1. RIPPA MATE
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    RIPPA MATE Contributing Member

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    Syntax

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by RIPPA MATE, Jun 15, 2008.

    alright here my situation.

    My english teacher says i have great ideas etc. in my writing however she says i have issues with my syntax. I was wondering how i could improve my syntax and and what i would be doing wrong...

    hold on heres an excert from one of my stories which she said may have been an issue (note: i don't know whether theres anything overly wrong with this part... oh my grammer might be bad aswell.)

    RM
     
  2. InkDancer
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    InkDancer Senior Member

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    Well, to start with it's grammAr. :D

    Syntax is often defined as word order, but it's more than that. It's sentence structure, and the restrictions that make one word work in a certain place, and not work in others.

    The best way to improve your syntax is to read. Read, read, read. The more you read, the more you see it being done correctly, and the easier it is to replicate.

    Another thing is to do just what you're doing here, and let other people correct what you've written. If you can understand what you're doing wrong, it will be easier to fix in the future.

    A sentence at a time:

    In this sentence, you have a main clause ("I watched as they rolled him through the hospital") and a subordinate clause ("lying useless on the stretcher") that modifies the main clause. This sentence sounds a little odd because the subordinate clause is modifying "him," but it is separated from that word by a prepositional phrase, "through the hospital." It makes it sound like the hospital is lying on the stretcher.

    In general, you want the noun being modified to be right next to the clause that modifies it. If you can't make the sentence work like that, then break it up into two sentences. "I watched as they rolled him through the hospital. He lay uselessly on the stretcher."

    Here you have a run-on sentence. There are actually three main clauses. "Around me I watched as people in the hospital rushed by. I saw my wife. She was next to my friend." In order to put two main clauses together in the same sentence, you need a conjunction like "and" or "but." You can also get away sometimes with using a semi-colon or dash, especially if the two main clauses are closely related. But don't overuse it! Here's how I might rewrite this passage.

    "Around me I watched as people in the hospital rushed by. I saw my wife next to my friend."

    Nothing grammatically wrong with this passage. Sure, you're using sentence fragments, but unlike in an essay, fragments are okay in a narrative... as long as you don't overuse them. I would probably change the last sentence to: "Not this time. This time he lay on a stretcher, dying."

    In conclusion! Punctuation is your friend. We use punctuation to clue the reader into the structure of the sentence. Commas usually indicate where one phrase or clause starts and the next one begins. Periods do the same thing for a sentence. If you understand how sentences are put together, the rules of grammar and punctuation start to make sense.
     
  3. Endeavour
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    Endeavour Senior Member

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    I think it's important to state the obvious problem here. I personally think what you're lacking at this stage is reading interpretation. Your syntax will get better as soon as you start reading not only more often but also pausing through the book and registering phrases, how well they are put together, and why they are put together the way they are written. You might turn out to actually read a lot but what you're probably not doing is registering. Take your time, don't rush through a book for the sake of finishing it.
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    good advice above... especially about becoming a more discerning reader...

    one correction example i'm afraid i have to take issue with is:



    'Around me I watched' is still pretty badly scrambled syntax... what that describes is physically impossible, as the person would have to be having an out of body experience and also be in several places at once, to be doing that... a more clear, sense-making and reader-friendly way to handle that awkward sentence would be, 'I watched the people around me rush by.'

    i agree that the last part is not as seriously flawed and could stand as is, but i'd polish it up a bit to read more smoothly, with a bit of punctuation...

    i realize the commas setting off 'too' are debatable and more or less optional these days, but here they seem to do a necessary job, imo... changing the comma in the last sentence to an ellipsis gives the needed emphasis, without having to make that last part a separate sentence... and the ellipsis at the end isn't really kosher, so a period would be best there...
     
  5. RIPPA MATE
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    RIPPA MATE Contributing Member

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    Ah some useful infomation, thanks guys...

    @ mammamia: he is having an out of body experience so maybe that sentence could pass. however...

    @ ink dancer: yes i think i better work on the old grammer... maybe it will then give me less issues in the case of syntax

    @ Endeavour: Thats probably a good idea... i shall slow down my book reading.

    If anyone wishes to read the rest of the short story and comment on syntax, just PM me, it would be greatly appreciated.

    RM
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Is there a reason you don't want to use the Review Room to collect comments? That's what it's there for.

    If it's an appropriate content issue, the same restrictions apply to PMs.
     
  7. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I have also found that employing correct grammar and clear syntax in everyday speech works wonders. I know that most of us seem to have two sets of rules for communication: the spoken word and the written. I find that this leads to much trouble and obfuscation in just what is correct grammar and correct syntax. We say a phrase or a word in its common, vulgar form, and with time, it begins to sound correct. Sometimes this even leads to changes in the accepted forms.

    I could care less.
    I couldn’t care less.


    Which is correct? Is it the first form which seems to be a sarcastic use of reverse logic, or the second which is direct and non-sarcastic? I don’t know. Do you? Both get used interchangeably to mean the exact same thing. (In the US, anyway.)


