(Un) commonly known grammar

Young Men Apparently Are Not Writing Novels

Question: Revising / Rewriting / Editing Strategies

Status
Not open for further replies.

izi 出久

Basic
Feb 21, 2022
USA
The discussion today in Pop-ups got me thinking about grammar. Never, never a good idea.

What do you think about using correct grammar in writing even when it sounds incorrect because we are so used to hearing it used incorrectly? Part of me thinks... maybe just use it incorrectly if it trips too many readers. I'd love to hear thoughts.

Comparative sentences:

This one's uncommon because we most often use it incorrectly in speech. But speech is informal. What about writing?

When comparing two pronouns, or a noun and pronoun, we often use subject + be verb + comparator + objective pronoun.

(i) He was faster than her.

However, the correct formation is subject + be verb + comparator + subjective pronoun [be verb], with the second be verb optional.

(ii) He was faster than she [was].

And, dropping the second be verb:

(iii) He was faster than she.

But the plot thickens. Say you've got a friend--we'll call her Sally--and she likes money. Like, she LOVES money. She likes money more than she likes you (oof). Then you could write

(iv) Sally likes money more than [she likes] me.

Omitting the extras boils it down to:

(v) Sally likes money more than me.

Now, we can see that (i) is the same construction as (v). In the world of mathematical proofs, this clearly proves: (i) is the same as (v) is the same as (English grammar is a fecking mess).

But there is a slight difference ;)

Just in time to ruin your Monday. Stay safe out there.


 
I have a 9th grade education and barely know what a noun is. When I write, I use grammar instinctually. Having read a lot of books growing up, I absorbed the rules on a less conscious level. There is an elegance in language and the grammar that frames it. Meaning is the most important thing to me. I always prefer the option that means exactly what it is meant to mean, unless ambiguity is the goal.

As soon as I start reading grammar rules, my brain switches off :rolling-on-the-floor-laughing:
 
This is on one of my bugbears. The wider issue of "proper" grammar in creative writing.

I have seen so many "rules" referred to that it drives me mad. And nowhere is this more in evidence than when the "Passive Police" come calling.

"Don't write a sentence using the passive voice," we are told, nay warned, by berobed sages from on high. "It's one-dimensional, amateurish and bland. Furthermore, it's flat and undescriptive. Your readers will disengage."

Now broadly speaking, there's good advice there. But not to the point of 100% avoidance of the passive voice. Sometimes it's perfectly acceptable. It explains what we want to convey as authors simply and concisely.

And NEWSFLASH grammarians - most readers do not read novels from the standpoint of the writing craft and strict adherence to the (so-called) rules.

There are so many other things too. But that will do for now. The rules pedants really bug me. Outside of accurate spelling and good presentation I couldn't give a rat's ass. If we all follow these rules then we run the risk of losing our authorial voices and end up writing the same book. :)

EDIT:

I realise I have taken this thread slightly off piste (it is early here) Perhaps I ought to move this post to begin a new one?
 
Last edited:
I have a 9th grade education and barely know what a noun is. When I write, I use grammar instinctually. Having read a lot of books growing up, I absorbed the rules on a less conscious level. There is an elegance in language and the grammar that frames it. Meaning is the most important thing to me. I always prefer the option that means exactly what it is meant to mean, unless ambiguity is the goal.

As soon as I start reading grammar rules, my brain switches off :rolling-on-the-floor-laughing:
Serra, I’m with you, babe.
Changed schools so many times as a kid there are huge gaps in my education.
In the days before a National syllabus I’d leave one school just as we started Grammar, only to find it had already been taught at the next and I was playing catch-up.

When I get great feedback on my work that includes words like ‘preposition’, I spend a lot of time talking to Auntie Google.

Like you, I read a lot, so that helped. Got me a great vocabulary. And I love films, so I absorbed storytelling and plot.
Now I’m here, I’m learning lots of stuff I missed out on, and I’m very grateful. But I only use what pushes my work forward, and draws the reader in. Otherwise, I mean, what’s the actual point?
 
I think grammar has a bad reputation because so many grammar books and teachers make it about being 'correct'. Not about learning all the possibilities language gives us.

Audible has a series of grammar lectures for adults by Michael D C Drought. These are lectures, not a book read aloud, which makes them more lively and easy to listen to. I have found them very inspiring. Though his humour can be quite grammarian.
 
For a wonderfully refreshing view on the writing by feel and in complete ignorance of the rules, check this out.

Marian Keyes is witty, clever and an excellent writer whose books sell by the lorry-load.

But don't take my word for it, 30 million books shifted so far and counting. :)
 
Commas in crazy places drive me crazy. Apostrophes moving with the wind give me wind. Using a semi colon instead of a comma or a colon hurts my guts. But I'm fine with a sentence that begins with but, and or or.
I think it's about voice. My writing voice is not 100% grammatically correct. If I try to follow all the grammar rules, it's not my voice. That's why I ditched using Grammarly. It was useful when I started writing, but sticking to their corrections was killing my writing.

