The fear of grammar
“I get scared writing to you…”
I have that effect on people; some get an involuntary muscle spasm in their eye, while others apologise in their opening email sentence: “I know there are probably spelling mistakes in the attached document.”
And then, there are those who are incorrigible: “I know, I know! Blatant use of Capital Letters.”
For years I’ve watched in concern at the insidious encroachment of the apostrophe s on shop signs and blackboard menus.
I’ve read Jen and Nick’s primary school English compositions in disbelief. “Excellent. 9 out of 10.” Their teachers' comments glowed in encouragement, while the kids’ texts were riddled with typos and grammatical errors.
“Sweetheart, see this your - it should be you’re,” I’d point out.
Jen would give me that “whatever” look as she snatched her book out of my hand.
“But it’s wrong,” I’d protest at her indifference.
In previous jobs I insisted that I proofread memos, emails or letters before staff sent them out on company letterhead. Some of them were truly horrendous and reflected poorly on the company’s image.
As a customer, I’d think twice about dealing with an organization which paid little attention to such details.
These days I’m equally dismayed by the blatant transmission of incorrect spelling across cyberspace every day.
Okay, I admit that I’m a grammatical purist. And yes, I’m really anal about it.
BTW, don’t get me started on txt msgs ROFL.
The grammar queen
My Japanese students called me the Aka (red) Pen sensei.
As beginner language students, they struggled with the usual complexities of the English language. Let’s face it, it doesn’t always make sense: i before e, except after c. Well, that’s the general rule, but these are all the exceptions... and so on.
“No, I don’t know why,” I’d admit, “that’s just the way it is.”
English is littered with rules and exceptions that defy reasonable explanation. No wonder native speakers get tripped up by it, too.
Fortunately, I spent two semesters at college in compulsory grammar classes as part of my journalism degree. Spelling and grammar were therefore rigorously drilled into us and they remain deeply emblazoned in my brain synapses.
They turned out to be valuable skills for teaching English as a second language and also helped while I was learning Japanese (subject-verb-object structure, verb conjugations and tenses actually made sense).
Despite their challenges with speaking English, however, some of my students challenged me with obscure questions about split infinitives and dangling participles.
“Err, let me check my grammar book…”
I mean, seriously, let’s focus on carrying out a conversational role play in the present tense and we’ll worry about complex grammatical etiquette in the intermediate class.
By the way, if you’re feeling a bit rusty with transitive and intransitive verbs, or confused by subordinate clauses, check out this jargon buster reference guide. It’s compulsive reading for us language purists.
Are you still with me?
My top five pet hates
1. The dreaded apostrophe s
When did plurals start incorporating an apostrophe? I was taught that it’s two cats (not cat’s), or five dogs (not dog’s).
However, if we’re talking about possession, then: the cat’s bowl, the dog’s bone, Dave’s shoe, Carol’s dress.
If there are two or more animals: the cats’ bowl(s) or the dogs’ bones.
It’s also used as an abbreviation: it’s = it is, they’re = they are, let’s = let us, that’s = that is.
2. Possessives and abbreviations
These are the most common errors that confuse people:
3. Unnecessary Use Of Capital Letters
This is a recent phenomenon which has stealthily crept into flyers, newsletters, websites, emails, videos and anything else that carries the printed word. According to the Oxford Dictionaries, capital letters are used:
The general rule is: avoid them.
5. Quotation “marks” on “regular” words
Single or double quotation marks are used to report direct speech or phrases quoted from somewhere else. Ordinary "words" such as "nouns" therefore don't require "special" attention.
The Bottom “Line” is “Grammar” Does Matter!!!! Therefore, Grammarian’s Of The “WORLD” pick up your Red “marker” pen’s ... and lets “erase” this Scourge, On the “english” language!!!!
29/2/2012 02:33:19 pm
I'm with you Hari. I have an irresistible urge to correct spelling, punctuation and grammar.
29/2/2012 02:56:26 pm
Madonna, I find that I'm also reaching for my dictionary more regularly these days due to seeing poor spelling and grammar out there!
29/2/2012 10:17:18 pm
Couldn't have read this at a better moment.... right after I had completed marking compositions!!!!!
1/3/2012 06:53:41 am
Angie, as a teacher I'm sure you come across this all the time, so you'd be an expert at the English language!
1/3/2012 01:54:33 am
I agree. I shudder at some of gaffes in news items that appear more and more. Spelling too. Defenitely - one of the worst. It's (it is) a real problem - not to mention the split infinitve. But bad gramma and spelling can be used to create laughs. Lettuce no or yes!
1/3/2012 06:55:35 am
Pam, I admire your creative use of the English language. The positive aspect of this is that once you know the rules of the language, you can break them accordingly to create laughs in your creative endeavours.
1/3/2012 12:30:00 pm
A woman after my own heart! Have you read "Eats, Shoots and Leaves, the Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation" by Lynne Truss? It is the most enjoyable book on punctuation (and use of English) I have ever read. Sample -
1/3/2012 01:40:03 pm
Kate, it's great to see all the grammarians coming out of the closet!
1/3/2012 02:01:45 pm
To quote Lynne Truss: "Sticklers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your sense of proportion, and arguably you didn't have a lot of that to begin with. Maybe we won't change the world, but at least we'll feel better. The important thing is to unleash your Inner Stickler..."
1/3/2012 02:11:53 pm
It's well and truly unleashed!
3/3/2012 05:31:09 am
I will not give up my use of apostrophes!!!!!!!!!
3/3/2012 10:25:46 am
Apostrophes are mischievous little buggers. You have to keep them in check, or they will go feral and plaster themselves all over the place where they are not needed and not wanted, like in plural's (see what I mean!). They are fine when they are doing what they are supposed to do, when a letter is missing for example, ' it's.' Just keep a lid on them, that's what I say!
4/3/2012 03:31:38 am
I concur with Kate's comments below about the appropriate use of the apostrophe, in which case there's no cause to give them up entirely, as long as you're using them accordingly.
4/3/2012 10:19:35 am
Oops, guilty as charged with the use of capitals & exclamation marks!!!!!!
4/3/2012 10:46:04 am
You and everyone else, Sue! I'll continue to keep a close eye on your spelling and apostrophes.
Your comment will be posted after it is approved.
Leave a Reply.
New Zealand 2008
New Zealand 2006
United Kingdom 2004
Athens Olympics 2004
Beijing to Athens 1994
© 2023 HARI KOTROTSIOS
I acknowledge the traditional Custodians of the land on which I work and live, the Gubbi Gubbi / Kabi Kabi and Joondoburri people, and recognise their continuing connection to land, the waters and sky. I pay my respect to them and their cultures; and to Elders past, present and emerging.