1. Foxxx

    Foxxx Knight of Resignation Contributor

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    are-less form, is it grammatical?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Foxxx, Jun 18, 2022.

    Take this sentence:

    "The library whispers with the flitting of wordless pages; its shapeshifting shelves are a labyrinth of blank books."

    A dear friend of mine asked (rhetorically, I believe) "Can we cut the are?"

    I have seen this "are-less form/structure" as I am calling it here in fiction before... but is it actually still grammatical if the are is removed?

    Ex.: "The library whispers with the flitting of wordless pages; its shapeshifting shelves a labyrinth of blank books."

    Is this technically poetic or creative license? It seems uncommon, but I've definitely seen this structure enough in publication. I'm not exactly sure what is going on here, for I consider myself but a layman, but it would appear that when are is removed that "a" also acts as a state-of-being verb as well as an article.
     
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2022
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  2. Earp

    Earp Contributor Contributor

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    I'd say either is fine, as long as it's not the only such construction in the story.
     
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  3. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin I don't feel tardy.... Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'd drop the semi-colons ans go with a full stop period in the first example and a comma in the second. Other than that, they're both fine in a stylistic sense.
     
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  4. Seven Crowns

    Seven Crowns Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Currently Reading::
    "The Master and Margarita" by Mikhail Bulgakov
    You just need a comma. The second phrase is called an absolute phrase. It's basically a big modifier pointing back at the library phrase (clause actually, but you know what I mean).

    The library whispers with the flitting of wordless pages, its shapeshifting shelves a labyrinth of blank books.​

    I guess I should mention that I have heard certain instructors say not to use that structure because it's prose-like and nobody would speak in absolute phrases in real life. Eh, I see what they mean. Depending on what kind of voice you're using, it's something to keep in mind. The "solution" is to break it apart or force it into a new structure some other way, if that even matters.
     
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2022
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  5. Foxxx

    Foxxx Knight of Resignation Contributor

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    Ah yes, that is a new writerly red-flag of mine: a love for semi-colons.

    Very interesting, thank-you! I'll have to look more into it, but the way you describe it makes a lot more sense now.

    I agree, I think a comma works better here with this absolute phrase structure.
     
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2022
  6. Foxxx

    Foxxx Knight of Resignation Contributor

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    That's a fair point. I was actually thinking of using it in dialogue spoken by my characters that are ethereal or otherworldly in some way.
     
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  7. SapereAude

    SapereAude Contributor Contributor

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    Grammatically, Seven Crowns is correct.

    I don't know if that works for you stylistically.
     
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  8. Foxxx

    Foxxx Knight of Resignation Contributor

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    It might. I don't see myself using it very often, necessarily, but I can see myself using it to some extent.
     
  9. evild4ve

    evild4ve Senior Member

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    Could the OP swap out are for with... and keep the beloved semicolon?

    In poetry it's always been okay to drop the verb 'to be' where it's obvious from the context. And other verbs can be dropped where it's obvious enough - e.g. due to a structure repeating from what's immediately before. In the OP's line I think there is also the option to make "whisper" the
    dropped verb. The library whispers with its pages, the shelves whisper with their blank books. Even go for a triple:

    The library whispers with the flitting of wordless pages; its shapeshifting shelves with the tumbling of blank books; and its readers with always an eye on the infernal, panoptical, Scriptoriast - who wasn't really just filling out index cards.

    Although the speaker is probably doing the same thing in their head - it produces entirely different grammar in the second bit. The shelves are promoted to a subject, next to their library. And as I've tried to show with my third bit, so long as the dropped verb is still felt the structures it's dropped from can start to pull away from those of the initial clause.

    The verb's being dropped doesn't necessarily mean a second clause (or sentence) will qualify the first. Although that's clearly been the OP's intent in this line, there are other options nearby for how clauses like this can link, and how the skipped word emphasizes it. It's messy, and I think we can do lots of things so long as it sounds right to us.

    Whatever these structures are called, please do use them in everyday speech.

    "My good man, I will have the grand pan chicken supreme; my wife the pepperoni."
     
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  10. SapereAude

    SapereAude Contributor Contributor

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    Not and be grammatically correct.

