Sloppy grammar was killing my manuscript. I Googled and read articles online, because that's where people turn to first for information. Unfortunately, those sources are peppered with opinions and commentary that distract. So I dusted off Strunk and White, which I haven't look at in years, and read it.
There were certain things that I did in my writing, all the time, that were blatantly wrong! Shocking! I made a list of those things:
proper use of "which" vs. "that," proper use of "had," correct comma usage, proper use of "but," not starting sentences with conjunctions, limiting the use of the word "so," proper use of "to" vs. "toward" proper use of "toward" vs. "towards" ensure I vary use of transition words: but, yet, however, nevertheless, still, instead, thus, therefore minimize "very" and "really" ensure using hyphens/en-dash/em-dash correctly, minimize "was," (mainly to keep active voice...so many times I would write "He was sitting" instead of "He sat") avoiding hedge words like "seemed" "sort of" "perhaps"
I made a cheat sheet with my top offenses and went through my entire manuscript. It took hours, days. Is it now perfect? Nope. But it is so much stronger now, and I cut it by 10,000 words and its tighter and easier to read.
Tell me - what is on your "hit list?" When you write - what are the most common writing mistakes that you make?
I wrote a whole long response, then realized it amounted to me not answering your question and talking about what I wanted to talk about instead, so I deleted it in the interest of not being a self-centered jerk.
Honestly, I don't think I have any grammar issues. I hope that's not arrogant of me, but I think grammar is an aspect of writing that I'm pretty solid on.
Most common writing mistakes for me, though: -Letting plot dictate character -Shallow character and/or world development. -Overall, I think my biggest crime is not digging deeply enough. I think I have written a lot of fun, functionally competent stories that don't explore the ramifications of my ideas deeply enough to really say anything interesting.
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My grammar hit list contains thousands of dos and don'ts, too many for a cheat sheet. Several that Strunk notes, for example, excess -ly adverbs (though, for me, more a matter of misplaced, flat, or excess, and, ergo, blunted emphasis), long noun strings, and overly sophisticated diction -- fifty-dollar words where perhaps a five-center is appropriate, a curse of an extensive vocabulary. Those considerations and others like them plague my drafts.
However, Strunk and White functions for formal essay writing, not per se performance writing (prose). The text is part grammar handbook and part style manual -- style in the sense of formats, for citation and big-picture grammar considerations like unity, coherence, and concision. Nonetheless useful guidance for prose composition, though, Strunk's advice leans toward emotionally neutral, if not flat and lackluster, impersonal formal essay composition expression.
That goal is the death of prose. Another and much once repeated goal for prose is lively and vivid, natural, personal expression; once much emphasized and lost to the march of time. Narratologists once emphasized that a writer's natural expression method trumps matters of grammar and style conformance. Although at cross odds with Strunk's guidance, Strunk no less allows for individual expression.
The double bind cross odds that pro and con grammar and style conformance invokes is reconcilable, however. This is the lesson of grammar and style dissents, the many conflicting, too often mutually exclusive opinions from the masses of language arts and sciences pundits: the first law of expression: written word, spoken, even thought; that is, facilitate reception and comprehension ease. Grammar and style, therefore, is an implicit social contract to communicate cooperatively, intelligibly, accessibly, informatively, persuasively and entertainingly, appealingly.
Yeah, too many -ly adverbs above, one of my curses. Another of my curses, long noun strings, uses numerous -tion and the like nouns and adjectives: Human social activity entails by degrees and at one and the same time or discretely focused codetermination, cooperation, coordination, confliction, contention, confrontation, and conflagration, for example. Long noun stings lose auditors' attention spans. My drafts entail an abundance of words that struggle to fix a thought from my mind onto the proverbial page. Later, revisions adjust somewhat the deficits, most informed by grammar principles of unity, coherence, concision, and diction and syntax guidance.
These above and more entail an ancient maxim about significance, a grammar principle espoused by Aristotle. Verbs contain natural significance, appreciably more so than other parts of speech. "Significance" in that sense involves memorableness and robust, incisive, causal events, the texture aspects of expression; that is, what, why, and how, per se, and a degree at times of where and when context, less so if at all, a who context. Partly why nouns are of less significance than verbs. A predicate part of a sentence is its pivot of significance. Rather than use a noun or adjective string, divide such serial nouns and such by use of verbs, or use verbs instead and singly in sentences; for example: The ideal pinnacle of human social interaction codetermines mutual efforts and outcomes. Nextmost, humans cooperate, share efforts and outcomes. Thirdmost, humans coordinate efforts and outcomes, participants reciprocate according to their ability and need. And so on . . .
Many are my sentences that do not at first realize a true predicate, subject, and object, that appreciation of syntax then entails adjustment. Plus, many of my draft sentences entail false fusions of more than one central idea. Those too entail adjustment, usually into separate sentences.
Yet, dynamic and robust verbs too, due to an exhaustive vocabulary, can be a curse, is a curse for me. A string of sentences that contain robust and dynamic verbs overemphasizes emphasis.
Diction, syntax, and emphasis are congruent grammar principles of a big-picture scale, as well as their minutia scale. Timely, judicious, and suitable variety of emphasis is a fourth, perhaps, law of performance composition -- prose, poetry, script.
First law: Facilitate reception and comprehension ease
Second law: The writer writes; the reader reads
Third law: Never spoil the receiver immersion effect
Fourth law: Timely, judicious, and suitable variety use of emphasis spices expression, arouses appeal
The above maxims can be easily rectified as laws akin to physical laws that are more or less inviolate. Excess violations of them spoils expression's central communication function. As the speed of light in a vacuum is an inviolate law, violations of the above expression laws as well result in miscommunication, submission decline, failed expression.
Big picture expression principles are as numerous as minutia principles, as much if not more crucial, too. A personal and natural voice, as it were, accessible, readable, and comprehendable, is as central as conformance to grammar and style principles, only that they fuse such that they converse persuasively.
Now, much of unscreened self-published works are rash of everyday conversation expression's idioms and a global speaking grammar. The issue, as I see it, though, is a dearth of distinction; they entail a conversational grammar much overheard anywhere, and is a monotonous drone of identical crud. A challenge, then, is to conversationally express a single human condition contest and to do so freshly, lively, and vividly: personally, emotionally. The opposite consideration is so polished a work's grammar that all the vigor is revised out of it, likewise, a dearth of distinction results.
