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Description,' he said, ' was (is) to the author of a romance, exactly what drawing and tinting were (are) to a painter ; words were (are) his culors, and, if properly employed, they could (can) not fail to place the scene which he wished (wishes) to conjure up, as effectually before the mind's eye, as the tablet or canvass presents it to the bodily organ. The same rules,' he continued,' applied (apply) to both, and an exuberance of dialogue in the former case, was (is) a verbose and laborious mode of com position, which went (goes) to confound the proper art of the drama, a widely different species of composition, of which dialogue was (is) the very essence; because all, excepting the language to be made use of, was (is) presented to the eye by the dresses, and persons, and actions, of the per bormers upon the stage.''
The author was misled throughout in the tenses of the verbs in this extract, by the tense of the verb said, with which he introduces it.
DIRECTION 4th. Whenever several verbs belonging to one common subject occur in a sentence, the subject or nominative must be repeated whenever there is a change in the mood, tense, or form of the verb.
DIRECTION 5th. In the use of the comparative and superlative de grees of the adjective, it is to be remarked, that when two things or per sons only are compared, the comparative degree, and not the superlative, should be used. Thus, in the sentence,“ Catharine and Mary are both well attired; but, in their appearance, Catharine is the neatest, Mary the most showy," the superlative degree of the adjective is improperly applied As there are but two persons spoken of, the adjectives should be in the comparative degree namely neater and more showy.
DIRECTION 6th. Neuter and intransitive verbs should never be used in the passive form. Such expressions as was gonc, is grown, is fallen, is come,* may be relied on, &c., although used by some good writers, are ob jectionable.
* Although this form of expression is sanctioned by Murray, Lowth, and other good authorities, yet reason and analogy will not justify us in assent ing to their decision; for, besides the awkwardness of the expression, it is objectionable as being an unnecessary anomaly. But the author has been influenced in his rejection of such expressions, by the very sensible and conclusive remarks of Mr. Pickbourn, in a very learned work, entitled “ A Dissertation on the English Verb,” published in London, 1789. Dr. Priestley, in his “Grammar," page 121, says, " It seems not to have been determined by the English grammarians, whether the passive participles of verbs neuter require the auxiliary am or have before them. The French, in this case; confine themselves strictly to the former.” “ This remark," says Mr. Pickbourn, “concerning the manner of using the participles of French neuter verbs is certainly not well founded; for most of them are conjugated with avoir, to have."
Such expressions as the following have recently become very common, not only in the periodical publications of the day, but are likewise finding favor with popular writers; as, “The house is being built.”. “ The street is being paved.” " The actions that are now being performed," &c. " The patents are being prepared.". The usage of the best writers does not sanc tion these expressions; and Mr. Pickbourn, in the work just quoted, laya down the following principle, which is conclusive upon the subject. "Whenever the participle in ing is joined by an auxiliary verb to a ncunina
DIRECTION 7th. In the use of irregular verbs, a proper distinction should be made in the use of the imperfect tense and the perfect participle
He done (did) it at my request: He run (ran) a great risk: He has mistook (mistaken) his true interest: The cloth was wove (woven) of the finest wool: He writes as the best authors would have wrote (written) had they writ (written) on the subject: The bell has been rang (rung): 1 have spoke (spoken) to him upon the subject. These sentences are in stances where the proper distinction between the preterite and participle has not been preserved.
DIRECTION 8th. The negative adverb must be followed by the nega tive conjunction; as, “ The work is not capable of pleasing the under: standing, nor (not or) the imagination.” The sentence would be im proved by using the conjunctions in pairs, substituting neither for not.
In the following sentences, the conjunction but is improperly used. "I cannot deny but that I was in fault." "It cannot be doubted but that this is a state of positive gratification,” &c.
DIRECTION 9th. There must be no ellipsis of any word, when such ellipsis would occasion obscurity. Thus, when we speak of the laws of God and man,” it is uncertain whether one or two codes of laws are meant; but, in the expression, “the laws of God, and the laws of man,' the obscurity vanishes. A nice distinction in sense is made by the use of omission of the articles. "A white and red house," means but one house: but, “ A white and a red house,” means two houses. In the expression. “She has a little modesty," the meaning is positive; but, by omitting the article, “She has little modesty,” the meaning becomes negative. The position of the article, also, frequently makes a great difference in the sense, as will be seen in the following examples: “As delicate a little thing;” “As a delicate little thing."
DIRECTION 10th. The adverb should always be placed as near as pos sible to the word which it is designed to qualify. Its proper position is generally before adjectives, after verbs, and frequently between the auxil iary and the verb. The following sentence exhibits an instance of the improper location of the adverb: “It had almost been his daily custom at a certain hour, to visit Admiral Priestman.” The adverb almost shoulc have been placed before daily.
