Xulon Press | The Grammar Debate
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Ask the Editor: The Grammar Debate

Xulon Press | From the Editor | The Grammar DebateSo you thought this would be a post on which grammar rules are official and which ones are made up. That’s not where we’re headed. This is more of a duel than a debate – as in, the dueling forms of grammar all contained in one manuscript. Being the author, you decide which grammar rules you want to adhere to – you just need to stick to your choice. It’s all about consistency. If you are making inconsistent choices in regards to your nouns and verbs, then you are likely making errors in grammar. It’s not about remembering an impossibly long list of grammar rules, it’s about finishing a sentence, paragraph or chapter the same way you started it.

Consistent verb tense

Incorrect: “When I was young I eat a lot of watermelons.”
Correct: “When I was young, I ate a lot of watermelons.”

This example is oversimplified, but it happens a lot. The longer the sentence, the higher the possibility that the verb tense is forgotten and ends up being changed in the middle. Many authors are recounting stories of mission trips past, childhood experiences and the like. The first sentence is in the past tense, but then the story switches to the present tense. By the end of the page, the reader is confused as to whether they are reading memories being shared or a story being told in the present. Again, it’s up to you as an author. If you want to tell a past experience in the present tense that’s your choice, but you need to do so consistently. Introduce the story in the past, but after that and until the story is over, write in the present tense:

“I learned this lesson when I was three years old. My mom tells me to put my coat on and I don’t. I run away from her screaming that I will never put my coat on. She comes over to me and puts it on me herself, then puts me in time out. Not only do I have my coat on, but I am punished on top of it.”

Subject-verb agreement

Incorrect: “These and many other questions poses a great challenge.”
Correct: “These and many other questions pose a great challenge.”

If a singular noun is taking the action described by the verb, the verb must be plural. “The dog runs.” If a plural noun is taking the action described by the verb, the verb must be singular. “The dogs run.” Again, the key here is consistency. This is something we all learned, but it’s very easy to forget this knowledge while you are being swept about in the flow of creative juices. At that time what you are saying feels more important than how you are saying it. Once you get everything out, slowly read your book aloud. If anything feels wrong, it probably is wrong. Small errors in grammar compromise the quality of your book in readers’ eyes, so going back over your sentences to check your consistency is an invaluable step to take.

Voice or point of view

“I need to get my house in order.”
“You need to get your house in order.”
“We need to get our house in order.”
“They need to get their house in order.”

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the key is consistency! Before you even type out the full first draft of the manuscript, decide how you want to address your readers: first person “I/we”, second person “you” or third person “they”. Once you have decided which one is best for your message, stick to it. It is your default. Only move away from the default if absolutely necessary and only a few times in the entire book. If you deviate from your default within one page, paragraph or even one sentence, your text feels disjointed and does not flow comfortably for the readers. It is your message, but in order to share that message, it must be shared in the way that readers will absorb it.

Sorry to disappoint if you were looking for a great debate, but feel free to start one in the comments below! Also, click over to the Xulon Press Facebook page to vote on our next Ask the Editor poll, available each Monday. Let us know the topic you’re interested in and we’ll see you next week!


Vanessa Correa is a Staff Editor at Xulon Press with a total of 10 years of publishing experience in diverse industries including journalism, academic publishing, social media and more. She is a native New Yorker and alumnus of the M.S. Publishing program at New York University. Her passion is translation—her family is from Puerto Rico and her aim is to ensure our authors receive the same high quality services for Spanish books, press releases and other materials as they do in English.

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