1. ThePotato
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    ThePotato Member

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    Intuition and understanding

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by ThePotato, May 4, 2013.

    I would like to think I have a fairly good intuition when it comes to the English language. I don't understand the mechanics very well and I sometimes worry that holds me back, but I wonder whether it should. As an example I still don't really understand the difference between a verb, an adjective and a noun - I wouldn't be able to define them anyway. I also don't understand why certain words are spelt in certain ways. I also don't understand why grammar is only ok to use in certain contexts, and at other times is completely inappropriate. I couldn't explain - using the language I love - how the language works. I would like to think I have an intuition. Or am I missing a necessary understanding by not being able to grasp the 'principles' behind our language? Will it hinder my writing? One issue I come across frequently is my usage of the comma. I feel like I'm using it correctly, but when I re-read what I've written I find myself deleting a majority of them because they simply don't fit with the flow of the sentence. Would a better understanding of the principles of language help with this, or is this just a quirk with my style of writing? I find when I'm thinking things through I take lots of breaks.

    I would like to think my intuition is better than a mechanical knowledge. I am however, ready to accept that is not the case. So what do you think is better, intuition or knowledge? Or possibly better than either, is it best to have both?
     
  2. Ian J.
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    Ian J. Active Member

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    In my opinion, knowledge is the food for intuition. So I'd put the knowledge of English first and let that evolve to become intuition on how you use the language. I personally have a hill to climb in re-learning English, as I can't remember much in detail of what I was taught at school (and that wasn't complete anyway) and tend to use the language intuitively too based on that education.

    The point I want to reach is where when I read a sentence or paragraph I can visualize the formal structures of English 'underlaid' behind the text.

    Regarding commas though, I have a similar problem. As I write I tend to naturally put in more commas than finally needed because I'm thinking on the fly and breaking up the sentences where pauses could go if the subject matter were to go in a particular direction. However, once the sentences are written down and I re-read them, I realise that the commas need to be re-thought as I have let the flow 'evolve' over the course of writing the words.
     
  3. blackstar21595
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    blackstar21595 Contributing Member

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    Here's a site to help you. http://owl.english.purdue.edu/exercises/2/

    By the way, stay away from ly adverbs. Oh and

    Noun- a person,place or thing. examples: School, Alexander hamilton, Pencil.

    Adjective- a word that modifies a noun to give it some descriptive quality. Examples:Tall,short,large,thin

    Verb- An action. examples:Run,jump, climb, eat,sleeping.
     
  4. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    If you've read a lot, especially when you were young, you've built up an intuition for proper English that will see you through your whole life. Many people write very well who do not have a formal knowledge of grammar. If you were never much of a reader as a kid, then in my opinion, you're at a serious disadvantage. Studying grammar can help, but it's no substitute for reading good prose, and lots of it. Seeing how the best writers use the language is invaluable.

    I do think, though, that writers ought to take a serious interest in language. Studying grammar, usage, and the history of the language is not only helpful, but fascinating.
     
  5. Ian J.
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    Ian J. Active Member

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    Are there any good books (or websites) that can help people who, like me, are aware of their own language intuitively but want to learn how its structures work? Kind of like a refresher course of some kind? (Thinking British English here, rather than American English).
     
  6. TerraIncognita
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    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

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    I agree with this. I have been a very avid reader and understanding words and how they fit together came easily for me. Putting the correct labels on things was never my strong suit. I imagine a lot of that was due to the way it was taught throughout the majority of my school years. It's something I am always working on because I feel it's important to know as a writer.

    Etymology is really fascinating. I think the English language is so crazy because we've adopted rules and spellings from other languages.
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    if you want to be a published/produced writer, you'll need more than 'intuition'... you don't necessarily have to learn all the reasons for what is what, but you do need to learn which is which, what they do, and the rules that govern how to use all the elements such as nouns, verbs, et al...
     
  8. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    You need to build your skill on knowledge. While you don't need to have an in-depth understanding of grammar in order to write properly, you do need some basics and it certainly can't hurt to know them! It would also alert you to errors you've been making and allow you to correct yourself, as well as having the confidence that what you've written is, indeed, grammatically correct/acceptable. Because here's the thing - you wouldn't write it if you didn't think it was correct (assuming it's more than a typo), which means even if it were wrong, you'd never have known about it lol :D Here, having some technical command of grammar would be invaluable.
     
  9. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well, ThePotato, I would say your intuition is certainly good enough to be a writer, if your OP is an example. I have one or two niggles with it, but didn't see any major mistakes. (Most folks probably wouldn't have 'an' intuition. They would have intuition. Kinda like 'faith.' You don't have "a" faith that something will work—you have faith that it will. Also I would not write 'spelt' but 'spelled.' My intuition!) You're the sort of writer who, if you make mistakes here and there, can easily correct them later. Nothing wrong with your basic sentence structure or anything else, really.

