And yet this article — like so many articles on prescriptivist grammar — sounds like it was written by someone with a very poor understanding of linguistics and not a very good understanding of grammar, either. Language change. Marking for the subjunctive has been on the way out for some time. I myself think you the author literally knew what they was doing when they wrote such An historic article about grammar. Wow, Brian, you caught a typo!
You can pat yourself on the back now! Haha, yes to all of the above…yes to them making you sound like a chimp, not to actually committing these grammar violations. Somehow people think they are interchangeable when one is a comparison and one references the passing of time. That one drives me bananas. Are you Meg? Sorry to break the news. Let the language grow! In other words, there should be no ambiguity. Too often, lack of thought about even small issues can result in clouded meanings and ambiguity.
One other strange thing … most of the things that make me seethe when the language gets mangled like this are things that I can work out in much the same way that as they are in the examples given here. Sorry, I thought this was a comment box, not a canvas. I left my oil paints at home. But no worries! But yes, that was me, Meg who lists no website, but mostly because I was being lazy tonight, as well as perhaps uncharacteristically sarcastic. What can I say, prescriptivism makes me cranky. Still… sore spot. I was not looking for typos in this article.
You said cawtcha instead of caught you! I really enjoyed reading this article. Glad I know better!
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I can think of a lot more, including commonly misspelled words, so you may have just inspired me to write my own blog post on the fine arts of a grammar freak. Great job! Parsons, and myself. Uh uh…. I forgot how much fun this could be. But, the discussions above about sometimes yes, sometimes no make the most sense. I tell graduate students now that that last comma is a matter of taste, but I still use it.
Nobody is perfect. Might try taking your own advice, Diane! Grammar posts are comment magnets every time. Either will distract the reader and muddy your efforts to clearly communicate your ideas. If I were — something that is never going to happen. If I was — something that could happen. For example:. Great piece.
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One that always trips me up is the use of adverbs. Probably yes, but it can lead to some cumbersome sentences. Regardless, good to see there are at least others on this blog who also suffer a language pedantry affliction. Will we ever recover? I just did a little research, which I should have done before asking my question! I found this stated in several websites. In there was a push for gender neutral pronouns worldwide, not just in America and the other countries mentioned above.
Then in the 19th Century the tide turned again. It was started by a feministed school teacher. Sometimes a gender is evident and then the appropriate pronoun is used. Now why did I take the time to go into the information above? I wanted to make a few points. So you can understand, most likely, why people are still using it at the present, even though it is considered incorrect by many grammarians. Finally, I wanted to say that finding a good solution for a universal pronoun is difficult for many. I find the invented pronouns just plain goofy!
Take the article with a grain of salt. The only rule is that the rules will change over time… so to speak. This is but a snapshot of a language in motion, and with English spoken all over the world, cannot be accurate in every context. We no longer use the same English language that we used in the 10th century, or the 16th century. If someone is obsessive over using perfectly correct grammar, it could actually HINDER them from communicating effectively.
Still, it never ceases to amaze me how popular these grammar discussions are. Reading the comments here has led me to ask about one other aggravation though this comes from my punctuation wench, not from from grammar wench , and it is this: when did it become acceptable for people to cease using question marks when asking a question? What is that about? This distresses me. Cheers, all! Whilst in confession mode, I also split my infinitives if I think it makes a sentence read better and I regularly abuse dashes and points of elipsis.
Why do English teachers in school find it very difficult to teach the subjunctive mood of the verb to their students? Yet you explained it very well and made it so easy to understand! Great write-up! I, too, am obsessed in finding grammatical errors on blogs though, of course, at times, I make mistakes, too. Gives me the shivers just writing it. Well, I must admit I am a little nervous to leave a comment that will be full of bad grammar and punctuation. Some bloggers insist that grammar is not that important, but that a little bad grammar shows their personality.
So, good for you! By the way, one of my weaknesses is using commas everywhere and way too much…maybe you can do an article on punctuation next time! Like other parts of language, punctuation is also subject to change. I particularly like the interrobang. At last. I now feel free to move forward with my life. The relevant grammar rule is that a pronoun should agree in number with its antecedent.
