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Grammar Slayer Tips

Grammar Tips for Writers – Slay Your Fears With The CopySlayer # 1

Once upon a time, in the land of… our very own Earth, creative writers of every age and ability were striking out to complete their magnum opuses, but every time they shared their meagre offerings with local groups, or family and friends, they got shot down with feathered arrows.


Or stabbed in the back.


And dragged shamefully through the muck.

Schluck, donk, shluck.

The highway to publication, whether traditional or indie, is fraught with danger and hardship – it’s not for the faint-hearted.

I too once travelled this road. At one time it could have been named the road less travelled, for it was painfully too few writers who gained any success in writing. Now this muddy highway is a quagmire created from the passage of tens of thousands of feet, and it can easily swallow the boots of the unsuspecting passerby, or buckle the carriage wheels of the wealthier traveller.

I have shared my work, taken courses, and written millions of words both, by pen and by keyboard, so I know the trials and tribulations of what it is to write even when no-one believes in you, even when you don’t believe in yourself, to keep going because there is a magical power in the written word and a divine compulsion to express your inner light with the only means that you possess.

Grammar does not come easily to a lot of aspiring writers and when you go to groups, and talk to other writers, they will tell you unerringly that you have to have good grammar to be published. That the idea that your editor will do it for you is a myth. Well, I’m going to tell you that that is the myth.

Wait, what?

Yup. You read that correctly. An editor’s job is to check for grammatical errors and suggest changes to make the narrative flow easier to read. Now, of course, there is a limit to what an editor will be prepared to do to a manuscript, so if it’s badly written they won’t touch it. An editor will make light suggestions and changes to your manuscript. If your MS needs an entire rewrite, then it’s not ready for an editor.

If you want to read more about what an Editor actually does, read my blog post: What Kind of Editor do I Need? The purpose of this post is to give you four grammar tips that you can learn and implement now. This is the first post in this series, designed to teach you grammar rules slowly over time so that they are easier to remember and retain.

So here they are in no particular order:

Four Grammar Tips to help you improve your writing style.

Grammar Slayer Tip #1 — Fewer or Less

This is a common error that I see all the time in manuscripts I edit or proofread. There’s a simple way to remember which you should use:

If the item you are describing is Countable, use Fewer, and if the item you are describing is Measurable, use Less.

Here’s a handy Mnemonic:

To Count is too Few — And Less is the Measure of it.

– Jessica, The CopySlayer

What does that actually mean? By countable we mean discrete whole numbers, 1,2,3 etc, and by measurable we mean any part or fraction — a less specific figure that is somewhat undefined. Here are some examples to show you the difference in practice:

The paladin had fewer than three days’ worth of rations left.

He tried channelling less magic into the spell, but the apple exploded just like all the others.

In the first example, the paladin has a fixed number of rations left, hence we use fewer, as it’s a countable number. In the second example, magic is ambiguous. We don’t know how much he used before to compare to now. Also, the scale of how magic is used cannot be counted in whole numericals, but is measured by a continuous increase or decrease in magnitude.

Most people have no trouble using less correctly. They just use less when they should use fewer. So if you’re self-editing your work, look for all the instances you’ve used less and check whether what you’re describing is Measurable or if it’s actually Countable.

Grammar Slayer Tip #2 — Accessary or Accessory

One is a pretty bauble one might wear to complete an outfit, the other is to be complicit in a crime. But which one is which?

This is another common error I see in manuscripts I edit or proofread.

Accessary is a person who aides and abets in a crime.

Accessory is an item that, if used with a skilful aesthetic eye, can complete the look of an outfit.

The only difference between the two words is the use of a or o, so I’ve come up with these helpful mnemonics:

Accessary — Assassins Aide;

Accessory — Ornamental finery.

– Jessica, The CopySlayer

So if your ninja assassin takes on an unwilling partner through blackmail, the partner becomes an accessary to all the misdeeds that follow.

Whereas if your court dandy has a neckerchief with a Fleur-de-Lys pattern, he is wearing a rather gaudy accessory.

Grammar Slayer Tip #3 — Lay or Lie

This one is hella confusing because they are so similar and the variations in tense can be misleading as well. To best explain this one, I’ve created a table for you.

The nuts and bolts of it, though, is that the verb to lie has the meaning to recline — you lie back or lie down. The verb to lay means to put down — you lay the book on the table or you lay the dead character in a grave.

This seems simple enough but the biggest problem is with tenses, particularly past and past participle usage.

Past Tense: The verb to lie becomes lay in the past tense – so he lay down or lay back on the bed. The verb to lay becomes laid – he laid the book on the table or he laid the dead character in a grave.

Past Participle: The verb to lie becomes (had) Lain – he had lain on the bed ever since his pet dragon died. The verb to lay becomes (had) Laid – he had laid the book on the table so that he could read it later.

When considering whether the occurrence of Lay or Lie is correct, first ask yourself:

Is the character themself reclining, or are they putting something down?

… to figure out which verb you are dealing with. Then work out which tense is being used so you can decide which form the verb should take.

Grammar Slayer Tip #4 — Lead or Led

This is another really common error I see all the time. People forget that led exists and write lead for everything.

The word lead can be either a verb or a noun. In its verb form, to lead means to cause others to follow by means of authority (abstract leash) or by rope (physical leash). In its noun form, it is an element in the periodic table or the soft grey graphite in a pencil.

The problem arises for people when using the past tense.

Present: ‘The elf leads us to our doom!’ bellowed the dwarf.
Past: The elf led the way deeper into the murky dark of the forest of doom.


So there you have it, four slayable grammar rules that you can master today to improve your grammar know-how and wow your fellow sapients. If you want to learn more about how to improve your writing style, story writing and plot, or character creation, then take a look at the following posts:

That’s all for today. Don’t let the Grammar get you down. Write on \m/. You can always leave the grammar to the pros and focus on story writing and craft.

If you want to connect with me about your writing journey, connect with me on Twitter or LinkedIn, and if you need some form of support, you can check out my services for writers on the following pages: Copywriting, Editing & Ghostwriting.