    However, it is a good idea to study up on the rules of grammar and punctuation, and have reference books to hand. There are quite a few good books out there that can help in a fairly painless way. For punctuation, I like Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss, published by Profile books. Fun to read—yes, a style book that's fun to read! I'm also fond of The 28 Biggest Writing Blunders (And How To Avoid Them), by William Noble - published by Writers Digest Books. Also fun to read. And a small, but easy-to-use guide to general grammatical rules : Webster's Compact Writers Guide, published by Merriam Webster Inc.
     
  10. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    The only thing I see in this post that I believe is incorrect is "spelt". The past tense of to spell is spelled. So whether or not you can identify verbs and nouns, you certainly display a reasonable command of the language.

    I'd write and let a professional editor correct your commas if that's the main problem you are concerned with.

    I would want to take a basic grammar course of some kind if I didn't know simple parts of speech. But that's a separate issue given you can write proper complete sentences despite your described deficit.
     
  11. ThePotato
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    ThePotato Member

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    I think I could excuse myself for those errors, such as my use of "spelt" and "an intuition". I would say these are just matters of laziness when it comes to writing for a forum post. If I was writing a story with the intention of showing it to other people, I would always check over my work and I would have noticed those problems and corrected them - I don't wish to be a know-it-all though, and I can't deny that the ability to use the English language well under any context is a skill worth knowing if you want to do a lot of writing. The extra mental effort that is needed to correct my mistakes can feel like a hindrance, and a better command of language would certainly spare some energy to be put elsewhere. I will certainly look for those books, thanks for the recommendations! I will just have to wait for my job-seekers allowance to come through. :redface:
     
  12. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    @ ginger: in British English, the past of "spell" is "spelt" although occasionally you see "spelled" these days.
     
  13. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Thank you. I didn't know that. :)
     
  14. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's certainly best to have both, but I'd say that the intuitive knowledge is by far the most important. But I think that knowing the terminology is important for communicating about writing and thinking about writing. For example, you can't consider and judge the advice "minimize adverbs" without knowing what adverbs are. And I'll bet that you could learn the terms and concepts fairly quickly. For example, if I say that the bolded words in the following fragments are adverbs:

    ran fast
    said rudely
    walked carefully
    punched hard

    I'd bet that your existing intuition of how speech works will give you a good idea of what adverbs are.

    For what it's worth; I think that 'spelt' is an alternative, perhaps primarily British(?) spelling.

    This sentence gave me some food for thought on intuition versus formal knowledge/terminology. I think that this should be "If I were writing a story..." but that thought is based on intuition. I had to pause and Google a bit to discover that I'm suggesting that you use the subjunctive, and then I had to think a little harder to figure out exactly why I think that you should do so--and whether I'm right.

    Based on the above, I'm not sure if learning this material will help you correct your writing more easily, or just give you more information to allow you to make better decisions so that it is better in the end. It's worthwhile either way, but I don't know if you should count on added ease. :)

    While you're waiting, you could also try websites. For example, if I search on the phrase "parts of speech" I get a lot of sites. The odds of getting wrong information are always higher on the web, but books can sometimes get it wrong, too. (Such as the infamous passive voice examples in Strunk & White that are not actually passive voice.)

    There's also the library, and there I realize that I'm assuming from 'spelt' that you're British, and realizing that I don't know anything about the British public library system. A big assumption from one spelling nuance.
     
  15. ThePotato
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    ThePotato Member

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    I am British, so you are correct in your assumption! :) I would like a teacher that is like you, as you seem to understand what my current level is and how I would best further my skill set - which is impressive seeing as you've only read a few words written by me! From what you have told me about adverbs, I now feel like I could identify them fairly easily in the future. Something that puts me off learning new skills - especially through Google, - is that you tend to get paragraphs upon paragraphs of lengthy explanations telling you about what you are learning, and I tend to lose interest after a glance.

    ^^
    If you or anybody else here has the time, you may be able to help me right now, 'on the fly.' Was the use of the comma in "- especially through Google, -" in my previous paragraph correct? I know that if you are using brackets you should have your punctuation before the close of the bracket (I think,) but is this the same for the dash (and indeed the bracket?) I may be showing my lack of 'functional' knowledge right now, as I'm not sure if the correct term is "dash" or something else, and whether I am using brackets correctly. As a side-note, I would like to say that I don't usually use brackets as much as I have done right here; I am just trying to display my current level of understanding.
    Here is an example: "The bacon smelt good (it was streaky bacon,) but it was a little past (passed?) its sell-by-date." Would I use the same principle for a "dash"?
    The following statement is an example of what I mean: "The bacon smelt good - really good in fact, - but it was a little past its sell-by-date." Was my placement of the comma correct?

