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Grammar Cop

This week i’m posting another soapbox, so to speak, but more on writing than politics.

As always, thanks for stopping by.

Whether or not writing is a career or a hobby, because of emails, texting, and social media, everyone that has a smart phone, tablet, or computer has become a writer. As a result, the modern English language has further evolved––or, perhaps, been further abused.

One of those evolutions is the acronym-based vernacular most common among texters as well as social media posters. No one can argue that abbreviated words and phrases like U / K /OMG / LOL /BFF / LMAO serve to simplify and accelerate communications. Definitely much quicker to type than You / Okay / Oh My God / Laugh Out Loud / Best Friend Forever / Laughing My Ass Off. And I certainly can’t condemn people for choosing to utilize that form of shortcut to speed things up. After all, the military and most government installations have used the technique for years. On the other hand, are folks really that busy or just lazy?

Of course, some folks continue to apply the old-school methods of typing complete words and phrases, mixed into a healthy blend of both complete and fragmented sentences. Because, when talking face to face we frequently speak in fragments, I can sidestep that little glitch. But overall, spelling and grammar are––or used to be––important. Unfortunately, too many of the complete-words-and-sentences folks have either forgotten, chosen to ignore, or have never learned some of the basic rules.

One of the problem areas I often spot in texts, posts, and emails is the use of homophones––words that sound the same but have different spellings and meanings. In most instances, I believe it’s a matter of simple misuse, rather than conserving time and space. In that regard, I’ve assumed the role of Grammar Cop and provided a list that represents the most commonly misused homophones that regularly appear in emails, texts, and social media postings. Each grouping is accompanied by a very basic explanation of each word, plus an example of its usage.

To / Too / Two:

    To: a preposition or infinitive – I went to work. / She likes to work in the garden.

Too: a word that means excessively or also – We worked too long. / I like cheesecake, too.

    Two: a number – He has two Irish setters.

There / They’re / Their

    There: a place/ a point or stage/ – He is over there. / You lost me there.

    They’re: a contraction for they are – They’re my best friends.

    Their: the possessive form of they – It is their car.

Are / Or

    Are: the plural form for is – The used cars are across the street.

    Or: a conjunction to indicate an alternative – Would you care for tea or coffee?

Your / You’re

    Your: the possessive form for you – I like your hat.

    You’re: a contraction for you are – You’re the best player on the team.

Its / It’s

    Its: the possessive form for it – Can you believe its shape?

    It’s: a contraction for it is or it has – It’s his turn to bat. It’s been a long season.

Whose / Who’s

    Whose: the possessive form for who – Whose coat is this?

    Who’s: a contraction for who is – Who’s the man standing beside Bill?

Were / We’re

    Were: the past tense of are – They were here a minute ago.

    We’re: a contraction for we are – We’re having a great time.

Then there’s the confusion of how to use several non-homophones, such as:

I or me:

When two subjects in a sentence are joined by the conjunction and, the easiest way to determine whether I or me is correct is to remove the named subject and read the sentence again. “Jim and I/me went fishing.” In this example, “Me went fishing” is obviously incorrect––use “I” instead. “Jim and I went fishing.” However, when a third subject is involved, along with a verb that precedes the subjects joined by the conjunction, the opposite applies. “Bob took Jim and I/me fishing.” “Bob took I fishing” is definitely incorrect. In this case, use me. “Bob took Jim and me fishing.”

Is or are:

Basically, are represents the plural form of is. To determine which form to use, consider the subject of the sentence. If the subject is singular, use is. If it’s plural, use are. “One of us is laughing.”  (One / is) “People are funny.” (People / are)

That or which:

This is a bit trickier, so let’s start with examples first. “The car, which has two flats, is for sale.” “The car that has two flats is for sale.”  In the first a sentence, the clause “has two flats” connects “car” and “is for sale” and describes only one car. The basic meaning of the sentence remains the same with or without the clause, so which is correct. In the second sentence, more than one car is involved but only the car with two flats is for sale. In this case, the clause “has two flats” is necessary to clarify the sentence, so use that. Also note the use of commas to isolate the clause in the first sentence. No commas are used in the second sentence. 

The motivation behind this piece was not to appear as a pretentious writer. Lord knows, I and many seasoned writers are not beyond grammatical errors (and plenty of typos). That’s why we have editors––who sometimes miss a few mistakes as well. Regardless, the items I point out in this posting pertain to grammar lessons I learned in elementary school. Lessons that should remain valid today but apparently are no longer taught with the same amount of emphasis. Math and Science are definitely important, but Grammar remains a vital part of good communication. Folks need to remember that thoughts displayed on social media not only express opinions or communications, they can also expose the individual author’s level of language comprehension. For a country that should rank high on all levels of education, when compared to many other countries around the globe, the USA has hovered near the middle or below for years––far too long. I think that’s a sad statement that indicates misguided priorities, wasted potential, and a lack of concern. A setback that can and should be reversed. Something we should all care about and pay attention to, and can do our part to improve.

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