We may not have it all together, but together we have it all.
As we start into this series on grammar, a couple of overall comments. Grammar is a subject I was taught in school all the way from first grade to eleventh grade. Eleven years of the same subject, either all year long or at least for one semester.
If it takes eleven years for professional teachers with textbooks at their disposal, it’s probably not a subject I’m going to deal with successfully in a blog or two. With that in mind, we’re going to go through grammar on a slow and easy course here. No rush. Instead of trying to cover everything I can think of in a few weekly sessions, I intend to cover one item each week. Some weeks the point I’m covering may take 1200 words. Other weeks, I may say everything that needs to be said in 100 words. Once I’ve said it, I see no reason to try to drag it out. By the way, if I misspell “grammar” somewhere along the way, it’s because I’ve got cousins named “Grammer.” So don’t let that confuse you.
Rather than try to outline the entire series like a teacher would for a course in school, I’ll be commenting each week on grammatical errors I’ve recently noticed and how to avoid them. I’m way too disorganized to outline a course. One other little caveat. I will defer to correction from Microsoft Word’s spelling and grammar check functions unless I know them to be clearly in error.
Today, we’re going to discuss a common misuse of the preposition “of.” Pretty small and limited subject, huh? Yeah, but one on which writers so frequently err, it’s worthy of a session by itself.
How often have you read a statement like, “It wasn’t that good of an example?” What does that mean?
“Of” is a preposition, meaning that when it is properly used it must have an object. If you remember diagramming sentences (Do they even teach that anymore?), this sentence would have to be diagrammed with the subject (It) and the verb (was) and the predicate adjective (good) on the main line. “Of an example” would have to be a prepositional phrase modifying “good.”
Is that really what anyone means with a statement such as this? Of course not. We didn’t intend for “example” to modify “good.” We wanted “good” to modify “example.”
We were trying to say that the example wasn’t really all that good. In order to accomplish that, we have to delete the “of.” That’s all that necessary to make a coherent statement out of this.
The sentence, correctly stated, would be: “It wasn’t that good an example.” Now “good,” an adjective, modifies “example,” a noun, just as we intended for it to do.
Does this seem like a pretty small thing to you? Well, I guess it is in a way. After all, we’re talking about a single two-letter word here. But it’s a lot more important than just the two little letters it takes to write the word. The misuse of it in situations like this leaves us with a completely incoherent statement.
Whether it’s “that good of an example” or “that pretty of a picture” or “that tasty of a dessert” or whatever, let’s remember to ask ourselves what the object of the preposition “of” is before using it. If the answer to that question leaves an incoherent statement, let’s just omit the “of.”
David N. Walker is a Christian father and grandfather, a grounded pilot and a near-scratch golfer who had to give up the game because of shoulder problems. A graduate of Duke University, he spent 42 years as a health insurance agent. Most of that career was spent in Texas, but for a few years he traveled many other states. He started writing about 20 years ago, and has six unpublished novels to use as primers on how NOT to write fiction. He has just e-pubbed his devotional, Heaven Sent: 67 Stories of Godly Thoughts and Inspiration (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008CRL82M). His new fiction work—a series of novellas set during the period from 1860 to 1880 is underway. The first one is in the editing process, and he’s currently writing the second one.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet me at @davidnwalkertx