I hope you’ve been wondering what happened to me. I’ve been working on an alpha version of my course “Wake Up Your Prose: Description Unpacked”; keep your eyes peeled for the launch!
I’ve also been pondering the next steps of this blog. I’m trying a new format for the next few months. Every two weeks I’ll be posting with news, tips, a commentary on books I’m reading or am interested in, and other relevant issues. Stay tuned…
Books I’m reading
As usual, I’m reading a few books at the same time. I’m in the middle of The Water Is Wide, a memoir by Pat Conroy (of The Prince of Tides fame). I don’t love the book, but he is such a genius writer that I can’t leave it unfinished. I wish I had his range of vocabulary.
I’ve also been reading George Eliot’s Middlemarch for ages. It’s terrific, but I have this psychological block against reading 900 pages. If I just sat and read it and refused to allow myself to read anything else until I finished it, I’d be done already.
Hubs just finished Warriors Don’t Cry, which is an autobiography by Melba Pattillo Beals. As the subtitle says, it’s “a searing memoir of the battle to integrate Little Rock’s Central High.” I started it and put it down, but I think I will pick it up again and read it next. My husband said that just reading about the author’s grandmother and her role in the story makes the book worth it.
For my “good trash” allotment I’m reading A Rule Against Murder, by Louise Penny, who is my absolute favorite mystery author. She’s brilliant, and her books are highly intelligent psychological studies. She reminds me a bit of P. D. James, who is also a very intelligent mystery writer.
Grammar tip of the day
Mind those commas in dependent and independent clauses!
- Mark Twain, who wrote Tom Sawyer, had a good sense of humor. You need two commas here, after “Twain” and after “Sawyer“; the dependent clause (“who wrote Tom Sawyer“) needs to be separated by commas. The clause is dependent, by the way, because it cannot stand by itself; it needs the rest of the sentence to make sense. And notice how if I took out the dependent clause, the rest of the sentence would still make sense: “Mark Twain had a good sense of humor.”
I’ve seen sentences such as “Mark Twain who wrote Tom Sawyer, had a good sense of humor” and “Mark Twain, who wrote Tom Sawyer had a good sense of humor.” These are both incorrect.
- Whenever I walk into that restaurant, I always get the best seat. A dependent clause can be at the beginning of the sentence. When this happens, use a comma to separate it from the independent clause. (I’ve seen sentences such as these without the comma as well, but I don’t recommend that, because it makes it harder for the reader.)
- I always get the best seat whenever I walk into that restaurant. When a dependent clause is at the end of the sentence, you don’t need a comma.
- The clause is dependent, which means it cannot stand by itself; it needs the rest of the sentence to make sense. If we deleted the dependent clause here, we’d have a sentence with two independent clauses (clauses with a subject and a predicate, which can stand by themselves):
- The clause is dependent; it needs the rest of the sentence to make sense.
(Pro tip: Never use a comma to separate between independent clauses. That would be called a comma splice, and it’s a no-no.)
Notice that I used a semicolon to separate between the clauses. I can also use a comma and/or a conjunction between two independent clauses, or I can make the clauses into separate sentences:
- The clause is dependent because it needs the rest of the sentence to make sense.
- The clause is dependent, as it needs the rest of the sentence to make sense.
- The clause is dependent. It needs the rest of the sentence to make sense.
An appeal to my readers
Do you have any burning questions about writing or grammar? Please send them to me, and I’ll try to answer them in the next email.
I’ll be back in two weeks; until then,