1. Ian J.
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    Ian J. Active Member

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    'And I'm off out of here...' - Usage of 'unusual' grammar

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Ian J., Jan 3, 2013.

    Or, in other words, usage of 'and', 'out of' and 'off' as a choice of style rather than a rule of grammar.

    And: These days it seems generally accepted to use 'and' at the beginning of a sentence, and I'm not crusading against other authors' usage here, that's a different debate and one long in the tooth. However, I do feel for my own writing that it's not generally necessary. Most often it can be either omitted or replaced with a comma and lower case 'a', and the reading of the prose still remain comfortable, if not even improved by either change. The only place I can think of where I'd use it in my narrative (as against for a character's dialogue where they use it in their speech) is at the beginning of a paragraph which adds information to a previous paragraph that is otherwise complete in what it says.

    Of: As in 'out of' and 'off of'. I find that the usage of 'out' without the 'of' very odd - 'out the window' feels peculiar to say. I prefer 'out of the window', it just trips of my tongue better. Similarly I find 'off of' to be clunky and awkward, and much prefer just 'off' - 'he jumped off of the building' vs 'he jumped off the building'.

    Are there any other such constructs in grammar where writers choose to 'swim against the tide'?
     
  2. F.E.
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    F.E. Member

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    Since I'm procrastinating ... :)

    It seems like your post is about a number of topics:

    1. Starting a sentence with "And".
    2. "off of" vs "off"
    3. "out of" vs "out"​

    Did I miss any?
     
  3. F.E.
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    F.E. Member

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    You do realize that the title of your own thread sorta provides an example that shows that sometimes it is not a "choice of style"?
    e.g.
    "I'm out of here." vs "I'm out here."

    Two very different meanings, depending on the presence or absence of the little word "of". :)
     
  4. F.E.
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    F.E. Member

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    This issue has come up before on writing forums. It's also discussed in usage dictionaries.

    In those places (of prose) where "out of" could be replaced by "out" without altering the sentence in meaning, then, it seems that the dialect of the writer or editor has a lot of influence as to the preference of one over the other. Not so sure it is a clean divide, like that of BrE vs AmE--but rather, that it is more of a regional sort of thing, where various subdialects/regions of BrE together with some subdialects/regions of AmE tend to prefer one way over the other.
     
  5. F.E.
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    There are many examples where "off of" is nicely used in commercially published prose, and many of those examples probably wouldn't sound quite as smoothly, or in the intended way, if the "of" is eliminated--though many of those usages could be considered to be idiomatic. (This issue is also discussed in usage dictionaries.)
     
  6. F.E.
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    F.E. Member

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    Er, :( ... Starting a sentence with "And" (or "But" or with other similar type of conjunction) has always been standard usage in today's standard English. I don't think the prescriptive usage manuals that are currently being commercially or trade published today still support that bogus "rule" that a sentence can't start with a conjunction--though I could be wrong. That bogus "rule" had been debunked long ago--or so I thought.


    Well, ... I have seen many sentences starting with "And" in the prose of fiction writers who are considered to be competent writers and are highly successful. I don't think there is any need for a writer to do a witch hunt for occurrences of "And"--not unless that usage of "And" happens to be a specific problem for that individual writer (in that he does it too often) and if he doesn't have any other more pressing issues with his writing, such as not having a good enough plot, not having enough subplots, not having rounded out characters, not having good transitions, etc.

    And I had found places in my own prose where I could not simply delete that sentence initial "And" out of it. There was an instance when I was staring at a sentence of mine in an attempt to remove that "And" and to tweak the remainder of that sentence so that it would still work. And I found out that I couldn't, not without doing a whole rewrite. (Starting a sentence with "And" is a minor crutch of mine, but not anywhere as big as the crutch of starting a sentence with "Then".)

    What would be good info is perhaps finding and discussing those types of situation where the prose could be improved--or made worse--by inserting a leading "And" (or "But") into a sentence. :)
     
  7. F.E.
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    F.E. Member

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    I'm not sure what you're asking for here. (The other usages that were mentioned in your original post are mostly acceptable as standard usage.) Perhaps you're looking for constructions like left- and right-dislocations? (Dislocations are more usually found in informal than in formal style.)
     