Why am I still reading this blog I ask myself. I should be asleep.
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Please stop posting — I need to be up in four hours …. Myself is going to the mall. Sam and I are going to the mall. I am going to the mall. I literally love this! Great visuals! I then blame in on my journalism degree and the faculty supervisor that ripped my writing to shreds when I wrote for the Oklahoma Daily many years ago. A couple of other pet peeves come to mind: unique and first annual. Unique means one of a kind. Feel free us use that sentence in any post about overused metaphors.
Thanks, Jan. Good points. It is evolving constantly and things that were not okay a long time ago, seem to be acceptable now. My partners English is not good, but my maths are lousy and he is a whiz on that score. Anyone got any help on that one. It is a source of amusement between the two of us. It sounds fine and makes perfect sense to everyone reading it. Then let me be the first to say you are nitpicking. Drew : I shall give it a go.
Thank you for the learning, Johnny. Best regards, P. I require constant reminders although I excelled in grammar in my youth and even worked as a junior editor years ago. I appreciate that you cover a few common errors to brush up on, rather than a long list that is likely to blur together. The best tip I ever received from an editor: If you do not have access to an editor have anyone read your piece before publishing.
Any sentence they stumble on should be checked for errors, or simplified if none found. If your guinea pig stumbles, others will too even if the grammar is officially correct. Lachy: There already is such a blog. If nothing else, I can vouch for the latter meaning.
John Meade Falkner
Just read through any rulebook published by White Wolf Games. BTW, I remember being taught in grammar school that putting oneself last in a list of people was considered polite. My personal pet language peeve is semantic rather than grammatical. Meg: whether or not a question is rhetorical has precious little read: nothing to do with punctuation. Else, they are statements. End of story. Work on points for style later — get the message across first. Have to disagree on 2. The more general point about subject-verb agreement is important, though. Certainly there are rules that apply in any situation but language is a living, breathing thing and must be flexible.
Contractions can help your writing sound more natural. I encounter this in almost every article I edit. Just kidding, sort of. Thanks for sharing. Only better. Dump the rest, as in the pretentious subjunctive and the cumbersome he or she construction to make subject-predicate agreement work.
Andy Wood : I get the gist of your post and mostly agree. If I had to choose one thing to judge the merits of a piece of writing, it is the quality of the content, not the grammar. If you use perfect English and your writing is repetitive, boring or borders on plagiarism, then correct verb-subject agreement means little to me.
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Other elements of communication are far more important. Are you all so picky about it? To think that two nations, over a period of more than years, would develop separations in their common language… unthinkable! We may have a lot of bad habits in this country, but I daresay that the English currently spoken in Great Britain is a far cry from the English that was spoken there years ago. In many dialects, it is already just about equivalent — regardless of how much it annoys you.
Something else will take its place or has. Semantic shift happens in every living language. In the medical world, this is something that would require the use of suppositories. Anyone else bothered by this one? While I guess literally is used accurately in these cases, it just seems unnecessary most of the time.
5 Grammar Mistakes that Make You Sound Like a Chimp
A worthy cause indeed for those writers who take pride in their craft to rise up and counter the onslaught of excuses for poor grammar—from just being conversational to Blackberry and text language. It has been said that education is expensive, but not as expensive as ignorance. With these writing habits becoming widely acceptable, what will be the cost? Funny, though, how some terms become used by the medical community and lose their other meanings. It has been relatively stable even since ancient Latin times. In all seriousness, this article was practical and I was able to put it to use immediately.
A hundred times, thank you! I like what Johnny had wrote. Its literally earth shaking. We all gots things we could get improved on with grammar. Irregardless: if you had went to look up a lot of this stuff you would have saw that its rite. By the way, for those taking notes, notice how much more attention this post gets from Johnny not trying to have the entire discussion in the post. Sure, some of these are subject to regional variation or can be argued for as common usage. Sonia — Exactly. I do not know everything.
