Grammar/Sentence Structure: Tips or Tics? – what say you to Kat’s picky-persnickities

There are writing “Rules” that have attached themselves to me—as leeches will do, some may quip – haw! And I have become rather picky when it comes to these particulars.

You don’t write books? No matter, for your letters, business documents, may I dare say e-mails?, and other areas where you communicate, can become stronger and smoother.

Or perhaps you will say my “tips” are actually “tics.” You decide. Meanwhile, I could drive myself crazy reading/listening . . . ungh . . . but I won’t! I won’t, I say!  Especially when I see my own mistakes in my earlier writing—earlier even could mean my last novel—ungh! Or a recent blog post when I was in a hurry and/or distracted—oh dear! I am shamed, shaaaaaaaamed! *kat hangs head*

Yes, many times I throw rules right out the window and simply go by the rhythm of the phrase/sentence. I want my work to be rhythmic but in a natural way, so breaking the rules is sometimes necessary to create a mood or feeling or a sentence that Fits. And of course, when I write in a character’s voice/pov, I must be true to that voice/pov—not all characters will be as picky as . . . is it picky as me or picky as I am—it is I am—see below! . . . Virginia Kate has her VK’isms and I stand true to them, while Melissa narrates Sweetie and she’s a bit more “formal” in her speech. And sometimes I’m just lazy. *gasp – no Kat! Say it ain’t so!*

So tip or tic?

I and Me: This one trips up people often, but if you think of the sentence in another way, or restructure it, it makes more sense.

He went to the grocery with me and bought all the cookies. Correct

He went to the grocery with I, and bought all the cookies. No

He went to the grocery with me. He bought all the cookies.

Me and Harry (or Harry and me) had a great time eating cookies. No.

Harry and I had a great time eating cookies. Correct.

Harry had a great time eating cookies. I had a great time eating cookies.

This is a lesson for you and me. Correct.

This is a lesson for you and I. No.

This is a lesson for you. This is a lesson for I–nope. This is a lesson for me–yup

Not everyone is as picky as me. No.

Not everyone is as picky as I am. Correct.

I am picky. Me is picky.

The Split Infinitive:

To be or not to be is not to be or to not be. I split many an infinitive in my life, and sometimes it does make the sentence read a bit more smoothly. However, most times I unsplit my infinitives and lean back with an ahhhh. Am I never to do it again? Or am I to never do it again—ha! I am never to do it again! To and do go together, not to be split by never.

Now, aren’t these clear as the clichéd mud on your windshield? Haw! Aw, now, I think those are great examples. *kat sniffs a bit sardonically*

Take to/bring back.

This one is in honor of my father (I miss you Daddy), who drummed it into my head over and over, and even now, I still sometimes falter. I can hear him so clearly:

“It’s take to, bring back. Say it, Kathy, take to, bring back.” (My family called/calls me Kathy—no one else is allowed *laugh* except sometimes GMR).

We take something to and then we bring back from. Take me to the grocery for cookies, or bring me back some cookies. Although I don’t like “bring me back some cookies;” I like, “If you show up from the grocery without any cookies, you’ll regret it! By gawd!”

I’ve got. Pull out the sentence, and see how it reads/sounds:

I’ve got two dogs at my little log house,” means: “I have got two dogs at my little log house.” Awkward!

“I got two dogs at my little log house” – nope, still not there!

Perhaps try: “I have two dogs at my little log house,” or “I’ve two dogs at my little log house.”

In the first example, you’ve rid yourself of an extra word! SHAZAM! Now doesn’t that feel zippity do dah day! Come on, doesn’t it? *kat is starting to feel (see below)—no—kat is a bit discombobulated*

“Got” is one of those words that tends to drive me batty, for it is oft-times used excessively, and once I “notice” a word—as in: got, or had, or suddenly, then my brain BUMPS and I am then temporarily “bumped” from the story—what we don’t want, right?

Choooo choooo – chugging right along, y’all . . .  you still with me? *laughing*

Further/Farther

Farther is a physical distance. I am farther from the kitchen than you are. Further is not a physical distance, as in “You are further along in the recipe than I am.”

So, “I am farther from the kitchen ( physical distance) than you are, so you are further (not a physical distance but an “abstract  idea of being”) along in the recipe.”

Snuck/Sneaked

Snuck is a colloquialism, so yes, I recognize that “snuck” is universally accepted. But . . . still . . . sneaked is correct! “I sneaked to the kitchen to steal cookies” instead of “I snuck to the kitchen to steal cookies.” The only time I use “snuck” is in dialogue, because some of my characters do say “snuck” just as many people do.

What? I said I was picky. Dang it all!

Less/Fewer: Oh is this one often misused, and it’s really simple. No, really!

