Grammar
Grammar— a fan fiction writer’s worst enemy. I’m certain many of you have been rejected for improper grammar at some point; and while it often seems nitpicky, grammatical errors can have a huge affect on one’s story. It interrupts flow, confuses meaning, and diminishes believability. Below you’ll find all that you (should) need to know in order to freshen up on your grammar skills.

Sequence of Tenses:

A common mistake in writing is the change in tenses. Something like this, for example, is incorrect:

“After Harry found out the truth about his parents, he cried for hours.”

It should be written:

“After Harry had found out the truth about his parents, he cried for hours.”

It would help to use a “timeline” to determine which tense to use.

Perfect tenses should be used to describe an event that happens because something else had happened. This also implies that something happens currently because of the perfect tense. They are formed with a form of the word “have” and a past/present/future verb. They may also be formed with “would” and “could.”

Example: “I would have eaten the apple if the worm wasn’t there.”

For a more in-depth review of tenses, complete with examples and how to use them, click here.

Subject – Verb Agreement:

Another common mistake is subject-verb agreement. The following are four examples of what may happen along with the correct way of writing it:

“The team are coming up with a plan,” should be written as, “The team is coming up with a plan.”

Single entities such as “team,” “jury,” and “collection,” should be considered one object and should be followed by the singular form of the verb.

“Snape’s book with its interesting notes help me with my studies,” should be written as, “Snape’s book with its interesting notes helps me with my studies.”

It may sound wrong, but after locating the subject of the sentence “book,” a single noun, the singular form of “help” is “helps.” When in doubt, look for the subject of the sentence.

“If there is difficult questions about grammar, you should ask for a beta,” should be written as, “If there are difficult questions about grammar, you should ask for a beta.”

Inverted sentences, where the “subject” follows the verb, are especially difficult for some people. The trick is to figuring out whether the “subject” is singular or plural.

“Either Ginny or Luna are supposed to live,” should be written as, “Either Ginny or Luna is supposed to live.”

“Neither Ginny or Luna are supposed to live,” should be written as, “Neither Ginny nor Luna is supposed to live.”

With “either…or…” and “neither…nor…” the verb should agree with the subject after “or” or “nor.”

When in doubt about subject-verb, eliminate the words between the subject and verb in question:

“The castle with its many secret passages along with the pearly-white ghosts seems scary at first.”

Pronouns:

Pronouns are particularly tricky, and we all make these mistakes in everyday speech as well as in writing.

“Him and Draco are in the dorms,” should be written as, “He and Draco are in the dorms.”

As suggested in the Subject-Verb section, it helps to eliminate the words in between the subject and the verb. “He” can be used as the subject in a sentence while “him” cannot. “He is in the dorms” makes more sense than “Him is in the dorms.”

“Ginny and Hermione walked down the hall, and she tripped.”

In the above sentence, it is very hard to tell which girl “she” is referring to. Therefore, it is important to specify who fell. Note that if it were “Ginny and Harry walked down the hall, and she tripped,” “she” is easily identified as “Ginny.”

General Rules:

  • Make sure the pronoun agrees with its antecedent (the noun it refers to)
  • Pronouns after a preposition or pronouns as an indirect object should be objective, ie “Ollivander gave him the wand.”
  • “Who” replaces “he” or “she.” “Whom” replaces “him” or “her.”

Nominative
Possessive
Objective
I
My
Me
He
His
Him
She
Her
Her
We
Our
Us
They
Their
Them
Who
Whose
Whom
You
Your
You
It
Its
It

Parallelism:

Parallelism is the balance between similar words, helping readability and improving the style. Here are a few examples:

Faulty Parallelism: I like to read, to write, and jogging.
Correct: I like to read, to write, and to jog OR I like reading, writing, and jogging.

Faulty: He’s going skating, swimming, and then to run.
Correct: He’s going skating, swimming, and running.

All the verbs should be infinitives or gerunds. Do not alternate.

Adjectives:

It’s easy for a writer to accidentally insert an adjective where an adverb is needed. Here are some things to watch out for:

Incorrect: “Tom smiled happy as he watched them die.”
Correct: “Tom smiled happily as he watched them die.”

