Fun with English

Image from ShutterStock.

Image from ShutterStock.


Language can seem funny sometimes.


Did you know that left can be right?

Left is right when right is dead wrong.

On what side of your body is your heart?

Left is right. Right is incorrect.


Similarly, wrong can be right.

Wrong is sometimes correct.

What’s a synonym for injustice?

Wrong is a correct answer. Right is dead wrong.


Even the word literal can’t always be taken literally.

Sometimes, we use literally to mean figuratively.

I’m hungry enough to eat an elephant.

Literally! (Just not in the literal sense…)


I is speaking with poor grammar, right?

You can’t say, “I is.” It has to be, “I am.”

But check this out: I is a pronoun.

Find the mistake in that.


Everything is something.

Nothing is something.

If A=C and B=C, then A=B, right?

So everything is nothing! (Not quite.)


I can be here and there at the same time.

I think of myself as being here.

You think of me as being there.

So I am both here and there; it’s all relative.


If you don’t have anything, you have naught.

The number zero is called the nought.

The opposite of having something, of course, is not.

It’s enough to tie your brain in a knot.


Write happy, be happy. 🙂

Chris McMullen

Copyright © 2015

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

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Prepositions: To End With

What’s this silly rule for?

We can break it if we want to.

It’s something you can do without.

Especially, when it sounds odd to get around.


Would you ask, “Up is what?” instead of “What’s up?”

Or, “Over, come,” rather than, “Come over”?

Or, “I below am,” over, “I am below?”

Or, “Off get!” versus, “Get off!”


Well, we could instead completely change the sentence over…

But why? What’s the original really suffering from?

Will it really set your work above?

Enough; I’m finally through.

Developing Good (and Avoiding Bad) Writing Habits

Writing Habits Pic

Authors love to write, write, and write some more. They enjoy sitting down at the computer, typing creatively.

Sitting down and reading grammar books usually isn’t one of their passions. Neither is reading their work carefully to edit it.

Grammar and editing are very important tasks. Authors do them as they must, but it usually isn’t something they love to do.

This makes it all the more important to strive to develop good writing habits. The author who succeeds at this has fewer issues to find and correct when editing.

Just reading about grammar may not be effective; especially, when the reader isn’t passionate about learning it.

Every time the author sits down and writes, the author is reinforcing any bad writing habits that the author may have. And authors tend to write quite frequently.

Practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect; practice makes permanent.

In order to reduce bad writing habits and develop good ones, writers must practice good writing habits.

It’s the same reason that golfers who naturally slice will continue to slice forever if they don’t learn how to avoid it. Every time the golfer goes to the driving range and practices the slice, the bad swing habits become more ingrained. If the golfer instead receives effective instruction and practices hitting the ball straight, then the golfer is developing good habits to replace the bad habits.

So writers just need a little instruction and a ‘writing range’ on which to practice.

Every day, learn one new thing about writing (or one thing long forgotten) from a reliable resource. It could be a rule of grammar or punctuation (like when quotes should come before or after other punctuation marks), the distinction between similar words (like ‘affect’ and ‘effect’), or writing advice (like cutting down on useless words). There are many helpful writing resources, from bloggers to textbooks, so there is no excuse for not finding one point of advice every day.

But that’s not enough. Otherwise, the idea may quickly be forgotten.

Now sit down at the computer and type several sentences practicing the correct technique. Practicing what is correct will help turn a bad writing habit into a good writing habit.

Don’t just sit down like a mindless drone cranking out sentences.

Get into it. Write creatively, as if writing a short story or a poem. This will help generate the interest needed to better retain the lesson.

Another way to develop better writing habits is to read books that are well-written, especially well-written classics. This helps the mind become better accustomed to good writing.

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Grammar Style (Short ‘n’ Fun)

End a sentence with a preposition if you want to.

Commas, use them, frequently, if you like.

Don’t be afraid to use a semicolon; write without fear.

Occasionally, use an -ly adverb when carefully constructing sentences, even though you’re generally supposed to avoid using them unnecessarily.

Is it a hospital or an hospital? a R.S.V.P. or an R.S.V.P.? a @ sign or an @ sign?

I left him lying next to her pronoun because it was you that expected us to confuse them this way.

The object of this sentence is the subject, but that’s okay because the verb “to be” doesn’t take an object.

It is I, not me. Now use me, not I.

Tom looked at Bob. He winked. Tom wasn’t sure if Tom or Bob was supposed to wink. They went to the screenwriter for clarification.

Fragments. Useful. Sometimes.

This sentence was becoming very interesting until (a parenthetical remark appeared out of nowhere).

Hy-phen-ate – add a dash.

Punctuate (your) sentences “most ‘properly’”: Otherwise, your readership will complain; or worse – they might…

Mind your %$&# language!



mIxInG iT uP: wHaT’s WrOnG wItH tHaT?

Don’t reck’n ’twas s’posed t’nclude s’many ’postrophes ‘n’ c’ntr’ct’ns.

Matter order not does.

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers (Volume 2 coming in mid-April)


Go go go go, slow, v-e-r-y s-l-o-w, slow, fastfastfast; break away, slow, pause, stop. Go go go (aside) go go go – tangent – go go go stop.

State. Exclaim! SHOUT! whisper. Question? “Quote, ‘Quote within unquote,’ unquote,” end.


Useless Words

Although it may not seem like it at first, this article actually does have a point. In the beginning, that point is made indirectly, yet by example, whereas toward the end, the point will become directly clear. In a way, it is a sort of mystery, dropping a few subtle clues, which will (hopefully) seem to be obvious when revealed later.

