Category Archives: Grammar

Grammar query – Is it I, or me, that’s wrong?

When to use ‘I’ or ‘me’ in a piece of writing can cause arguments, confusion, and – if you pen to paperthink you’re in the right – a severe dose of smugness about other people’s ignorance. But the correct usage is not always straightforward. Some years ago, in The State of the Language, Philip Howard wrote: “Already, even educated users of English, such as journalists, suffer from chronic uncertainty about the use of ‘I’ and ‘me’ and the other cases of pronouns.”

Old school grammarians, like Sir Ernest Gowers in Plain Words, have been quite clear about what they think is right: if the first pronoun is in the object case then the pronoun following ‘and’ must also be in the object case, as in ‘between him and me,’ or ‘he decided to let her go, but not me.’ Moreover in educated society, I was brought up to believe, the subject case should be used with the verb ‘to be.’

I tend to the old school usage, and sometimes have to stop myself jumping in with a correction when I hear people say things like ‘between you and I’ instead of my preferred ‘between you and me.’ But more modern grammarians, such as Oliver Kamm, have said there is no rule for or against using ‘I’ or ‘me’ in such a phrase. It’s just a question of what you are used to – although publishers and newspapers will have their house style rules, and writers will be expected to conform with these, whatever they personally prefer. pen and paper

You can’t blame modern teaching methods, or the vogue for more informal speech, as the quandary over which is correct goes back hundreds of years. After all, the greatest writer of them all, William Shakespeare, has written ‘All debts are cleared between you and I’ (Merchant of Venice) or ‘… Cassio and she together,’ (Othello), so if it is OK by him ….

No doubt I will continue to say and write ‘between you and me’ etc. because that is what I am comfortable with. But I should accept that it is a convention I am comfortable with pen and paper 2not a grammatical rule, and that to use ‘I’ instead of ‘me’ is not a blunder (even if my computer’s spell checker agrees with me!)

Anyway, I too am inconsistent. I have never answered the question ‘who is that?’ with the phrase ‘It is I.‘  To me ‘I’ sounds pretentious and ‘me’ sounds much more natural – even if it is not strictly grammatical for those who take their subject case pronouns very seriously!

More of my published work can be found at:

You can find me on Facebook: fb.me/margaretegrot.writer

Or on Twitter: https://twitter.com/meegrot

Advertisements

Speling Misteaks

Graham Sharpe co-founded the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award, and was a judge for this year’s competition (which was won, incidentally, by a biography of the cyclist Tom Simpson by Andy McGarth). After reading the 131 books that were entered into the competition he was dismayed by the number of misspellings of simple words. He described it on the Bookseller website as a ‘crime against books.’

He sympathised with writers, who can become blind to their own mistakes, and wondered whether some of the problem lay with the demise of the ‘dragon’ editor (my description), from the big publishing houses. Indie publishers have always been under time and financial constraints and have little leeway beyond, for example, offering one proof read with suggested corrections sent back to the author, one follow up by the editor, and a final check via the author to the editor in chief before the manuscript goes off to the printer.

This still sounds like quite a lot of checking, and opportunities to put things right. But even after all that, some of the most vigilant of authors can gasp with dismay when the printed version of their book is in their hands – and a missed typo leaps out from the page.

What to do? I find using the ‘tracking changes’ in Word difficult, and don’t use it myself if I can avoid it. But editors do, so it is something I need get up to speed on. I love the spell check on the computer, but it can be a false friend, and let through a misspelling, or ‘correct’ you to something you hadn’t intended. Beta readers can help, but that is not really their role, so don’t blame them if they don’t point out your tendency to add apostrophes where they aren’t needed (or leave them out where they are) etc.

Of course, a self-publisher has to take all the responsibility for errors, but writers with publishing house support can also follow a few simple steps to reduce errors. Yes, use spell check, track changes, recruit beta readers etc. But it also helps to leave a bit of time between finishing a manuscript and re-reading it, to change the font and letter size, and even change the ink colour – anything to make the work look different from last time you worked on it. Some mistakes will still get through – we are human, and ‘to air is human’ after all.

If you have any suggestions for reducing misspellings, I’d love to hear them!

If you have enjoyed this post, and would like to read more of my work, please go to my Amazon author page.

Two short stories might interest you to get a feel for my writing style. I don’t think there are any typos in either, but you never know …

Love in WaitingLove in Waiting 

 

sleeping beautySleeping Beauty

 

Both these short stories are published by Solstice as e-books for about £/$1.00 – http://www.solsticepublishing.com

solstice logo (1)

 

 

 

 

 

Text Speak and ‘Proper’ Writing

There are stories about people attempting to write novels using Twitter (so much easier now that you have 280 characters to play with!). The process may certainly help concentrate the mind, and cut out padding, though this maybe counteracted by a lavish application of txt spk and emoticons, so you can pack more in each episode / tweet. Why write a tweet about someone feeling sad, if you can simply slip in a down-at-mouth emoji? The same goes for text messages.

text1For some people, text messaging abbreviations we are all familiar with (even if some of us are not too sure what they mean) illustrate an accelerating decline in standards of written English – there have been newspaper articles about candidates answering essay questions in public examinations using text speak, ffs!

