The Truth About Grammar


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Learning from Experience

The Truth About Grammar

Knowing about grammar is just like knowing about healthy and unhealthy food.

Just when you think you’ve learned it, the rules change.

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About caroleparkes

My husband calls me a butterfly because I flit from one hobby to another. Apart from being a wife for 49 years, a mother of three sons, and a grandmother, I'm also an author, genealogist, amateur artist, a lover of most needlecrafts, and occasional poet. Of the above, my most enduring interest has been writing and I hope to be doing it well into old age.
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29 Responses to The Truth About Grammar

  1. There are some basic grammar rules. And then, there are optional ones. Words and style do keep changing, partly because of the Internet and partly because of that, the Americsn influence. However British and American style still differs.

    Regardless of that, nothing changes wrong spelling, inaccurate/missing punctuation, and erroneous words. You can’t blame that on changing rules.

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    • caroleparkes says:

      I agree you can’t blame everything on changing rules. However, it is frustrating when everything you’ve ever learned about the written word is overturned by certain authorities on British English. In my English school, I was always taught to use double quotation marks for speech. Now I’m told that’s wrong. Also we were taught to use the listing comma for every item before the last ‘and … ‘. Now they say that’s wrong too. What happened to these basic grammar rules previously taught in England.

      I beg to differ when you say nothing changes spelling. Many words ending in ‘ise’ are now being promoted as ending in ‘ize’. This is the preferred first choice of spelling for British English in Collins Dictionaries. ‘Minimise’, ‘organise’, and ‘optimise’ are now listed first as ‘minimize’, organize, and optimize.

      Punctuation marks are a minefield too. Just google ‘ellipsis’ and see the various ways of typing it never mind using it. I’ve also read conflicting advice about the em dash, en dash and hyphen.

      I’m not trying to be an expert on English, I just want to learn enough to get on with writing my books without disgracing myself. You can’t blame a fool for trying. 🙂

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      • Double quotation marks are acceptable for journalism and American style fiction.

        It’s basically optional although correct British style for fiction is single.

        By listing, I take it you mean, Oxford/serial comma. Again optional.

        When I said nothing changes wrong spelling, I meant that wrong spelling is always going to be wrong. I’m not talking about ize/ise, just sheer wrong speeeling, yes?

        Ellipses are simple. Both American and British style guides prefer a space either side … thus. Not…like this, although authors do choose that option. There is a single key to ensure you hit an ellipsis rather than using three full points.

        Em dash is used without spaces. It’s the preferred choice of style guides but en dash, with spaces is used, and I think is gaining currency.

        The use of hyphens is to join words together.

        You won’t. Even editors get their books edited by someone else. It’s honestly not as easy as it seems. When you haven’t got a lifetime of editing and proofreading behind you, you aren’t going to see the errors.

        I’ve given you some perfectly good and accurate advice. Any further questions?

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        • caroleparkes says:

          Thank you for your lengthy and helpful advice, and yes, I have read all this too. I was quite happy to follow this advice until I stumbled upon:
          http://www.gsbe.co.uk/grammar

          This is ‘Grammar and Style in British English; A Comprehensive Guide For Students, Writers and Academics’.

          In their examples of ellipsis, they give it with no space after the word. Also, my Word 2007, set to British English, won’t let me put a space between the word and the ellipsis. By the way, I’ve never seen that single key you mention for ellipsis. Is it any wonder I’m confused?

          They also place the dash with a space either side, and written like this, it’s used to create suspense or an afterthought. However an unspaced dash is preferred in speech if the sentence is unfinished due to reasons beyond the speaker’s control. This reference goes on to say the en dash is more common than the em dash.

          This resource also mentions the listing comma, and says, in its various uses it’s also known as the Serial, Harvard, or Oxford comma. An interesting point says that using the isolating comma to indicate pauses in the writing, can be defended even though it might make the grammar incorrect. ‘It can make for easier reading… Correct grammar is sacrificed for the sake of optimum communication (and consequently the sale of more books)’.

          There are very few British English grammar resources online, so I’m opting to go along with GSBE for now, while retaining my optional preferences where I can.

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          • Firstly, there are different styles for students, fiction, academic works, newspapers, reference works etc.

            Secondly, my advice was aimed towards you writing fiction.

            I did look at the site you referenced. The issue here is that it is encompassing everything without making clear what style is appropriate for what type of work.

