Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Gung-Ho About Grammar

If I've ever critiqued or beta-read for you, you probably noticed that I can get nit-picky with grammar when I want to. For me, it's just part of my OCD, perfectionist nature. I see an error, and it's like being jacked into an electric fence unless I do something to fix it.

Okay, maybe not that bad. But I used to be almost that bad. When we did diagramming sentences in ninth grade, I didn't understand why so many of my classmates were complaining. For the most part, it was easy, I thought. What's the big deal? My brain just seemed to be wired for it.

(Before anyone starts sending me hate-mail, realize that at the time I also thought creative writing was a kind of magic I would never possess. So, you know, some things balance out.)

When I started teaching deaf students, I really began to understand just how wacky English grammar is. No wonder even those of us who hear and speak the language every day screw it up! My students will master one rule only to discover there are twenty more exceptions they have to figure out.

Even with my super-grammar-skillz, there are a few things that still hang me up. I only just got a solid handle on the whole lay-vs-lie thing. (Related concepts, and the past tense of one is the present tense of the other? Whose idea was that?)

Further-vs-farther? I know the rule. Farther is for distance; further is for degree. But I swear I've come across a few places where I could argue it fits either condition. (And of course, I can't come up with an example right now. If I ever do, I'll throw it in an edit or the comments.)

"If it were" vs "If it was"? I remember being told if it actually happened that way it was one, but if the circumstance was never true, it's the other ... something like that. I have a really hard time wrapping my head around that one and all related forms, so if you have several super-clear illustrations to pass along, I'd be hugely grateful.

The nice thing is, grammar isn't so hard to learn. (Particularly compared to some other aspects of writing. I can't begin to tell you how to develop more voice in your manuscript, but I can help you understand the proper way to use semicolons.)

What about you? Any particular nuances of grammar that you just can't nail? Any that you KNOW, but find you have to keep a close eye on yourself not to slip?

6 comments:

Angela Solano said...

First let me say it is so refreshing to hear you have grammar problems lol it's like hearing there's a math problem you can't do.

I have similar problems as you but I also seemed to have forgotten how punctuation works with quotation marks in dialogue. Since having my work critiqued, I went back to learn those again. It was kind of embarrassing though.

Another thing I do, using "alot" instead of "whats lot". I know it's wrong but I still have to do a find all to check.

Angela Solano said...

Stupid auto correct. That should have been "alot" instead of "a lot"

Tyson said...

Grammar is where I fall short. I know it is. And I practice hard to learn the tricks of the trade. Unfortunately, I'm still not up to par.

But I'm trying.

R.C. Lewis said...

Ang, yes, there are math problems I can't do, too. ;-)

T, trying is the important thing, I think. We all have hangups. The way it mystifies me that people struggle with grammar? Others are just as mystified that I can't learn to whistle.

E.B. Black said...

You sound like an awesome proofreader.

R.C. Lewis said...

E.B., I do what I can. ;-)