Do you know what drives me crazy? People who write things like "your stupid" when posting comments on internet forums, youtube, digg, and anywhere else that has a comment box. As a lover of the English language, it pains me to see minor atrocities of this sort on a daily basis. This instructable is not meant as a panacea for the internet's grammatical difficulties, and as such it is by no means comprehensive, but every little bit helps.
If I am legitimately wrong on something, let me know and I will make every effort to correct my mistake. In such instances, I would appreciate it if you would quote me chapter and verse of The Bedford Handbook (6th Edition), or at least give me the error code; this is not necessary, but it would lay my mind to rest.
Again, this is by no means comprehensive, so cut me some slack.
Step 1: The "Shift" Key Is Your Friend
One of the things that bugs me is when I see sentences that do not start with a capital letter. Seriously, there is no good reason not to start your sentences with capital letters, and people won't immediately lose a little bit of respect for whatever it is you have to say if you use capital letters properly. If for some reason both of the shift keys on your keyboard are broken, the best thing you can do is to abandon the keyboard immediately; it is no good to you anymore. As a stopgap, you can use the "Caps Lock" key, but please remember to disable caps lock after the first letter, writing in "ALL CAPITALS" is just as bad as never using capital letters at all.
Another important thing to remember is that proper names and the first-person pronoun are capitalized; I do not care what Paris Hilton says, proper grammar is important.
Step 2: Don't Misuse the Apostrophe
Aside from misuse of capital letters, or more often the lack of any capital letters at all, the other common mistake that I see all over the internet is the abuse of the apostrophe. In English, the apostrophe is used to indicate the omission of letters and to indicate the possessiveness of many pronouns and all nouns. So, let's break that down:
Apostrophes are used in contractions such as don't, you're, it's, won't, can't, and many others. If you're going to use an apostrophe in this manner, it's going to be replacing one or more letters. If I were to rewrite that last sentence without using any contractions, it would look like this: "If you are going to use an apostrophe in this manner, it is going to be replacing one or more letters." In general, avoid using contractions and abbreviations, as it makes your writing look better and eliminates a common source of errors. To put it another way, don't use contractions.
Apostrophes are also used to indicate possessiveness. If you want to indicate that something belongs to someone, use an apostrophe followed by an "s" at the end of the noun or pronoun (note: not all pronouns use 's to indicate possessiveness). If you simply put an "s" without an apostrophe in hopes that you will indicate possessiveness, you will fail in most cases. An "s" alone at the end of a noun that does not normally end with an "s" indicates plurality. The fragment "my fathers house" has a much different meaning than "my father's house." In cases where a noun already ends in an "s," there are two schools of thought as to how to indicate possessiveness. The first method, which is favored when referring to the possessiveness of proper names is to tack on the "'s" as usual. An example of this can be seen when you want to refer to H. G. Wells's short story "The Country of the Blind." The second method is to just put an apostrophe on the end of the noun. This method can be seen when you want to refer to the blind citizens' treatment of Nunez in "The Country of the Blind."
A few things to note:
--In British English, the apostrophe or "single quote" is used to indicate speech in writing rather than the "double quote" used in American English.
--If you happen to be quoting something that has a quotation in it, the single quote is used to indicate the quotation within your quotation.
--"It's" means "it is," "its" is the non-gendered third-person possessive pronoun.
Step 3: Speel Al Yuor Werds Correctley
This one is just common sense. I can not speak for everyone, but I lose a lot of respect for a person when they neglect to check their spelling, especially when many websites have a button to check your spelling. Firefox also has a built-in spell-checker that, when enabled, helpfully puts a red line below any misspelled words and presents you with a list of suggestions when you right-click the offending word.
Be aware that spell-check will not save you from homophones; your words may all be spelled correctly, but that does not mean that they are the correct words. Homophones are words that sound the same, but have different meanings and often different spellings. If the Black Knight had attacked Aurthur at night, he might have fared better.
Step 4: Punctuation Primer
This is the least comprehensive step of this instructable, so be forewarned. As a matter of fact I mess up my commas all the time as is evidenced by all the times that my professors have to write "32b" and "33e" on my papers. Anyway, here goes:
Commas should be used to separate an introductory clause or phrase from the rest of a sentence. For example, examine the use of commas in this sentence. Commas should be used to separate every item in a series, even the last item is preceded by "and" or "or." I don't care if you are the President, a senator, a representative, or a mayor this still applies to you. Do not use commas the way that Charles Dickens liked to use them, which is to indicate a pause. A comma indicates a pause in a sentence, but you can not just throw them in wherever you want.
