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Good grammar should not be relegated to one day a year

Original post made by Gina Channell-Allen on Mar 14, 2008

Darn. I had National Grammar Day marked on my calendar March 4 but was so busy working, it completely slipped my mind.
I'm almost positive Hallmark makes a card for this. It would read something like:

Roses are read, violets are blew,
I obviously missed National Grammar Day,
How bout ewe?

Dedicated to copy editors and English teachers, National Grammar Day is sponsored by the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar (SPOGG) and MSN Encarta. I'm somewhat excited by groups trying to promote the use of proper grammar. Being a former editor, I'm dedicated to countering the text-message grammar prevalent among today's teens and tweens. (RU2 old 2 no wat that means? me 2.)
I admit that I sometimes use informal language and dare to split an infinitive occasionally to make my writing more conversational. Should I straighten up and fly right? Er, I mean, fly correctly?
My pet peeves:
* Compliment versus complement. I cannot compliment the misuse of "complement.' Restaurants are notorious for this.
* Homophone abuse: Bee vary careful; spellcheck doesn't catch these.
* Comma overuse: Believe it, or not, it is annoying, and distracting, when you use too many commas.
* To "a" or not to "a": I was taught in high school to use the article "an" before the words "historical" and "hotel." If a word begins with a consonant sound, use the "a" article; if it begins with a vowel sound, use "an." That means a historic event, not an historic one.
Not many others share my enthusiasm for the English language and its quirks. I drive people crazy editing menus at restaurants, advertisements in magazines and signs. But those same people who ridicule me ask for my help when they have a term paper due or have a work-related writing assignment.
According to a few blogs, the SPOGG and MSN Encarta got a little flack for the idea of National Grammar Day. Apparently a few of the presidential candidates weighed in on the promotion of special day. According to the Grammar Goddess blog: "The Obama people are working on a statement on the issue now. McCain says we should bring back rulers to smack the knuckles of grammar abusers. Hillary has a 39-point plan to simplify grammar while increasing access to grammar education."
JK (Translated into English: Just kidding.)
What are your grammar pet peeves? Email me at gallen@pleasantonweekly.com. I'll share in a future column.

Gina Channell-Allen, a 20-year journalism veteran, is the president of the East Bay division of Embarcadero Publishing Company, president of the Pleasanton Weekly and publisher of the Danville Weekly. Send questions to gallen@pleasantonweekly.com.

Comments (15)

Posted by Brett, a resident of another community
on Mar 15, 2008 at 6:32 pm

Rather than getting people to participate in word rage by reiterating the perennial bugaboos, perhaps you take the oportunity to point out something really interesting about language. Do some RESEARCH and discover the historical reasons for some of these quirks. Show readers that there is actually more to grammar than what we learned at elementary school. For example, why not explore how the 'n't' on words like 'don't' became a suffix rather than a simple contraction a la 'll' in "I'll go".

By the way, spelling mistakes are no more a grammar issue than illegal parking is a felony.


Posted by frank, a resident of Pleasanton Heights
on Mar 15, 2008 at 9:54 pm

Pet peeves. Elsewhere in these threads you will find one of them. See "parcel taxes" and the improper use of the word "effected" instead of "affected". Over the years I have observed this mistake to be ubiquitous. To me it sounds ridiculous when used incorrectly, but, of course, to the user it sounds correct. Maybe their schooling was AFFECTED by lack of parcel taxes. You know, class sizes were too large. (Yeah, I use too many commas in sentences for some people, but their use is not incorrect.)

Merriam-Webster:

"usage Effect and affect are often confused because of their similar spelling and pronunciation. The verb affect usually has to do with pretense <she affected a cheery disposition despite feeling down>. The more common affect denotes having an effect or influence <the weather affected everyone's mood>. The verb effect goes beyond mere influence; it refers to actual achievement of a final result <the new administration hopes to effect a peace settlement>. The uncommon noun affect, which has a meaning relating to psychology, is also sometimes mistakenly used for the very common effect. In ordinary use, the noun you will want is effect <waiting for the new law to take effect> <the weather had an effect on everyone's mood>."


Posted by frank, a resident of Pleasanton Heights
on Mar 15, 2008 at 10:34 pm

I have a comment on the use of "an" instead of "a" before any word that begins with a vowel sound. That is the rule as I was taught. This seems to be what the editor says above but I am confused by the statement "That means a historic event, not an historic one."

What you use is dictated by how you pronounce "historic". If the "h" is largely silent, then use "an". If you form the word with an emphasis on sounding out the "h", then it no longer sounds so much like a vowel sound and the use of "a" seems appropriate. (Like how you would probably pronounce "hiss".)

English has one other example of this, which has no consequence on spelling, only how the word is pronounced. The word "the" is pronounced as "thee" before words that begin with a vowel sound.

Other languages have counterparts to this rule where the beginning sound of the noun dictates what the article (indefinite or definite should be). In Italian we have "uno stadio" (a stadium)instead of "un stadio" and "gli amici" (the friends) instead of "i amici". In the first instance an s+consonant forces the use of "uno" instead of "un" and in the second instance the vowel sound rule applies.

It's all about sounds...how the word sequence sounds to the ear.


