is optional and it only matters that you should be consistent.
EXAMPLE: Clark brought pizza, wine, garlic bread, and a movie.
EXAMPLE: Clark brought pizza, wine, garlic bread and a movie.
Both of these are grammatically correct. It is normal US convention to use the final comma; it is normal British-English convention not to use it. Whichever format you use, ensure that you stick to it throughout your story and you’ll be fine.
Use of tenses
Stories should, as a rule, be written in past tense, although there have been a small number of present-tense, first-person vignettes. You should avoid changing tense in your story; mixing tenses is incorrect grammar.
WRONG: Lois ran down the road as fast as she can.
RIGHT: Lois ran down the road as fast as she could.
Is, it’s, that is or that’s are all present tense and do not belong in a past tense narrative.
WRONG: Working at the Daily Planet is what Clark had always wanted.
RIGHT: Working at the Daily Planet was what Clark had always wanted.
WRONG: Lois scanned the paper, looking for the weather report. It’s always next to the obituary section.
RIGHT: Lois scanned the paper, looking for the weather report. It was always next to the obituary section.
WRONG: Jimmy felt as if he was struggling through a maze -- until, that is, he found the final clue.
RIGHT: Jimmy felt as if he was struggling through a maze -- until, that was, he found the final clue.
WRONG: Clark stared at the globe as it told him where he came from. That’s what he’d wondered about all his life!
RIGHT: Clark stared at the globe as it told him where he came from. That was what he’d wondered about all his life!
Frequently misspelled character names
Luthor, not Luther
Olsen, not Olson
Klein, not Kline
Jonathan, not Jonathon
Deter, not Dieter
Alright is not a word. All right is the proper spelling.
Irregardless is not a word. Regardless should be used instead.
Never mind, as well, and a lot are two words, not one.
Definate is not a word. Definite is the correct spelling.
Anyways is not a word. The correct form is Anyway.
Wierd is not a word. The correct spelling is Weird.
Layed is not a word. Laid is the correct spelling (and see below under “Frequently Misused Words”).
Flied or Flyed are not words. The correct past tense of fly is Flew.
Frequently Misused Words
Accept and Except
Accept means to receive a thing offered, or to agree to something.
EXAMPLE: Lois accepted her seventh Kerth nomination proudly.
Except means to exclude or exempt. It is also a preposition.
EXAMPLE: Everyone except Superman ran when the gunmen appeared.
Affect and Effect
Affect (as a verb) means to influence or act upon.
EXAMPLE: “This Kryptonite is fake! It doesn’t affect Superman!”
Effect (as a noun) means the result or outcome.
EXAMPLE: The effects of the earthquake were seen throughout the city.
Effect (as a verb) means to accomplish or bring about.
EXAMPLE: “The new mayor of Metropolis promises to effect many changes.”
Choose and Chose
Chose and Choose are forms of the same verb. However, choose is the present tense form, while chose is past tense.
EXAMPLE: “I’ll choose the video if you get takeout,” Lois suggested to Clark.
EXAMPLE: Lois chose the video while Clark got takeout.
Defuse and Diffuse
Defuse means to calm down or to prevent from exploding.
EXAMPLE: Clark watched as Lois defused the bomb under the table.
Diffuse (as a verb) means to spread around and dilute, to disperse.
EXAMPLE: By exhaling the pheromone mingled with his own breath as he flew, Clark diffused it into the atmosphere.
Diffuse (as a noun) is the opposite of concentrated; scattered.
EXAMPLE: The population of Smallville was diffuse, scattered over lots of small farms and rural homes, whereas in Metropolis there were far more people to the square mile.
Elicit and Illicit
Elicit is a verb, meaning to draw forth or extract.
EXAMPLE: Lois laughed, eliciting a warm smile from Clark in return.
Illicit is an adjective, meaning illegal or forbidden.
EXAMPLE: “I have never carried on an illicit affair with Lois Lane,” said Superman.
Its and It’s
Its is the possessive form of It, meaning “belonging to it.”
EXAMPLE: Lois put the lap-top back in its carrying case.
It’s is the abbreviated form of “It is.”
EXAMPLE: “It’s a beautiful day today!” Lois exclaimed.
Lie, Lay and Laid
These three words are frequently confused, but they are part of two separate verbs.
Lay is the past tense of Lie.
Laid is the past tense of a different verb, Lay.
The difference between the two verbs is that you do one yourself (lie/lay), but do the other to something or someone else (lay/laid).
Lie and Lay:
EXAMPLE: “Lie down and get some sleep, Lois,” Clark urged.
EXAMPLE: Lois lay down on her bed.
Lay and Laid:
EXAMPLE: “Jonathan, can you lay that sheet over the line?”
EXAMPLE: Clark laid Lois’s limp body carefully on the bed.
