Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Past Perfect Present Participle, Please

Pilfering pirates! There's a treasure trove of over $100 in prizes up for grabs in my From A to Z Contest. Enter today!

Okay, I admit it: When I try to think about participles, my brain leaves me dangling. Attempting to identify past perfect or present progressive leaves me tense. I knew all this stuff back when I needed to — in high school English — but it has no real world application.1

In a way, my knowledge of English grammar is very similar to my grasp of music theory. When I create music, I have no idea what key I'm in or that I'm employing a tertian harmonic system; I just know what sounds good. Likewise, I couldn't tell you if my writing uses primordial pluperfect prepositions or future conditional subjunctive. I just know what sounds good.

I agree with most grammar rules,2 but to keep your writing feeling natural, you'll need to break a few of them now and then. End a sentence with a preposition if you want to. I give you permission to recklessly (and needlessly) split infinitives. And sentence fragments? Powerful stuff. If used in moderation.

We have the rules for a reason. But you can ignore them, within reason. Give it a try; you (and your readers) will be glad you did.

Which grammar rules do you break, bend, or shatter?

1 Whereas Apple and Android devices come with a real world application already installed. It's called the power button.
2 Such as the one about minding your P's and Q's. They're like rabbits, I tell you. Best to keep an eye on them (or an I between 'em).

This post is part of the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge, hosted by Talli Roland and seven others. Go check out the other participants!


  1. Wasn't that preposition rule the one about which Winston Churchill said: "this is the sort of errant pedantry up with which I shall not put?"

    I let a lot of things slide, but I'm still pretty much a fussbudget. In particular I regret seeing "comprise" used wrong, which it is about 95% of the time, and of the other 5%, half just got lucky.

  2. Aah...grammar rules. I'm afraid I paid little or no attention at school. I was always too busy talking! Anyway, I'll just pretend I know what you are talking about and reach for my copy of Elements of Style ;)

    Ellie Garratt

  3. The only rule I've broken as of late has been the one involving paying Mr. Nate Wilson a compliment every day. I hope this trend doesn't continue for much longer.

  4. Oh, I hate grammar rules. Preposition definitely use. Fragments, oh yeah. I'm above the rules.

  5. I hate grammar rules. One time I got a critique stating that I wrote a story in past perfect, and the rest in something else I don't care to remember. I read the story and went: I did what now?

    Love your blog, will follow and visit again, for sure.

    Greetings from a fellow A to Z blogger

  6. Funny. I'm partial to fragments and beginning sentences with conjunctions like And and But. Why should However and Nevertheless get all the press?

  7. ooh i'm totally like you. I never learned the grammar rules, but somehow i never manage to dangle any modifiers or split my inifinitives. But lordy, i love me some sentence fragments

  8. I always confuse dangling participles with Simon & Garfunkel's "The Dangling Conversation," and up feeling wistful, sad, and still confused.

    And I am totally at sea as to the rules for mating punctuation (at least when it comes to parentheses.) Period inside, or outside?

    What if there's more than one punctuation thingy (which, I am told, may not be the best "term")?

    I just trust somebody smart will show me how to fix it, eventually.

  9. Murr: Yep, that sounds about right for Churchill. As for "comprise," its just one of a myriad of words people get wrong all the time, which is pretty ironic, but always makes me nonplussed. In the future, we must insure that anyone caught mishandling these words is decimated.

    Ellie: Elements of Style is great, of course, but in my opinion even some of its judgments are somewhat outdated. After all, language has involved since it was first published, but it barely has at all.

    Jeffrey: To the contrary, I hope you continue paying me a compliment daily, especially since I require all my compliments to be paid monetarily.

    Cheree: I prefer to be at the same level at the rules... that way, it's much easier to change them when no one is looking.

    Sylvia: The critiquer was clearly just complimenting your story; you'd written it in the past, and it was perfect.

    Mary: And I like conjunctions to start me off, too. However, if you pay attention to Elements of Style, you're never supposed to begin a sentence with "however"...

    Falen: I like sentences to be fragmented because it mirrors my mind.

    Goddess: When mating punctuation, most same-symbol pairings are still controversial throughout much of the U.S. So, you'll rarely see two commas together (,,) or a colon-on-colon relationship (::). Though, surprisingly, people have no problem with a period three-way...

  10. Murr: Exactly! I don't support overly harsh sentences, so a complete and utter decimation won't be necessary. Perhaps just a septimation.