Posted by Shelley, a resident of Downtown
on Mar 16, 2008 at 1:07 am

My theory is that it's a type of liaison in English. French has liaisons. If a word ends in a vowel sound and the next word begins with a vowel sound, then you have to harden the end of the first word or harden the beginning of the second word in order to differentiate the two. You can hear this when Brits or Aussies speak English. Instead of saying 'I saw it' like in the US, they'll say 'I sawr it'. It's like they'll add a hard sound to the ending vowel sound of the first word if the second word begins with a vowel. Adding the hard ending to 'saw' makes it easy to say the phrase quickly. If you don't harden it, then you have to pause before beginning the next word. Try it out by speaking the phrases aloud.


Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Mar 16, 2008 at 8:52 am

I originally wrote this at Web Link, but Gina re-posted the article so I guess I'll contribute here too.

It would be nice if grammar were taught better in school and good grammar were promoted more for the sake of clear communication. That desire though needs to be tempered by the realization that language changes. My linguistics study in college biased me towards this temperance. English especially is hard to codify into one single definition due to all the variations and dialects. Most English grammar taught in school isn't even the same as how people speak and write anymore. For example, schools teach that adverbs come after the verbs (at least when I was in school). I hardly know anyone who speaks that way (I know hardly!?). Gina, you broke this rule yourself when you wrote, "I obviously missed National Grammar Day".

BTW, comma overuse to me is a punctuation issue and not a grammar problem.


Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Mar 16, 2008 at 9:07 am

Another thought... Yea, many people ("educated adults") here tend to spell poorly or use the wrong words (ie. affect/effect, compliment/complement). Like I mentioned in my post above, good grammar is valuable for the sake of communication. The people who have trouble with these technical aspects of writing are doing themselves a great disservice. Their mistakes become a distraction from the point they are trying to make and lead other posters to point out the mistakes instead of addressing the message. The same thing goes for the teens who participate on this forum. Their age is obvious when they choose to write in an informal manner. The bottom line is that these posters, both the adults and teens, may not have their messages taken seriously.

P.S. I use the Firefox browser. It has a built-in spell checker that underlines words in red that are misspelled. Very handy for writing in online forums.


Posted by adverb or adjective?, a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Mar 17, 2008 at 10:23 pm

Using bad grammar also makes reading comprehension more difficult. The writer may mean one thing but the reader receives a totally different message because the grammar is wrong. My biggest pet peeve is adjectives used in the place of adverbs.
Q: "How are you doing" A: "I'm doing good." WRONG
Q: "How are you doing" A: "I'm doing well." CORRECT
Jon is careless.
Jon _drives_ carelessly.
Dan _finished_ his work quickly.
Diane _walked_ slowly to school.
ADVERBS MODIFY THE VERB! ADJECTIVES MODIFY THE NOUN! Just THINK about it people!


Posted by Carla, a resident of Happy Valley
on Mar 17, 2008 at 11:38 pm

My biggest grammar pet peeve is when people purposefully use a word, thinking it's correct grammar, when it's really not. For example:
"He carried in the groceries for my friend and I."

"I" when it should be "me, "well" when it should be "good," etc.

Also: your/you're ... their/there/they're ... to/too/two. They're different words with different meanings!

Finally, unnecessary quotation marks (Web Link) and unnecessary apostrophies. You can't just p'ut apostrophie's a'ny pla'ce you th'ink they s'hould go!


Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Mar 18, 2008 at 7:24 pm

Yea yea, the confusion with your/you're and they're/their/there always makes me laugh too. It really makes people look like idiots.

Grammar like "r u m/f?" actually predates cellphone text messaging by many years. It was always considered "cool" to type like that.


Posted by you gotta be kidding, a resident of Birdland
on Apr 2, 2008 at 11:30 am

Stacey

Lady get a life, you really need to find another hobby other than cutting down everyone and everything. Go see a therapist you have a inferiority complex.


Posted by Nick, a resident of another community
on Apr 11, 2008 at 12:37 pm

Although the nuns nearly crippled me in their attempt to make sure I used grammar correctly (Does anyone teach diagramming of sentences anymore?), our society doesn't emphasize good grammar, or spelling, for that matter.
About 20 years ago, I tried to stem the tide of using the term "that" in relation to a person, as in, "I know a person that saw the concert."
I, and the rest of the English-speaking world, have been crushed by the wave and buried more deeply with the use of initials and word fragments common in text messaging.
Between all this and the increasing accommondations made to Hispanics who do not know English well enough to shop, vote, drive, etc., English, indeed, has become a second language ... in our own country.


Posted by John, a resident of California Somerset
on May 24, 2008 at 1:09 pm

Dear Publisher, Please remove Jason's entry under Conservation, he invited Cholo in fractured Spanish to such is cock.


Posted by Tootsie, a resident of Vineyard Avenue
on Jun 27, 2008 at 2:13 pm

Can we please bring up the brutal trashing of the word "our". I find even talk show hosts commonly use "are" for the meaning of "belonging to us". It makes me crazy that we Americans are butchering the English language. If we are going to continually abuse the English language should we start calling it American instead of English??? By the way - How is your Ant???? Where I grew up it is still called AUnt.
Have a nice day - y'all.


Posted by Ms grammar, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Aug 9, 2012 at 10:57 pm

Words with meanings are also an issue for grammar. Is you "could" file a lawsuit mean the same as you "wouldn' file a lawsuit and what's the difference--cuz I can't find a university grammar teacher who knows.


Posted by Some Dude, a resident of Carriage Gardens
on Aug 10, 2012 at 7:29 am

I can't make sense of this last post. Or is that the point--is it a joke?


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