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Question: for those who know English grammar well - Light One Candle

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October 11th, 2007


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09:27 am - Question: for those who know English grammar well
Okay, all. This is a grammar issue that I'm uncertain about--I've had it brought to my attention as incorrect by at least one beta and by (unless I'm fully retconning my memories here) one of my earliest writing teachers. I don't know where to look it up to determine exactly *how* incorrect (or not) it is, so I thought I'd ask you guys.

If you saw a sentence like this one, what would you think?

"Detective," the doctor said, "if you don't calm down, we're going to have to restrain you."


Is it correct as it stands? If not, why not? Do you have any links to descriptions of why or why not?

Your help is much appreciated. (I know have grammar mavens on my f-list. I've seen your icons. *g*)
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Comments:


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From:amberdulen
Date:October 11th, 2007 04:50 pm (UTC)
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I wouldn't mind seeing it. If anything, maybe it should go to "said the doctor", but it wouldn't make me stop in the middle of a book.
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From:ladybrick
Date:October 11th, 2007 04:51 pm (UTC)
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I generally hate the word "said" and the structure does seem awkward to me, if not actually incorrect (I'm not the best grammarian around.) Though it might not work in context, I'd suggest replacing "the doctor said" with something like "interjected the doctor."
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From:honorh
Date:October 11th, 2007 05:10 pm (UTC)
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Beware of "said"-phobia. No less a writer than Neil Gaiman says that "said" is like a period--it disappears into the page. Honestly, when no one actually "says" anything, but questions, replies, interjects, yells, squeaks, murmurs, hisses, growls, or, worst of all, some-facial-expressions everything, it gets distracting. Just food for thought.
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From:hystericblue42
Date:October 11th, 2007 05:04 pm (UTC)
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I don't know, it looks correct to me. Am I missing something?
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From:honorh
Date:October 11th, 2007 05:06 pm (UTC)
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Looks grammatically correct to me. Unlike a lot of people, you have the punctuation wired. Have they specified just *how* they think it's incorrect?
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From:izhilzha
Date:October 11th, 2007 05:18 pm (UTC)
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I love that icon. :-)

So, it's correct if it's a "said"-thing splitting up dialogue where the bits cannot quite stand on their own? And only incorrect if the "said" or action-tag (with attendant commas) is "joining" two essentially independent clauses of dialogue?

(Does that even make sense? What I'm getting at is that I might be mixing up two different grammatical rules, and I want to be sure which is which and what one does with them.)
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From:kalquessa
Date:October 11th, 2007 05:26 pm (UTC)
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I see nothing wrong with the sentence, but I'm not the most persnickety of grammar people. It scans fine to me.
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From:jhall1
Date:October 11th, 2007 05:39 pm (UTC)
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Seems fine to me. If you leave out "the doctor said" bit, you get: "Detective, if you don't calm down, we're going to have to restrain you." That's a valid sentence, so that makes your actual sentence valid as well by the logic that I apply. You could probably omit the comma after "down", but it's not wrong with it included.
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From:jd3000
Date:October 11th, 2007 05:42 pm (UTC)
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It looks fine as it is, but as advised above, it might flow slightly smoother by removing "the doctor said" or just adding an interesting vocal verb, such as "'Detective', the doctor warned,.."

-JD
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From:lon_dubh
Date:October 11th, 2007 06:29 pm (UTC)
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My fall back sites for info -- typically used only when I'm really screwed (that's why we have betas, right?) -- http://mrbraiman.home.att.net/page25.html and http://www.cmu.edu/styleguide/index.html


To me the sentence both reads fine and is grammatically correct. And is one of those techniques that took me ages to get the hang of. Yeah, me suck noogies.
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From:kerravonsen
Date:October 11th, 2007 09:59 pm (UTC)
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I find your icon strangely fascinating.
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From:superversive
Date:October 11th, 2007 07:14 pm (UTC)
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Looks just fine to me. I’m in the ‘said the doctor’ camp myself, but your construction is entirely unexceptionable either on grammatical or prosodic grounds.

