The Toolbox -- Free For All

Oh, good idea.

(she's probably better educated than I am... and I'm sure the Professor uses the subjunctive)
At the risk of receiving something nasty in the post from Switzerland (;)), perhaps I should quote the Third Edition (1931) of The King's English (Fowler & Fowler), page 163 of the 1973 paperback:
We have purposely refrained until now from invoking the subjunctive, because the word is almost meaningless to Englishmen**, the thing having so nearly perished.
And then, on page 166:
The use of true subjunctive forms (if he be, though it happen) in conditional sentences is for various reasons not recommended. These forms, with the single exception of were, are perishing so rapidly that an experienced word-actuary*** puts their expectation of life at one generation. As a matter of style, they should be avoided, being certain to give a pretentious air when handled by anyone except the skilful and practiced writers who need no advice from us. And as a matter of grammar, the instinct for using subjunctives rightly is dying with the subjunctive, so that even the still surviving were is often used where it is completely wrong.

I'm so pleased that my WiPs - the Earth-set bits, that is - are set in the near future, not pre-1931.

** - I've have noticed your gender and location, Hex, but this is a direct quote. ;)

*** - Dr Henry Bradley, The Making of English, p.53.
Death to subjunctives! English is a non-inflected language of the West Germanic group, originally spoken by enormous, beer drinking men with huge beards who feared nothing (including death at the hands of Grendel's mother) and flaxen haired ladies who could milk the pigs whilst dandling a child and producing illuminated manuscipts the like of which the world had never seen.

To try and fix Latinate rules of grammar onto such a tongue is akin to trying to drive a combine harvester through the eye of a needle.


Fair enough - but there is a half-serious point behind it all.

The rules of middle and modern English grammar do indeed conform to Latinate rules. As a direct result of the Norman Conquest, English was open to massive influence from the tongue which later became French - a Romance (rather than a Germanic) language. Romance languages are all based in Latin (and Greek), but Germanic languages are not generally so tied.

The inherent problem is that the rules necessary for the clear use of an inflected language like Latin often do not fit with a non-inflected language like English, which has no need for many of those rules due to the fact that meaning is gathered primarily from word order rather than from word endings. Rules are needed in inflected languages so that the sentence "Plastic kicks ball Brian a blue" makes perfect sense and conveys the idea that you are kicking a blue, plastic ball.

Some of the rules can be made to fit. But when it comes to things like subjunctives, gerundives and even cases, we are drifting into fairly esoteric territory to say the least!

This is why I (pretend to) favour a return to Old English!


Your spellchecker won't help you.

When I'm not hammering commas into all interstices, or complaining about them in splices, or the occasional possessive apostrophe, I spend a fair – no, actually a completely unfair – amount of my critiques time bullying homophones. I should probably have left this article to the bear, who specialises in them (generating them, that is, rather than correcting them) but since he doesn't seem to have seen fit…

The English language developed from a marriage between two indo-european roots, already polluted with Celtic and Scandinavian influences, one Germanic and one Latin based, and spent the next nine hundred years steal – adopting extra words from any other languages it came in contact with, or, when all else failed, inventing new ones.

Which explains why it is the most flexible, diverse and synonym-rich means of communication on the planet, but also why its spelling is frequently somewhat illogical, and the fact that a number of sets of words, coming from different origins by convergent evolution, can sound exactly the same while having completely different meanings.

Which is fine when they're {there, their} spelt the same; but this is not always the case.

I'm not going to attempt to point out all of them; the list at has over four hundred and forty groups (and misses "canon–cannon", which leaves me wondering if I have been pronouncing one of them incorrectly for years, or should be checking for other oversights, or citing othersites), most of them pairs/pears/pares, but some triples and quadruples, but draw attention to the more common reoffenders. I suspect anyone who chooses to use the word "caul", for example, is not going to get it confused with "call".

Probably the most common (and illogical enough to be accepted as an example of English grammar) is the possessive "its" that lacks the apostrophe, "it's" being reserved for contractions (usually "it is", but occasionally "it has"). "Whose/who's" is the same case, but less frequently used. Then "your/you're" (we won't bother about "yore" or "yaw" right now), which at least one long-term Chronite has not yet mastered (or possibly doesn't know where the ' key is [difficult if you keep changing keyboards]) Everybody's missed a "to/two/too" at some time, and I own up to having posted a "hear" for a "here"; your fingers know the word exists, your eyes and spell checker say it's spelled wright; and, of course, it is. Its just knot thee write whirred. two bee shore. (Hmm, they didn't get "shore/sure/Shaw", either, nor "whirred"),

For some reason "peek", a sly glance, and "peak" the top bit of a mountain get frequently confused, as do "through" and "threw" (how did those end up sounding the same?).

