Grammar Corner

Grammar Corner: Rather or Whether
Which to use: rather or whether?  At the crux of the debate are the phrases: rather or not (vs) whether or not. A friend and I discussed this recently and so I decided to look into this conundrum, since, as evident through the auto complete feature of the Google search engine, many people have wondered the same thing.  My results are as follows:

rath·er  adv.
1. More readily; preferably: I'd rather go to the movies.
2. With more reason, logic, wisdom, or other justification.
3. More exactly; more accurately: He's my friend, or rather he was my friend.
4. To a certain extent; somewhat: rather cold.

wheth·er  conj.
1. Used in indirect questions to introduce one alternative: We should find out whether the museum is open. 
2. Used to introduce alternative possibilities: Whether she wins or whether she loses, this is her last tournament.
3. Either: He passed the test, whether by skill or luck.

Rather describes the stated or understood verb while whether provides choices.  Always use whether when saying 'whether or not.'  For more information on the debate of rather or whether, you can always Ask the English Teacher, and for expanded definitions, usage notes, and synonyms please visit

Amanda LaFantasie (Skoora) © 2012

Grammar Corner: A couple of commas

In the past I have been called, quite appropriately, a genuine Comma Queen. It is not a title of honor.  As a Comma Queen, I was under the impression for a very long time that you always, no exceptions, had to put a comma before or after the adverb 'too.'  (Don't worry, I wasn't putting commas around 'too' when used as an adjective.)  When using 'too' as an adverb, it turns out that obsessive comma use is up to the author.  According to Grammar Girl: The word “too” is an adverb that indicates “also” or “in addition.” It most often shows up in the middle or at the end of a sentence. Most of the time you probably won't use a comma with “too” because your sentences will be chugging along without needing a pause. So you could say, “I too like reading mysteries” or “I like reading mysteries too.” If, on the other hand, you want to emphasize an abrupt change of thought (1), you do use commas, which, among other things, are used to indicate pauses: “I, too, like reading mysteries” or “I like reading mysteries, too.” In these sentences, you are adding a pause to create emphasis.

On a similar note, commas after 'of course' are optional depending on what you want to convey.  However, you should use commas before 'of course' pretty much every single time.  "It's only natural, of course."Times to use a comma after 'of course' include when using it as an aside or to draw extra attention to it.  The comma draws a natural pause and can create drama, unexpected tension, etc.  "Of course, the only way back is by going forward."  If you remove the comma then it becomes a statement of obvious exasperation.  "Of course the only way out is by going forward!"  Look over your 'of course' sentences and if a mental 'duh' would make sense at the end, then you probably don't need a comma.

Amanda LaFantasie (Skoora) © 2012

Grammar Corner - The tense you didn't know about!

I'm not talking of past tense, present tense, or even future tense. But rather, paragraph tense, or formally named tense consistency. When I was a sophomore in my Beginning Fiction Writer's course, there was a rule that was hounded into my mind. 
Particularly the idea of -ed vs -ing and -ed vs -s 
But what about them!  What is so important about prefixes and suffixes, especially these two? That was what I wanted to know! Apparently a great deal! A common grammatical error that writers stand to make on a regular bases is forgetting their verb tense.  It is not something that many people - I know I don't - think about, because it just does not feel natural. However, for writing, natural isn't always how one goes and gets published.

So what can you do?

Stay consistent!  This very easy idea is actually very hard to execute when writing.  I myself have gone through several of my previous texts in order to check my own consistency. I will spare you the pain of such an experience.  How can you remain consistent? Make sure that if you have a paragraph/page/book that uses the -ed verb tense, keep it that way! Or if you have a paragraph/page/book that uses the -ing verb tense, stay consistent. This one little rule may surprise you in how often it is misused.

Keep in mind this does directly correlate to past, present, or future tense, and as that can change in a paragraph, well, so will your verb tense. Let's make it more complicated!