In general you can stick the attribution in at almost any point where the quotation is punctuated. It very often works better as a postpositive, which would call for you to put it right after the first stop in the dialogue — which is exactly what you have done here. To begin with The doctor said would call attention to the identity of the speaker, which you don’t seem particularly to want here; to defer it till the end would leave the matter unclear too long, and would also destroy the rhythm of the sentence with its emphatic ending. I think the way you’ve done it is exactly right.
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From:astrogirl2
Date:October 11th, 2007 08:33 pm (UTC)
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As others have said, it looks absolutely fine, and there's nothing whatsoever wrong with breaking up the dialog like that. In fact, I think it's very often a useful thing to do, both because it can help give your dialog sentences a bit of diversity, and because it can be used to evoke a certain rhythm for the dialog. In my mind's ear, I hear a short pause after "detective," and a certain pattern of emphasis and pacing that seems absolutely right for what's being said.

By the way, to put in my two cents on a conversation above... Conspicuously avoiding the word "said" is a great way to encourage me to stop reading. "Said" is a good, fine, and excellent word. It need not always be used, certainly, but IMHO it should never be avoided.
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From:izhilzha
Date:October 11th, 2007 08:42 pm (UTC)
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*g* Well, hopefully my own intent to "avoid" isn't visible in my writing--I don't avoid it the way I avoid using the same word twice, too close together, and I certainly don't use stuff like "interrogated" instead (unless it's really the only word for the moment), but I do prefer allowing the action to move forward if I can, rather than adding in "said" attributions. Whatever streamlines the story and the way it sounds to my ear, you know?
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From:rabidsamfan
Date:October 12th, 2007 02:03 am (UTC)
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"Nothin' wrong with that sentence," the sleepy writer mumbled, "except'n that I'm havin' t' think about grammar when it's too dang late fer caffeine."

That construction is fine, as long as you put in "BLANK said" where the original sentence already has a comma. So in my facetious example above you're okay, but you wouldn't be nearly as okay if you tried to do it like this:

"Nothin' wrong with that sentence, except'n that I'm havin' t' think about grammar when," the sleepy writer mumbled, "it's too dang late fer caffeine."


Of course if you changed "mumbled" to "yawned" you get an entirely new effect, yes?

Ain't English fun?
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From:mistraltoes
Date:October 12th, 2007 12:56 pm (UTC)
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It's correct. But it's only correct because you haven't made a comma splice; that is to say, because: "Detective, if you don't calm down, we're going to have to restrain you." is exactly one sentence.

Having said that, being correct doesn't make it always elegant. You'd want to restrict use of that construction to places where it's helpful. For instance, to imply a pause after 'detective' it works well, but you wouldn't want to do it a lot.

Mind you, this:

"Detective," the doctor rubbed his nose, "if you don't calm down, we're going to have to restrain you."

... would be wrong, wrongity, wrong-o, and I'd probably bitch about it suggest a change if you put it in a fic. ;-)
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From:mistraltoes
Date:October 12th, 2007 01:05 pm (UTC)
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Eh. Another reason to use that construction is that sometimes you need to establish who's speaking at the beginning of a passage of dialogue, before the reader has time to wonder who it is.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:October 12th, 2007 04:03 pm (UTC)
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I would rather see "said" than an attempt to be clever by using a verb such as "exclaimed", "interrupted", etc. The important thing in this context is what is said, not how it is said.

My new blog is devoted to helping people to sort out questions like this. Why not make a contribution on http://welfordwrites.wordpress.com ?

John
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From:scorptilicus
Date:October 13th, 2007 09:31 pm (UTC)
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I don't know. Personally, I tend to prefer using "will" over "are going" even though they don't mean quite the same thing. I don't see how it's gramatically incorrect, though.
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From:izhilzha
Date:October 13th, 2007 09:39 pm (UTC)
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Well, in dialogue, that particular question becomes one of dialect. I can hear someone more formal saying "We will have to restrain you" or "We'll have to restrain you." But depending where the character is from and how he speaks, sometimes it would be more correct to have "We're going to have to restrain you" or, more correct to the actual pronunciation, "We're gonna have to restrain you."

Dialogue blows away many grammatical conventions, just in terms of what you can do with it, and the way people speak.

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