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Old 06-21-2013, 12:48 AM   #1
mukoan
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Grammar issues (again)....

Hi,

I'm having a little grammar issue here that I'm trying to get my head around. Out of the following two, which would be more grammatically correct:

(1)
The voice in her brain felt like it was dying - draining in strength along with the dark blood that leaked from her freshly opened leg-wound.

Compared to:

(2)
The voice in her brain felt like it was dying - draining in strength along with the dark blood leaking from her freshly opened leg wound.

The bit that's confusing me is "that leaked" versus "leaking". Is the first one mixing up present-tense with past-tense? It sounds OK to my ears... but this stuff always catches me out.

Cheers.
mk.
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Old 06-21-2013, 12:51 AM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mukoan View Post
Hi,

I'm having a little grammar issue here that I'm trying to get my head around. Out of the following two, which would be more grammatically correct:

(1)
The voice in her brain felt like it was dying - draining in strength along with the dark blood that leaked from her freshly opened leg-wound.

Compared to:

(2)
The voice in her brain felt like it was dying - draining in strength along with the dark blood leaking from her freshly opened leg wound.

The bit that's confusing me is "that leaked" versus "leaking". Is the first one mixing up present-tense with past-tense? It sounds OK to my ears... but this stuff always catches me out.

Cheers.
mk.

Neither of them would jar me out of a good story, but this is what sounds best in my head:

The voice in her brain felt like it was dying - draining in strength along with the dark blood that was leaking from her freshly opened leg wound.
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Old 06-21-2013, 05:54 AM   #3
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Actually, the problem is the mix of tenses. I think I would write the sentence like this:

Quote:
The voice in her brain felt like it is dying, draining in strength along with the dark blood leaking from her freshly opened leg wound.
This puts everything in the present tense. Presumably, the sentence is reporting something that is currently happening, not something that happened in the past; at least that is what draining, dying, and leaking imply.

Also, grammatically, the dash does not belong. You can use it and no one would be misled, but the correct form would be a comma. There is no reason for an exaggerated pause and you really don't have 2 sentences.
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Old 06-21-2013, 01:03 PM   #4
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I prefer the second version

Of the two, the second construction sounds more natural and immediate to me than the first ("that" impedes the flow, and in general should be avoided if at all possible). For the same reason the dash should be omitted, as another poster has commented, but I believe a dash is needed between "freshly" and "opened." You might also consider a more direct rewording that conveys the same thought:

"As if it were dying, the voice in her brain drained [ebbed?] in strength like the dark blood leaking [oozing?] from her freshly-opened leg wound."
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Old 06-21-2013, 05:24 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by rhadin View Post
Actually, the problem is the mix of tenses
This.
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Old 06-21-2013, 10:07 PM   #6
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Thanks one and all for the responses. A lot of food for thought here... I really appreciate it.

Hi Rhadin: The example you've provided clearly illustrates your point, and it makes sense the way you've described it. It highlights exactly what I suspected was wrong with the sentence, (and the whole reason I posted the question). My only problem is that even though the sentence appears to be syntactically correct... it just kind of sounds wrong now, (to my admittedly very amateurish ears). For some reason my brain still wants to replace that "is" with a "was", even though that would be again mixing past tense with present tense. Perhaps it's just a case of re-training my slow brain correctly

On another note, a few of you have raised what is probably better off for another discussion, or no doubt already discussed in depth somewhere in these forums. That being the use of a dash. Just when I think I get my head around it, it's once again pointed out to me as incorrectly used. Is there a clear, concise, fundamental rule that's agreed upon by all good writers on when and where to use a dash? Or is this something that sits in the realm of opinion? I've googled it a fair bit but am still having trouble finding a "black-and-white" rule.

Again, thanks to all for the feedback.
m.
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Old 06-22-2013, 06:18 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mukoan View Post
Thanks one and all for the responses. A lot of food for thought here... I really appreciate it.

Hi Rhadin: The example you've provided clearly illustrates your point, and it makes sense the way you've described it. It highlights exactly what I suspected was wrong with the sentence, (and the whole reason I posted the question). My only problem is that even though the sentence appears to be syntactically correct... it just kind of sounds wrong now, (to my admittedly very amateurish ears). For some reason my brain still wants to replace that "is" with a "was", even though that would be again mixing past tense with present tense. Perhaps it's just a case of re-training my slow brain correctly
The problem with "sounds wrong" is that it ignores what is being conveyed. The sentence may sound wrong but accurately convey what is meant, whereas it may sound right and not only not convey what is meant accurately, but cause the reader to stop and contemplate a sentence that doesn't deserve contemplation.

The difference between a great writer and a so-so (at best) writer is that the great writer understands the purpose of grammar and attempts to be grammatical except where it would impede something like character development. In the example you provided, I see no reason to be ungrammatical and I certainly wouldn't want a reader to pause and contemplate that particular sentence. It doesn't strike me as being the focus sentence (and I may be wrong as I am reading it in isolation).

An author needs to keep in mind that there is a difference between oral communication and written communication. Oral communication can be more lax because there are other important cues to guide the listener; those cues are missing in written communication.

If we were to accept the "sounds wrong/right" perspective for writing, then we should accept seams and seems as being interchangeable spellings of the same word, as in: "She seams to coordinate her clothing." Or we could accept spelling of quick as kwik; they certainly both sound correct (as does great and gr8).

Finally, tense matters. Using the correct tense tells a reader when something supposedly happened/happens. Mixing tenses leaves a reader wondering whether it happened or is happening, and shows an author's poor command of his/her writing.

