Wednesday, January 07, 2009

WNW: My Latest Peeves

Remember how my eye twitches when I read a novel with typos and grammar errors?

Yeah. Last week my eye was a-twitchin' something fierce.

The novel I was reading got off to a great start, and I expected great things from it. Then the story sort of died off, the characters no longer acted like real people would, and I stopped believing it.

Which is sad, because I can see what the author was trying to do. And that thing was way cool. But they missed the target by a wide margin.

Plot and character issues aside, the grammar and editing led to serious twitchiness.

There were proofing mistakes, like accidentally calling people by the wrong name or having quotation marks missing and the like. And of course (as is to be expected in so many books), frequent (but not consistent) errors with lie/lay.

Plus, by the end, I was ready to smack someone if a character couldn't just SAY something. They all had to "inquire" or "comment" or "defend" or use some other synonym for "said."

And POV? Holy head-hopping, Batman. One page could have three points of view easily. I got dizzy.

The last half of the book felt far rougher than the first half, which is typical of a newer writer who polishes and works like crazy on those first chapters and then runs out of steam for the rest. (Makes me wonder where their editor was. Should have been pulling out the whip to make the author revise.)

But there was more! Here are a few twitchy gems, because I'm just this obnoxious and opinionated and have to write it out or scream.

(Plus, I think hubby's tired of my ranting to him about it. Poor man has put up with my editor brain for nigh unto fifteen years. Today I'll do it here instead. But now he's one of my official followers. He'll get it anyway. Sorry, hon.)

Simple lesson, folks: the plain past tense of the word sink is sank, not sunk.

Use SUNK if it's past participle , such as if there's "had" before it.


Present: eat
Simple Past: ate
Past Participle: eaten

Present: sing
Simple Past: sang
Past Participle: sung

Get it? So it should be:

Did you see the rock sink?

The rock sank.

The rock had sunk before I got there.

You would not believe how often I see SUNK as the past tense of SINK. Not just in this book, but of course, in this one, too.

SANK, people! SANK!

Drives. Me. Nuts.

(Note to any who will argue with me on this. Yes, I'm aware that some dictionaries list "sunk" as an alternate simple past in addition to being past participle. But that's because people are stupid and are using it wrong, so the dictionary then reports that usage. I'm a purist on this one, refusing to let language evolve. Go ahead; call me a hypocrite.)

ARGH! I hate, hate, hate this one. 99% of the time, it should be "to try TO," not "to try AND."

AND is supposed to connect thoughts and actions, like I'm eating AND listening to my iPod. Or, I'm sitting AND blogging.

But no one means that they're actually trying AND doing something else. They mean that they're TRYING TO DO something else. So why the stupid AND attached?

Worse, in almost every case, you could just take out TRY altogether and keep only the other verb. Much cleaner, people!

This book had "to try and" all over. It was pretty typical to have it once or twice per page.

That's way too much repetition of any construction, let alone an annoying one that doesn't make sense.

Twitchy: I think I'll try and call her today.


  • I think I'll try to call her today.

  • BEST: I think I'll call her today.

Twitchy: He wants to try and go to the store.


  • He wants to try to go to the store.

  • BEST: He wants to go to the store.

Twitchy: She wants to try and scream whenever people use this construction.


  • She want to try screaming whenever people use this construction.

  • BEST: She wants to scream whenever people use this construction.

Mark Twain once said that the difference between using almost the right word and using the actual right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. (Or something like that; I'm too lazy to look it up right now.) He was right.

If you're not 100% certain what a word means, don't use it in your book without looking it up. Learn what it means and how to use it. Otherwise, you'll come across as exactly the opposite of what you're hoping to.

Two of the many twitchy vocabulary whoopsies from this novel:

LULL does NOT mean "to hang loosely." That would be LOLL.

BEGUILE means, "to engage by deception."

It does NOT mean, "to obscure" or "to create a physical obstacle." I'm not sure what word the writer was going for, but whatever it was, that's what they thought "beguile" meant.

Maybe my readers can figure out which word they really meant.



Kristina P. said...

I have a pretty large vocabulary, but there are times when I want to make sure I'm using words completely accurately, and I will look them up before using them.

Brittany Marie said...

Do you think the "go and try" or "to try and" is a Utahism?

