Dialogue vs. Grammatically-Correct Sentences

Ms. Nine put me onto Reasoning with Vampires, a snarky romp through the Twilight series. Thankfully, I didn’t start reading it before I called it quits on my book, or it would have induced yet another round of edits. (I know I’m guilty of some things, but no where near as much.)

I’ve gotten a good laugh out of some of the things Dana points out, but this one brought me up short. I think she’s actually wrong here.

Don’t get me wrong; her grammar is correct. You do, indeed, use the word “whom” where indicated. But, I ask you: when was the last time you said the word “whom” in a conversation? I’m 32 years old, and when I write, I usually correctly distinguish between who and whom (despite the fact the the only people who bother anymore are English majors and maybe Brits), but I have never said “whom” in an actual, honest-to-God conversation. I especially wouldn’t expect a 17 year old to say “whom” in a sentence–unless it was Edward; I could buy archaic grammar from someone educated at the turn of the 20th century. (Yes, sorry, “whom” is now archaic.)

I try my best to make sure my sentences are grammatically-correct and understandable, but most of that goes out the door when one of my characters speaks. Kalyn was born and bred in East Tennessee. She–like me–is quite unapologetic about the use of the word “ya’ll” and ending sentences in prepositions (“at” is a favorite sentence-ender around here). Real people speak in sentence fragments, and sometimes they string together multiple fragments into something approaching a run-on sentence.

Don’t ever make the mistake of correcting a Southerner’s speech, because you might end up with this situation:

A bellhop followed a well-heeled gentleman to his room. “Where do you want these at?” the bellhop asked, indicating the luggage.

“Between the ‘a’ and the ‘t.'” When the bellhop looked at him blankly, the gentleman sneered, “You shouldn’t end a sentence in a preposition. Do you not know that?”

“No, I didn’t know that. Where would you like these at, asshole?”

9 comments on “Dialogue vs. Grammatically-Correct Sentences

  1. SK Figler says:

    Keri,
    Your main point about colloquial grammar in speech or from a 1st-person perspective is well-taken. But please don’t bury “whom” yet, as a lot of us ordinary folk who aren’t English teachers still use it because it sounds right, not at all like a duck hanging onto a ‘gator’s ass-hole (because our world will crumble if we don’t).

    • Keri Peardon says:

      I still use it in writing, too, but then I was a history major; I like old, antiquated things. LOL. I won’t bury it, but you can’t deny that it’s dying. Soon it’ll be in the annals of discarded English words, like “thy/thine/thou” and the verb tense -est. (Do thou knowest of what I speak?”)

      I like your phrase “duck hanging onto a gator’s asshole.” I haven’t heard that one before. I’ll have to file it away for future reference, lol. (My husband says that he doesn’t have any good catchphrases anymore; I stole all of them for my book.)

  2. Ha! Love the ending. If my roommate weren’t adverse to swear words, I would share it with her. Alas …

  3. Wallace says:

    When I write, I try my best to use good grammar and proper diction, but when it comes to dialog, I go by ear and common usage. If you write dialog, it should be able to be read aloud as easily as real people speaking. If it comes out awkward or hard to naturally say, then it needs a rewrite.

    I quite often speak the dialog in my head to see if it sounds natural, but nothing really beats reading it aloud like you were giving an oral presentation of a dramatic dialog. I find I quite often drop the final “g” in a word or speak in sentence fragments, or even just single words, with maybe an ellips following it. And contractions are sprinkled liberally throughout. It’s how people really speak, and writing it like you were listening to a college diction professor give a lecture just sounds wrong when it’s read aloud.

    And then there’s the case of accents and jargon and foreign speakers. All of them pose problems when trying to get the essential feel of how they actually speak down on paper. A lot of people would be offended by ethnic speech patterns written down, but the very people offended by it are also the ones who are talking exactly that way, they just don’t want it written down that way since it makes them look uneducated.

    • Keri Peardon says:

      You know I have a strong Southern accent, but I am very definitely one of those people who disapproves of purposefully misspelled words meant to indicate Southern speech because it does make all of us sound like idiots (with the sole exception of the “Foxfire” books, which meant to record speech patterns for the day when that way of speaking is extinct; they’re the only people I’ve seen write that way and not make it disparaging).

      I’ve been subjected to more than my share of people expressing disbelief that someone who “sounds like me” can use large words and make intelligent conversation, so I’m especially touchy on that subject.

      (For those of you who don’t know what I sound like, I sound exactly like my dad, whom you can see performing here: . While he exaggerates stories for the sake of comedy, his accent is not an exaggeration; that’s what he sounds like off stage, too. But ask him to explain the Higgs Boson particle to you sometime. Most of my knowledge of astronomy and physics comes from my dad, not school.)

  4. I’m with you 100% on this one. Dialogue has to sound natural. Love the true story at the end. 😉

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