Grammarians of the world – untie!

Ok, make that “unite.” Today’s boggle comes after reading five submissions – all were grammatical disasters. Syntax errors, spelling mistakes, punctuation disasters, subject/verb displacement, possessive confusion, indefinite article misuse – these all serve to make me want to drown my sorrows in the beagle’s margaritas.

My distress is two-fold. The more immediate of my suffering centers on why an author would submit such a disaster in the first place. Do they not know or care that their knowledge of English would fit on the back of matchbook cover? My rhetoric isn’t meant to be insulting, but one of genuine shock. One of the most important writer’s tools is understanding grammar, so it blows out my space/time continuum to see sentences like this:

The group of drunk beagles were a sight to behold.

The proper way to write this is:

The group of drunk beagles was a sight to behold.

“Group” is the subject of the verb “was.” Many writers feel the first sentence is right because they’re looking at the plural “beagles.” Since it’s closest to the verb “was,” the assumption is that “drunk beagles” is the subject. It isn’t.

Grammar is a writer’s tool. It’s like a plumber coming to your house without his toolbox. You’d be tippy tapping your foot saying, “time is money, dude, and you’re wasting mine because you didn’t come prepared.” Guess what? A manuscript that logs a Force 5 on the Grammar-Disaster Scale is a waste of any editor or agent’s time as well because the author didn’t come prepared. Whether it’s apathy or ignorance, it’s an instant rejection because I don’t have the time to teach writers grammar. It’s assumed writers know the tools of their trade.

And this leads me to the second part of my misery: Apathy

If I had a dime for every time I heard a writer say, “I don’t need to worry about grammar; my editor will clean it up,” I’d be able to fire the beagle and hire a real secretary. For starters, this statement implies the writer – I refuse to call them “authors” – is too self-absorbed to learn his trade. And he couldn’t be more wrong. The only known cure for a grammatical disaster is a rejection letter. Period. Any writer who lives under this misconception will be perennially unpublished. Or incredibly lucky.

Moreover, I don’t understand this kind of thinking. Since when did it become acceptable to do anything less than your best? When did “good enough” replace personal pride and the satisfaction of doing a job well? This downturn in societal indifference leads to soggy results. “Hey, who cares if I can’t conjugate a verb or spell Mississippi?” Who cares? Well, I do, for one. But YOU should care. Do you want to be seen as someone who must rely on others to fix your work because you don’t care enough to be self-sufficient? What happened to personal responsibility?

If you know your Grammar ‘O Meter barely registers a single ping, then you need to spit and polish your education. Stop your writing and tend to the most important skill you’ll ever learn. If you can’t communicate effectively, how on earth do you expect to write an effective story, or be taken seriously? We aren’t going to clean up your mess for you. I give you my personal guar-an-tee on that. Writing with confidence is like drinking the perfect chocolate martini,  skiing the perfect mountain, or writing a satisfying scene. It’s knowing that you worked hard to attain a gift that will aid in your success.

After all, anyone can be the plumber who forgot his tools.

38 Responses to Grammarians of the world – untie!

  1. Pelotard says:

    “Since when did it become acceptable to do anything less than your best? When did “good enough” replace personal pride and the satisfaction of doing a job well?”

    Well, when I return translated texts to the major software producers in the US, I get a sheet back saying how many errors QA found, and how many are acceptable. It does not make economic sense for my client to pay for a perfect product. In the same way, if I provided it for them anyway, I would be out-competed inside a week. All I can do is “the best possible, given the severe restraints on time and money”. If you want me to pin a date, I say 1993.

    Of course, one significant factor for them is that in less than two years, every single copy of the text will be recycled. But the attitude has spread to newspapers – one that I read fired their proofreaders, and relies on the readers reporting errors in their Web version. I would estimate that you have it in publishing houses inside a decade. I already see some signs.

    Hey, I don’t like any of this. It just so happened that I could provide a specific answer to a rethorical question 🙂

  2. To pick up on your plumber analogy, Lynn: a writer who doesn’t have the grammar basics neatly arranged in his or her toolbox is like a plumber who doesn’t know his in-flow from his out-flow and uses sellotape (Scotch tape) to fix your leaking pipe.

    Basic grammar isn’t difficult to learn, nor is correct spelling and punctuation.

