Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Complaints (UPDATED)

     There’s no substantive subject urging me to rant about it this morning, so I thought I might just...get it all out.

     If you like it, want it, or need it, before you can blink it will cease to be available. Moreover, you won’t be informed in time to do anything about it. My most recent encounter with this corollary to Murphy’s Law was with a window I needed to replace. Before that it was a pair of running shoes I particularly liked.

     Do you tend to save keys? I do. It’s a bad habit: the one you need will somehow find absolute and impenetrable concealment among the many you ought to have thrown away a decade ago. There’s a padlock on one of my fence gates that I can’t open for that very reason.

     When the C.S.O. and I are up and about, our dogs are almost guaranteed to be soundly asleep. However, they’ll reliably awaken during the wee hours and demand to be let out back. The consequences for not obliging them can be...disgusting. I’m told babies can be like that, too.

     One of our cats, Zoe, has some disturbing habits. She chews on wires: specifically, the wires required to charge a handheld device such as a cell phone or a Kindle. She’s ruined quite a few of them, and two pairs of Bose computer speakers as well. More, she relocates towels. Many are the nights I arise in response to the promptings of my bladder and nearly break my neck by stepping on a hand towel or washcloth Zoe has decided was not where it should be. She also steals small, loose garments and makes them disintegrate, as the C.S.O. has discovered to her sorrow.

     Zoe’s sister Chloe cannot abide a closed door. She’ll sit before one and yowl until it’s been opened, regardless of the door or hour. In consequence, all the closet doors here at the Fortress of Crankitude are open all the time. She’s also taken up a strange avocation: stealing office supplies. The C.S.O. theorizes that she’s attempting to write the Great Feline Novel (Domestic Shorthair division). I hope she has more luck than I had at securing a publisher.

     Does anyone’s lawn grow at a uniform rate?

     Some complaints about matters fictional:

     The covers of too many fantasy and science fiction novels feature a shapely babe, often wielding a weapon. It suggests deeds of daring in a realm of high adventure. Then you open the book and discover that it’s basically one long sex scene. Most such books are written by women. I can’t imagine why.

     The dearth of originality remains a serious problem. Space wars, galactic empires, time travel, and so forth are old hat. So are vampires, werewolves, zombies, witches, and quests that involve some magical artifact. Surely there are other adventures, other wonders and terrors with which a writer can thrill his readers. Yet you would hardly know it from the books being hawked to me at Amazon.

     Now for a few shafts at common misuses of the English language.

     Concerning vocabulary:

  • Reign is what monarchs do; rein is what a rider uses to control a horse.
  • Proven is an adjective. It is not, not, NOT the past tense of prove. (That’s proved.)
  • Discreet means quiet or covert, so that others might fail to notice; discrete means separate or unitary.
  • A principle is a rule of right action. Principal is an adjective that denotes high status or priority...unless it refers to the chief administrator of a grammar or high school, in which case it’s a noun.
  • Lightning is what shocks you and starts forest fires; lightening is what your hair colorist does to your tresses.
  • We pray to our supernatural protectors, in the hope that we will not become the prey of some predator.
  • The town’s marshal carries a gun. Marshall is a man’s name.
  • Please learn the proper uses of their, there, and they’re. Also learn the proper applications of to, too, and two. The mistakes made with these words are especially annoying.

     Concerning possessives:

  • The possessive of a singular noun is normally formed by adding an apostrophe and an “s.” For example, the possessive of Charles is Charles’s.
  • The possessive of a plural noun that ends with an “s” is formed by adding only the apostrophe. For example, the possessive of priests is priests’.
  • The possessive of a plural noun that doesn’t end with an “s” is usually formed by adding first the “s” and then the apostrophe! For example, the possessive of children is childrens’. There are exceptions to these rules, but they’re rare.
  • In contrast to the above conventions about possessives, the possessive of it is its. The contraction it’s means it is.

     A few frequently encountered errors with verbs:

  • The past tense of lead is led.
  • The past tense of spit is spat.
  • The past tense of sink is sank. Sunk is only used in pluperfect constructions.
  • The past tense of stink is stank. Stunk is not a word.
  • However, the past tense of think is thought, not thank as the above might have led you to believe!

     The nominative and objective forms of pronouns seem to bedevil everyone:

  • Nominative singular: I, he, and she.
  • Objective singular: me, him, and her.
  • Nominative plural:they
  • Objective plural: them
  • Case-independent possessives: my, his, her, and their.

     (And don’t let me catch you using they, their or them to refer to a singular noun! The generic singular pronouns are he, his, and him, and be damned to the feminist harridans!)

     Writers may consider the following to be grace notes. Virtually everyone gets them wrong, such that the conventions described here have largely been superseded by colloquial constructions.