Excerpt from Witch by Finbar Hawkins:
I never did no magik.
Not at the time they said, anyways.
It was mother who heard them . . .
. . . And that's what she looked to teach us.
 
Some people speak rather precisely, observing traditional usage whenever they are able to. Others talk, like, the way their mates talk, innit? Both are 'correct'. Both are grammatically self consistent. The difference is cultural and bound up with class distinctions and perceived levels of education – what we usually call snobbery.

So, grammar purists, yeah, bunch of pedants, but interestingly (perhaps) many languages are prescriptive, and correct use of them is policed by some official body – Spanish (my day-to-day language) and French are like this, for example. English isn't policed in this way. The Oxford and Merriam-Webster dictionaries reflect usage; they don't prescribe. So, in a very real sense, what constitutes 'correct English' is arrived at by consensus (consensus of a self-appointed cultural elite, to be sure, but consensus nonetheless). But 'correct' usage in the traditional sense is for the purists, and they're welcome to choke on it. Creative writing is, well, creative. It's not report writing. It's storytelling. Of course you're going to break the rules.

But... I'm gonna make a possibly contentious point, and I'll happily provide the flames with which you might want to shoot me down [you might want to shoot me down with].

Professionals know their material, know its ins and out, its types, forms and uses. Carpenters know about wood, potters about clay, visual artists about traditional form and technique (just check out teenage Picasso, before he went weird wonderful). And creative writers... yeah, they know about language.

Sorry, I know that may sound harsh.


[edited for a grammatical typo – oh, the irony, the karma!]
 
Last edited:
From the OED:

It is like he had not beene last among the Apostles in number, who was before them all in the Kingdome. (1628, T. Taylor Practise of Repentance xxviii. 267)​
As if 'tis nothing worth that lies conceal'd. (1693, J. Dryden tr. Persius Satires i. 7)​

Me thinks, forsooth, they've been arguing about 'like' and 'as if' for quite some time :)
 
For a wonderfully refreshing view on the writing by feel and in complete ignorance of the rules, check this out.

Marian Keyes is witty, clever and an excellent writer whose books sell by the lorry-load.

But don't take my word for it, 30 million books shifted so far and counting. :)

Thanks for sharing this Jonny, this was great. I see she has further writing classes on YouTube, will take a look at these too.
 
As soon as I start reading grammar rules, my brain switches off
Confession: I used to be one of the Grammar Police. You know, that super annoying person who always interjects "Superman does good. You do well." Interestingly, after teaching for a bit, I got fed up with myself. :D but I do love grammar, more for how in many ways it acts as a lens into how language and culture form each other.
I have seen so many "rules" referred to that it drives me mad. And nowhere is this more in evidence than when the "Passive Police" come calling.

"Don't write a sentence using the passive voice," we are told, nay warned, by berobed sages from on high. "It's one-dimensional, amateurish and bland. Furthermore, it's flat and undescriptive. Your readers will disengage."

Now broadly speaking, there's good advice there. But not to the point of 100% avoidance of the passive voice. Sometimes it's perfectly acceptable. It explains what we want to convey as authors simply and concisely.
Yes, this bothers me, too. Maybe I'm just a rule-breaker, but whenever something is presented as YOU MUST (NOT) DO THIS, I'm like..... Can't I?
Professionals know their material, know its ins and out, its types, forms and uses. Carpenters know about wood, potters about clay, visual artists about traditional form and technique (just check out teenage Picasso, before he went weird wonderful). And creative writers... yeah, they know about language.
Definitely agree with this. I personally think misuse of grammar should come by choice, not by accident.
My writing voice is not 100% grammatically correct. If I try to follow all the grammar rules, it's not my voice. That's why I ditched using Grammarly. It was useful when I started writing, but sticking to their corrections was killing my writing.
My writing is riddled with fragments. I use full sentences, too, but whenever action is heating up I turn to fragments more often than not.

The Oxford and Merriam-Webster dictionaries reflect usage; they don't prescribe. So, in a very real sense, what constitutes 'correct English' is arrived at by consensus (consensus of a self-appointed cultural elite, to be sure, but consensus nonetheless).
Yes! Studied a bit of the English usage dictionary in my first degree. Many words have changed meaning.... I think the (old) "rule" was if a word maintains its "new" meaning for 50 years, that becomes the top definition.

I studied grammar from 3rd to 10th grade. One of the benefits of my unconventional education is my learning was self-directed, and I loved grammar. I'm recalling back in 6th grade when I learned the term for a preposition, and right there I memorized an 8"x11" page full of prepositions. And everything just clicked into place, and I loved grammar ever after. All thanks to prepositions.

When I lived in China, I studied Mandarin religiously. LOVED IT. So many foreigners (mostly from US and UK) got all tied up in knots over Chinese grammar. Why are there measure words? (English has no equivalent). Why no verb tense? Why is time vertical instead of horizontal? Why no change in tone for questions? (But DO NOT mess up tone. Do not. It's the difference between 'little brother' and the-lil-guy-between-the-legs. The difference between little sister and the-lil-lady-between-the-legs.)

