Monday, October 10, 2011

That Rule is not a Rule!

Barney: Hey, Homer, you're late for English!
Homer: Pffft, English. Who needs that? I'm never going to England.

Oh, boy! So many myths—I do not know where to start. So I guess I will start with a myth that is relevant to this week’s workshop. Many people believe (and have been taught) that a run-on sentence e is a sentence that “runs on” for too long. That is, they think a run-on is an uncomfortably long sentence. This is, of course, not true. I have seen many uncomfortably long sentences in books, journals, and even manuals that were completely correct. The clauses were joined correctly, the punctuation was right, and the ideas were complete. In those instances, the sentences were simply LONG, not run-ons.

The next myth that really bothers me is that a sentence should never start with a conjunction. I hear this all the time. And true (hah! I just did it…), most of the time, a writer can simply join the offending sentence to the previous one with a conjunction. But (hah! I just did it again…) sometimes doing this adds emphasis and makes for a powerful sentence.

Alright, here is one that I have really wanted to get off my chest. When people ask, “How are you?” and someone answers, “’I’m good,” there is bound to be a grammar Nazi/ninja right around the corner to declare war on the “I’m gooders” of the world. According to Mignon Fogarty, author of the blog “Grammar Girl,” answering in this manner is perfectly fine because the word “am” is a linking verb that should be modified with an adjective such as “good” or “well.” In fact, she says, the word “good” is better than “well” because “well” generally refers to health and well-being.

Can I pick on Dr. Rogers yet? Well, Dr. Rogers and every English professor who ever existed… English professors hate the passive voice more than they hate Satan himself, but sometimes the passive voice is used on purpose (hah!) because we really do not know the subject (“insults were thrown at the town hall meeting”). Other times, it is used for effect with powerful results. We need look no further than the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Another example is this passage in the Bible: “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.” Sometimes, it makes writing pop, and it creates beautiful sentences.

The final myth that I must address is that rules are rules, and we must always follow them. As George Orwell said at the end of his essay “Politics and the English Language” about the rules of proper English, “Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.” Rules are guidelines, and sometimes to achieve the kind of writing we want, we have to break (or at least bend) them. It is important to know the rules. It is even more important to know when to break them.


Blogger Scott Rogers said...

I'm sorry Eladio, but "well" is an adverb and "good" is an adjective. Adverbs modify verbs. "Am" is a verb. It's that simple. GG is just wrong.

3:46 PM  
Blogger Scott Rogers said...

To which I should add: :)

3:47 PM  
Blogger Eladio said...

Damn! So is it wrong to say, "I'm good" then?

BTW, do I fail the class for questioning your hatred of the passive voice?


4:42 PM  

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