The principle of spice (timely, judicious, etc., emphasis) and variety answers both everyday conversation and overly formal expression challenges. In other words, in short, grammar, style, and rhetoric; content, organization and craft; and creative expression fuse into a glorious symphony. Like spice, emphasis, a little dab a do yah.
Variety is the spice of life, as it is of expression; Life is the variety of spice; Life is the spice of variety; As it is of expression, spiced is the variety of life.
This is part of a bigger issue I have been thinking of posting about "Logic vs. Creativity." but for now, I will keep it somewhat simple.
I too did a very extensive research of grammar, and I am sure similar to many on this site found multiple conflicting rules if you don't take style manuals verbatim. The main thing I walked away with was how it began to affect my first drafts. I found a slow decline in my creativity because somewhere in the back of my mind was this little nagging voice on the sentence structure and no matter how hard I tried to let it go I couldn't be free of it. Where words use to flow like water, I started to get a stop-start problem in my head. This was problem one.
The second was part of problem one which was "flow". Instead of letting sentences just flow out onto the page I was somehow now self-correcting unconsciously before they were down. When I would come back to sentences later and read through them, I felt they lacked a flare or strength that I once had. The emotional quality seemed dimmed now.
I also noticed that though stronger formatted some sentences did not read as well out loud. I found I had a distinctive problem in my second draft because I could auto-correct sentences for proper grammar, but that was only for sentence by sentence. In a full read, paragraph by paragraph, page by page, chapter by chapter, it was grammar correct but lacked a vital substance, a heart beat, a strong voice. I had lost the beauty of the forest as I inspected it tree by tree.
So, in conclusion, I caution other creative writers about trying to be both writer and editor at once. The natural instinct is just to jump into the editor pool with both feet and feel this will make you a much better writer. But in truth, I do believe there is a fine line of difference between creative writing and technical writing and encourage creative writers that they should take a slower, more natural, absorption of grammar, than an all-at-once approach.
But this is just my 2cents, and it may not be the same for everyone.
My grammar studies also bogged down my writing, until I'd learned grammar's fusion with craft and expression transcends the several separate disciplines and becomes one glorious synergy.
Next, I cycled back to intuitive composition and was liberated from the self-editor by both knowing flaws while I drafted and that they were more easily adjustable later or at the moment due to grammar study, plus, that flaws are less common anymore and less effort overall expended in the first place. Always, I start now with a firm and concise plan, though, and allow intuition to influence drafting and revising no less. Synthesis is transcendent.
Or in a metaphorical sense, I've been to the abyss and passed beyond into a brighter Aether.
Edited to add:
Two comparable and contrastable writers that each in their way reconciled this matter of technically correct grammar and creative expression are Somerset Maugham and Rudyard Kipling. Maugham first learned language skills then creative skills; though, because he'd lived the life of a scholar, had no personal life experience from which to draw inspiration. He then went out into the world of the British expatriate to seek inspiration. That sequence colors his prose.
Kipling, on the other hand, experienced the British expatriate life beforehand, then learned to set those inspirations creatively upon the page. This too colors his prose. Maugham, though, emulates Kipling, except more rigorously conforms to grammar principles; Kipling less so adheres to grammar principles and is his own light. Both, though, use a more formal grammar and narrative point of view than are in fashion today.
Another comparative contrast is, say, the writing of -- I don't know, maybe Marion Zimmer Bradley and our host Orson Scott Card. Both are about equal in present-day grammar conformance conventions. A distinct difference is topic and narrative point of view. Card's topics are moral values exceptions which glorify vice as virtue. Due to that paradigm, Card's works tend toward closer agonist narrative distance than Bradley's; that is, more succinctly portray moral truth discoveries.
Bradley's works are of a stronger narrator attitude and are more of a philosophical nature; that is, they assert global moral laws more strongly than Card. Card's are no less satire, moral tableaus, and no less predicated upon a compatible values belief system than Bradley's. The distinction, though, is the difference between assertion and discovery.
Frankly, discovery is more appealing, for me anyway. As a matter of grammar, content and organization, or structure, or craft, is at the center of an assertion-discovery distinction. Assertion sets up up front what moral contest is on point, and portrays the straightforward contest between right and wrong, as it were, and ends with a poetic justice outcome. These kinds of narratives more or less telegraph their outcomes, challenge believability and preach to the choir. Their redeeming quality is that they reinforce values systems through showing what can and will go awry from short-shrifted values.
Discovery sets up up front what motivations and stakes imply a moral contest tableau. Receivers experience the moral truth discovery while such a narrative unfolds. Poetic justice is not necessarily an outcome of discovery narratives, though can be and often is. Ones that aren't conventional poetic justice tableaus appeal more to me from that they portray morals and values as exceptable conventions when necessary, as is often the scenario when what's good and evil is more a shades-of-gray matter than rigidly either-or black and white. In other words, more like real life and more believable, more immersible, too. These types show a discovery process that is emulateable for personal moral truth growth, from what an agonist is unaware of that can and will go awry if unattended to.
Matters of content and organization are a big-picture guiding grammar principle related to unity, coherence, and concision.
Grammar problems that aren't solved (or avoided) when writing naturally should be dealt with in later drafts, not in the first draft.
If you aren't at the point where the way you write is grammatical in every sense, then don't, by any means, try to force it in your earlier drafts. Let things flow first.
Then, when you are ready to deal with grammar, consider having someone else read your prose to you (instead of attacking the trees and messing up the forest). As you listen, you will hear what works, what doesn't work, what flows, and what makes the reader stumble.
Grammar is the servant of communication, not the other way around.
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wetwilly - You are not a jerk! Its awesome that grammar isn't your enemy. I am good with plots and embedding a twist, but grammar...eh...getting better each day. I've been a technical writer and editors/reviewers do not at all care about grammar. Only the data and the science. I think years of that worked against me. Oh but patent lawyers! Wow, that is a completely different breed of "writer." Really annoying.
