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LesFewer
10-20-2018, 09:03 PM
I'm not very good at grammar and syntax which is a problem if you want to be a writer.

I've taken the grammar course at Khan Academy https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/grammar

I was impressed at the quality of the course but I think it's aimed at noobs. This taught me that I suffer from "comma splices."

I've taken published works by famous authors, stripped out all of the punctuation and then tested myself by putting it back in and checking it against the original. This was less helpful than I thought it would be.

So that's were I am now.

At some point I'm going to have to vary the length and format my sentences so that readers aren't bored, and I'll need a good grasp of the language for that. Right now I don't have the confidence to do that so most of my sentences are simple, once in a while I'll use a compound.

If there's some online grammar and punctuation tests, I think that would help. I found one or two small ones.

Anyone know where I can find more online tests? Or maybe some advice on how to learn punctuation?

AW Admin
10-20-2018, 10:09 PM
The best thing you can do is read. Read widely. Read "literature" and read "crap." Read fiction and non-fiction and poetry and cereal boxes.

Learn to look closely at what you read. Listen to audio books.

Get a good unabridged dictionary (I like the American Heritage Dictionary, personally, for American English) and any basic grammar handbook. I like those by Diana Hacker, but there are lots of good options, like the Little Brown Handbook. A used one is fine. You're going to use the handbook to look up questions you have.

Taking tests isn't going to help much after the first one or two.

Maryn
10-21-2018, 12:09 AM
In my experience with critiques here and elsewhere, many of the writers who are comma splicers lack the basic concept of what makes a clause independent. If you fully understand that, and can spot such clauses, both long and short, in what you read, you can also view your own writing with clauses in mind, spotting the places you joined two with a mere comma, which simply won't do.

Reading everything helps, of course, but a return to grammar basics will also help. I advise getting a grammar textbook (used is fine) aimed at high school or middle school students. Review it one section at a time, making sure you truly understand it. There's no time limit. It's boring, and of course you'll already know a lot of it, but if you literally learn the entire book, you'll be surprised at how mistakes will jump off the page, both published ones and your own.

That said, I've given this advice perhaps a couple dozen times over a period of years and I know exactly one person who's taken it. Her usage improved dramatically--but she stopped writing, fearing she'd never be truly at ease with it all, as she felt she had to be. Don't let yourself fall into that hole. What appears to be effortless may be sweat and toil.

Don B
10-21-2018, 06:55 AM
I think both pieces of advice here are excellent, and the toil will pay huge dividends.

If you can find someone who is a proficient writer to line edit your prose for not only punctuation but style, this would be the next step, in my opinion. They don't even have to be a "professional writer"--just someone good at it. Have them read your work out loud, all the while talking through their thinking as they edit. Your job is to be quiet and listen. Watch as they work. Internalize. Do this with as much and as many types of writing as you possibly can, even letters, emails, journal entries.... Soon you'll internalize the rules and make them your own. Combined with the textbook work and increased reading, you will be amazed at how quickly your skills will increase.

I was a writing teacher for 16 years, and sitting beside students as they listened to me, their mentor, talk through (ie, model) "writers' thoughts" as I drafted, edited, and proofread had profound effects on all writers of ages from 6 to 18. Kids of all abilities, from special education in writing to Advanced Placement college level. Not only did this improve grammar skills, but style and rhetoric. Try it!

blacbird
10-21-2018, 06:56 AM
Bear in mind that you can become very "good" at grammatical construction, and still write bad prose. If you don't believe this, try reading any number of internal business communications, or academic articles. For a writer of fiction, "style" is at least as important as grammar. Which is why places like Purdue OWL (google it) call themselves "Grammar and Style" guides.

As Admin said, the best way to get better at these things is to read, and read widely and read a lot. You do that, and a kind of mental osmosis will absorb the principles and practices of good writers in a way no amount of How-To grammar construction guides will.

caw

LesFewer
10-22-2018, 01:17 AM
The Perfect English Grammar - The Indispensable Guide to Excellent Writing and Speaking book was recommended to me. I'll read through it, from what I've read so far it seems promising.

Thanks for your suggestions all.

EmmaSohan
10-22-2018, 04:06 AM
The comma splice, for example, is a part of good writing. This year one person tried to tell me that she didn't like them and I pointed out how often she used them in her published book.

So I am not sure what your goal is. There's a fairly well-defined set of rules for writing grammatically, and I doubt any author follows them. They would be a literary desert. DonB has a fragment; bladbird's sentence has a compound predicate separated by a comma; Maryn has a compound sentence not separated by comma (and so do I). THAT IS PERFECTLY NORMAL. But against those rules.

Punctuation and grammar are tools. You have to learn what they do. I'm not sure how you do that, but -- for example -- you want to be learning how to write good fragments and comma splices.

