Weird grammar. In the English language there are exceptions to every rule, and then, some of the rules are just weird. Today we are going to take a break from photography to talk about some oddities of grammar. Some are obscure, some just piss me the hell off. As always, I am no grammar queen. There may be mistakes in this very post!
“Awhile” vs “A while”
It’s true. This one just pissed me the hell off. When I returned to writing years ago, I had forgotten many, many little rules and such. This was one of them.
“I’m going to be gone for awhile,” I wrote in my story.
“Nope. After the word ‘for,’ a while has to be two words,” My beta reader informed me.
“Why? For the love of god why?”
“Beats the fuck out of me, but that’s the way it is.”
There is a reason. Of course there’s a reason, there’s always a reason. The definition of “Awhile” is that it’s an adverb that describes a length of time. “A while,” on the other hand, is a noun that means a length of time. Oh! So that’s the secret! It’s so crystal clear for me now—not! In any event, if it comes after the word “for,” then “a while” should be two words. It’s two words when it’s near any preposition. Thus “a while ago.” That’s enough to keep you out of trouble.
“Hank’s and Danique’s wombats are rabid.”
“Hank and Danique’s wombats are rabid.”
In the first example, Hank and Danique each own their own rabid wombat. In the second, Hank and Danique share custody of multiple rabid wombats. Oh, the humanity! I suggest avoiding this one altogether by a slightly wordier re-write.
“Hank and Danique each own wombats that are rabid.”
“The wombats that Hank and Danique keep in the backyard have all gone rabid.”
There are many places where grammar choices rely on meaning rather than form, but here’s where shit gets real.
If one is writing about a statement that is not true:
“If I were a rabid wombat, I would bite you in a heartbeat,” then one uses “were” not “was.”
Thus the Broadway hit, “If I Were a Rich Man” is correct while Gwen Stefani’s “Rich Girl” has all the wrong grammar.
Conversely, if one is writing about a hypothetical situation or asking a question, then one uses the word “was.”
“The reporter asked me if I was happy about Animal Control clearing out the rabid wombats.”
“If a rabid wombat was here, I would have noticed it.”
My problem with subjunctives is that there is a fine and vague line between what is not true and what is hypothetical.
“I would have freaked out if a rabid wombat was here last night, but they had all been rounded up by Animal Control.”
It sounds hypothetical, but the speaker knows it’s not true, so I suppose it should be “were” instead of “was.”