    On another tack, whoever programmed Word’s spelling and grammar checker should be shot.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Pelotard – I feel you’re talking about a different type of writing/writer. I also used to copy-edit and proof-read company reports. (Gah!) In the end they decided to do it in-house (ie not by a professional writer who really really knows her grammar+syntax etc) because I was finding too many mistakes and therefore costing them too much money. So, I know where you’re coming from when you say it didn’t make economic sense for the client to pay for a perfect product. (Even though that attitude made me grind my teeth). But what Lynn is talking about is writing of a different order. And for that it is absolutely essential for the writer to be an expert in the tools of the trade, one of which is grammar. Then we can certainly break those rules, when we know why we do so, and create something of beauty. But a thing of beauty is nothing if it does not have a strong base. We want our words to last, not be recycled. Again, you rightly make the point about newspapers – and again, newspapers are ephemeral (even though their words may remain on the internet) and I would argue are allowed to be. Books are meant to last and our readers are much less forgiving. Well, why should they forgive when our inability to use grammar properly so often means we fail to convey our intended meaning or move them in the way we wish?

  4. Nicola Morgan (Really) says:

    SORRY – I am not anonymous, just careless, and your comment system doesn’t remind me. Nicola Morgan wrote that comment above. Too early in the morning.

  5. Steve Emmett says:

    This is the first time I’ve been moved to post on here Lynn. Finding a grammatical howler in a published novel can ruin the whole thing for me. And these days, even the BBC (shock, horror) permits rotten grammar.

  6. Pelotard says:

    Nicola, I absolutely agree with you. But I fear the day when someone at a big publishing company says “When did you last hear a reader say that they admired the punctuation in a book? Noone? OK, let’s scrap the copyediting, it’ll save a lot of cost and my stock options will go up.” The fallout (and I pray there will be a fallout, when people stop buying their books) is beyond the planning horizon. I will still do my best. That’s a different story.

  7. Nicola Morgan (Really) says:

    Pelotard – I don’t think that day is far away but actually (call me a silly optimist) I think the fallout would be swift and effective. No decent writer would put up with it and no decent reader would continue to read the books. And in fact certain publishers have already done away with the proof-reading stage, which I know is not quite the same thing. Authors need to be even more vigilant. Although you’re right about readers never commenting on how much they admire the punctuation, they’re VERY quick to diapprove when we get it wrong. Hooray for readers like that!!

    By the way, I can’t do italics or bold – how come you and Lynn can??

  8. Abi says:

    Pelotard – you know copy-editors do a *lot* more than just check grammar and punctuation, right?

    Lynn – I completely agree. Surely being able to write well should be the main skill of a writer. With the rise of self-publishing, people should start to notice the importance of being able to write well and being able to find the right publisher, copy-editor, designer and proofreader. Well, we can hope.

  9. I understand that proper grammar comes down to money with the big houses. I have several of their copy editors asking me for side jobs.

    But it goes further back than this; the education system in the US has turned its back on doing its job. My personal conspiracy theory has me thinking that it’s easier to subdue and control dimwits than educated people.

    I remember my high school teacher, Mrs. Niedengaard, spending an entire week teaching the difference between who/whom. Nowadays teachers don’t even know the difference, let alone teach it.

    I nearly stroked out when The Daughter came home from high school years ago telling me her English teacher spent three days showing Bowling For Columbine. Given the apathy, it’s not a stretch of the imagination to see submissions filled with syntax errors, clumsy verbiage, and God forbid anyone learn how to use a damn comma.

    My fear is that everyone will be too dumbed down to create a fallout. As long as the houses keep cranking out poorly written teen vampire stories, the masses are happy. Pablum. Will there come a time when readers won’t appreciate a brilliantly written story like East Fifth Bliss,Wheeling the Deal, or Tornado Siren?

    I realize I sound angry, and I am. I feel like a dinosaur who’s struggling against the downfall of our ability to effectively communicate. Apathy sucks stale Twinkie cream.

    I can’t do italics or bold
    It’s html code, Nicola. I’m trying to show you the code, but it keeps misbehaving. I’ll email it to you.

  10. Lissa Lander says:

    Before I hung up my chalk and became a mommy, I taught at a private school. We taught the first graders to diagram sentences, and taught the preschoolers songs like, “the noun is the who word, the verb is the do word!”

    Before that job, I was a tutor. One of my students, who was 15-year-old member of the California public school system, could not identify nouns or verbs.

    The problem with American schools is tragically low expectations, regarding what, and when, children are ready to learn.