    Essentially, a semi-colon separates two sentences that are so closely related that they should be linked rather than separated by a period (or full stop, as I believe it's called in British English). The clauses on both sides of the semi-colon must have a a subject and a predicate -- a subject, a verb, and an object. Substituting "with" for "are," we would have:

    "The library whispers with the flitting of wordless pages; its shapeshifting shelves with a labyrinth of blank books."

    That's a more parallel construction, but it still doesn't work grammatically unless the semi-colon is replaced by a comma. With a comma, I like it better than the original.
     
  11. evild4ve

    evild4ve Senior Member

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    @SapereAude is usually right about these things, and someone to whom I defer, but I keep thinking "that does have a subject, verb, and object on both sides" and "the two sides are too cl0sely related for a period." So I might need pointing to a grammar book. We're on different sides of the Atlantic, but this won't be something that depends on UK or US

    I feel there are two links: the library's ownership of the shelves, and the verb 'whispers'.
    The second bit isn't a clause of the first, but depends on it for meaning.
    And (for me) the 'with' isn't the Labyrinth with the Library (or the shelves), so much as the whispering with the flitting. The reader might take it to be a prepositional 'with' at first, but it's strictly qualifying the verb - which might be a nice surprise for them.

    This would need a comma:-
    The library whispers with the flitting of wordless pages, its shelves shapeshifting with a labyrinth of blank books.
    Because the second part of this one would be a clause of the first. (An absolute clause?)

    This can have a period. I think it can have a semicolon too, if we don't like the genitive reaching back into the previous sentence:-
    The library whispers with the flitting of wordless pages. Its shapeshifting shelves whisper with a labyrinth of blank books.
    I suppose that might depend on whether there are other Itses floating around nearby to confuse us.

    But if the verb in the second bit is omitted, relying on the first bit, then I prefer a semicolon.
    The library whispers with the flitting of wordless pages; its shapeshifting shelves [whisper] with a tumbling of blank books.
    I had switched out labyrinth for tumbling btw to keep a sound word, parallel with flitting, and continue the OP's alliteration.

    This period feels wrong to me, because it interrupts the relationship whereby the second part borrows the first's verb:
    The library whispers with the flitting of wordless pages. Its shapeshifting shelves with a tumbling of blank books.

    And this comma feels wrong because I want the second 'whisper' to be grammatically independent from the first
    The library whispers with the flitting of wordless pages, its shapeshifting shelves [whisper] with a tumbling of blank books.
    Including because I want to see where I can stretch the metaphor and the construction. Whispering with a flitting of wordless pages is ok I guess, but a tumbling of blank books might contribute a sense of the supernatural - since the pages might flit because someone didn't fix the draughty entrance doors, but the books tumbling around in silence is one up from that. Anyway, the first whisper is a whisper+flit, and the second is a whisper+tumble - and if it was a comma they would be the same whisper. Which I don't like for some reason.

    Would this be a non-destructive re-ordering of the idea?

    The following list of things whispered:- the library with the flitting of its wordless pages; the shapeshifting shelves with their labyrinth of blank books; the readers on row 21B; the users of writingforums.org; and the wind in the willows.


    The OP's metaphor has (imo) some poetic weaknesses that are highlighted by the abstract/elaborate construction (An inanimate thing whispering with a flitting - what does that really bring to mind?) Whispers might conflict with wordless. Library with labyrinth. What does it mean to whisper with a labyrinth?

    But that's not sour grapes at being called out on a grammar point. I grossly over-use these sorts of construction myself, so any help with the punctuation is hugely appreciated.
     
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2022
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  12. SapereAude

    SapereAude Contributor Contributor

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    But while the second clause has a subject, a verb, and an object after the semicolon as originally presented, it would NOT have a verb if the "are" is removed. And that was the question. As originally written, it is grammatically correct, but perhaps a bit awkward. To omit the "are" would (IMHO) also require changing the semicolon to a comma.

    Yes, I am in the U.S. and better-versed in American usage and punctuation than I am in British. My exposure to British writing derives from having been an editor for a writer in Greece who writes in British English because that's where he went to school.

    From the Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition:

    A clause that does not contain both a subject and a predicate is not an independent clause.
     
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2022
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  13. SapereAude

    SapereAude Contributor Contributor

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    To me it conjures up images of a vast edifice filled with endless rows and tiers of shelves, crammed with dusty volumes that haven't been opened for decades but which are filled with words waiting patiently (or impatiently) to be read. The whispering is either the books themselves talking to one another, or the ghosts of authors and/or readers from days long since gone, haunting the stacks and leafing through forgotten texts in the silence of the library.
     
