A Little Grammar for Authors

I have finally, after four rewrites and several beta-readers, sent the manuscript of Sowing Promises to my editor. The book will be a sequel to Ploughing Through Rainbows, and the first draft of Promises (which at the time felt ‘finished’) was completed many months ago, before I even published Rainbows. My point is this, being an author, and creating wonderful stories is great fun however, before we sell those stories to the public, we need to do a lot of work—work which is mostly boring and frustrating, and in some cases, when an editor tells us that something which we love really doesn’t work, we need to take a big breath and accept the criticism, change the manuscript and move on.

Anne E Thompson has written several novels and writes a regular blog each week. You can follow her blog at:

Now, I read a lot of books, of many different genres by both famous and unheard-off authors, and just about the only thing which makes me stop reading a book before the end, is bad grammar. I was not particularly well educated as a child; my English lessons consisted of telling us to ‘be creative’ and very little teaching of formal English grammar. But it matters. It matters a lot. Anyone who plans to publish their work, really needs to invest in an editor who has better knowledge of formal English than they do, and they also need to work hard to improve their own understanding of some of the ‘rules’ (even though, when writing a novel, many of the ‘rules’ can be broken in the name of building tension and creating an atmosphere). I will tell you a few of my pet hates, which is very brave of me because when writing, even when you know the rules, it is so very easy to make an error, and when writing about grammar, someone else is sure to spot them!

One common error is apostrophe s. This one is easy. If something belongs to someone, the someone has apostrophe s. So ask yourself, ‘who does it belong to?’ and add apostrophe s. “The boys shoes”—who do the shoes belong to? The boy? Then write “The boy’s shoes.” More than one boy? So the shoes belong to the boys? Then write “The boys’s shoes”. In English, we don’t like s’s because it looks ugly, so take away the second s but leave the apostrophe: “The boys’ shoes.”

One thing I learnt very recently was the use of superlatives. This is the fancy name for when you have the most of something, and the rule is, you cannot use a superlative unless there are more than two. So, two brothers playing croquet? Neither can be ‘the best’ one can be ‘better than’ the other, or the ‘better player’ –but not ‘the best’. If however, their father plays too, then he can be ‘the best’ because there are now more than two players. If you have two children, one can be the older child, but he cannot be ‘the oldest’ nor ‘the eldest’ because there are only two.

There is another rule about the use of ‘less’ and fewer’. If you can easily count the items, use fewer. If there are too many to count, use less. You will now be irritated every time you visit the supermarket, and see the Express Checkout till, which is sure to be (wrongly) labelled “Five Items or less” (however, we have seen it so many times, that ‘Five items or fewer’ simply seems wrong!)

I hope you write well this week.

Take care.

Love, Anne x

A hilarious family saga set on a farm. Being a parent has no end-date, as Susan discovers when her adult sons begin to make unexpected choices in life.
A warm-hearted, feel good novel that will make you smile.

Nobody told me—or perhaps I wasn’t listening—that size matters

Nobody told me—or perhaps I wasn’t listening—that size matters

When I was 9 years old, my favourite book was Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte. I had a hard-backed abridged edition, bought from a jumble sale at the end, when they were reducing all the books to a few pence each. That is how we acquired all our books in those days. I still have it. I used to read it late at night by torch light, while hidden under the covers, and I loved it. I don’t know, now I’m all grown up, how much I understood at the time, but something about the language, the passionate exchanges and the romance of a plain girl being loved by a strong rich man, intrigued me.

It remained my favourite book, until I was 17, and studied it for A level. Being forced to learn passages, to discuss the use of gothic imagery, and all the other awful things that English teachers encourage their pupils to do, completely killed the romance of the book, and I put it away, never to be read again. Until now. Because recently, I was thinking about how long it has been since I was completely engrossed in a book, and I remembered Jane Eyre, and my love for it. I decided to give it another read.

I bought another hardback copy, because I fancied reading it the old-fashioned way, rather than on my Kindle, and I began to read. Yet again, I was captivated by the story, mesmerised by the characters; and although I didn’t need to read it under the covers, I did find I was putting off things I ought to be doing, so I could read another chapter. It is a completely brilliant story, full of deep emotion, and passion, and despair. Really, if you haven’t read it recently, buy a copy and set aside a long weekend to forget about reality and fall in love with the dark figure of Mr. Rochester.

However, as I read, I was reading with ‘writers eyes’. This is bit of a hazard when you become an author, as every so often, something about the style of writing, or the placing of punctuation, catches your eye and whips you out of the story, and instead you analyse how the author has created a particular scene or atmosphere. (And oh, do I wish, I could create an atmosphere like Charlotte Bronte did.) Much of the punctuation, the placing of exclamation marks mid-sentence, for example, is very different to the standardised punctuation we use today. There are also lots of dashes—which leads us to the title of this article.

In an attempt to find out when punctuation was standardised, and whether Bronte’s punctuating would be acceptable today, I stumbled on some articles about dashes and their uses. Now, maybe everyone else in the world knows that there are three different types of dash, all different lengths, and all used differently. But I didn’t. Even though my manuscripts are returned by my editor with every dash changed, it has never occurred to me to wonder why. Now I know. Finding out how to type the dashes took a little longer, as I work on an old MacBook Pro (good old Apple!) and it’s not always easy to discover some hidden punctuation. Just in case you too have missed this interesting piece of English grammar, I will explain.

The first dash, used to hyphenate words, is found at the top of the keyboard, with the numbers. It is used, without spaces, to link words, like well-adjusted.

The next dash, slightly longer, is called an en dash (because it’s the length of a capital N). It is used to denote ‘until’ or ‘to’ such as in a list of dates: 1st July–3rd July, or a list of numbers: 22–32. On a MacBook, you press ‘alt’ and the hyphen key.

The last dash is one I use all the time when writing, but have always wrongly used a hyphen with a space either side. It is called an em dash (because it’s the width of a capital M). It denotes a break in thought, or instead of brackets. I used them—to make an interesting example—in the title. They don’t need spaces between the dash and the word, and on a MacBook, you press the capitals arrow, the alt key, and the hyphen key, all at the same time.

I now need to go and change all the wrongly written em dashes in my new book. But maybe I’ll read another chapter of Jane Eyre first…

Thank you for reading.

Anne x


You can follow my blog at anneethompson.com