Is It All Right to Use “Alright”? Common Grammar Questions and One Very Big Editing Hiccup Courtesy of Your Brain

December 28, 2015

by Cristina Rayne

It’s inevitable that at least one pesky typo or grammar flub will make it into your published book. The laws of the universe demand it (probably).

This truth is something I struggle to accept every time I publish a new book. The fact of the matter is that your brain can be your own worst enemy during the editing process simply because of how it naturally processes information, but more on that in a moment. While everyone’s process is different, I tend to edit as I write, and typos and misspellings notwithstanding, it’s those grammar questions that can really put the brakes on my word count for the day as it takes me out of the zone. It can be a real pain to have to stop and look something up because I can’t remember if I should use “affect” or “effect” or if a certain number should be written in word form or is large enough to be written out as numerals.

To combat the disruption, I keep a printout/checklist of all the words/grammar questions that still give me pause every once in a while that explains their proper usage that I can consult easily and quickly. I then go down this checklist using Microsoft Word’s “Find” function after I’ve completed the book as a final editing pass before I send off the first draft to my editor. I will list some of the items on my checklist here. I also recently polled some of my readers about grammar mistakes they commonly come across, and will list the top few responses as well.

  • So, is it all right to use “Alright”?
    For the moment, all the standard grammar guides say “no,” but as language is always in flux and this particular usage has been popping up more and more in professional publications, this could change in the near future.
  • A while or Awhile
    “A while” is a noun phrase or the object of a preposition signifying “a short period of time.”

“My appointment may take a while.” or “Come stay for a while.”

“Awhile” is an adverb meaning “for a while.”

“Come stay awhile.”

You can test it by subbing in “for a while” or another adverb such as “quietly.”

  • Like vs As if/As though
    This one is simply using “like” when you mean “as if/as though.” Although not grammatically correct, I tend to use the incorrect “like” in dialog as it’s used often in everyday speech. I don’t know anyone who speaks grammatically correct 100% of the time, and doing so would make the dialog come across extremely wooden. However, this one seemed to be a major pet peeve of a lot of readers, so I make sure to use “as if/as though” outside of dialog.
  • Which/That

This one is pretty easy to keep straight. If removing the words that follow changes the meaning of the sentence, then use “that.” Using “which” is just adding additional information and is usually preceded by or surrounded by commas.

“People that cut in line are annoying.”
“My cat caterwauled all night, which kept me awake.”

  • Lay/Lie/Lay

This one is probably the most common. In the present tense, “lay” requires a direct object and “lie” does not.

“You lay down the book on the table”
“You lie down on the bed.”

However, the part that seems to trip everyone up is that “lay” is also the past tense of “lie.” The past tense of “lay” is “laid.”

“Yesterday, you lay down on the bed.”
“Yesterday, you laid the book down on the table.”

  • Affect/Effect
    “Affect” is used as a verb and means “to influence.” “Effect” is used as a noun and is “a result.” Mostly.

“The cold affects me more than I’d like.”
“The medicine had no effect on my headache.”

To make things “fun,” on rare occasions, their roles can be reversed. “Affect” can be used as a noun when talking about psychology.

“He showed a sad affect.”

“Effect” can be used as a verb in a phrase like “to effect change.”

Some other “honorable” mentions that the readers listed that may not be as obvious that you may want to keep in mind are: shudder/shutter, farther/further, who/whom, passed/past, fewer/less, and irony/coincidence.

As for the typos/missing words that you, your beta readers, and/or your editor all missed after dozens of read-throughs, one of the reasons is that your brain has a natural tendency to fill in the blanks when you’re reading. If a word is missing such as “the,” “of,” or “and,” you will more often than not read it as if it’s there. As for misspellings, especially of simple words, as long as the first and last letters of the intended word are spelled correctly, then you will see/read the word as if it’s correct. Sounds weird, right? Here’s an example paragraph that at first glance looks like a bunch of letters just strung together at random that demonstrates this annoying phenomenon. If you are reading this blog post on a screen larger than your phone, try to read it at your normal pace:

“I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid. Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Amzanig huh? Yaeh and I awlyas thought slpeling was ipmorantt!”

During my final edit, I usually upload my book to my Kindle and use the text-to-speech feature in order to try to catch these types of errors. It works well for the most part, but somehow, there will still always be at least one error that makes it through to publication—and I will still be super irritated with myself that I missed it!

In parting, here’s a good article that addresses the rules of writing all types of numbers in fiction:

http://theeditorsblog.net/2013/01/13/numbers-in-fiction/

Cristina Rayne

About the Author

Cristina Rayne

Cristina Rayne is a New York Times & USA Today Bestselling Author who lives in West Texas with her crazy cat and about a dozen bookcases full of fantasy worlds and steamy romances. She also has a degree in Computer Science which totally qualifies her to write romances. As Fantasy is her first love, she feels if she can inject a little love into the fantastical, along with a few steamy scenes, then all the better.

Follow Cristina Rayne:

Leave a Comment: