Back to Basics

Which is correct?

Grammar BeeWith whom are you sexting?
Who are you sexting with?

He knelt at the altar of her heaving bosom.
He kneeled at the altar of her heaving bosom.

Last week I decided I needed to take a little time each day to get back to the basics of writing. You know, that little thing called grammar. In high school, I took an elective in grammar. In college, I took an extra-curricular class. That’s right, no credit for it because my major was Finance. Since college, I’ve taken several grammar classes and home-schooled my daughter in it. But it doesn’t matter how many classes I’ve taken, how many times I study subject verb agreement; subject, object and reflexive pronouns; or commas, colons and semi-colons, I find myself questioning myself. (I find me questioning me? I find myself questioning me? I find me questioning myself?)

So why haven’t all of those classes stuck? Part of the problem is reading all the mistakes that slip past writers and editors. I see “that” used so often in reference to people, I wonder if I’m the one making the mistake when I use “who.”

And part of it is the evolving rules. I was raised on the Oxford comma. We didn’t call it that. We called it the series comma. When I transferred that particular grammar law to fiction, I worked diligently to make certain I didn’t miss a single Oxford/series comma in my manuscripts. In fact, as my editor and I were passing my first manuscript back and forth, I became frustrated because I was missing so many of them. Then I realized my editor was taking them out. Later, I learned that most publishing houses discard the Oxford comma unless it’s necessary for clarity. And let’s talk about snuck and sneaked. In high school, my grammar teacher was horrified that “Jack snuck down the hill” in Ray Parker Jr.’s “Jack and Jill.” (I’ll have to Google song title format before I post this.) He should have sneaked. These days, if my research is correct, both are acceptable.

Yet another problem is regionalisms. For me the past tense of kneel is knelt, not kneeled, but my editor wanted me to correct knelt to kneeled. And what about the past tense of leap? Leapt or leaped?

So I go back to the book…the grammar book. The Elements of Style, aka Strunk and White; Painless Grammar (as if such a thing exists); Image Grammar. If I’m too lazy to get off my as—uh, I mean computer—I search online at Grammar Girl and various university websites.

These resources are great. They’re right at my fingertips, so why bother taking the time to brush up? Because I don’t immediately do the research. I often argue the point before finally breaking down and looking it up. Plus, I hate not knowing.

So it’s back to class. This time I’m using The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation. It’s straightforward, has lots of examples, and includes pretests, worksheets and final tests…all in one book.

Wish me luck. I really want to nail it this time.

Okay, time for show and tell. What’s your favorite grammar resource? Or the grammar bane of your existence?

This post first appeared at The Contemporary Romance Café.

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