YOUR STORY IS YOUR MESSAGE: YOUR MASTERY OF THE LANGUAGE IS YOUR MESSENGER.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Do You Write as Well as a Ninth-Grader?

     Aspiring fiction writers like to invoke the maxim, "Story trumps grammar every time." This is true . . . sort of. Storytellers break the rules of grammar all the time. Indeed, creative writing wouldn't be very creative if fiction writers approached their stories in the manner of authoring academic theses or technical manuals. But this implicit "literary license" for storytellers holds true only for the departures they commit deliberately at the behest of their muses toward some literary purpose. It doesn't apply to the mistakes they make because they simply don't know any better. A lot of developing writers extrapolate the notion of more leeway for creative types to mean fiction writers don't need to possess as much grammar and spelling and punctuation and usage talent as nonfiction writers because such talent isn't as important for them, because they somehow have a higher artistic calling that reduces such pedantic concerns to annoying side-issues. Essentially, that they don't need to be experts in the language as long as they can tell a dynamite story. This begs the question: just how in the blue perfect hell do they expect to tell a dynamite story without being experts in the language? Really, we're all sitting here patiently, with bated breath, waiting for them to explain just how they figure they can do that.
     My open question to fiction writers, then, one that wouldn't even be considered worthy of serious discussion among most journalists and nonfiction authors, is this: do you think a professional writer needs to be a journeyman of the language? More specifically here, do you think a professional's functional skills should be at least equal to those of, say, a high school freshman: a ninth-grader? 
     Hemingway sometimes wrote at sixth- or seventh-grade levels. The question here is not whether or not you believe you, as a professional writer, should always write at any particular readability level. No, the question here is whether or not you think it's reasonable to expect you, as one claiming to be a professional writer,  to be able to write at that level; whether you think you, as a professional, ought to know how to write at least that well; whether you think you should have the available functional language skills of the median fifteen-year-old American schoolkid.
     If you want an idea of what ninth-graders are supposed to know to become tenth-graders, and possibly an idea of whether or not you seem to possess these skills, here are fifty practice sentences derived from textbooks, class handouts, practice sheets, and other grade-level materials to help you find out. 
     Answers are here.
     

 1.  Many streets here doesn't / don't even have names.
   
2.  The committee has / have reached a decision.
   
3.  Who was / were the first settlers in this area?
   
4.  The dog and the horse is / are made of plastic.
       
5.  A number of the nails has / have loosened.
   
6.  Neither Marie nor Earl cooks / cook as well as I do.
   
7.  Many a decision has / have been made in haste.
   
8.  Both of the officers has / have specific duties.
   
9.  Each of the men raised his / their hand to vote for the proposal.
   
10.  The coach, as well as his players, is / are anxious about the game.
   
11.  We couldn't find Louis / Louis's saxophone.
   
12.  Macaroni and cheese is / are popular in school lunches.
   
13.  Kevin sent both Josh and I / me an invitation.
   
14.  We / Us Kramers tend to be on the tall side.
   
15.  He stared at she / her and I / me.
   
16.  Denise was depending upon Sheila and they / them.
   
17.  Shannon told us who / whom the police were looking for.
   
18.  Give the envelope to whoever / whomever shows up first.
   
19.  Carlos has already lain / laid the groundwork for the operation.
   
20.  Remember, we're having dinner with the Williams' / Williamses tonight.
   
21.  Lexington is fewer / less than thirty miles from here.
   
22.  We hid behind the barn til / till sundown.
   
23.  Exercising has had a positive affect / effect on my blood pressure.
   
24.  My grandmother / Grandmother is taking me to the museum.
   
25.  She remembered the conductor from a previous performance of The barber / Barber of Seville.
   
26.  According to grandmother / Grandmother, Dr. Kournikova had immigrated to Milltown from Bosnia.
   
27.  I've finally finished reading "The Grapes of Wrath" / The Grapes of Wrath.

28.  The article was titled "Yesterday is Gone" / Yesterday is Gone.
   
29.  Which one of you said,  "Charlie did it?" / it"?
   
30.  "Ouch" / "Ouch!" she yelled. / yelled!
   
31.  Which is correct?
   Harold will conduct the interviews Francine will meet the managers and Charles will guide the plant tour.
or
   Harold will conduct the interviews, Francine will meet the managers, and Charles will guide the plant tour.
or
   Harold will conduct the interviews, Francine will meet the managers and, Charles will guide the plant tour.

32.     Which is correct?
   Her low soft whisper could not be heard in the big noisy room.
or
   Her low soft whisper could not be heard in the big, noisy room.
or
   Her low, soft whisper could not be heard in the big, noisy room.

33.  Which is correct?
   The witch doctor wore a mask, of which this is a copy, only during special ceremonies.
or
   The witch doctor wore a mask of which this is a copy, only during special ceremonies.
or
   The witch doctor, wore a mask of which this is a copy, only during special ceremonies.

34.  Which is correct?
   Please try to arrive before dark; otherwise call ahead.
or
   Please try to arrive before dark; otherwise, call ahead.
or
   Please try to arrive before dark, otherwise, call ahead.

35.  They hurried to finish their / they're song.
       
36.  Its / It's a remarkable day!
   
37.  The children's / childrens' toys were everywhere.
   
38.  Your / You’re welcome.

39.  Even though I was tired.
     Fragment
     Run-on
     Complete Sentence

40.  He asked for a raise she got it.
     Fragment
     Run-on
     Complete Sentence

41.  She is a good mother she pays attention to her children.
     Fragment
     Run-on
     Complete Sentence

42.  When Alex calls.
     Fragment
     Run-on
     Complete Sentence

43.  He laughed.
     Fragment
     Run-on
     Complete Sentence

44.  Craig likes cars more than her.
   The sentence directly above means
     Craig likes cars more than he likes Sheila.
or
     Craig likes cars more than Sheila likes cars.
or
     Impossible to know from the sentence’s form.

45.  Craig likes cars more than Sheila.
   The sentence above means
     Craig likes cars more than he likes Sheila.
or
     Craig likes cars more than Sheila likes cars.
or
     Impossible to know from this sentence alone.
   
46.  Craig likes cars more than she.
   The sentence above means
     Craig likes cars more than he likes Sheila.
or
     Craig likes cars more than Sheila likes cars.
or
     Impossible to know from this sentence alone.

47.  Neither the students nor the teacher seems / seem to care much for Jude the Obscure.

48.  He’s one of those superior types who always needs / need to have the last word.

49.  Henry lay / laid around the house all day yesterday.
   
50.  Which is correct?
   We arrived at the McNameras house at seven.
or
   We arrived at the McNamera's house at seven.
or
   We arrived at the McNameras' house at seven.

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 "It's what you need."
Making authors look good anonymously since 1996

    

1 comment:

  1. Well, damn my eyes. I missed a few--one because I over-thought it, one because I didn't think hard enough, and a few because I flat-out didn't know.

    I will, however, note that the answer to #27 is not clear-cut--even though I selected the correct answer--because style books disagree. I selected the italic version of the title because that's what is considered correct by The Chicago Manual of Style and is taught in high school English classes.

    Even so, The Associated Press Stylebook--which even high school journalism students use--deems it proper to put quotation marks around composition titles, which include book titles, movie titles, and so on.

    As a professional writer, I would use whichever version is mandated by the stylebook used by the publication for which I was writing.

    ReplyDelete

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