  8. Hwaigon
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    Hwaigon Contributing Member Reviewer

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    I agree in thinking that it's a preference of style. However, you put very nicely the usage of "And," at the beginning of a
    sentence, at the beginning of a new paragrapth. This makes much sense and it never occurred to me.

    Yes, it sounds weird, tongue-braking almost. My preference is, for instance "he jumped off the diving board"

    Same as "out of the window", to me, too, this seems perfectly natural to pronounce and write.
    Yet "it flew out the window" doesn't sound so much peculiar either... definitely not that clumsy as "he jumped off of the building".
     
  9. F.E.
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    Perhaps these examples are of a type of construction that you're looking for?

    The following examples are from Robert McCammon's Mystery Walk:

    1. page 286: Billy bent and picked up a rock, flinging it into the stream.
    2. page 381: The man leaped up with a scream, knocking over the chair and table as he tried to get away from the thing.
    3. page 400: And then Wayne grabbed the corpse's chin from behind, wrenching its head backward.

    Each one of them would be considered to be ungrammatical (imo). But that type of grammatical "error" is often found in fiction prose. Some of them are kinda okay, imo, but often, many of them aren't. All three of the above examples aren't acceptable to me. The first one is the worst--I'm surprised the editors let it slip through.
     
  10. Ian J.
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    Ian J. Active Member

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    F.E. : Seems to me that, even though most of your replies contain useful information, you're trying to boost your post count by replying so many times separately.

    As for what I was after, it was simply to gauge other writers' choices for correct but alternative usages, either of the examples I gave, or of others that I'm not currently aware of. The ones you mentioned in your last post are definitely wrong in the usage of tense so don't fit what I'm thinking of.
     
  11. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    What are the grammar problems with the first two? Number 1 has semantic problems -- it seems to be physically impossible -- but it seems grammatically fine.
     
  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    'off' makes no sense there... the common expressions used in leaving are:

    'I'm out of here'
    or
    'I'm off'


    two of them have the same problem... being grammatically ok should include being physically possible...
    1. the rock can't be flung while billy is bending over and picking it up
    2.the chair and table can be knocked over and he can be trying to get away, at the same time the man leaps up
    3. wayne can't wrench the head backward at the exact same time as he only grabs the chin...

    each of the number 1 and 3 actions can only occur after the first one...
     
  13. digitig
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    The meaning of words matters! The accusation was that the sentences were ungrammatical, and actually none of them is, as far as I can see, although 1 and 3 certainly have errors. In my understanding, "Ungrammatical" means "not in accord with the rules of grammar". Grammar doesn't include being physically possible -- that's the laws of physics, not of grammar. If grammar did require physical possibility, it would make it impossible to write grammatically correct fantasy literature (instead of it just being lamentably uncommon). Grammar doesn't even involve it being meaningful: Chomsky's "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously" is perfectly grammatical, although it's semantic nonsense.

    So of the sentences considered:
    • I don't think 1 is "ungrammatical", thought it's certainly wrong. As I said, it's a semantic error. The structure of the sentence (grammar) is fine, it only has problems when you consider the meaning (semantics).
    • I don't think 2 is impossible. Leaping up with a scream is part of trying to get away from the thing, and if the thing is fast then it might well be all there is of the attempt, so there's no inconsistency of timing in the "as". We have two aspects of one and the same action.
    • Similarly in 3, the action of grabbing the chin could have a wrenching effect, so there's no inconsistency of timing. The problem I have with 3 is that it seems to be the chin's head that is being wrenched. In that case it's an error of grammar that causes the problem, although the sentence is still perfectly grammatical -- we can talk about a chin's head if we want to, it's just that we usually don't and the author almost certainly didn't intend to.
     
  14. F.E.
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    Er, no. I wrote short posts in this thread because I wanted to comment a little bit on something, and didn't want to write a single long post that would take me an hour to write and forever to edit and re-edit for typos and clarity. Also, if you look over my posting history you'll see that many of my posts are lengthier than the usual ones out there. If anything, the opposite of your charge would have been more reasonable--that my posts tend to be too long and boring.

