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Gower's Office Hours

7 days ago

I sit in my big, big oak desk, glasses perched precariously on my nose.  I lay my fountain pen down atop my gradebook and steeple my hands with something of a patient sigh.

The purpose of this thread is to have a place to talk about smallish issues of language, style, syntax, grammar, word choice, paragraph structure, or whatever.  This is for microlevel issues, not big stuff like "what should I write about?" or "how do I make interesting choices?" or "is that mole bigger than yesterday?"

Bring a piece of your work-in-progress, and let's all discuss it together.

It's worth 40% of your grade, and you may not have an extension.

Gower's Office Hours

7 days ago
~ and &

thanks.

Gower's Office Hours

7 days ago
How unacceptable is it to say something along the lines of, "Those ones are the best," or, "Bring those ones"? My mom throws a fit when she hears it.

Gower's Office Hours

7 days ago
Commended by mizal on 9/9/2019 7:19:30 AM

Saying things is obviously completely different situation than writing it.  My theory of writing is that if you can omit a word and retain the precise meaning in formal writing, take out the word.  I know you asked about saying, but first a word about writing and being sparing of words.

"In the spring, the bears come out of their caves."  That's something you could easily say, but I would probably suggest, in formal writing that you take out the "thes" -->  "In spring, bears come of their caves."  So we axe two words and keep the same meaning.

Then you've got little "tags" that people add to their sentences when they speak.  "Those one" is a good example.  Another is the current trend of adding "I mean" to every single sentence.  We can live with that (barely) in speak, but you would naturally omit it in writing.

But--and here's the thing--in fiction, of course you would keep it.  It's very characterful.  But now to the question you actually asked, which is what to do when your mom throws a fit.

As  you can see, "those ones" and "these ones" (even more popular!) is possibly starting to level off after its 1980-2000 boom.  So that should be some comfort to your mom.  People who get annoyed by those sort of thing are generally more accepting of "these" and "those" when they are accompanied by an adjective between the words.   So next time, try "those crunchy ones are the best" or Bring those shiny ones."  Because by separating the pointer word ("these/those") from the word "one" you are adding more meaning to the phrase (it's the crunchy ones you are distinguishing).

Fascinatingly, usage guides don't seem to object to this usage in the singular.  "That one is the best," or something like "you take the green lollipop, and I'll take this one."  I would ask your mom if she objects to those usages.  For some reason, the singular hits people's ears less harshly, even if they object to the usage in the plural.

In short, how unacceptable is it?  It's a bit informal, in the same way that some people say "at about noon."  But it's not that bad, and if your mother waits around a few hundred years, it will almost certainly go away.

Gower's Office Hours

6 days ago
Thanks, Gower. That made sense, and I'll be careful not to use it in most writing.
It's interesting to see the usage chart too.

Gower's Office Hours

6 days ago

I assume "those ones" is grating because the speaker is using the word "one" as a plural. One the other hand, "that one" sounds no different than "someone", "no one", or "anyone".

Gower's Office Hours

7 days ago

I am excited about this thread! I have three micro grammar/structure questions that have been bugging me. I hope I did not miss office hours because here we go!

All questions pertain to this story: Dark Master. It is a work in progress, but feel free to read as much or as little as you want. I will try to make this post all inclusive for the questions I have. There are three (3) in total.

1. This paragraph:

“You can’t, unless you meet me in the old field we use to play magic in as kids after school today!” Emily exclaims playfully with a sparkle in her blue eyes, back to her usual confident self. You aren’t sure if that makes her attractive, or annoying.

I am not sure about the last sentence particularly. I do not want to tell my reader that to think, but I want to create the impression that the main character is unsure about Emily. Part of him wants to trust her, part of him does not. You have to make a choice related to this later on the page.

2. How do you properly introduce a long speech or long segments of dialogue? I have characters that tell their stories in my story. I feel like I am okay at writing normal dialogue, but am I introducing this speech (and using block quotes) right?