Kathleen - I think this is the 4th time I've revised my manuscript, and reading it from a grammatical sense instead of a plot/character sense has changed it, IMO. For me, first came research, then development of my antagonist, then plot + characters at the same time, then plot twist. Grammar...uh...came last in this case. At least when I write new material I have some bit of confidence that it is nearly readable. I also have "hit lists" in spreadsheet form for everything from timelines to themes to character descriptions/motivations, all to make sure that when I finish a chapter or section I am consistent with the high level view. I'm an engineer so I like to follow a BKM - best known method
Extrinsic - Strunk and White was right here on my bookshelf so it was available until my Amazon order came in (you have recommended some grammar texts in previous posts - thank you - Dash of Style was one of them). It is was good for me to start with something fundamental. You are consistently prolific in your posts, which I enjoy reading, and I wonder if that is the case with whatever personal writing you pursue as well?
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dmsimone, one thing to watch out for in your rewriting (and something walexander referred to) is that you don't edit the life out of your story.
As long as you feel you are improving it, keep going. If it ever gets to the point of lifelessness, however, there is a remedy.
What you do then, is lay aside the latest version and try writing the whole thing over again from scratch, from memory, without referring to any other version.
That may sound intimidating, but what should happen is that you will be coming at the STORY (instead of the manuscript) in a fresher way, and you will be applying all that you've learned in the process of your edits. So the result ought to be fresher, but better written than any of the other versions.
Something to consider, at least.
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Ms. Dalton Woodburry's guidance, by the way, are among the strategies of experienced and successful writers. The cold read out loud strategy, for one; however, in my experience, cold reading is an art and a skill too.
Grooming a cold reader is a tricky business. Interpreting a cold read, too. Where does a reader stumble? Does a reader read in a monotone or a singsong voice? Does a reader backtrack and read over? Does a reader make side comments while reading aloud? Do a reader's vocal intonation and nonverbal expression contain clues about how into a narrative the reader is?
More acute readings might read a narrative like a poem, not rhyme per se, note and read at a natural rhythmic and accentual pace, iambus, maybe, or anapest, doggerel, or limerick. Stressed and unstressed syllable annunciation. The ear for those is whether stressed and unstressed syllables and natural pauses transpire where needed and intended.
A piece of doggerel limerick, for example
It's a rick-rack, Lolly Pop, dig the bog alone.
That above contains a meter that is of a natural accentual verse speaking rhythm, and the hard and soft syllables, capital cases, and punctuation show how it should be, intends to be read. Iamb, spondee / cretic / trochee, dactyl. Mixed foot, in other words, conventional to doggerel, and entails its trivial subject and comic effect conventions.
Such a mixed meter, and others, is best practice for timely and judicious emphasis when intended. Prose that expresses accentual emphasis indiscriminately calls undue attention to itself and alienates prose readers. Prose rhythms are best practice subtle, judicious, and timely, as with any emphasis. Rhythm, though, does all by itself carry a reader forward, moves a story along on its own.
Dactyl, amphibrach, and anapest, and iamb and trochee, are the more common foots of English prose. See Wikipedia: Foot (prososdy). Those metrical feet inform sentence length. When intonation sounds off-kilter to the ear, it's due to missing, misplaced, or piled on foots, which cause reading stumbles.
Nor is there a coincidence between a Standard Publication Format prose line and a ten to twelve syllable line of accentual verse. The average prose line is ten to twelve or so "ideal" six-glyph words; roughly sixty-five columns, in other words. That's two eye blinks, or verse lines, to read per line. This is pleasing to the eye and ear and low ear and eyestrain -- the ergonomics of written-word publication. Long words and sentences are less pleasing to the eye than short words and sentences, though spiced is variety. A word like antidisestablishmentarianist is clumsy and a strain to hear, think, view, and read, for example.
In short, the above are the visual and aural functions of accentual verse prose. John Gardner's The Art of Fiction delves into this prose rhythm topic in depth.
In general, writers and readers apply instinctive rhythm and aural and visual skills to composition and reading -- by ear and eye. Experienced writers and readers, though, are more conscious of rhythm and aural and visual appeal and put more effort into rhythm and aural and visual composition, mostly try to avoid singsong rhythm, accentual flatness, and word, sentence, and page text walls. Why? If a reader stumbles, or falls out of a narrative altogether, the above are why. Knowing why, what not to do, and what to do about it, these are strategies of a successful writer.
Yes, my personal writing is more prolific than that of my Hatrack writing. Essay, writing journal, and outlining and sketching to test a prose inspiration are by far the majority of my personal writing. An obstacle to my prose writing has been an intuition an essential piece or pieces were missing. I've realized what they are in general. Not what they are specific to any given project, though that they are amenable to realization. I've filled out the missing pieces for a current project.
I am a Henry James-like writer, not his narrative point of view and narrative methodology, nor narrator persona type, an extensive planner, and a Menippean satire writer heavy on subtle irony. Menippean satire's victim target, per se, is moral-mental attitudes and not specific individuals or entities and least of satire types use of sarcasm. Juvenalian satire's convention is sarcastic personal attacks. Horatioan is some of both sarcasm attacks and moral victim-target satire.
Cormac McCarthy is a Menippean satire writer. Jonathan Swift is Horatioan. Most any politician and political commentator on an election campaign is Juvenalian and as well about as common as dirt across the globe.
Anyway, Menippean satire is the more challenging and appealing of the lot for me.
By the way, also, experienced writers leave proofreading for dedicated grammar adjustment until a last pass before submission for publication. The sequence of research and development; antagonist development; event, setting, and character development, then proofread, is that of experienced writers. Oddly though, that sequence is the opposite of how we learn to write, grammar first, then content and organization structure, then prose's dramatic crafts, then managing the mischiefs of personal expression.
I've too noted the general indifference toward grammar in journalism circles, not to mention academia, in particular science, technology, engineering, math, medicine, and legal disciplines. Though as well English and humanities in general. My word, what a load of crud I read. I read prolifically, voraciously, and omnivorously, too.
Now, the poetry of prose -- this too is a grammar matter; that is, grammar adjustment for readability's and best reader effect's sake.
Some excellent ideas here! I have a 6 hour flight to NY to look forward to in a couple of weeks. As it will be 6 hours of interruption-free bliss, I might use it to rewrite one of my more challenging chapters. That would be a really good opportunity for that. Reading narrative out loud is very, very telling. So often the written words sounds ludicrous when spoken aloud.
Thanks for the advice everyone!
Extrinsic - regarding your prose comments above...is this why the rip rap jazz voice interests you?
