Posts Tagged ‘grammar’

We all make mistakes. Sometimes, it’s our fault. We move too fast, we don’t think something through, we misspeak, we fat-finger as we type. Other times, though, it’s not our fault because, though we do our best, we were simply ignorant of the rules.

English Grammar: 100 Tragically Common Mistakes (and How to Correct Them) can help, at least with mistakes involving the words we use.

Sean Williams, (known also by her Facebook alter ego, Captain Grammar Pants), has gifted us with a useful, readable, light-hearted tour of grammar ignominy. It is chock-full of tidbits, explanations, examples (good and bad), and sound advice. Each topic is concisely laid out, putting everything—introduction, example of the mistake, example of the correction, a brief explanation of the underlying rule, and an optional test question—all into a few paragraphs that can be read in under a minute.

Unless, like Williams, you are a grammar maven, you will benefit from this book. As an author, I’ve got a pretty good grasp of grammar, but even so I learned from reading it; sometimes I learned something new, and others, I got a better understanding of the rule behind what I already knew. Throughout, it was interesting and informative.

I recommend this book to any student, any budding writer, anyone who wants to polish up their grammar skills for work, or anyone who simply loves words and wants to use them more effectively. It’s a book you can read in bits, or all in one sitting, but either way, it’s a book you’ll come back to repeatedly.


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Composing a post for your blog? Writing an email to a colleague? Here are a couple of tips:

The letter “r” is not a verb.

The letter “u” is not a pronoun.

It doesn’t surprise me when blog posts or emails have this sort of embedded “text-speak.” Nor does it surprise me to find them riddled with bad syntax, incoherent thoughts, and errors both typographic and grammatical. It saddens me that those intent on communicating via the written word don’t have the sense (or self-respect) to proofread what they’ve written before they hit “send,” but it doesn’t surprise me.

What does surprise me is when I come across the same in posts on writers’ discussion boards. What does surprise me is when a writer doesn’t catch his own mistake when he writes “Art thou saint or satin?” And it goes beyond surprise when, as I saw the other day, a presenter of a TED talk repeatedly used the letter “r” as a verb in his Powerpoint presentation.


If you want your words to be taken seriously, stick close to the standards of writing. In speech or in the written word, if you consistently flout the accepted standards of spelling, grammar, and composition, your words, your thoughts, sometimes even you as a person, will be discounted, diminished, or totally ignored by the world at large.

I shouldn’t have to use a secret decoder ring to translate a writer’s words into comprehensible English.

In fact, I won’t.  And I’m not alone.

I’m not being a grammar Nazi or a writerly snob. I’m not asking for high-falutin’ rhetoric or exquisite imagery. I’m asking for comprehensible grammar and correct spelling. Allowances for hurriedly written texts and non-native English speakers aside, a writer must strive for quality in the written word. You can only blame your iPhone’s predictive spelling function for so much.

In the end, if you don’t mind looking like an idiot because you don’t know the difference between “satin” and “Satan,” fine.

Just don’t expect me to take you seriously at the same time.

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Obey the Kitty!

Obey the Kitty!

As of the first, my inbox and this blog have been inundated by new spam. Whereas before this blog used to get only 2-4 spam posts per day, now it gets 2-4 dozen spam posts per day.

And is it a requirement that a spam post must include misspellings and grammatical errors? I mean, if you’re going to go to the trouble of putting meaningful text in your spam, why not write it correctly. Have some pride, people!

However, as a result, if you’ve made a comment and it disappears, my sincere apologies; please send me a note and we’ll work to fix it. I want to see the comments from ALL of you–comments close the loop and let me know if what I’m posting is making sense.

Moving forward with my “The View from Here” posts, I’m not going to put these up daily. First, they take more thought to prepare than rants like this, and second, I want to give us time to discuss one topic thoroughly before moving on to the next.

So, for now, I’m going to be glad it’s Friday, I’m going to enjoy the absolutely dreary weather Seattle offers me today, I’m going to make some notes anent my recent trip to California, and I’m going to water my orchids.

And yes, I just used the word “anent” in a sentence. Try it. It’s fun!


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Obey the Kitty!There’s a peculiar sound you can hear in my house, whenever the TV is on. It’s a little sound…something like…”muh.” You’d hear it more often during news broadcasts and unscripted shows than at other times. It wouldn’t take you long to realize that it comes from me.

I have an affliction. It’s called speakproperlydammititis. The symptoms include facial tics, guttural mumbling, involuntary moues, and the small Tourette-like exclamations of “muh.”


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Kurt R.A. GiambastianiI’ve been known to be…overenthusiastic…about proper grammar. However, I have been loosening the laces on my jackboots, of late, as my definition of “proper” English usage evolves. A recent opinion piece in the NY Times, however, has shifted my perspective even more.

The example in that piece that really spoke to me was the 19th century difference between “first two” and “two first,” when speaking of people in a queue. Today, we wouldn’t blink twice at anyone who used either one or the other to signify the two people at the front of the line. Back in Edith Wharton’s day, though, the “two first” people meant the two people at the front of a line, while the “first two” people meant the first couple in a line of couples.

What started this evolution of attitude? Without a doubt, it was Shakespeare. For years I struggled with the “rule” to never end a sentence with a preposition, and so my was peppered with convoluted sentence syntax where the “which” in the center got me out of a prepositional-ending jam. Necessarily, I sometimes came out with sentences almost as bad as the anecdotal Churchill line: “That, madam, is something up with which I shall not put!”

But if Shakespeare–my all-time favorite writer–if Shakespeare didn’t have a qualm about ending a clause with a preposition (“..the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to…”), who the hell am I to quibble? And while Edith Wharton–whose work I truly admire–did quibble over “first two” and “two first,” what about Austen, Thackeray, and a host of others I also adore who used language that today would be considered downright wrong?

Language evolves. We’ve been “verbing nouns” and changing the meaning of words ever since we learned to speak. Do you know the difference between a present and a gift? There is a difference, and I know what that difference is, but in this day of the “free gift” (a redundancy if ever there was one), should I ding someone if they use the wrong one?

I will hold tight to certain tenets of my Grammarian Faith–the simple truth of correct spelling and apostrophe use; my adherence to the Oxford comma; my belief that almost any sentence ending in “at” doesn’t need that word; and the simple, common-sense rule that if your writing is unclear or can be misconstrued, it’s improper–but I really need to chill when it comes to a lot of other cringe-worthy uses.

The language is changing around us. No stopping it.

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