Back to Basics

Which is correct?

Grammar BeeWith whom are you sexting?
Who are you sexting with?

He knelt at the altar of her heaving bosom.
He kneeled at the altar of her heaving bosom.

Last week I decided I needed to take a little time each day to get back to the basics of writing. You know, that little thing called grammar. In high school, I took an elective in grammar. In college, I took an extra-curricular class. That’s right, no credit for it because my major was Finance. Since college, I’ve taken several grammar classes and home-schooled my daughter in it. But it doesn’t matter how many classes I’ve taken, how many times I study subject verb agreement; subject, object and reflexive pronouns; or commas, colons and semi-colons, I find myself questioning myself. (I find me questioning me? I find myself questioning me? I find me questioning myself?)

So why haven’t all of those classes stuck? Part of the problem is reading all the mistakes that slip past writers and editors. I see “that” used so often in reference to people, I wonder if I’m the one making the mistake when I use “who.”

Oxford commaAnd part of it is the evolving rules. I was raised on the Oxford comma. We didn’t call it that. We called it the series comma. When I transferred that particular grammar law to fiction, I worked diligently to make certain I didn’t miss a single Oxford/series comma in my manuscripts. In fact, as my editor and I were passing my first manuscript back and forth, I became frustrated because I was missing so many of them. Then I realized my editor was taking them out. Later, I learned that most publishing houses discard the Oxford comma unless it’s necessary for clarity. And let’s talk about snuck and sneaked. In high school, my grammar teacher was horrified that “Jack snuck down the hill” in Ray Parker Jr.’s “Jack and Jill.” (I’ll have to Google song title format before I post this.) He should have sneaked. These days, if my research is correct, both are acceptable.

Yet another problem is regionalisms. For me the past tense of kneel is knelt, not kneeled, but my editor wanted me to correct knelt to kneeled. And what about the past tense of leap? Leapt or leaped?

So I go back to the book…the grammar book. The Elements of Style, aka Strunk and White; Painless Grammar (as if such a thing exists); Image Grammar. If I’m too lazy to get off my as—uh, I mean computer—I search online at Grammar Girl and various university websites.

These resources are great. They’re right at my fingertips, so why bother taking the time to brush up? Because I don’t immediately do the research. I often argue the point before finally breaking down and looking it up. Plus, I hate not knowing.

So it’s back to class. This time I’m using The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation. It’s straightforward, has lots of examples, and includes pretests, worksheets and final tests…all in one book.

Wish me luck. I really want to nail it this time.

Okay, time for show and tell. What’s your favorite grammar resource? Or the grammar bane of your existence?


Back to Basics — 7 Comments

  1. Oh, grammar. The knelt/kneeled and snuck/sneaked thing bewilders me (to me knelt sounds right), and darn it, I like Oxford commas! I bow to your superior knowledge and your willingness to subject yourself to a grammar class. Have fun!

  2. I need to take a class, big time. As it is, one of my best friends–hi, Nan Reinhardt–is a freelance editor and I go to her. I still love the Oxford comma and have not quite forgiven publishers for dumping it.

  3. I’m laughing because I had the kneel/knelt conversation, too. Kneeled still sounds funny to me. I also struggle with several of the other situations you mentioned, no matter how many times I research the answers. I love Grammar Girl and I also consult Blue Book. I’ve got a Strunk and White copy around here somewhere. It’s funny you mentioned it today, because I’ve been looking for it for the past week because I wanted to do some brushing up on grammar. :-)

    • LOL, bet that conversation was with the same editor. 😉 I have a friend who lived outside of London for 10+ years. She told me the Brits use “knelt.” So maybe I read too many Regencies back in the day.

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