Here’s one that doesn’t really bother me when I see it in print, since it is not technically a grammatical error. However, when I see it happen in a manuscript I’m editing, I’m more likely than not going to Comment on it to the author, and suggest alternatives to make the prose a bit better. I refer to the tendency of far too many writers to end a sentence, and then essentially tack another piece onto it, beginning the new sentence with “and,” “but” or “so” (and yes, before I get any farther, my apologies to both Jackson Browne and Michael Johnson for that execrable wordplay in the title …).

Ah, you caught me! I just used “and” to begin a sentence; however [not “but” even though grammatically, it could have been used here], you might also notice I did so after preceding it with an open parenthesis (which could have been a dash, in this case), AND I made no attempt to pass it off as a complete sentence (no capital, no period at the end).

I think that for me this goes back to grammar school (that would be Crescent Park School in Bethel, Maine: a shoutout to my comrades from those times and others—a lot of whom already read this blog (and this after only one plug on the Facebook group page upon which we all share and reminisce; now who said I know nothing about marketing?))

Where was I? Oh yes, how I came to this conclusion. Well, back then (as is the case on the middle school-and-up essay papers I’ve been scoring each spring and early summer for the last decade) using “And…” to start a new sentence was a sure-fire way to get the teacher to scrawl “run-on” across your paper. (In the case of the more recent test-essays, it may lower the “wholistic” score of the paper, almost as low as leaving out the periods entirely does, though not nearly as much as it once did!)

The idea was pretty basic: if you have more to say about a particular thing, maybe the sentence isn’t over yet. If you’ve made the point, and then there’s another of equal value, maybe it’s just part of a series of phrases, not two separate sentences.

On the other hand, if you’ve made your point, and then have an exception to it, maybe you just toss in a comma (let’s hold off on semi-colons for another entry; the errors involving those go much deeper than this!) and continue with “but” followed by laying out that exception. (Similarly, if one sentence sets up a conclusion, let the “so” stand as an addition, not a sentence all its own.)

Okay, smart guy, what happens when you’ve already gone on long enough with a sentence, and the next section is really too long to stay in the same breath with the first part? What then?

Good question, and I have a pretty good answer. How about the much more descriptive words, the ones that really deserve to be at the head of a sentence (or in a compound sentence, leading the second phrase after that semi-colon I promised I wasn’t gonna talk about now … downshift … back in flow …).

I refer to perfectly good words like “however,” “meanwhile,” “instead,” “furthermore,” “nevertheless” and “therefore” (use “thus” only if you’re overly pedantic). Or how about the introductory phrases that can carry just a little of their own clout: “As a result,” “Whatever the case,” “For that matter” and others of that ilk?

By now you may have figured out that I’m not just on a crusade for literacy; in my dream, people start getting back to learning how to communicate by using their own vocabularies, reaching a little bit for the stronger word that expresses exactly how they feel about something, instead of just vaguely so. Maybe this aspect of word-stretching is secondary to that quest; maybe I’m just babbling away about trivial matters; maybe this was a topic that deserved three sentences in passing, not an entire blog-page.

To paraphrase that dreadfully abused and distorted slogan (from that 3-letter network many of us despise): I exhort, you decide. Comments welcome, both here and elsewhere.

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