I get this… but I just don’t GET it

Part four of my series that looks to apply every single rule from Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style to my manuscript. Today, rules 9, 10 & 11.

First of all, I shall admit that these last few rules on Elementary Rules of Usage are, for me, quite a ways from being elementary. In other words, I don’t really understand them. I can study rule 9 and place it into the context of my manuscript, but the others…? We’ll see.

Rule 9. The number of the subject determines the number of the verb.

Sounds simple doesn’t it? Well yes it is, but I was still picked up by my editor on a couple of points in the first few chapters of my manuscript..

Example: The Royal Navy was renowned for its hatred of those bothersome little things called law courts,

Initially I’d written, The Royal Navy were renowned for their hatred of those bothersome little things called law courts.

You can see where I went wrong: there are many components to the Royal Navy, prompting me to use ‘were’, but of course the Royal Navy is singular, therefore the correct use of the verb is ‘was’.

S&W hightlight many ways in which writers get this wrong, and all I can say is, get yourself an editor. They’re the ones who know about all of this.

Screen Shot 2015-08-04 at 14.23.57Rule 10. Use the proper case of pronoun.

I know what S&W are saying here, but I can’t really say much more about this rule. Let’s move on.

Rule 11. A participle phrase at the beginning of a sentence must refer to the grammatical subject.

Oooooh kay. Honestly, even looking at the examples provided for this one, I’m still confused. So, once again, moving swiftly on…

…let’s now move onto the Elementary Principles of Composition.

Elementary Principles of Composition.

Rule 12. Chose a suitable design and hold to it.

It’s a wee bit late to apply this rule to my manuscript, as my novel is already finished. But the premise here is have yourself a skeleton of where you want to go and build the flesh of your writing around that. This naturally holds itself in place if you’re a plotter, but as a panster (like myself) you need to pay a little more attention to this rule. As S&W say, writing, to be effective, must closely follow the thoughts of the writer, but not necessarily the order in which those thoughts occur.

Yup; that’s me.

It’s a bit like this…

Next time, rules 13, 14 & 15 begin to cover the use of language itself and less the use of grammar (thank goodness).

Thanks for reading.

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4 comments on “I get this… but I just don’t GET it

  1. Robert says:

    Love Strunk & White. Read it about 100 times and need to keep doing it 🙂

    • gpeynon says:

      Hmmm. I don’t know if I could read it 100 times. I am enjoying this way of doing it, though. It allows me to (a) read the book (b) understand it better as I apply the rules (c) Improve my MS. Three birds…

  2. Anonymous says:

    Rule #11 is a pet peeve of mine, so maybe I can help with a weird example:

    “Inside a hollow mushroom, Martin found the fairies’ leader.” Per Rule 11, the modifying phrase must apply to Martin (the subject of the sentence). So this technically says, “When Martin was inside a hollow mushroom, he found the fairies’ leader”.

    What the writer intends to say is this: “Martin found the fairies’ leader inside a hollow mushroom.” Putting the modifying phrase closest to the noun it describes is a way of (almost) always getting it right.

    It’s definitely one of those rules that isn’t taught in school any more — not that too much grammar is at all!

    • gpeynon says:

      Yes, it seems that grammar was thrown out with the grammar schools. This is a good example, thanks. Amazing how the two sentences can conjure up two completely different situations.

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