“You will often be judged, fairly or unfairly, on your use of language, both written and spoken, so it makes sense to learn the standards that teachers, editors, and potential employers are inclined to respect. Grammar may be magical, but remember this: a magician is an illusionist, someone who learns the strategic uses of physics and engineering.” (Roy Peter Clark, The Glamour of Grammar)
It all started with a tweet from a young editor (who gave me permission to use their tweet, but I’ve decided not to put their name out in public) who said “A developmental editor is not the same as a copy editor is not the same as a line editor is not the same as a proofreader is not the same as a beta reader.” Then, parenthetically, they said editors would be horrified by that run-on.
Except it’s not one. It’s a perfectly grammatical sentence.
I checked with Lisa McLendon (@MadamGrammar) to see if I was on the right track. I was, but my diagramming skills are a little rusty. I left out “the same as” for convenience; that doesn’t affect the grammaticality of the overall structure one whit.
Here’s the quick diagram she sent me:
The fleshed-out version of the sentence in question goes like this: “Developmental editing is not the same as copy editing which is not the same as line editing which is not the same as …” I’m sure you get the idea. Should there be commas before every instance of which? That depends largely on the register (c’mon, you knew I’d go there) of the piece. For my blog here, and for a tweet, commas are largely unnecessary; it’s part of internet register, and it’s fitting for the “front-porch chat” feel I aim for here at my blog home. If we were to hear someone say that sentence, chances are probably 50/50 there’d be pauses. Me? I’d run it all right into one big thought. “This is not that is not that other thing is not that thing way over there.”
If that sentence was used in a text, say, for a 101 editing class, you bet I’d put commas where you’d expect to see them. “Developmental editing is not the same as copy editing, which is not the same as line editing, which is not the same …”
Register drives everything from word choice to style choice to mechanics. And, with or without those commas, this isn’t a run-on sentence.
That’s the heart of the matter, here.
This might not seem basic, but it is. Subject/verb agreement is basic. All it means is that singular subjects take singular verb forms, and plural subjects take plural verb forms. Like this:
The tomatoes are growing well this year. (“Tomatoes” is plural, so it takes “are” as its verb form.)
This tomato shows signs of blight. (“Tomato” is singular, so it takes “shows” as its verb form.)
The thing that throws some people, though, is when there’s an “and” or an “or” in the complete subject. What happens then?
Thomas or William needs to call the realtor.
That “or” (a conjunction) causes the verb form to be singular, because grammatically there’s only one person (either Thomas or William) who has to perform the action (call the realtor). Yes, we can say “either Thomas or William needs to call,” but that changes the structure of the sentence; now “either” is the subject, as a pronoun standing for “Thomas or William,” and that defeats the purpose of this lesson. Remember, there are often many ways to say the same thing in English, and all of them are “correct.” They don’t all illustrate the same point, though.
Thomas and William need to call the realtor.
Now the subject is plural: “Thomas and William.” The verb form changes to the plural, “need.”
Now it’s time for me to crib from the excellent Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation by Bryan A. Garner (of Garner’s English Usage). I can’t say it any clearer than he does, so I’ll paraphrase from section 5.14.
As I said earlier, if the noun subjects are connected with “and,” the verb form is plural (see Thomas and William and the realtor, above). If there’s a prepositional phrase, though, the verb is controlled by the noun or nouns that are NOT part of the phrase, like this:
William, along with his partner, Thomas, needs to call the realtor. (The phrase “along with his partner, Thomas” does not combine with “William” to control the verb.)
I’m going to stop there, because it would be awfully easy to get deep into the weeds here and say nothing of much use. If you have a question related to agreement, by all means leave it in the comments and I’ll address it.
For whatever reason, people seem to confuse (and maybe conflate) forming possessives of plurals with forming possessives of proper nouns ending in -s. I’m hoping to untangle the concepts for them with these last two posts (today’s and the previous one).
First, what’s a proper noun? Well, the easiest example is your own name. Karen is a proper noun. Fred is a proper noun. Oktober is a proper noun. How do we make those into possessives?
Simple. Add an apostrophe and an S.
You won’t find any contradictions in any style guide to that rule. It’s super simple.
It gets sticky, though, if the proper noun ends in an S.
Which is right: James’, or James’s?
Both. There’s not a damn thing wrong with either version. The Chicago Manual of Style has adopted what is to me a very logical guide: if you say it, write it. We say the last S in “James’s,” so that’s what CMoS calls for.
If the name ends in an -eez sound, you also use an apostrophe and an S. “Xerxes’s troops.”
If the name ends in a silent S, you still use the apostrophe and the S, because you’ll pronounce that final S. “Descartes’s hypothesis”
The former guideline about “historical names” is no longer included as of the 17th edition. (It might have gone away in the 16th, but I don’t have that handy.)
They do provide an alternative guideline, which omits the S from all names ending in an S. However, they also restate their guidance that if it’s pronounced, it should be written, and therefore this alternative is “therefore not recommended.”
Y’all should know by now that I’m a CMoS gal. Of course, if you’re being paid to use AP, or APA, or MLA, or what have you, that’s whose guidance you should be following on this matter. In any case, I strongly recommend ditching whatever you think you remember from your salad days (mine were mostly made with rancid Miracle Whip) and that English teacher who smelled either of Shalimar or English Leather (or, if you were really unlucky, Wind Song or Hai Karate), getting yourself an up-to-date style manual or a copy of June Casagrande’s The best punctuation book, period. (When you see it,l you’ll understand why I styled it that way and not the traditional all-italic way.) In all honesty, I reference my copy of that more than I do CMoS because it’s much easier to find what I’m after. (The really esoteric stuff I still use CMoS for, but not the everyday stuff.)
