Always one to enhance my knowledge, I signed up for a grammar course. I also took it as the initial requisite to complete an editing certificate. With some spare time on my hands, I thought I could fill the gaps in my days with some freelance editing work. I have a few degrees. I’ve authored many papers. I write novels. Grammar is second nature—grammar is easy.
I can’t remember the last time I’ve studied so hard.
As I struggle through the homework, I discover unique things about myself. Things that I never would have reflected on had I not enrolled in the course. Yes, I’m talking about geeky things like grammar habits.
For one, I’m a comma splicer. I create run-on sentences by joining independent clauses with a comma but without a coordinating conjunction. In my defense, I swear that at some point forty years ago the dreaded comma splice method was okay. Why else would I have developed the habit of using it so much? I can still recite all the coordinating conjunctions, which means I know their function. Why would I have stopped using them and resorted to a simple mark when I committed so many brain cells to remembering them?
Second, I’m an infinitive splitter. Yes, I commit the crime of inserting a modifier between a “to” and a base form of a verb. And sometimes, when I’m feeling especially naughty, I even stick a modifying phrase between them. My textbook says there’s an exception when an alternative wording would sound unnatural. But I wonder—who determines what’s unnatural sounding? The warning of, “It’s a trap,” comes to mind. Imagine embracing the exception in my manuscript only to have an editor disagree with my interpretation of “sounding natural.”
And finally, I dangle phrases. Whether participial, prepositional-gerund, or infinitive, I have a tendency to muck up my meaning by leaving a phrase connected to the wrong actor. When I write, what I type makes sense in my head. Only when I look deeply at a sentence, especially ones which begin with verbal phrases, can I tell that I’ve dangled. And who has the time to deconstruct and diagram every sentence of a 100,000-word novel?
Yes, I know, an editor does.
As I reassess my initial thoughts about that editing certificate, I must admit that I’m not sorry I took this class. Since I’ve discovered my bad habits, I’ve been far more cognizant about them while I write. And although I might not catch everything, at least I might be able to reduce the red marks on the future manuscripts that an editor sends back to me.
Grammar—it’s not easy.