  11. The problem with American schools is tragically low expectations

    How better to keep people under control? I used to teach in California’s education system. There was a very concerted effort from Sacramento that we concentrate on “feelings” rather than teaching kids how to write, think independently, do math and science – all those pesky things I was told teachers do. That is when I turned in my chalk. As an editor, I see the by-produce of how well this experiment has worked.

  12. tbrosz says:

    So what’s the limit on errors before an editor gets grumpy? If my grammar is any good at all, it’s out of practice, not formal training. So with 140,000 words, I doubt my manuscript went out without at least two or three grammatical problems somewhere in there.

    I agree that we’re not teaching kids to either read or write like they should nowadays.

  13. Juliet says:

    When I was at school (UK many, many, many years ago)they decided that children shouldn’t be taught grammar in a formal way (didn’t last long), so I learnt most of my grammar from studying foreign languages. Not ideal. I feel I am at a great disadvantage because of this. I often see things mentioned on blogs which I have to go away and look up. They’re not necessarily things I don’t know, just don’t know the correct term for.

    Oh, and Sally, grammar checker and spelling suggestions on Word are a complete waste of space. It makes me shudder to think some people might actually use them thinking they are correcting their work.

  14. So what’s the limit on errors before an editor gets grumpy?

    The minute I spot the first one, my radar is up. It also depends on the transgression. If it’s a dropped letter or some other small typo, I won’t bare my fangs.

    But if I see syntax errors and improper English, then I may read a few more pages before stopping because I assume the rest of the work is just as dismal.

    I have yet to see a brilliant work where the grammar was horrible. Talent and knowledge goes hand in hand, in my experience.

  15. Rick says:

    “The group of drunk beagles was a sight to behold.”
    Were they now.

    It is a sign of the decline of literature as an art that grammar, basically writing rules for non-writers, is slavishly followed by editors. All this means is that the editors don’t understand writing as an art and should stick to non-fiction. Grammar was created, in part, through the errors of writers, as was spelling. At least two “rigid” grammatical rules are the product of an illiterate type-setter at Newnes’ Strand Magazine. Grammar is a tool, to be used or broken as a piece of literature demands. To single out a single sentence, without the context of the piece it sits in to make a point is just bad editing. For example, using “The group of drunk beagles were a sight to behold.” tells me about the narrator and colors a story differently in my conception as I read it. Someone focusing on grammar would miss that entirely, and would be a very bad editor. Aside from the fact that whenever I read a book that has more than six pages without a grammatical error of some sort, I stop reading, the book is a waste of time; edited into pablum, can the plot or object of the book be any better? Literature, like any art, is an individual expression and grammatical errors often provide the key to that individuality which makes something worth reading.

  16. Pelotard says:

    “Pelotard – you know copy-editors do a *lot* more than just check grammar and punctuation, right?”

    Oh, absolutely. It’s just that crappy spelling and grammar sort of screams in my face inside two paragraphs, while some of the “higher-level” stuff might go unnoticed for several pages. (Or completely, actually, if I don’t know the first thing about the subject matter.)

  17. Rick, I’m not sure where to begin with you since you’re a bit rambly.

    “The group of drunk beagles was a sight to behold.”

    The way I wrote it is correct. “Group” is the subject. “Drunk beagles” modifies the subject. Therefore “was” is the correct usage.

    Grammar is a tool, to be used or broken as a piece of literature demands.

    I hear people in Washington trying to say that about our Constitution as well, and both notions are a load of bollocks. This is how the mighty comma has slowly disappeared from writing, making it harder to understand a sentence. This is why some are trying to send quotation marks the way of the dodo. Grammar is not [in my book, at least] an evolutionary notion. When I see people writing “The group of drunk beagles were a sight to behold.” it tells me the writer doesn’t have a firm grasp of grammar. But, hey, if you want to break the rules, be my guest. Just don’t be surprised to see people wince.

    To single out a single sentence, without the context of the piece it sits in to make a point is just bad editing.

    Um, not from where I sit. An incorrectly written sentence is an incorrectly written sentence; context be damned.

  18. Rick says:

    “Um, not from where I sit. An incorrectly written sentence is an incorrectly written sentence; context be damned.”

    I could fill this page with “incorrectly written” sentences by Nobel Laureates, you must absolutely hate Faulkner. Claude Simon, for example, rarely wrote a “correct” sentence. Read a modern redaction of Richardson’s “Pamela” if you don’t think grammar is evolutionary. Especially now with ebooks, that demand a new grammar, the point of view is absurdist, a reflection of the mental problems of anal retention.