     First, here are the predictive uses of shall and will:

  • “I shall” and “we shall.” (Negations: “I shan’t” and “we shan’t.”)
  • “He will,” “she will,” and “they will.” (Negations: “He won’t” and “she won’t.”)

     Those forms merely indicate some predicted or intended action. However, to indicate determination or a command, the uses of “shall” and “will” are inverted:

  • “I will” and “We will.”
  • “He shall,” “she shall,” and “they shall.”

     Thus, the accident victim would say “I shall die; no one will save me.” By contrast, the deliberate suicide would say “I will die; no one shall save me.”

     Now for an old favorite: the subjunctive mood. Essentially no one remembers this rule any more.

     English has three moods:

  1. Indicative, sometimes called declarative. This refers to ordinary statements that describe real-world events and conditions, whether past or present, and simple predictions. For example: “Last year’s corn was good, and this year’s corn will be even better.”
  2. Imperative: This refers to commands given to a presumed listener. For example: “Make sure the corn is good.” (It suggests that if the corn proves to be garbage, there will be unpleasant consequences.)
  3. Subjunctive: This is sometimes described as “stepping into fantasy.” The subjunctive is used to discuss possibilities: both past possibilities that didn’t occur, possible developments to come, and conjectures about conditions that don’t currently exist. For example:
    • “Had last year’s corn been good, we would have planted more of it.”
    • “Should next year’s corn be good, we would have a good market for it.”
    • “If I were a good cyclist, I’d enter the race next week.”
    • “If Cynthia were tall, she would make a good model.”

     The subjunctive mood makes use of could, should, and would. It also uses were as illustrated above to indicate that one is speaking about an unreal condition: Cynthia isn’t tall, but if she were...

     Virtually no one handles the subjunctive mood properly today, so if the above strikes you as pointless scholastic fiddling, you’re not alone. But if you learn to use it properly, it will make your writing stand out.

UPDATE: WHOOPS! I remembered one of the possessive rules backward. Specifically, this one:

The possessive of a plural noun that doesn’t end with an “s” is usually formed by adding first the “s” and then the apostrophe! For example, the possessive of children is childrens’. There are exceptions to these rules, but they’re rare.

     That SHOULD have read:

The possessive of a plural noun that doesn’t end with an “s” is usually formed by adding first the apostrophe and then the “s”! For example, the possessive of children is children's. There are exceptions to these rules, but they’re rare.

     Apologies for the error, and applause to longtime reader Daniel Day, who caught it and brought it to my attention.


Pascal said...

I'm glad you saved the subjunctive for last.

I was scolded not to use if as you have done at all. Rather the form should be
“Were I a good cyclist, I’d enter the race next week.”
“Were Cynthia tall, she would make a good model.”

My scold was quite a good engineer. Was he wrong, splitting hairs, or also correct?

And finally: Is it the sheep's pasture or the sheeps' pasture? Is this one of the rare exceptions of which you wrote?

jabrwok said...

I note that you did not address the "lose/loose" error. Shame!:-).

FrankC said...

And please, pretty please, don't "tow the line". It's fine where it is and you're not a barge horse.

Stacey said...

I'm currently taking a grammar refresher class through my local library. Sentence structure is my weak point. I know what I want to say, but putting it in proper order, proper punctuation, and getting my point across is always a problem. It makes me very self-conscious to comment on blogs I read, not to mention the time it takes to write the comment because it never seems to read like I'm thinking of it in my mind.

Weirdest thing ever...when I signed up for the class I actually thought of you and thought that you should teach grammar class, and voila, you give us a grammar class!

See, I think the above sentence is probably all wrong. It seems too long. Maybe it should be two sentences. Is the ... thing correct or should it be a comma? Instead of the commas between class and and, should I have used a semicolon? The whole thing is one thought so it should only be one sentence, right?

In spite of doing well in the class, it looks like it's not translating into my real life writing. LOL!

Linda Fox said...

Pascal Fervor: When I get into a corner (with or without sheep), I re-word to get out of it:

Try referring to the group of sheep as a flock.

You can have multiple flocks, just as you can have multiple groups. But, the term flock refers to multiple sheep under the direction of a single owner/shepherd.

I'm gonna bookmark this grammar lesson. Should you ever get around to writing a grammar book, I'd buy it.

She's quite likely dead by now, but - kudos to Miss Sprague, the Grammar Nazi of my Freshman year. She managed to drive the basics into my thick head, for which I remain grateful.

Linda Fox said...

Re: complaining - I ran across this today. It made me think about how I handle irritations.

daniel_day said...

Childrens' and sheeps'? That is the first I've heard of that rule. Do you have an authority to quote on that?
I checked my Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, which was given to me in 1972. Yes, I've lugged it around since then. It lists 'proven' as an acceptable past tense for 'prove', in addition to 'proved'. FWIW.

Jahn said...

Me flunked English? That's unpossible!