There are as many people vehemently fighting on one side of an issue as there are on the other. Chimps are funny. This post is currently the ninth most popular post on Copyblogger, ranking by number of comments and pingbacks. That makes me happy. If you have been given suppositories for your impacted wisdom tooth, you need to change your dentist. Funny, because it is improperly used so often. Subjects, verbs, nouns, reflexive, etc…. Thanks for the refresher. Great bit. That advice seems to help them break the habit! I hear it everywhere.
Sometimes it makes me want to scream at the person talking. Come to Australia for a visit. Gimmier lickerish trap an some chicken-an look, fellers, no hens. The best thing is to have a sense of humour and thanks for some of the hilarious input. For all intensive purposes, I hardly never sound like a chimp. I prefer screeching hyena. These are great. The an historic one is pretty bad. Nice but you left our my most hated one. It makes me grind me teeth and want to punch the person who writes it. I do think myself has developed an emphatic role which I can sometimes tolerate, but most times it sounds stupid.
This ship has sailed. Your best hope is to learn to love it. Try it out at least twice a day till it feels natural. Otherwise, you are doomed to fuddyduddyville. Absolutely right. And if literally loses its meaning how will we distinguish the real from the false? Other than common sense, I mean. I hate relying on that.
Literally hate it. WTF is with that? Extremely helpful!!! I always make a mistake on that one. The word they with its counterparts them, their, and themselves as a singular pronoun to refer to a person of unspecified sex has been used since at least the 16th century. It makes it seem like I am bragging and is just filling up space with no need for it. Everyone began looking for their books at once.
Such use is not a recent development, nor is it a mark of ignorance. Shakespeare, Swift, Shelley, Scott, and Dickens, as well as many other English and American writers, have used they and its forms to refer to singular antecedents. Already widespread in the language though still rejected as ungrammatical by some , this use of they, their, and them is increasing in all but the most conservatively edited American English.
This increased use is at least partly impelled by the desire to avoid the sexist implications of he as a pronoun of general reference. Bock, my 5th grade English teacher for giving me the simplest of litmus tests. Parsons out of the sentence. When it doubt, the simplest way to figure out what to use is to leave the other folks out of the sentence. Parsons and me. Great piece of writing. As you say, once or twice is acceptable, any more and my interest is lost. When interesting titles go bad. Article good. Misleading title that had nothing to do with the post bad.
An historically bad title myself was not soon to forget. Nice article, and no argument with the grammar points. Although we may not like it, language changes. And there are always those that hate to let go. In the rule Was vs Were, what would be the case in the event it was used to describe an action of someone else, i.
This made my day! Grammar nerdery is a wonderful thing. I have to stop following this thread, as it shows all signs of going on forever. But until then …. Pretty entertaining stuff! Thanks for this post, John! Very interesting article! Many people with native language different than english do common sense errors in their blogs instead promoting clean and crisp language….
This was driving me crazy the other day. Every source I checked seemed to have a different opinion. Fly, be free. Worry about fluency. And if you already have it, then stop worrying about language and get on with it. Well, yes. He split an infinitive.
To me, writing should be invisible. I am trying to communicate a very specific message, and anything that undermines my communication is defeating my object. So I try to avoid them. Just as I try to avoid showing off in a way that might impress and so interrupt the flow of another 10 percent.
Of course, none of this works for a readership that comprises professional writers, because everyone in that group will scrutinize every word. No, Marc. I should have said that I recommend that good writers—like good chefs—should focus on their goals to turn on readers or diners rather than to show off too obviously their technical skills. Wow, you literally cut poeple up — including myself — chewed them, and and then spat them out!
Truth is, I hate the man or woman who makes these mistakes, too. Are they an hillbilly or something? Just so everyone knows, this post has made me paranoid. See how flexible I am? It just drives me crazy literally! Chimps abound, apparently. Could it concern something other than simply just ignorance? That it shows up in writing demonstrates the way in which grammar is shaped. Oh Johnny… you had me. I was literally ha going to start telling all that would listen about your brilliance, your beauty surely all grammar snobs are beautiful , your… hmmm, what is the word?