    Publishing in the United States has gone down this lamentable road since the seventies, to find it in a small press is shocking and troubling. Small presses should be on the cutting edge, not slavish followers of failed ideas.

    In the case of your drunken beagles, the sentence used as dialogue would tell me about the character saying it, not the grammatical knowledge of the author writing it. Used as narration, it establishes a style and a voice, as well as a way of looking at reality. Does “Drunk beagles” modify “Group?” Or does group define beagles? If the context shows the second as a point of view, your point of view is incorrect within the context of literature.

    The purpose of language is to communicate, and that sometimes involves the invention of a new way to get an idea across. This is pretty much understood in almost all foreign languages and even in Britain, it is only in the U.S. that grammar has become a natural law, and it shows in our literature, which is second rate, even being generous. A good deal of the reason for that is editors who freeze the growing and evolving language into archaic patterns that no longer really fit it.

  19. Nicola Morgan says:

    Rick – oh for goodness’ sake, you’re not talking about the same things as Lynn. You’re talking about different grammatical strictures. And yes, I said strictures, not structures. Let me lay my tackle on the line: I’m a trained classicist in latin and ancient greek and am absolutely a pedant when I need to be; but I’m also someone who utterly believes that rules are there to be broken in the cause of art and meaning and beauty. I break them all the time. I have sentences with no finite verbs and I mess with language in many other ways, but I do it utterly knowingly.

    But there are crappy rules and there are unassailable rules. There are crappy rules, like “Thou shalt not start a sentence with ‘and'” and “Thou shalt never start a sentence with ‘because’ unless at the beginning of a subordinate clause”; but there are other grammatical rules, like “thou shalt always know the frig what the subject of the sentence is, otherwise thou risketh seriously confusing the reader and not saying prcisely what one meaneth” and “one shall at all times know exactly what one is doing with any grammatical construct, thereby ensuring that the sentence is the most beautiful and most clear and most meaningful it can be.” Anything else is utter shite and veers between the extremes of pomposity or vapidity.

    Honestly, this argument is so old. Yeah, pedants suck because they suck the life-blood from a moving, fluid language. But grammatical naifs also suck, because they think that because rules are hard, rules should be ignored. They think that rules bind us: they dont – they empower us to create meanign and perfection. Grammatical rules, real rules, are utterly essential to our command of language. Language is our slave – we have to master it or we are not writers, only pissers in the wind.

  20. Nicola Morgan says:

    In case that’s not clear, I’m with Lynn – grammar is crucial. Grammar is power. There are some absolutes – not the same abosolutes that blind pedants follow, but absolutes all the same. Absolutes of clarity and precision.

  21. Rick says:

    Try this Nicola, in the context of this discussion.

    Do: “I could fill this page with “incorrectly written” sentences by Nobel Laureates, you must absolutely hate Faulkner.”

    and

    “I could fill this page with “incorrectly written” sentences by Nobel Laureates; you must absolutely hate Faulkner.”

    mean the same thing?

  22. Nicola Morgan says:

    Obviously, on one level. On another level, the latter “means” to me that the writer has chosen to obey this rule of punctuation (and, in fact syntax, because sentence structure is syntactical first) because not to would be (in the context you offer) either a) ignorant or b) pointless. To break rules coherently and meaningfully is coherent and meaningful; to do so for any other reason can only be ignorant or pointless.

  23. Nicola Morgan says:

    PS Rick – trust me, I LOVE breaking grammatical rules. I hate the idea of language being static. I do not write like my father. But I utterly and aboslutely believe that only when I know the rules can I break them forcefully and meaningful. I break the rules but I am not an anarchist. In grammatical anarchy lie igliness and confusion and weakness. None of which I will ever condone in writing. (Not a sentence, you’ll notice.) I may make mistakes, but they’re mistakes, akin to typos and I edit them out wherever I find them. I do this for the sake of my readers, because I seek always the best way to express myself. A reader may disagree but at least I know what i’m doing. If I hadn’t been taught the rules of grammar and syntax, it would be scary guesswork.

  24. Rick says:

    “To break rules coherently and meaningfully is coherent and meaningful; to do so for any other reason can only be ignorant or pointless.”

