March forth on National Grammar Day

March 4, 2013

MP&F and National Grammar Day

Image courtesy of WinePress Publishing

In celebration of National Grammar Day, we propose that everyone take a minute to be thankful for those who care deeply about using the English language properly and have little patience for those who don’t.

Raise a glass to your editors and proofreaders and all the English teachers who tried to get you to understand what a verb phrase is and why it matters where that comma goes.

So why does grammar matter? Simply put, language is a tool that humans have invented to convey our thoughts to others in a clear way. As with all tools, over time we come up with new and better ways to shape them for our use. But, when there is one standard tool that we all know how to use, we all understand one another better. Enter: grammar. Correct grammar is the ideal, the standard, the bar. It’s what makes sure we’re using our language tool in a way that the most people, all across the country, will understand.

We asked MP&F proofreader extraordinaire Diane Hogg and editorial director Roger Shirley for their short list of the worst grammar mistakes, and why they matter:

  • Double negatives and verb disagreements: “He don’t know nothing.” OK. We know that certain verbs match certain nouns. And that “He do not …” isn’t quite right. We should say “He does not …” So let’s change that to “He doesn’t know nothing.” But, wait a sec. Since two negatives equal a positive, are we saying this guy does know something? It’s just so confusing. Using standard English to convey that thought would have kept us from saying just the opposite of what we meant.
  • Misplaced (or missing) commas: “Let’s eat Grandma.” Whoa! Are we cannibals? If we all know the punctuation rule of setting off our addressee with a comma, we can ensure that Grandma knows we’re inviting her to sit with us at the table, not to be the main course. The comma in “Let’s eat, Grandma.” keeps our sweet grandmother from suffering unnecessary panic.

MP&F Misplaced (or Missing) Commas

  • Misused pronouns: “Me and her moved to the city.” The easy trick to use to make sure you’re using the right pronouns is to use each one separately: “Me moved to the city. Her moved to the city.” Suddenly, it’s glaringly obvious. And, of course, you should always come after the other person. One of the more rampantly misused pronouns is “myself.” This pronoun is always the object of a verb or preposition when the speaker or writer is the subject of the clause. Correct: “I did it myself.” Incorrect: “Bill and myself went down thar to the crik to do some fishin’.” Yep, that’s what you sound like when you use it that way.
  • Dangling modifiers: This is one of the easiest mistakes to make and one of the easiest to avoid: Incorrect: “After standing in line for two hours, the ticket agent told us the show was sold out.” Correct: “After standing in line for two hours, we were told the show was sold out.” Just ask yourself who was standing in line. It certainly wasn’t the ticket agent.
  • Its, It’s: Make yourself say “it is” every time you write “it’s.” If that isn’t right, then it is “its.”

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