Yes indeed, the matter is plain to see, right before your eyes, under your nose, just waiting for you to grab it (so just reach out and take it, please). If you haven’t guessed it yet – the point of this article, that is – keep trying. There will certainly be many more opportunities to do so. Absolutely, positively!

Maybe you’re wondering if you’ve already figured it out. Well, if you’re presently thinking that the entire article is wastefully useless, that’s not it. (This entire article might actually, in fact, be useless, but that’s not the point that this article is trying to make.) But the title of the article is a hint, and it doesn’t just relate to this article, but to the process of writing in general.

Spoiler alert: Ready or not, here comes the answer. The point is that most writers have a natural tendency to include many useless words in their writing (without even knowing it). Realizing which types of words may be useless can impact our writing and our revising.

So which words are useless? There are many kinds of useless words and phrases.

One type is a tautology. For example, “wastefully useless” is redundant. There are also other sorts of redundancies in meaning. The first two sentences are repetitive with “at first” and “in the beginning,” for instance.

Another sort of word that can be wasteful is an adverb. Stephen King said, “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs.” One school of thought about writing suggests to avoid using adverbs that end with -ly (as opposed to a few that don’t, like “well”). For example, consider “directly clear” in the first paragraph. Was it really helpful to include the word “directly”? The end of the second paragraph, “absolutely, positively,” combines these two ideas together with redundant adverbs.

Sometimes, adverbs do add meaning, but when they do, it is often passively rather than actively. For instance, “she returned to her bedroom sadly” tells that she was sad, whereas “she wiped the tears from her eyes on her way to the bedroom” shows that she was sad.

Various forms of the verb “to be” (is, are, was, were, been, etc.) also tend to tell rather than show, and can also be useless words. I could easily remove “to be” from “seem to be obvious” in the first paragraph. Replacement of the verb “to be” may mean removing a couple of short words in favor of a few longer words. For example, compare “it is very cold today” with “although he wore a thick jacket, a scarf, a ski hat, and mittens, he was still shivering.”

Some words and phrases are essentially filler – that is, the same information can often be conveyed without using them. (It’s true! See!) Check out the very first word of this article: although. Others used in this article include “that,” “whereas,” “in fact,” “in general,” and “as opposed to.”

Comments in parentheses and footnotes can distract (like this one, which interrupts the flow of the sentence) the reader. This is necessary to insert a note that may be helpful to many readers, but sometimes the note may not really be needed or there may be an alternative to interrupting the text.

I’m not saying to eliminate every use of “is” and “was,” remove all adverbs that end with -ly, never write a passive sentence, or completely avoid filler words and comments. Each of these can be used effectively in moderation, and some may help to develop your sense of style. However, it may be fun to look at some of your writing and see if you tend to use any useless words. If you see that you do, you might consider what alternatives you may have had. In the end, you might be happy with it the way it is, but at least you’ll know that those words are there.

Let me acknowledge Pat Fitzhugh’s article, called “Three Simple Writing Tips,” which helped to inspire my article. I recommend checking out:

Chris McMullen, self-published author of Formatting Pages for Publishing on Amazon with CreateSpace

Those Silly Short Lines

A hyphen or a dash. Short dash, long dash. Those silly short lines.

We all know that the hyphen (-) is used to hy-phen-ate, and we all know that the short line is used to do this, so it should be easy to remember that the short line is a hyphen and the long line is a dash. Yet we sometimes forget. (It really doesn’t help that there are two types of dashes, each different from a hyphen.)

The keyboard just has a hyphen. No dash. You can easily make a dash in Microsoft Word. With Word’s AutoFormat as you type feature turned on, type two hyphens consecutively mid-sentence, like this – and they turn into a dash.

The better way to make the dash is to hold down the Alt button while typing 0150. Why does it matter? If you publish an e-book that you typed in Word, it might make a difference.

The downloadable Kindle previewer (said to be more reliable than the online previewer) with Device set to e-Ink device and Kindle Selected, for example, might show a box in place of a dash made from Word’s AutoFormat feature. Use the Alt method to produce the symbol without AutoFormat. (That’s for those of us who cling to the convenience of Word. The safer way is to learn how to properly modify the HTML.)

The en dash (–) is just one of two common dashes. The other is the em dash (—). Hold down Alt and type 0151 to make the em dash. It’s said to be good form to choose one dash or the other and be consistent.

Well, be as consistent as English allows. Use the en dash for a sequence, as in 42–81 (this time without the space). Give credit to the source of a quote with the em dash, as in the following (this time with the space).

Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self. — Cyril Connolly

Here, the em dash indicates a quote (in lieu of quotation marks) and also indicates the author to whom the quote is attributed. (If you want to use a horizontal bar instead of the em dash, you know too much for your own good. Or, at least, for my own good.)

We know that the letter ‘n’ is shorter than the letter ‘m,’ so this should help to remind us that the en dash is shorter than the em dash. We still sometimes forget.

The en dash is used with spaces – like so. The em dash is used without spaces—like this.

When reading e-books, we sometimes see the hyphen used in place of the dash. Was it a mistake? Or was the author playing it safe, worried that an e-reader might not recognize the dash? Or did the author see a box in place of the dash when carefully checking the previewer?

En–ie em—ie miney moe,

Pick a dash by its toe!

If it hyphen-ates,

Let it go!

This blog was brought to you by the following punctuation marks:




Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers (and Formatting Pages for Publishing on Amazon with CreateSpace – coming soon)