  14. evild4ve

    evild4ve Senior Member

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    But if 'are' was replaced with 'with', I'm saying the second part would have the verb 'whisper':-
    original: The library whispers with the flitting of wordless pages; its shapeshifting shelves are a labyrinth of blank books.
    no are: The library whispers with the flitting of wordless pages, its shapeshifting shelves a labyrinth of blank books.
    are->with: The library whispers with the flitting of wordless pages; its shapeshifting shelves with a tumbling of blank books.
     
  15. SapereAude

    SapereAude Contributor Contributor

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    But the second part in your third example clearly does NOT have the verb "whisper" -- or any other verb. "Whisper" may be implied, but it is not there, and for that reason it is grammatically incorrect. It still works better (IMHO) with a comma rather than a semicolon. "Are" is a verb; the OP's original version is grammatically correct. Changing "are" to "with" changes it from grammatically correct to grammatically incorrect.
     
  16. evild4ve

    evild4ve Senior Member

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    So a poetically-omitted verb is NOT THERE for the purposes of grammar? That seems sweeping to me, since I think poetically-omitted verbs still have to fit the syntax. If they didn't, how could we follow parallelisms to know what poets were saying?

    And what about this semicolon here?

    Man delights not me; no, nor Woman neither
    [Hamlet, Act II, scene 2 - in context]
     
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2022
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  17. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Contributor Contributor

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    My view is poetry doesn't follow the same rules, hence 'poetic license'.

    But I think it may help to view a semicolon as a sort of line of demarcation, each side needs to be a complete sentence, despite being closely related, even if the second one logically follows the other (i.e., is a reasonable result or consequence of the first).

    That's my understanding anyway.
     
  18. evild4ve

    evild4ve Senior Member

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    I think the omission of the verb is the only poetic license I and (differently/separately) the OP are making use of here - since it's a flowery line inside a prose work
    But for the record I don't credit distinctions between prose and poetry, or recognize the validity of man-made rules over language

    I mean, there's peril in this: what if our enthusiasm for codified prohibitions causes us to impugn Shakespeare? I say this semicolon is available to the OP, should they wish to choose a construction that suits it
     
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  19. Foxxx

    Foxxx Knight of Resignation Contributor

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    I see what you're saying. I think that technically it may not be considered grammatical by some ordained prose standard, but anybody fairly familiar with poetry would be able to recognize what you are accomplishing in your examples without 'are' using 'with'. To be honest, I found it a bit more readily apparent than the absolute-phrase example in which the second half of the sentence acts as one giant separated adjective.

    I have done things similar to your example before in my writing, and I enjoy bringing poetic license into prose (but not every reader does, lol).

    In my example, the second half basically becomes a big adjective clause of the first, explaining how the shelves that belong to the library are like a labyrinth. In yours, the shelves clearly take on a personality, a kind of being, and are whispering with the tumbling and shuffling of their books.

    I think this is what makes the English language amazing, and I think why being grammatical is rather boring. That said, I am but a layman, but it would seem that there is a simple way to make yours grammatical, and it would be to just not use a semi-colon. But I'm not sure about all the intricacies between American English and British English usage.
     
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2022 at 10:29 PM
  20. Foxxx

    Foxxx Knight of Resignation Contributor

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    A fair criticism. My example is missing the context of the following sentence from my WIP: "The library whispers with the flitting of wordless pages, its shapeshifting shelves a labyrinth of blank books. Here, these souls search endlessly for a meaning that only they can create. Here, these souls seek answers that only they can find within themselves."

    The inspiration is drawn from Hermaeus Mora's realm of Apocrypha in Skyrim, and a little known Japanese mobile game called Alter Ego.

    In case you're curious:
    https://elderscrolls.fandom.com/wiki/Apocrypha
    https://alterego-cc.fandom.com/wiki/Es

    "As described in The Doors of Oblivion, the realm is an endless library with shelves stretching in every direction. Every book has a black cover with no title, and it is said that this is where all forbidden knowledge can be found. Spirits are said to roam the halls, forever searching for knowledge." - about Apocrypha
     
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2022 at 10:26 PM
  21. SapereAude

    SapereAude Contributor Contributor

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    That's very much as I envisioned it from the original post, except for the books not having titles.
     
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