March 23, 2020
Subject-Object and Subject-Complement AgreementTOPICS: COPY EDITING, GRAMMAR, SUBJECT VERB AGREEMENT, SUBJECT-COMPLEMENT AGREEMENT, SUBJECT-OBJECT AGREEMENT
When we think of grammatical agreement, we usually think of how subjects should agree with verbs. But it's also important to make sure subjects agree with objects and complements, too. Here's what you need to know.
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The syntax of great writingPosted by June on March 23, 2020
LABELS: GRAMMAR, THE JOY OF SYNTAX
It is a truth universally acknowledged that great writers make fools out of great editors.
Great editors say, “Avoid passive voice.” Then a writer like Ian McEwan starts Atonement with a whopper of a passive in the very first sentence: “The play—for which Briony had designed the posters, programs, and tickets, constructed the sales booth out of a folding screen tipped on its side, and lined the collection box in red crepe paper—was written by her in a two-day tempest of composition, causing her to miss a breakfast and a lunch.”
Editors say you should use correct punctuation. Yet Cormac McCarthy dispenses with apostrophes at will.
An editor who noticed a writer switching from the third-person to the second-person would fix it immediately. Yet in Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut switches from his third-person narration to directly command the reader in the second-person imperative: “Listen.”
Some editors (present company included) would tell you to avoid cleft sentences, which start with “it is,” then relegate the meatiest information to a subordinate clause. Yet Jane Austen, in Pride and Prejudice, got away with “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
The remarkable part: in every instance, the defiance pays off. Each of these sentences is far better than any by-the-book rewrite could have produced.
Why do they work? Magic, mostly. But to see how, exactly, the magic manifests itself, you need a basic understanding of syntax. Here's a piece I did examining what these writers did and why it worked.
June Casagrande is a writer and journalist whose weekly grammar/humor column, “A Word, Please,” appears in community newspapers in California, Florida, and Texas. more
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