    Only partially. The medium and the context may provide for a different structure so that the individual choice becomes part of that structure. In ebooks, I have noticed that run-ons work as a screen flipper, given the smaller window of type available to the reader. This came from me doing a Bulwer-Lytton in HTML, but that is only marginally relevant. If I decide to attempt this on the level of a book, then run-ons become a part of the structure. The individual run-on, out of this context doesn’t work well, it only works inside it. The choice becomes an overall structural one and not a series of individual choices.

  25. Rick says:

    PS Not necessarily. There is beauty in anarchy. I’ve spent years trying to do a shuffle story, come close a few times. Similar to one of Corso’s shuffle poems. Pure prose anarchy. No matter how you arrange the sentences, it’s a story. It can be done, I think. Ungrammatical unintentional text can admit of unmeant double entendre that opens the reader to the mind of the writer. In actuality become better communication.

  26. Nicola Morgan says:

    But I don’t think that’s anarchy. I think that’s contrived chaos and, yes, often beautiful and revealing. But without the understanding of grammar, and without therefore the ability to choose both what to do with it and how to interpret it once it’s expressed by oneself or someone else, the writer is weak and unable deliberately to express himself or communicate effectively or beautifully, or to strive towards “perfection”. To communicate unintentionally may indeed reveal something hidden in the communicator, but then you might as well lie on the psychiatrist’s couch. That’s not the sort of control I want. But then, I am a control-freak, and very happily so! It’s where I feel power.

    Interesting discussion but I’m afraid we may have to agree to differ – I can never accept that powerful writing can come from someone who doesn’t know how language works. I know very well that some “errors” don’t affect meaning, but they affect mediation. I also know that some of the deliberate breaking of rules that I indulge in (like that hanging preposition, or omitting a finite verb) may also annoy some pedants, and therefore affect mediation with them, but that’s a decision I make knowingly. I write for my readers and not pedants. And thereby lies the burry line.

    When errors reveal lack of understanding of meaning conveyed, then I know I’m reading a writer I don’t trust. But, language bigot that I may be, when errors flaunt perfectly useful rules for no positive reason at all, even without loss of meaning, then I need that writer to be even more brilliant in order for me to be convinced as to his power. Iris Murdoch was a big run-on user, but I got over it!

    Maybe we all see powerful writing in different guises. Maybe we can’t change that. Maybe we don’t want to.

    Rick, I’m going to have to leave this now – talks to prepare and am scarily behind with them. Thanks for the stimulating discussion.

  27. Rick, it seems you and Nicola have had your own debate while I’ve been out of town. I don’t have much to add because it’s apparent that you are one of those whose opinions will never be swayed, and that’s fine with me.

    Not sure if it matters to you or not, but there are few editors who will see your attempts at anarchy as brilliant or remotely amusing because you’re trying to change the very paradigm by which we communicate and set them to your own lowered standards. You are not only the plumber who forgot his tools, but a plumber who never bought them in the first place.

    You suggest that, as a small publisher, I am somehow failing at my job because I don’t see things your way. I think that after a Los Angeles Times bestseller, twelve award winners and a book that’s being made into a movie, I must be doing something right.

    Lastly, I would have to be certifiable to consider sentences like:
    “He don’t mind if you take his sandwich.”

    “Her and me went to the school fundraiser last night.”

    If I allowed that sort of tripe, and yes it is tripe, to fill our books, I’d be out of business. The anarchy business doesn’t pay so well, yanno?

  28. Rick says:

    Lynn

    I am not an unpublished writer, though I don’t consider myself a professional (last year I only made 18k, who can live on that?) and have worked very successfully as a book editor. The reason I came across your site was that one of your writers mentioned on a Kindle board that you were her publisher. I have made the bulk of my living for the past forty years as an antiquarian book dealer. As part of this I keep tabs on small presses, because the cutting edge ones provide the most valuable books in that market. Which are, also, the most influential books over time. A blog, such as yours is helpful in that It tells me about how your books are edited, selected. This, in turn, gives me a clue as to what, if anything, you publish that might be of lasting literary value, and belongs in my stock.

    As to the anarchy business, it pays rather well. A single copy of some books published in the 1990s sells for ten to twelve times what a single book of yours sells for. One can pander to popular tastes. And I suppose in that pursuit grammar is important because there is so little substance.

