Confession: I know/remember little about English grammar. Like math, I think any of the grammatical structures I learned in my formative years have since leached out of me like salt from a marathon runner.
This is on my mind because late last month I was in a graduate writing class and we were looking at a poem by W.B. Yeats. As we worked though Yeats’ use of metaphor and line breaks, our professor suggested we look at Yeats’ use of verbs. I looked down at the five stanzas lying in front of me. Instead of looking at Yeats’ verbs I began clearing the cobwebs – verbs…verbs…oh yes, action verbs…verbs ‘do something’ – it was like I was having to remember how to figure a percentage or convert a fraction to a decimal.
(BTW…Corporate America is who I blame. They have stupefied me with an excess of emails and meetings.)
My wife edits my writing. All my drafts go through her. This blog post was proofread and edited by her. You are fortunate for that. She said she is trying to teach me to quit spreading commas like grass seed.
I feel like a plumber who doesn’t know the difference between the fresh water line and the sewage main; doesn’t know when to use putty or epoxy. Does that metaphor carry? Does the one I used in the first lines about the marathon runner carry? Do I need to study up on metaphor, too?
So, I am going to take action (no word play intended). I have what I think is a good English grammar text called “English Grammar – Principles and Facts” by Jeffrey P. Kaplan. I got it at the bookstore at IU Fort Wayne about 20 years ago. It is fairly readable. I think I’m going to begin to hack my way through it.
My motivation is more than avoiding feelings of stupidity, although that will be a fine peripheral outcome. I want to be able to look at my writing from a technical as well as aesthetic perspective. Grammar is important. It affords predictable clarity to writing and gives ideas structure. I am a writer. I ought to know how the words I’m using are related to each other and see where I can improve the mechanics.
Tough to argue with that. [sentence fragment]