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Grammar Errors That Bug You

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Posted: Thursday, February 28, 2019 3:57 pm

Writers and English teachers are expected to be picky about grammar errors, but regular people, even math majors, hear errors that make them cringe. In conversation, I never notice careless grammar because all of us make mistakes. We rarely edit our dialogue out loud. However, professional speakers, television personalities, or anyone who interacts with the public as part of his profession should master more than acceptable grammar. After all, English is an important tool for their work.

On the first day of class, my freshman college English professor announced we would have a test on the first half of the grammar book mid-semester and another test on the second half near the end of the semester. A day before the test she would answer any questions. According to her, if we had made it to college, we should know the grammar, and if we failed either test, we would fail the course.

A pillow commercial, which I hear all too often, grates on my nerves. You will have “less sleep interruptions.” No, it’s “fewer sleep interruptions” as the screen lists while he is talking. Guess he failed to memorize the script. If you can count the item, use “fewer,” if not, use “less.” As a teacher my example was “fewer marbles, less water.” For the smart aleck student, I would always add, “Yes, you could use an eye dropper and count the drops, but who is going to do that?”

My senior high school English teacher often mentioned the incorrect uses of the words “nauseous” and “nauseated” as one of her pet peeves. My 1963 college dictionary has distinct differences in the definitions, but today hardly anyone uses “nauseated.” Nauseated was what a person felt when they looked at a nauseous substance. Not anymore. According to the current dictionaries, people today feel nauseous, which goes to prove that if we say it incorrectly often enough, the rule will change.

How sad that those who decide the standard for correct grammar consider the public too dumb to learn simple rules. I contend we are not. When I moved to California and started teaching, the emphasis was on the San Francisco Writing Project which eliminated teaching grammar separately. Students were encouraged to write, to cluster in groups, and to critique each other’s paper. The teacher took a back seat. That probably works fine in an AP class, but when you have students who are weak in grammar, their partners simply reinforce grammar errors. Of course, I began incorporating grammar lessons in my English class.

When we lived in Virginia, I attended a large church where the minister had atrocious grammar, not just an occasional error but backwoods, uneducated talk. My husband refused to attend saying, “If he attended 12 years of school plus graduate school and still does not know English, how do I know he knows his Bible any better?” Valid point. My middle child arrived, and the minister visited. During the visit he asked why Paul no longer attended. After a quick pause to consider my options, I decided to be honest and told him Paul’s reason. He replied, “My wife says that.”

Trying to soften the criticism, I suggested if he learned his verbs, the flashing red light problems would be eliminated. I loaned him my one-hour grammar course book from college, paper clipping the chapter together to show him how little he had to study. We moved, and I forgot my book. Years later the minister attended a conference where my grandfather spoke. He approached my grandfather with my book. As he handed it to him to return to me, he said, “Tell her how much it helped me.”

Other than my family, two people who use the verb “lie” repeatedly on the job have received my mini lessons. One was a mattress salesman who said, “Lay down and try it” whenever we moved to examine another mattress. After we purchased the mattress, I quietly explained the difference between “lie” and “lay,” then I suggested he say, “Lie down ….” Since he used those verbs continuously each day on the job, he needed to know the difference. I did the same with a delightful technician who seemed genuinely appreciative.

A common error that bugs many people is using the incorrect pronoun, usually when part of a prepositional phrase with a compound object. Give the paper to Kay and me is correct, but television personalities often say “…Kay and I.” You would never say, “Give the paper to I.” If it is correct alone, it is correct as a compound pronoun phrase.

Never ending a sentence with a preposition is one rule most people ignore. In fact, most grammar websites call that rule a myth but then advise not to end a sentence with a preposition in a formal paper. “In regard to the rule against ending a sentence with a preposition, Churchill is famous for saying ‘This is the sort of nonsense up with which I will not put.’ However, it’s unlikely that he ever said such a thing.”

Would you really say, “On what did you step?” Many examples of ending a sentence with a preposition occur each day. She likes being fussed over. Caring for a baby seven days a week is a difficult commitment to take on. The little girl had no one to play with. Who are you talking to? Rearranging those sentences to place the preposition in the correct spot would lead to awkward, stilted sentences. My last English grammar book said, “Never end a sentence with a preposition unless it renders the sentence awkward sounding.”

The important thing to me is not to be offended when corrected but to be eager to learn. A family member said, “He drug the stuffed bear behind him.” I mentioned that drug is used only when associated with a chemical substance. She really meant “dragged the bear.” Her response was, “Well, that’s easy. Why didn’t someone tell me that,” and that is the attitude I want to have.

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