Author Topic: Ask Opus: On Grammar  (Read 13422 times)

Offline Skip Slocum

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Re: Ask Opus: On Grammar
« Reply #15 on: October 06, 2009, 03:43:22 PM »
Yes, very good instruction.  ;D

Offline Opus

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Re: Ask Opus: On Grammar
« Reply #16 on: October 06, 2009, 06:24:31 PM »
On Avoiding "ING" Words

Journolady asked why writers are advised to avoid "ING" words.   "ING" words are the present participle verbals that may take the place of nouns (as gerunds), verbs, and adjectives (as participles).  Here are some examples:

Working at my business is not the most enjoyable experience in the world.  (gerund)

By this time tomorrow, I will have been working at my business for four hours.  (verb)

Working at my business, I discovered the secret of my success.  (participle)

In the first sentence, working is a gerund with an adverbial phrase modifying the verbal.  My college English professor always averred that this is the one situation in which an adverb can modify a noun.  The conventional view, however, is that the adverbial prepositional phrase is taking advantage of the dual nature of the gerund.  While it takes the place of a noun, which cannot be modified by an adverb, the word is still, nevertheless, a verb that can be.

In the second sentence above, working is a conventional action verb.  I gave it a little extra english, so to speak, by employing the future perfect continuous tense.  (That's the tense in which we are looking back from the future.)

In the third sentence, working is an adjectival participle modifying the subject, I.

Participles have the same potential problems as passive voice.  They can cause sentences to become too wordy and reduce their clarity.  Moreover, participles are easily misused.  The following is a good example of what is called a dangling participle:

Running toward the barn, my leg was broken.

The participle is attempting to modify leg, but a leg all by itself cannot run anywhere.  The suppressed doer of the action, who is the true target of the dangling participle, is I.  The sentence could be improved by re-introducing the doer, "Running toward the barn, I broke my leg." or, perhaps better, "I broke my leg while running to the barn."  There is a subtle little twist in the above sentence that can be quite confusing.  You might be tempted to think that the genitive (possessive) personal pronoun my saves the day.  It does NOT!  The participle is still dangling even with the pronoun because the pronoun is not the subject of the sentence.  Leg is the subject that must be semantically capable of the action attributed to it by the participle.  As a single leg cannot run, it cannot do what this participle demands, so the participle is dangling.

Here is another problem sentence:

Considering the voters' dislike of the candidate, his loss of the election was understandable.

This sentence may appear correct, but the participial phrase has a subtle flaw.  That flaw is revealed when we ask the question, "Who is considering?"  The participle is trying to modify his, which is a pronoun standing for the candidate, but it is actually the writer of the sentence that is considering.  This sort of ambiguity, which is common with the verbs considering and focusing, can be difficult to spot.

So when and how should "ING" words be used, or should they always be avoided?  There does not seem to be any reason to avoid using verb tenses that employ the present participle as the main verb of a sentence.  Advice on the use of gerunds and adjectival participles, however, seems less certain.  The misuse and overuse of gerunds and participles is very common and often difficult to spot even for an experienced writer or fluent speaker.  Nevertheless, the recommendation ought to be, as it is with passive voice, that writers should employ them skillfully rather than avoid them altogether.
« Last Edit: October 07, 2009, 06:19:02 AM by Opus »

Offline graysey

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Re: Ask Opus: On Grammar
« Reply #17 on: October 07, 2009, 02:45:27 AM »

Italics should be used to highlight a particular element, or elements, of your work. Italicizing the entire thing would be overstretched.

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Offline journolady

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Re: Ask Opus: On Grammar
« Reply #18 on: October 07, 2009, 02:54:03 AM »
I am so thankful to you Opus for taking the time and the effort to clarify this. I did all this in grammar but a refresher course seems to be what I need. I as also most of us, use correct English but sometimes to be more precise I will have to work on the correct usage of words. The when and how so to speak.
Thanks again
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Offline pb

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Re: Ask Opus: On Grammar
« Reply #19 on: October 07, 2009, 05:04:58 AM »
yes, good work Opus.

what's the difference between toward and towards?

Offline Annmarie

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Re: Ask Opus: On Grammar
« Reply #20 on: October 07, 2009, 05:30:27 AM »
Good explanation of ---ING,  Opus.

Like almost all other "do nots" in writing, I guess it comes down to: Use it like salt. Sparingly. And only when it's really necessary. Thanks for the clarity.
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Offline Opus

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Re: Ask Opus: On Grammar
« Reply #21 on: October 07, 2009, 05:54:00 AM »
Toward vs. Towards

My friend pb asks what the difference is between toward and towards.

Toward and towards are interchangeable; however, the former tends to dominate in the U.S. while the latter prevails in the rest of the world.  Once again, we Americans just have to be different. :)
« Last Edit: October 07, 2009, 06:00:58 AM by Opus »

Offline ScribeSeeker

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Re: Ask Opus: On Grammar
« Reply #22 on: October 07, 2009, 04:14:06 PM »
I've got a question.  I use a lot of adverbs.  I was told as much by an online critique group.  Mostly, I use it in dialogue.  For example,

"Man, it's hot out!" he exclaimed animatedly, fanning his face with the brochure.

"You don't have to tell me," she said slyly.

Her rumpled clothes and unwashed hair were telltale signs of her depression.  "I just can't take it anymore," she wailed forlornly.

