Author Topic: Correct Grammar v Readability  (Read 12246 times)

FNH

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on: April 04, 2007, 08:05:01 PM
What do editors think in the battle between correct Grammar and easy reading ( or common useage ).

For instance does an editor think the use of em dashes is just wrong in a modern novel--?  Yet they are legitimate.

Here's another example from a Dale Brown book.

Quote
The president pro tem of the National Assembly hammered his gavel, trying to restore order.

As I understand it that comma is wrong.  It should have been followed by a conjunction.

So does an editor "let it ride" if your a big author but come down on it if your a nobody?  Is it that common usage makes it acceptable?



jrderego

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Reply #1 on: April 04, 2007, 08:09:52 PM
What do editors think in the battle between correct Grammar and easy reading ( or common useage ).

For instance does an editor think the use of em dashes is just wrong in a modern novel--?  Yet they are legitimate.

Here's another example from a Dale Brown book.

Quote
The president pro tem of the National Assembly hammered his gavel, trying to restore order.

As I understand it that comma is wrong.  It should have been followed by a conjunction.

So does an editor "let it ride" if your a big author but come down on it if your a nobody?  Is it that common usage makes it acceptable?



That isn't gramatically incorrect. The comma is setting off a pause between gavel and trying. There's no conjunction that would fit between those two words. It might be better as two sentence, but the comma marking pause makes it okay.

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FNH

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Reply #2 on: April 04, 2007, 08:45:13 PM
That isn't gramatically incorrect. The comma is setting off a pause between gavel and trying. There's no conjunction that would fit between those two words. It might be better as two sentence, but the comma marking pause makes it okay.

Now it's interesting that you say that because I have been brought up to believe that the comma-as-pause is incorrect grammar, but is in common usage.

Do you have a link to anything to prove me wrong?  I dont have any grammar books and havn't found anything online myself to say either way.


jrderego

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Reply #3 on: April 04, 2007, 09:02:44 PM
That isn't gramatically incorrect. The comma is setting off a pause between gavel and trying. There's no conjunction that would fit between those two words. It might be better as two sentence, but the comma marking pause makes it okay.

Now it's interesting that you say that because I have been brought up to believe that the comma-as-pause is incorrect grammar, but is in common usage.

Do you have a link to anything to prove me wrong?  I dont have any grammar books and havn't found anything online myself to say either way.

I use the "Vest Pocket Writer's Guide" published by The American Heritage Dictionary. In the Comma section, page 43, the number six usage is:

Sets off traditional words and short expressions that require a pause in reading.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Lattimer hadn't read many Russian Novels.
Did he, after all, look American?
Peterson lives with his family, of course.
Indeed, the sight of him gave me quite a jolt.


This is an indespensible and awesome little book that every writer should have. Jumping back to the second part of your question about big-time and common usage etc... I know many writers who argue the validity of grammatical mistakes because "Chuck Palinhuek/Steven King/Cormac McCarthy does it all the time and they sell a bajillion books." I dunno if that really means anything. I try not to make grammatical mistakes (and I correct the ones I do make when I find them) and certainly don't intentionally write something that is grammatically incorrect and we seem to get the same amount of rejections either way. That said, not all editors are grammar fanatics, and not all editors ignore grammar errors. Hell, I'd bet there isn't an editor alive today who knows ALL the Byzantine rules of English grammar but to me that doesn't suggest we should ignore those rules. Submitting content to an editor shouldn't be as much like a composition test as some editors make it out to be. And in my experience, editors who only accept grammatically perfect manuscripts tend to take less interesting stories because the story itself isn't their focus.

My two cents. Add your own buck-sixty to get a medium coffee at Dunkin Donuts.


edited for errant apostrophe

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Rachel Swirsky

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Reply #4 on: April 04, 2007, 09:32:17 PM
'The president pro tem of the National Assembly hammered his gavel, trying to restore order."

I'm a bit rusty at this, but I'm pretty sure this comma is not being used solely to indicate a breath, although a breath is called for here.

In very rough terms:

President (noun) hammered (verb) gavel (direct object) -- main clause

trying to restore order -- is a phrase (which is why you can't just separate the two bits with a period; a phrase lacks the grammatical requirements to be its own sentence). I'm not sure what it is exactly because it's been a while since high school grammar, but I'd guess it's some kind of adjective phrase since it's describing the president's motivations.

*

The grammar rule that I expect you are thinking of is the one being broken in this sentence:

Quote
He opened the door, firing the gun.

Which you would rightly call incorrect because the comma indicates that the two actions are occuring simultaneously -- when in fact they are happening serially. This sentence should be revised to:

Quote
He opened the door, and fired the gun.

Where you could probably cut the comma, but that's an artistic thing.

However, in a situation where the second part of the sentence is an adverbial or adjective phrase (as the one you provided above), or where the two parts really are occuring simultaneously:

Quote
She turned to run away, yelling as loudly as she could.

then the comma is appropriate.

People sometimes rant against putting "-ing" verbs after commas, because they get sick of seeing the incorrect construction that implies simultaneity when the events are in fact serial. However, when they do it without giving context for the rant, they end up confusing people.

