Thursday, December 13, 2012

Help Sooth This Obsessive Grammarian

I wasn’t always this way, but I spent a few years as an English teacher, which obliged me to bone up on fine grammar points. When most of my reading was confined to books and magazines, I didn’t see many errors. Now that I read so many blogs, however, I’m seeing more and more. It’s not quite driving me up the wall, but after several hours of blog reading the irritation builds.


When I see its/it’s errors or there/their/they’re mistakes, I actually feel a surge of anger, even though I know the writer was just in a hurry and probably didn’t have time to edit.


If get too upset I try to calm myself by recognizing that English is changing as languages do over time.These days everyone splits infinitives, which used to be frowned upon. I do it myself, although I still reflect to see if there is any way I can avoid the split without making my phrase awkward or unclear. Since Winston Churchill gave us permission, we no longer mind leaving prepositions at the end of sentences, as I just did back there.


And I guess I will have to be politically and socially correct and get used to “they” as a singular pronoun when the gender of the referent is not specified. I note, however, that some militants are consistently using she when gender is unknown, perhaps to atone for past sins of male chauvinists.


But there are a few errors I may never accept, such as using “different than” instead of “different from”. When we stop to think about it we remember that “different” is not a comparative adjective such as “bigger”. which would obviously be followed by “than”. 


On the subject of comparative adjectives, it may already be too late to save the word “fewer”. Practically everyone says, “I have a few coins”, but too many of us say and write, “I have less coins than he has”. As our sixth grade teachers reminded us, “less” is the comparative form of “little” and is reserved for uncountable things like “money”. Every day there are fewer bloggers who get this right. I may soon be the only one left.


It is certainly too late to try to save “try to do something”, when even polished writers are using “try and do something”. Strange! The latter version doesn’t even make sense. My sixth grade teacher was very tough about that, but she apparently didn’t get the word out to everyone.


I would also like to save the American subjunctive. I call it American because the English have already given up on it. I fear it’s too late because most English speakers don’t learn it in school, and think it’s something only Europeans put in their mouths, like smelly cheese. But take a look at these: It’s important that he be on time! It’s essential that she do her homework! Well, I suppose it won’t be a great loss if it disappears, even though I will miss it.


I’m going to close this long lament with a question in the hope that some grammar guru will read it and provide guidance. It’s about gerundive phrases. Most grammar books say that if a pronoun is the subject of the phrase it should be a possessive pronoun as in the following: I’m worried about his going to Afghanistan. I feel more comfortable with this: I’m worried about him going to Afghanistan.


All that is not to claim that I’m perfect. I really have to watch my commas and capitals, and you will probably find other errors even in the above text.


What do you think, grammar gurus? Please give me your opinion or this and other points.


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