Let me give you an example so this is easier to grasp. This is a short excerpt from my own short story, "Shoes". Lo and behold I made this mistake more than fifty times in the first draft.
ex 1)"..."Chatty?" he asked, looking down at his older partner..."
ex 2)"..."Chatty?" he asked as he looked down at his older partner."
See the difference there? That small edit changed the entire tone of the sentence, and created consistency, whereas the other sentence led me into a five comma run on!

This is just a brief look at this rule, but for more on verb tense, I have provided a link below that discusses the real nitty gritty of the rule!
Verb Tense Consistency

Grammar Corner: Past Tenses Aplenty
The English Language is a fierce and complex thing, not just in the words, but in the grammar as well.  As writers, the English Language, is our most valuable asset (that and imagination and life experience), and there are many aspects of it that we take for granted.  Taking it for granted is not a bad thing at all - we converse, we read, we write, and through all of this we learn what sounds organic and makes syntactical sense without having to know anything of formal grammar.  Something that usually comes to us quite naturally is the usage of past tense in writing.  Did you know that there are nine different forms of past tense?  I didn't.  I only looked it up because the book I'm currently reading, How Not to Write a Novel by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman, mentioned that there were six.  I won't go into all nine forms here since most of us handle 'had, would have, had been, etc' with ease, but if you are curious about the specifics please visit Daily Writing Tips.  It is not necessary to know what a gerund, participle, or appositive phrase is in order to be a magnificent writer; however, it never hurts to be knowledgeable of one's craft even to the point of being able to say, 'that there's a perfect example of past habitual!'

Amanda LaFantasie (Skoora) © 2012

Grammar Corner: Analogy and Metaphor
In the literary world, analogy is like duct tape while metaphor is a fun house mirror.  These are the rudimentary tools used to engage the reader.  In an analogy, you compare one thing to another thing and in so doing, add to and enhance the meaning of the first thing. 

ex) My writing is like a river filled with sharks.
ex) Her pregnant belly was as a big as a beach ball.

The key to analogy is comparison.  Metaphor, on the other hand, foregoes comparison and ups the ante.  In a metaphor a thing is called something else entirely and the desired effect is to create vivid imagery and give the reader greater insight into the scene, character, or theme.

ex) My brain is a broken computer.
ex) The dog was the master of the house, lording over his human subjects.

Amanda LaFantasie (Skoora) © 2012

Grammar Corner: Gerunds and Particples
Most of us know what these little critters are even if not all of us know what they are called.  Let's start with gerunds.  A gerund is a verb ending in 'ing' that has been re-purposed in the sentence to act as a noun.  You can find another definition and several examples here, but I've also included my own take on this grammar component below.
Teaching is my favorite profession. (In this sentence teaching becomes a noun and the subject.)
Sometimes all I can think about is teaching.  (Again, teaching is a noun but it become the direct object of the subject.)
I don't like running on sand.  (The gerund is still running but it now acts as a gerund phrase for the entire direct object is 'running on sand' as the thing that is disliked.)
Running never held much enjoyment for me, particularly when done on sand.  (Running is clearly the subject.)

When it comes to participle phrases, the 'ing' verb remains a verb but does not act as the link between subject and predicate.  These phrases appear at the beginning of a sentence and let us know what has happened, or is happening, at the time of the sentence which they accompany.  A past particle phrase indicates something happened and a present participle phrase indicates it's happening right now.
Tossed about during the boat ride, she felt like throwing up when they finally reached shore.  ('Tossed about during the boat ride' is the participle phrase and as it is in the past tense, it is a past participle.)
Glaring, he imagined his fist making contact with his brother's smug face. (Glaring is a stand alone present participle.)
Glaring at his brother's smug face, he imagined punching him. ('Glaring at his brother's smug face' is a present participle phrase.)
Thoroughly drenched by the sudden downpour, Elaine changed her mind about meeting Mr. Sampson for tea.  ('Drenched by the sudden downpour' is a past participle phrase and thoroughly modifies it.)


Amanda LaFantasie (Skoora) © 2013

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