Thursday, October 15, 2015

Unicorns & Myths

Unicorns, trolls, fairies . . . Mythical beasts capture the imagination of both children and adults. And no wonder, for they possess magical powers and uncanny abilities. However, these creatures don’t really exist. Some grammar rules also have become the stuff of legends. They are figments of the imagination, just as fire-breathing dragons are. 

Today, let’s separate myth from reality. Here are five widespread, but totally incorrect, grammar rules.

Myth: Nouns can’t modify other nouns.
Dog is a noun. Police is a noun. A police dog is a dog used by the police. Using a noun modifier usually indicates that one noun is part of something else. The dog described earlier is part of the police force.

Myth: The only way to make a plural is to add “s.”
One adds -es to nouns ending in -ch, -sh, -x, -z, or -s sounds to make them plural. The plural forms of other nouns, sometimes called mutated plurals, have different spellings than the singular form. For instance, “child” becomes “children” and “woman” becomes “women.” Perhaps the most interesting plural forms in the English language originate from Greek and Latin. The -i ending, as in fungi, and the -a ending, as in phenomena, come from these foreign languages.

Myth: The rules about when to use like/as are inflexible.
Much to the chagrin of some traditionalists who believe that like should be limited to an adjectival function, it is commonly used as a conjunction in colloquial speech and writing. In casual contexts, “You’re behaving as if you need a nap!” is synonymous with “You’re behaving like you need a nap.”

Myth: Always avoid adverbs!
Some writers receive criticism about overusing “weak” adverbs such as “really” and “very.” Ernest Hemingway was the most famous proponent of this rule, yet even he used adverbs from time to time. Here is an example from The Sun Also Rises:
Romero’s bull-fighting gave real emotion, because he kept the absolute purity of line in his movements and always quietly and calmly let the horns pass him close each time.

Yes, it is better to use “huge” than “very big” to describe an object. However, when writing dialogue or describing actions, sometimes adverbs are essential. The trick is to not overuse them. 

Myth: Strict rules govern the use of since and because.
Since is a synonym of because, but some writers frown on using it in such a way. Occasionally, it can cause ambiguity: “Since he left, I was sad.” This sentence can mean that you were sad because he left or that you were sad at some point between when he left and now. As long as you avoid ambiguous phrases, you can safely use since as a synonym of because.

Vampires, centaurs, jackalopes . . . It’s fun to picture these legendary creatures. However, let’s not confuse grammar myths with grammar rules. We don’t need those erroneous rules to write about our next fanciful fabrication!

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