Squirrel!

800px-Klamelisaurus-scene-v1 wikimedia commonsI’m a dinosaur, lost in the woods.

I’m definitely a product of my generation. I have some college behind me, but not much, and what college I do have happened in the Dark Ages.

I am pretty much self taught. Because I am aware of my frailty in regard to REMEMBERING the English Language as it was taught to me in my American elementary school years, I am always trying to reeducate myself.

Fortunately, the internet is big, and full of all sorts of good advice.

Lots and lots of interesting things, all so neatly packaged for my  viewing pleasure.

grey squirrel close up  © Neil Phillips 2007

grey squirrel close up
© Neil Phillips 2007

What usually happens is one question gets partially answered and  suddenly I see a squirrel!

Today’s squirrel is a paragraph in an article regarding comma usage I was directed to by one of my dear friends, editor Irene Roth Luvaul.

I got about half way through it before I was sidetracked by another issue I have struggled with in my writing.  Should I use That or Which when a relative pronoun is REQUIRED? I say ‘required’ because most of the time a relative pronoun is not necessary but, occasionally, one is needed to clarify a sentence.

According to  Mark Nichol, writing for the website Daily Writing Tips:

“The house which Jack built is falling apart,” without commas, is correct. It is identical in meaning to “The house that Jack built is falling apart.” However, the convention in American English is to avoid using which in this sense to prevent confusion with the meaning of the sentence with the parenthetical phrase.”

SO this little paragraph explains the bipolar approach to writing I have when it comes THAT and WHICH!  One of my editors is BRITISH and the other is AMERICAN!  Both are educated and correct in their usage of the words, and both keep me on the right path.

I must simply decide which path that path might be…or something.

The key is to choose a usage and stick with it, I think.  This involves making a list and ♪ ♫ checking it twice ♪ ♫, gonna find out who’s ♪ ♫…squirrel!

Where was I?

Oh yes, relative pronouns.

Complicating things even further is the dreaded Zero Relative Pronoun! According to WIKIPEDIA-THE FOUNT OF ALL KNOWLEDGE (and I quote:)

Zero relative pronoun

English, unlike other West Germanic languages, has a zero relative pronoun (denoted below as Ø) — that is, the relative pronoun is only implied and is not explicitly present. It is an alternative to thatwhich or who(m) in a restrictive relative clause:

Jack built the house that I was born in.
Jack built the house Ø I was born in.
He is the person who(m) I saw.
He is the person Ø I saw.

Relative clauses headed by zeros are frequently called contact clauses in TEFL contexts, and may also be called “zero clauses”.

Note that if that is analyzed as a complementizer rather than as a relative pronoun (see Status of that below), the above sentences would be represented differently: Jack built the house that I was born in ØJack built the house I was born in ØHe is the person I saw Ø.

MH900407568The zero relative pronoun cannot be the subject of the verb in the relative clause (or on the alternative analysis: that cannot be omitted when the zero relative pronoun is the subject). Thus one must say:

Jack built the house that sits on the hill.
Jack built the house that was damaged by the tornado.

and never

*Jack built the house Ø sits on the hill.
*Jack built the house Ø was damaged by the tornado.

Neither that nor the zero pronoun can be used in non-restrictive relative clauses, or in relative clauses with a fronted preposition (“Jack built the house in which we now live”), although they can be used when the preposition is stranded: “Jack built the house (that) we now live in.

And what did we learn here? Holy crap, Jack is a busy man, and the houses he builds…. I don’t think I want to live in a house he built, too risky.

So anyway I think I need to decide if I am going to go British or American, and STICK with it either way. It seems like a simple choice on the surface but it isn’t. I am an American, but I grew up reading Agatha Christie, and J.R.R. Tolkien.

What would Bilbo Baggins do?

What’s that in your pocketses or are you just glad to see me…?

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7 Comments

Filed under Adventure, Books, Humor, Literature, Uncategorized, writer, writing

7 responses to “Squirrel!

  1. As an American who grew up with British parents and reading The Hobbit AND Enid Blyton – and also Angela Brazil! – I feel your pain, my sister. Hence my poor editor tries to sort (SQUIRREL AHEAD) the toward / towards conundrum. Apparently Americans say towards. I use toward and always have. It may take until I turn Eleventy-One to figure it all out.

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  2. @Irene,@Allie – I am of the opinion we should Mind–Meld the two usages. In books there is no accent other than the accent the reader hears…. .

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  3. Sherrie DeGraw

    This why I teach math! Much simpler! Planning for my one reading/language arts group takes 4 times as long as planning for my 5 math lessons at 4 different grade levels. This is why I read what you all write. Much easier! You folks write, I read. It’s the circle of life. See someone else wrote that for me…….think he’s British…..

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    • Math beyond basic bookkeeping boggles my mind.
      At least it did until Excel came along and I had a VISUAL answer to those pesky algebraic formulas which, before Excel, made no sense at all!
      Who am I kidding?.
      Math still boggles my mind. I use Excel so that my mind is not boggled by keeping track of my personal budget..

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  4. Connie, I always thought it was ‘the house what Jack builded’. My 4 year old grandson thinks that’s correct, too. As for ‘which’ or ‘that’, well, I don’t care which a writer uses, as long as meaning is clear. From what I’ve read, your writing can use either since your meaning is perfectly clear and unambiguous 🙂

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    • @J.D.Hughes – Jack is a busy builder of houses – methinks he builds tract houses in the sub-division just down the street from me! And I agree about the usages – who ever is editing will have the final word!

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