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Partly. Parts also from the mellifluous flow of Jack Kerouac's On the Road and narrative theorists who note a music like harmony of some prose: John Gardner, Noah Lukeman, Jerome Stern, E.M. Forester, L. Rust Hills, and Gustav Freytag, for examples. Plus, the cyberpunk and steampunk genres have a musical quality. William Gibson is the best known cyberpunk writer. Steampunk doesn't yet have a comparable blockbuster. And the science fiction "space opera" narrative form, too.
A music-like score to prose, measures, so to speak, interests me from the added possible depth enhancement of comparison to music -- lyric-like, not lyrical such that a text calls undue attention to itself. Dramatic poetry from which prose evolved, in turn, evolved from epic and lyric poetry. Narratives that jar and are bumpy, on the other hand, well, they feel clumsy and incomplete to me.
A lively, bright, yet ironic jazz voice seems to me ideally suited to this Postmodern Digital Age's technology doubts, confusions, social challenges, and satires thereof.
Close readers not routinely available to me, also, another content and organization principle based on musical form offers self-screening and revision methods.
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Which-that, which pronoun to use when, usage dictionaries prescribe use depending on function. Plus, that both are other parts of speech adds further complexity. "Which" can be adjective or pronoun; "that," pronoun, conjunction, adjective, or adverb.
Misuse of both words is common, as are misapprehensions of correct usage. One misapprehension, that pronoun "which" should only refer to persons and "that" only to things. Only "who" is so particular of personal relative pronouns. A guiding principle for which to use is the matter of dependent restrictive or nonrestrictive relative clause and then only whether a comma should separate a dependent clause from a main clause.
In any case, use of "which" and "that" are common for formal composition and, ergo, best practice avoided as much as practical for prose. Best to recast to eliminate both if at all possible.
"That" adverb Prime minister Judah sat _that_ seriously the throne. (intensive function) Adjective _That_ knucklehead broke the dam. Conjunction Mack said _that_ it was a mistake. Pronoun _That_, _that_'s the one. Alice claimed that _that_ should be a crime. (first "that" therein is a conjunction use)
Doubled "that" is especially common in clumsy formal composition and most to be avoided for prose. Unless -- always an unless -- a formal voice wants them, perhaps for characterization of affected expression or to lend an air of ambivalent formal sophistication.
"Which" adjective Alton chose _which_ rifle to bring.
Pronoun Haney chose _which_ of three turns to take onto the interstate, after _which_ he regretted his rash decision.
Likewise, doubled "which" use in short succession is a concern.
(Above, dependent nonrestrictive relative clause in third position; sentence end, nonrestrictive third-position clauses always take comma separation. Restrictive clauses do not. Below.)
Haney chose _which_ turn to take onto the interstate _according to his best knowledge_.
A restrictive clause limits -- restricts -- a main clause's meaning. As above, Haney's choice is according to his best knowledge, that is, not from happenstance or any other of a number of selection processes.
First position is prefatory place, sentence start; dependent prefatory words, phrases, and clauses always take comma separation, regardless of whether restrictive or nonrestrictive.
After Haney chose _that_ turn to take onto the interstate, he regretted his decision.
Second position is medial place, sentence middle; dependent medial words, phrases, and clauses always take comma separation, regardless of whether restrictive or nonrestrictive.
Haney chose _that_ turn to take onto the interstate, after _that_ turn, he regretted his decision.
A dash could substitute for any of the above comma clause separations, for stronger emphasis and longer pause. Semicolons could also, preferably, be used, too, for independent clause fusion.
Haney chose that turn to take onto the interstate; after that turn -- he regretted his decision.
Haney chose that turn to take onto the interstate; after that turn, he regretted his decision.
However, numerous comma and punctuation clause separations can be jumpy, especially at a start. Best practice is to recast, to reduce jumpiness. Separate sentences, shorter sentences, complex sentences of restrictive third-position dependent clauses, recast for simple sentence structure -- these are de copia considerations for reducing jumpiness.
De copia, of abundance, as choices for composition rhythm are numerous, based upon sound grammatical principles: unity, coherence, concision, diction, and syntax.
A side note that might be worth consideration about use of formal language, which-that and such, plus about another hundred or so connective words.
Those that are common to formal composition signal perhaps unintended formality for prose. Mindful that some are necessary, and that a niche audience of scholars -- that formalness is an essential part of their discourse community and methods; that is, how they've learned to read and write. One way to read and write, they are generally at a loss to write and read less formal composition.
A larger prose audience, however, generally appreciates less formal composition, though is only somewhat aware of the distinctions, enough awareness anyway to be turned off by overly formal expression.
A compromise, or transcendence, really, is language that functions according to the rhetorical principle labeled decorum: Suit words and all else to a subject matter and each to the other, and to the occasion (kairos) and the target audience.
Decorum at a pipe fitter's union meeting should be casual language to an extreme, uses empty profanity maybe, is emotionally charged, vague, about seventh-grade level language, and short and sweet. Not so at a scholars' fiction book club meeting. Spanning both audiences entails subject matter that matters to both in equal ways, like, for example, if not exclusively, an emotionally charged intangible moral contest packaged within a tangible motivation contest that is relevant to and accessible by both audiences. Say, George Orwell's Animal Farm.
What audience does a grammar signal? Formal or casual conversation preference? Both?
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I think of which/that fairly simply: That - A restrictive clause. You can't get rid of it because it restricts part of a sentence. Which - A non-restrictive clause. You can remove it without changing the meaning of the sentence.
I'll search my chapters for 'that' and find - horrifically - that (see what I did here?) I use it far too liberally. I try to remove "that" from my narrative if it is not restricting anything in the sentence. I keep it in dialogue because people regularly misuse or overuse it in daily speech.
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Due to the several parts of speech that "that" can be, that's one reason why that is overused. This applies as well to many of the most common hundred English words, and many are overused connective words: conjunctions and prepositions, and adverb particles.
"So," for example, adjective, adverb, preposition, conjunction, or particle uses, plus, "so" functions as an intensive adverb for emphatic voice. English entails no native emphatic grammar mood; syntax constructions serve instead for each of English's three native moods: indicative, imperative, and subjunctive moods.
"But," for another example: conjunction, preposition, adjective, adverb, pronoun, or noun uses, plus for intensive functions in everyday conversation dialects, as well as a nonsensical discourse marker interjection. On the other hand, "and" is solely a conjunction, and, like all words, can be used as an interjection, in many dialects is a nonsensical interjection, a discourse marker.