End your sentences with a period, question mark, or exclamation point. When I say "a," I mean one. The exclamation mark indicates that the preceding sentence is an exclamation, do not use it anywhere else, and please do not use more than one. The use of multiple exclamation marks is a clear sign that someone is not entirely sane. Similarly, the question mark is to be used only when you are asking a question. Be careful using the dash (--) and the ellipses mark (...); these are often misused.
I'm not going to try to go any further into punctuation, it is not my strongest point and there are a lot of rules. If you are really that interested, go out and read the punctuation section of The Bedford Handbook. I am not qualified to recommend a similar handbook for those not native to the colonies.
Step 5: Go Out and Look Smarter!
With this knowledge you can now raise your perceived IQ by several points when making comments on the internet.
If you want to learn more, there are several sources that you can go to. My preferred source is The Bedford Handbook, which is currently in its 6th edition, but this is not the only place to turn. If you are currently enrolled at any institute of education, ask one of your English or writing professors about instruction in grammar.
If you have any suggestions for sections that I should add, let me know and I will see what I can do.
Step 6: New Item: They're There.
I knew when I started this that I would forget something, who knew that it would be one of the things that bugs me most? For this one, I will try as much as possible to show rather than tell.
As I hope was made clear in the third step, the contraction "they're" means "they are." Their is the third-person plural possessive. I love the members of the Brass Goggles steampunk forum, their comments on my projects are very motivating. Unlike the case of "your" and "you're," there are three similar-sounding words in this case: "there," "their," and "they're." I think that last sentence covered the final one of those nicely.
It is too bad that people confuse "to" and "too." I went to the Eiffel Tower to conduct an experiment, but my arch-nemesis was there too, and I did not want to reveal any more of my secrets to him.
You're going to the Arcade Fire concert too? Your musical tastes are so similar to mine.
Which costume did you end up wearing to the Halloween party? Were you dressed as a witch?
Where do you want to go to dinner? I would like to go to Dahlak, but my friends were thinking of going to Abraccio; maybe we could meet them there.
What is the weather like? Before going to Clark Park, I want to know whether or not it is going to rain.
Edit: Although "then" and "than" are not actual homophones, I am sticking them in here because they really do not need to have their own separate section. Basically, "then" is sequential, "than" is comparative. It was then that I realized we were no longer in Kansas. Rather than panicking at this realization, I simply pulled out my GPS device.
Step 7: New Item: Great Flaming Trolls, Batman!
People asked for this section. I think that it is common sense to behave decently wherever you are, but maybe that does not occur to everyone.
There are two simple rules that can help to turn you into a respectable human being both on the internet and in the real world: do not be a troll and do not flame people. Again, this seems like common sense; there is even a note below the comment boxes on this site that says so, although it says it in prettier language.
The important thing to remember is that anonymity on the internet is no reason to act any differently than you would in the real world. This, however, is only meaningful if you act like a decent person when talking to strangers face-to-face. If you can not act decently in the wider world, then it may be time to bring out the forehead tattoos, Snow Crash style. I say this because people on the internet will mentally brand you with "Poor Impulse Control" or "Racially Insensitive" or other such labels if you act like a troll or start flame-wars.
There are some simple things you can do to avoid mental branding and the wrath of moderators. The first is to think carefully, before you even hit "Reply," about whether you have anything constructive to say. If the comment you want to make does not seem as though it will be in any way useful, just abstain from commenting. The second thing you can do is to resist the urge to insult people. Please note that this second thing is covered fully by the first item, and consider that I would not put extra emphasis on it if I did not think it necessary. Lastly, avoid falling into the same trap that many other decent people are caught in by not feeding the trolls. It is best simply to brush off any insults that you may be targeted with.
Let us take a moment to consider the forums that existed in the era of the Roman Empire: The forum was the ultimate public space; everything happened there. Now let us for a moment imagine ourselves in the forum, observing a heated discussion among a group of scholars. We watch as points are made, struck down, revived, and modified; then we see another scholar wander into the circle, tell one of the other scholars that he had sexual congress with that scholar's mother several times the previous night, and then walk away. We then see another, younger scholar walk into the already outraged circle, tell the eldest scholar that he resembles a heap of dog entrails, and also walk off. You would expect that these two scholars would get righteous beatings for their actions, or at the very least they might get a stern talking to and be ostracized from the scholarly community. I use this example because our internet forums are derived from the concept of the Roman forum.
Consider the animosity that you may be the target of as a result of trolling and flaming; at the very least you will have lost any respect that others might have had for you, and you may also be subject to repeated face-punchings by those that you have insulted or riled up in the event that your actual identity is ever linked with your user name or I P Address.