Just when things start sweetly seeming settled, a new adventure unfolds: I am back in the college English classroom, filling in for a colleague struggling with health issues. I am pleased to say my colleague’s on the mend, and having a chance, after five years, to work with English students has been a treat.
AND–my brief teaching stint has also been a reminder of writing challenges students face! I find myself writing the same notes on papers, a LOT. Don’t be a dangler, I might say, or, watch your run-ons. Be sure, I might add, you remember how to indicate when something is a title of a major work.
The dangling occurs when we separate a phrase that enhances our understanding of the SUBJECT by putting it after the OBJECT.
So….we might say…
…She walked by the tree with a frowning face.
We might relate that…
…He gave the medicine to the baby with a spoon.
Or, we might even share that…
…She sat on the couch with a dish of ice cream.
And when we do, we’re talking about a grumpy tree, a spoon flailing bambino, and a couch that likes its dairy treats. Maybe we could amend somehow; say…
Frowning, she walked past the big sycamore on Oak Street.
He spooned the medicine into the crying baby’s mouth.
She took her dish of ice cream and settled onto the living room couch.
Each time the rewrite offers clarity. The initial version might elicit [unwanted] chuckles, and it might also deflect from getting our writers’ intentions across.
Sentences run on not because they’re too long, but because they are joined without the proper connectors. If two independent clauses, or complete sentences, are fused incorrectly, that forms a run-on.
I am, so is he.
These are two tiny but robustly independent phrases, ineffectively linked. No worries, however: we have many ways to fix ’em.
We could make two sentences:
I am. So is he.
We could add a conjunction.
I am, but so is he.
We could use that nice crisp punctuation tool, the semi-colon.
I am; so is he.
Ahhh….we’re saved again from the slippery slope of running on.
Finally, I’ve noticed a lot of confusion about how to designate titles of works. The old rule told us to underline the titles of major works, and to put quotes around titles of short works. That was in the days of typewriters, however; now we italicize the major works’ titles. The shorter works’ titles get the traditional treatment.
He was amazed that she enjoyed The Martian.
She loved the track “Hallelujah” from Leonard Cohen’s Greatest Hits.
The class is on “Chapter Eight: The Mighty Apostrophe and Its Many Uses” in the Dandy Old College English Textbook.
None of these are considerations that ought to slow us down when words are flowing. Afterwards, though, when we’ve given our manuscripts time to settle and cool, we can go back with a discerning eye and edit.
None of these are major, catastrophic issues, either, but, layered, they weaken our authority. The reader thinks, “Hmmm. If she’s weak in her writing, can she be weak in her content, too?” The answer may well be a resounding no, but we may have lost the reader’s confidence if the narrative bumps over tiny troubles.
“But it’s a HABIT,” one of the students wailed this morning, when I underlined a run-on. Red pen in hand, I looked at her, oh, so, sympathetically.
“Yes,” I said, softly, “and it’s time for you to break it.”
Happy blogging my friends!
#Grammar and usage