Use of discourse marker interjections, like "but," are common and overused in everyday conversation. The intent is to hold the floor, excessively dominate a conversation, what's the word? filibuster, such that no opportunities for interruption are offered. This is, of course, rude and subject to all kinds of overuse and objection. Mindful herein that such uses also function for political and social purposes, such as legislation enactment prevention and emotional bonding rites, culture group consensus formations and appeals to consensus.
Grammar mood parallels a lingual concept applicable to prose; that is, matters of implication resolved from whether a term, word or phrase, is literal or figurative. Literal expression -- this is de dicto, of the word. Figurative expression, either or both de re and de se, of the thing and of oneself, respectively.
The "thing," per se, is a figurative interpretation of an expression other than a literal meaning and such an interpretation may be true where a de dicto interpretation is false.
Many idioms entail de re expression. One idiom, for example, common to native English, and about as routine as dirt, is use of to run for other than the rapid ambulation movement. To run a store, to run a machine, to run for office, to run a website, to manage, to build, operate, maintain, to sponsor, to chair, ad nauseam. The thing, as it were, is that the expression implies an activity other than mono-, bi-, tri-, or quadrupedal ambulation, etc. The falseness of such a de dicto interpretation of to run is controverted by the truth the idiom entails.
De se is a peculiar lingual feature that expresses oneself as an external entity. Self-referential third person is de se expression. extrinsic is a grammar know-it-all, a fascist grammarian.
More to the point, prose use of de se, while not overtly self-referential, may or does covertly reflect oneself as writer, perhaps implied writer, maybe narrator, and possibly as agonist personas, and maybe auxiliary and extras personas as well intrinsic to a narrative's contests. Those are each of oneself apportioned across a narrative's personas, dramatic or otherwise -- oneself's personal experiences and dramatic contests which seek meaning and perhaps satisfaction through prose expression.
De re and de se are especially applicable to prose for that reason of personal meaning seeking out of the many personas of a narrative, plus, of note, for reader immersion effect strategies and methods. The foremost purpose and function of which is accessible implication. Not to mention, of course, reader intellect engagement through want for implication interpretation that, in turn, engages imagination.
If readers interpret a narrative through a skill-level appropriate cognitive aptitude, their imaginations likewise engage. Implication interpretation engages, "hooks," readers.
This implication feature speaks directly to our host Orson Scott Card's three engagement principles: So what? Huh? and Oh yeah? So what? Why should I care about this? Huh? What's going on in this? And, Oh yeah? Why should I suspend disbelief about this? Why should I believe this?
The matter of all three is developed authenticity of experience, part from experience readers bring to a narrative, and, as much, if not more, a congruent writer-reader interest in a narrative's contest topic, be that topic awe and wonder, wish fulfillment, a want for escape, or, or and, a moral contest. De re makes the intangible narrative topic the thing. De se places oneself, writer, narrator, and reader, inside the narrative contest through Doppelganger personas, each, as it were, an engaged extension of oneself. Mindful that overly self-idealization and self-efficacy result in the dread writer surrogate narrative and consequent willing suspension of disbelief spoliation, the spoilage of So what? Huh? and Oh yeah?
De re and de se also entail a grammar, diction and syntax, so to speak, that projects from inside an agonist persona's perception. This is where subjunctive mood comes into its own light for prose, as a stream-of-consciousness method, that emphatic subjunctive expressions transfer to indicative mood, of the thing or oneself or both. Use of third-person personal pronouns in sentence object position, for example, de se, of oneself and subjunctive constructions though indicative mood, de re, of the thing. Therein is the substantive matter of de se; that is, placing oneself in other than an overtly central position and, ergo, in an objective attitude, albeit, emotionally charged from subtle intensive parts of speech:
The church's hypocrisy _did_ cruelly betray _his_ trust. Broken trust _would_ frustrate _him_ all of _his_ life.
Intensive function "did," intensive adverb "cruelly," intensive indicative and subjunctive auxiliary verb "would," and de re-de se and sentence object use personal pronouns "his," "him," and "his." Through the above, from writer, implied writer, and narrator emotional attitude, the de re strategy also transforms to de se attitude, of oneself's attitude from a narrator's received reflections of a viewpoint agonist's perceptions. Exquisite.
The above doesn't work for first person, due to being unequivocally de dicto, nothing implied to interpret as other than of the word; that is, it is a bare complaint, a subjective position, and somewhat overly whiny of oneself and as central and somewhat overly narcissistic, not a third person's objective observation:
The church's hypocrisy _did_ cruelly betray _my_ trust. Broken trust _would_ frustrate _me_ all of _my_ life.
Instead, for first person, show and discovery of the trust betrayal and trust frustration are indicated. The third-person narrator tell could work as a preamble, a prelude, an interlude, or a post-interlude, a timely and judicious transition in any case, or converted to or accompanied by show of the trust betrayal and trust frustration. That could be what the narrative is really and truly about or a contributing force to the real, true contest. A moral contest matter, in any case.
These above are how and what I apply to and consider grammar demons beyond the overt matters of rigid grammar principles, and struggle to conquer them.
Found this link today on the WotF forum. It seems useful (also, contextually appropriate).
Some worthwhile considerations, a few duds. For prescriptive diction and syntax suggestions, grammar generally, though, stronger explication shows more exactingly why something doesn't work or does work.
Several I have reservations about. "Then" replaced by "as" for coordination conjunction, use of "said" attribution, and "thought" for tagged direct or indirect thought discourse.
"As" substituted for "then": "then" parts of speech are adverb, adjective, and noun, not a conjunction; "as," adverb, conjunction, pronoun, preposition. "As," as I've insisted at length, is a correlation conjunction, not a coordination conjunction, the way the sentence example uses it. "My cheeks flushed _as_ Bob pointed and laughed."
Separate sentences are indicated because of two subjects, three actions, and causality inversion within the complex sentence. Falsely fused sentence, doesn't work. An inversion test of the causality and false fusion notes that the flushed cheeks are an effect of Bob's reaction to the embarrassing situation. //Bob pointed and laughed _as_ my cheeks flushed.// Nope, not stronger or clearer, and two independent ideas; separate sentences indicated. Besides, "cheeks flushed" is a visual sensation the "my" persona cannot possibly view.
Adjustment would consider the above plus strengthen the emotional context and texture for best reader effect.
