Sunday, June 7, 2009

Your Simple Rules to Grammar

: I am a grammar nerd. There, I said it. I have been known to put down a book because I could not stand the poor grammar in it. I have once corrected a published book with a red pen. I have once sent a "corrected" book back to a publisher. I am a grammar nerd.

So, after talking with some writing buddies who confessed never having been taught the "rules" of grammar, and having observed once too often poor grammar (thanks, intarwebs, for lowering standard everywhere) (did you see the irony in that parenthetical?)...anyway, I decided that perhaps I can share some of my grammar nerdiness.

Do you need to read this post? Sure, we all know the basics. Separate items in a list with commas. Always start a sentence with capitalization and end with a period. But what about independent and dependent clauses? Prepositional phrases? Comma splices and dangling participles and semicolons? If your knowledge of these things is shady at best, stay tuned for a multi-post series on the simple rules of grammar!

First. There are rules to grammar, just like there are rules to math. If you ever had a teacher tell you that you should put in a comma "whenever you feel like there should be a pause in the sentence," please track down that teacher and kick her in the knee caps. BECAUSE SHE LIED TO YOU. Commas don't go where ever you "feel" like they should. There is a quite logical, mathematical way to do them.

Some history. In the past, there were no proper rules for grammar. None for spelling, either. But as the world became more industrialized, people like Webster thought we should be a little more consistent, so he wrote a dictionary. And some of the most famous mathematicians noticed the rules in, for example, algebra, so they wrote down the rules for grammar, such things as punctuation and double negatives (ever notice how double negatives cancel each other out, just as they do in math? That's why).

My point:
There are rules to grammar, and if you don't want to use them, you should have been born 600 years ago.

My second point: Wuld you liek it if somone mispelled evrythang? Wuld you respekt that persan? Prolly not. Having poor grammar is as bad as misspelling everything, especially if you're a writer who is submitting her work to publishers and agents.

Some definitions. Some of you probably know all about this. If so, ignore me completely. But for those of you who don't, here are some basic definitions to get us started.

Noun: A person, place, thing, or idea. If you can have it, it's a noun.

Verb: It's not just "what you do" (Lord, I hate that commercial.) It's action or a state of being. Basically, if you can put a noun in it and make a whole sentence, it's a verb.

Preposition: A word that gives relationship. A word that tells what, when, where, how, etc. Examples: at, in, before, over, under, because.

OK, so those were kind of basic. Let's get more specific.

Subject: The part of the sentence that contains the noun that's doing something, and all the things that go with it. Key word: it contains a NOUN (or pronoun).

Predicate: The part of the sentence that contains the verb and all the words that go with it. Key word: it contains a VERB.

Clause: A subject + a predicate.

Independent clause: A subject + a predicate that makes sense by itself. In other words, a simple sentence.

Dependent clause: An independent clause that starts off with a preposition (which is now known as a subordinator, or a subordinating conjunction, depending on your school of thought, but that's just labels, don't worry too much about it). This makes the sentence not make sense by itself.

Got it? See, I told you it wasn't hard. And don't worry--it's not going to get any harder. Simple rules, people, simple rules.

Let's try some examples.

  • Noun: dog
  • Verb: ran
  • Preposition: when
  • Independent clause: The dog ran.
  • Dependent clause: When the dog ran.

See how the independent clause made sense by itself, but the dependent one didn't? That's the key difference. Once you know your definitions, the simple rule to keep in mind is this:
  • Independent clause = subject + predicate
  • Dependent clause = subordinator + subject + predicate

OK, so probably this is all basic information that you know like the back of your hand. But do you know how to put those clauses together? Do you know when to use a comma or a semicolon?

I hope so--but if not, check back tomorrow for the simple rules of hooking together clauses!
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