Thursday, March 7, 2013

Oh, you grammar Nazis, you...

I'm one. I admit it. I'm even proud of it.

(Yeah, I taught English for ten years.)

I hate it when people misuse punctuation. Misspelled words--the classic affect vs. effect, for example, or confidant instead of confident, and the ever-present confusion of it's and its--make my teeth ache. My nerve endings cringe when I read sentences like, "If I would've seen it..."

And don't get me started on the new-generation text-type spellings of UR and THX and GR8. Hoo-hah, great time savers, those. What do people do with the thousands of hours saved by typing UR instead of you're, I wonder?


When I started submitting my work to a critique group, I knew I needed to work on my writing skills--pace, authorial intrusions, characterizations, descriptions, whatever. But you can imagine I felt so confident (yeah, not confidant) about my grammar.

And then came the critiques.

"You can't start sentences with a conjunction."

"This is passive voice. Change it to active."

"Don't end your sentences with a preposition."

But I love to start sentences with conjunctions (noticed that, have you?). And, as far as I'm concerned, the passive voice was made for using. It's a tool, to be used sparingly, yes, but not one I'm willing to do without (hehe).

So the debates raged--continue to rage. Well, "rage"... We're a decent lot over at the Internet Writing Workshop, and arguments seldom (if ever) heat up enough to warrant an admin intervention. But grammar and its usage is one topic no one can seem to agree on.

And then this article popped up (thanks, Peter Bernhardt), courtesy of Ben Yagoda, author of How Not To Write Bad: The Most Common Writing Errors and the Best Ways to Avoid Themjust published last month. Ah, the beauty of freedom--including the freedom to disagree.

How do you feel about grammar (and spelling and punctuation and etc.)? Does misuse bother you, or are you a grammar free thinker? What impact does this have on your writing?

12 comments :

  1. Being dyslexic, grammar is definitely my main weakness. As soon as I start heading words like 'conjuncture', my brain hurts.

    Despite that though, I've been told by CPs that my grammar is pretty good... Perhaps I've just read so much I've developed an instinct for most of it?

    That being said, when someone corrects me, I'm always happy they do so, when it's true. Sometimes I do want an extra comma or two in there to give a sentence a specific rhythm.

    So, I agree, bending the rules is necessary sometimes to stay true to the voice of the characters :)

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    1. Sorry if my spell check messed up a few words, typing on a phone is hard :)

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    2. Ms. Monkey! I don't think I've ever seen you misuse grammar (or spelling or punctuation, for that matter). For someone with dyslexia, that seems like an achievement, but I suspect it's probably because of the dyslexia that you pay more attention--double-check stuff, etc.? And reading--definitely reading is the key (I think) to good grammar (and spelling and punctuation) for everyone. My new definition of "agape": when a writer tells me they don't read. Yep. Agape.

      You're right, though, that corrections are always good. Not necessarily applicable, but the fact that someone points something out makes you think about it, and then make a conscious decision on whether to use it anyway. Like Chesterton said, "I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite." :D

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  2. GUILIE ~
    I especially liked that 'Got Milk?' cartoon. Great!

    "You can't start sentences with a conjunction."

    Tell that to the great writer Mark Twain, who started MANY sentences with a conjunction. But he won't listen to your complaint because... he's dead, you see.

    "This is passive voice. Change it to active."

    Don't be so rude! Say, "please" and ask nicely.

    "Don't end your sentences with a preposition."

    Jenny Baranick, in her book 'Missed Periods And Other Grammar Scares', put an end once and for all to that dumb grammar rule.

    From page 116:
    This is a sentence that ends in a preposition:
    I left my door unlocked so Don Juan could sneak in.

    Latin Lovers might suggest that we rewrite it like this:
    I left my door unlocked so in Don Juan could sneak.

    I don't know about you, but if someone said that to me, I'd kind of want to punch them in their pretentious little mouth.

    Not only can rearranging our sentences to avoid ending them in prepositions sound pretentious, it's also unnecessary. Grammar experts agree that it's perfectly acceptable to end sentences in prepositions. It is, however, grammatically incorrect to end a sentence with a preposition if the preposition is unnecessary.

    So, Guilie, let your critics stick THAT in their Funk & Wagnalls and smoke it! (Only dopes smoke diacritics.)

    I enjoyed this blog bit.

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

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    1. Hehehehehehehee... Thanks for the support, Stephen :) You pretty much nailed it when you said "It is, however, grammatically incorrect to end a sentence with a preposition if the preposition is unnecessary." I know what you mean, but I can't help feeling that that very sentiment applies to pretty much anything, right? Using passive voice is incorrect (and prissy-mouthed pretentious) if it's unnecessary. Starting sentences with a conjunction is incorrect if it's unnecessary. Using "passive" verbs, like "be" and "seem", is incorrect if--tah-dah--it's unnecessary. So the rule, if we insist on having rules, should rather be to decide whether something is necessary or not. And training to be a writer should involve not lists of silly "do's and don'ts", but explorations of when to use a language tool and when to use another.

      Enlightening, Stephen. As any conversation with you always is :) Thanks for stopping by!

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  3. I may be one of the only people in the world who refuses to use "text-ese" abbreviations...well, another writer friend of mine is the same way. It drives me NUTS when people misuse "it's" and "its", "your" and "you're" and "to", "too", and "two." And (just a short rant) it especially bugs me when published books contain incomplete sentences. In my opinion, that's just sloppy writing and editing!

    I saw a funny a few months ago, about the importance of commas. The poster said, "Punctuation is the difference between "Let's eat grandma" and "Let's eat, grandma!"

    I enjoyed "meeting" you on the A to Z Blogging Challenge! I'm blogging at www.nebraskafamilytimes.blogspot.com and www.achristianmomsguide.blogspot.com.

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