I love California Teacher Guy, I really, really do.
I have this hole in my head, you see, and my thinking is slightly less than stellar lately. I was wracking my poor, holey little brain and trying to figure out what the hell I was going to talk about for Grammar Wednesday, and I was just about to resort to putting a style guide on the table by its spine, letting it drop open, and writing about whatever was on the pages. CTG came through for me, yet again and just in time, with this email:
My Dear Mrs. Chili,
I was reading Tess Gerritsen’s The Mephisto Club when I stumbled on this sentence:
She startled awake what seemed like only moments later, to find that they were now struggling along an unplowed road, Jane’s tires churching through snow.
While “startle” can be both transitive or intransitive, to use it in the former manner demands an object. For me, “awake” just doesn’t work as the object of “startled” in this sentence. Or am I wrong?
Thank you, as always, for your sedulous attention to matters of decency in grammar!
Now, please recognize that I’m recovering from minor but still traumatizing surgery, and that even if I weren’t, I’m still the first to stand up and say that I’m not an expert at this sort of thing (though I may play one on the internet). That being said, I’ve got a couple of problems with this sentence.
First, I agree with CTG; I don’t think that “startled” and “awake” work well together here. She could be started awake only moments later, but it seems to me that she should be startled awake by something; the sentence feels unfinished to me. It may well be that the sentence is grammatical – but it’s awkward and clunky and the fact that we’re investigating the structure means we’re not appreciating the point of the sentence. The movie isn’t nearly as entertaining if one can see the stage hands, you know?
My second gripe with the sentence is the first comma. She was startled awake what seemed like moments later is an independent clause; to find that they were now struggling along an unplowed road is a dependent clause – but there’s no need for the comma separating the two structures. I can’t come up with a single comma rule that would explain that mark’s placement in that sentence.
Is “churching” even a word? Is it supposed to be onomatopoetic?
Happy Wednesday, Everyone.