1. john11
    Offline

    john11 Member

    Joined:
    Jun 16, 2013
    Messages:
    23
    Likes Received:
    2

    Look Who's Talking

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by john11, Nov 9, 2014.

    Hi and thanks for reading this post.

    I wrote a short piece on a pov character, John, who was attending a funeral; here is a line from it which i would love some advice concerning correct grammar:

    John heard the preacher's voice carried on the cold wind, but in a far off, disconnected manner from his own world.

    I was trying to say that John felt disconnected, but was told that grammatically speaking the sentence states it is the preacher who is disconnected.

    Can anyone please expand or explain the grammar rule which applies to this. Is it anything to do with nouns or pronouns, does the rule apply if the word (preacher in this case) before the comma is a pronoun.

    This is not a request for a critique. I realise this is just one sentence so may feel taken out of context, my apologies, it is just this one point i am having difficulty with.

    Many thanks in advance. Richard.
     
  2. daemon
    Offline

    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 16, 2014
    Messages:
    1,361
    Likes Received:
    982
    The sentence is ambiguous. It is equally valid to conclude that John hears the voice in a disconnected manner or to conclude that the voice is carried in a disconnected manner. (I could draw parse trees if you are really interested in knowing why that is.) Ambiguity is inevitable in English; this is one of infinite examples of inevitable ambiguity.

    When I first read the sentence, I thought it meant the voice is carried in a disconnected manner. But I am not sure if there is an important difference between the two meanings. I perceive exactly the same thing in my mind's eye regardless of how I interpret it.

    Actually, this is an example of filtering. (Filtering is to write "the character perceived the thing happening" instead of just writing "the thing happened".) I will not say filtering is always bad, but in this case, you could avoid the ambiguity issue entirely by not filtering. Try something like this:

    The cold wind carried the preacher's voice, which did not sound like it came from this world.
     
  3. B93
    Offline

    B93 Active Member

    Joined:
    Jul 23, 2012
    Messages:
    297
    Likes Received:
    32
    I can find ambiguity if I look hard, but I got your intended meaning on the first reading. Try something like this:

    The preacher's voice carried on the cold wind, but John heard it as if it were far off and disconnected from his own world.
     
  4. john11
    Offline

    john11 Member

    Joined:
    Jun 16, 2013
    Messages:
    23
    Likes Received:
    2
    Hi. Thanks for the replies, much appreciated.

    E.G. Tarzan looked at Jane, who was approaching through the jungle. "Hello. How are you today."

    In this quick example it should be Jane who is speaking, as she is the last name mentioned before the comma.

    so is that the rule?

    should the preacher feel disconnected as he is the one mentioned before the comma.

    Many thanks.
     
  5. daemon
    Offline

    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 16, 2014
    Messages:
    1,361
    Likes Received:
    982
    Actually, I automatically imagined Tarzan as the one talking. I guess I tend to assume the subject of the last sentence (rather than the last character mentioned) is the one who talks, when the speaker is unspecified.
     
  6. Shadowfax
    Offline

    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 27, 2014
    Messages:
    2,527
    Likes Received:
    1,348
    Hi Richard,

    I'm with Daemon about the ambiguity of the sentence - I'd say lack of clarity - and on the Tarzan example. After all, you wouldn't make the mistake of thinking that it was the tree that spoke? Tarzan watched the tree, which was crashing soundlessly to the forest floor. "That's odd, they usually make a noise when somebody's watching!"

    John heard the preacher's voice carried on the cold wind, sounding disconnected from his own world.

    Does this work for you?
     
  7. john11
    Offline

    john11 Member

    Joined:
    Jun 16, 2013
    Messages:
    23
    Likes Received:
    2
    Hi. Thanks for the replies, much appreciated.

    Sorry to be so picky; I am trying to find the absolute grammatical english rule for this situation.

    I have looked this up in books but and each has its own style.

    The reason i feel it is the preacher who is disconnected, is that his name is the last one to be mentioned before the comma, this is what i was told, something about pre-tag, that he is the last one mentioned before the pre-tag, i think pre-tag means comma in this case.

    I am trying to expand on this further and find out more about pre-tags, do they apply to nouns only or pronouns

    @Shadowfax. I'm sorry, but it does not work for me. You have stated:

    John heard the preacher's voice carried on the cold wind, sounding disconnected from his own world.

    Under correct english grammar rules you are saying it is the preacher who is disconnected.


    Many thanks. Richard.
     
  8. Shadowfax
    Offline

    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 27, 2014
    Messages:
    2,527
    Likes Received:
    1,348
    Can I correct you? I didn't "state" that "John heard the preacher's voice...", I merely suggested it as a way of getting your words to mean what you wanted them to say without changing them materially. Personally, I wouldn't have written a scene like that in that way.

    And I'm not sure which "correct" English grammar rule you're thinking of. John is the subject of the sentence, the voice (of the preacher) is the object, and it is the voice that sounds as if it is disconnected. If it was the voice that possesses a world from which it sounds disconnected, the sentence would have ended "from its own world".

    A tag is what is attached to the speech:

    "I think that's rubbish" said John.

    'said John' is the tag.
     
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2014

Share This Page