"Said," she, he, or it said attribution is nearly invisible to readers; readers skim brief "said" tags, as it were. Artful, timely, and judicious attribution placement is nearly invisible, does not call undue attention to itself. Note "said" tags are narrator tells; they are summary and explanation. Little to no immersion enhancement can come from long dialogue attribution.
"Replied" and "asked" are redundant and call undue attention to those. Of course, a response to another speaker's speech is a reply. Duh-huh.
An inquiry dialogue line takes a question mark, all the signal an inquiry needs. No need for "asked."
Yes, best practice uses action attribution when practical and artful, though for more than mere attribution: for drama, event, setting, character, and emotional development. Otherwise, timely and judiciously use "said," and keep attribution short and sweet to suit readers' reading methods.
The consideration for use of "thought" or more visible introspection tags like "wonder, ponder, think, feel, felt, understand, realize, etc.," is similar to the "said" consideration. Do they call undue attention to themselves? For dialogue, any one could be appropriate. For thought, probably unsuitable, except "thought," it, she, or he thought timely and judiciously placed -- nearly as invisible as "said" tags when needed and likewise is narrator tell. More artful, though, and best practice to use stream-of-consciousness methods that imply this part is thought distinct from narrator expression.
"Feel" and "felt" are especially clumsy for thought attribution because those imply emotional sensation. Use the emotional sensation bare by itself. Replace those uses with emotional sensation.
This above is all about discourse in general, lingual principles more so than grammar principles, though is itself a grammar of prose distinguished from everyday casual and formal discourses. The lingual principles involve narrative expression as distinct from formal and everyday casual discourse and goes by the labels free or tagged and direct or indirect discourse: FID, TID, FDD, and TDD. These are matters of character discourse, per se, and not narrator discourse.
FID, free indirect discourse, unattributed and paraphrased speech and thought.
TID, tagged indirect discourse, attributed and paraphrased speech and thought
FDD, free direct discourse, unattributed and verbatim speech and thought.
TDD, tagged direct discourse, attributed and verbatim speech and thought.
Each of the above labels apply at the sentence level, not per se paragraph or longer level.
Action attribution uses prefatory, medial, or terminal sentences or sentence position words, phrases, or clauses to mark who a speech or thought's speaker or thinker is. Best practice places action attribution in prefatory position, with exceptions; for example, a thought mingled with speech is two actions. Best practice places the thought in prefatory, medial, or terminal position, depending on contexture. A thought that arises in reaction to a speech falls naturally during or after the speech. A speech that follows a thought, the thought comes first.
"Said" or "thought" discourse tags are usually best practice placed in medial or terminal sentence position. Medial, at a natural pause after a brief speech or thought portion; terminal, after a brief speech or thought.
Otherwise, say the action attribution is a physical movement. Best practice places the attribution in prefatory position, or soon in medial position, rarely in terminal position. Terminal position placement best practice is for reaction or transition or both. Attribution's function is to show who speaks or thinks so readers already know who's who when they read speech or thought. After a speech or thought may be untimely in that regard.
An aside or two about comments posted to the linked post. Several biased commenters misapprehend country idiom and dialects' distinctions and rudely disparage those not of their own comfort zones. Enough said.
Another, that use of "couple" does or doesn't take a preposition "of." A number of considerations overlooked in that quandary. Some suggest "of" omission, some insist "of" inclusion, some suggest another preposition or an adverb instead. None noted "couple" is a noun, may be an adjective therefrom, and a verb, none especially that noun "couple" relates to a joined pair, a married couple, for example.
"A couple of bolts" is a grammar glitch, or an everyday conversation idiom, and wordy, unless the two bolts are similar and joined. Nor is "pair," per se, otherwise correct usage. "Pair" means two items are closely similar. A pair of bolts, similar bolts, is grammarly. Otherwise, correct usage is, Two bolts, or A few bolts. If more than two or a few, Several bolts, or a counted number. "Few" is widely taken to mean three or so; prescriptively, however, "few" means more than one. Yet "couple of," "pair," and "a few" are common everyday conversation idioms and subject to ample misuse.
Another point to note of the commentors is how many words they have on their cut lists: fifty, a hundred, more, fewer. Mine is thousands of words to consider -- well, really all of a language's millions of words -- perhaps adjust, maybe substitute, possibly alter diction and sentence syntax, maybe cut, maybe not. In total, though, for my prose diction and syntax strategies, two fundamental grammar principles are foremost; that is, ease of reading and comprehension, and shape emotional charge suited to a contexture. A third area of discretion, and this is considerable for freshness and liveliness, is idiom and dialect suited to a narrative, a topic, an occasion, and an audience.
I don't know which to be more delighted by; that a fellow writer is astutely attuned to "as" conjunction glitches, of late or not, perhaps due to my observations; or observations that I'm that similarly astute and predictable for commenting about such glitches.
Worth note the essay uses "as" four times, two correlative conjunctions, the coordination conjunction glitch, and an adverb. None of which are descriptive uses (prose arts), more fused casual conversation-formal expression, slash, prescriptive use. Perhaps apropos of a younger audience, peer-to-peer prescriptive lecture -- imperative mood -- though more an example of a prose writer's general language shortfalls.
The essay writer's bio entails somewhat fused college and personal interest education, training, and experience in young adult literature culture and arts; of course, she appeals somewhat to young adults and speaks and writes their language conversation idioms.
More artful, yet within the audience's grasp, language arts and skills are indicated.
"sounds better as" really? Come on.
Tests for the expression "better as" begin from parts of speech analysis: adjective, comparative of "good", a superlative (good, better, best); verb; adverb, comparative of "well"; noun; and verbal auxiliary. The "better" use is an adverb that modifies verb "sounds." "as" therein is the correlation conjunction that co-relates the two examples compared: this compared to that.
Adjective comparison, albeit as adverb use: this sounds good as that? or, this sounds gooder as that? or, this sounds more good as that? or this sounds gooder than that? or, this sounds goodest as that? nope
Or, this sounds best as that?
Adverb comparison: this sounds well as that? or, this sounds as well as that? or, this sounds weller as that? or, this sounds weller than that? or, this sounds wellest as that? nope
or, this sounds as better as that?
"better as" is a vulgar expression, vulgar to mean colloquial, in relation to vulgarisms such as "irregardless," or "ain't" used other than as the contraction of [I] "am not."
The larger consideration is a falsely fused sentence, sentences, actually.
