Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Good Grammar is Cool!

Sorry, folks!  This post isn't going to be crafty or creative.  It is, however, going to be fun and exciting because that's what good grammar is!  Good grammar is always fun and exciting!

I'm a grammar nerd.  I am probably one of the few people left under the age of forty (never mind how much under) that can correctly diagram a sentence.  This is all because of a teeny tiny English teacher I had in seventh grade that felt that everyone should be able to diagram any sentence ever written.  Diagram we did.  She was also a Grammar Nazi.

I am not that dedicated but I do get very irritated when I read a "formal" letter and find it full of grammar mistakes.  I cringe when fliers come home in my kids' backpacks and they are riddled with simple punctuation mistakes.  Grammar mistakes in published items such as church bulletins, newspapers and newsletters always make me roll my eyes, especially when the article is written by someone very educated who makes elementary grammar errors.  Proofread, people!
There are always exceptions to the good grammar rule. An informal blog (such as this one), an informal letter (when appropriate - not to your boss!), a chatty email (again, not to your boss), and Facebook posts are exempt from the Good Grammar laws.  Try to get the spelling right, though.

There are probably quite a few of you rolling your eyes at this point thinking: "Geeze.  She can diagram a sentence so she feels like she can tell us how to write properly."  Pretty much.  That, and I used to get paid to proofread.  So there.

This is a blog post, not an English class so I'm going to stick to a few of the mistakes that causes heartfelt groaning and eye rolling on my part when I come across them.

Its or It's:  I know that an apostrophe S sometimes denotes possession (the child's backpack) but in this case it doesn't.  An apostrophe can also be a contraction.  That's what it is in this case.   If you can substitute "it is" when you read your sentence for "it's", then you have done it correctly.  If you can't, use "its". 
The dog wanted water in its bowl.
It's a nice day out!
*** This is also how "your" and "you're" work.

There, Their or They're
"There" denotes a placement.  "We are going there."  "Put the bowl there."
"Their" is possessive.  "They need to put their shoes on."  "The girls need to brush their hair."
"They're" is a contraction.  If you can substitute "they are" for "they're" you are using it correctly.  "They're going to the store."

Here's a fun one:  They're going there to pick up their clothes.

Complete sentences:  Remember the whole "subject/predicate" or subject/verb" lecture you glazed over in high school?  That's what this one is about.  You have to have a subject and a verb in each and every sentence for it to be a sentence.  You can have an implied subject (Go get that! - "you" is implied.  If you can put "you" at the front of the sentence and it makes sense, that's okay) but you can never have an implied verb (unless your name is Jennifer and you grew up in my parents' house.  JENNIFER!! seemed to be an entire sentence in certain situations).  Again, this doesn't apply in informal settings (such as this blog) but please, please try to remember this when you send an email to someone you don't know well or for business purposes.

Apostrophes:  Apostrophes are handy little buggers!  Use them to make a proper contraction (see my comments on they're vs. there) or to show possession (the baby's toy).  DON'T use them to turn the noun plural ("The babies are sleeping." NOT "The baby's are sleeping.").  Make sure to place the apostrophe correctly, especially when you are using it to show possession.  For example, if you are talking about one girl and her hairbrush, it is "the girl's hairbrush".   If you have more girls (sisters, let's say) and they have one brush (or multiple, it doesn't matter) it becomes "the girls' hairbrush or the girls' hairbrushes).  Notice the apostrophe is on the other side of the S.  This shows that you have more than one girl.

Fewer and Less:  If you can count it,  you use "fewer".  If you can't, use "less". 

At this point in my blog post, fewer than ten of you are still reading.
 This posting is less successful than I though it would be.

And, yes, all the "Ten Items or Less" signs at the grocery store are wrong. 

Affect and Effect:  "Affect" is a verb and "Effect" is a noun.  You can affect something to cause an effect. 

Offering a giveaway really caused quite an effect on the business.
Playing the Wii really affects my son's attention span.

There are a few exceptions to this rule but this is a good generalization.

Semicolons and Colons:  Semicolons are one of my favorite punctuation tools.  It is only used in two ways correctly.  First way is to join two complete sentences.  If the sentences can stand alone on each side of the semicolon, you can use it.  Generally, the sentences should be somewhat related to each other.

My daughter slept in this morning; she was up all night at a slumber party.

If you are so inclined, you can throw in a "however" in your sentence with a semicolon.

My daughter slept in this morning; however, she was up all night at a slumber party. 

Make sure the sentences can stand alone without the "however" before using a semicolon and you are probably okay using it!

You can also use a semicolon to separate list items that have punctuation within it. 

My favorite foods include chicken divan, with curry; shrimp salad, with avocados and ranch dressing; and hot lava cake.

On to the colon!  Use it to further explain or introduce a list.

She loves all colors but her favorites are: blue, green, orange and yellow.

She wrinkled her nose in disgust because of the odors coming from the trash: something rotten, something sickly sweet and something bitter.

She yelled up the stairs: "Take out the trash!"

Colons are also used for ratios (3:1), time (12:30) and formal letters (Dear Editor:).

I'm stepping off from my high horse at this point and backing slowly away from the keyboard in hopes to preserve the few blog readers that have made it this far!  Please note that the best way to send something with as few grammar errors as possible is to give it to someone else to proofread!  Having someone else read over your item will help catch any misinterpretations or silly grammar mistakes that we all make.  Also, please remember that other countries have different rules about grammar.  One rule that comes to mind is whether punctuation goes inside quotation marks or outside, even if the punctuation isn't part of the quote.  It depends on where you are.  In England, it goes outside.  In America, inside.  I would say to write grammatically correct per the grammar rules of the country you live in. 

And also remember I didn't have anyone proofread this before posting.

Happy writing!


  1. I'm surprised you didn't touch on my biggest pet peeve. It is something that seems like it is always used improperly because people think it sounds better one way vs. the other. You should have talked about how to properly use Mom and I vs. Mom and me. Still drives me nuts when I see people post pictures on facebook that they label as, "Dad and I," or when you hear a conversation and the person asks, "Do you want to go to the store with Kelly and I."

    1. I agree that's another cringe worthy mistake! I was on quite the role but had to quit writing my posting. The more I wrote the more indignant I got. People have forgotten that you don't write the way you talk! And, somehow, that came out a lot more pompous than I intended!

  2. Amen, sister! I have also been a proofreader in a past life, and the mistakes you mentioned drive me crazy, too! Have to admit, though, that "affect" and "effect" are always hard for me. Those words always make me stop and think!
    Pat Sisk

    1. I have to say I was a bit irate the day I wrote this posting! Honestly, it had nothing to do with comments left for me, e-mails sent to me or Facebook posts! I was visiting my folks and came across a church bulletin that made me want to offer my services as their proofreader. I think I've inadvertently offended some people. Several people who e-mail me on a regular basis have stopped and my husband has started to apologize in advance when he has me proof his e-mails. Whoops!