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Ed_in_Bed

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My brain can't seem to make a decsion with this.

I've got a character contemplating 'rumour' and how it affects people, and at one point, he muses:

'If religion is the opium of the masses, rumour is its angel dust.'

Or should it be...

"If religion is the opium of the masses, rumour is their angel dust."

I just don't know.

Thanks in advance!
 

Lea123

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I’d say their? As the masses refer to living beings (I assume… not sure how the rules work for zombies and the general undead).

I may be wrong and this could just come from the uncomfortable feeling I get when people refer to their pets as ‘it’.

When I read the first version, my mind linked ‘its’ with religion, not with the masses.

… rumours are their angel dust? Again, not sure if that’s correct but it sounds right.
 

Maggie Maxwell

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Yep, definitely "their". It's would be referring to "religion" in that sentence since it's the singular. It helps to replace the pronoun with the noun you want and work down to the pronoun from there. "If religion is the opiate of the masses, then rumour is the masses' angel dust." Ergo, you want "their".
 
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Ed_in_Bed

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Good stuff, thanks Maggie and Lea and Unimportant! Their it is :)
 

The Eighteenth Letter

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Not at all to go against the grain, and 100% percent agree that 'their' is the correct grammatical pronoun to use; it does rob the sentence of a punctuated finish, phonetically speaking.

I would stay with 'its'.

Its not completely grammatically incorrect and it carries a phonetic impact that is worth keeping. Whereas 'their', because of the roll of the tongue, heavies the short phonemes in between 'rumor' and 'angel dust', and ruins the Doppler effect you get with those short phonemes.

Anyway... R
 
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pdblake

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My brain can't seem to make a decsion with this.

I've got a character contemplating 'rumour' and how it affects people, and at one point, he muses:

'If religion is the opium of the masses, rumour is its angel dust.'

Or should it be...

"If religion is the opium of the masses, rumour is their angel dust."

I just don't know.

Thanks in advance!
How about neither:

'If religion is the opium of the masses, rumour is angel dust.'
 

Paul Lamb

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I have to agree with The Eighteenth Letter. It is correct grammatically to use "their" in this case, but I think it's stronger rhetorically to use "its." Remember, we are creative writers; we have license to bend/break the "rules" to achieve our ends.

Nine out of ten of your readers aren't going to know this grammar rule and won't be flummoxed by its "misuse." They're going to know your meaning. If you were writing a term paper or a legal document, it would be good to follow the correct grammar, but in a work of fiction . . .
 

Lakey

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I have to agree with The Eighteenth Letter. It is correct grammatically to use "their" in this case, but I think it's stronger rhetorically to use "its." Remember, we are creative writers; we have license to bend/break the "rules" to achieve our ends.

Nine out of ten of your readers aren't going to know this grammar rule and won't be flummoxed by its "misuse." They're going to know your meaning. If you were writing a term paper or a legal document, it would be good to follow the correct grammar, but in a work of fiction . . .
I don’t agree with this; I don’t find “its” rhetorically pleasing. I only find it confusing! What’s the antecedent? What is “it”? I wouldn’t recommend using “its” here at all.

If “their” doesn’t sound right to you, then consider using the truly parallel construction:

If religion is the opium of the masses, rumor is the angel dust.

:e2coffee:
 

Arbienti

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Its.
Their, is grammatically correct. But 'its' allows the mind to glide and continue seamlessly.
 
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benbenberi

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strong disagreement about "its." That pronoun makes no sense in the context. The meaning of what you are trying to say is "Rumor is the angel dust of the masses." Unless you are referring to "the masses" as it, which is wrong in many ways, "their" is the only possible pronoun. Not just grammatically but also rhetorically -- "its" just turns the sentence into gibberish.
 

Michel_Cayer

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For me, when I see its in this context, I read it to mean that "If religion is the opium of the masses, rumour is the opium's angel dust." which does not really work.

Because of the sentence structure, I feel that using its or their changes the focus of the comparison to opium or masses.
 
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ruthlesswhims

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'If religion is the opium of the masses, rumour is angel dust.'
I definitely like this solution best, though I'd be inclined to edit just slightly to

"If religion is the opium of the masses, rumour is THE angel dust."

For me, the parallel the's makes it read smoother
 
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Paul Lamb

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I don't think it's a stretch to read "masses" in this context as singular. It is talking about a unit, a grouping. And there is no noun "mass" that refers to any smaller group of people. Thus the parallel structure can work euphonically (if not pedantically).
 

The Eighteenth Letter

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It's been interesting to follow this thread, and the two lines of thought that seem to run through it. It touches on something much more fundamental in our individual way of writing.

Let me ask something.

Are you ok with breaking a grammatical rule to enhance the rhythm of the narrative? or, No rule breaking can ever enhance the rhythm of the narrative?

(narrative= wording/phrase/sentence/paragraph/chapter etc)
 

benbenberi

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Are you ok with breaking a grammatical rule to enhance the rhythm of the narrative? or, No rule breaking can ever enhance the rhythm of the narrative?

(narrative= wording/phrase/sentence/paragraph/chapter etc)
Rule breaking in narrative is fine if you can do it effectively. That is, if you are in control of the breakage and do it for deliberate effect. If you're just smashing up rules because you don't care about the damage or don't know you're doing it, that's not ok. That's just sloppy writing.

Grammar rules, of course, don't apply in dialog, or within a first-person or very deep third person narrative voice. But I don't think that's what's under discussion here.
 

Paul Lamb

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Let me ask something.

Are you ok with breaking a grammatical rule to enhance the rhythm of the narrative? or, No rule breaking can ever enhance the rhythm of the narrative?
It depends on a lot of things, but speaking generally, and speaking about creative writing (fiction, poetry, CNF, even some feature non-fiction), the so-called "rules" of grammar are more guidelines than laws. As the writer Emma Darwin has said, grammar is a tool, not a rule.

Look carefully as you read others and you'll see all sorts of rule breaking for stylistic effect. Sentence fragments. Comma splices. Split infinitives. Subject/verb disagreements. I see this all of the time, especially by the Pulitzer and Booker Prize winners. (You can say they may do this because they are great, but I think they are great because they do this. That is, they reach beyond the norm.) Look at Jose Saramago. He won the Nobel Prize yet I don't think he's ever met a punctuation mark he liked. Iris Murdoch didn't hesitate to splice with commas. Buckle up when you read Philip Roth because his stylistic flourishes are a wild ride sometimes. The narrative voice in Junot Diaz's novels is one-of-a-kind, but the language and culture are richer because of it.

As benbenbari said, the rule breaking has to work. It can't be gratuitous. It has to be done knowingly and/or consistently and/or with stylistic power and effect. It has to leave the reader with a punch or an insight that is sufficient to "forgive" the grammar violation. (Though, in my experience, most readers don't recognize broken grammar rules because they don't even know the rules as well as writers tend to.)

That said, a person who writes poorly because they lack a grasp of basic grammar is not yet ready to be a writer. I think this comes from a lack of critical reading (rather than a study of grammar books).

As I've said in this forum before, we are creative writers. We're not writing term papers or legal briefs. We have the privilege and even the obligation to evolve the language.
 
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