The whole portion: "I shut the car door, then tripped over the sidewalk. Then Bob pointed and laughed, and then my cheeks flushed." sounds _better as_, "I shut the car door and tripped over the sidewalk. My cheeks flushed as Bob pointed and laughed."
"I shut the car door and tripped over the sidewalk." Another run-on glitch: sequential, not contemporaneous actions. False sentence fusion.
"better as" best practice instead is; //This sounds better:// (from familiarity.) That latter is a valid enough declaration, too, though the example does not sound better to all readers. Probably does to younger ears, though; the former grates upon others' eyes and ears.
//"I shut the car door, then tripped over the sidewalk. Then Bob pointed and laughed, and then my cheeks flushed." This sounds better: "I shut the car door[--] and tripped over the sidewalk. My cheeks flushed[,] as Bob pointed and laughed."//
I have strong reservations about propounding on grammar that strays further awry. The essay writer notes that the several "then" uses sound juvenile. The examples and overall essay, to me, read that way.
Rationale for grammar attention is probably warranted, two rationales, actually.
One, the more overt and tangible rationale, is for publication potential. Clunky grammar is an easy, probably the easiest decline.
Two, at an opposite extreme as regards a covert and intangible rationale, grammar for individual expression entails a fusion of prescriptive, personal, regional, and colloquial grammars suited to a writer, topic, a genre, an occasion, and an audience, and, more precisely, a tone -- an emotional attitude.
Writers who plateau on a grammar dilemma waver between more sophisticated, formal, emotionally inert expression and more casual, informal, emotionally charged expression, and are daunted by the cornucopia of grammar principles and exceptions. Net result, they fall back on natively acquired colloquial and somewhat limited grammar knowledge. A not so impractical strategy that. In fact, that back-to-basics strategy becomes a practical strategy for adjustment when all else fails.
Back to the basics is a reasonable strategy when a clunky diction selection or sentence syntax, or paragraph, etc., causes, say, one or more of our host Orson Scott Card's So what? Huh? Oh yeah? consequences.
So what? or why should I, a reader, care? A matter of tension's empathy or sympathy and curiosity emotional engagement mostly. Grammar contributes to emotional engagement through diction and syntax principles, content and organization, too, plus craft and voice, and tone, in particular. Emotionally charged parts of speech: verbs, adverbs, and adjectives, mostly.
Huh? The matter is confusion. From what? Readers don't know what's happening; what's happening is arranged in a confused, unnatural, unnecessary, or improbable sequence, or misses a natural, necessary, or probable sequence segment or segments.
Oh yeah? The matter is disbelief -- lost willing suspension of disbelief. Again, the matter is part unnatural, unnecessary, or improbable content or missing natural, necessary, or probable content, or more than one of the above. Part, too, underdeveloped reality imitation: who, when, where context, and what, why, how texture.
Punctuation plays a part too: judicious and timely use of the mighty style dash, periods, commas, too, and interrogative question marks, less so, if any, rhetorical questions. Few, if any, colons, semicolons, exclamation marks, and ellipsis points, plus judiciously limited discretionary italics and bold formats. Quotation marks for emphasis are another mark that, best practice, is limited for prose use, best practice reserved for direct speech citation only -- dialogue and as per se monologue or soliloquy. The rationale for such punctuation considerations is flow, where punctuation pauses or delays, perhaps stalls or stops flow movement, or enhances flow.
Therein, syntax serves for a filter strategy; that is, sentence type: simple subject-predicate or subject-predicate-object, complex, compound, periodic, or loose complex-compound sentences, or sentence fragments. Short simple sentences flow faster than long complex or compound sentences. However, long sentences entail greater tension arc potentials; they contain preparation, suspension and anticipation, and satisfaction sequences intrinsically.
On the other hand, a now common everyday conversation speech practice is the "filibuster" method. The filibuster method invariably entails run-on sentences: several or many falsely fused ideas run together in a train-wreck chain-reaction collision, or at least two ideas wrecked together in a two or more vehicle pileup, like a sedan and a pickup truck, or two sedans, one a VW bug and the other a Benz, maybe a Ferrari sports car and a tractor-trailer road train rig.
Filibuster speech intends no interruption, holds the floor, so to speak, bogarts, hogs -- disallows anyone else's speech. The speech method streams many ideas together as if unpunctuated, pauses hearers wait and listen for opportunities to interject and interrupt. Listeners, however, genuinely listen, if a speaker has a meaningful point and does not too much rudely filibuster. It -- life, prose, expression -- is a conversation, ideally, not a monologue lecture. This is H.P. Grice's cooperation maxims in all their glory: quantity, quality, relevance, and manner.
For a prose method, perhaps, the filibuster intent is to not let readers off the "hook." The opposite transpires, though; prose readers put down filibuster narratives, part from contraventions of Card's So what? Huh? and Oh yeah? maxims, and part from contraventions of Grice's.
Punctuation serves to adjust run-ons, whether separate sentences' periods and timely question marks, or dashes, commas, perhaps semicolons or colons, suitably placed. Albeit, a prior consideration is whether content is fully realized and whether content is artfully organized.
Run-ons are readily identified by uses of conjunction words, perhaps prepositions, and, occasionally, semicolons, and commas or missing punctuation. The pivot and distinction of substance for run-ons is a false connection between two or more sentence main ideas. One main idea per sentence; related main ideas in separate sentences, same paragraphs; and modifier ideas, one or so per simple or complex, compound, or complex-compound sentence.
The clause subordination principle is most on point for prose complex or compound sentences and adjustment strategies for run-ons. Which idea is the main idea and which the subordinate idea, or ideas? Clause type and position then indicate which punctuation separation type and where placed and organized. Start, middle, or sentence end?
The scandalous "as" conjunction spliced sentence from the essay linked above, which idea is the main one? Which clause is subordinate and therefore placed in a subordinate position? For example illustrations:
"My cheeks flushed as Bob pointed and laughed."
Clearly, two main ideas, one is more subordinate than the other, might place first. Causation is a consideration for adjustment. Bob's "pointed and laughed" partly reacts to the "my's" clumsy stumble and embarrassment and the my's cheeks flush is a reaction to Bob's reaction and the stumble. Which naturally and necessarily comes first, and which second, and in what sequence afterward?
The stumble, Bob's reaction, then the my's reaction to both is the natural sequence. Ergo, Bob's reaction transpires after the stumble and before the cheeks flush. Besides, a cheeks flush is a visual sensation the "my" cannot possibly view. Burned maybe, or similar tactile sensation: naturally and necessarily. That's a matter that raises a Huh? confusion.