But, according to researchers at Binghampton University, New York, use of emoticons, irregular spellings and abbreviations, and imaginative use of exclamation marks andtext 2 other forms of punctuation are def not sloppy, but an attempt to convey additional meaning. Whilst perhaps not a gr8 thing to do in every written document, their use can indicate that the writer is thinking about what they are trying to communicate and, if it comes across as a bit harsh, trying to soften the impact. (smiley face).

A texter is aware that the receiver of their message is not in front of them, so cannot make use of non-linguistic clues – the smile, to soften a blunt comment, the pitch of the voice to convey a certain amount of doubt rather than intransigence, or the breathlessness to illustrate that you really are sooo sorry to be keeping you waiting, but are coming as fast as you can …

The researchers also suggest that the omission of a full stop in a text message can indicate sincerity. They found that people who received a one word response to a text, which included a full stop, felt the response was less enthusiastic or genuine than if it came without one. For example, someone who replied ‘yeah’ to an invitation to meet up that evening, was more likely to keep the appointment than one who responded ‘yeah.’ The researchers were so taken by this that the title of their study is called Punctuation in text messaging may convey abruptness. Period. (Published in Computers in Human Behaviour, 2017)

Are there any lessons in this for writers of novels, short stories and plays? Not least, perhaps, it illustrates the importance of thinking about how words are received by a reader or, in dialogue, by other characters in the story. As we wax lyrical, with words tumbling onto the page, maybe we should pause every so often to think, hmm – how will this be interpreted? Who is receiving this? Just a thought. LOL

If you have enjoyed this post, and would like to read more of my work, please go to my Amazon book page.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

Or go to my publisher’s website:

http://www.solsticepublishing.com

solstice logo (1)

 

A superfluous word can be useful.

Did you notice that I started my last blog with the word ‘so’? Did it annoy you? Apparently the BBC has been deluged with complaints about interviewees starting every response with the word. And on Tuesday, there was an article in the Times, as well as an editorial, in response to this. Though, in fairness, the paper didn’t seem to take the issue too seriously.

In all probability hapless interviewees are just playing for time, gathering their thoughts, or feeling nervous. They’ve been told not to say ‘um,’ ‘well,’ and ‘er’ and, in avoiding these words (and knowing ‘like’ is the domain of the young), they’ve hit on ‘so.’

‘So’ is a relatively new kid on the block, perhaps first used by programmers in Silicon Valley in the 1990s. But there are others to choose from – ‘look,’ ‘sure,’ ‘no problem,’ ‘yeah’ that have a modern feel if you want to ring the changes.

Use of such, seemingly uneccessary, words is not a new phenomenon – my father used to call one of his colleagues ‘Ahbut Umwell’ (only behind his back, of course) because he would invariably start his entry into a discussion with one or other phrase.

What should a writer do about this problem, if it actually is a problem? First, recognise it is not a big deal. It may not be good grammar in a written disposition. But it is an authentic part of everyday speech, and has its place in written dialogue – a verbal tic that helps fix a character’s personality.

As for my use of ‘so,’ in my last blog – was I just being a bit sloppy? No doubt socio-linguists would excuse me on the grounds that apparently superfluous words can convey subtle meanings. The use of ‘so,’ for example, may denote the speaker’s confidence. That must be it – I was reporting back on a radio session that had turned out better than I’d feared. My opening word was there to subtly convey this to you.

So there you go!

If you have enjoyed reading this, and would like to find more of my work, please go to one of my Amazon author pages. There is always at least one free story you can download.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

A very nice blog today?

 

Writers sometimes strain to use different words when plain and simple is just fine. A common error is to seek desperately for different ways of indicating speech:

I shouted / he screamed / she bellowed / they wailed / we whispered …

None of these is wrong, but too many (especially the more elaborate), can distract from the dialogue. Indeed, there is nothing wrong, and plenty right about the humble – ‘she said’. The reader can concentrate on the dialogue, but is clear about which character is speaking. Alternatively, the speech can stand alone, and the follow-up phrase can indicate who is speaking, and the tone in which it was spoken.

‘“I see you have thrown out my mother’s photo.” Only the slight reddening of her neck indicated her anger.’

Instead of struggling to find alternatives to ‘said’, maybe we should expend our energy on words that can regularly slip into our work without us noticing.

Like ‘nice.’ Jane Austen

Jane Austen had plenty to say on the over-use of this word. When Catherine, in Northanger Abbey, is talking to Henry Tilney:

“… but it is a nice book, and why should I not call it so?”

“Very true,” said Henry, “and this is a very nice day, and we are taking a very nice walk and you two are very nice ladies. Oh! It is a very nice word indeed! It does for everything. Originally perhaps it was applied only to express neatness, propriety, delicacy or refinement: people were nice in their dress, in their sentiments, or their choice. But now, every commendation on every subject is comprised in that one word.”