    As to whether it matters to me or not that an American book editor might not find my “…attempts at anarchy as brilliant or remotely amusing because you’re trying to change the very paradigm by which we communicate and set them to your own lowered standards.” Only an American book editor would see those standards as lower and not higher. And that is why most of the better, more expensive literary properties published since the 1970s were not published in the United States. Yes, it matters to me, because the purely amateur and anal retentive point of view this view represents stifles my literature and hence my culture and my society. What you publish is unneeded, the majors do books like that, in rigid corporate controlled environments. Small presses need to break the molds, not provide pot metal to fill them. They need to “Howl.” And that is why I looked, hoping you had the vision to do that.

  29. Rick, I find it irksome and arrogant when people deal in absolutes based on their personal opinions because their limited views leave no room for proper discussion. It’s apparent you’re not here to share ideas, but to indict and insult anyone who [successfully, I might add] believe differently than you.

    What you publish is unneeded,

    Interesting assumption. I wonder how many of our books you have actually read.

    Given that you’ve shut the door on any meaningful debate, I’m going to return the favor and also politely suggest that we must agree to disagree. I have no more time to waste on those who would debase me on my own blog.

  30. Heather McF says:

    This is a great post and a great discussion. I agree with Lynn and Nicola. Good grammar is important for communicating ideas. Bad grammar will still get a message across, but not the one the author was trying to convey.

    For example, when someone uses a word like ‘unneeded,’ which isn’t in fact a word, they may be trying to say that something is unnecessary, but what is actually communicated, to me at least, is that they don’t speak good English. If they are an author, whose whole job is to speak English often and well (or if they are delivering an opinion about how English should be spoken), it’s easy for me to discard the rest of their ideas and/or story. If a plumber started to fix your toilet with Scotch tape, you wouldn’t let him finish the job, you’d kick him out. Same deal with this kind of mistake.

    Of course good writing can and does break the rules — some of them. Nicola broke that down better than I ever could, so I’ll just add that surely no one could think of any of these as art. (Link is to bad writing submitted to Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine, courtesy of Miss Snark.)

  31. Gillian says:

    I found this discussion very interesting and demanding. As a child of streamed British education in the sixties and seventies I missed out on much of the basic grammar taught to the supposedly brighter children. At twelve years old, deemed “average” by the system and therefore incapable of grasping the finer arts of the English language, the only grammar I learned was through my own reading of literature. I am by no means alone. In a perfect world we would all benefit from the same educational opportunities and those writers whose output is grammatically less than perfect would be rightly judged as lazy. This is not a perfect world and I agree with much of what Rick has to say. To denigrate the work of any author just because their grammar needs a little work is to deny them a voice. I understand the frustration of editing work that is peppered with mistakes but I would like to cast my vote for tolerance. I edit papers by second language academic writers so I have to possess tolerance in abundance. I am amply rewarded by the opportunity of reading interesting, often ground-breaking research papers and dissertations. These authors, dismissed by some as mere “writers” have taught me a great deal and I am grateful.

  32. In a perfect world we would all benefit from the same educational opportunities and those writers whose output is grammatically less than perfect would be rightly judged as lazy…To denigrate the work of any author just because their grammar needs a little work is to deny them a voice.

    A thoughtful response, Gillian, but agents and editors don’t have the time to stop the train to figure out whether an author is lazy or undereducated. We look for the very best story that fits our needs, and the author whose communication skills are lacking are going to be passed over.

    We are in the business to sell books – lots of them – so if it comes to choosing a manuscript, I’m going to choose the one where the author has good writing skills and wrote a great story. It has been my experience that those writers with lousy grammar don’t write a marketable, publishable story.

    What bothers me is when an author KNOWS his grammar is below level and does nothing to better himself. I don’t consider this effective communication. As Nicola said upstream, authors need to know the rules in order to understand how to effectively break them.

    I understand the frustration of editing work that is peppered with mistakes but I would like to cast my vote for tolerance.

    Tolerance doesn’t sell books, Gillian. And why should we be so tolerant of mediocrity? Publishing isn’t a right, but an achievement via hard work and excellence. As I said earlier, horrible grammar and ineffective storytelling invariably go hand in hand. When I”m spending thousands of dollars per title, I must have the very best.

    If an author is so eager to be published, then he should strive to improve his chances of being noticed. That’s the beauty of competition; it invites everyone to improve in order to attain something they want. Publishing isn’t a charity.

  33. tbrosz says:

    Grammar rules exist for a reason. My education was in architecture (although I’m not an architect) and one of the things I learned is that even artists like Frank Lloyd Wright needed to know the engineering rules first.

