How to Write a Sentence…

Every other Spring, I get to teach Advanced Grammar. It’s one of my favorite courses. While planning my Advanced Grammar course for next semester, I considered changing textbooks. I really love Understanding English Grammar by Kolln and Day (a book I frequently reference in my posts), but I wanted to find something new. I looked through various books, and none really suited what I wanted. So I stuck with this one.

I was still not really happy with the course, though, so I glanced around my shelves thinking about what else I could give my students that could help them with their writing.

There are tons of books on writing, and some excellent ones, to be sure. Several have been mentioned on Magical Words over the years. (One of my favorites is GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict by Debra Dixon–the head of Bell Bridge books). Other people recommend Stephen King’s […]

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Got any queries?

Old, just-so-story wisdom tells us that good artists borrow, but great artists steal. In the spirit of such advice, I’m going to blatantly rip off Melissa Gilbert’s awesome post from last week. But rather than a passage in a WIP, I’ll take a look at a passage from a Query Letter. In the comments, post up to 200 words from your letter. Let me know if there is anything specific you want to work on, and I’ll look at it. I’ll be responding throughout the day.

So there’s your quest for the day! I’m looking forward to reading them!

Cracking the Code

Melissa Gilbert and I have addressed all sorts of elements of grammar–verbs, pronouns, that/which, punctuation, and a lot more. We’ve also talked about how to communicate with an editor.

But, now a bit about how to understand an editor. What’s with the editing marks?

Editors use them as a shorthand to tell authors what they want changed in a particular instance. It is the shortcut that keeps editors from having to explain, every time and in detail, what needs to be changed. This is especially convenient for simple, common edits. In short, copy editing marks are the emojis of long ago.

I’m going to give you some common ones that I use when editing with MS Word. Keep in mind that while there are standard marks (from such format guides as Chicago or MLA), editors often come up with their own marks, too. Finally, publishing houses have their own style […]

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Words Part 2

Last week I discussed words and their parts. Today, I’m going to talk about not-quite-word bits. Affixes are morphemes (a combination of sound and meaning) that attach to a base as either prefixes or suffixes.

A base gives the word its primary lexical meaning–it’s the bit that gives us the content of the word. All morphemes are either bases or affixes.

Before I get to what we do with affixes, I’m going to talk a little be more about categorizing morphemes. So far, we know that a base gives the word its meaning, and the affixes that do something to that meaning. So fear is a base, –ful is an affix–a suffix in this case–and from that we get fearful.

There is one other feature of a morpheme: its ability to stand alone as a word; morphemes can be either bound or free. Bound morphemes are unable to stand alone; […]

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Words, Magical and Otherwise

When we discuss writing, words come up frequently. Choose good ones. Vivid ones. Choose strong verbs. Don’t choose (too many) adverbs. Words are one of our most fundamental means of communication–pretty much the only one if things like tone of voice and body language aren’t possible.

When studying English (or any language, really) there are three elements to consider: syntax, morphology, and phonology.

Syntax is the study of sentence patterns–of how the words fit together.

Phonology is the study of individual sounds (like the “sh” in wash or the “f” in fox)

Finally, morphology is the study of morphemes–the bits and pieces of words that make up meaning.

A morpheme is any sound with meaning. This, at first glance, seems like it is the definition of word. Indeed, a lot of morphemes are words (a, the, and, walk, kind, carrot–the list is long). However, other words are made up of […]

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Adjectivals: Relative Clauses

As promised, today I’m going to be dealing with relative clauses.

A brief recap: a clause is a series of words that contains both a subject and a predicate; a clause may or may not be independent (a sentence).

Relative clauses are dependent, they identify the nouns they modify, and they often immediately follow the nouns or pronouns that they modify.

As dependent clauses, they never stand on their own as a sentence.

Identifying the noun:

Like adjectival prepositional phrases, relative clauses answer questions like “what kind?” and “which one?”

So: The washing machine broke again.

This is a straightforward sentence; it has the traditional subject/verb construction; it is in the active voice; and it has one modifier, again, an adverb modifying “broke.”

Well, which washing machine? what kind of washing machine is it?

The washing machine, which I hate with all my heart, broke again.

The relative clause, beginning […]

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Copy and Line Editing

I need a line editor for that title…yikes. But, I couldn’t come up with anything better, so there it stays.

Two weeks ago, I talked about what a proofreader does. Today, I am going to go one and two steps up and talk about copy editing and line editing.

The simple explanation is that copy editing is proofreading on steroids, and line editing is detailed developmental editing.

That doesn’t help much, so here’s a picture.

I’ve been working as a freelance editor for about a year and a half, and one thing that I have realized is that some (a lot?) of folks think these are all interchangeable terms. They’re all editing, right? No, they’re not. They’re completely different things, even though they sometimes bleed into one another. The lovely picture above shows the process your shiny, hot-off-the-keyboard manuscript will go through as it moves through the editing process. […]

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