Aside: I watched Maleficent with a friend who didn't speak English. I was lucky enough to get an English dubbed version. So, we're watching, and she suddenly pauses the movie and says (in Mandarin), "Can you actually understand this?" I laughed so hard because I've overheard many Americans say similar things about other languages, especially East Asian ones. Like no one understands what the other is saying and they're just hiding the fact that they can't communicate with each other.

I think, at the root, the grammar issue is the fear of grammar. The mystery of it. The idea that, if you mess it up, you're an idiot, and yet it's something that can't be fully grasped.

Not once was I required to diagram sentences. Not once was I told to avoid passive voice. And, thus, this paragraph was born.

All my grammar education was 'This is the mathematical secrets of language'--not, 'this is what you can't do with language'. (Had to pull a @Rich. and edit for grammar)
 
Last edited:
@StaceyDale The mathematical analogy is good. Grammar is like music to me (another mathematical artform). I can't read sheet music to save my life, but I used to play piano and guitar. Most people can tell if an instrument is out of tune when they hear it. English grammar is like this. I don't have the words for the rules, but when something's off, it's clear.
 
@StaceyDale The mathematical analogy is good. Grammar is like music to me (another mathematical artform). I can't read sheet music to save my life, but I used to play piano and guitar. Most people can tell if an instrument is out of tune when they hear it. English grammar is like this. I don't have the words for the rules, but when something's off, it's clear.
I have discalcula. If I think of grammar like maths I'm snookered. I've read the rules and I absorb it by reading. (I can read sheet music though. Passed theory of music for my grade 7 piano exam. That was a long time ago. When I have money, I'm going to buy myself a wee upright for my wee cottage.)
 
I enjoyed education all over the place too, for what we call primary school (age 5 to 11), so I would have missed some fundamentals, like @Vagabond Heart. I spent time in New Zealand and then 4 Aussie schools before High School. Won't count our time in Boston. Too young. I just remember my mum telling the teachers off for making me say the American anthem (or something).

So I know it very instinctually too.

But having said that, I accepted I must learn more grammar to manipulate sentences for clarity. This helped me accept (@Rich. recommended it years ago):

Where do scripts go wrong, language-wise, beyond the points already covered? Here I have no comprehensive answers, let alone data that can be classed as definitive. But awkwardness does develop in certain special areas often enough to be worth mentioning. Thus,

a. Sentence structure grows monotonous.
b. Subject and verb are separated.
c. Adverbs are placed improperly.
d. Words and phrases are repeated inadvertently.
e. Correct grammar becomes a fetish.
f. Meaning isn’t made clear instantly.

There are more, of course; too many more. But these will do for a start.


Swain, Dwight V.. Techniques of the Selling Writer (p. 32). University of Oklahoma Press. Kindle Edition.

So I set out to learn more and found this one of the best books.

But... I'm gonna make a possibly contentious point, and I'll happily provide the flames with which you might want to shoot me down [you might want to shoot me down with].

Professionals know their material, know its ins and out, its types, forms and uses. Carpenters know about wood, potters about clay, visual artists about traditional form and technique (just check out teenage Picasso, before he went weird wonderful). And creative writers... yeah, they know about language.

Sorry, I know that may sound harsh.

This is so true. And I'm no unicorn. I need to make use of every tool available because I feel the competition for agent attention is extra fierce.
 
Some people speak rather precisely, observing traditional usage whenever they are able to. Others talk, like, the way their mates talk, innit? Both are 'correct'. Both are grammatically self consistent. The difference is cultural and bound up with class distinctions and perceived levels of education – what we usually call snobbery.

So, grammar purists, yeah, bunch of pedants, but interestingly (perhaps) many languages are prescriptive, and correct use of them is policed by some official body – Spanish (my day-to-day language) and French are like this, for example. English isn't policed in this way. The Oxford and Merriam-Webster dictionaries reflect usage; they don't prescribe. So, in a very real sense, what constitutes 'correct English' is arrived at by consensus (consensus of a self-appointed cultural elite, to be sure, but consensus nonetheless). But 'correct' usage in the traditional sense is for the purists, and they're welcome to choke on it. Creative writing is, well, creative. It's not report writing. It's storytelling. Of course you're going to break the rules.

But... I'm gonna make a possibly contentious point, and I'll happily provide the flames with which you might want to shoot me down [you might want to shoot me down with].

Professionals know their material, know its ins and out, its types, forms and uses. Carpenters know about wood, potters about clay, visual artists about traditional form and technique (just check out teenage Picasso, before he went weird wonderful). And creative writers... yeah, they know about language.

Sorry, I know that may sound harsh.


[edited for a grammatical typo – oh, the irony, the karma!]
I remember being told in the early days that, 'You have to first learn the rules if you want to break them.'
No writer knows everything about the craft but we should at least have a basic understanding of the tools. You can't write without first knowing words and how to use them. That means spelling, punctuation and grammar.
After that, it's all context. And voice. And all the other really hard stuff.
 
Status
Not open for further replies.

Young Men Apparently Are Not Writing Novels

Question: Revising / Rewriting / Editing Strategies

Back
Top