One trick to identifying adverbs and adjectives is that most adverbs end with an “ly” or “ily.” One exception to this rule is the adjective “good” and its adverb “well.” Adverbs describe how something was done, thereby modifying the verb, while adjectives describes nouns.

Use of “Because”:

Sometimes, writers use “because” in the wrong way. For example:

Incorrect: The reason Harry didn’t die is because he was protected.
Correct: The reason Harry didn’t die is that he was protected.

The word “because” cannot following a linking verb, ie: “was,” “is,” “am,” “are,” etc.

Use of “Which”:

Writers also use “which” and “who” incorrectly. For example:

Incorrect: Many of Harry’s classmates which supported him joined DA.
Correct: Many of Harry’s classmates who supported him joined DA.

Idiomatic Expressions:

An idiom is a speech form or an expression that is peculiar grammatically. It may NOT follow rules of logic. So idiomatic expressions are usually just known – you’ll usually have to use your ear on this one.

Examples of idiomatic expressions:

Abide by the rules
Abide in England

Adapt from a source
Adapt to a situation

Agree on a strategy
Agree to a proposal
Agree with someone

Charge for a purchase
Charge with a crime

Compare to something in a different category
Compare with something in the same category

Part from a place
Part with an object

Wait at a place
Wait for the Hogwarts Express
Wait on a customer

Commonly Confused Words:

***About vs. Around***

About: approximately, around
Harry went shopping for about five hours.

Around: in the vicinity or along the circumference of.
Ginny ran about the lake six times.

[Note that “about” also means “around” but it’s not true vice versa.]

***Accept vs. Except***

Accept: to willingly take.
Harry accepted the letter from Hedwig.

Except: to exclude, or single out.
All of the Hogwarts teachers wash their hair except Snape.

***Affect vs. Effect***

Affect: a verb meaning to influence
I don’t think that’s going to have much affect on his attitude..

Effect: a noun meaning result
The effect of the bludger colliding with his head was serious.

***Aggravate vs. Irritate***

Aggravate: to make worse
Moaning Myrtle aggravates Harry’s headaches.

Irritate: to exasperate
Moaning Myrtle irritates Harry.

***All right vs. Alright***

There’s actually no such word as “alright.”

***Allusion vs. Illusion***

Allusion: an indirect reference to something.
There are many wonderful classical allusions in this story.

Illusion: a false impression
Despite Umbridge’s smiles, no one fell for the illusion.

***Among vs. Between***

Among: refers to several
There was conversation among the House members.

Between: refers to two
The Head of Houses conversed quietly between themselves.

***Anxious vs. Eager***

Anxious: worried
I was anxious about this test, but now I don’t feel too badly.

Eager: desirous; longing for
I was eager to go on the shopping spree, but Ron didn’t want to go.

***Beside vs. Besides***

Beside: next to
Harry sat beside Hermione at supper.

Besides: in addition to
Besides a wand, a wizard or witch must bring a cauldron.

***But***

Do not use “but” after “doubt” or “help”:

Incorrect: Harry could not help but follow Voldemort.
Correct: Harry could not help following Voldemort.

Incorrect: I had no doubt but that she would finish her essay.
Correct: I had no doubt that she would finish her essay.

***Compare To vs. Compare With***

Compare To: to point out similarities between different things
Compare writing a story TO writing a review.

Compare with: to point out differences between similar things
Compare Book One WITH Book Two.

***Different Than***

The phrase “different than” does not exist. Things are different FROM each other, not different THAN.

***Disinterested vs. Uninterested***

Disinterested: unbiased; neutral
Professor McGonagall is disinterested, unlike Snape, when giving and taking House points.

Uninterested: not interested
Freddy and George are uninterested in learning the rules.

***Farther vs. Further***

Farther: physical distance
The river is farther down the road.

Further: figurative distances or time
“Look further into the future,” says Professor Trelawney.

[Note: When in doubt or in borderline cases, use “further.”]

***Fewer vs. Less***

Fewer: refers to number
Ron had fewer chances to mess up than Harry.

Less: refers to quantity
Ron won less coins than Harry.