Note: Everything below is an excerpt from my story

"They turned their backs on me!" Katrina cries, launching into her story:

I was rising in the ranks, doing everything right, but I asked about some of the rules we weren't following and was told to stop looking into them. When I didn't my apprentice challenged me to a duel. It was meant to be a public punishment in front of the whole school, but I beat her and took her spot as an apprentice. The other apprentices didn't like that I guess, so they attacked me one night in my room.

They bound my hands and feet and dragged me out of bed to the arena, in front of the whole school, for a rematch. I guess you could call it that, but they didn't untie me. I was half dead before Brooke, the master of water, walked in. Do you think she stopped the fight? No! She unbound my hands and said she would sanction the dual as legitimate!

The moment the fighting resumed that apprentice tried to drown me. I was too weak to fight her for control of the water, but I had already known I had some aptitude for dark magic. I discovered it at my aptitude test when the principal of the school was testing my twin brother. He didn't light up any of the four cubes, so they gave him a fifth, which did. Two paladins came and executed him the next day. I had to know why they killed him, and since no one would tell me I stole the cube. Inside there was a black rock that light up whenever I put magical energy into it.

I had already been accepted into the water school at that point, but I practiced dark magic whenever I was alone. It felt so much better than pretending to be a water witch, and when the school of magic turned their back on me I was strong enough to defend myself. I corrupted the water with dark energy, similar to the dark flames you could control Todd, and the apprentice couldn't use any of it. None of them could. I killed that apprentice, and fled.

Brooke was able to dispel my dark energy and take control of the water, but I got away. They covered the whole thing up as a 'training accident' and reported me among the dead. I swore I would never forgive the corrupt schools of magic for what they did to my brother and I. That is why I need to create a safe place for people with dark magic, so no one else has to die for no reason!

Katrina looks down and sobs. If her story is true she is impressive, but she looks more like a scared child than a powerful witch at the moment.

3. The first page of my story is framed as a teacher on a history class reading a story from a history book. This ties the into in well, and explains the back story for my setting. Right now I have the whole thing in quotes (yes the whole page), with just a quotation mark at the beginning and end. Is that the correct way to do it? Or what would be better? The way it reads now seems awkward, because the first page is just the story in quotes, then the second page implies that the teacher had read it.

Thank you in advance Gower, I appreciate all of the grammar help! Let me know if this was too much, you have no obligation to answer it all.

-Shadowdrake27

Gower's Office Hours

7 days ago
Commended by mizal on 9/9/2019 7:24:11 AM

1.  “You can’t, unless you meet me in the old field we use to play magic in as kids after school today!” Emily exclaims playfully with a sparkle in her blue eyes, back to her usual confident self. You aren’t sure if that makes her attractive, or annoying.

  • a.  Change "use" to "used"; remove "in." -- both in sentence one.
  • b.  The "playfully with a sparkle in her blue eyes" hits my ear as very formulaic, or cliche.
  • c.  The timing of :  "we use to play magic in as kids after school today!" is weird.  It goes from the past to what we are going to do today.
  • d.  I agree that you should let Emily's words do the lifting--put what you say in your last sentence in the choice.  (I found her...1) attractive, 2) annoying, 3) both.)
  • e.  So the first sentence probably needs to be reworked with more character.  And there is nothing more characterful than pausing and punctuation for effect with appropriate speech attributions.  Listen to these differences: 
  •     "You can’t, unless you meet me in the old field we used to play magic in as kids after school today!”
  •     “You can’t. Unless...you meet me in the old field.  You know.  Where we used to play magic as kids.  Meet me--after school today," she said, murmuring, barely audible, lips close to my ear.  I could feel her breath.
  •     “You can’t unless you meet me!   In the old field we used to play magic in as kids!  Come on, after school today!” she screamed, slapping my arm with the ruler and snapping her gum.  She smelled like collard greens.

2.  You certainly could do the inset paragraphs.  That really sets the story apart as its own thing.  You can also just paragraph as usual, though, being sure to use quotation marks at the start of each paragraph to clearly indicate that this is quoted speech.  Usually you will only see quotation marks at the *start* of each paragraph when it's the same speaker for paragraph after paragraph.

