Who doesn’t love a good grammar quiz? Damn near everybody doesn’t, but stick with me, you may actually learn something.
Which of the following sentences is grammatically correct:
a) If the tree was torn up by its roots, that meant it was probably ogres or trolls or giants — something impressive and dangerous.
b) If the tree were torn up by its roots, that meant it was probably ogres or trolls or giants — something impressive and dangerous.
This sentence was at the center of a lively discussion between members of an Every Day Fiction round-table, of which I am one. A member. Not a round table. You may think I’m trying to be funny here, but actually I am second guessing everything I write as to whether each and every sentence is grammatically correct. And second guessing everything you write can sure slow a writer down.
I hate grammar. Let me state that, as emphatically as possible, right here and now. If I could figure it out maybe I’d grow to love it. But the rules of grammar are so arbitrary, I can’t see any love growing in the near future.
The answer to the above quiz is at the end of this blog. I’m sure the anticipation is killing you but please try to refrain from skipping the rest of my blog and going straight for the answer. Here’s a hint; moody verbs.
I am not only trying to teach you something, I’m also trying to explain how frustrating writing can be for those of us attempting to get the craft right.
A lot of grammar rules have softened over the years. At one time beginning a sentence with a conjunction, such as ‘and’ (as I did in a previous paragraph), was frowned upon. Ending a sentence with a preposition, such as ‘to’ or ‘upon’ (as I did with the previous sentence), is still tut-tutted by elitist grammar scholars. Fortunately for a lot of us writers, most editors, or at least I hope most editors, realize that our grammatical blunders are easily fixed, and it is the story that is most important.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t have the basics down. If you do not know when to use ‘their, there or they’re’, you should be taking classes. Keep writing, by all means. Get your thoughts and story ideas down on paper. Then learn how to get the story across to your audience as coherently as possible.
The correct answer for the above quiz was debated by writers and editors over a couple of hours and it was finally decided that the correct answer is the first one, a. Which is how the author wrote it, and which I thought was right all along. But, apparently, there is something called a ‘subjunctive verb’. This subjunctive verb was causing arguments. And even after all the expert explanations, all I can figure out is that verbs can be moody.
I must be a verb.
For those of you still reading, and hopefully there is one or two finding this particular blog at least a little interesting, here is an excerpt of our round-table conversation. I particularly like Camille’s analogy.
I hate to sound elitist, but for me, it’s about how “smart” you seem. If you use “irregardless” (non-ironically) and chronically mix up “they’re”, “their”, and “there”, you are going to turn me off. If you play fast and loose with subjunction or sideways verb tense shifts, that’s fine — don’t waste your mental resources fretting about it. Story — real, live, full, beginning, middle, end, not-just-a-first-chapter, engaging, well-paced story-telling is the stuff.
My heart is happy when sensible people speak.
It’s highly possible that this particular blog of mine is full of grammatical errors. I also have a problem with tenses. I hope any and all errors are pointed out to me. It’s a good way to learn.
But I would appreciate it if the corrections are demonstrated without making me feel like a chimpanzee who has learned to type. (Note to my big sister…I’m not referring to you. You never make me feel like an arboreal anthropoid ape. Though, on occasion, you still make me feel five years old. Just saying.)