Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action has arrived, stop thinking and go in.
- Napoleon

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Grammar on the Brain

Lately, I've had grammar on the brain. I've been helping my niece with her college papers, and doing school with my daughter, and of course, writing. Then this morning, BookEnds had a post (Change of Punctuation) on their blog where they answered a writer's question about grammar. To top it off, over at Query Shark, Ms. Reid critted a query where the writer didn't seem to have a grasp on the basics of grammar.

So, this morning, I'd like to talk about grammar.

Now, before I start, let me say I'm not the god of grammar*. I do my best, but sometimes I fail. Sometimes I put a comma in the wrong place, or leave one off entirely, but I like to think that, for the most part, I'm getting everything where it ought to be. (And sometimes I get typing so fast, my fingers put things where they don't belong. Stupid digits.)


Grammar... Like every other part of the English language, it has rules, and those rules are there because without them, we wouldn't be able to communicate with each other. It's the same reason we all spell words the same. (Although in the past, they didn't - but that's another story.) I think our profession should place more importance on the use of proper grammar than any other. After all, we're writers. The point of our occupation is to communicate our ideas, and we need grammar to do that. Therefore, it follows that we should do our damnest to learn the rules and follow them. (Or at least know when it's okay NOT to follow them.)

With regard to proper grammar, my own skills were seriously lacking after I left school. (Elementary didn't get it done. High school assumed elementary already taught it to me. College assumed I knew it all already. You get the picture.) One thing that helped me was homeschooling my daughter. I had to know the basics so I could teach her. (Or rather re-teach her, since public school had her for the first 7 grades... but that's a rant for my homeschooling blog.) Something that helped us both in that capacity was O.W.L. - Purdue's Online Writing Lab. Need to know how to use commas? It's there. Need to understand why a semicolon and a colon are not used in the same places? They've got it. And all of their materials are simple enough to understand that I had my daughter reading them when she was twelve.

As I've told my niece many times--so many, I think she's getting sick of hearing it--get thee over there and learn. (If you need it, that is. She does. You might. I don't know. Hell, I could probably use a refresher myself.) Print the pages off if you need to. After all, we're talking about your work here. If it's important to you, it's worth the time and the paper.

Once you have the rules down, of course, you can play with them a little. Use a sentence fragment, if the story calls for it. End a sentence with a preposition. Begin a sentence with a conjunction. Mix it up. But only after you know what the rules are, and can break them without sounding like an illiterate. (Unless you're writing a scene from the POV of an illiterate, and even then watch that you don't confuse your reader.)

*I'm not the god of grammar, but I have been called a 'spelling nazi'.

(Note: If you feel the need to correct any mistakes in this post, knock yourself out. I make mistakes, especially on this blog where it doesn't count as much. But remember, any time you take pointing out my mistakes takes away from time you could be writing, or learning about writing, or querying... and really, don't you have better things to do?)

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