Thursday, May 7, 2015

Grammar 101: Grammar Jargon

Jessica Nelson

The world of editing and writing is fraught with fancy-schmancy jargon and technical terms. We learned many of these years ago in our English classes. We know what they are and how they are used—we just forget what they are called. So, today I am giving you a crash course in grammar jargon with help from the IFW editors and The Little, Brown Essential Handbook by Jane E. Aaron.

First, we will start with classic grammar terms no one actually remembers despite using them almost every day.

Gerunds: the –ing form of a verb used as a noun; usually proceeded by a possessive noun/pronoun. Ex. My husband is annoyed by my nightly snoring.

Present participle: the –ing form of a verb (and used as a verb). Ex. Since the weather is nice, Susie is working in the garden today.

Past participle: the –ed form of a verb. Ex. Rhonda graded so many undergraduate composition papers that she lost her faith in humanity’s ability to write correctly.

Ellipsis: a series of three periods, each separated by a space; looks like “. . .”; used to denote an omission of words, phrases, or entire sentences in nonfiction, and, in fiction, denotes the trailing off of a thought or a long pause. If the ellipsis occurs at the end of a sentence, the sentence-ending period is also included, creating a series of four periods separated by spaces (“. . . .”). Ex. Leila looked at the giant red F on the top of her paper. “But . . . I thought I did well . . .

Comma splice: when two main clauses are joined (or spliced) only by a comma, rather than a comma and conjunction. Ex. We loved the movie, the actors were okay. Should be: We loved the movie, but the actors were okay.

Homophone: words that sound exactly alike but have different meanings. Ex. principal/principle. The former is the head of administration at a school. The latter is “a comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption” (Definitions curtesy of Merriam-Webster online).

Homonym: a word that has multiple, different meanings. Ex. “fair.” We had an excellent time at the fair. vs. It’s not fair that my brother always gets what he wants.

Indefinite pronoun: a word that replaces a noun but does not refer to a specific person or thing; may be plural (e.g. both, few, many), plural or singular (e.g. all, any, none, some), or only singular (e.g. anyone, everyone, someone).

Misplaced modifier: A modifier modifies the noun closest to it. A modifier is considered misplaced if it modifies a different noun in a sentence. Ex. Ginger ate potatoes, mushrooms, and rice for dinner, lying on the sofa. “Lying on the sofa” is misplaced. As written, it modifies “dinner,” but it should modify Ginger. To correct, we’d write: Lying on the sofa, Ginger ate potatoes, mushrooms, and rice for dinner.

Dangling modifier: doesn’t sensibly modify anything in its sentence; may imply a subject, but does not explicitly name one, making the actual subject unclear. Ex. Walking down the street, the renovations to the neighborhood became apparent. This should say: As we walked down the street, the renovations to the neighborhood became apparent.

Synecdoche: figurative language that uses a part to represent the whole. Ex. using “the crown” to represent the monarchy or “a dollar” to represent money.

Now, we’re going to explain some terms you may have never heard before. That said, I’m sure you’ll be surprised to find you know what they are.

Bildungsroman: a coming-of-age story. Ex. pretty much any YA or teen novel.

Pastiche: a patchwork story; pieces taken from other authors’ works; generally refers to a paper with plagiarized parts. Ex. This blog (sort of), which uses term definitions from The Little, Brown Handbook, Merriam-Webster, and the lovely ladies at Inspiration for Writers, Inc., is a pastiche.

Head-hopping: a type of point of view breach; when the viewpoint character changes within a scene without first having a transition and invitation to foster that change; in the words of Sandy Tritt, “All head-hops are point-of-view breaches, but not all point-of-view breaches are head-hops. (If you would like more information about this, we are happy to send our tip sheet on “Point of View,” which also includes ways to avoid head-hopping.) Ex. Mike sat on the bench and wondered where his future would lead. To the army? To college? To that hot barista’s apartment? Jack stared at Mike’s melting ice cream cone, and wondered how hard Mike would punch him for stealing it.

Any of this ringing a bell? I hope so! Hopefully, next time you sit down with a writing buddy or one of our editors, and he/she starts jargon dropping, you’ll be able to keep up.

Was this helpful? Are there other grammar/literature/writing terms you know you know but don’t know what they’re called? Or any you want us to explain?  Let us know in the comments, and maybe we’ll do another blog like this one.

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