That Feeling You Get When You Know It’s Just Right.

How do you know when a sentence is correct or not? As any native speaker of any language will tell you: it’s correct because it feels right. Of course, if you’ve studied linguistics, you might reply with something a little more high brow. You might refer to the “correct” or “incorrectness” of the grammar/wording/syntax/pronunciation/etc.

Now, assuming that you aren’t a native speaker of English (for example) – but you’ve been speaking it for a long time, long enough to write creatively in it anyway – you might have that feeling of ‘rightness’. Here at Cecile’s Writers, we are for the most part ‘native’ speakers. However, discussion on the rightness or wrongness of a word or sentence construction can get heated. For example, Vanessa asked us if you travel ‘in’ or ‘on’ a plane (you can see the blog post that spurred this particular conversation), to which each of us responded yes, no and maybe. Ask a native speaker and they will probably tell you I travel ‘in’ a train or I will travel ‘on’ a train.

Here’s the catch – it depends on where the speaker is from. So, in a sense, both are correct and incorrect, a bit like Shrödinger’s cat being both alive and dead in a box until you open the box. What happens with native speakers, (or very proficient speakers) who have been in regular contact with different accents, is that the line where they think it is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ gets a bit blurred.

Many could see this as a disadvantage, but consider the following sentence, taken from a story submitted for  publication in Cecile’s Writers Magazine’s first edition:

“His stiff body wouldn’t flex that easily anymore.”

Note the use of the word ‘flex’, does it seem right or wrong to you?

To me it sounds different. Grammatically, it’s a perfectly acceptable sentence. Flexing implies a degree of elasticity.  My next question is: Knowing that the writer is a near-native-speaker of English, would you then change the sentence?

I really think that  semi/near/almost native speakers bring word combinations into play that might at first seem strange, but if you dig deeper, you can find that they bring a certain flavor to a story. This is one of the joys in working for an intercultural magazine.

Sofia

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2 Comments to “That Feeling You Get When You Know It’s Just Right.”

  1. When I think of a body bending, I don’t think of the word “flex” unless it’s a knee, elbow, or ankle. But if the writer is referring to an entire body, I’d modify the verb to more closely approximate the action.

    If the writer is referring to the character’s back, for example, I’d use the word “bend.”

    If the writer is trying to say that the character has an overall loss of flexibility, I’d revise the sentence to something like: “His stiff body was no longer as flexible as it once was.”

    But I really think it depends on the writer’s intent. In addition, the current sentence may fit in the context of the way the writer expresses him/herself, so I think that needs to be taken into consideration, too.

    Line editing is an art, to say the least.

  2. I also travel *by* plane.

    You know, just to mix it up a little. :-]

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