BethS
10-22-2018, 04:44 PM
Or maybe some advice on how to learn punctuation?

While I would echo AW Admin's advice about reading, and reading widely, that may not help with the punctuation issue, since some authors tend to be quixotic in their application of punctuation, particularly the semi-colon.

Purdue Owl is one of the best online resources I know. They have articles and exercises both. Here's the page where their punctuation instruction begins. (https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/punctuation/index.html) Your best bet is to study the rules, do the exercises, apply what you learn, and refer back to the site to check your work. You will get to the point where you no longer have to refer back to the rules, because you'll have internalized them. But it will take some consistent effort for a time.

BethS
10-22-2018, 04:55 PM
The comma splice, for example, is a part of good writing. .

I take issue with that. In dialogue it's one thing; comma splices can help show a run-on style of speaking. But in prose, the ones I see mostly seem to stem from ignorance or carelessness. Ditto with the use of the semi-colon in place of a colon or to set off dependent phrases.

I think most would agree that you have to know the rules before you can understand how to break them effectively. But these days, nobody is going to learn proper punctuation through simple reading. How can they when it is so often abused? And even if the mistakes are deliberate and done for effect, how will the uninformed reader know the difference?

Ari Meermans
10-22-2018, 07:00 PM
Echoing the recommendations for Purdue OWL to conquer grammar and punctuation woes. I have a hate-hate relationship with commas, so I use the OWL's Extended Rules for Using Commas (https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/punctuation/commas/extended_rules_for_commas.html) page quite a bit. I figure the time will come when I won't use it so much to check myself. Maybe. Someday.

A comma splice is not a part of good writing; it's incorrect usage. The only exception I can think of is the one BethS mentions below:


I take issue with that. In dialogue it's one thing; comma splices can help show a run-on style of speaking. But in prose, the ones I see mostly seem to stem from ignorance or carelessness.

Comma splices in exposition will also wreak havoc with pacing. just sayin'

EmmaSohan
10-22-2018, 11:12 PM
The comma splice is a tool. If you tell someone not to write comma splices, they are liable to take your advice and throw away one of their tools. That will be the wrong attitude towards grammar and punctuation. It's tools, not rules.

And here, it's probably not good advice, most authors seem to find them useful. I count these as comma splices:


The dancing kept up, the drinking kept up, the noise went on.

The transaction is like any other, really; he gives the mortician and his assistant a signed death certificate, they give him a receipt.

If you don't, then you need to define comma splices really carefully if you are going to give advice. And I will just find other examples. (The first one above is Hemingway, the second King.)

And, finally, the only reason people object to comma splices is that they don't notice the ones that don't bother them. I respect Ari's opinion probably more than anyone here so far, and she is absolutely typical. She objects to comma splices and her tag line is Hawking's


The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.

Again, THAT IS TYPICAL. From the Purdue website, we get the advice:


However, don't put a comma after the main clause when a dependent (subordinate) clause follows it (except for cases of extreme contrast).

INCORRECT: The cat scratched at the door, while I was eating.

CORRECT: She was still quite upset, although she had won the Oscar. (This comma use is correct, because it is an example of extreme contrast.)

The comma before because does not follow the very rule they are describing. And it is perfectly normal writing, it just isn't very rule-following.

Bufty
10-22-2018, 11:35 PM
I don't profess to be a grammar whiz, but to me these examples of supposed correct comma splicing are not comma splices.

To me, a comma splice is the erroneous and incorrect joining of two independent clauses by a comma.

The illustrations you show appear to me to be samples of special techniques.

I'm not sure what the second illustration is called, but the first one shows the absence of conjunctions. That technique, I believe, is called asyndeton - not 'the correct use of comma splicing'.




The comma splice is a tool. If you tell someone not to write comma splices, they are liable to take your advice and throw away one of their tools. That will be the wrong attitude towards grammar and punctuation. It's tools, not rules.

And here, it's probably not good advice, most authors seem to find them useful. I count these as comma splices:



If you don't, then you need to define comma splices really carefully if you are going to give advice. And I will just find other examples. (The first one above is Hemingway, the second King.)

And, finally, the only reason people object to comma splices is that they don't notice the ones that don't bother them. I respect Ari's opinion probably more than anyone here so far, and she is absolutely typical. She objects to comma splices and her tag line is Hawking's



Again, THAT IS TYPICAL. From the Purdue website, we get the advice:



The comma before because does not follow the very rule they are describing. And it is perfectly normal writing, it just isn't very rule-following.

Ari Meermans
10-22-2018, 11:42 PM
Emma, it's absolutely permissible to disagree with me on this matter. I've already said I'm no expert on comma usage. But when someone asks how to improve their grammar, we must first point them to the accepted rules of grammar. Almost everyone here hopes to be published and it does them no good to advocate for anything other than those accepted rules. Most publisher house styles are built primarily on one or more of those accepted and respected sources: the Purdue OWL, Strunk & White's The Elements of Style, the AP style sheet, The Chicago Manual of Style, to name a few. Once someone has mastered those basics of proper grammar usage, it'll be time enough to depart from them whenever permitted by their editors to do so.