An easy way to figure out “less” and “fewer” is to think of “fewer” as items you can count as in 1, 2, 3: I have 10 items in my basket, so I can stand in the “10 items or fewer” line even though that woman in front of me has waaaaay more than 10 items and I’m burning a hole in her back because I am in a hurry and . . . and . . . ARGH!

Think of less as what you can’t count individually, one two three. I would certainly have less time to stand in line in the grocery with my ten items or fewer if you were not in front of me with your seventy-three gamillion items.

I have fewer chocolate chips (one two three) so there will be less chocolatety goodness (abstract/non countable statement) in my cookies, all because the woman in front of me not only had more than 10 items, but she took the last bag of chocolate chips. *This means war*

Started to:

We all say or have said “started to.” I wrote “started to” quite frequently until it “started to” blare out at me as extra words that are not required. Can “started to” be changed to a more direct action?

It started to rain: It rained. I started to cry. I cried. I starting running, or I started to run. I ran. I started to pull out my hair. I pulled out my hair. You started to pull out Kathryn’s hair for all these tic/tips. You pulled out Kathryn’s hair and watched her cry—oh wait . . . ungh.

We are not perfect writing machines, but the more we do instinctively and naturally, the less time spent on “fixing” what we write, or even how we speak. Our editors, bosses, and whomever else cares about this stuff (hey, I do and I bet they do, too!) will notice and love you for it. And even if they do not know why they love you for it, you will know why and will be the stronger for it.

By the way: every Monday will be a post on language, books, grammar/sentence structure (NO KAT NOOOOOOO *SOBBING from Readers*),  publishing, etc etc. So be warned, or is it forewarned, or . . . my head hurts.

What do you think? And do you have any tics/tips you are strict about in your language? Have you run off pulling out your hair? Helloooooo? Helllllooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo?

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19 thoughts on “Grammar/Sentence Structure: Tips or Tics? – what say you to Kat’s picky-persnickities

  1. I have a confession.

    I was blessed with a natural ear for speech. I know what sounds right and what doesn’t, what order things should be in, and what words compliment each other. I know when a sentence structure is wrong, and how to fix it.

    But I have NO IDEA what any of it is called. “Yes, my name is Sharla and I’m a writer and I’m grammar illiterate.”

    No idea. I know nouns and verbs and adverbs. Adjectives and prepositions. Ding ding! Sharla’s done.

    Don’t even know what “colloquialism” is that you said up there *runs to Google it*. I couldn’t identify an article, or a modifier, or a participle if they ran up to me and slapped me in the face. Because I managed to ace English on ear alone. Thankfully, I still pull it off pretty well, because the copyeditors at my publisher didn’t have much to redline.

    Now, I have to agree with you on “started to”. Instead of started to cry…I’d say something else. Maybe “My vision blurred as tears filled my eyes.” That says the same thing to me.

    My pet peeve is when people butcher words. Like “irregardless” instead of “regardless”. Oh…I can do a whole post on that. Hmmm, I think I will!

    Great post, Kat!!

    • Sharla – I am the same way — going by “feel” or “sound” or instinct. Though, I did take some classes in my forties and that helped me to learn the “names of things.” Though I learned those names, I’ve forgotten many of them and go by that “instinct” again. :-D

      I started to –hahaha! it works here doesn’t it? *laughing — write down what a colloquialism is but then decided to leave it alone, figured google would take care of that. It’s not a word I use often. I like plain ole simple words, haw.

  2. I’m glad you made the distinction of sometimes allowing bad grammar in your dialogue because that’s the way people speak. Though I confess, every time I do that I want to add a footnote explaining that I know it’s bad grammar. :D

    My pet peeve is the use of the word then when the correct word would be than.

    • *laughing* I’ve thought of this, too!

      Sometimes I’ll read work that uses a word in a way I don’t understand and I always wondered if it was a “regional” thing or just a “don’t know the difference/what the word is used for” thing.

  3. Many of the ones you mention also irritate me. I also dislike:
    Hung incorrectly used instead of hanged, “I could care less,” inaccurate subject/verb agreement, “refer back” and many other redundant phrases like LCD display. Most of all, I dislike it when writers use regional dialect which they clearly do not understand.

  4. I guv op ohn propar grammer vhen i qvit dinking.
    Seams its the onghly hay i kin spill
    As log as yew git it ease oil dat mitters

    Rules are made to be broken
    I do it all the time as a rule
    if it sounds good then it’s good and it can be fun uspecially if it was an accident
    Or not :D

    • Don’t freeze or be afraid — just learn the basics and build from there (and basics do not have to be all my picky persnikities that many people won’t even notice when they read :-D )

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