    When I lived in Florida, I noticed some very bizarre and widespread nonstandard grammatical forms which simply never set right with me.


    This morning, whenever I was combing my hair, the phone rang and scared me.

    The use of the word whenever to refer to a one time event is confusing in the extreme, yet this is a very common phrase structure in Central Florida. When I pointed this out to people, I invariably got the strangest looks, as though I were the oddball.


    Target is so expensive that anymore I shop at Wal-Mart.

    Anymore? What? Again, a very common usage where I lived and no one understood why I thought it was strange.


    And my all time favorite…

    I had went to the mall and bought a shirt.

    Try explaining perfective and imperfective to people who have chosen to see these different forms as merely stylistic choices.


    I know that younger people would not consider it apropos to employ standard grammar in their everyday speech, but for those who dream of the day they see their name on the jacket of that novel sitting on the shelf at the local Borders, I would recommend it.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The second is correct. The meaning is. I care so little, I could not care less.

    Like many other phrases, it has become corrupted.

     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The second is correct. The meaning is. I care so little, I could not care less.

    Like many other phrases, it has become corrupted.

     
  10. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    You are, of course correct in that the former is a corruption of the latter, and therein lay my point. Nonstandard usage has been allowed to go unchecked and has led to the birth of a strange pair of seemingly opposed syntaxes with the exact same meaning. Use of either form is so lax that neither one nor the other pings my gramm-dar.

    No big deal in this case, but in the other examples I gave, truly useful syntax and grammatical choices have been corrupted to the exclusion of the capacity to distinguish between one time or recurring events, and events which are completed or not completed. When these grammatical structures are confused or deleted through misuse, the user is then forced to dance around very long phrase structures to get their point across, or simply allow for an unclear message to be conveyed. Neither being of much benefit to the prospective writer.


    Hence my suggestion: Speak thusly, and so shalt thou write.


    P.S. I mourn the death of the pronoun thou. Modern English no longer posseses the capacity to discern between the second person singular and the second person plural in a standard manner. Every other language I know retains a healthy capacity to distinguish between one and the other. Was this tool so useless as to throw it away?

    *Brought to you by the Committee for the Revival of the Pronoun Thou, and Its Associated Verbal Declensions.*
     
  11. InkDancer
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    InkDancer Senior Member

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    I like how the you-pl form in peninsular Spanish, vosotros, comes from the singular pronoun vos, meaning "you," plus otros, meaning "others." It's almost literally the same as was done with "y'all" in English.

    What you say is true for most Indo-European languages, but there are a lot of Asian languages that don't really employ pronouns in the same way. As long as y'all can understand me, I guess we're okay. ;)
     
  12. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Hello! Have we another linguist in the house? ;)


    Anyone who can correctly take apart the root structure of the Spanish informal second person plural pronoun and compare pronoun use in Indo-European (are you trying to court me) and Sino-Tibetan (yes, I think you are) languages is ace in my book.

    :D
     
  13. SonnehLee
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    SonnehLee Contributing Member Contributor

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    I took spanish last semester, and the vosotros form has been dropped in most Spanish American countries, and is generally only used in spain. So English is not the only language where this has been done.
     
  14. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Vosotros represents only one of two second person plural pronouns in Spanish. Only the informal form has been dropped in the majority of Spanish speaking countries. Spanish in all countries still retains the ustedes form which is the formal second person plural form. My concern with the deletion within English of what was actually the second person singular/informal and the adoption of the second person plural/formal for both singular and plural forms, is the inability to now discern between the grammatical person except through context.
     
  15. FoxyMomma
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    FoxyMomma Contributing Member

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    That made my head hurt! I'll leave liguistics to those more suited than I, like our lovable Wrey! I'm just happy that I did not become corrupted by my buddies in my youth, who liberally mis-used the English language.
     
  16. InkDancer
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    InkDancer Senior Member

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    You're correct, of course. But the parallels between Spanish and English are still kind of cool. Especially because in some countries (Costa Rica and Argentina come to mind), the vos form is used in the singular instead of the tu form. Originally tu was the singular and vos was the plural (straight from Latin), but because using the plural was considered polite, vos was used as a singular form too.

    Eventually, the distinction of respect between tu and vos became lost, and vosotros had to be created to fill the open 2nd plural spot. At the same time, without a respectful form, various phrases were used. The one that became grammaticized was usted and its plural, ustedes, which derive from the phrase vuestra merced, meaning "your mercy." (That's why it takes the 3rd person morphology.)

    In most of the Spanish speaking world, tu won the war, and vos fell out of use. In a few countries, the opposite happened.

    Now look at English. Originally thou was 2nd person singular and ye was 2nd plural. Both of these were informal. You was actually a form of ye, and took on a formal tone for the same reason that vos did. As time went on, that formal/informal distinction was lost, and you became the standard form throughout.

    There are other examples of this process, but it seems possible that natural language evolution predisposes the migration of pronouns from the 2nd plural to 2nd singular to evoke a formal/informal distinction, which is muddied with use. Natural language then generates a variety of options to fill the empty spot (y'all, you guys, etc.), and in time, these become standardized along regional or social lines.
     

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