Grammar Queen has moved!

Grammar Queen has moved!

Good morning, class. Welcome to my new classroom location, right here on Myra’s blog! I hope you will visit often and work diligently to keep up with your studies!

Our subject today concerns . . . yes, you are correct: grammar. An understanding of proper grammar is essential no matter your vocation, but especially so for writers, who certainly do not have to be told that GRAMMAR IS YOUR FRIEND.

On the other hand, although I am certain each and every one of you is quite charming and likable, Grammar Queen is not here to be your friend. Grammar Queen is here to INSTRUCT YOU IN THE RULES OF PROPER GRAMMAR.

Ah, yes, I can hear all you writers already. “But I write fiction. Fiction writers have permission to break rules. We start sentences with and and but. We use incomplete sentences. We let our characters say ain’t, or even to WHO it may concern.

Yes, yes, yes, I understand completely. And Grammar Queen is not here to compromise your elusive writer’s voice or correct imaginary speakers who may not be as well educated as moi.

Grammar Queen is here to ensure that when you do break the rules of grammar, you are not breaking the rules that truly matter.

What might those be? you may ask. (Notice correct placement of question mark.)

It shall be my greatest pleasure to enlighten you on a select few of my personal favorites. (Any reference to real people, alive or dead, is purely coincidental and is not necessarily to be construed as fact.)

  1. Do not dangle your modifiers.

No, no, no, I am not referring to your overly long beaded necklace that is dragging through your soup. Let me offer some examples.

Incorrect: While feeding the horses, Suzie’s new shoes became soiled with horse poop.

Correct: While feeding the horses, Suzie’s soiled her new shoes with horse poop.

Incorrect: After searching the house, Tommy’s glasses turned up next to his computer.

Correct: After searching the house, Tommy found his glasses next to his computer.

The point here is that the phrase that begins each of these sentences modifies the subject of the sentence. Suzie’s shoes obviously were not feeding the horses, and Tommy’s glasses were not searching the house. Need I say more?

  1. Do not confuse possessives with plurals.

Possessives indicate possession. Plurals imply more than one. How much simpler can it be? One of Grammar Queen’s greatest annoyances is coming upon one of those darling little carved wooden signs indicating ownership of a cabin, boat dock, or some other such charming property. Perhaps you have seen them:

The Smith’s

Welcome to the Jones’ Cabin

The Smiths simply needs a sign that states this lovely home is where the Smiths live. No need for the possessive form. Therefore the sign should read:

The Smiths

As for those pesky Joneses, they should have informed their sign maker that their sign should read:

Welcome to the Joneses’ Cabin  

Yes, yes, I know the “es” attached to Jones seems like too much . . . something or other. But trust me, this is the correct way to imply that the entire Jones family owns the cabin.

It would also be correct to say:

Welcome to the Jones Cabin

Here, “Jones” is simply used as an adjective modifying “Cabin,” so again, the possessive form is not necessary.

Unfortunately, Grammar Queen could go on and on ad infinitum on the subject of grammatically incorrect wooden signs because she has seen far more in one lifetime than any true grammar aficionado can abide. So we must move on.

  1. Do not forget who is calling whom.

Now we come to the eternal who versus whom debate. “Who” is a nominative case pronoun; “whom” is a subjective case pronoun. But what you call them is not nearly as important as how you use them. To simplify, “who” performs the action of the verb; “whom” receives the action of the verb (or in other uses becomes the object of a preposition, which is a subject unto itself).

Even in my tricky little sentence above, “who” is still performing the act of calling “whom,” even though here “who” follows the verb “forget.” Any questions?

Lest we decide Grammar Queen is becoming slightly too picky, please remember that in naturally written speech (or even in deep POV narration), it is usually perfectly acceptable for your more casual and/or less educated characters to use “who” willy-nilly when perhaps correctly they should really be saying “whom.” 

On the other hand, using “whom” incorrectly usually makes even the most intelligent among us appear quite pretentious if not scathingly illiterate.

  1. “I wonder” is a statement, not a question, and therefore requires a period, not a question mark.

Incorrect: I wonder where I laid my Chicago Manual of Style?

Correct: I wonder where I laid my Chicago Manual of Style.

Or in dialogue, use a comma:

“I wonder where I laid my Chicago Manual of Style,” Myra mused.

There are certain variations of “I wonder” phrasing where different punctuation might be required, but Grammar Queen is already tired of this subject and suggests you invest in a helpful grammar reference book such as Grammatically Correct, by Anne Stilman.

  1. In a compound sentence the comma is placed before the conjunction (and, but, or), not after the conjunction.

Incorrect: Joseph likes chocolate chip cookies but, Eva prefers snickerdoodles.

Correct: Joseph likes chocolate chip cookies, but Eva prefers snickerdoodles.

  1. Do not restrict your nonrestrictive descriptors, and vice versa.

Let us begin by explaining the difference between restrictive and nonrestrictive. A restrictive descriptor is essential to the meaning of the sentence, whereas a nonrestrictive descriptor, if removed from the sentence, would not affect the meaning. Nonrestrictive descriptors are set off by commas; restrictive descriptors are not.

Are we clear on this? Perhaps more examples are in order. What is wrong with the following sentence?

Jane’s friend, Lisa, invited her to a movie.

Think . . . think . . . 

Alas, if we take this statement as true, it means poor Jane has only one friend, the tireless and loyal Lisa. But unless Jane is terribly unpopular, we must assume she has many, many friends. Thus the sentence should have no commas:

Jane’s friend Lisa invited her to a movie.

The same is true when mentioning a spouse:

Incorrect: Myra’s husband Project Guy always likes to keep busy [name changed to protect the innocent].

We know for a fact that Myra is not a bigamist, which means we must insert a comma in the above sentence so that it reads:

Myra’s husband, Project Guy, always likes to keep busy.

And one more example, this time regarding restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses:

Incorrect: The avid fan, who accosted Julia Roberts at her premiere, was quickly wrestled to the ground.

It should be clear to anyone that Julia Roberts has more than one avid fan. Therefore the sentence above should contain no commas.

Correct: The avid fan who accosted Julia Roberts at her premiere was quickly wrestled to the ground.

We could spend hours and hours discussing Grammar Queen’s pet peeves, but I shall save some for our next class. In the meantime, should you have any questions for the Grammar Queen, feel free to send them along using this comment form. Grammar Queen is never far from her Chicago Manual of Style and innumerable other grammar reference books, and perhaps I shall feature your question in an upcoming lecture. 

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