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Sunday, November 15, 2015

Teaching Moments . . .

cj Sez: The English language is littered with obscure quirks and twists, and writers seem to find a way to encounter every one of them. A few of my favorites follow.

The Christmas Grinch notwithstanding, here are proper usages for Stink, Stank, Stunk:
… Stink is the present or future form.
… Stank is the past form, use it when you refer to some time that has already happened, such as last night, yesterday, or last week.
… Stunk is the participle form, it means you must use have, has, or had with it).

… What is that stink I smell?
… Frying that fish will stink up the whole house.
… She sure stank up the kitchen last night with that burned milk!
… I'm sorry, but the baby's diaper really stank on the way home yesterday!
… The house hasn't stunk this badly since the day we found that rat behind the dryer.
… If you hadn't stunk up the bathroom, I wouldn't have opened the window and let your orchids freeze in the snow.

Then there’s this tricky usage/spelling: Pick up, Pick-up, Pickup

… Will you pick up my dry cleaning?
… “Have we met” is such a stale pick-up line.
… My pickup truck is red.

(Excerpts from a blog by a fellow Sisters-in-Crime member:)
By Lois Winston

It happened again the other day. I received the results of a contest I had entered and discovered that one of the judges had circled every “was” in the entry and wrote in large capital letters -- PASSIVE VOICE.

Editors like action verbs. “Was,” along with its brothers and sisters (is, am, are, been, were) is passive and a surefire way to a rejection letter.


Passive voice is when an action is acted upon the subject, rather than the subject acting.

The car was driven by Anna is a passive sentence. Anna drove the car is an active sentence. However, Anna was happy to drive the car is not a passive sentence. Anna is expressing emotion. She is acting, rather than being acted upon. Of course, there are more interesting ways to write the sentence to show Anna’s emotions, but that’s a separate discussion.

One of the easiest ways to tell whether your sentence is active or passive is to analyze the position of the subject, verb, and direct object.

In active voice, the subject (the one performing the action) will come before the verb (the action), and the verb will come before the direct object (that which is being acted upon.)

There are instances, though, when passive voice is necessary to the unfolding of a story or better suited to the realism of the dialogue. When we speak, we don’t first think whether our sentences are active or passive before uttering them. We just speak them.

Manipulate a sentence to avoid passive voice in conversation, and you often transform snappy dialogue into stilted dialogue.

For example: Billy ran into the house and cried, “Mom! Come quick. Snoopy was hit by a car!” This passage accurately illustrates the way a child might respond to a car hitting his dog. Snoopy was hit by a car is a passive sentence because Snoopy is being acted upon by the car, but the child mentions Snoopy first because the dog’s welfare is uppermost in his mind. Also, by placing the last sentence in passive voice, the author is actually ratcheting up the tension. We don’t know until the very end exactly what hit Snoopy. A stray baseball? A nasty neighbor? A falling tree limb? Although “A car hit Snoopy” is active voice, using it actually lessens the impact of the sentence.

Still squeamish about the use of “was”? After you have finished your manuscript, do a search of the word. Check each sentence to see if you can rewrite it to avoid using “was.” If you can, and it doesn’t detract from the pace, dialogue, or meaning of the passage, do so. If not, leave it. Some “was” were meant to be.

Except . . . the subjunctive:
The what, you ask? Subjunctive case or mood is one of the most misunderstood rules in the English language -- and virtually unknown to most contest judges who will circle a “were” and write in a “was” because the subject is singular.

The subjunctive applies to cases of “wishfulness” or “what if” situations. In these cases, “was” becomes “were,” as in, I wish I were taller. “Were” is also used when a sentence or clause uses “if,” “as if,” or “as though,” but only in instances where the statement is contrary to fact.

Examples include: If I were taller, I could see the stage better, Her twelve year old son acts as if he were in kindergarten, or The maid behaved as though she were queen. Because I cannot grow taller, the twelve-year-old is not in kindergarten, and the maid is not a queen, all the statements are contrary to fact, and “was” becomes “were” even though the subjects are all singular.

Keep in mind, though, that the key statement here is “contrary to fact.” “If” statements that are not contrary to fact retain the singular form of the verb. “If I was at Starbucks that day, I don’t remember” is a correct sentence because the statement is not contrary to fact whether or not I can recall the event.
I keep a list of the quirks and twists that I run across, like the stink, stank, stunk,  and Lois’s blog above. Do you keep a list, or do you run to Google? 

Okay, you-all guys keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same. 


PS:  Pray for peace in this crazy world
Choosing Carter  -- Kindle  /  Nook  /  Kobo   /  iTunes/iBook
Deadly Star --  Kindle  / Nook  / Kobo

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