This is the same thing that happens when people rant about passive constructions such as "The ball was thrown by the boy" and you end up with students of writing damning all forms of "to be" as being in passive voice.

As to whether big name authors get away with bad grammar -- well, I don't think it's actually an issue. There are lots of region variations. Regional variations and typos would account for maybe 90% of these things. The rest have usually, in my experience, reflected someone's misunderstanding of a grammatical rule. As a culture, we in the US are pretty fuzzy on grammar.



Swamp

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Reply #5 on: April 04, 2007, 10:53:14 PM
Another good test is to move the phrase to the beginning of the sentance:

Quote
Trying to restore order, the president pro tem of the National Assembly hammered his gavel.

In the example, most people would have little poblem with the comma.  If it can be used to separate the phrases at the beginning, it should be OK to use it at the end.  Which way is better?  That depends on where you want the emphasis.

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wakela

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Reply #6 on: April 05, 2007, 12:34:24 AM
Quote
Quote
He opened the door, and fired the gun.

Where you could probably cut the comma, but that's an artistic thing.

Now, I was taught that a comma here is illegal because "fired the gun" could not stand on its own as a sentence, and it's not part of a series.

"He opened the door, and he fired the gun." 
Lame, but correct.

"He opened the door and fired the gun."
OK.

"He opened the door, fired the gun, reloaded, and fired again."
OK.
Though I'm fuzzy on the comma/and combo at the end of a series.



Rachel Swirsky

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Reply #7 on: April 05, 2007, 03:09:42 AM
Yes, the comma is not necessary.

It could, however, be artistic. :)



Mfitz

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Reply #8 on: April 06, 2007, 01:09:49 PM
I'm a comma zombie.

I pretty much have no clue where to put commas out side of lists.  I changed grade school's mid stream and somehow completely missed diagramming sentences and other Grammar Nazi stuff.  I 've several grammar books, and I do read them.  I don't know if it's on of those things, like a foreign language, that you can only learn at a certain age when your brain is still growing, or if it's the dyslexia, but none of it seems to take.

Being raised in a family of actors, politicians and teachers I speak well. Thank Heavens.  Sloppy English was not tolerated at our house.  I pretty much read things outloud, and put a comma anyplace I'd pause for breath in the sentence.  Most of the time that works.




wakela

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Reply #9 on: April 08, 2007, 11:22:48 PM
Quote
I pretty much read things outloud, and put a comma anyplace I'd pause for breath in the sentence.
My dad was a professional journalist for 20 years, and he said that this is pretty much what he did, too.  One time he got so frustrated with the grammar nazis at my middle school failing all of my papers that he wrote one for me, and he failed, as well.



Simon Painter

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Reply #10 on: April 11, 2007, 09:52:25 AM

"He opened the door, and he fired the gun." 
Lame, but correct.


Although if we're being really pedantic, he didn't do both at once, so shouldn't it be "He opened the door, then fired the gun" ?

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Rachel Swirsky

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Reply #11 on: April 11, 2007, 10:15:07 AM
I wouldn't say so -- at least, not if we acknowledge that common usage has any influence over language.



ClintMemo

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Reply #12 on: April 11, 2007, 12:08:22 PM
How about...
"After popping open the door with a flick of his left wrist, he take took careful aim, squeezed the trigger and ended the life of the man whose existence he could no longer tolerate."

Should there be a comma after "trigger?"

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Simon Painter

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Reply #13 on: April 11, 2007, 12:49:57 PM
Quote
"After popping open the door with a flick of his left wrist, he take took careful aim, squeezed the trigger and ended the life of the man whose existence he could no longer tolerate."

Robert E. Howard Lives!  :P

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SFEley

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Reply #14 on: April 11, 2007, 02:48:53 PM
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"After popping open the door with a flick of his left wrist, he take took careful aim, squeezed the trigger and ended the life of the man whose existence he could no longer tolerate."

Robert E. Howard Lives!  :P

Unless he was the object of the sentence.

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ClintMemo

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Reply #15 on: April 11, 2007, 03:23:40 PM
Quote
"After popping open the door with a flick of his left wrist, he take took careful aim, squeezed the trigger and ended the life of the man whose existence he could no longer tolerate."

Robert E. Howard Lives!  :P

lol - I'll take that as a compliment, though I hope I don't end up like he did.  :P

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Simon Painter

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Reply #16 on: April 11, 2007, 03:24:57 PM
I was only jossin' a little, Robert E Howard did have a somewhat enthusiastic style of writing  :P

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Rachel Swirsky

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Reply #17 on: April 11, 2007, 05:39:33 PM
Quote
Should there be a comma after "trigger?"

I'm pretty sure it's optional.

After a quick uncaffeinated glance, it looks to me like there is a series of actions joined with conjunctions, of which the action after trigger is the last. It's optional in US English as to whether you use a comma before the last item in a series, or not.

He bought apples, oranges, and bananas.

is fine, and so is:

He bought apples, oranges and bananas.



