more restrictive than Christian Grey
It’s hard to guess what someone else is thinking. In relationships, getting it right can yield great benefits; but getting it wrong can result in spending the night alone pretty quick. For sadomasochists, that predicament resulted in the invention of the ‘safeword.’ For writers, it resulted in grammar.
I used to be one of those people who’d only correct grammar by ear. I’m not knocking the strategy—it served me well through college and the beginning of my writing career—but a writer who only fixes unclear language based on how she or he hears it is completely ignoring the fact that those same exact words can be interpreted several other ways. Grammar is a way to ensure that most people read the same words in the same way.
As an example I submit the uses of that and which. Yup, I’m using more relative pronouns after my who/whom spree a few weeks ago. So the use of these two words seemed almost interchangeable to me when I was a writer correcting my grammar by ear. I didn’t realize then that the meaning of a sentence changes depending on which word you use. It’s all about restriction.
This might be one of those rules (that/which) you didn’t know you knew. Did one of those words seem more right to you? The correct word is that. The reason is the clause “you didn’t know you knew” restricts, or defines, the word rules (the antecedent). It’s the safeword that signals to the reader “I’m gonna tell you more about those rules.” The word which would only be used if the clause is nonessential to the point of the sentence, as in here: This might be one of those rules, which are all too common to native English speakers, that you didn’t know you knew.
See how you can pull out that central clause and not affect the meaning of the sentence? That means it doesn’t restrict the antecedent. Also, if you noticed the commas around the clause you get extra credit. Nonrestrictive clauses get the comma treatment.
But how can it change the meaning of a sentence? Well, take these sentences:
The café that sells the best coffee in town has closed. The café, which sells the best coffee in town, has closed.
The first sentence assumes some prior knowledge; the speaker and the listener have previously agreed to which café sells the best coffee in town and the speaker is referring to that specific café. The second sentence would make me ask, “Wait. Which café are you talking about?”
If you’re interested in learning more, go here.
Prompt Up is our optional weekly writing prompt for the fiction|poetry challenge! Here’s how it works: we choose a sentence prompt from last week’s winning nonfiction post and announce it in the kickoff. It’s your job to use that prompt in your poem or story. The prompt is just a springboard: feel free to use it as your first sentence, move it, change it, or float down it to other territories.
Amy remembers a traumatic experience from her past in Remember These Things. This week’s prompt taken from her essay is: “It wasn’t love but it was fun.”
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Yeah write #305 fiction|poetry writing challenge is open for submissions!
Basic yeah write guidelines: 750 word limit; your entry can be dated no earlier than this past Sunday; fiction or poetry only.
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Submissions for this week’s challenges will close on Wednesday at 10pm ET. Voting will then open immediately thereafter and close on Thursday at 10pm ET. The winners, as always, will be celebrated on Friday.