The There Transformation and Cleft Sentences

The There Transformation and Cleft Sentences.

Today I’m going to be talking about a fairly contentious issue in writing. No, it isn’t adverbs. For quite a long while—so long that I don’t know when I first heard it—one particular sentence has been known as one of the worst ever:

It was a dark and stormy night.

Why is such an innocuous sentence so vilified? Because it starts with a pronoun that comes BEFORE the antecedent? (“It” comes before “storm.”) Possibly. Today I’m going to discuss why there is nothing wrong with that sentence structure.

But first, I’m going to talk about what’s known as the expletive there.

A quick definition: An expletive, a term that commonly describes many of what we call “bad” words, has a specific grammatical meaning: “a word that enables the writer or speaker to shift the stress in a sentence or to embed one sentence in […]

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Sentence Structure — the Musical Soundtrack to our Writing

We talked a bit about sentence structure at one of the Cons this year, discussing how important it is to know the various ways to string words together. Sentence structure is one of the most important tools in the writer’s tool box. In fact, sentence structure is the background music to the movie of our book. It sets pace, rhythm, and voice. It also contributes to the character and narrative voice. It can’t be over emphasized. But it is almost always under emphasized.

Let me illustrate.

The info I (the writer) want to convey to the audience (the readers) in the opening of a short story is:

Jane Yellowrock has a Harley named Bitsa. Jane is riding Bitsa to a meeting withLeo Pellissier (her boss, a vampire, who bit her once). Jane is in a hurry, driving through NOLA past Jackson Square. It is raining and humid and the city […]

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Breaking Grammar Rules: Sentence Fragments

When Scribe suggested I did a post on sentence fragments, my first thought was that I didn’t have enough to say about the subject. But as many of you have learned to your considerable chagrin, I’m a word guy, and there is no subject on earth on which I won’t wax eloquent if given the right pulpit. So, dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to talk about fragments.

Full disclosure: I am not what my students sometimes refer to as a “grammar Nazi.” Brits in general tend to view grammar as descriptive rather than prescriptive (i.e. we see it as essentially describing common usage, not as legislating what common usage should be). Grammar changes overtime as language evolves and you won’t find me getting hot under the collar over pedantic fights over whether to split infinitives no man has split before. (For the record, that particular complaint is derived […]

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Writing the Basics. Sentence Structure, Paragraph Structure and Why they Matter

My subject this week is paragraph and sentence structure. I know, you suddenly have visions of your 5th grade teacher, who looked a lot like Marge Simpson but without the cool style and hip clothes. The smell of chalk or water-based-board markers (pick your toxins: one has particulates that get in your lungs, one kills brain cells) is suddenly fresh, and you are instantly nostalgic for plaid uniforms, worn jeans with marijuana leaf patches stitched on, or butt-crack-revealing baggy pants, depending on your age and school memories.

I am not actually talking here about subject-verb-object, nor about compound, complex, fragmented, or similar constructs. I’m not even talking about what a paragraph is.

[ Come to think of it, however, I have been asked about that offline. If you want that kind of basic info, or need a refresher because you have been out of school for a long while, there […]

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