            I suspect you mean free grammar resources. And the truth is, for those of us working in the industry, we have to pay for the recognised standard works.

            Sure, there are some good free resources, but the trouble is you need to know what to be looking for to know what’s good and what isn’t.

            Specifics: there is a symbol key with Word, but I can’t remember what it is as I use Apple. Just google it. Should come up. I personally think it looks ok like this… but, but, it’s still incorrect.

            Saying that one dash is more common than the other is a huge generalisation. I can references refuting that. One of the (international) sites I review books for, specifies correct style to be em dash, no spaces, and ellipses, space either side.

            When I’m editing, I give authors the choice. If they want to buck recommended style, fine, but you need to know the rules to be able to break them. I tend to agree with the suggested usage in GSBE for dashes, BUT, it’s still important to know that technically it’s incorrect.

            There is no one correct style. American (fiction) style tends to be more rigid than British. In journalism, newspapers often have their own house style guide. Publishing houses have them too. I’m working on a series of books and have developed a style guide for those.

            Before you get bogged down in anything, especially syntax, I’d look at three basic things: punctuation, spelling, and consistency. Then probably look at your verb tenses and your use of adjectives. Finally look at how much passive v active writing you have.

            That’s not based on your writing, it’s just general very basic advice.

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            • caroleparkes says:

              Thank you for clarifying all that for me. Your reply was really helpful to me. I see now what you mean when you say that particular website generalizes the advice.

              From what you say, the standard of a decent, acceptable book is set by the professional editors, publishers and proofreaders. Therefore, the only way to publish a decent book is by paying for professional polishing. I get it! It does make perfect sense, What I don’t get, is when you say, once you know what’s correct, you can buck the rules.

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              • Let me give you an example about generalising: numbers. When I was doing journalism training, we were taught numbers from 1–10 full out, ie spelled out. In fiction, it is 1–100, with a few allowable exceptions. In technical writing it varies from subject to subject.

                Broadly speaking you are right. A ‘decent’ book is one that would be acceptable for publishing by a trad publishing house, that’s in terms of writing, ie quality of prose. Once published, then for a self-published book to hold its own (assuming the writing is good), then it also needs to be well-edited and proofed.

                I have read one book in the last twelve months where I know the author edited it himself and he did a very good job of it. That’s one out of the hundreds of self-published books I read a year. Sadly, I read books that have been ‘edited’ and they have errors too, whether inconsistency, continuity, or just plain spelling and grammar. One that sticks in my mind was from an author who works in publishing …

                Unless you are extremely good proofreading, at the minimum, then, yes, I would suggest you have a better chance of publishing a decent book by paying for the post writing services. But every editor works differently.

                OK, the rules. Let me use some examples again. If you use ellipses or dashes, and you basically don’t like the look, or the feel of the recommended style, then do what you want… thus. But make sure you keep it consistent throughout the book. Depending on what you are writing, you may choose to capitalise a noun that basically isn’t capitalised in normal circumstances, however, you want to highlight a particular Word thoughout the book. An author might want to establish their own style which flies, in the face of, traditional grammar – like the commas I introduced there.

                Normally, certainly for new authors, I recommend going with the rules. But they do change Carole. You mentioned quotation marks changing since school, that applies to me too. Hyphenated words are in continual flux; what was correct a few years ago may have changed by now, eg e-mail becomes email.

                I’m not saying everyone should pay a professional (and that doesn’t mean someone who’s got an English degree and is doing it for pin money). But, you have more chance of producing a better standard of novel if someone accurately edits your text for errors, and suggests rewriting clumsy, faulty, repetitive prose.

                As I said, start with the basics, and then maybe buy a book or two about writing, ie that looks at prose quality and different styles of writing rather than grammar.

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  2. lovessiamese says:

    I have Strunk & White’s book on grammar (which I have not thoroughly perused). My word processor has a grammar checker, which drives me crazy because it wants commas everywhere. It also doesn’t understand proper outline formatting. Grrr.

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    • caroleparkes says:

      Thank you for taking the time to comment. I understand your frustration with Word. It drives me nuts sometimes too. I haven’t read Strunk and White’s grammar, so can’t comment on that.

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  3. Reblogged this on Shirley McLain and commented:
    When we think we have it figured out, the rules change. The comma seems to get me. Do you get gouged from grammar every once in a while? Shirley

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  4. How very true! I will NEVER be able to learn it properly! 🙂

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  5. marianbeaman says:

    Now that’s the truth!

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