Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Instructing on Proper Grammar

Hello all. I would like to let you in on a great piece I recenty read about grammar. As writers, certainly you do not have to be told that GRAMMAR IS YOUR FRIEND.  I found this information on and I just had to share. 

Although most of us write FICTION, and we break many of the Grammar Rules, we still have to keep to the rules when necessary.

Here are a few important tips:

1. Do not dangle your modifiers.

No, no, no, I am not referring to your overly long beaded necklace that is dragging through your soup. Let me offer some examples.

Incorrect: While feeding the rooster, Ruthy’s new shoes became soiled with chicken poop.

Correct: While feeding the rooster, Ruthy soiled her new shoes with chicken poop.

Incorrect: After searching the house, Mary’s manuscript turned up next to her computer.

Correct: After searching the house, Mary found her manuscript next to her computer.

The point here is that the phrase that begins each of these sentences modifies the subject of the sentence. Ruthy’s shoes obviously were not feeding the rooster, and Mary’s manuscript was not searching the house. Need I say more?

2. Do not confuse possessives with plurals.

Possessives indicate possession. Plurals imply more than one. How much simpler can it be? One of the Grammar Queen’s greatest annoyances is coming upon one of those darling little carved wooden signs indicating ownership of a cabin, boat dock, or some other such charming property. Perhaps you have seen them:

The Dean’s

Welcome to the Tippens’ Cabin

Janet simply needs a sign that states this lovely home is where the Deans live. No need for the possessive form. Therefore the sign should read:

The Deans

As for Missy, she should have informed her sign maker that her sign should read:

Welcome to the Tippenses’ Cabin

Yes, yes, I know the “es” attached to Tippens seems like too much . . . something or other. But trust me, this is the correct way to imply that the entire Tippens family, not just Missy, owns the cabin (unless she spent some of her advance money without telling her husband).

It would also be correct to say:

Welcome to the Tippens Cabin

Here, “Tippens” is simply used as an adjective modifying “Cabin,” so again, the possessive form is not necessary.

3. Do not forget who is calling whom.

Now we come to the eternal who versus whom debate. “Who” is a nominative case pronoun; “whom” is a subjective case pronoun. But what you call them is not nearly as important as how you use them. To simplify, “who” performs the action of the verb; “whom” receives the action of the verb (or in other uses becomes the object of a preposition, which is a subject unto itself).

Even in my tricky little sentence above, “who” is still performing the act of calling “whom,” even though here “who” follows the verb “forget.” Any questions?

Lest we decide the Grammar Queen is becoming slightly too picky, please remember that in naturally written speech (or even in deep POV narration), it is usually perfectly acceptable for your more casual and/or less educated characters to use “who” willy-nilly when perhaps correctly they should really be saying “whom.”

On the other hand, using “whom” incorrectly usually makes even the most intelligent among us appear quite pretentious if not scathingly illiterate.

4. “I wonder” is a statement, not a question, and therefore requires a period, not a question mark.

Incorrect: I wonder where I put my glasses?

Correct: I wonder where I put my glasses.

Or in dialogue, use a comma:

“I wonder where I put my glasses,” Sandra mused.

There are certain variations of “I wonder” phrasing where different punctuation might be required, but the Grammar Queen is already tired of this subject and suggests you invest in a helpful grammar reference book such as Grammatically Correct, by Anne Stilman.

5. In a compound sentence the comma is placed before the conjunction (and, but, or), not after the conjunction.

Incorrect: Debby writes for Love Inspired Suspense but, Cara writes for Thomas Nelson.

Correct: Debby writes for Love Inspired Suspense, but Cara writes for Thomas Nelson.

6. Do not restrict your nonrestrictive descriptors, and vice versa.

Let us begin by explaining the difference between restrictive and nonrestrictive. A restrictive descriptor is essential to the meaning of the sentence, whereas a nonrestrictive descriptor, if removed from the sentence, would not affect the meaning. Nonrestrictive descriptors are set off by commas; restrictive descriptors are not.

Are we clear on this? Perhaps more examples are in order. What is wrong with the following sentence?

Incorrect: Audra’s friend, Tina, is a multiple Golden Heart finalist.

Think . . . think . . .

Alas, if we take this statement as true, it means poor Audra has only one friend, the tireless and loyal Tina. But of course, we know Audra has many, many friends. Thus the sentence should have no commas:

Correct: Audra’s friend Tina is a multiple Golden Heart finalist.

The same is true when mentioning a spouse:

Incorrect: One day Myra hopes to meet Pam’s husband Orlando [name changed to protect the innocent].

We know for a fact that Pam is not a bigamist, which means we must insert a comma in the above sentence so that it reads:

Correct: One day Myra hopes to meet Pam’s husband, Orlando.

And one more example, this time regarding restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses:

Incorrect: The avid fan, who accosted Glynna at her book signing, was quickly wrestled to the ground by Cheryl.

It should be clear to anyone who has read Glynna’s books that she has more than one avid fan. Therefore the sentence above should contain no commas.

Correct: The avid fan who accosted Glynna at her book signing was quickly wrestled to the ground by Cheryl.

Hope this helps!

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