Good morning, class. Yes, it is moi, and welcome to Grammar 101, Seekerville style. If you are a new student who has not yet been introduced to my royal highness, I am affectionately known in Seekerville as The Grammar Queen.
Many of you may already be diligently at work revising your Speedbo manuscripts. So that I may assist you in your endeavors, allow me to review some of my most annoying pet peeves.
Before we begin, however, let me remind you that Grammar Queen is not here to compromise your elusive writer’s voice but to ensure that when you as the writer do break the rules of grammar, you do so with full knowledge of the whys and wherefores by which you deign to dally with these long-accepted rules.
(As always, any reference to real people in the examples given below is purely coincidental and is not necessarily to be construed as fact.)
Ready to take notes? Then let us begin.
1. Never, under any circumstances, should you dangle your modifiers.
A modifier is a word or phrase that restricts or adds clarification to the noun with which it is associated—precisely why it should not be left dangling far afield from said noun.
Incorrect: While saving her manuscript, the cat walked across Tina’s keyboard and accidentally hit the delete key.
Correct: While saving her manuscript, Tina gasped when her cat walked across the keyboard and accidentally hit the delete key.
Incorrect: Bringing in the groceries, a mouse ran across Mary’s foot, causing her to scream.
Correct: Bringing in the groceries, Mary screamed when a mouse ran across her foot.
The opening participle phrase in sentences such as these modifies the noun in closest proximity, which is rightly the subject of the sentence. BUT—Tina’s cat obviously was not saving Tina’s manuscript, and the mouse was most certainly not bringing in Mary’s groceries. My dears, can you see the misunderstandings such errors can cause? So do not do this. Ever!
Possessives indicate possession. Plurals imply more than one. So let us begin by addressing the problems of . . .
its versus it’s
your versus you’re
This concept is so ridiculously simple that I am getting a headache even mentioning it.
Its and your (no apostrophe) are possessive pronouns, used in the same manner as his or her or their.
On the other hand:
it’s = it is
you’re = you are
On a related issue, as I have stated time and again, it annoys me to no end when I come across incorrectly formed plurals and misused apostrophes in signage. Perhaps you have seen them:
Welcome to the Harders’ Ranch
Julie simply needs a sign that states this lovely lake house is where the Lessmans live (notice my artful use of alliteration). The name here should be plural, not possessive:
As for Audra, her sign should read:
Welcome to the Harderses’ Ranch
Yes, yes, I know the “es” attached to Harders seems like too much . . . something or other. But I assure you, this is the correct way to imply that the entire Harders family, not just Audra, owns the ranch.
It would also be correct to say:
Welcome to the Harders Ranch
Here, “Harders” is simply used as an adjective modifying “Ranch,” so again, the possessive form is not necessary.
3. Always remember who is calling whom.
Even in my clever little sentence above, “who” is still performing the act of calling “whom,” even though here “who” follows the verb “remember.” Any questions?
Lest we decide Grammar Queen is being entirely too uncompromising concerning this topic, I will concede that in naturally written speech (or even in deep POV narration), it is often 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 makes even the most intelligent among us appear quite pretentious if not scathingly illiterate.
(And please do not race to any conclusions or let this go beyond the walls of our classroom, but I recently came upon a rumor that the word whom may eventually fall out of use entirely. Alas, it breaks my grammatically correct heart!)
Here is another sticky wicket involving pronoun usage. When using pronouns as part of compound sentence subjects or compound objects of a transitive verb or preposition, be sure to use the correct case.
Incorrect: Tina and me are going to the conference together.
Correct: Tina and I are going to the conference together.
Incorrect: There will be a table at the book signing for Janet and she.
Correct: There will be a table at the book signing for Janet and her.
And please, please, please! Deliver me from the dreaded “for you and I.”
Oh, the agony! Someone pass the smelling salts—quickly!
Thank you, thank you. I’m feeling much better now. Let us continue. . . .
4. In a compound sentence the comma is placed before the conjunction (and, but, or), not after the conjunction.
Incorrect: Ruthy writes for Love Inspired but, Debby writes for Love Inspired Suspense.
Correct: Ruthy writes for Love Inspired, but Debby writes for Love Inspired Suspense.
Really, does this need further explanation?
First, we must differentiate between restrictive and nonrestrictive. A restrictive descriptor is essential to the meaning of the sentence (that means you need the information, my dears), whereas a nonrestrictive descriptor, if removed from the sentence, would not affect the meaning (that means you do not need this extra information).
Therefore, nonrestrictive (unessential) descriptors ARE set off by commas; restrictive descriptors (essential for identification) are not.
