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Fifteen little problem words Editor's Notes #108
October 15, 2011

"The person who does not respect words
and their proper relationship
cannot have much respect for ideas --
very possibly cannot have ideas at all."

--John Simon

In this issue:

1. Fifteen little words that may confuse your readers
2. Tickled my funnybone
3. Interesting Web site
4. Pick up your free gift

1. Fifteen little words that may confuse your readers
When I edit, I make more comments on fifteen little words than on any other topic. These words are so small and so common that most writers use them without any thought at all. The problem is, their meanings shift dramatically, and unless you use these words correctly, readers are left frustrated or confused.

All fifteen words in the list are pronouns. In this issue, you'll meet the words and see an example of how one of them tripped up readers for one of my clients. (In the next issue, you'll learn three steps for ensuring you stay out of pronoun trouble.)

Pronouns are words that stand for nouns.

Pronouns keep us from having to repeat nouns over and over.

Grammatically, a pronoun refers to the noun that most closely precedes it.

For English speakers, some pronouns cause trouble and some don't. Troublesome pronouns are: he, she, it, him, her, his, hers, its, they, them, theirs, this, that, these, and those.

What makes these pronouns troublesome is the potential for confusion about what the writer had in mind when using them. Your readers will probably never write to thank you for taking care with your pronouns but will certainly feel frustrated when you create confusion with misused pronouns.

Here is an example taken from a piece of writing I edited. I never expose my clients publicly, so I have kept the grammar as the writer submitted it, but I've changed the content words.


Original: Enforcers did not need such luxuries as a locker.

The change room was off-putting. A pile of stinking hockey gear huddled in a heap across from them.

The troublesome pronoun is them.

The nearest plural noun is luxuries. This makes the meaning, A pile of stinking hockey gear huddled in a heap across from luxuries.

If we want to refer to people the writer is talking about, we come to enforcers. This makes the meaning, A pile of stinking hockey gear huddled in a heap across from enforcers.

But this is also not what is in the writer's mind.

In actual fact, the writer had two new characters standing at a door and was describing what the characters were seeing.

Corrected copy: A pile of stinking hockey gear huddled in a heap across from the door.

In the next issue, I'll give you three steps to find and correct pronoun errors that confuse and frustrate your readers.

Catching errors like these is only one of the things I do for a manuscript. When you send in writing for a sample edit, I give you an individual quote based on your writing sample.

If you have no pronoun errors, you save yourself money on all future editing. Those savings can make a significant difference to your final costs.

2.Tickled my funnybone
"Marathon runners with bad footwear suffer the agony of defeat."

3. Interesting Web site
Here is a place for inspirational quotes. Use them to spark writing ideas, to open chapters, or just to inspire your life.

4.Pick up your free gift
Writer's Helper continues with its makeover. New subscribers to Editor's Notes now receive a Tip Sheet on using MS Word's Outline view.

The Tip Sheet describes not only what Outline view does, but how it helps you as a writer, saving you time, helping you to organize, and eliminating frustration.

In a recent poll, I discovered that 80% of writers say they either get by or don't understand MS Word well at all. If you've ever wondered what Word can do for you as a writer, you'll want this Tip Sheet.

Just send me a reply to this email saying that you are an Editor's Notes subscriber who wants the Tip Sheet on Outline view, and I will send it to you. Since I have to do this manually, I'll be putting a deadline on the offer (October 31, 2011 10:00 PST -- Los Angeles, CA or Vancouver, BC time).


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