Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

More on Coordination, Quotative Inversion, and Beverly Cleary

Posted by Neal on January 14, 2009

“So how was school today?” I asked Doug as we walked from the bus stop.

“Good,” he said. Then he remembered something: “I checked out Strider at the library today!”

“For me?” I asked. “Wow, that was really thoughtful of you, Doug! They let you check out two books?”

“No, but I had this one book, and while we were standing in line to check out, I noticed Strider on the shelf, and I rushed out of the line to ask if I could switch books –“

“You sacrificed your own library book so I could get my hands on Strider!” I said. “That was really nice of you, Doug.”

“No, not really,” he said. “I didn’t really want the other book anyway.”

Eventually, Doug will learn the finer points of situations like this, and get the hang of saying, “Aw, that’s OK,” and “I didn’t mind,” to maximize the favored party’s indebtedness. Too late this time, though!

So why did I want to find a copy of this book Strider, anyway? It started about a week earlier, during our read-aloud time. I’m remembering it now …

“What are you writing down, Dad?” Doug asked. We were reading Otis Spofford, by Beverly Cleary, and he had noticed that every now and then as I read, I would make a tally mark on a memo pad in front of me. I deferred the question until after we’d finished the chapter. Then I explained that every time the author had a sentence that started with something like, “Blah, blah, blah,” he said, and continued with something that the character did, I would make a notation on whether the author repeated the subject or not. If she wrote “Blah, blah, blah,” he said, and sat down, I made a mark in one column; if she wrote “Blah, blah, blah,” he said, and he sat down, I made a mark in the other column. I filled him in on why sentences like these were interesting to me, which you can read in the archives for this category, or get an idea of in this post from Arnold Zwicky. I said that in her older books, Beverly Cleary rarely if ever repeated the subject in sentences like these, but that in one book published in 1990, Muggie Maggie, she had completely flip-flopped and taken to always repeating the subject. Since I’d noticed this, I’d been wondering two things: When between the 1950s and 1990 had she made the switch, and did she continue to use this new style in books after 1990? Below is what I found from some of Cleary’s pre-1990 books that we had around the house.

In these lists VP indicates the pages containing a relevant sentence where Cleary did not repeat the subject (in other words, making a kind of nonparallel verb phrase coordination); S indicates the pages containing a relevant sentence where she did repeat the subject (in other words, creating a coordination of two entire clauses). A repeated page number indicates more than one relevant sentence. Conjunctions other than and are indicated in parentheses after the page number.


  • Emily’s Runaway Imagination (1961)
    VP: 20, 30, 44, 77, 80, 97, 141, 160, 161, 163, 179, 191
    S: 18*, 50, 96*, 142 (but she did)
    Nonrepeated subject in 75% of cases
  • Otis Spofford (1963)
    VP: 20, 25, 40, 48, 57, 64, 85, 93, 105, 110, 112, 115, 119, 122, 127, 136, 147, 150, 151, 171
    S: 167 (but he said), 178 (but he knew)
    Nonrepeated subject in 91% of cases
  • The Mouse and the Motorcycle (1965)
    VP: 13, 60, 99, 115, 118, 146, 149, 157
    S: none
    Nonrepeated subject in 100% of cases
  • Ramona Forever (1984)
    VP: 8, 9, 9, 47, 129, 136, 164, 191
    S: none
    Nonrepeated subject in 100% of cases

There’s also the 100% preference for nonrepeated subjects in Henry and Ribsy from 1954, as I wrote in December 2006. So from the 1950s to as late as 1984, Cleary’s style was unchanged in this regard, overwhelmingly preferring the nonrepeated subject. When she did repeat it, it was when the conjunction was but instead of and, or when something intervened between the main verbs, such as a subordinate clause or a present participial VP. (These are the asterisked pages in the lists.) The only exception to this rule is the sentence on page 50 of Emily’s Runaway Imagination.

We didn’t have any post-1990 works by Beverly Cleary in the house, so I’d looked for some during my last trip to the library. I found Ramona’s World from 1999, which shaped up like this:

  • Ramona’s World (1999)
    VP: 4, 5, 6, 12, 25, 28, 45, 46, 47, 49, 68*, 80, 106*, 118, 156, 169, 185, 185
    S: 25 (and she too), 69 (but she was)
    Nonrepeated subject in 90% of cases

So almost a decade after Muggie Maggie, Cleary was back to her usual rule of not repeating the subject unless the conjunction is but or there’s some reason that the subject needs to be repeated. This happened on page 25, where the subject-oriented adverb too needs a subject to sit next to. Cleary even opts not to repeat the subject in a couple of cases where a subordinate clause intervenes: a when clause on page 68, and an as clause on page 106.

I was really curious now: How long had Cleary’s change of style lasted? I wished I could find a book of hers published in the early 90s. I thought Dear Mr. Henshaw might fill the bill, but it was published in 1983. However, I knew there was a sequel, called Strider that had probably come out in the early 90s. Too bad I hadn’t been able to find it in the library. I mentioned this to Doug in my explanation, and darned if he didn’t remember it when his class went to the school library!

With a copy of Strider at my disposal, I saw first that it was published in 1991, the very year after Muggie Maggie came out. Perfect. And how did Cleary handle her coordinations and quotative inversions in this book? Like this:

  • Strider (1991)
    VP: 11, 11, 12, 18, 18 (but admitted), 29, 47, 52, 69, 77, 112, 116, 116, 138, 144, 175
    S: none
    Nonrepeated subject in 100% of cases

Not only did Cleary snap right back to her old style in 1991; now she was opting not to repeat the subject even when the conjunction was but, as on page 18!

My conclusion now is that it was one lone editor in 1990 who inserted repeated subjects throughout Muggie Maggie. A commenter named Tony guessed as much when I wrote about this in 2006. Of course, the scenario envisioned by the Bob, other commenter on that post, could be true, too: “SOMEONE OTHER THAN BEVERLY wrote the later books. Oh, he or she was crafty, all right … the style is so close, everyone has missed it. UNTIL NOW. Folks, we have a genuine Literary Mystery on our hands: who wrote Muggie Maggie?!?!?”

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5 Responses to “More on Coordination, Quotative Inversion, and Beverly Cleary”

  1. Gordon P. Hemsley said

    A quick Wikipedia/Google search reveals a possible second author for Muggie Maggie: Ana Cristina Wering Millet. However, I presume you have an actual copy of the book. Where does that name pop up?

  2. Gordon P. Hemsley said

    Actually, I may have been a bit hasty. That second author may merely be the translator for the Spanish version of the book.

  3. It’s been a long time since I read anything by Beverly Cleary (I remember being a fan in elementary school, but that’s over 20 years ago at this point). She hadn’t written the book in question by the time I stopped reading — but I DID have an association of the name “Strider” with a video game from around junior high. So when I saw the fragment of your post before the jump, my first reaction was “Beverly Cleary got into the video game novelization business?”.

  4. The Ridger said

    Better than mine, which was “Beverly Cleary writes LOTR fan-fic?”

  5. […] of it — in the children’s books written by Beverly Cleary; latest posting from Neal here. (These are charming books, so doing research on them is scarcely […]

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