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Simple Phrase Grammar: The Hidden Grammar of English (1 Viewer)


WF Veterans
Does anyone wants to beta read parts of (or all of) my second grammar book, Simple Phrase Grammar: The Hidden Grammar of English? I can send a file, or you can download a copy from the link in my signature (below). The Intro and just two chapters explains a lot.

AFAIK, you need this book to understand the "grammar" of modern writing. Or, if you don't know the rules of grammar and don't care, my book can explain that too -- the formal rules are too restrictive, and we have been learning to break them for the past 100 years.

It suggests a different style of writing, that you could use for a sentence, scene or story. Honestly, it is the grammar to use for a sex scene. Probably an action scene too.

And the book considers some of the basic principles of easy-to-understand writing.

So you could read it to learn a lot about grammar that you won't find anywhere else, but the book is mainly directed at improving your writing.

There's no Atlantis, no perpetual motion machine, and you're probably thinking there can't be a whole grammar of English that no one has ever mentioned. Statistically unlikely, right?

But a proof is simple and logical. A language first constructs words.




Abandoning the conventions for constructing words leads to nonsense:

nadd er ho rald gruwapt

You knew that. Second, a language develops conventions for putting those words into meaningful groups, which I will call phrases. (This is not quite the same defiintion as in grammar/linguistics.)

He kissed me

I wish I was in Paris

Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water

Abandoning the conventions for constructing phrases accomplishes nothing and just leads to difficult reading.

Spout spider up water bitsy the itsy went the

You already knew that too.

Third, and lastly, a language develops conventions/rules for connecting and organizing these meaningful phrases. For example, two independent clauses can be connected with a comma followed by a coordinating conjunction. For short, I will call these conventions English Grammar, abbreviated as EG.

Without that third step, a language would be just a sequence of unconnected phrases. Would that make communication difficult? Not really.

I grab some dirt
I run forward almost tripping on my skirt
I throw the dirt at the thief Casor is fighting
It is only dirt
It bothers the thief for only a heartbeat
But it is all I can do to help
Apparently a heartbeat is a long time in a sword fight
Casor plunges his sword into the man's stomach

That's the hidden grammar of English -- meaningful phrases, one after another, with no rules or conventions for connecting them. I call it Simple Phrase Grammar -- SPG for short.

There's a simple, empirical test for the existence of SPG: Will a passage be understood if it follows the principles of SPG but not EG? The answer is yes. The two following examples are from my own writing, with the phrases separated by commas:

Walking into the house after school, ah shit, I forgot about my father's wife, I never expected her to be waiting for me, an ambush, isn't she supposed to be working?

I'm walking in a crowd in the school hallway, a hand rubs my butt, someone laughs. I turn around to see who did it, the guys are smirking, the girls are looking at me with contempt, everyone thinks I deserved that, I don't know who did it, someone behind me whispers trash, I whirl around, I can't tell who said that either.

So, your readers all have SPG inside their head, and they can and will use it, despite having been taught a different grammar. As long as your writing follows the principles of SPG (which I will discuss), your readers will understand it.

EG does NOT make the same promise – sentences that are EG correct can be almost impossible to understand:

The book the girl whom the boy whom a father scolded kissed liked ended well.

Sentences that follow the rules of EG can also be easy to understand, of course, but that's only to the extent that they also follow the rules of SPG. Following both SPG and EG leads to very understandable writing:

I shake my head and try not to smile. They'll take it as a weakness and keep pushing. (The Tyrant's Daughter, Carleson page 62).

Of course, writers don't write sentences they themselves can't understand, but they do write sentences that are difficult to understand. The following sentence is perfectly grammatical, but it breaks the rules of SPG. It's not impossible to understand; but understanding is difficult.

It has been related how, in the crowd that witnessed Hester Prynne's ignominious exposure, stood a man, elderly, travel-worn, who, just emerging from the perilous wilderness, beheld the woman, in whom he hoped to find embodied the warmth and cheerfulness of home, set up as a type of sin before the people. (Hawthorne, Chapter 9, The Scarlet Letter).

A second issue is power -- how much can be expressed? It turns out that the rules for connecting phrases in EG are too limiting, so EG isn't that powerful. For power, rules are sometimes broken:

He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. (The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway)

Leaving out the comma (before and) was ungrammatical. But Hemingway wanted the meaning that comes from leaving the comma out. So leave it out he did, breaking the laws of EG. (The entire book is like that, and it won the Pulizer Prize, so do not say writers need to follow the rules of grammar.)

Writers want understandability and power, so the grammar of writing has been drifting towards SPG for over 140 years and breaking the EG rules for at least 80 years. Some ways of breaking rules are so common and well-accepted nowadays that we will have to talk about Writer's Grammar (WG). That's the grammar that writers commonly use and hence almost no one would object to or find jarring; it's between EG and SPG.

For example, few readers would be jarred by Hemingway's lack of comma. Or Stephen King's ungrammatical comma after fat:

She's as skinny as her brother is fat, and regards Hodges with a watery, suspicious eye. (Mr. Mercedes, page 219)

Or Green's ungrammatical comma:

and then all of them would touch the coffin instead of touching him, because no one wants to touch the dead. (The Fault in Our Stars, page 268)

By the way, if you (mistakenly) think fiction writing should be EG correct, you probably don't know the rules of EG. It's a difficult-to-negotiate desert; as far as I know, no one follows all of the rules when they write. Yes, some writers come close, but most writers don't leave the first page without breaking at least one EG rule. And when they break those rules, no one cares. And as long as they follow the principles of SPG, their sentence will be understandable.


Staff member
You're absolutely right. Experienced, effective fiction writers break grammar (and other) rules all the time. They do it on purpose, not by accident, and they do it to produce distinct effects. Right now I'm essentially doing two other betas, plus a lot of other things, but if you still need someone taking a look at the first of the month message me. I think your other book is very well done, and I expect nothing less from this one. :)


WF Veterans
Thanks for your offer and kind words. I will just self-publish as is, I need to move on.

I don't know if you need to understand grammar to write well, but the rule-breaking all seemed like chaotic until I discovered this SPG idea. Laughing, so it's like the rules to follow when you are breaking the rules!