 

Another word that crops up a bit too often, even with the likes of Henry Tilney (though I suspect in the above speech he was just being sarcastic) is ‘very’. Again, the constant repetition of the word shows a lack of imagination and can get boring. There are plenty of alternatives to using ‘very’ before a word. Here are a few examples:

  • Very rich – wealthy / loaded
  • Very poor – destitute / impoverished
  • Very loud – noisy / deafening
  • Very quiet – hushed
  • Very often – frequently
  • Very rarely – seldom
  • Very short – brief
  • Very long – lengthy

If you have enjoyed reading this blog and would like to read more of my work please go to one of my Amazon author pages:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

Could you punch a puppy?

We’ll get onto puppies in a minute. First I want to talk about clichés and jargon. A cliché, in case you need reminding, is any word or expression that has lost much of its force cauchythrough overuse. The word comes from the French – clicher – to stereotype. Jargon is specialised language for self selecting groups etc, often characterised by pretentious syntax or vocabulary. (Possibly from the Latin or old French for ‘confused talk’.)

The language of business is full of clichés and jargon. Some phrases, that might have sounded quite fresh and clever at the first conference where they were used – going for the low hanging fruit was an original concept once – soon become another piece of overused jargon. When working in one office some years ago, my colleagues and I frequently used to try to get as many into a meeting as possible. Rather sad, maybe – but it was our idea of fun on a slow afternoon. I remember being particularly fond of ‘putting an idea in the lift and seeing what floor it came out on.’ (No I’m not quite sure what it means, either). A colleague enjoyed ‘running that one up the flagpole.’

A few months ago the jobs website, Glassdoor, polled 2,000 workers for their most hated phrases. The day after the results were issued, The Times wrote a leader using some of their choicer pet hates. Apologies if it sets your teeth on edge, but I thought the article was so funny (especially the bit about the kimono – a new one for me) that I’m going to re-produce a couple of paragraphs. My justification for putting such an excerpt on this blog is as a reminder that writers need, first, to recognise jargon and clichés when they see them. And then avoid them like the plague  (Oops!)

… Time is short so we won’t try boiling the ocean. Rows and rows of ducks need to be lined up so that, going forward we can, er, go forward. There is a whole strategic staircase to be mounted here. So never mind mere blue sky thinking, this is an invitation to be part of a thought shower, where we can all throw some ideas at the wall and see if anything sticks. Once that is done we can take a helicopter view of the situation, and cascade what we observe. …                                                                                                                                              … What mental toolbox do we need to become true language champions? Radical change

p1000237

(despite my grim look, no dogs were harmed during the preparation of this blog.)

means having the courage to open the kimono (sorry about that), revealing and then peeling the onion till we uncover core values. At that point we must drill down until we reach granularity. Of course this may mean dealing with some sacred cows. But all change is loss, and even if the optics are bad, you sometimes have to be prepared to punch the puppy. … (Not literally, I am assured; punching a puppy means doing something unsavoury for the good of the company.)

If you have enjoyed reading this blog, and would like to read more of my work, please take a look at my Amazon author page. There is usually at least one free story on offer, so you can try before you buy. 

 

 

 

The Art of Rhetoric

What am I like, writing a blog on rhetoric?

Don’t worry, that is a rhetorical question, as is your possible answer to the question (if you’d decided to provide one after all) ‘Who cares?’

Rhetoric had its origins in Mesopotamia, but is largely associated with ancient Greece where, alongside grammar and logic, it was regarded as one of the three ancient arts of discourse. Rhetor is the ancient Greek for a public speaker.

Cicero

Cicero

Rhetoric was part of a scholar’s education from the time of the ancient Greeks, through ancient Rome (Cicero being perhaps the most famous of the Roman practitioners) and into the twentieth century. One could argue that modern university courses in ‘communication studies’ are continuing the tradition.

 

Aristotle

Aristotle

Rhetoric – the fine art of constructing sound arguments – according to Aristotle, was largely  seen as a good subject to teach. However, even all those centuries ago, Plato could see that, in the wrong hands, it could be used to justify bad actions. He likened the specious rhetoric used by the Sophists to justify murdering Socrates, to cooking – which he saw as the means of masking unhealthy food by making it taste good.

 

Today, the word sounds old fashioned and pompous, and we often associate it with bombastic speakers and empty arguments (the image of a tub-thumping rabble-rouser springs to mind). But its first two meanings in my latest Collins dictionary are:

  • The study of the technique of using language effectively
  • The art of using speech to persuade, influence, or please …

Such aims are not a million miles away from what a writer tries to do, when sitting down to write a story that they want someone to read, be moved by, and sufficiently motivated to go out and buy their next book.

And in case you are still wondering what exactly a rhetorical question is, it is a question to which no answer is required. Who knew?

If you have enjoyed reading this blog, and would like to read more of my work, please go to my Amazon author page: 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00RVO1BHO