Are we clear on this? Perhaps more examples are in order.
Incorrect: Janet met her friend, Missy, for lunch on her way through town.
Correct: Janet met her friend Missy for lunch on her way through town.
Alas, if the first statement were true, it would mean poor Janet has only one friend, the tireless and loyal Missy. But of course, we know Janet has many, many friends. Thus the sentence should have no commas.
The same is true when mentioning a spouse:
Incorrect: One day Myra hopes to meet Sandra’s husband Engelbert. [name changed to protect the innocent]
Correct: One day Myra hopes to meet Sandra’s husband, Engelbert.
We know for a fact that Sandra is not a bigamist, which means the comma becomes necessary.
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 Cara.
Correct: The avid fan who accosted Glynna at her book signing was quickly wrestled to the ground by Cara.
It should be clear to anyone who has read Glynna’s books that she has more than one avid fan. Therefore the first sentence should contain no commas.
6. Lying is a sin, especially when you really intended to lay something down.
Incorrect: Lay down and rest for a bit.
Correct: Lie down and rest for a bit.
Incorrect: A happy future lays ahead for the plucky hero and heroine.
Correct: A happy future lies ahead for the plucky hero and heroine.
Incorrect: Cindy lay her book on the shelf.
Correct: Cindy laid her book on the shelf.
Incorrect: Patti Jo’s cat has laid on the porch for an hour.
Correct: Patti Jo’s cat has lain on the porch for an hour.
I wish there were some simple way of remembering how to properly use these two teensy but oh-so-complicated verbs. The primary difference is that lie is intransitive (not followed by a direct object) and lay is transitive (always takes a direct object).
You lie on the bed. You lay the book down.
Past tense is actually where the complications set in, since lay is actually the past tense of lie, and lain is the past participle form (has lain, have lain).
The past AND past participle of lay is laid.
I’m sorry, class, but you will simply have to study and memorize the lie/lay conjugations as best you can.
Pop Quiz Time!!
We could spend hours and hours discussing Grammar Queen’s pet peeves, and there are many! But now it is time to put your notes away and take out pencil and paper for a quiz. Using the lessons learned above, please find the errors in each sentence below—and be prepared to explain! You may report your answers in the comments.
- Walts’ experience with Kindle Scout turned out quite well.
- Missy invited everyone over to the Tippens’ new house for a backyard barbecue.
- Jackie suggested her and Patti Jo should make a peach pie together.
- “Its going to be a long day,” Ruthy whined.
- Reading the text message, Sally’s phone buzzed in her hand.
- Mary’s chicken laid in the nest for a long time before laying an egg.
- Who will Nancy take horseback riding with her?
- Jill, Jeanne, or whomever is available may help set up for the Seekerville picnic.
- Wilani exceeded her Speedbo goals and, she is already at work on her next manuscript.
- The book, that Vince most wanted to read, is now available on Amazon.
As added incentive for improving your grammar comprehension, a fortunate student may win his or her very own copy of a helpful book by another purveyor of grammatical correctness: Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. Myra has also generously contributed one of her books (winner's choice) to the giveaway. If you would like to be entered in either or both drawings, simply mention your interest in a comment.
In addition, should you have specific questions, feel free to ask away. Grammar Queen is never far from her Chicago Manual of Style and innumerable other grammar reference books.
Now, under pain of banishment (she wishes!), I am compelled to provide the following information concerning the brilliant, beautiful, and extremely talented author under whose aegis I am permitted to present these illuminating lectures. (Is that enough buttering up, my dear?) By the way, the author would be most grateful if you would BUY HER BOOKS and POST REVIEWS (nice ones, naturally). Your doing so will make her so much more pleasant to live with.
About my charming and delightful companion, without whom I would be utterly lost (which is to say I would not exist at all): Award-winning author Myra Johnson writes emotionally gripping stories about love, life, and faith. Thanks in part to Grammar Queen’s invaluable assistance, Myra is a two-time finalist for the prestigious ACFW Carol Awards and winner of Christian Retailing’s Best for historical fiction. Originally from Texas but now residing in the beautiful Carolinas, Myra and her husband (and Grammar Queen) love the climate and scenery, but they may never get used to the pulled pork Carolinians call “barbecue”! The Johnsons share their home with two very pampered doggies who don’t always understand the meaning of “Mom’s trying to write.” They’re also currently harboring their younger daughter and family (six in all plus a kitty!) as they transition toward their next missionary calling. With grandkids underfoot ranging in age from 14 down to 3, there’s never a dull moment!
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