Not all of the problems are genuine homophones, of course; sometimes they don't even sound the same. Using "then" for "than", for example, or "where" (in which location, homophones wear and ware) for "were" (past tense plural of the verb "to be – yes, I know, but technically "you" are plural and "thou" art singular – which nobody would spell "whirr"). Or the use of of "of" instead of "have" when decontracting "would've".

We are politely tolerant to Hope as she bakes flower (or doesn't bawl) (it's all right, I asked permission to take the mick) but I wonder if any of us really understand what it must be like not having that little flash of "that's not right" light up behind our eyebawls? (well, possibly not all like me, where it can dazzle out a fair percentage of reading). And we all do it, anyway. Hey, word processor developers, how about a "this is in my homophones directory, highlight and click on it and you get dictionary function telling you what the word means" as is in my Kindle? A whole lot more use to writers than some of your grammar rules and the like.

Postscript:- "Chute/shoot", and what are they doing with "cymbol" for "cymbal"? "Passed" and "past" give regular problems, "pray/prey", and I've seen "warred" written as "ward". No, this list I've come up with is not adequate.
2) Use a conjunction preceded by a comma .... "It was a balmy summer's night, and the clouds dreamily crawled across the sky."

I was taught UK English and have always believed that conjunctions don't need a preceding comma. Later, I came to understand that U.S. English uses the leading comma.

Personally, I find a comma followed by a conjunction to be a little hic-coughy and use 'em only when I am breaking a thought.

There are no rules as to:-

1. Length of novel

2. Fitting a particular genre

3. The number of subplots you can have

4. The number of characters you can have

5. Needing a prologue in fantasy

6. Pretty much anything else

The only thing that matters is that you can tell a good story in an entertaining and clear way. You can headhop, info dump, tell not show and do anything else you please, provided you are still telling a good story in an entertaining and clear way.

Many writers find it much more difficult to achieve this aim if they are headhopping etc, but there are no bans, no rules and no hidden ceremonies in which the Secrets of Writing are revealed to cloaked cabals of bearded men and women with wooden bangles.

It's all about the story.


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My God I just read through this thread to help me with my poorly-lacking writing skills and I have to say you guys are completely brilliant! :D

This has been a gold mine! A bible to how writing should be!

I am so glad I checked this out :D
Spring's nice rule on action:

Re. dialogue punctuation, if you're continuing to a descriptor of the speech, it's a comma so:

"It's my turn," she said. Or

She said, "It's my turn."

If you're going on to an action, it's a full stop:

"It's my turn." She stood up. or

She stood up. "It's my turn."
dialogue punctuation

I'm sure it's in here a lot, but I thought I've been working on it a bit recently, and it is the only technical thing I'm confident at, so I'd stick up a post. (how brave am I? in the toolbox - garghh.)

If you are using a dialogue tag like he said, commented, asked, added, confirmed, then its a comma either before the dialogue:

He said, "You're getting ideas above your station, Springs."

or a comma at the end:

"You're getting ideas about your station, Springs," he said.

If the he said is in the middle of a sentence like this it's a run on, so a comma at each side

"I've noticed," he said, "that you're getting ideas above your station."

If its a disrupted speech that isn't a run on sentence ie is two seperate sentence then it's a comma before the dialogue tag and then a full stop and a capital to start the next sentence.

"I've noticed you're getting ideas above your station," he said. "I have to say, it's making me nervous."

action tags

If, instead of a dialogue tag you're using action at the start or end, the comma is replaced by a full stop. So:

"I'm getting ideas above my station." Springs stood up and made for the exit.


Springs stopped at the door. "And now they're probably getting quite boring."

If you have an interrupted sentence with an action tag it's full stops.

"I'm getting near the end." She chewed her pen. "Which can't be a bad thing."

And if you have an exclamation mark or a question mark they take the place of either or the full stop.


"Above my station!" She flounched out.
"How dare you!" she exclaimed and flounched out.

And lastly, Harebrain's advice, which I use all the time for checking:
if it doesn't read right when you take out the actions or dialogue tags, the punctuation isn't right.