So here's the thing - I do try to SHOW as well as describe, but how many times can you really say someone nodded or raised and eyebrow, or turned down the corners of their mouth?  I think it can be really hard to do that.  "Really" - one adverb I do try to avoid in my writing.  That, and "very". 

So what's a girl to do?  Are adverbs bad, and should I avoid them?
Eileen
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Writing my first novel, tentatively entitled "Better"

Offline Opus

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Re: Ask Opus: On Grammar
« Reply #23 on: October 07, 2009, 08:58:12 PM »
ScribeSeeker,

There are, perhaps, more effective ways of "showing".  Here are excerpts of dialogue from my current project:

"I hope you are rested from the toils of the road," he said.

"I have never known such rest or speedy recovery from the weariness I had felt."  Ilse wanted him to think her strong, but she would not deceive him by any word or device.  She had been drained by their travels and would not conceal it from him.

"Sit here, my love," he said, offering his seat, "and enjoy the rain."

"The rains have come in time to refresh without soaking us upon the road," she observed as she settled into his former place on the couch.  "They would not have been so pleasant had they come upon us sooner."

Taking his place beside her, he wrapped his arm about her replying, "You do not think that I would permit the rains to discomfit you in the open."

"I do not understand.  Do even the rains obey you?"  She sank into his bosom as she spoke and felt the warmth of his body blending with hers.

"They do," he said, and after a brief pause, "I love the rains."


And then later...

"But why should this be?"  Ilse was visibly distressed by this.

"This I do not fully know.  It is a law of God that everything comes at a price, and I have given your people this law.  For some reason, the price of the freedom of the Wood for a mortal woman is chattel slavery to me."

With this, Ilse had much to consider.  Then a sad thought broke forth in words, "You speak of this as if you know it all from experience."

"I do."  This was his only reply, and she could get no more from him on the matter.

"So about the place in the mountains you wish to take me," Ilse said, returning to him to the subject at hand.


(This couple's speech is intended to be antiquated.  I do not represent this as particularly good dialogue.  It is offered just to illustrate my point.)

Notice that I do not always use "he said", "she said", etc.  Sometimes, I give no explicit indication as to the speaker because the alternating flow is easy to follow.  Other times, I simpy relate what the character is doing while he or she is speaking.  I do not say much about how they are speaking.  There are few "-ly" adverbs in the narration, and I do not use the formula "(s)he said X-ly" as appears in your narrative.  Good dialogue reports only what is necessary, and it often allows the characters themselves to do the showing.

Here are a few tips that you may find helpful in narrating your dialogue:

1.  Narrate as little as possible for the desired effect and for the comfort of the reader.
2.  Vary the methods used to identify speakers.
3.  Avoid or minimize pedestrian techniques such as the "-ly" formula.
4.  Sometimes, allow the characters to narrate themselves.
5.  Allow more intense statements to go unnarrated.

I will add a discussion about adverbs to my list.  The next treatise is to be about the proper use of affect and effect.

Kind regards,
Opus

Offline Jos

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Re: Ask Opus: On Grammar
« Reply #24 on: October 08, 2009, 02:28:26 AM »
Quote
The next treatise is to be about the proper use of affect and effect.
Oh, good, 'cause I thought I understood them, but then I got my knickers in a twist trying to use them properly t'other day.
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Offline pb

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Re: Ask Opus: On Grammar
« Reply #25 on: October 09, 2009, 10:03:52 AM »
Toward vs. Towards

Toward and towards are interchangeable; however, the former tends to dominate in the U.S. while the latter prevails in the rest of the world.  Once again, we Americans just have to be different. :)

thanks for the heads-up Opus. I thought it would be something subtle regarding are you or they coming or going toward/ towards  ::)

SO. What, dear Opus, is the correct punctuation for brackets.  does it count as a comma on its own, it being a sort of pause or should you if necessary put a comma alongside it? and if so, does the comma go inside the bracket or outside?




Offline Opus

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Re: Ask Opus: On Grammar
« Reply #26 on: October 09, 2009, 12:37:58 PM »
I am trying to get a lot of things done before my trip to Texas on the 22nd.  It has been very hectic, and I have not had time to post my pending articles.  I will be working all weekend, but I will try to get at least three things in:  Affect vs. Effect, Adverbs Discussion, and PB's question on bracket punctuation.

Kind regards,
Opus

Offline journolady

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Re: Ask Opus: On Grammar
« Reply #27 on: October 10, 2009, 01:51:17 AM »
Opus,
I am looking forward to your posts, whenever that happens.
Sonal
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Offline Opus

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Re: Ask Opus: On Grammar
« Reply #28 on: October 10, 2009, 02:34:59 AM »
I hope to be able to post during my holiday when I am with my parents, but after that I will be in a remote desert mountain national park for several days.  There are no phones, TV, or internet to distract me from writing.  This is a place that I have always loved, and I visit it as often as possible.

Kind regards,
Opus

Offline journolady

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Re: Ask Opus: On Grammar
« Reply #29 on: October 10, 2009, 02:44:43 AM »
wow Opus,
Your holiday sounds fun. Here in India its holiday time with Diwali approaching, its the biggest Hindu festival which is on October 17 so families takes short breaks. I am planning to go to the hills, foothills of Himalayan mountains with my extended family. I love the mountains seems to me you also do.
You have fun and enjoy the break.
It is never too late for anything. Just do it. Try new things.
Good is the enemy of Great.
Just write yaar.