08 November 2013

Friday things and a grammar rant

I currently have two short stories out on submission, and I'm working on revising a third, which I'd like to get out by Thanksgiving, possibly. This is highly unusual, because I don't generally write short fiction. Also, it's distracting me from finishing my current novel in progress, so I want to get it out of the way.

People who don't understand the difference between forms of to be as linking verbs, as past continuous, and as passive voice need to learn their grammar again. "was" does not mean "OMG PASSIVE VOICE! DELETE! DELETE!" I've run into people pontificating about the perils of the passive and how "was" is a terrible verb recently who clearly have no idea what they're talking about, so here's a little help.

For example, "The sky was a beautiful, brilliant blue the morning the world ended" does not contain passive voice, despite the presence of "was." It connects the sky (subject) to a predicate adjective (blue). Not passive! Yay!

"I was sitting at the table, drinking coffee and reading the paper, when the world ended" also does not contain passive voice. This is an example of the past continuous (aka past progressive), which indicates two things that happen simultaneously or one that is interrupted by the other. Not passive! Yay!

"When the world was invaded, billions of people were killed" is passive voice! Twice! Yay! If you can follow the verb with "by zombies" or "by aliens" or "by a swarm of killer bees" and have it make sense, then you have passive voice. Otherwise, you have either a linking verb or past progressive.

The world was invaded by aliens == makes sense == passive voice.

The sky was a beautiful blue by aliens == wtf? == not passive voice.

I was sitting at the table by aliens == wtf? == not passive voice.

This has been your grammar rant of the day.


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the clarification. :) Also, what's so bad about ending a sentence with a preposition? I've been trying to avoid it lately, but it's difficult. - Kim n

CD Covington said...

Ending a sentence with a preposition is not as evil as pontificaters would have you believe. A lot of the nonsense grammar rules exist because once upon a time (until about the 1940s), people forced English to obey Latin grammar rules, despite English not being a) Latin or b) a Romance language. (It's Germanic with a lot of vocabulary from Norman French, Latin, and Greek.)

That's where the nonsense rule about splitting infinitives (boldly to go vs to boldly go) and ending with prepositions comes from.

I saw a post somewhere recently (within the last month or two, I think, possibly on or via Language Log) about phrasal verbs such as "to come from" or "to put up with". They are a semantic unit (ie, they are a set phrase that conveys a specific meaning), so saying that "Where do you come from?" is ending with a preposition is somewhere between false and meaningless, especially because no one says things like "Whence do you come?" anymore.

(I think linguistics is really interesting, but I am not an expert. I know just enough to be dangerous.)

Anonymous said...

"I was sitting at the table by aliens == wtf?"

I don't get the wtf. Are you one of those humans-only bigots who think aliens should not be allowed to come into a cafe with other humans, and have a coffee and chat about the weather or politics? Personally, I have no problem sitting by aliens, or anyone else.

Camille said...

Hey you! You keep this up and I'll be out of a job! ;-)

CD Covington said...

Dear anonymous, sign your name or I shan't engage you.

Camille: All the grammar rant blogs in the world will not put copyeditors out of a job ;)