Sunday, July 02, 2006

Grammar tip: on being too clever...

The usual Sunday grammar or style tip...

I have just been through my copyedit of "The Shadow of Tyr". And I bless my wonderful copy editor who has the eyesight of an eagle after a mouse when it comes to picking up mistakes... Inevitably, there are some mistakes that crop up where I have been too smart for the good of the copy.

We all know about the use of the subjunctive changing the form of the verb "to be" - like this:

If I were a writer, I would want to write a book like that.
He would be ecstatic, if he were published.

Normally, we would say "was" with the subject "I" or "he", but not in these above examples. Why not? Because they are conditional [subjunctive] constructions using the "if"...."would" form. In these above sentences, using "were" is correct grammar.

But I went overboard and used "were" with "he" in this construction:
He wasn't sure if he were successful.
But that's not a subjunctive sentence! No "would". No sense of "if this happened, then that would happen". I was just being too smart without thinking about what I was doing. And ended up wrong.
Correct: He wasn't sure if he was successful.

One other problem I have is with separating "too" or "either" from the rest of the sentence.
As in a sentence like this:
He was riding a camel too.
or:
He wasn't riding a camel either.

I have a tendency to stick in the comma all the time - which is not a good idea. It's easy to be wrong. I'll talk about this more next week.

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