Monday, September 13, 2010
The Wild World of Grammar
Grammar is slippery and cantankerous; however, when it is applied properly, it creates prose that slides across our brains in a deliciously beautiful way. Yet, to complicate matters, the on-purpose manipulation of grammar in our fiction and in some non-fiction can make the prose interesting and uniquely ours.
“Know the rules so you can break them effectively.” Despite my Grammar Can Be Cool attitude, I also believe in breaking grammar rules to create prose that better fits your voice and your style of work.
I am providing links below to start you off, to help you to begin to understand what so many do not quite understand (and what even editors will pull out their hair over). Things such as: where to place commas and semicolons and colons (commas, semicolons, and colons -- Oh my!), is it a which or a that and who really cares but editors (Kat wrote words, which have letters), punctuation inside quotes or outside quotes ("Why," she said, "I know the answer to that."), fewer versus less (I have fewer cookies than you do, so I have less food to eat), different from or different than, hanging participles (okay, I admit I love a good hanging participle), split infinitives, and the list goes on or so it seems to the writer who just wants to write her prose—she beings to feel jealous of poets, for they can throw grammar caution to the wind.
Why, even as I write this post, I worry I will forget my Grammar PooBahness and leave a big fat error or two for everyone to sniggle over. If you find a grammatical error, call me on it in the comments section below, and if I agree, I will surely admit it, you bet your by grammar gollies I will! And if you do find a grammatical error and I agree to it, I’ll send you a gift.
My friends, the more polished your prose, the better it reads. Even if the person reading does not know why your work reads so well, they will surely notice how beautiful the result is. And wait! There’s more! As an added bonus, the more you know and automatically do as you write, the less work for you to worry about in re-writes. Yes? Yes!
Which and that, oh, I get it now—commas before whiches. And when comparing different from versus different than? Why, no problem as it's different from almost all of the time. Indeed and alas, it is those grammatical “almosts” and “sometimes” that drive writers and even editors to distraction, one hair pull at a time. Split infinitives, well: to be it is and be to not no more. Commas are pauses. Semi-colons "link" complete thoughts. Et cetera et cetera et cetera!
To start you on your Grammar Journey, here are some sites that may help you to understand The Wild World of Grammar. There are certainly more out there, so find the one(s) that you like and dip your toe into the ocean of Grammar. Start by understanding one grammar question at a time and build from there.
The Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar
Everything Language and Grammar
Throw Grammar from the Train
And, of course, if you do not already own one, go out and buy that beautifully slim, but chock-full of gooey goodness grammar and tips: Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style