Brittany Marie said...

Oops, I meant:

Do you think the tendancy to say "go and try" is a Utahism?

I'm not thinking straight because today I've been working on a bicycle DUI case. It has me confused. And slightly humored.

Don said...

Youch! 19 "try and" occurrences in my book.


Erin said...

I think you would fit in very well in France. They love their language and want to remain purists with it.

I'm glad I already knew and use all of these rules correctly! Just know if I make mistakes, it's because I'm too lazy to proofread...oh yeah! That's the problem with this book you read! He/she didn't proofread. Just like I didn't with this comment. But I'm hoping there aren't any mistakes. If so, I'm just too darn lazy to care. But if I am writing a book, I should care. What am I talking about? This comment is the length of a book.

annie valentine said...

I was going to try and comment, but I got busy sanking my teeth into a big turkey sandwich. Then I wanted to take and go to the store right after reading your blog, but I hit a loll and decided to sit around, wasting time.

Okay I confess, I'm just trying to beguile you.

Annette Lyon said...

Oh, Annie! You're hysterical and cruel all at once. Love it!

Heidi said...

Even though I am pretty darn sure you aren't talking about my book (I know the diff between lull and loll, thank you!)I'm still sitting here feeling like I got kicked in the gut. Maybe it IS my book! I'm too scared to think straight right about now. (And now that I'm almost peeing my pants with fear, I am also laughing, hysterically, the kind that leads to violent crying--yep! here it comes! Time to change my pants). However, time has passed and I am now calm enough to ask this question: if these mistakes such as "to try and" instead of "to try to" were in the conversation--not the narrative-- part of the story, would that bother you as much? People really do talk that way. If not, I'm sunk. (It truly is harder to have your disbelief suspended when you have published a book. This has been a real bummer for me. I hate "seeing" how the story was constructed unless it is way above my abilities--thank goodness there are plenty of those out there.)

Karlene said...

I just love you. This is great.

Another I hate is using "lighted" instead of "lit"--and yes, I know it's that conspiracy to force language to evolve to the lowest common denominator, but I refuse to ever use lighted in anything I write!

Heather Moore said...

I started using "to try and . . ." because it's how people speak--but you're right! It needs to be corrected. I know the sank/sunk rule, but I usually don't pay enough attention when I'm drafting. Thank heavens for beta readers! Some of my pet peeves are "gotten" and "drug" as past tense of drag, and "snuck" instead of "sneaked."

Cajoh said...

If I was a good writer and remembered the "rules" I would love to create a post that would be so full of twitchyness (sp) to make your head spin out of spite… but I'm not, so you're lucky.

Lara Neves said...

These are all very good examples. The sank/sunk problem drives me nuts in several other words, too. Gah.

I admit to using "try and..." in my speech because I let what I hear bring me down. But reading it just looks weird and wrong, which should clue me in to stop using it!

Wonder Woman said...

This just makes me wish I had finished college. I would've majored in English, with the intent of teaching high school.

I'm glad you posted this all for us. I will be more careful, though it's much harder for me to edit my speech than my writing. But that's where it all starts, to here's to trying!! =D

Brooke said...

I love good grammar. Seriously. Thanks for the humorous lesson.

Luisa Perkins said...

Sink me, m'dear!

(Of course I'm dying to know which book made you twitch.)

David G. Woolley said...

Notice also that the "to try to" construction is usually another form of telling a story rather than showing it. Your examples were filled with want to try tos. All telling rather than showing the story.

If you get rid of the "to try to" constructions and find a better option you may also find yourself doing a better job of showing your story rather than telling it. And if you find an author who does a great job of showing the story, you may also find few if any "to try to" constructions anywhere.

How is the exercise/endorphan work out going?

Anna Maria Junus said...

I was reading someone's manuscript and through out I found the phrase "started to" as in "he started to get up and walk." "He started to say something." The problem was that started to signifies that someone stopped him, but no one did.

And I'm sure that previous paragraph was grammatically incorrect somehow.

However, during conversations everything is fair to say. It's the way people speak.

I blame the editor more than the author. Authors often can't catch their own mistakes because when they read through they see what they meant to say, not what they actually did. That's why editors are important. Where was the editor?

Shelle-BlokThoughts said...

