Our local recreation center has a sign on the track that reads, in part, something like:
If you swam, Dry off before going on the track
A good friend e-mailed me about it after twitching all through her three times-a-week runs around that track. She asked if the sign was wrong, because it sounded awkward (especially with “swam”), but she couldn’t think of a better way to say it.
If you set aside the fact that dry shouldn’t be capitalized here, the sign is grammatically correct.
The tenses of swim go like this:
Present tense: swim (This morning, I will swim for thirty minutes.)
Past tense: swam (Last week, I swam ten laps.)
Past participle: had swum (I thought back to the time I had swum with a team.)
So swam is the right form of the word, plain old past tense.
And yet. That sign makes me twitch too.
It’s a great case of when smooth writing and clarity trump “right.” In other words, just because it’s correct doesn’t mean it’s the best way of saying something.
The other day, as I was leaving the rec center, I saw her as she came around the track. “I’ve got it!” she said. “It should say, ‘Dry off after swimming’!”
She’s absolutely right. The sign could be rewritten in a number of ways, and that’s a great one. It would not only save room, but be clearer. Her version takes the verb swam and turns it into a noun, swimming.
As you all know, I get all twitchy when things are incorrect, but that doesn’t mean I won’t twitch when they’re correct—but goofy and awkward.
A great writer can take a twitchy (but correct) sentence and mold it, making the end result something others will read and understand without a second thought.
Or a twitch.
Annette Lyon is a Whitney Award winner, the recipient of Utah’s Best of State medal for fiction, and the author of eight novels, a cookbook, and a grammar guide, plus over a hundred magazine articles. She’s a senior editor at Precision Editing Group and a cum laude graduate from BYU with a degree in English. When she’s not writing, editing, knitting, or eating chocolate, she can be found mothering and avoiding the spots on the kitchen floor. Find her online at blog.annettelyon.com and on Twitter: @AnnetteLyon.
Need a little extra grammar help? Get Annette’s grammar book, There, Their, They’re: A No-Tears Guide to Grammar from the Word Nerd.