    My grammar is born of long practice, not training, and certainly has holes in it here and there. I also make deliberate errors, but mostly in dialogue. The 12-year-old boy in my book says “Katie and me went to the store” because if you show me a 12-year-old who says “Katie and I” I’ll show you a kid who wears a bow tie to school.

    In my opinion, breaking rules just to be breaking them is mostly a mark of literary self-indulgence. Yes, someone can write a whole book where they do something like not capitalizing the personal pronoun “I” (something that’s normally excusable only if you’re a cockroach who can’t operate the shift key) but I think they’re just showing off.

  34. Famous Mortimer says:

    Ah, good old intellectual masturbation.

    The sentence that you attempted to critique was communicated effectively in both instances. The primary goal of language is effective communication. The corrected sentence does not suggest that there is a crisis in education. If the average person cared as much about this issue as you, and your readers do, then communication would become a maddening process.

    I sense that much of the animosity for these inconsequential variations in usage is derived from egotists who expect the world to hold their academic qualifications in high regard, and it doesn’t. Claiming that grammar, and usage should not be apart of an evolutionary process ignores the entire history, and development of the English language.

    More importantly, the decision is not up to Grammarians.

    In my experience, Grammarians tend to be self-absorbed, and uncreative. Rick effectively explained why focusing on writing, and communication in such a strict manner could actually have a negative impact on the creative process.

    Of course, Rick crashed the party (albeit, politely), and he was treated with a puzzling degree of spite for doing so. Personally, I think he added more to the subject than the people commenting in support of him.

    In that sense, I think that author did a poor job of communicating his position effectively. The evaluation came across as spiteful, and well, petty.

    At best, it was trivial correction.

  35. Famous Mortimer says:

    “For example, when someone uses a word like ‘unneeded,’ which isn’t in fact a word, they may be trying to say that something is unnecessary, but what is actually communicated, to me at least, is that they don’t speak good English.”

    It doesn’t matter what it says to YOU, since your mindset is only meaningful to a relatively small number of people. The inability for some of you to acknowledge that there are other interpretations, is the main problem.

    Either way, the word “unneeded” effectively communicates the author’s intended meaning to the reader.

    It was not a gross misspelling, nor was it unintelligible from a structural perspective. In that sense, focusing on it to this degree is creating a problem where there isn’t one.

    While incredibly poor grammar, and spelling can stifle effective communication, it is absurd to assume that all errors in usage result in ineffective communication. In that sense, you are basing the entire discussion on a false premise.

    Until that premise is proven, you’re simply pissing in the wind.

  36. Famous Mortimer says:

    “Grammar rules exist for a reason.”

    Grammar rules change for a reason.

  37. Cayden says:

    I don’t think grammarians should get so high and mighty when they cannot even agree on what proper grammar is. Comprised or comprised of? I was penalized for using ‘comprised of’ in my academic essay but a friend of mine who did the same in her essay escaped being punished. Whose fault was it? English grammar is not exactly logical. Some rules require you to memorize how they work because they don’t make sense. There are some sentences which are plainly wrong, but to expect people to know every obscure rule in grammar is simply ridiculous.

    Doctors and scientists standardize their work processes in their respective fields. It is time for grammarians to shut up and learn from their betters. They have no right to complain about improper usage of grammar when some grammatical rules are not clearly defined and are obfuscated with terms that make no sense to most non-grammarians.

    While I agree that grammar is important, a reasonable person must distinguish between conversational English and academic English. Conversational English is commonly found in everyday speech, novels and news reports. Academic English is used in university papers and other formal documents. While it may not be acceptable to use contractions or start a sentence with ‘but’ in the latter, it is certainly normal to do so when you don’t need to be that formal. Would Stephen King have become a bestselling writer if he had written his novels in academically perfect prose? You cannot expect a writer whose creative juices are flowing to stop every few minutes to check every sentence for mistakes! You pedantic types should develop some common sense.

  38. You cannot expect a writer whose creative juices are flowing to stop every few minutes to check every sentence for mistakes! You pedantic types should develop some common sense.

    This is true, Cayden. That’s what editing is all about. The first draft is you telling yourself the story. The second, third, fourth drafts is you refining your story so that an editor or agent won’t toss your work out for being second-rate.

    You recommend that we develop some common sense…may I suggest that a writer’s first job is to communicate clearly? And that means understanding the basics of syntax.

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