Last edited by rhadin; 06-22-2013 at 06:19 AM. Reason: missed an apostrophe
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Old 06-22-2013, 08:37 AM   #8
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On the use of the dash -

First I'd like to correct a glitch in my previous post in which I said a dash is needed between "freshly" and "opened" when a hyphen was intended. As to when to use a dash, stylistically I can think of at least two instances - to provide emphasis - or to vary the flow of the narrative, much like you do when you alternate between using long and short sentences. Beyond that, when to use it I think is something you more or less unconsciously absorb by reading the work of others. At the risk of getting too far into the weeds, there is a formatting issue associated with the use of the dash, however - either to set it off with spaces before and after, as it has been in this post, or treat it as if it were a long hyphen, with no space before or after the dash.
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Old 06-22-2013, 02:07 PM   #9
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English is not my native language, but I think that the first version would be perfect with 'that' in the following line (because of the syntax):

The voice in her brain felt like it was dying - / draining in strength along with the dark blood /
that leaked from her freshly opened leg-wound.

I don't see the mixing of tenses, it is all written in the past: felt, was dying, (was) draining, leaked. And don't leave the dash. What follows explains how she feels it and this explanation belongs to the first line. A comma would separate it.

The second version has too many -ings: dying, draining, leaking.

George
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Old 06-23-2013, 09:46 AM   #10
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How about:

The voice in her brain felt like it was dying, its strength draining along with the dark blood that leaked from her freshly opened leg-wound.
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Old 06-23-2013, 06:38 PM   #11
mukoan
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Cheers guys! What you've all pointed out is that I need to practice recognizing tense in my writing, (along with POV, punctuation, the ability to write coherent sentences... )

Again, thankyou all! I'm off to practice.
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Old 06-24-2013, 05:58 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by Alyssa Miranda View Post
First I'd like to correct a glitch in my previous post in which I said a dash is needed between "freshly" and "opened" when a hyphen was intended. As to when to use a dash, stylistically I can think of at least two instances - to provide emphasis - or to vary the flow of the narrative, much like you do when you alternate between using long and short sentences. Beyond that, when to use it I think is something you more or less unconsciously absorb by reading the work of others. At the risk of getting too far into the weeds, there is a formatting issue associated with the use of the dash, however - either to set it off with spaces before and after, as it has been in this post, or treat it as if it were a long hyphen, with no space before or after the dash.
You raise several issues. First, the general rule in American English (it may be different in British, Canadian, Australian or other variations of English, which is why I specify) is that adverbs ending in ly followed by a participle or adjective, regardless of whether they precede or follow a noun, are never hyphenated. The fundamental reason is because there is no likelihood of misunderstanding.

The best resource I know of for hyphenation issues is The Chicago Manual of Style 16th edition's hyphenation guide found in section 7.85 beginning on page 374. FWIW, the rules are parroted in other style guides, such as The Gregg Reference Manual; that is, there is little controversy about the rules in American English. Having said that, newspapers (and some magazines) in America tend to follow different grammar rules for some reason, and increasingly hyphenation of ly words is seen in newspaper articles.

Second, you refer to using the dash for emphasis. The dash is not an emphasizing tool. (BTW, which dash are you referring to? The en-dash and the em-dash are the most commonly used dashes, but there are others.) It is used to set off explanatory phrases, so that it is clear that the set offs are unnecessary to the sentence but helpful to the reader. You could, in most cases, use phrases like "such as" or "for example" or "that is" to accomplish the same purpose. Emphasis is generally done by italicizing or bolding (usually the former) a word or phrase.

Third, as for spacing, the general typesetting rule is that there is no spacing around a dash. However, unlike many rules, this one is broken more often than not. I personally prefer spacing around an en- and em-dash because it makes it much clearer to the reader that what follows/precedes is an offset. In the case of the en-dash, I think the spacing is important also because the en-dash is used in hyphenated phrases that include compound adjectives, e.g., non-anti-inflammatory, where the "hyphen" between non and anti should be an en-dash and should be closed up (I can't figure out how to make an en-dash here, so you have to imagine it ).

Hope this helps.
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Old 06-24-2013, 06:46 AM   #13
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I accept what you say . . .

. . . as being the last word on the subject. My comments were based on conventions I had become used to, and not on an authority such as the Chicago manual. Hopefully the back and forth will nonetheless be helpful in providing an answer to mukoan's post.
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Old 06-24-2013, 06:47 AM   #14
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What is the difference in en-dash and em-dash?
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Old 06-24-2013, 08:41 AM   #15
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Ah, I can answer this one from my work with HTML and Unicode.

Originally "em" and "en" corresponded to the width of "M" and "n" in a typeface - thus "em-dash" is a long dash, and "en-dash" is a short dash. "Em" has since been redefined as the unit of width equal to the current point size. (Hence the common use of 1em etc. in HTML and CSS as a way to gain a consistent measurement according to the current font.) "En" is now generally half an "Em".

There's a good chance you already know all that, but to preempt what rhadin might say, the use of different sized dashes, and whether there should be spaces between the dash and the text, varies. The Wikipedia article seems to cover it pretty well, including the intro that gives common usage.

I like the spaced en-dash for set off (as in - this was set off - from that), rather than unspaced em-dash (as in--this was set off--from that), because it looks better to my eye. To me, unspaced em-dashes always look like they are joining text rather than setting it off.

For those unaware of it, word processors like OpenOffice/LibreOffice have autocorrect option to help manage this. See OpenOffice Wiki for example.
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