A Grammar Lesson

I frequently receive emails with a disclaimer that reads, basically, “I hate emailing you because I’m always afraid you’re correcting my grammar and judging me.” And, for the record, oh, semi-educated world, such fear is not entirely unfounded, but only half-way correct. I’m not correcting your grammar. I’m simply noticing your grammatical mistakes. And judging you.

That said, English teachers actually have a much harder time getting away with grammatical mistakes than the average human, for obvious reasons. It might come as a surprise to know that in sending weekly parent-student emails from my classroom, I actually freaked out before pushing the send button. Only the bravest would have dared call me on an actual mistake, but the truth is, it did happen from time to time. I also reread every single one of these blog posts about four times before pushing “publish” and even then, John (or my mother, or my brother-in-law) often sends me an email before the end of the day with a brief correction.

I know I’ve already admitted to losing my grip on spelling at some point in my life. It seems like it had to have happened with the onset of word processing everything, or more likely, the invention of the squiggly red line and right click button, but it very well may have started in 6th grade when the bell dinged in round 1 at the Area-District Spelling Bee. My word? Podium. (It’s like my subconscious decided at that very moment, “So what if you can’t spell? Good spellers are stoopid! Take that!”)
Sidenote: before publication, I was forced by that very red line to right click “subconscious,” above.

There are certainly such things as “acceptable grammatical mistakes” in the proper context. Some call it poetic license. I call it, my blog. And while I’d never use them in a professional format, or in an educational publication, for example, in my personal writing I wholeheartedly embrace the bending of certain grammatical conventions like punctuation. And sentence fragments. The difference between me and everyone else at this point is, I DO IT INTENTIONALLY.

At any rate, there have been plenty of times whilst wielding a magenta Expo, that I’ve had to stop and ask 29 wide eyes, “Wait a minute. Is that even right?” And one argument that arose with frequency (not only in my classroom but between me and legal writing “friends”) was a question of commas. In fact, up until three days ago, I didn’t even know this particular comma had a name. Now I do. And I understand him. And, if I go back into the classroom one day (assuming the school is in no way associated with the Baptist church), I will make an overhead projection of this very visual, and teach my classes accordingly.

A lesson on The Oxford Comma:

While I’m standing at my grammar podium, I’ll say this: I know grammar snob blogs exist en masse. I am not the first (and hopefully won’t be the last) to complain. But a recent hormone induced riff with John has put in the mood to make lists, so without further ado, here are the mistakes which make me want to chuck Expo markers at people’s heads. Note: these were also displayed in permanence via homemade laminated posters around the walls of the room I once called home from 8:30 to 4pm, five days a week.

A lot is TWO. WORDS.

Y.O.U. + A.R.E. = you’re.
It isn’t that difficult, people.

Your 4th grade teacher was being lazy when she taught you that sentences cannot begin with the word because. They can. It is called a subordinate clause and it doesn’t matter if it comes at the beginning or the end of the sentence, as long as it is connected with a comma to a subject and a verb. What she should have been proclaiming from the rooftops, instead, was: “Never begin a sentence with the word which, unless you are asking a question.”
NOTE: the rant wasn’t part of the poster. It merely verbally accompanied my pointing out of the lesson within. It often concluded with, “And if you are still in touch with your 4th grade teacher, do the world a favor and pass this little nugget along. If not for yours than for my future.”

There. They’re. Their.
There’s a difference.  They’re’s a difference.  Their’s a difference.

If I see any of the following:
LOL | B4 | b/c | ♥ | 🙂
I will physically throw up on your paper, let it dry, and then hand it back to you.

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3 comments on “A Grammar Lesson
  1. claire says:

    If you didn’t catch it, I once had a student with a glass eye.

  2. Nate says:

    Huh. I didn’t know that comma had a name either. And in fact, it took me a while to even understand your JFK/Stalin-strippers picture. I’ve just always called it the AP comma, because pretty much every style book says you should use it in a series except for the AP. Because [sic] it causes exactly the kind of confusion the picture demonstrates. And oh man, there are so many things that we’re told is grammatical gospel in the 4th grade, so many things you “can’t do”, that’s really just bullshit. What is that all about? Is it just a desire to believe that there are rules in life, hard and fast rules, and without rules there’s chaos? Most elementary school teachers (and some high school teachers) seem to forget that grammar is entirely conventional, that there’s a history out there to all of these “rules,” (comma before the last ” or after?) that sometimes the history tells us that the “rule” is just an accident or a fad, and sometimes what they teach kids doesn’t make any sense at all. But maybe the idea is that you have to learn some set of rules to be competent, and later in life you can find out all of the alternatives out there. And you can break the rules if you want to. As long as you know what you’re doing and why. Or not. Whatever.

    • claire says:

      I prefer to keep all my commas and periods INSIDE the quotation marks, even if I’m only quoting the final word of the sentence. It is because they are so little, they need the protection. Plus, any chance I can assert my American dominance over English grammar, I certainly take it. Question marks (and if I dare use the dreaded exclamation point), on the other hand, can hold their own on the outside the quotes if it is only a final word or phrase in quotation marks, and not the entire sentence. (My students tended not to forget this rule when I yelled, “Look at him! He’s FREEZING! You just slammed the door in his face and all he wants is to be inside with the family!”

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