    If there were points that you wanted discussed, via your first post in this thread, then perhaps provide excerpts and start off the discussion by giving us your thoughts? :)

    After all, this is a writing forum and some of us really are looking for excuses to procrastinate in a meaningful way
     
  15. F.E.
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    Hmm, the meaning of "ungrammatical". ... :)

    That term is used in various ways. Often, the type of the discussion and the type of audience (participants) will be major factors as to which definition is used.

    Now the sense of "ungrammatical" that I was using in this thread was more of a everyday type of definition, in that when I say something is ungrammatical then I mean that what the person wrote or said was not what that person meant. That is, the situation that the person's sentence is actually describing is not the situation that the person wanted to describe.

    But that term "ungrammatical" does have many different senses.

    For instance, if we want to be all linguistic-like about it, in a syntactical way, then yes, we can narrow the term "ungrammatical" to a very narrow definition, where it basically means that a sentence has to be all gobbledygook in a certain way to be classified as ungrammatical. And often there would be two or more different kinds of gobbledygook. For instance, here's a grammatical set of terms for classifying the status of the grammaticality of sentences: (The below is copied from Huddleston and Pullum et al. CGEL.)
    * ungrammatical -- e.g. *This books is mine.
    # semantically or pragmatically anomalous -- e.g. #We frightened the cheese.
    % grammatical in some dialect(s) only -- e.g. %He hadn't many friends.
    ? of questionable grammaticality -- ?Sue he gave the key.
    ! non-standard -- e.g. !I can't hardly hear.

    But since most of the participants here in this writing forum are tending to use the two-term classification--grammatical vs ungrammatical--then we'd probably consider to be ungrammatical the stuff that is in the above classes of '*' and '#' and '?' and maybe sometimes '!'. :)

    Also, note that even in that above mentioned reference grammar CGEL, that their authors do at times use the everyday type of sense of ungrammatical in their discussions (such as when discussing how the presence of a certain type of complement can cause the sense of the head verb to change and thus change the meaning of the sentence from what was intended).
     
  16. F.E.
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    This might be related to the thread's original purpose, ... :)

    I've seen the following types of sentences in fiction prose:
    1. Tom ran screaming out of the house.
    2. Sue sat by the pool reading a magazine.

    Both of those sentences are fine w.r.t. to grammar and punctuation.

    But can you imagine having an "editor" trying to force the author to insert a comma (or two) in either or both of those types of sentences?
     
  17. F.E.
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    Since there's been some discussion about this #2 example, then let me go into it in some depth. :)
    2. page 381: The man leaped up with a scream, knocking over the chair and table as he tried to get away from the thing.

    The image I get by "The man leaped up with a scream" is that of a man screaming as he leaped straight up. And all that screaming and leaping is done at once, though I could see his screaming still going on for a while longer.

    Now when I read this "knocking over the chair and table as he tried to get away from the thing", then, the image that I get is that of him scrambling on or across the floor, and his actions of trying to get away ends up having him knock a chair and table over. As to how far he gets across the floor in his attempt to flee is not yet known.

    So, in that one sentence, I have two images. And those two images occur sequentially--that is, one after the other w.r.t. time sequencing. First, the man leaps up while screaming. Then, almost immediately, the man tries to flee, and in his attempt to flee, he knocks over the chair and table--and usually knocking over a chair and table takes a bit of time. That original sentence, as currently structured, does not support those two sequential actions.

    Though it is possible that other readers might have their own way of visualizing that scene.


    EDITED-TO-ADD:
    Note that I would have accepted this type of sentence:
    2. The man leaped up with a scream, knocking over the chair and table.
    For that means that the chair and table were knocked over when the man leaped up.
     
  18. Hwaigon
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    Hwaigon Contributing Member Reviewer

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    You talk too much, pal.
     
  19. jazzabel
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    I think at least with "off of" it's the matter of dialect. I live in the UK and "off of" is never my choice of words but it doesn't bother me when I see it. But it will make me think the writer is American. Also, I personally much prefer "out the window" than the version with an "of". As for sentences which start with "And" and "But", it's perfectly fine if used appropriately. I write detective fiction and varying the sentence length is very important in keeping the prose punchy. Being able to start the sentence with conjuction helps me do that.
     
  20. F.E.
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    I ain't your "pal". And it's because nitwits like you are allowed to run around loose on writing forums that I leave them. You worthless 23-year-old nitwit. I'm outta here.
     

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