Jul 30, 2012

Grammar Hammer: A Curmudgeon-y Perspective on “50 Shades of Grey”

“50 Shades of Grey” has taken the “literary” nation by storm. Whether you love it or love to hate it, it seems like it’s being read in every book club, every bedroom, every coffee shop right now. With more than 31 million copies sold worldwide (according to Hollywood Reporter), the novels’ dull vocabulary, flat characters and unfulfilling plot hold no weight compared to the sexy and enticing fantasy escape being offered. For many readers, it’s like a mental vacation from everyday life — and I can appreciate that. If “50 Shades of Grey” gets people to enjoy reading, who am I to criticize?

But in total, brutal honesty, I read “50 Shades of Grey” after hearing the hubbub, and hated it. I’ll spare you the recap — you probably have some idea of what it’s about by now anyway. But the silver lining of reading a book I didn’t like is that I’ve gotten a great deal of enjoyment reading the critiques by people who also found it to be subpar.

One reviewer in particular pointed out an irksome grammar mistake in the first chapter of the first book, when author E.L. James is initially describing main squeeze and heartthrob, Christian Grey:

  • He’s tall, dressed in a fine gray suit, white shirt, and black tie with unruly dark copper colored hair and intense, bright gray eyes that regard me shrewdly.

Wow! Where can I buy a tie like that?!

There’s something essential missing from the second sentence of the quote: a semicolon. Without a semicolon after “black tie,” it makes the rest of the description that’s supposed to be about Christian Grey seem likes it’s actually about the black tie – as in, a black tie with hair and eyes. As Anastasia Steele would say, “Oh my!”

Without rewriting the sentence entirely (which seems like the best option), here’s what the sentence should look like:

  • He’s tall, dressed in a fine gray suit, white shirt, and black tie; with unruly dark copper colored hair and intense, bright gray eyes that regard me shrewdly.

Lesson: Always be conscious of the subject of the sentence!

Also, check out my post on semicolons: Sherlock Holmes and the Mysterious Case of the Semicolon

What did you think of “50 Shades of Grey”?

Written by Grace Lavigne, senior editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. Grammar Hammer is published weekly on ProfNet Connect, a free social networking site for communicators. To read more from Grace, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.

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