3.  Oh, sameish answer as above.  Put a quotation mark at the start of each paragraph.  Don't put one at the end.

 

Gower's Office Hours

6 days ago

Thank you Gower!

This was al helpful as usual, I will get to updating my story with all of this later today.

I may change the block quotes to what you described above, because I want the speech to feel more like a part of the story and less like a separate piece.

Gower's Office Hours

6 days ago

... and let's all discuss it together.

I'll start by adding a random website because I remember multi-paragraph speeches confusing me (not closing quotations!? How barbaric- wait that's how it's done?). owl.purdue.edu/.../quotation_marks_with_fiction.html

If one person's speech goes on for more than one paragraph, use quotation marks to open the dialogue at the beginning of each paragraph. However, do not use closing quotation marks until the end of the final paragraph where that character is speaking.

Here is another one that I love to link (it has a part on multiple paragraphs of dialogue): theeditorsblog.net/.../punctuation-in-dialogue/

Anyhow, Gower already answered you, so I'll leave it at that (but I will add that the WIP is looking pretty good).

Actually... now I have another punctuation question: If a sentence ends with a word like V.I.P., will it have two periods next to each other?

Gower's Office Hours

6 days ago

I believe you omit the second period, but keep it if it is a comma or other punctuation mark. You can also write out the words if you are having trouble. For example, V.I.P. = very important person.

What is WIP??

Gower's Office Hours

6 days ago
WIP = Work in Progress.

In this case I was referring to the storygame who's excerpts you used.

Gower's Office Hours

5 days ago

Oh, thank you, I appreciate it!

Gower's Office Hours

6 days ago
Yeah, I had to look up that paragraph thing when I reading PoF. Not something I'd encountered before but Rhode's speech is now correct in a way only an English professor would ever notice.

Gower's Office Hours

6 days ago
I'm waiting for this one to be answered. It bothers me a lot when I try and write with things other than a period in the quotes: Sally screamed, "Help Me!". I really want to put that period at the end because ending with just the quote doesn't feel right, but it really looks bad to me either way (with or without the last period).

Gower's Office Hours

6 days ago

Yep, no period there.  No need.  The exclamation point (or a question mark) overrides a period at the end.  You'll never see !". or ?".

Gower's Office Hours

6 days ago
Commended by JJJ-thebanisher on 9/9/2019 7:13:27 PM

Best practice is to avoid the two periods next to each other, so you will not see "I wish I could be a V.I.P.."

However, that doesn't mean weird punctuation that looks mutant and wrong doesn't happen.

For example:

"Did Jonah really say, 'I think I'll go fishing!'?"

You've got the absurd situation of exclamation point, single quotation mark, question mark, double question mark.

It gets even worse looking when both the inside and the outside quotation are questions.

"Did Jonah really ask, 'You know where I could find a great fish around here?'?"

That is all quite right and correct.  But two periods?  Never!

Gower's Office Hours

6 days ago

I'm shocked this opportunity isn't being utilised by more people. 40% is a huge amount and you will probably fail if you do not seek consultation!

I'm also disappointed in Ford for not linking to tilde and ampersand, as he is definitely capable. It is his loss though, so I guess matters little to me.

Anyway, here are some smallish things:

  • Imagine a random scene. There is an important bridge here, so it will get mentioned multiple times. The first time I'd mention it with an 'a', that is, "there is a bridge". Later on I'd refer to it with 'the', "the bridge is collapsing!" My question is... what is the technical term for doing this? Is mentioning the bridge as 'the bridge' straight away technically incorrect?
  • Using brackets in fiction (to convey further optional information [that is how they are used right? {and what about nesting, is that even a thing!?}]), good or bad or neutral?
  • Use of italics, do they have any specific purpose? Are they a crutch and should be avoided? Should sentences work without them? (Such as having sarcasm, you know?)

As this is supposed to be for smaller things, feel free to tell me to do my own research if anything requires longer responses.

