Tuesday, March 28, 2006

got grammar?

As the final stage of my recovery from a vacation that turned out to be anything but relaxing, it's time to let off a little steam. I don't put bumper stickers on my car, but if I did, the one I saw on the way to work this morning would be the first: "got grammar?" Here are a few of my biggest pet peeves.

  • Good is an adjective, not an adverb. Something does not "work good," it "works well." Native German speakers are forgiven for confusing these, since German adjectives and adverbs have the same form. Everyone else, get it right.
  • Lay is a transitive verb. The intransitive verb is lie. And since the people who confuse the two aren't likely to know what a transitive verb is, it's back to Grammar 101: A transitive verb is a verb that takes a direct object. You don't lay down for a nap, you lie down. You can lay your baby down for a nap, however.
  • In English, prepositions take the accusative case, not the nominative case, even when the subject is compound and includes a pronoun. What's an accusative pronoun? Me, him, and her, as opposed to you, he, and she. My daughter does not talk to "my husband and I," she talks to "my husband and me" (and everyone else, for that matter). And the phrase is "just between you and me," not "just between you and I." Unless we're speaking Spanish (entre tĂș y yo), but we're not.
  • It's is a contraction of "it is." The possessive adjective is its, no apostrophe.

Lest I become accused of linguistic elitism, let me say that I am quite aware that there are dialects in which the standard rules of English grammar do not apply, and that I do not believe that any dialect is inherently better than others. However, there are certain societal contexts in which the use of only particular dialects is considered acceptable, and should you fail to follow the rules of that dialect, be aware that you will be judged accordingly (and likely, unfavorably). It's a bit like the kid who walks into an interview for a bank job in frayed jeans and an old T-shirt. If he doesn't know any better, someone needs to set him straight. If he knows what's appropriate but chooses to behave differently to make some kind of point, he should be prepared for the consequences.

And yes, I too relax the rules of standard grammar depending on my audience and environment. I'm not a stickler for the use of "whom", and I go with the masses when it comes to eliminating the predicate nominative pronoun in favor of the accusative pronoun ("That's him" rather than "That's he"). We change our language, including our grammar, to create a particular effect (not affect, as in the annoyingly incorrect name of my old hair salon, "A Unique Affect"). But creating an effect requires intention, and that requires an knowledge of what is correct and why.

10 comments:

wwhijr said...

Perhaps the hair salons effect affects those who are patrons there. I do have to admit that english isnt my strong suit, or rather proper english isn't. Or since I am from Morth Carolina - ain't.

wwhijr said...

OOps meant North Carolina. Typing isn't high up on my list of skills either.

... said...

An interesting post.
Constantly I get annoyed by the ignorance of the grammar of one's own language. At times I even think that my written English is more correct than the English a lot of native speakers of my age (16) write. I have always wondered how come children do not learn those properly at school, assuming they DO study grammar of their own language as a part of their schooling.

Language Lover said...

Thanks for the comment. I'm curious, what is your native language and where did you learn English?

Unfortunately, English grammar is very poorly taught in most U.S. schools. I learned grammar by studying foreign languages, not in my English classes.

Marve said...

This is something I still don't understand. When I was growing up, I had only one English teacher who put an emphasis on grammar, and she ruined the experience for all of us by grinding our noses into Warner's textbooks every freaking day until it felt like we were learning a foreign language. Surely there has to be a better way.

... said...

My mother tongue is Croatian, and I have been learning English for about 12 years so far, starting at kindergarten and having continued through school. I suppose, though, that the majority of what I learnt was not through my formal education. I dedicated a lot of my free time to my own studies of language(s).
By the way, if I may add, you seem to have an interesting blog! :)
Best wishes!

Language Lover said...

Thanks, it's nice to have readers from all around the world!

Marve, you have an interesting point: I admit I haven't given much thought to how one teaches grammar effectively. I think a lot of exposure to good writing helps develop a sense of "what sounds right." Unfortunately, people seem to be reading less and less high-quality material these days. Maybe the only way is to study the rules in a structured manner, just as we learn math or science; certainly doing so in the context of learning a foreign language makes this process more interesting. Actually, I believe all American students should be required to learn at least one foreign language in school, but alas, I think that day is still far off.

Marve said...

I thought everyone was required to learn at least one foreign language. My high school required us to take a minimum of two years in one foreign language, with three years strongly encouraged to cover admissions requirements for the UCs. Is that not true elsewhere?

Language Lover said...

God, no! In fact, most public high schools around the country don't have this requirement, though of course college-bound students are encouraged to take the minimum two years. Maybe in California it's required, I don't know. And of course you realize that Lowell is rather exceptional as high schools go.

Marve said...

Exceptionally screwed up, mostly. :P I can't say I really reccomend the place.

That's interesting though--I guess since everyone I knew back then was college-bound, taking a foreign language seemed like a given.