Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Top Ten Grammar Mistakes

When it comes to the Most Difficult Language in the World (also one of the most widely spoken ones), we do a pretty good job.

Or not.  Even after a good decade of study and daily immersion, most native English speakers still make the following grammar and spelling mistakes on a far-too-regular basis.  (Including me.)

So I present to you, the Top Ten Grammar Mistakes.

1.  The Grocer's Apostrophe.  This one drives me nuts.  EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.  It's when the user inserts an apostrophe-S to make a singular noun plural.  Frex:  Apple's.  This rule ain't that hard, folks. Plurals don't need an apostrophe.  (This grammar mistake is named for the greengrocers who abuse it all the time. Graphic designers should also be held accountable.)

2.  Lay/Lie.  Now here's a grammar mistake worth making. Lay and lie sound so very similar. Can you blame the user for mistaking the two? Mignon Fogarty, Grammar Girl explains thus: "The way I remember is to think of the phrase lay it on me. You're laying something (it, the direct object) on me. It's a catchy, dorky, 1970s kind of phrase, so I can remember it and remember that it is correct."  If you make this mistake often, don't beat yourself up. Take two aspirin and lie down.

3. Homophones. These are words that sound alike but are spelled different and also have different meanings. If you're good at spelling, these don't give you any issue.  But not everyone is Second Place State Champion in the Fifth Grade Spelling Bee.  So do you mistake your you're yore and there their there? That's homophones messing with you. They like to play mind games.

4. Possessive Apostrophe.  This is probably the evil sister who sets up her little brother Greengrocer to take the rap for apostrophe (mis)use. (Serves Greengrocer right for being stupid.)
How did this come about?  Here's one theory:
     George's hat.  (aka the hat that belongs to George. His hat.)
Wanna know how the possessive apostrophe came into being?  Long-story-short, in Proper (hoity-toity toffee-nose) English, the correct way of talking about the hat that belongs to George was to say:
    George his hat.
That later got condensed (for good or ill) down to:
    George's hat.
Ah, now it makes sense!  If you remember this forgotten grammatical structure, you may be less likely to wonder why possessive has an apostrophe, and will be more likely to not commit Grocer's Apostrophes (evil things that they are).  (Here's the long story and a few other scholarly reasons, if you wish to get all Saxon on us and you may).

5.  That leads to Substitutional Apostrophes, aka Contractions. Frex:  Don't let's think he's making the same mistakes you're using.  Essentially, these apostrophes are used to replace missing letters.
     Do not let us think he is making the same mistakes you are using.

6. I before E except after C.  One of the most famous spelling rules, it also ended with Or as sounding an A as in neighbor and weigh, and other "exceptions" to the rule.  Today we are going to blame French (and maybe German) but really it's the fault of English for its rather harsh recruitment tactics1.  So when you come across words like receipt and conceive, know they have been borrowed from French  The reason for this particular quirk (and it is a quirk, rather than a reliable rule is because these words were borrowed from French, which inherited them from Latin, which has particular spelling rules for words and sounds.

Anyhoo, forget the I. What we're really looking for is the E after the C.  This spells CE, which is one of the ways the French spelled the S sound.  Frex:  piece, nice, lace, and so on.

7.   Spelling, in general.  Phonetics are all but thrown out the window when it comes to English because most of its vocabulary is borrowed from other languages. The more recent the acquisition and/or the more dominant the group loaning the vocab (see Norman Invasion), the more likely that the spelling/pronunciation rules will have come with the word. Some stuck-up prat named Melvil Dui and a few handfuls of others tried to reform English spelling to a more phonetic form.

Personally, I think this is a bad idea (for aesthetic reasons), as it will detract from the beauty of our written language and destroy the entomological footprints in each word.  Besides, there will be sufficient disagreement over the proper phonetic spelling for many a word, simply because English speakers from different places (and accents) will pronounce the same word differently.  Somewhere, someone's gonna get offended.

Anyhow, English spelling didn't really become standardised until the end of the 19th Century. & if txting n Tweetng hve thr way, thr'll b nther sp revolution in th C21. c u l8r.

8.  Could of, should of, would of.   This is a case of phonetics getting in the way of spelling.  (This is also another reason English should not resort to a phonic spelling system. It'll screw up the language more than the Grocers and their apostrophes.)   "Could of" and his mates are really supposed to be "could have, should have, would have". Frex:  I would have come. I should have known you wouldn't. I could have stayed home.

9. I and Me.   At the end of a sentence, when do you use I and when do you use Me?  Those ubiquitous Grammar Nazis corrected many a child from "Me and Jake are going to the pond," to "Jake and I are going to the pond."  Unfortunately, they never explain why.  (Bad grammarians!  Always explain why. Keeps people from making the following mistakes:)  Have you saved seats for Jake and I?  Just so you know, this is incorrect.

Why? Because I is subject, Me is object.  You can see which one is correct if you take Jake out of the sentence.  Frex:  I am going to the pond.  Have you saved seats for me?  And that is how you tell the difference.  It takes some practice, but it's easy enough to master.

10.  Literally.  This word has become completely overused in recent times. Literally means that something is not figurative or metaphorical.  Literally let the cat out of the bag?  There had better be an empty bag in your hands and a moggy running around somewhere.  Literally die?  Your heart had better stopped beating and you are being carted away in a body bag.   Instead, this poor word has been forced to take on an incorrect definition as an emphasiser.  Why can't we go back to the beautiful word totally from the 1980's?  It served the purpose much better.

1"English does not merely borrow words from other languages, English chases other languages into dark alleys, clubs them over the head and turns out their pockets looking for loose vocabulary. This process is, to put it gently, not pretty."  --James Nicholl

Her Grace has some serious grief regarding Grocer's Apostrophes. Anything else, she'll tolerate, and even let slide. But GA's?  That deserves someone's kneecaps whacked.


Tiki Swain said...

It bothers me a little that the current method for teaching reading (at kindy/pre-primary level) is almost entirely based on phonics. Of course, that means in practice it's hardly based on phonics at all because they have to keep teaching the kids "sight words" that aren't going to follow the rules. I like phonics, but... this process seems slow because they leave trickier sound combinations until later so as to avoid having to teach too many exceptions. It seems like it'd be faster to give kids a bunch of words spelled and sounded similarly and let them work out the patterns themselves.

Zara Penney said...

One thing that drives me nuts Heidi is the word.




One means oriented = leaning towards


one means initiated into.

Zara Penney said...

Tiki, isn't taught today because nobody knows how to do it.

Phonics is best because you use it to work your way through new words.

We were all taught it when I was little and I think a lot of people who wouldn't be as literate today were then.

We learned out of a terrible 'Bobby Dog' book. "Sit, Bobby, sit.

You should begin with a groundwork of ability and leave it to the adventurous to make the cross road into difficult words, or leave those not so interested at least with a basic craft.

Much like teaching of art. A good grounding in the basics gives the 'modernistic' a basis to proceed. Picasso's early drawings are wonderful, yet he went to his next phases because he had that solid background