Oh, a bonus one:

  • Ellipses, you put a space after them, yeah? I could've sworn you do...but I've seen it done without too often, albeit I can't say that I'm referring to professional works (at least not in reference to recent memory).

Gower's Office Hours

6 days ago
Commended by JJJ-thebanisher on 9/9/2019 8:40:22 PM

1.

The typical rule is that "a" (also known as the indefinite article) means "some."

A student  will need a notebook.   -- that means "some student will need a notebook."  Any old student, no particular one.

When I switch to "the" (known as the definite article) it means "that."

The student will need a notebook.  -- means "that particular student will need a notebook" (and possibly not other ones)

So far so good, and  you likely knew that.  There's no *particular* technical term I know of for when you make that change, and in fact, the situation you mention where you start with "A" and then move to "The" may not always be the case.

 

Here's Hemingway:

"In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees."

Hemingway is using "the" the first time he introduces you to the river and the plain and the mountains.  It's actually an interesting stylistic choice to do that.  It has to do with a style of writing called the "Tough" style which I will get into an article at some point, I promise.

2. 

Brackets, or square brackets [ ] -- what are they for?

The way I would suggest thinking about square brackets is that they are used for just one purpose:  to indicate that the original text is being modified.

You wrote, "I'm shocked this opportunity isn't being utilised by more people."

So if I were quoting your post to someone I might write, "I'm shocked this opportunity [to ask Gower language questions] isn't being utilised by more people."

I modified your words, adding in new words to clarify, so I have to indicate that with square brackets.

You often see it in the newspaper modifying words, not adding words.

If someone says "I will not tolerate hurricanes in my country."

If I want to quote that person I could say Martha said that she "will not tolerate hurricanes in [her] country."  I have to put the word "her" in square brackets to show I changed her word.

3.

Italics are interesting.  Technically they are the exact same thing as underlining (underlining is how you used to tell a printer to make something italics) so you must never use italics and underlining in the same document for emphasis.  Italics are wonderful for dialogue in particular, but should be avoided for emphasis otherwise in formal writing unless you have no other way to stress what you want (usually you do).

You also use them for book titles and movie titles, and to indicate foreign words in a text, like if you say,

This is the "poem's modus operandi."

 

4.  Either do this...with no spaces at all, or do this . . . with a space before and after each period.  Different publishers want different one or the other.  Remember to also consider using an em-dash to create a different pause as well — like this.  Both are pretty casual, but they are great for representing dialogue and natural-sounding prose.

Gower's Office Hours

6 days ago
Quality information, thank you!

Learning things is good.

Gower's Office Hours

5 days ago
I would use 'the' if it was something the character was already familiar with as the scene opened, as opposed to something they were just discovering.

Gower's Office Hours

6 days ago
Is it unacceptable to start a sentence with 'Though'? I did that for the longest time until someone, IAP I think, was confused by it, at which point I realized it was probably wrong and switched to Although.

Though still feels more natural to me in some cases and I'm not sure if it's one of those 'technically allowed but you should feel bad' things (like spelling all right as alright) or if it's just me being dumb.

Gower's Office Hours

6 days ago
Commended by JJJ-thebanisher on 9/9/2019 7:13:07 PM

"Though she be but little, she is fierce."  -- Shakespeare.

So at the very least, Shakespeare has your back.  There is nothing wrong with starting a sentence with the word "though."

However, you have to use it right.  Generally, it should be in the same sentence as a *main clause* -- a complete sentence that it is modifying.  So Shakespeare is saying "she is fierce" (that's the main clause) and then we modify it with the "though" clause.  So you have the main thing, though there's this exception.

I strongly prefer vanilla, though I will eat chocolate.

Though I'll eat chocolate, I strongly prefer vanilla.        That's just the same sentence backwards, and they are both fine.

 

Below is less ok:

Ducks are my favorite waterfowl. Though I do like geese.

What you don't want is the "though" sentence all by itself without the main clause.  That is a much slangier usage.

