Fifteen Words

An English Ear


My love affair with the English language began as soon as I heard my parents’ voice. They cultivated and encouraged a love of words. My ear for English is the result of hearing it spoken correctly. It is also the result of exposure to an abundance of quality writing. My parents and teachers regularly read aloud and I spent countless hours absorbed in books on my own. Part of my education was required memorization: Bible passages, hymns, the catechism, poetry, famous speeches, famous writings. Beginning with Chaucer, ( Whanne that April with his shoures sote The droughte of March hath perced to the rote.) on to Shakespeare, the King James Bible, Idyls of the King, Blake, Wordsworth and across the ocean to Longfellow, Whitman, Poe, Robert Frost, the limericks of Edward Lear and beyond. The words return to me yet in phrases, lines, and entire verses. The list of poets hardly touches my in-depth exposure, nor does it begin to name authors that I have read and re-read through the years. It is a small smattering of the English diet on which I was raised and for which I give many thanks. Training up a child’s ear in quality English is the best grammar course available. The patter of words, their rhythm, the flow, and the song that results is a gift to be treasured and I do.

Glaring grammar mistakes still occur. Tenses may get mixed in the excitement of writing, pronouns can corrupt the clarity and sentences become convoluted. Reading the manuscript aloud catches the glitches. They are snags to the ear as broken stitches or uneven seams catch the eye of the seamstress. My well trained English ear catches the majority of mistakes.

Words are the gems, pearls, diamonds and rubies, while grammar is the setting which shows them to their best advantage.

Today the growl of the small tractor came through to the kitchen as Faith worked.

The word count for the book, A Fistful of Dandelions, stands at 98,611  and my English ear is concerned about 15 of them. The sentence tells me it is not well constructed; 15 words out of 98,611 challenge me to improve them. What to do with 15 plastic blocks eludes me, while 15 Tinker Toys are simply a pile of sticks. Give me 15 quilt squares and I will arrange and re-arrange until the pattern is pleasing to the eye. Give me 15 words and I will arrange and re-arrange until the sequence is pleasing to the ear.

 Today. The word is not necessary. Growl, small, tractor, kitchen, Faith, work. These I must keep. They have the information on which the rest of the paragraph is built. The words came, through, to, are what make it awkward.

From the kitchen Faith heard the growl of the small tractor as she worked.

In the kitchen where she worked, Faith heard the growl of the small tractor.

The growl of the small tractor came into the kitchen where Faith worked.

From the garden came the growl of the small tractor. The sound distracted Faith from the kitchen work.

The growl of the small tractor distracted Faith from the kitchen work.

98,611 words in the manuscript and I am concerned about 15 of them. The possibilities are endless, the desire to get it right- priceless.

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