A British-ism has been distorted by popular usage ~ Begs the Question. Begs the question means an assumption is made without proof. It is not synonymous with “poses the question” or “asks the question.” It is an expression in itself and shouldn’t be followed by … a question!
Writers should avoid the usage because it’s antiquated. “Beg” in old English meant the same as “to take for granted.” If what you intend to write is “poses the question” or “raises the question,” say so. Don’t “beg” the question.
It’s that day again, National Grammar Day. Time to share your favorite grammar goofs.
I continue to see the possessive its spelled with an apostrophe. Why do people do that? It’s illogical. They don’t spell his hi’s or hers her’s (well, some do even that), but they spell its it’s. Grrr.
Your turn. In the Comments section, add grammar goofs that annoy you. And let’s all March forth on March fourth!
When it comes to words I thought I knew but didn’t, clinch / clench heads the list. When do you use clench and when do you use clinch? Or is it the same word with varied spelling, like dialog and dialogue?
I consulted an old dictionary. Sure enough, under clench it said [See CLINCH]. Does that mean they originally meant the same thing? The definitions are similar but neither word is listed as a synonym for the other. So I did additional research and, as with so many words in our language, usage has modified the definitions.
Clench means to hold or grasp firmly. She clenched the steering wheel until her knuckles whitened.
Clinch means to confirm. His offer clinched the deal. Except…yes, you knew there’d be exceptions. Clinch in boxing means to hold firmly with one or both arms around the body.
Don’t expect any help from SpellCheck. It accepts either spelling. Grammar helpers accept either usage.
The only advice I give you with absolute certainty concerning clinch and clench is BE CONSISTENT within your work.
Do compound words confound you? For instance, when do you use everyday and when is it every day? Or the one I struggle with most–awhile. Or is it a while? As usual, the answer is: It depends.
Awhile is an adverb meaning a short period of time. It should be used with a verb.
She stopped working awhile and had a cup of tea.
A while (two words) can mean any length of time and acts as a noun.
She stopped working for a while and had a cup of tea.
Unfortunately, you’ll see awhile misused in the press. Ignorance? To save print space? Who knows.
Words like everyday or anytime are used as adjectives.
Red wine vinegar is her everyday vinegar.
Words like Every day and any day are two words when used as adverbs.
She uses red wine vinegar every day.
She uses red wine vinegar any time she wants to make salad dressing.
Everywhere is an adverb, and everyone is a pronoun. When it comes to compound words, the rules vary, which is why I said “it depends.”
She looked everywhere for the grammar guide.
She gave everyone a copy of the guide.
Bottom line: Be aware of your parts of speech when choosing words. Think about how the word functions in the sentence. When all else fails, consult a good dictionary.
Now, I’ll get back to my writing for a while. ☺
Last month I posted about the wrong way to punctuate and format dialog. This post is about the right way. (FYI I’m addressing the American rules for dialog; the British have different rules for formatting dialogue.)
With tongue firmly in cheek, let’s start with these examples:
“I can’t believe I ate that whole pineapple!” Bob said, dolefully.
“I haven’t caught a fish all day,” Mike said, without debate.
“I won’t let a stupid flat tire let me down,” Steve said, with despair.
“I keep banging my head on things,” Marty said, bashfully.
“That is the second time my teacher changed my grade,” Donna remarked.
“The fur is falling out of that mink coat,” Steven inferred.
“That’s the second electric shock that I’ve gotten today,” Stew said, revolted.
“I’ll just have to send that telegram again,” Samuel said, remorsefully.
“I’ve been sick and lost a lot of weight,” Rachel expounded.
These are examples of dialog tags formatted correctly (I do hope you’ll resist the adverbs ☺). What the character says is within quotation marks, including punctuation. But what about dialog within dialog? Or interrupted speech? Relax. There are rules for formatting complex dialog issues, too. Here are a few basics:
- If you’re switching speakers, you need a new paragraph. However, a line of dialogue within a paragraph of narrative is not technically wrong. Use your judgment. You don’t want an important speech lost in a lengthy passage of description. When in doubt, err on the side of what printers call “white space.” It makes your text more readable.
- Interrupted speech is formatted with the em dash or double hyphen; Trailing speech is formatted with three periods.
- A tag follows a comma (or question mark or exclamation point) with he said or she said. You’ll see hundreds of variations of this tag, everything from “he responded” to “she answered” to “she replied.” What you shouldn’t see is anything that’s physically impossible or implausible, such as “she laughed” or “he snorted.” You can’t laugh or snort words. If you want your speaker laughing or snorting, fine. Make it a sentence of its own.
- A statement of action (complete sentence) is not a tag and should not be preceded by a comma.
- Double quotation marks surround the entire speech, including punctuation. Single quotation marks are for speech-within-a-speech. For instance, “How dare he call me ‘Queen Victoria!’”
Remember, dialog is a good way to move the story, as long as you don’t fall into the “As you know, Bob” trap. That’s a rookie mistake that goes something like this:
“I can’t believe I ate all the pineapple!”
“As you know, Bob, your father, your grandfather, and your great-grandfather owned pineapple plantations. It’s natural you’d overindulge.”
Bob huffed an impatient breath. “You’d think I’d know how to control myself.”
“You’ve had a rough year, remember? You’re going through a particularly nasty divorce, which has been tabloid fodder all year.”
“Tell me something I don’t know.”
Exactly! Tell Bob something he doesn’t know, not a bunch of backstory for the reader’s benefit. Use dialog to reveal character values and traits, not backstory the character already knows.
Any other dialog issues challenging your writing? Leave me a comment.