Was that a snicker I heard? Go stand in the corner, whoever you are!
Our subject today, as with each of my guest lectures, concerns . . . yes, let’s all chime in together . . .
As writers, certainly you do not have to be told that GRAMMAR IS YOUR FRIEND.
However, as many of you already realize, Grammar Queen is not here to be your friend. Grammar Queen is here to INSTRUCT YOU IN THE RULES OF PROPER GRAMMAR.
Ah, yes, I’ve heard it all before. “But I write fiction. Fiction writers have permission to break rules. We start sentences with and and but. We use incomplete sentences. We let our characters say ain’t, or even to WHO it may concern.”
Believe me, Grammar Queen is not here to compromise your elusive writer’s voice or correct imaginary speakers who may not be as well educated as moi.
Grammar Queen is here to ensure that when you do break the rules of grammar, you are not breaking the rules that truly matter.
What might those be? you may ask. (Notice correct placement of question mark.)
It shall be my greatest pleasure to enlighten you on a select few of my personal favorites. (Any reference to real people, alive or dead, is purely coincidental and is not necessarily to be construed as fact.)
Do not dangle your modifiers.
No, no, no, I am not referring to your overly long beaded necklace that is dragging through your soup. Let me offer some examples.
Incorrect: While feeding the rooster, Ruthy’s new shoes became soiled with chicken poop.
Correct: While feeding the rooster, Ruthy soiled her new shoes with chicken poop.
Incorrect: After searching the house, Mary’s manuscript turned up next to her computer.
Correct: After searching the house, Mary found her manuscript next to her computer.
The point here is that the phrase that begins each of these sentences modifies the subject of the sentence. Ruthy’s shoes obviously were not feeding the rooster, and Mary’s manuscript was not searching the house. Need I say more?
Do not confuse possessives with plurals.
Possessives indicate possession. Plurals imply more than one. How much simpler can it be? One of Grammar Queen’s greatest annoyances is coming upon one of those darling little carved wooden signs indicating ownership of a cabin, boat dock, or some other such charming property. Perhaps you have seen them:
Welcome to the Tippenses’ Cabin
It would also be correct to say:
Welcome to the Tippens Cabin
Unfortunately, the Grammar Queen could go on ad infinitum on the subject of grammatically incorrect wooden signs because she has seen far more in one lifetime than any true grammar aficionado can abide. So we must move on.
Do not forget who is calling whom.
Now we come to the eternal who versus whom debate. “Who” is a nominative case pronoun; “whom” is a subjective case pronoun. But what you call them is not nearly as important as how you use them. To simplify, “who” performs the action of the verb; “whom” receives the action of the verb (or in other uses becomes the object of a preposition, which is a subject unto itself).
Even in my tricky little sentence above, “who” is still performing the act of calling “whom,” even though here “who” follows the verb “forget.” Any questions?
Lest we decide Grammar Queen is becoming slightly too picky, please remember that in naturally written speech (or even in deep POV narration), it is usually perfectly acceptable for your more casual and/or less educated characters to use “who” willy-nilly when perhaps correctly they should really be saying “whom.”
On the other hand, using “whom” incorrectly usually makes even the most intelligent among us appear quite pretentious if not scathingly illiterate.
“I wonder” is a statement, not a question, and therefore requires a period, not a question mark.
Incorrect: I wonder where I put my glasses?
Correct: I wonder where I put my glasses.
Or in dialogue, use a comma:
“I wonder where I put my glasses,” Sandra mused.
There are certain variations of “I wonder” phrasing where different punctuation might be required, but Grammar Queen is already tired of this subject and suggests you invest in a helpful grammar reference book such as Grammatically Correct, by Anne Stilman.
In a compound sentence the comma is placed before the conjunction (and, but, or), not after the conjunction.
Incorrect: Debby writes for Love Inspired Suspense but, Julie writes for Revell.
Correct: Debby writes for Love Inspired Suspense, but Julie writes for Revell.
Incorrect: Debby writes 600-page sagas, but Julie’s novels can easily be read in less than a day.
Oops, that has nothing to do with grammar! Moving along . . .
Do not restrict your nonrestrictive descriptors, and vice versa.
Let us begin by explaining the difference between restrictive and nonrestrictive. A restrictive descriptor is essential to the meaning of the sentence, whereas a nonrestrictive descriptor, if removed from the sentence, would not affect the meaning. Nonrestrictive descriptors are set off by commas; restrictive descriptors are not.
Are we clear on this? Perhaps more examples are in order. What is wrong with the following sentence?
Audra’s friend, Tina, is a multiple Golden Heart finalist.
Think . . . think . . .
Alas, if we take this statement as true, it means poor Audra has only one friend, the tireless and loyal Tina. But of course, we know Audra has many, many friends. Thus the sentence should have no commas:
Audra’s friend Tina is a multiple Golden Heart finalist.
The same is true when mentioning a spouse:
Incorrect: One day Cara hopes to meet Pam’s husband Orlando [name changed to protect the innocent].
We know for a fact that Pam is not a bigamist, which means we must insert a comma in the above sentence so that it reads:
One day Cara hopes to meet Pam’s husband, Orlando.
And one more example, this time regarding restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses:
Incorrect: The avid fan, who accosted Glynna at her book signing, was quickly wrestled to the ground by Myra.
It should be clear to anyone who has read Glynna’s books that she has more than one avid fan. Therefore the sentence above should contain no commas.
Correct: The avid fan who accosted Glynna at her book signing was quickly wrestled to the ground by Myra. (Although Myra-the-wimp informs me this entire tackling scenario would be highly unlikely and dear Glynna would have to fend for herself.)
We could spend hours and hours discussing Grammar Queen’s pet peeves, but then we would have no time to enjoy today’s sumptuous breakfast buffet. Feel free to nibble on the mixed berry crepes, eggs Florentine, and buttermilk spice muffins while you chat amongst yourselves about any and all grammatical concerns.
As added incentive for our many wonderful and chatty Seekerville friends, Grammar Queen is delighted to offer a fortunate commenter his or her very own copy of Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing, by fellow grammarian Mignon Fogarty.
Also, should you have any questions for Grammar Queen, feel free to post them in your comments. Grammar Queen is never far from her Chicago Manual of Style and innumerable other grammar reference books. (And she promises not to interrupt Myra’s train of thought any more often than necessary.)
From time to time, Grammar Queen tweets about various grammar topics. You can follow her at http://twitter.com/TheGrammarQueen
Learn more about Grammar Queen's alter ego, Myra Johnson, at www.MyraJohnson.com and on Myra's Facebook page.