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All Things Writing & Publishing > What is good grammar

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message 1: by Tim (last edited Jul 31, 2016 02:27AM) (new)

Tim Rees | 732 comments Elon wrote on the tightening thread: I think rules matter all the time...bad grammar is always going to be bad writing. The thing about adverbs or words ending in "ly" though is..

Got to disagree with you here Eldon. Grammar has to be cultural and not traditional. What I mean by that is culture is constantly changing and adapting to ever changing lifestyles, habits and yes, techniques. It is a constantly shifting sand where creative people experiment with fashion, film, art and, yes, writing. Culture is alive. Tradition on the other hand is fixed and immobile and is destined to be eroded by the passing of time. In essence it is dead and should be forgotten.

The grammar police rely on fixed tradition to wage their war on rebellious writers who refuse to obey their rules. I dislike rules intensely. Rules limit creativity. If it is legible, it is good writing in my book - sorry about the pun on the end there, or perhaps I'm not... :D

It is important to remember that the doyen of the English language, William Shakespeare (or rather works attributed to him - but we've been there) wrote at a time there were no grammar and no spelling rules. Since, lot's of little symbols have been introduced to grammar to help legibility. That is good, but it is the domain of the individual writer as to how he or she phrases sentences and uses those symbols. If a reader can understand what has been written it is good writing.

So what do you guys think?


message 2: by Nik (new)

Nik Krasno | 15751 comments Depends on the context I think. I still expect to read a serious scientific book, newspaper article or something 'classic' with close to zero mistakes, be it per Chicago or Oxford standard, or whoever sets them.
On the other hand, I really enjoyed some of Irvine Welsh books and went that extra mile to master the Scottish slang he used. So 'fitba' for 'football' or 'kerds' for 'cards' didn't really sound as ungrammatical in his books.
If you deliberately makes something ungrammatical and the result is 'cool', then it might work.
But when I intend 'coach' and write 'couch', it's quite a different story -:)


message 3: by Tim (new)

Tim Rees | 732 comments Yes, Irvine uses a lot of vernacular. But vernacular is grammatically okay in dialogue. Does he use it in narrative as well? Can't remember? Love it if he does because that's a flick in the eye to the grammar police... :D


message 4: by Nik (new)

Nik Krasno | 15751 comments Tim wrote: "Yes, Irvine uses a lot of vernacular. But vernacular is grammatically okay in dialogue. Does he use it in narrative as well? Can't remember? Love it if he does because that's a flick in the eye to ..."

Don't remember too, since read last book of his maybe 10 years ago. Heard there is a prequel or sequel out to Trainspotting and Porno. Might grab it at some stage


message 5: by Annie (last edited Jul 31, 2016 07:35AM) (new)

Annie Arcane (anniearcane) Hmm. I'm gonna play devil's advocate and sit on the fence for this one. I think it hinges on a few things...

1. Intention: Did you make the "errors" on purpose?

@Mr Tim: I love sentence frags and using ellipses in place of em-dashes. I think these are ugly...

@Mr Eldon: I've also made legit errors. These require fixing. And some self-flagellation.

2. Kahunas: If you're gonna be ballsy then stay ballsy.

Don't come crying to me when you (the "royal" you haha!) get a neg review for bad grammar. Because it WILL happen. Celebrate the fact that someone noticed instead *smirks*

3. Hugs: Who doesn't love these?


message 6: by Ian (new)

Ian Bott (iansbott) | 214 comments I'm a mixed bag of contradictions on this topic :)

Like Nik, I think it depends on context. Yes I will expect to hold a an article in a publication to a higher standard than a comment on a blog post. Also, I am saddened at the erosion of correct spelling and good grammar in things like news articles because it seems to signal a lessening of respect for the written word. However I do understand that language evolves.

Like Tim, I dislike the grammar police. However I strongly believe that the purpose of grammar is to aid communication, not to stifle creativity. Often I feel the complaints about being stifled come from either laziness (it's too hard, I just want to write) or from a blind knee-jerk against any kind of external order. That has buggerall to do with creativity. If you are a creative person you will continue to be creative as sin despite any constraints. And when I envisage some cool thing in my mind that I want to express in words, I want to know it will be understood and conveyed correctly into the minds of my readers, and that won't happen without some commonly agreed protocols for how to string words together. That's all that grammar is.

