Grammar Errors in English Literature?– English Writing Coach Explains

What the hell does this even mean?

This was my question when I first read “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald back in high school. Although I was both struck by the beauty of the novel’s prose in general, this sentence on page one confused me.

Years later, I became convinced that my confusion was not unfounded, that indeed this sentence featured a problematic grammar structure, one that has persisted in use, particularly in the American English context.

I often say, “Grammar is important because it is the structure through which we express meaning.” Wrong structure, wrong meaning.

Were Fitzgerald still here, I’d love to ask him what he meant to express with this sentence, and tell him what I believe he actually expressed with it, because I think they don’t line up. There is ambiguity here, and I don’t believe Fitzgerald intended there to be.

Maybe ‘ol Fitzy had knocked back a few too many martinis when he began typing these words. Maybe this grammar structure has been so normalized in American culture that neither he nor his editor realized that they should have taken issue with it.

Maybe they were both drunk. 🍸 🍸 🍸

On my weekly livestream, HARD-BOILED ENGLISH LIVE, which streams on Youtube, Facebook, and here on Linkedin, I investigate examples like these, and try to tease out their grammatical and semantic incongruities and contradictions, so that we may all better understand English grammar, and strengthen the bond between what we say or write, and what we mean.

Were Fitzgerald still alive, I’d offer him my editing and coaching services.

Alas, he is long gone, but you, dear friends are not. If you ever need help with your writing, don’t hesitate to contact me. Helping writers write with purpose, precision, and power is what I do.

Can you think of any sentence examples that seem confusing?

Here is my explanation of this grammatical issue, in a clip from my weekly English teacher livestream HARD-BOILED ENGLISH LIVE:

Weekly English Teacher Live Stream

#grammarmatters #hardboiledenglishlive #TheGrammarDetective #englishgrammar #englishwriting #writing #literature #gatsby #teachingEnglish #TEFL #eslteaching

About Paul Duke

Paul Duke is an online English tutor and coach, content creator, writer & editor. He lives in Vancouver, Canada, and loves language, culture, cinema, literature, and pizza.