Thursday, May 15, 2008

Grappling for Grammar

I'm so excited! I start school next week. Seriously! I'm going back to college. Hee hee. Well, that's not exactly accurate since it's only one class and I'm taking it online.

It's a grammar class at Central Oregon Community College and I'm taking it to brush up on those pesky repeater goofs that plague me now and then. My grammar is fine for the most part, but sometimes I screw up using pronouns depending on where they appear in a sentence. And the correct use of "was" and "were" is an intermittent problem for me.

I'm very fortunate to have a retired English teacher as one of my critique partners, and she catches everything. But I can't depend on her to be there for me forever. The apron strings must be cut. Sniff.

Here's an example of what I'm talking about:

I suddenly wished my spiky hair wasn't too short to hide behind.

The correct word is weren't. Though that doesn't sound right to me, it's still the proper way to use it.

And here's one of my pronoun errors:

I pictured this Turkish warrior beating up my teachers, most of whom were bigger than him.

The correct useage would be bigger than "he" and not "him."

I'm probably the best comma-user on the planet, I know how and when to use lay, laying and laid, and I've never had an issue with who or whom. And I know the difference between that and which. So hopefully I'll ace those particular lessons. I'll let you know.

If you have issues with your grammar, or just want to see where you stand, I highly recommend this website for some excellent grammar exercises. They've added about a dozen more categories since I last visited. Hmm… Maybe I didn't need to shell out my $89 for the college course.

Here's the syllabus for the course I'm taking at COCC. Looks like fun, doesn't it? I can hardly wait to jump right in and stretch those atrophied grammar muscles. After all, the eighth grad was a really long time ago. For me, anyway. COCC has other writing classes, too, and I'm thinking of taking the one on writing magazine articles as well.

So do you have any particular problem areas with your grammar? How confident are you that you can simply "get by" in this increasingly competitive industry we've chosen for ourselves? Personally, I've decided not to take any chances. It's tough enough as it is.


Alice Sharpe said...

Lordy, Karen, every single mistake you made sounded better to me than the right way that followed. I have to assume, therefore, that I make these same mistakes and yet copyeditors and editors very seldom change my wording which means we're all just propagating poor grammar. Ack!

Eighth grade was awhile ago and I sucked at grammar back then (if I close my eyes, I can still see the aging substitute teacher who tucked her hanky in her bosom and diagrammed poor hapless sentences on the chalkboard, dissecting the innocent things like some kind of butcher going at a side of beef, wielding her chalk like a surgeon's scalpel. Again, ack!)

So, do I need to take the course? Absolutely.
Well I take the course? No way, baby.
If I were you I would ply my retired English teacher CP with wine and flowers and grovel at her feet. But a new apron with stronger strings. Hang on.....

Fun blog and I love the picture. You always have the neatest graphics.

Alice Sharpe said...

Apparently I don't the difference in "will" and "well".

I also overuse "that" and I didn't proofread carefully enough and catch the "But" which should have been "Buy."

I'm doomed.

Elisabeth Naughton said...

Okay, here's my gripe about "proper" English grammar. It sucks.

Seriously, I'm with Alice. Both examples you gave, while they may not be "proper", sounded better than the correct usage you posted below. The problem with "proper" grammar in fiction is that no one talks like that. And in fiction, especially, you risk losing readers if you focus too much on "proper" instead of what's being spoken by the masses. At least that's my opinion. An author who wrote those two sentences the "proper" way would lose me.

I'm all for knowing the rules so that when you break them you do it for a reason. ;) So kudos to you, Karen, on brushing up. I'll live vicariously through you because I have no time or desire to go back to school.

I still mess up lay and laid, but most of the rest I have a good handle on. We'll see when I get my copy edits back. ;) My biggest pet peeve with reading new writers' work though is commas. I highly suggest new writers take a (at least online) course on proper comma usage.

Paty Jager said...

Chicago Manual of Style- If you don't have one you should. This is what I use to figure things out.

But like Eli, if those two sentences were written properly in a book, they would have pulled my attention.

We are a lack society and I think most fiction reflects that.

Interesting blog, Karen and good luck with the class. I took a fiction writing class from COCC years ago. There was a relation of Hemmingway in the class. She seemed to think her name alone should get her A's.

Karen Duvall said...

LOL, you guys! You all FLUNK! Hahaha.

I just never want the grammar thing to be the deal breaker, you know? and Alice, you're right, it's better to at least "know" the rules before breaking them. It will help me feel more confident.

The he and I, him and me, etc. thing is a constant contention for me. I just want to know which one is right before I intentionally do it wrong. 8^) And my English teacher crit partner always says: If you want her to talk using proper grammar, it would be thus and so. She acknowledges the fact we rarely speak with grammatical correctness.