DIRECTION 11th. In the use of passive and neuter verbs, care must be taken that the proper nominative is applied. That which is the object of the active verb, must in all cases be the subject or nominative of the passive verb. Thus, we say, with the active verb, "They offered him mercy” (i e. to him); and, with the passive verb, “ Mercy was offered to
tive capable of the action, it is taken actively; but, when joined to one incapable of the action, it becomes passive. If we say, the men are building a house,' the participle building is evidently used in an active sense; because the men are capable of the action. But when we say, * The house is building,' or 'Patents are preparing,' the participles building and preparing must necessarily be understood in a passive sense; because neither the honse nor the patents ar; capable of action." See Pickbaurn on the Englisle Verb, r n. 78-80.
him ;” not, “ He was offered mercy,” because “ mercy," and not “ he" is the thing which was offered. It is better to alter the expression, by substituting a synonyme with a proper nominative or subject, than to intro duce such confusion of language, as must necessarily result from a change in the positive, fixed, and true significations of words, or from a useles violation of grammatical propriety. In accordance with this direction, (see, also, Direction 6th,) instead of
it would be better to say He was prevailed on,
He was persuaded. He was spoken to,
He was addressed. She was listened to,
She was heard. They were looked at,
They were seen, or viewed. It is approved of,
It is liked, or commended. He was spoken of,
He was named, or mentioned. It is contended for,
It is maintained, or contested. It was thought of,
It was remembered, or conceived. He was called on by his friend, He was visited by his friend. These examples are commented These examples are ridiculed with upon with much humor,
much humor. He was referred to as an oracle. He was consulted as an oracle.
DIRECTION 12th. All the parts of a sentence should be constructed in such a manner that there shall appear to be no want of agreement or connexion among them. Thus, the following sentence, “He was more beloved, but not so much admired as Cynthio,” is inaccurate, because, when it is analyzed, it will be, “ He was more beloved as Cynthio," &c. The adverb more requires the conjunction than after it; and the sentence should be, “He was more beloved than Cynthio, but not so much ad mired."
Again; in the sentence, “If a man have a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray," &c., the subjunctive mood, have, is used after the con junction if, in the first part of the sentence, and the indicative, goes, in the second. Both of these verbs should be in the indicative, or both in the subjunctive mood.
No definite rule can be given, which will enable the learner to make the parts of a sentence agree in themselves, and with one another. They should be diligently compared, and a similarity of construction be carefully maintained; while the learner will recollect, that no sentence can be considered grammatically correct, which cannot be analyzed or parsed by the authorized rules of syntax.
(Examples for practice, under these principles, may be found in Parker and Fox's “Grammar," Part II., or in Murray's "Exercises.” It has not been deerned expedient to insert them here.]
ON THE SELECTION OF WORDS AND EXPRESSIONS
Besides grammatical correctness, the student who aims at being a good speaker and a good writer must pay attention to the style, or manner of expressing his ideas. *Rules relating to this subject pertain to the science of rhetoric.
Perspicuity, (by which is meant clearness to the mind, easiness to be understood, freedom from obscurity or ambiguity) should be the fundamental quality of style; and the study of perspicuity and accuracy of expression requires attention, first, to words and phrases, and secondly, to the constructior of sentences.
Of Words and Phrases.
The words and phrases employed in the expression of our ideas should have the three properties called purity, propriety, and precision.
Purity consists in the use of such words, and such constructions, as belong to the idiom of the language which we speak, in opposition to words and phrases that are taken from other languages, or that are ungrammatical, obsolete, newly coined, or used without proper authority:
Purity may be violated in three different ways. First, the words may not be English. This fault is called a barbarism.
Secondly, the construction of the word may not be in the English idiom. This fault is called a solecism.
Thirdly, the words and phrases may not be employed to express the precise meaning which custom has affixed to them. This fault is termed an impropriety.
Propriety of language consists in the selection of such words as the best usage has appropriated to those ideas which ye intend to express by them; in opposition to low expressions, and to words and phrases which would be less significant of the ideas that we mean to convey.
There are seven principal rules for the preservation of propriety.
Avoid the injudicious use of technical terms; that is, terms or expressions which are used in some art, occupation, or profession.
3. Avoid equivocal, or ambiguous words.
7. Avoid all such words and phrases as are not adapted to the ideas intended to be communicated.
Precision signifies the retrenching of superfluities and the pruning of the expression, so as to exhibit neither more nor less than an exact copy of the person's idea who uses it.*
The words used to express ideas may be faulty in three respects, First, they may not express the idea which the author intends, but some other which only resembles it; secondly, they may express that idea, but not fully and completely; thirdly, they may express ít, together with something more than is intended. Precision stands opposed to these three faults, but chiefly to the last. Propriety implies a freedom from the two former faults. The words which are used may be proper ; that is, they may ex press the idea intended, and they may express it fully; but to be precise, signifies that they express that idea and no more.
The great source of a loose style in opposition to precision, is the inju. dicious use of words termed synonymous. They are called synonymous because they agree in expressing one principal idea; but, for the most part, if not always, they express it with some diversity in the circumstances.t
While we are attending to precision, we must be on our guard, lest, from the desire of pruning too closely, we retrench all copiousness. To unite copiousness and precision, to be full and easy, and at the same time correct and exact in the choice of every word, is, no doubt, one of the highest and most difficult attainments in writing.
OF THE CONSTRUCTION OF SENTENCES. I
Sentences, in general, should neither be very long, ‘noi very short; long ones require close attention to make us
* Precision is promoted by the omission of unnesessary words and phrases ; and is opposed to Tautology, or the repetition of the same sense in different words; and to Pleonasm, or the use of superfluous words.
+ See Lesson XIX. The student who wishes for exercises on the sub jects of purity, propriety, and precision, will find them in Parker and Fox's Grammar, Part III., pp. 78-86, or in Murray's Exercises, (Alger's Edition.)
The substance of the remarks on this subject, is taken from Blair's Rhetoric. A great part of the langnage, also, is copied literally from that work.