How to spruce up your grammar in 2 minutes

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A 2- Minute Grammar Lesson from The Writers College How to improve your grammar and writing at the Writers College

What four-letter word regularly wreaks havoc in your writing?

Only.

Only highlights the word or phrase immediately to its right. If it slips in where it’s not wanted, you end up giving your sentence an unintended meaning.

Consider the possibilities, using this sentence:

At Christmas, Nigel sometimes helps himself to four scorched almonds from the box on the mantlepiece.
(1) Only at Christmas, Nigel sometimes helps himself to four scorched almonds from the box on the mantlepiece.
(He’s more restrained at other times of the year.)
(2) At Christmas, only Nigel sometimes helps himself to four scorched almonds from the box on the mantlepiece.
(Nobody else does.)
(3) At Christmas, Nigel only sometimes helps himself to four scorched almonds from the box on the mantlepiece.
(He’s not a regular offender.)
(4) At Christmas, Nigel sometimes helps himself to only four scorched almonds from the box on the mantlepiece.
(He doesn’t go mad and eat the whole lot.)
(5) At Christmas, Nigel sometimes helps himself to four scorched almonds only from the box on the mantlepiece.
(He doesn’t help himself to any from the small dish on the coffee table.)

Too often, writers pop only into their sentence too soon, creating an unintended meaning. Other words to be careful with are also, even, almost, just, and merely.

Test your understanding by matching each sentence with its meaning.

The sentences:

1. After Agnes had enrolled in the life drawing class, she realised that only she would be viewing a few naked bodies.
2. After Agnes had enrolled in the life drawing class, only she realised that she would be viewing a few naked bodies.
3. Only after Agnes had enrolled in the life drawing class, she realised that she would be viewing a few naked bodies.
4. After Agnes had enrolled in the life drawing class, she realised that she would be only viewing a few naked bodies.
5. After Agnes had enrolled in the life drawing class, she realised that she would be viewing only a few naked bodies.

Now match them to the correct meaning, and check your answers below:

A. What a disappointment! She thought she might be getting to photograph them as well.
B. What a lucky girl! The other students weren’t granted such a privilege.
C. It hadn’t dawned on her before she signed up for the class.
D. It wasn’t as though there would be dozens of naked bodies.
E. It hadn’t occurred to any of the other students.

Answers:
1. B
2. E
3. C
4. A
5. D

If you want to learn more ways of how to spruce up your writing, check in with Grammar for Writers Course at The Writers College.

 

Photo Credits:

Flickr.com_Graham Holliday

Flickr.com_Chris Blakeley

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The Writers' College

The Writers' College

The Writers’ College (www.sawriterscollege.co.za, www.ukwriterscollege.co.uk, www.nzwriterscollege.co.nz) provides over 30 specialised online writing courses tutored by award-winning writers to student writers from around the globe. We offer writing courses in Creative Writing, Journalism, Copywriting, Social Media Writing, Web Writing, Business Writing, Press Release and Media Writing).

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