WRONG: Lois laid down on the bed.
RIGHT: Lois lay down on the bed.
WRONG: “Lay down, Clark, and rest.”
RIGHT: “Lie down, Clark, and rest.”
WRONG: Clark lay Lois on the sofa.
RIGHT: Clark laid Lois on the sofa.
Lose and Loose
Lose is a verb, meaning to misplace or fail to keep.
EXAMPLE: Clark was worried that he would lose Lois if he told her his secret.
Loose means free, unrestrained or not firmly fastened.
EXAMPLE: Clark pulled his tie loose as he prepared to spin into the suit.
Owe and Own
Owe refers to a debt.
EXAMPLE: “You still owe me for dinner last night,” Lois informed Clark.
Own indicates possession/ownership:
EXAMPLE: Franklin Stern owns the Daily Planet.
Peak, Peek and Pique
These are all homonyms but with distinct meanings.
Peak can be a noun, meaning the highest point, the greatest amount. It can also be a verb, meaning to attain a high level of development.
EXAMPLE: Demand for electricity is at its peak during commercial breaks on TV.
EXAMPLE: Clark felt his power levels peak as his skin took in the midday sun.
Peek can be a noun or a verb, and means to sneak a look.
EXAMPLE: Lois took a sneak peek at Clark’s desk.
Pique can be both a noun or a verb, and has a couple of different meanings. It can mean “to arouse interest in” or “to wound the pride of.”
EXAMPLE: Clark’s curiosity was piqued by Perry’s mention of Claude.
EXAMPLE: Lois stormed out of Clark’s apartment in a fit of pique.
Shutter and Shudder
Shutter is a noun, referring to a panel on the outside of a window, or a device in a camera.
EXAMPLE: Clark closed the shutters before spinning into his Suit.
Shudder is a verb, referring to a shivering reflex action as a result of fear or revulsion.
EXAMPLE: Lois shuddered as she realised what Lex planned to do.
Then and Than
Then refers to a period in time.
EXAMPLE: “We were happy then, Perry. What’s happened to us since?”
EXAMPLE: Then Jimmy rushed into the room, interrupting Lois and Clark’s first kiss.
Than is used in comparisons.
EXAMPLE: Lois was a better reporter than Claude
EXAMPLE: Lex Luthor was more intelligent than the average crime boss.
There, Their and They’re
There — many uses.
EXAMPLE: “There you are, Clark. I was looking for you.”
EXAMPLE: “Plug your laptop in over there, and pull up the story.”
Their is the possessive case of they.
EXAMPLE: When Lois and Clark came home, they hung up their coats in the closet.
They’re is the contraction for they are.
EXAMPLE: “They’re going to check on a source,” Jimmy told Perry.
To, Too and Two
To is a preposition.
EXAMPLE: Clark went to the bathroom so that he could change into Superman.
Too is the equivalent of ‘as well’:
EXAMPLE: “I’m coming too!” Lois yelled as Clark was about to chase the bad guys.
Two is a number.
EXAMPLE: Lois and Clark are two reporters working for the Daily Planet.
Through and Threw
Through is a preposition.
EXAMPLE: Superman looked through the wall with his x-ray vision.
Threw is the past tense of throw.
EXAMPLE: Lois threw the Kryptonite as far away from Superman as she could.
Where and Were
Where refers to a location.
EXAMPLE: “Where were you last night, Clark?” Lois asked suspiciously.
Were is a verb, the past tense plural of the verb ‘to be’.
EXAMPLE: Perry and Jimmy were curious about Lois and Clark’s relationship.
Whose and Who’s
Who’s is the contraction for who is.
EXAMPLE: “OK, who’s going to the fund-raiser tonight?” Perry asked at the staff meeting.
Whose is the possessive case of who.
EXAMPLE: “Whose folders are these?” Jimmy asked, holding them up.
Your and You’re
You’re is the contraction for you are.
EXAMPLE: “Lois,” said Clark, “you’re the one I’ve been looking for all my life.”
Your is the possessive case of you.
EXAMPLE: “Lois, can I borrow your car this weekend?” asked Jimmy.
Oh, and it’s should have, could have and would have, not ‘of’.
WRONG: He should of told her about Superman before now.
RIGHT: He should have told her about Superman before now.
International spelling variations
Authors are welcome to use their “native” spelling of English, whether that be US, UK, Australian, Canadian or any other variant. That is, behaviour is as acceptable as behavior. However, you should be consistent in your usage.
“Practical English and the Command of Words”, copyright 1990, The English Language Institute of America.
“Webster’s Illustrated Contemporary Dictionary”, copyright 1992, J. G. Ferguson Publishing Company.
“The Oxford Concise Dictionary” copyright 1990 , Oxford University Press
Charles Darling’s Guide to Grammar and Writing, http://www.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/