A little while ago I was called upon to share some editing knowledge in vocalised format with the Interweb. Click here to listen to my pearls of relative wisdom.
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The aim of hyphenation is usually to make things easier to read. In general, if the two words modifying the noun appear before it then they should be hyphenated. If they are post-modifiers then the hyphen is not necessary.
Here’s an example:
‘She was a well-known scientist.’
‘The scientist was well known.’
Hyphens can also be helpful in demonstrating that the two adjectives are combined.
A ‘first-class discussion’ is quite different from a ‘first class discussion’.
“Oh, you want to see a man-eating plant.”
There are exceptions to any rule, for example if the left modifier has an -ly ending and the right modifier has an -ed then they are usually not hyphenated e.g. ‘a distantly related cousin’. Compound modifiers with comparatives or superlatives are generally not hyphenated either e.g. ‘the most recent change’.
If you’re not sure, check a dictionary or ask a proofreader.
Basically, Google Ngrams searches all of the 5.2 million books digitized by Google for whatever word(s) or phrase(s) you want to look for or compare. It then plots them on a graph. This is extremely useful when proofreading as it helps me to choose between variant spellings, particularly if an author has used more than one in their work.
Have a look at this example:
Charts like the one below also show which version of a phrase was in common use in a particular era. You can even use it to check whether a word you’re considering using in your period piece was in common usage at that time.
In general, it’s rather interesting to see how words or phrases have risen or fallen in popularity. Here’s the trajectory of ‘twerk’:
You can also search in many languages, including British or American English, and choose a shorter time span. It can even be used to explore cultural change and the popularity of ideas.
It’s a handy and rather interesting tool. Click here to have a go.
What do you think? Have you used it in your editing?
There are two past participles of prove: proven and proved. Mostly, they can be used interchangeably, though in British English, proved is more commonly used.
‘The effectiveness of their mind control helmets hasn’t been proven.’
‘The effectiveness of their mind control helmets hasn’t been proved.’
Both are correct.
Embed from Getty Images
The exception to this is that proven should always be used before a noun.
‘They had a proven talent for kitchenware adaptation.’
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Look at the image. There’s something wrong with it beyond the poor camera-phone picture quality and the excessive air-brushing. It’s there in the bottom right corner. It’s easily done. The verb and the noun have been confused.
Advice is what they meant. It is the noun meaning guidance or recommendations for future action. In this case, guidance on hair-based life choices. Think ‘my advice on ice’ to remember spelling and pronunciation.
Advise is the verb, meaning to recommend or inform. This is pronounced more like ‘-ize’.
For example, my conversation with them will go something like this:
‘If I advise you on proper spelling, will you give me free hair advice?’
‘OK, thanks, bye!’
Any questions or comments? Put them below please!
Morphemes, not be be confused with Morph memes.
Morphemes are the smallest unit of language that can convey meaning; they cannot be broken down any further into meaningful units.
For example, the word unshockable is made up of three morphemes
un-, shock, and -able.
Shock is a free morpheme because it can be used alone as a complete unit – it is free of other morphemes.
Un- and -able are bound morphemes because they modify a free morpheme. Even though they are not words in their own right, they do have meaning: un- means ‘not’ and -able means ‘able to be’.
Understanding morphemes has been shown to improve spelling – do you remember teachers saying, ‘break it down into chunks’? For example, the suffix
-ian usually refers to a person, so we known that magician is spelt magic
-ian, rather than magic -ion.
As a writer you can broaden your vocabulary, or even invent words more cogently, by breaking them down and combining the appropriate morphemes. Sometimes, flow can be improved by looking at words that have multiple morphemes and replacing them with a single morpheme. One example would be replacing uncomplicated (three morphemes) with simple (one morpheme).
It is impossible to say this town’s name without sounding like you’re suggesting a galleon-based voyage towards it.
The key point with exclamation marks is to use them sparingly, otherwise they will lose their impact. There are three main uses:
1. Exclamation marks can be used to indicate an exclaimed sentence: ‘With a gorilla in a hot air balloon! A hot air balloon of all things!’
2. In speech they show that something is shouted or said loudly: ‘Get that gorilla back in its enclosure!’
3. They can also be used to indicate that a statement is intended to be humorous: ‘I couldn’t tell if it was him or the hippo that had made the mess!’