    I hope I'm making some sense as I like to think I'm good at writing, but like I said before, I'm ready to be wrong as I do want to learn.


    What I said; "If I was writing a story..." certainly doesn't sound 'right' to me at second glance. It's probably something I would change if I were to edit my post.
     
  16. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    The bacon smelled good - really good, in fact - but it was a little past its sell-by date.

    Note that I used the American "smelled" because, well, I'm in America. You never use a comma right before a dash. I moved it so it's after "good." It makes more sense there, I think. I also removed the hyphen you had before "date."
     
  17. ThePotato
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    ThePotato Member

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    Right, thank you!
     
  18. Ian J.
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    Ian J. Active Member

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    'Passed' and 'past' - a seemingly ok explanation here - http://www.dailywritingtips.com/passed-vs-past/ - but basically 'past' can be used in a number of ways, while 'passed' is specifically the past tense of 'to pass'.

    The primary confusion seems to be where 'past' can be an adverb - that is, a descriptive word used with an action word (a verb).
     
  19. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'm pretty sure that once upon a time, there's something such as a comma-dash or perhaps a dash-comma - I can't remember which. I never worked out how to use it either.
     
  20. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Maybe there was. I'm pretty sure I've never seen it, though. If you can find an example, I'd be interested. I certainly don't claim to know everything! :)
     
  21. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would say no. Any of the following would be correct:

    Something that puts me off learning new skills--especially through Google--is that
    Something that puts me off learning new skills (especially through Google) is that
    Something that puts me off learning new skills, especially through Google, is that

    Neither of the first two would support a comma at the end of "especially through Google"--the em dash (the double dash above) or parentheses are enough to set off the phrase on their own, and adding a comma to them would be incorrect. As others pointed out with the bacon example, a comma might correctly be inside the phrase, if it were a slightly different phrase.

    Just to throw in some jargon, I believe that "especially through Google", here, is what's known as a parenthetical phrase. And the single dash in "sell-by" is an en dash, and you're using it correctly. (I would have said "sell-by date", but when you put words together with a dash, the en dash is the right one.)

    I'd say that you are good at writing. I'm guessing that you've done a whole lot of reading? But learning the terminology and the rules behind what you're already doing correctly by intuition can only make your writing better.
     
  22. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    Couldn't have said it better :cool:
     
  23. ThePotato
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    ThePotato Member

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    Thank you, that all makes sense!

    Actually I only started reading regularly at about the age of 18 or 19 (I'm 22 now). I think my abilities come from an interest in words, and being able to use them effectively to get thoughts and emotions across. I've never been good at talking with people in person, so I fill in the void by constantly trying to word things in my head. If my abilities don't come from that then I'm not sure where they come from - maybe I was born with it (maybe it's maybelline). :p
     
  24. LordKyleOfEarth
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    LordKyleOfEarth Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have a copy of Understanding English Grammar, seventh edition, by Kolln and Funk, that lives next to my work desk. I don't often have to refer to it (these days) but, as illustrated elsewhere on this site, it comes in handy for technical questions. It looks like you can pick up a copy for under $10, shipped, so there's really no reason to not have it (Barns and Noble has it for $2)

    As to your question about technical versus intuitive knowledge, your exposure to English has given you a good understanding of the syntaxes involved. You may not know what they are called, but you know how they function. (Just like you may not know what 'narfle' means in the sentence, "You must narfle the garthok," but you do know--because of its placement--that it is a verb/action.) That is enough to allow you to be successful, although a technical working knowledge will allow you to be great. It frees you up to explore dichotomies, play-on-words, puns, and alternative meanings. It also makes you able to find ambiguities in your prose (like the adverbial/adjectival clause in the linked example). It may seem daunting to learn, but it's really simpler than you think.

    Plus, when you have kids, and they ask you why they can't end a sentence with a preposition, you'll actually be able to give them an answer (other than "because you can't). Then, years later, when they cite something like this to show you how wrong your were, you'll be able to diagram the sentence and show them that the preposition in question isn't really acting like a preposition, so you're still right.
     
  25. ThePotato
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    ThePotato Member

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    I just had a look through that thread, and I think I have learnt something. I am not convinced that knowing what an adverb is will help with my writing, but it is certainly interesting to discover this deeper layer within language - the diagrams you drew out looked almost mathematical.

    I looked for that book on Amazon.co.uk (I'm from England), and got pretty humorous results: http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/offer-listing/0321415639/ref=sr_1_4_olp?ie=UTF8&qid=1367956539&sr=8-4&keywords=Understanding+English+Grammar+By+Kolln+%26+Funk&condition=used It must be a bloody good book - I can't seem to find it cheaper than £100! I tried to order one of the copies from the US Amazon, but none of them shipped internationally. I'll keep my eyes peeled though.
     

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