AW Admin
10-23-2018, 12:19 AM
The comma splice is a tool. If you tell someone not to write comma splices, they are liable to take your advice and throw away one of their tools. That will be the wrong attitude towards grammar and punctuation. It's tools, not rules.

Comma splices are not standard English. The examples you're offering as "acceptable" comma splices are not, in fact, comma splices.

A comma splice or comma fault (https://ahdictionary.com/word/search.html?q=comma+fault) "Improper use of a comma to join two independent clauses (AHD).”

As Ari notes, this is a forum about grammar, and, more specifically, a thread where someone who is struggling with basic English grammar has asked a question about grammar.

You respond with examples where writers (in dialog in one instance) have used non-standard grammar for stylistic reasons. That's done all the time in writing. The point of knowing standard English is to be able to make stylistic choices, to control your prose.

I have tried to be patient with your self-aggrandizing and ignorant posts about writing and grammar.

Having written two self-published books doesn't make you an expert.

You can't write. You don't understand English grammar and syntax, and you're suffering from an abundance of Dunning-Kruger.

To wit:


The comma before because does not follow the very rule they are describing. And it is perfectly normal writing, it just isn't very rule-following.

That's a string of vague pronoun references; it's not clear what antecedent they, and it refer to. It's also nonsensical in context.

You're mostly on AW to pimp your books at every opportunity.

Find another place to do that. You're not welcome here.

Chase
10-23-2018, 12:25 AM
The comma splice, for example, is a part of good writing.

Nope. Bad advice for any writer but especially someone new wanting guides to better punctuation and grammar. As others have pointed out, you may be confusing comma splices with legitimate comma uses.

Although fragments are natural for speech, and brief incomplete sentences can work well in narrative, too many fragments that are too long only confuse careful readers.

Like comma splices, they aren't a newbie's best friend.

Chase
10-23-2018, 09:31 PM
The Perfect English Grammar - The Indispensable Guide to Excellent Writing and Speaking book was recommended to me. I'll read through it, from what I've read so far it seems promising.

Thanks for your suggestions all.

Hi, Fortz. You can't get smarter suggestions to become better at grammar than to read and pay attention to what you read. A dictionary and the grammar handbook you list above are excellent backups.

Don't be daunted by off-the-wall suggestions like comma-splices are good writing. Everyone has off-the-wall advice flying in the face of conventional wisdom. Mine is never even allow comma splices in dialog. In fact, dialog is the worst place for confusing commas. The idea that comma errors are supposed to speed speech seems ridiculous when half the English-reading world mistakenly thinks commas make pauses. It's like two wrongs are supposed to make right dialog?

Anyway, stick to your book learnin' advice (reading, dictionary, handbook) and not so much reliance on what one beta-reader, one editor, or one grammar guru might say.

Since you suffer from comma-sliceitus, Maryn's cure is best: learn what constitutes an independent clause and what punctuation and words can join them.

Good luck. :greenie

cornflake
10-23-2018, 09:48 PM
As well as reading, widely, you might try some grammar books for kids. Doing so doesn't mean you're dumb, or uneducated; a lot of times teachers skip some basics and/or think other teachers covered those basics, and people grow up not really being able to identify when to use 'who,' vs. 'whom.'

There are lots of workbooks on Amazon and in stores, especially in Learning-center type stores that stock a lot of classroom materials. I'd suggest checking out some grammar workbooks for eighth grade or so, to start. You might find them entirely too simple. You might be surprised at the things they're going over that you don't know. Workbooks for kids usually go over the rules with simple explanations, then have a couple of pages of exercises to practice, and the lessons build on each other as they get more complex. It can be helpful for adults who missed some chunks in elementary school to just go back and work on them in that format rather than trying to backsolve, as it were. It's just filling in the missing pieces of the puzzle of English you're working with.

Don B
10-24-2018, 05:41 AM
...when someone asks how to improve their grammar, we must first point them to the accepted rules of grammar. Almost everyone here hopes to be published and it does them no good to advocate for anything other than those accepted rules. ...Once someone has mastered those basics of proper grammar usage, it'll be time enough to depart from them whenever permitted by their editors to do so.

Very, very well said.

I myself may modify that last part away from "editors" toward "context," but that's really quibbling, as Ms. Meermans is right--our editors would help us justify each stylistic choice.

BethS
10-24-2018, 06:14 PM
Mine is never even allow comma splices in dialog. In fact, dialog is the worst place for confusing commas. The idea that comma errors are supposed to speed speech seems ridiculous when half the English-reading world mistakenly thinks commas make pauses. It's like two wrongs are supposed to make right dialog?

