By Catherine DePino
(reviewed by Linda Lane)
The preface of this book opens with these words: “No matter what your circumstances, Excuse Me, Your Participle’s Dangling! will give you the bare essentials of grammar that you’ll need to write like a pro. This book also offers a simple yet foolproof method of writing under pressure, the key to success in any college program or workplace.” While this sounds like a practical approach for many folks, how does it work for novelists, who rarely fit into the “academic” category and whose grammatical needs can sometimes be extensive and complex?
Chapters two and three discuss building sentences and avoiding run-ons and fragments; both chapters contain quick quizzes to help the reader apply the lessons learned. My experience as a fiction editor has been that a significant number of writers do fairly well at avoiding run-ons — although I've read some independently published books that contained an overabundance of them. Fragments, on the other hand, often abound in the manuscripts I edit.
While run-ons never qualify as acceptable, fragments sometimes do, especially when writing dialogue or recording a character's direct thoughts. A character who always speaks or thinks in complete sentences sounds stilted because we don't talk that way. The need for realism in writing dialogue (conversational or internal) trumps the grammar rule regarding fragments as long as the writer demonstrates good understanding and usage of that rule in the story's narrative.
Adjectives and adverbs, dangling and misplaced modifiers, and the much misunderstood comma appear in chapters four, five, six, and seven. Of these, the comma is misused most often. I frequently find it where it doesn’t belong, and I cannot locate it anyplace near where it is needed. Consider, please, page 48's sample sentences of restrictive and nonrestrictive appositives and their explanations; these should be read and reread by most writers until they understand how different sentence structures dictate whether or not commas should set off an appositive. Again, quizzes help to drive the grammatical points home.
Chapters eight through twelve address other punctuation, agreement problems, oft-confused words, writing style, and writing under pressure. Once more, the reader can take the quizzes to make practical application of the rules discussed. The answers to all the quizzes, by the way, appear in the back of this 119-page book.
Overall, Excuse Me, Your Participle Is Dangling! addresses numerous grammar issues confronted by writers. Of particular interest to some may be the chapter on homonyms and other words that are often misused. For example, there, they're, and their have different meanings; but the wrong homonym commonly shows up in sentences where it clearly does not belong. Other confusing words, such as further and farther, fewer and less, and loose and lose, are clarified for the reader. Stylistic topics include wordiness, clichés, euphemisms, and faulty parallelisms. These subheadings are worth a review by writers in all fields.
The book as a whole seems better suited to academic writing and the workplace, where its concise, easy-to-follow format has been designed to meet the student's and on-the-job writer's basic needs — just as it states in its preface. Serious novelists, on the other hand, may want to find a more advanced grammar book to meet their comprehensive requirements.
|Catherine DePino has written a number of books about grammar, as well as books on dealing with bullies for parents and kids. She holds a doctorate from Temple University and has worked as an English teacher. Learn more about her and her books for teachers, parents, and young people at www.catherinedepino.com.|