Eli, the comma thing drives me insane, too. I go to town on contest entries that abuse commas. It's just cruelty to the English language. And they don't even care!!!! You tell them the right way, they continue to do it wrong anyway. The misplaced modifiers really push me, though. Oh, and don't get me started on mixed metaphors. Aargh!

My key to using lay/laid correctly is: she lay down to sleep. She laid her head on the pillow. The past tense of lie is laid when it precedes the object being "laid." He laid his hand on her breast. He lay beside her on the bed. Object vs. action. Easy-peasy.

Paty, I saw the advanced fiction writing course. I was slightly tempted only because I figure it might round out my fiction writing skills if it were literary. And then there was the Romance Writing course taught by a published author of category romance. It looked good, too.

Alice Sharpe said...

So, explain this to me. How does a writer, new or old or what have you, misuse commas? Can you give me an example?

Karen Duvall said...

I deleted my other comment because I wanted to add to it.

Alice, here's an example of what I sometimes see:

And they came running forward to, the park. It was all, they could do to keep up, the pace.

Yeah. Seriously.

And less awful:

Hi Sandy, how are you?

That one's just missing a comma. But in dialogue, we see things like:

"Just a minute Sam." Sandy said to Sam.

Alice Sharpe said...

Ah, wow. I didn't know. I am... surprised. I didn't know people did this with commas. I knew about the dialogue trouble -- it's something I saw a lot of when I taught fiction for a little while -- and those with a college degree were worse, sometimes, than those without. I was always left wondering -- you're a reader, aren't you paying attention to what you read???

Thanks, Karen.

wavybrains said...

I teach Grammar and I'd leave both the way you had it originally.

While hair contains many individual hairs, we refer to as a unit.

I.e. The committee wasn't meeting that month. The committee members weren't commenting on the news.

With hair, trying saying it in the present tense. You wouldn't say "My hair ARE brown." It takes the singular verb. "Is" verbs become "was" "are" verbs become "were"

In the second example, the subject of the clause is "Most" so "Whom" not "Who" is correct but, to decide on the correct pronoun, look at the clause without it. Than is a subordinating conjunction used as a preposition here (other words with dual purposes like this include before, after, over). "Him" is the objective of the preposition, so we use the objective case.

I'm sure your grammar teacher is great, and I bet you have a lot of fun with the class, but don't run yourself around in circles with it. You've got good instincts. Go with your instincts and 98% of the time, you'll be fine. Many best sellers routinely flout grammar rules, and no one seems to care.

Alice Sharpe said...

Wavy -- You are my new heroine.

Karen Duvall said...

Mine, too. 8^)

Genene Valleau said...

Glad you're excited about the class, Karen! I think you'll ace it and hope you won't be bored.

I have to agree with the comment that "proper" English usage like your examples would pull me out of a story unless the character intentionally spoke that way.

I'm comfortable with grammar -- and with proper comma usage, though I do overuse dashes. :) Years of editing newsletters and other documents has given me a lot of practice, but not so much that I've lost touch with everyday speech (I hope!).

Enjoy your class!

Kendra said...

Oh, Lord. I'm never letting you guys read anything I write. And I have a Journalism degree. It's a little rusty.

Karen Duvall said...

Thanks, Genene. It should be an interesting class. My only concern is that it may be time-consuming, and my time-supply is limited.

I have a client who's in love with elipses... like about 2 to 3 instances in every sentence... seriously. She drives me nuts. I edit all her ad copy and am constantly removing her excessive dots. Otherwise, she writes well, but...

Karen Duvall said...

LOL, Kendra! I took some communication classes in college with an eye toward journalism, but art took me over instead. I wish I'd taken more journalism classes. Which is why I'd like to take the magazine article writing class.

Mid-Willamette Valley said...

That's so awesome Karen!!!! :) Yay for classes!!

As someone who spends most of my time writing for my day job, I know I should have strong feelings about 100% correct grammar. But in the examples you give, I'd almost rather see the ones that "sound" right in fiction. Like you say, even though it's proper, it sometimes sounds funny. And that's pulled me out of a book before.

Since we're all friends, I'll admit this. (and I remind you of the preface that I write for my day job...) - I don't know an adjective from an adverb from a preposition from a hole in the ground. I just write what feels correct to me, and hope that it is. I'm going to hell, I know it...

Lisa Pulliam said...

I just realized I was logged in on the group account. Doh.

Alice Sharpe said...

Lisa -- what do you mean, logged onto the group account?

Lisa Pulliam said...

I think it was leftover from logging into the chapter google e-mail. I must not have logged out, so it carried the google login to blogger.