Well, fwiw, I believe the idea behind using comma splices in dialogue to help simulate run-on, breathless speech is 1) to eliminate the pauses/breaks that would otherwise be there in the form of a period, a semi-colon, or a conjunction; and 2) to keep the speech readable, the alternative being to eliminate all punctuation. Commas are used as an aid to the eye, but other forms of punctuation are removed to imitate the sound of speech where the speaker doesn't ever let the inflection fall to indicate the end of a sentence. Because the sentences never end. I'd be curious to know how else that might be written.

I don't currently have my copy of Browne & King's Self-Editing for Fiction Writers at hand, but I'm fairly sure this topic is briefly discussed therein.

Chase
10-24-2018, 08:10 PM
I'd be curious to know how else that might be written.

Punctuated more correctly would be the simplest response. For one thing, commas don't make run-ons. A run-on runs on without punctuation. The trick is to run a line of phrases rather than clauses. And another natural indication of breathless and rushed dialog is stringing phrases and clauses together with "and." Ellipses can also work . . . they provide correct glue to rushed dialog.

What I generally see in my editing is those who tend to confuse readers with comma splices in dialog do the same in narrative. It's a lose-lose situation.

BethS
10-24-2018, 11:44 PM
And another natural indication of breathless and rushed dialog is stringing phrases and clauses together with "and."

Yes, I thought of that after I posted. :)


Ellipses can also work . . . they provide correct glue to rushed dialog.


Now see, I always read an ellipsis as a hesitation (or if at the end of a sentence, a trailing off). Kind of the opposite of a continuous flow.


What I generally see in my editing is those who tend to confuse readers with comma splices in dialog do the same in narrative. It's a lose-lose situation. In that instance, yeah, I can see that.

I wish I could remember a book where it was used, so at least there'd be a concrete example to discuss, but I have no idea where to look. I've done it on occasion in my own work, but that lacks the authority of producing a sample from a published novel. :greenie

Chase
10-25-2018, 01:11 AM
Now see, I always read an ellipsis as a hesitation (or if at the end of a sentence, a trailing off). Kind of the opposite of a continuous flow.

Good point. My lame counterpoint is commas do the same but incorrectly. Maybe reserve ellipses for when no other punctuation fits the bill. :Shrug:

starsknight
10-25-2018, 04:46 AM
Hi Fortz,

As with the majority of people replying here, I think it's crucial to know the rules before you can break them. Actually, I suspect that's why your exercise with the novels isn't working quite as well as you'd hoped. Novelists nearly all break some rules. But they know which ones to break, when, and why. That's the high-level stuff, and it's fun once you get there, but the only way to get there is to start at the first level: learning the rules in the first place.

That's not to say don't read novels. Read them! Read a lot! Because some of the rules and grammar and rhythm are going to start absorbing even when you're not specifically trying to learn them.

But as for learning the rules, there are a few approaches I'd recommend--and without knowing your learning style, I can't say which is best for you. You might end up liking one of them or all of them. Try things out and see what fits.

1. If you can handle some fairly dry reading, I highly recommend getting a copy of The Chicago Manual of Style. This is the style guide most often used in US fiction, and in addition to being a treasure trove for figuring out how to handle some odd, obscure things, it includes a great overview of grammar and punctuation. Read Chapters 5 and 6. You won't remember it all, and sometimes it will go into more detail than you really need--but I've yet to find the person who hasn't found it helpful.

2. Write something short, say, 1000 words. A scene, a piece of a novel, a short story, whatever you like, and get it critiqued specifically for grammar. I'm new to AbsoluteWrite--so someone who's been around here longer please correct me if I'm wrong--but I believe you could post that in the Share Your Work forum here and ask for critiques that focus on the grammar. People may have different suggested corrections for you--but at least it will give you a very good idea of what's not working. Figure out why. Ask if you're unsure. Then write a new piece, avoiding all those mistakes you just learned about, and have that critiqued. And learn new things.

3. Consider an in-person writing group or class, if you can find one in your area. Same idea. I've seen this work very well for some people who learn best from face-to-face interaction and verbal feedback.

4. Check out Grammar Girl's site (https://www.quickanddirtytips.com/grammar-girl). Read through the archives, or do a search for a topic you find interesting (or confusing). I've found her explanations to be great for beginners and experts alike.

5. If you want one-on-one attention and feel that's worth paying for, find a writing coach. But be really careful here--there are a lot of bad ones as well as good ones out there. Make sure the person you hire has excellent testimonials and credentials, and has coached people on grammar before. Personally, I'd recommend going for all the free approaches first, and only doing this if none of those are working. Because last I checked, most writers aren't flush with cash. ;)

Again, try things. See what works for you. And best of luck!