Your rightness. And then, much to my chagrin, you committed one of my own pet peeves in comment You cannot come up with a better choice of words? Just tell me that you spontaneously developed a 23rd chromosome and all will be right in the world. Wait, wait, wait. Hold on. I write both in French and in English, and, like Johnny B. There are writers who are as dangerous as bad drivers. But there is another side to that coin.
I try to write as well as I know how. Which may be why I never try to humiliate anyone else when they do. The chances of my ever successfully constructing a bookcase are minimal. The chances of my ever returning a tennis serve are similar. Pointing and laughing are bad ways to foster talent. Those who are interested in writing will quickly discover the basic rules, and will — like the rest of us — embark on a lifetime of learning. Great post, One really easy tip to add to them is this: Make sure you check a post or comment before hitting the send button.
I think we can finally consider that a correct meaning. Meanings change. But after a while even the most pedantic just have to let go. And I think nearly three centuries is long enough. You are not crazy. It sounds better. That is all it takes — how does it sound best. Of course, the words have to be pronounced correctly, something most Americans seem incapable of. This is how you would manage to read a history book to learn about an historical event, and be correct.
It is a rather outdated rule that continues to change over time as we continue to pronounce things differently. Language shifts, but at this point in time, it is still acceptable. People will get angry at you for it, but people will always be there to defend you for it as well because technically both are correct.
Give it another couple of decades, and it may be gone forever. Do you think this is an example of language constantly changing, which I suppose could reasonably be claimed given the number of times I hear it in a week? Or are they getting it wrong and therefore should be corrected? However, they are the source of language change and, when adopted by enough people especially people with power they are considered legitimate language changes. Can you tell me where this is? Should you correct them? At the very least, they should know the more standard meaning of the word lend. People should have access to that so that they can be best understood by others outside their immediate social groups, and also so that they have more opportunities for social advancement.
But explain to them, too, that in school it has a different meaning and you want them to use that meaning for practice. Of course, whether your correcting has much effect is another matter entirely. Peers have more influence on our speech than teachers or even parents. Alistair Keep up the good work and continue correcting. I recently came to the conclusion that language is an evolving thing but there are some words, quite a lot of them, that are exempt from this theory.
I agree, Christine. And that really makes me sad. Cassie How funny. A very good friend of mine, an English teacher, used to tell me that there was no such thing as correct spelling, for precisely the same reason — that language is constantly evolving. I told him this is completely ridiculous. I have also been told that as a Science teacher, I should ignore misspellings and grammatical errors as we should be focusing solely on the Science.
However, my argument is that being able to communicate effectively is part of being a scientist, and if pupils are unable to do that then they are not being good scientists. The British Government had a great idea in the 60s; they decided the best way of teaching English was to encourage pupils to write phonetically. Unfortunately, it was much more difficult to read because of all of the possible phonetic variations and led, ultimately, to a generation that struggled — and still struggles — with literacy. However, we have to aim to uphold the standards so that people can communicate effectively.
By the way, I have a feeling that the reference to chimps was probably made in humour and not intended to cause offence. They may sound very different to you, but to a complete outsider there will probably be far more similarities than differences. The fact that it is that widespread actually points to there being more going on than just a few ignorant kids. Where are they getting it from? Other than being young, are there any other similarities between the kids socially? Are they of a similar social class, for example? In addition to the geographical variation that we call dialects, there are also sociolects, language varieties among certain social groups which can be defined not just by social class, but also gender, age, ethnicity, even attitudes, etc.
The two are not mutually exclusive. By the way, I agree with you about teaching proper spelling — at least as much as it can be taught. Knowing standardized spelling makes it not only easier to be understood, it also makes it easier to recognize words quickly when reading.
Again, it is not necessary that the students always spell correctly. It kills me much more than the five listed here. Another case of people trying to sound intelligent. Very interesting grammar read, expecially for me as a learner of the English language. Which word sounds correct in that sentence? Then you just add Bob and Mr. Parsons, and me. Some would argue that it is correct if we hear it on the CBC. I just re-read my own blog entry and found a spelling error. Spell checkers have become my crutch. The CBC is certainly not an authority. In addition to some of their usage, there is the matter of how they pronounce many words.
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