Love Hate Relationship With Spellcheck

love hate-2

Don’t you just hate it? You run the spell check on your article and find ridiculous correction suggestions. I love the little red and blue squiggly lines. Word catches lots of obvious typos like then when you mean than. Misspelled words like mena instead of mean and extra spaces. But it also bings on things that are real words or slang terms as misspelled words. Bings for example now has a red squiggly line under it. Bings is not in my Word dictionary. My character Mindy used the word thingie, and it got red lines. In a recent blog I stated writers trip over this. And writers was blue-lined. When I ran the spelling and grammar check, Word cited an apostrophe grammar rule. The problem is trip is being used as a verb and writers is plural not possessive. So, I ignored the suggestion. Now, if I were relying totally on my grammar check, I would have allowed the apostrophe. Big mistake!

Nevertheless, pay attention to those squiggly lines. Correct all that must be changed. But don’t put your complete trust in them. There are times I use a sentence fragment in my novel for effect. So, I am not going to change it. But a sentence fragment in an article may not be the effect I want to present to the publisher.

These squiggly lines are your friend. The software helps you fix the obvious. However, question each one. Word doesn’t rely on AP or Chicago book of style for their grammar suggestions. Those of us who struggle with remembering what is the acceptable use of commas are better off checking our style books than relying on Word’s rules. I’m just sayin’ (another red squiggly line) double check on your own or call a friend for a second set of eyes to be sure your manuscript is error free.

We all know the spellcheck doesn’t catch misspellings if the misspelled word is a real word. I just typed won when I meant to type own. It is so easy to have typos that you don’t notice if you rely on the PC spellcheck. Read your words out loud. Often you catch them. Better yet have someone else read them out loud while you follow along. Even easier to catch those obvious mistakes.

You can learn to love and respect your grammar and spellcheck once you remember it isn’t always right. Which is a good thing. It keeps us from becoming lazy about editing our words to perfection.

What is your pet peeve about spellcheck? And what is the common boo boo you make that spellcheck never catches?

If you’d like to follow my blog please sign up in the right column.

Attacking Apostrophes: How Not to Overuse Them

Attack incorrect uses of Apostrophes in your manuscripts. Graphic created by Charles Huff.

Attack incorrect uses of Apostrophes in your manuscripts. Graphic created by Charles Huff.

Grammar rules for me are as boring as listening to a high school literature class read Shakespeare out loud. But a professional reading is enthralling. Well, I’m enthralled by a little booklet by my friend Joyce Ellis, whom I consider the Queen of Grammar rules, as an excellent reference for obvious grammar faux pas. 8 Hidden Hazards of Grammar: lessons for authors on the snags of the English language. This little booklet contains eight simple things to train your eyes to notice when you self-edit. Things publishers find all too often in novice work.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting excerpts from her little booklet with my own commentary. (You knew I would.)

Apostrophe abuse

1)  This first one can be confusing. An apostrophe takes on three distinct functions. For those who have brain block an apostrophe looks like this: ’. This little mark wreaks havoc in lots of manuscripts.

Go through your manuscript and examine every use of the apostrophe. Did you place one with every word ending in s? Caught you, didn’t I? I am convinced my word program adds them. Really! But I’ll admit I’ve done it myself. My subconscious mind types away and ta-da lots of apostrophes.

As I mentioned, there are three times an apostrophe is used. I’m going to quote Joyce Ellis now.

Possessives: expressions indicating that something belongs to someone or something else require an ’s at the end of the word.

The book proposal failed to include the author’s credentials.

This seems simple enough. But Joyce points out the most common mistake, and I swear it’s my word program. The use of apostrophes with possessives of pronouns. Words like theirs, ours, hers, and the biggest error its.

The car lost its wheel (no apostrophe) on its way to the repair shop.

Great example, Joyce.

2) The second correct use of an apostrophe is in contractions. In shortened versions of words (cannot to can’t) or two words (I’m for I am), an apostrophe substituted for missing letters. Note the especially troublesome it’s.

Joyce writes. “It’s (it is) important to remember to use the apostrophe only if it’s a contraction of it is.”

Tip from me: If you are in doubt, read the sentence substituting the words it is or it has.

The dog buried its bone. Read out loud: The dog buried it is bone. Wrong! No apostrophe.

It’s time to go to bed. Read out loud: It is time to go to bed. Right. Apostrophe needed.

It’s been a long time since we’ve seen each other.

It has been a long time since we have seen each other.

3) The final use of an apostrophe with more examples from Joyce.

Other omitted material: parts of a word or expression omitted. (e.g., dialog or dates) call for an apostrophe: ’cause for because or ’70s for 1970s. Great reminder Joyce.

I find numbers confusing. How often do you see a temperature written as a possessive? 80s is correct. While 80’s is not.

How about family names.

We are the Huffs not the Huff’s. (A group not something the group owns.)

The Huffs’ house is on Main Street. (The house belongs to the family.)

Huff’s fast pitch whizzed by the catch. (The pitch belongs to Huff.)

Joyce’s bottom line: Don’t use apostrophes for plurals.

Now go forth and check your latest writing project. How well did you avoid the hazard of apostrophe abuse?

Hope this helps. Next post I will share Joyce’s second hazard weak verbs.

Click the subscribe button at the right and receive the next posts in your email.