recognition and celebration of the sixth Harry
Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Half Blood
Prince, this week’s grammar tip is a little
different. This week we will discuss four
important things we learned about writing from J.K. Rowling's
Harry Potter series.
4. Use short sentences for emphasis when
In the fifth book, the Dursleys (Harry’s aunt
and uncle) threaten to kick Harry out of the house.
However, a Howler (a shouting message) arrives for
Petunia (Harry’s aunt) from Dumbledore which says only “REMEMBER MY
LAST, PETUNIA." Petunia, recalling her earlier
discussion with Dumbledore, talks her husband, Vernon,
into letting Harry stay as she remembers why Harry
was sent to live with the Dursleys in the first
place. The message worked, even
though it was short, because the content of the
message mixed with the context of the situation was
able to affect Petunia in such a way as to make her
change her mind.
While we’re not suggesting that you howl or shout,
short sentences can be very effective. Depending on
the context, they can be powerful tools to
strengthen your writing, because short sentences
have a strong impact.
To learn about improving concision in your writing,
you might be interested in reading a series of
grammar tips by Candice Chovanec Melzow. These were
published in 2005 and are titled,
Concise Sentences: Reducing Expletive Constructions,
Concise Sentences: Reducing Unnecessary Phrases,
Concise Sentences: Reducing Circumlocutions,
Concise Sentences: Using Active Verbs.
3. Redundancy is annoying.
In the first Harry Potter book, a group of students in
detention with Hagrid comes across centaurs in the
Forbidden Forest. Whenever Hagrid asks the centaurs a
question, they seem simply to repeat “Mars is bright
tonight," which gets quite
annoying to Hagrid.
Repeating information that adds nothing new to your
writing, but just repeats information you have
already given, is known as redundancy. (In the
previous sentence, you could argue that "but just
repeats information you have already given" is
redundant.) While you as a
writer might see it as important information, the
reader might get annoyed, as Hagrid did with the
As an aside, it’s worth mentioning that there is a
fine line between repetition and redundancy. While
Hagrid sees “Mars is bright tonight” as redundancy,
we might see it as deliberate repetition (and
Hagrid’s annoyance as dramatic irony).
For more information about avoiding redundancy, you
might read the handout written by Sophia Stevens and
me on Repetition and Redundancy:
2. Never trust spell-check.
Ron buys a Self-Correcting Quill, which corrects
spelling mistakes, from his brothers Fred and George
in book six. However, after a while, the quill’s
power starts to wear off, and the quill starts to
spell even worse than Ron would normally spell on
Our own Self-Correcting Quill, our word processor’s
spell check feature, can be just as unreliable.
For example, the spell checker will think that
to, too, and two or their, there,
and they're are always correct, even in a
sentence like, "There going two Mary's
house too see if their are to
books they're." We know the sentence should
be, "They're going to Mary's house
to see if there are two books there." Editing and proofreading are most effectively done
by writers using dictionaries and grammar handbooks
and by friends like Hermione who can tutor and offer
advice on written documents.
Dictionaries are most useful for spell checking, but
readers may also be interested in previous grammar
Prefixes: Common Spelling Mistakes and
Suffix Spelling Rules: Silent –E and Suffixes
Beginning with a Vowel.
1. Know what words mean before using them.
In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,
Harry finds a spell in his used potions book, and he
doesn’t exactly know what it does. All it says is
“for enemies.” Later in the book, Harry uses the
spell (Sectumsempra), even though he doesn’t know
what it does, and harms Draco, another student.
What we can learn from this is never to use words
for which we don’t know the meaning. If you don’t
know what a word means, try looking it up in a
dictionary. Using the wrong word at the wrong time
in a piece of writing can mess up your sentence or
paragraph, taking away the meaning you had intended.
And the reader, trying to figure out what you mean,
gets slowed down in the process.
Again, a dictionary might be most useful for
understanding word meaning, but readers may also
wish to visit all of
our "when to use" grammar tips.
recently obtained a degree in English with secondary
teaching certification. He has tutored in the Academic
Center since January 2007. He is a writer, novelist, and
Fall '07 winner of the Golden Ampersand award. He would also
like long walks on the beach if he liked going to the beach…