Where real writing genius comes in is knowing how to bend the rules just enough to have an impact, to create a new sensation in the minds of readers, while still being understood.

The problem with the grammar police is that they are over-enthusiastic and stamp on anything that doesn't conform to the rules and refuse to recognize this last point.


message 7: by Tim (last edited Jul 31, 2016 10:54AM) (new)

Tim Rees | 732 comments Very good points, Ian. Unfortunately I find myself agreeing with you... :D


message 8: by Ian (last edited Jul 31, 2016 03:01PM) (new)

Ian Miller | 11505 comments If you read a reasonably recent "Fowler" you will see frequent references to what has changed since the original Fowler, and many things that once would have been dumped on are now accepted. My view is the predominant purpose of grammar is to make the meaning of sentences unambiguous. So things like dangling participles are bad, or hilarious, depending on your viewpoint. But if there is no possible dispute as to meaning, for me that is more or less OK.

I am also less enthused about the grammar police who praise "properly edited" works, then when you look at them, the authors can't seem to get their subjunctives right. Is that bad? It also annoys me when the grammar police pick on split infinitives, saying you don't get them in classical latin writing, not one of them. Of course not - in latin the infinite is one word. The other thing that annoys me is that as English is fragmenting, grammar is also diverging. There was an item in a recent newspaper hear from a University expert who had a quiz, where you had to pick which of two options was correct. When you turned to the page of answers, there was quite a surprise (at least for me). All the answers were correct, some in UK English, and the rest in US English. The strange thing here was that I got them about half right for each option, and this is apparently fairly average for New Zealanders - we seem to be somewhere in between the US and the UK, which means in my writing, even apart from any real blotches, I am going to get attacked from one sort of grammar police. Can't win :-(


message 9: by Tim (new)

Tim Rees | 732 comments Okay, so I confess. I did make a monumental mistake in my first novel and I made that error on the first line! The novel was titled Raw Nerve and I was summoned to New York to meet with HarperCollins... But my point is, so many professionals had read it. I had an agent and she's sent it around all the major publishing houses and no one picked up on this monumental grammatical error on the opening line of the novel, which was:

The opening line read: "He watched the rainfall in a vertical sheet. It was a grey day for August and the greyness seemed to somehow intensify the heat..."

What is the error? Well, I'm not going to play a guessing game and some of you will have noticed because I've already identified an error there. But for clarity: rainfall has to be two words or my character is watching the rain dressed in a vertical sheet... It is hilarious isn't when it's pointed out... But remember no one noticed until I joined an early e-pubbing site in around 2002... :D


message 10: by Alex (new)

Alex (asato) Tim wrote: "He watched the rainfall in a vertical sheet. It was a grey day for August and the greyness seemed to somehow intensify the heat..."

doh! i saw that on my second read-through. my daughter would've definitely caught that. she'll even make corrections to my subject-verb tense agreement:
"Rubble, gravel and wide swaths of what look like dried blood cover the floor."
Correction: (view spoiler)



message 11: by Nik (new)

Nik Krasno | 15751 comments Had 'waiving the gun' instead of 'waving' pretty much in the 2-nd sentence of the book after editors and all until someone noticed


message 12: by Annie (new)

Annie Arcane (anniearcane) Nik wrote: "'waiving the gun'"

Freudian slip ^_~


message 13: by Philip (new)

Philip (phenweb) | 1 comments Had a wander instead of wonder in first para - corrected but...


message 14: by Nik (new)

Nik Krasno | 15751 comments Exactly, Ann-:)
After Alex's intro, should switch to cold weapons really


message 15: by J.J. (new)

J.J. Mainor | 2281 comments This just reminded me of an episode of Futurama where giant brains arrive on Earth and turn everyone into idiots. The main character is immune because he's already an idiot so they trap him in classic literature and his solution is to write his own book and trap the brain in it.

"Now he's trapped in a book I wrote; a world of plot holes and spelling errors."

"Big Brain am winning! I am the greetest! Now I must leave Earth for no raisin!"


message 16: by Nik (new)

Nik Krasno | 15751 comments -:)


message 17: by M.L. (new)

M.L. I read 'rainfall' as a noun and while, in a strict sense, it does not match 'in vertical sheets,' if I know what the writer means -- and if everything else is there, meaning the writing itself -- then I give it the benefit of the doubt.

What I do find funny are dialog tags like, "I'm dying!" Tom croaked. Instead of just using the more or less invisible 'said.'


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