Really, Truly Green

Things and Stuff

SPaG Tips

…Or, “Lyndsie’s Tips and Helpful Websites”.

What I would like to talk about is the types of errors that I, as a beta reader, most often encounter.  Probably the easiest to talk about are canon words and capitalisation.  Did you know that Firewhisky is spelt without the e?  Death Eater is two words, both capitalised.  For further information, see here:

Next comes dialogue punctuation.  This one can be quite tricky.  Let’s make some examples.

Incorrect: “I don’t like spinach.” said Draco.
Incorrect: “I don’t like spinach.” Said Draco.
Correct:  “I don’t like spinach,” said Draco.

Incorrect: “I won’t eat my spinach!” Shouted Draco.
Correct: “I won’t eat my spinach!” shouted Draco.

When the “he said” part is in the middle of a complete sentence, it should look like this: “If you eat your spinach,” responded Ginny, “you’ll get dessert.”

However, these are incorrect:
“No dessert for you,” Ginny proclaimed, “You haven’t eaten your spinach.”
“No dessert for you,” Ginny proclaimed, “you haven’t eaten your spinach.”

Why are these wrong?  Because the parts in quotes are two separate sentences.  I’ll put it like this:
“If you eat your spinach, you’ll get dessert.”
“No dessert for you. You haven’t eaten your spinach.”

You wouldn’t combine that last sentence when the “he said” part isn’t in the middle, so you don’t do it when it is.

The correct form is: “No dessert for you,” Ginny proclaimed. “You haven’t eaten your spinach.”

Some further resources:

Dependent and Independent Clauses

If you’re like me, you never really learned about this in school.  But it’s never too late to learn!

The basic principle is that an independent clause is an entire sentence, whereas a dependent clause isn’t – which makes a lot of sense given their names.  Many sentences are composed of both types.

Some correct examples of sentence construction:
Ginny revised for her Arithmancy exam.
As Ginny was revising for her Arithmancy exam, Draco stole her book.
Draco stole Ginny’s Arithmancy book; however, she’d finished revising.

I highly recommend visiting this site for more information:

Britcisms are another concern; though this archive does not require you to follow American or British spellings, we do require you to stick to one.  It can also be considered OOC to see Americanisms coming from the mouths of British characters (like “Mom” instead of “Mum”).  As you may have noticed, I wrote (or at least attempted) this in British English.  I’m American, so I might have slipped up, but you’ll notice I purposely used “revised” instead of “studied” and “spelt” instead of “spelled”.  I’m not sure if using “stole” is an Americanism or not, but I think I’ll go ask on the Britpicking forum.  Many word processing programs, including Microsoft Word, have the option of selecting a language.  In Word, it’s Tools > Language > Set Language, and you can pick which form of English you’d like to use.  If you have words spelled two different ways, one of them is going to be wrong.

Here below added 19/7/2009. Attempts at Britishisms abandoned.

This topic is related to the above. I frequently see semicolons misused. I have a good general rule for their use that I’m going to share: only use a semicolon if what appears on either side can stand as their own separate sentences. There, pretty easy, right? If you can but a full stop (period) instead, then you’re good to use a semicolon. Whether you do or not would depend on the contents of the sentences and on stylistic choice.

Now, I know someone’s going to look at the sentence examples above and call me out on the last one. Yes, the part after the semicolon doesn’t necessarily feel like it can stand by itself, but the semicolon is put into play because of the conjunctive adverb “however.” When you take out the conjunctive adverb, the sentence “she’d finished revising” sounds perfectly fine.



Colons should be used sparingly. If you look carefully in the first paragraph of the above section on semicolons, you’ll see where I used one successfully. Typically they should only be used to precede lists or in the way that I used it (and use it here again): to make some kind of comment, what OWL calls an “explanatory comment.”

The other places colons are used are, of course, in times (i.e. 3:30). Or if you happen to put a business letter or Bible verse in your fic, that will also be fine.



I really can’t say it any better than OWL, so check out here:


I’ve resisted doing a bit on commas thus far, because they have so much gray area. In fact, much of comma usage is subject to debate, and I typically give a lot of leeway for stylistic use. So rather than give a list of black-and-white usage, I’m instead going to highlight a couple of trouble areas that do have more fixed rules.

1. I have already gone over basic dialogue punctuation, so see above.

2. I have already gone over independent and dependent clauses, so see above.

3. Before a coordinating conjunction: and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet. Sometimes it can be tricky determining whether or not an ‘and’ is a coordinating conjunction, so keep a sharp eye out.

4. Nonessentials

This is one of the biggest areas. Basically, set off nonessential clauses, phrases, or words with commas. If you can take it out of the sentence entirely and still have something grammatical left, put a comma on either side.

Example: Draco, with a large smirk, was excused from class by Professor Snape.

5. When someone is being addressed, whether in or out of dialog. This is basically the same as the nonessentials of above; I feel it deserves special mention. This also goes for nicknames, like Ferret, Weasel, etc.

Incorrect: Billy would you like some cheese?
Correct: Billy, would you like some cheese?
Incorrect: I don’t think you like cheese Billy, so I won’t give you any.
Correct: I don’t think you like cheese, Billy, so I won’t give you any.

6. Too many commas
The best thing to do would be to read the “Comma Abuse” section at the end of the second link below. I find it extremely useful.

No, seriously, read these. Life-changing stuff, I promise.


Apostrophes can be tons of fun, and, according to Eats, Shoots, and Leaves differ slightly between American and British usage. As we’ve established I’m American, I’ll talk about what I know. When I have more time I’ll look this up to verify, but I believe the only difference between the two usages is in the circumstances in which the apostrophe after an S gets an S after it or not.

One of the most common mistakes I see in fanfiction goes something like this:

Hogwart’s had never seen the like before.

Each time I see this, I ask myself, “Hogwart’s what?” And what more perfect example can we have than a word that ends in the letter S!

The apostrophe is used to show possession. So, when this is done, typically a noun follows: the item being possessed. If that’s not so, it’s just a plain Jane case of pluralization, no apostrophe necessary. How it basically works is you add an apostrophe and then the letter S; if the word ends in S, then put the apostrophe after the S (and, if you’re part of the British English world, you may or may not put another after, but I’m not going to cover that now).

We’ve seen the incorrect example above; now let’s have some more fun and I’ll show a bunch of correct and incorrect examples.

Correct: Hogwarts had never seen the like before.
Incorrect: He had spent many years within Hogwart’s walls.
Correct: He had spent many years within Hogwarts’ walls.
Incorrect: The Malfoy’s are an old family.
Correct: The Malfoys are an old family.

Get it? It’s pretty easy, once a little logic is employed.  If you’re not sure whether a word need to have the apostrophe or not, I’ve got another trick.  For example, take the phrase “Billy’s toys.” We can thus say these are “the toys belonging to Billy,” as they are “the walls belonging to Hogwarts.” If you can’t put this in the sentence, then it’s probably not a possessive case.


For all sorts of grammar concerns, the Online Writing Lab (OWL) at Purdue University has a brilliant site.  Here’s the URL: If you can’t tell, I love it a lot. (It’s also currently being updated, so this useful page of handouts by category may not be around much longer: