Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Grammatical Loopholes to Avoid

There are some structures which are perfectly legal, grammatically speaking. You could argue they make perfect sense. However, the reader may think otherwise, and no amount of reasoning will make them budge. Better to avoid them:

That’s that. That that. I love him so, so don’t get angry. – Repetition of words can still make sense, but it wins no awards for smooth writing.

The seam seemed to be – It doesn’t matter if they’re spelled differently, either.

I’m going to go get green grasshoppers gracefully – you get the point. Alliteration can be beautiful, poetic, interesting or humorous. It can also be a right pain to read. Your inner voice also gets tongue-twisted as the same processes are involved in both reading in your head and out loud.

The old man the boats. – This makes sense. Eventually. Reduced relatives are nearly always better when the appropriate ‘that’ or ‘which’ is added. These are hard to spot.

Stand before it. – Before it did what? Oh, stand before it like in front....The dominant structure uses a verb at the end, which is why this phrase can feel unfinished. It’s perfectly legal, but will trip up 50% of your readers. Worth it? Probably not.

Taking turns at random. – Having goes or literally turning left and right? Watch out for phrases with two meanings. The dominant meaning tends to win out, regardless of context (researched by my psycholinguistic project tutor at uni).

He was beginning to be hit by the butcher - Passive tense, often marked by the ‘to be’ verb, sound better written actively: The butcher hit him, okay? Click here to read more about when and when not to use passive tense.

Running back, he stumbled around, changing direction and using too many ‘ing’ verbs in a row – Try to make sentences where there’s an ‘ing’ clause only have one ‘ing’. Remember, if whilst running back they’re stumbling, then they’re not changing direction in that moment anyway. Needs a new sentence.


Hope these don't sound too familiar. The fix is easy: write around it. There's more than one way to phrase a cat, or something like that...