***Fun***

Try not to use “fun” as an adjective.

Incorrect: Quidditch is a fun sport.
Correct: Quidditch is fun.

***Imply vs. Infer***

Imply: to suggest
The writer implies that Ron and Hermione will go out.

Infer: to derive a conclusion from what someone else says
The readers infer that Ron and Hermione will go out.

***In vs. Into***

In – within
Harry flew the broom in the dorm.

Into – movement from outside to inside
Harry flew the broom into the dorm, breaking the window as he did so.

***Is when and is where***

Do not use “is when” or “is where” when defining something.

Incorrect: The Great Hall is where the students eat.
Correct: Students eat in the Great Hall. OR The Great Hall is the place where students eat.

*** Its vs. It's ***

Its – possessive
Give the hippogriff back to its owner.

It's – a conjunction of “it is”
Since it’s raining, we’ll have to stay inside.

***Kind of and sort of***

Do not use “kind of” or “sort of.” Instead use “somewhat” or “something like.”

Incorrect: The girl looks kind of Luna.
Correct: The girl looks somewhat like Luna.

**Note: You can use “kind of” or “sort of” when talking about a ‘type’ of something:
What kind of animal is that?

***Lay vs. Lie***

Lay – to put or to place
Lay your wands on your table, please.

Lie – to recline
I have to lie down; I’m not feeling very well.

***Lend vs. Loan***

Lend – a verb
I can lend you two Sickles.

Loan – a noun
I need a loan to buy this broomstick.

***Raise vs. Rise***

Raise – to push or force up
Hermione raised her hand quickly.

Rise – to go up or get up
After Draco fell, he quickly rose and looked around.

*** That vs. Which ***

That – an identification
That car is flying!
That is the weirdest hat I’ve ever seen.

Which – a description
Which color is better?
Which of the players did she choose?

*** Then vs. Than ***

Then – time or consequence
We'll go to Potions then Transfiguration.

Than - to compare and contrast things
Ron is much taller than Hermione.

***The Fact That***

“The fact that” is almost always unnecessary.

Incorrect: Despite the fact Voldemort killed his parents Harry still persevered.
Correct: Although Voldemort killed his parents, Harry still persevered.

Incorrect: Due to the fact that it was raining very hard, the Quidditch match was canceled.
Correct: Because it was raining very hard, the Quidditch match was canceled.

Incorrect: The fact that they separated didn’t stop them from becoming good friends.
Correct: Their separation didn’t stop them from becoming good friends.

*** There, Their, vs. They're ***

There –a pronoun
Let’s go to Ollivanders’. I heard he sells good wands there.

Their – possessive
That’s their book, not mine!

They're – a contraction of “they are”
They're staying at the Leaky Cauldron.

***Tortuous vs. Torturous***

Tortuous – winding; twisted
That particular road is rather tortuous; the unexpected turns have killed many.

Torturous – excruciatingly painful
Filch’s punishments are usually very torturous.

*** Two, Too, and To ***

Two – number
I saw two unicorns in the forest.
What? No, I only have two days left.

Too – used to imply agreement (also means “as well”)
I would like to drown Umbridge in Snape's cauldron too!
Oh, me too! I love that song!

To – direction
Can we go to Hogsmeade?
It was a lovely trip to Beauxbatons.

***Very, rather, quite, little, pretty***

When used often, these dull the impact of your words. Be aware that they can slightly alter your intended meaning.

*** Whose vs. Who's ***

Whose – possessive form of “who”
Whose robes are these?

Who’s – conjunction of “who is” or “who has”
Who’s in the restroom now?

*** Your and You're ***

Your – possessive
You failed your Potions homework again, Harry.
Are these your socks?

You're – a contraction of “You are”
You’re in big trouble, Ron!
You’re the biggest prat I’ve ever met.

*** Bare and Bear ***

Bare – uncovered and exposed
The black, shaggy dog bared its teeth and let out a low growl before advancing on Harry.

Bear – an animal (when used as a noun) or to support and tolerate (when used as a verb)
Harry wondered how long he could bear the burden of being the only person who could defeat Voldemort.

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