The run-on intends a simultaneous sequence, one; intends a stronger connection between two main ideas than separate sentences would imply, two; and three, is further problematized by several quick succession "and" conjunctions.
"I shut the car door _and_ tripped over the sidewalk. My cheeks flushed _as_ Bob pointed _and_ laughed."
Or, if the suitable coordination conjunction "and" substituted for the clunky "as":
"I shut the car door _and_ tripped over the sidewalk. My cheeks flushed _and_ Bob pointed _and_ laughed."
Or a full filibuster method, "I shut the car door _and_ tripped over the sidewalk _and_ my cheeks flushed _and_ Bob pointed _and_ laughed."
Too many "ands" in any case. Polysyndeton can be rhetorical virtue or grammatical vice, is the vice of several main ideas that are conjunction spliced in this case.
"shut the car door and tripped over the sidewalk" is also intended as simultaneous or at least quick succession sequential actions and cannot be simultaneous -- is two separate and distinct actions and ideas, is best practice separated.
Bob's point and laugh naturally is contemporaneous actions and ideas. That phrase alone is logical in those senses. However, it is out of natural sequence, and out of dramatic sequence. The below illustration is a natural and dramatic sequence, and each's main idea is contained within its natural sentence.
//I shut the car door, turned toward the sidewalk, tripped over the street curb -- sprawled across the pavement. Bob pointed and laughed. My cheeks burned.//
The first sentence's four sequential actions, first three, a triplet, that cause the fourth, is a matter of implication; that is, three, ideally, or more serial list items imply sequential actions. Two items is vague as to whether the intent is sequential or contemporaneous actions.
There's that Huh? confusion quandary. In isolation, a scarce few doublets could be artful; however, such doublets accumulate confusion. Prescriptively, the doublet and doublets like it take a separation, a dash or comma, usually.
//shut the car door -- and tripped over the sidewalk//
//shut the car door, and tripped over the sidewalk//
Or, if blurted in one uninterruptible filibuster spurt (note, commas' verbal equivalent is "and" in this context):
//I shut the car door and turned toward the sidewalk and tripped over the street curb and sprawled across the pavement; and Bob pointed and laughed; and my cheeks burned.//
Horrid filibuster, though. Otherwise, targeted toward a younger audience's colloquialisms:
//I shut the car door, turned toward the sidewalk, and tripped over the street curb -- sprawled across the pavement. Bob pointed and laughed. My cheeks burned.//
De copia, of abundance, exercises, as above, finds an artful satisfaction.
One more point of note: In my experience, writers who focus on grammar often polish out the lively vigor of prose. A by-default many decide to leave grammar unpolished in the first place or restore a narrative's unconventional grammar. Not necessarily too artless choices; however, a choice often not considered is to then enhance by artful grammar adjustment.
Three choice areas: Use only one's own natural, if colloquial, native grammar; use a fusion of one's own and a global uniform grammar, emphasis on one's own native grammar or emphasis on uniform grammar; or use both one's own and a uniform, if colloquial, prose grammar to best artful and reader audience effects.
The "as" quandary, for example. For me, the substantive matter is that "as" coordination conjunction use is a bland, common, lackluster everyday conversation feature. For adjustment, add spice. Spice added, both correlation and coordination conjunction, a correlation between two verbs herein, ambiguous ambivalence, for example:
//My cheeks burned -- as the manhole Bob erupted, and pointed and laughed.//
Season grammar to attitude taste, writer and reader audience sensibilities, in other words.
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Has anyone checked out the app Grammarly? It's a free app that's supposed to help fix your grammar and make your writing more compelling. I get ads for it on youtube occasionally.
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Grammarly's substantive pros are that the app is a more advanced -- exponentially one multiplier further -- grammar checker compared to standard word processor grammar apps and plugins, its flashcard boxes "teach" self-correction skills (assuming writers study and learn from the error hits and suggestions, don't merely take the hits at face value -- trust by default), and is better than no grammar checker, app or editor, at all.
The app's cons are numerous, most substantively, the matter of whether the app is sufficiently comprehensive to live up to its claims. Nope. Advancement from the several dozen areas general grammar checkers scope to several hundred is an advance; comprehensive grammar principles range into many thousands, three further degrees of exponential depth. Even the most comprehensive grammar handbooks cover less than eight-tenths of grammar principles.
How much grammar skill is enough? For prose writers, more than any app yet can cover, maybe enough from several grammar handbooks and other basic linguistic sciences and arts studies.
Grammar checker apps' singular shortfall is an inability to process figurative expression. Only perceptive human minds can, which is essential for artful prose's poetic expression parameters, satire of whatever form at least, not to mention, the needs of large scale dramatic structure unity, coherence, concision, and the intense and lively condensate of an economy of words, and which machine algorithms cannot evaluate.
For example, Jane Austin's opening line from Pride and Prejudice. "It is a truth universally acknowledged, _that_ a single man _in_ possession _of_ a good fortune, must be _in_ want _of_ a wife." (Underscores bracket wordiness.) Wordiness therein affirms the line entails more than meets the eye, affirms the satire the narrative overall is truly about, too, and more irony than any machine can comprehend. Not to mention, several commas are misplaced; maybe Grammarly would hit on those comma errors and the wordiness or not, not on the irony nor the figurative meaning prose entails and demands. The matter of the syntax expletive "It", too, also wordiness, Grammarly might or might not hit on.
Adjusted: //It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.// Or: //It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that a single man, in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.//
The latter emphasizes the irony more due to placement of the sentence adverb phrase and first preposition clause separation commas signal parenthetical asides -- of the narrator's ironic attitude, and are grammatically sound. However, the original conforms to journalism's standard grammar, which omits some of dependent content's punctuation separation in the interest of saving space, usually an antecedent comma, and is a common contravention of the reading and comprehension ease law. Obviously, Austin took punctuation cues from periodical publications.
I won't acquire Grammarly; most because, to me, I think it and all grammar checkers foster lazy habit. I did learn more than I knew, at first, from grammar checkers; they soon fell short, though. Rationales for recommending grammar checkers is that they do "teach" more grammar aptitude skills than an average writer has at hand, and they're more convenient than a bookshelf of language handbooks, manuals, and dictionaries.