Thaurismunths

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Reply #18 on: April 13, 2007, 11:19:15 AM
The absence of a coma, for me, says that items (or actions) go together.
I read "He bought apples, oranges, and bananas." as a list of unassociated objects, and "He bought apples, oranges and bananas." as a list of objects where "oranges" and "bananas" are associated to each other, but to not "apples".
Like a list of snacks could be: Cheese, fruit, milk and cookies, finger sandwiches, and vegetables.
They are all individual items, but because there isn't a coma between "Milk" and "Cookies" it tells you that they go together.
Is that how other people read it when a comma is missing?

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ClintMemo

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Reply #19 on: April 14, 2007, 03:11:54 AM
The absence of a coma, for me, says that items (or actions) go together.
I read "He bought apples, oranges, and bananas." as a list of unassociated objects, and "He bought apples, oranges and bananas." as a list of objects where "oranges" and "bananas" are associated to each other, but to not "apples".
Like a list of snacks could be: Cheese, fruit, milk and cookies, finger sandwiches, and vegetables.
They are all individual items, but because there isn't a coma between "Milk" and "Cookies" it tells you that they go together.
Is that how other people read it when a comma is missing?
I think it also matters that "milk and cookies" are not at the end of the list.
If you had "For a snack, he planned on serving apples, oranges, water, milk and cookies."  Then whether or not the milk and cookies go together might be ambiguous. (On rereading it, it sounds like they don't go together.)  By not putting it at the end of the list, it seems more obvious.

What about a list of items and actions mixed together? It seems like the optional comma rule treats items and phrases the same. 
"He grabbed his briefcase, donned his hat, snatched up his paper, I-pod, lunch and wallet, kissed his wife, daughter and son, strolled out the door and went to work."


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ClintMemo

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Reply #20 on: April 14, 2007, 03:13:23 AM
I was only jossin' a little, Robert E Howard did have a somewhat enthusiastic style of writing  :P

Hey, if you can't do it with enthusiasm, then why do it? :P

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FNH

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Reply #21 on: April 14, 2007, 06:31:40 PM
Hey, if you can't do it with enthusiasm, then why do it? :P

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ClintMemo

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Reply #22 on: April 14, 2007, 08:46:42 PM
Hey, if you can't do it with enthusiasm, then why do it? :P

Money!  e.g. "So Long and Thanks for all the Fish"

I thought that was "Mostly Harmless." 
( I have the  BBC radio versions of all that in MP3 - somewhere.)

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Thaurismunths

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Reply #23 on: April 16, 2007, 04:08:16 PM
I think it also matters that "milk and cookies" are not at the end of the list.
If you had "For a snack, he planned on serving apples, oranges, water, milk and cookies."  Then whether or not the milk and cookies go together might be ambiguous. (On rereading it, it sounds like they don't go together.)  By not putting it at the end of the list, it seems more obvious.

What about a list of items and actions mixed together? It seems like the optional comma rule treats items and phrases the same. 
"He grabbed his briefcase, donned his hat, snatched up his paper, I-pod, lunch and wallet, kissed his wife, daughter and son, strolled out the door and went to work."

Hmmm... I don't read it that way at all. With out a comma "milk and cookies" is together, no matter where in the sentence it is. Same thing goes for "lunch and wallet."  The way you have them listed, I read it as though like he grabs them at the same moment as though his wallet was in his lunch bag.
I wonder if that's related to the way I read. I hear words as I read, which makes me a much slower reader than most, but I think I pay more attention to meter and tone.

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ClintMemo

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Reply #24 on: April 16, 2007, 05:42:39 PM
I think it also matters that "milk and cookies" are not at the end of the list.
If you had "For a snack, he planned on serving apples, oranges, water, milk and cookies."  Then whether or not the milk and cookies go together might be ambiguous. (On rereading it, it sounds like they don't go together.)  By not putting it at the end of the list, it seems more obvious.

What about a list of items and actions mixed together? It seems like the optional comma rule treats items and phrases the same. 
"He grabbed his briefcase, donned his hat, snatched up his paper, I-pod, lunch and wallet, kissed his wife, daughter and son, strolled out the door and went to work."

Hmmm... I don't read it that way at all. With out a comma "milk and cookies" is together, no matter where in the sentence it is. Same thing goes for "lunch and wallet."  The way you have them listed, I read it as though like he grabs them at the same moment as though his wallet was in his lunch bag.
I wonder if that's related to the way I read. I hear words as I read, which makes me a much slower reader than most, but I think I pay more attention to meter and tone.

On re-reading my second sentence days later, it does sound ambiguous (so that's why they say to do that :P )
Maybe the real lesson of my second example is "don't try to cram too many things into one sentence." 
Back to the milk and cookies example...
Maybe I think too much like a programmer. "For a snack, he planned on serving apples, oranges, water, milk and cookies."
looks in my head like a list of A, B, C and D where D = E + F.  Treating milk and cookies as a unit, I would probably end the sentence with "...apples, oranges, water and milk and cookies." 
or
put milk and cookies in the middle.

Life is a multiple choice test. Unfortunately, the answers are not provided.  You have to go and find them before picking the best one.


Rachel Swirsky

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Reply #25 on: April 16, 2007, 05:54:14 PM
Quote
or
put milk and cookies in the middle.

I think that would be the better choice. ;-)