Okay...first of all, I'm HORRIBLE at grammar...but because we are NOW blogging friends I hope you will forgive it! :)

But that is why I like your BLOG...because I LEARN...but I guess I could google all of my sentences to make sure they are constructed correctly? much work! :)

Sher said...

Ha! I probably would've missed most of those had I been reading that book.
It does bug me to read Cormac Mcarthy because he doesn't puncuate.

Heffalump said...

Right there, is my education for the week. Thanks! (Not that I commonly make any of these errors, but it is always nice to know, just in case!)

Rebecca Blevins said...

Annette, you're right. We are kindred spirits. You're way more knowledgeable than I am, and I practically hero worship your command of the English language!

I didn't have a lot of formal education growing up. I guess you could say that I was not so much homeschooled but mostly 'unschooled'. Most of the time I know when words are used incorrectly because of how they look on paper or sound when speaking. It's a result of having read thousands of books in my lifetime.

I'm really wanting to know what book you're referring to! If you want another eye-twitcher, I have a great suggestion! I won't post it here, but I laughed like crazy at this person's facebook usage of the word 'stealthily'. I know her in real life, and she was describing a fast moving creek she took a picture of. It was in no way moving 'stealthily'. Her books are like that, almost at every page.

I read a book on Porter Rockwell yesterday when I was sick. It was a historically based fiction, but rather poorly written. There were THREE obvious typos, one of which was the incorrect usage of the word 'too'. You would have thought an editor would have caught those.

In closing this post on your comments, I have to say that I'm looking forward to learning the finer points of writing from teaching my third grader. Oh, and from reading your blog. :D

Melanie Jacobson said...

I love that Mark Twain quote.

And I'm scared of you now. I think I might screw up the to/and thing.

Hey! I just noticed I'm FINALLY in your blog roll! Don't take me off for the and/to thing!

Cheryl said...

I love your WNW series. They are so good for me!

But I'm dying to know what book you read. Wanna email me and dish?

An Ordinary Mom said...

Just another reason for me to adore your blog ... you teach me about grammar, in words and doses I can understand. I need these English lessons since I majored in Biology :) !!

Alison Wonderland said...

Now that I think about it i think I say "try and" although it's really more "try'n" but I would never, ever write it. So at least there's that.

Anonymous said...

Now tell us what you really think Annette!

It's shocking that an author wouldn't have more command of the english language, but it made for a great post!

RobisonWells said...

In On Writing, Stephen King says that if you ever have to use a dictionary or thesaurus to come up with the right word, it will always be the WRONG word. His reasoning is that if you're using a word that you wouldn't normally use, then you will destroy your writing voice--you'll come across as fake and forced.

Larsens said...

How about "boughten". I hear that all the time. Must be a Utah, bought, boughten. I'm a nazi also when it comes to misspelled words. I see them everywhere. The best one was a menu at Santaquin "Family Tree" restaurant years ago. They have now corrected all of the mistakes, I think. Haven't been back for years since eating canned green beans.

Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

This post inspired many fits of giggles, as well as a vague feeling of foreboding. So much to learn!

Annette Lyon said...

Rob, exactly. (Love that book.)

Rebecca, I'd love to be pointed to that "stealthily" FB page. It would be a riot.

Marja, "boughten" is a great example. Another one that bugs me is "unthaw." What does that mean? Refreeze?!

Heather of the EO said...

You're probably going to need to stop looking at the EO. Your eyes might roll back in your head at all the errors. :)

I'm not the brightest with the whole grammar thing, but when people use the wrong your or their (you know what I mean) it drives me bonkers. If I find one of these obvious errors in books, I circle them. Cause I'm mean.

Amanda D said...

I love this series! Every time I read one I am tempted to send the link to my dad because he would love them! He is constantly correcting the way we talk. I hope I can remember all these things when I decide to get serious and write!

Randi said...

I'm with Heather - I can't imagine the twitching when you come over to my blog.
I think that's why I enjoy blogging so much. I get to suspend rules that I KNOW, I'm just too lazy to follow some of the time.
Most of the time.
Pretty much every time I write.

I'm just wondering what in the heck happened to the editor. I mean, at least I'm not getting paid for my blogging errors, right?


Amazon's famous Prime Day events are huge for so many reasons, and for bookworms, it's even better: books aren't high-ticket ite...