However, it's really characterful.  It would be an interesting thing to give to a character as a speech pattern--it's informal, a little clipped, a little offhanded.

The correct way to do that would be

Ducks are my favorite waterfowl. However, I do like geese.

There

Gower's Office Hours

5 days ago
Thanks!

"Though I'll eat chocolate, I strongly prefer vanilla." is typically how I'd use it, so good to know I'm not wrong, just a little backwards.

Gower's Office Hours

6 days ago
May I ask you a question, sir?

"I sit in my big, big oak desk, glasses perched precariously on my nose." Shouldn't that in be at?

Gower's Office Hours

6 days ago

I can see where that would be confusing.  I have a three-sided, U-shaped desk, and I sit in the middle of it, at the Gower Command Center.  So I always think of it as "in."

Gower's Office Hours

5 days ago
"At" works in all reasonable cases where "in" only works in certain situations including the nonsensical situation of sitting physically inside a desk. "At" works for every desk type from circular lobby desks to a students' desk whereas "in" doesn't work as well particularly for desks without legroom underneath. Even considering that most desks have leg room, you can't realistically stand in a desk but one can stand at their desk. Same thing with tables all the way down to a chess board or gambling square on the ground - people sit, stand, and act /at/ these surfaces but not necessarily in these surfaces. Even the definition for desk includes doing things /at/ the desk not /in/ the desk. I think "at" is the way to go. p.s. im gay

Gower's Office Hours

5 days ago

I completely agree, and I shall refer to it that way in public from now on.  But in my mind, I'll always be "in."  Also I pretend I'm in the captain's chair on the bridge of the Enterprise.  But that's a different matter that need not concern us here.

Gower's Office Hours

5 days ago
You can sit /in/ a chair /at/ the desk /in/ your office /at/ your place of work. At = active, in = inactive.

Gower's Office Hours

5 days ago

Come at me.  We won't do the other one.

Gower's Office Hours

5 days ago
Careful. As you can see, he's gay.

Gower's Office Hours

5 days ago
Jesus.

Gower's Office Hours

4 days ago

This may be a dumb question, but I figured I would take the chance to ask it before office hours end...

Is it ever acceptable to intentionally use poor grammar to illustrate a point or create an impression? If so is there a way to point that out so the reader knows it is intentional and not a mistake?

I know that using (sic) after a quote is proper if there is a mistake in the document you are quoting. This tells the reader that the mistake is not yours, but they should reference the original document for the mistake that you copied into your quote to accurately quote it. Does this also apply to original text that has an intentional error?

An example might be a drunk character that has awkward pauses in his speech and poor sentence structure. 

Gower's Office Hours

4 days ago

Good question!  Yes, absolutely.  You could hardly write fiction without using informal grammar, slang, improper comma use, and so forth, because that's very characterful.  The most obvious example is a character who says "ain't" or "nohow" or "leastwise" which Mark Twain cheerfully used to depict nonstandard English.

If it's in fiction, you don't need to point it out, because the narrative will make that clear to the reader.  If you are depicting a drunk, go ahead and do something like, "Well, I...is if the door is open, you can just...mmm, so go on then and..."  The reader will get it, and as an author, there's absolutely no reason to mark it as intentional.

In nonfiction, you are exactly right that [sic] or (sic) may be used.  "Sic" is Latin for "thus," so it means "I found this that way in the source."  But I think everyone knows that it really stands for "sick burn," and it is the most fun thing you can ever do in formal writing.

Gower's Office Hours

4 days ago

Thank you Professor Gower! 

Also I can see using (sic) being fun. I can also see it being an insult worthy of dueling over when the mistake is questionable. Such as: “I sit in my big, big oak desk...” (sic). I am sure many aspiring writers have died over such insulting quotation burns. 

Gower's Office Hours

4 days ago

"Also I can see using (sic) bring fun."

Nice save.

Gower's Office Hours

4 days ago

Because of the context I had to edit, the response burn would have been something no one could recover from. Although, I am sure my grammar is poor enough for you to find many mistakes in anything I write.