However, if the humour is evident without the exclamation mark, it is often more amusing and stylish to dead pan.
“Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald
With this many exclamation marks how could this not be a prudent fiscal move?
The main issue that occurs is over-use. Please don’t use more than one at a time. If you feel that you need to give more emphasis to a sentence than others that already have one exclamation mark, it is likely that the original sentences didn’t require exclamation marks at all. I associate multiple exclamation marks with dodgy advertising; my spam folder is full of exclamation marks.
It is often better when meaning is conveyed through content. Do it with your words, not with your punctuation.
How do you feel about exclamation marks? Do you use them in your writing? Leave me a comment.
Sibilance is the recurrence of a hissing ‘s’ sound which can be effective in prose and poetry. It is sometimes referred to as sigmatism after the Greek letter sigma. Sibilance, as with all types of alliteration, draws emphasis where it is used. Note all the ‘s’ sounds in this extract from John Masefield’s Sea Fever:
I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking,
In this case, the sibilance gives a sense of flow, reflecting the movement of waves in the sea. It makes it very pleasing to read aloud – give it a try!
Sibilance is used commonly to draw people’s attention or admonish them (sssshhh!). Therefore, we know that it is an intense sound and can thus add this intensity to a piece of writing. A good example of this can be found in Bram Stoker’s Dracula: ‘The smell of sweetest victory swirled in his nostrils, overpowering the stale smell of battered bodies that lay underfoot.’ Here it also helps to highlight the contrast of the ‘stale’ and ‘sweet’ smells, using this phonological pattern to encourage the reader to associate the two descriptions.
Can you think of any other good examples of sibilance? Tell me in the comments!
Please do like and share if this has been an edifying read. Thank you!
An auto-antonym, also known as a contranym, is a word that has two opposing meanings. It has a homograph (a word of the same spelling) that has a contradictory or opposite meaning. They usually result from the word, or similar sounding words, arriving in English from two separate languages and retaining both meanings. However, sometimes they are a result of a old word taking on a new colloquial meaning.
Here are some examples:
Cool can mean good or pleasant, but it can also mean less than agreeable. Compare the following:
‘The play was cool.’
‘The play received a cool reception.’
Dusting can mean removing dust or, in the case of fingerprints, applying dust.
Fast can either mean to do something quickly or not to move at all as in ‘holding fast’.
Left is another: ‘after he left she was left.’ It means both to go and to remain.
Weather as a verb has the contradictory meanings of withstanding and wearing away.
‘They weathered the storm.’
‘It was weathered by the storm.’
For your writing, it is worth being aware of auto-antonyms so that you can spot any usage that might be confusing. Additionally, you can purposefully use words with contradictory meanings to give ambiguity or intrigue to your text. This is sometimes seen in poetry.
Can you think of any other auto-antonyms or good examples of their usage? Tell me in the comments!
As always, if you have found this interesting, please do like and share.
A homonym is a word that is identical to another word either in sound or spelling, but differs from it in meaning. It comes from the Greek homos meaning ‘same’. Homonyms can be divided into two sub-types: homophones (from the Greek ‘same’ and phone, ‘sound’) and homograph (‘same’ and graphe,‘writing’).
These are homonyms that are also homographs; they are spelt the same but pronounced differently:
Capsule – Homonym
- ‘The bandage was wound around the wound.’
- ‘The farm was used to produce produce.’
These homonyms are also homophones; they are spelt differently but pronounced the same:
- ‘I will die if you dye that pink.’
- ‘Can you see that ewe by the yew?’
- ‘That boat shop has got a sail sale on.’
Homophones can often be the root cause of common spelling errors: your and you’re, for example. They are also the basis of many glorious puns and jokes. Here are a few courtesy of my favourite joke book (Tim Vine, you are a genius!):
- The other day I sent my girlfriend a huge pile of snow. I rang her and said, ‘did you get my drift?’
- My dog always misinterprets things I say. I say ‘heel’ and he goes down the hospital and does what he can.
- So I went to the cinema and saw a very sad film. The guy behind me started wailing. I got hit in the back of the head with a harpoon.
- She said ‘I’m going to dig a hole in the ground and fill it with water.’ I thought, she means well.
Test your understanding by telling me which of the above jokes are based on homophones and which are homographs. Answers in the comments please!
Tell me your favourite homonym-based joke in the comments!
If you’ve found this useful – please do like and share!