I hope this has helped unmuddy the waters. By all means, if you have questions, leave a comment or hit me up on Twitter. I do my best to answer in a timely manner.
Every time I think it’s useless to rehash basic GUMmy stuff, something happens to prove me wrong. This time it was seeing an incorrectly formed plural possessive of a proper noun in a published children’s book.
I saw red.
So, I’m writing what’s sure to become the first in an informal series on the basics. Welcome, and I hope you enjoy the ride.
First, let’s talk about plural formation. There are two basic types: regular and irregular. A regular plural simply adds -s or -es to the singular form, like this:
An irregular plural sometimes changes the form of the noun, like this:
But sometimes, it doesn’t change at all.
Now, what if we need to form a possessive of those plurals?
Well, for the regularly formed plurals, we only have to add an apostrophe. That’s how it’s done. Honest. Just an apostrophe.
houses’ (as in “All those houses’ exteriors will be repainted according to the HOA’s specifications”)
cars’ (as in “Their cars’ bumpers were torn off in the collision”)
But for the irregularly formed plurals, we need to add an apostrophe and an S.
geese’s (as in “The geese’s diet was organic”)
mice’s (as in “The mice’s blood was sampled every six hours”)
dice’s (as in “The dice’s results were suspect”)
deer’s (as in “The three deer’s hides were tanned behind the cabin”)
moose’s (as in “I heard those moose’s bellows from all the way down by the river”)
Now, what about a proper term, like Taino? That’s the name of the indigenous people Columbus met when he landed in 1492. In the free version of the online Merriam-Webster dictionary, it states that the plural is either “Taino” or “Tainos.” The first one’s irregular (the form doesn’t change at all), and the second is regular (just adding an S). Form the possessives according to the rules: Taino’s OR Tainos’. Context helps the reader know when “Taino’s” is plural. (And if it doesn’t, it should.)
Similarly, if your surname is Dickens, a number of you are the Dickenses. Together, all of you live in the Dickenses’ house. (Sure, you can say “there’s the Dickens house,” but the meaning’s not the same, and it totally misses the point of this post.) It’s a regular plural that adds -es to the singular form, so you use only an apostrophe to form the plural possessive. We’re the Conlins. Our house is the Conlins’ house. Regularly formed plural takes only an apostrophe.
There are no stylistic variations for forming plural possessives. This isn’t a guideline; it’s a rule.
There you have the basics. Remember, this is only for plural possessives. If we need a refresher on forming possessives of proper names like “James,” I’ll cover that in a separate post. (Hint: there are stylistic variations for forming proper singular possessives.)
I’ve set up a Patreon. My hope is that folks will be interested in investing a little of their cash to have a say in what topics I write about here. Some of them might even want the opportunity to effectively hire me on retainer, paying an amount over time to have me edit their work either free (a short story) or at a discount (novels from 70,000 to 80,000 words). In between there are rewards like access to my private Discord server, where we might just hang out at the Water Cooler or I might hold some kind of educational or professional session in the Conference Room.
I hope you’ll at least click on the link to see what’s there, and maybe tell a few friends about it. This blog is my baby. I want to raise it right.
I’ve been pondering a lot since Friday night. I mean, I was nearly dumbstruck by the events as they unfolded, even with last year’s laureate, Karen Yin, patting my arm and telling me to take deep breaths. (She had asked to sit with me at the banquet so we could catch up and chat. SURE KAREN, WHATEVER YOU SAY.)*
I can tell you what is not required to win the Robinson Prize for excellence in editing.
No memorization of anything, whether it’s dictionaries, style manuals, or usage guides.**
No big-name connections from past jobs.
No flying around the world to ensure people know who you are, so they’ll vote for you.
No red-carpet moments. (They’d be cool, but are def not required.)
Not self-confidence in the nomination, that’s for damn sure. I was in denial right up into the middle of Sarah Grey’s reading of the news release to the attendees, before she called my name and I somehow managed to walk to the stage. What tipped it? “Register.” I’m the voice in the wilderness. Maybe that will change now.
Not national or international attention prior to the nomination. It’s not like the Oscars. There’s no Golden Globe or People’s Choice to pave the way. You stand on your merits. Period.
Not a string of letters behind your name. I have two BAs: one in British Literature pre-19th century, and one in healthcare administration.*** No master’s degree, certainly no doctorate. I’ve taken two developmental editing courses through the EFA. That’s the extent of my traditional professional development.
I keep rereading the words from my clients, and I continue to be moved nearly to tears. I knew I was a good editor. I love my work. And I figured they thought I was good, too, or they’d not continue to hire me and pay me. I just didn’t know that my peers would think I was that good, too. (Thanks again, Dan, for being a pushy bastard.)
I still feel a bit like Sally Fields, though.****
*Karen Yin is a sweetheart and she knows I’m jesting. We talked about working together on a YA fantasy, and I am STILL STOKED about that.
**My performance in the Merriam-Webster Spelling Bee notwithstanding.
***YES I STYLED IT CLOSED FIGHT ME
****If this means nothing to you, a) you’re a kid and b) I invite you to search for “Sally Fields you like me GIF” and be enlightened.