Right, need to lie down now. The toolbox... I'll need a year to recover. J.
I have read this thread in full today** and I must thank, Peter, TJ, Ursa and all the others for their contributions.

It's going to be a big help.

And're the daddy!!

Get ready for a garython of questions and examples.


**And a slap to myself for not reading it sooner**
Anybody got thoughts on the grammar of this sentence. Have I got it right?

The guards overpowered Barns and dragged him downstairs; muffled threats came from him as he was led to the cells. ‘You’ll get what’s coming to you if it’s the last thing that I do. You hear me boy,’ he screamed.

NOTE: Barns is Jamaican:)
The semi colon isn't wrong, though I'd probably use a full stop and re-write the "muffled threats" line to make it better as a stand alone (if you just put a full stop in there now it wouldn't feel right with the "from him" in it). Two things wrong: a comma before "boy" and a question mark after -- it's a question, even if only rhetorical (ie not requiring an answer).

Erm... if I slip into critiquing mode I've a number of comments -- would you like me to nit pick? (Just tell me to shut up and go away, if you don't want me red-penning it)
Personally, I'd go:

The guards overpowered Barns and dragged him downstairs, ignoring his muffled threats as he was led to the cells.(it keeps the action with the guards which seemed easier continuity-wise. Actually, I'd drop the whole bit after threats as it's a little unwieldy - we'll see in a moment where he's going, I assume.)
"You'll get what's coming to me if it's the last thing I do," he screamed. "You hear me, boy?" (I'd drop the that to speed it along a little, and break the speech with a tag. Plus add a ? at the end, and a comma before boy.)
OK. I've rather gone to town...

The guards overpowered [I don't know how important this scene is, obviously, but this appears a little perfunctory if in fact something vital is happening here. If it's a brief scene going nowhere, then fine, otherwise a bit more action might help]
Barns and dragged him downstairs. [unless they are at the top of the stairwell at this point, don't they have to drag him out of a room first?]
uffled [why "muffled"? Is something over his mouth? Have they hooded him? If not, he might be out of breath from his exertions, or gasping in pain from the thumps in his stomach -- those things will give more of a feel of what's happening than "muffled" does]
threats [since we hear what he says, we shouldn't need telling that they're threats]
came: [from him] [we will assume he's the one threatening if you keep the "threats" line]
as he was led to the cells]
. [do we need to be told the cells are downstairs? Shouldn't we know that? If we don't then I'd add it after the "downstairs". And if he's being "dragged", he isn't being "led" which is a different process, and in any event is too weak a verb if he's still struggling as I imagine he is and they're manhandling him]
‘You’ll get what’s coming [to you] [the rhyme with "I do" at the end of the line is very jarring so I'd change one or the other]
if it’s the last thing [that] [unless you have already portrayed him as rather cultured, this "that" is out of place]
I do. [It's not a particularly inventive or interesting threat. Can't he come up with something a little more modern and frightening?]
You hear me, boy?[he screamed.] [three problems with this -- (a) it's best to add the dialogue tag at the end of the first spoken sentence, if not earlier, so here after "I do" would be better; (b) how is it "screamed" if his voice was "muffled"?; (c) in your version you've said the threats come "from him" so no dialogue tag is necessary anyway]

NOTE: Barns is Jamaican [erm... there's nothing here to suggest that in the slightest -- to me he sounds like an East End villain out of The Sweeney. I don't expect you to go all Jar Jar Binks on us, but if you're wanting him to come across as Jamaican I think you need to get his speech patterns/inflections reflected in his dialogue]
Hope there's something in there that might be of help!
Thanks everyone I should've set the scene first. Barns is a minor character in a character building chapter two of my protagonist.

Earlier I describe Barns as a Jamaican, dreadlochs etc. I only mentioned it in the note because I thought the "Do you hear me, boy?" would sound wrong otherwise. They do say boy don't they?:)

He has just been sentenced at the Old Bailey and is heading for the cells. (which I presumed the stairs are behind the dock?)

There are some good points in the comments above. I'll tweak it. I don't want a full action packed barny as it's not important. Freddy Bartlett is POV an he's watching the proceedings and narrating. Just want a simple sentence that sends Barns out of my book.

Is this any better:

The guards overpowered Barns, dragging him to the stairs, he resisted as they tried to force him down into the corridors below. ‘You’ll get what’s coming to you if it’s the last thing I do,’ he screamed. ‘You hear me, boy?’

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