On Grammar

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I had lunch earlier this week with a gentleman who runs a reputable production company in Knoxville (see www.doublejaycreative.com). We happened upon the subject of communication and its unfortunate demise. He said that he recently posed the following question to a classroom of MBA students: “Who in this room has hand-written a letter in the last year?” Only one student raised her hand.

For those of us who still believe in hand-writing thank-you notes and snail-mailing birthday cards, it is saddening that so many of our future leaders scoff at such efforts, considering them trivial and inefficient. No matter how well intended, a text message doesn’t pack quite the same punch as a hand-written note from a friend; and an e-card doesn’t reflect the same thoughtfulness as a well selected greeting card signed by a loved one. Zeroes and ones are as easily deleted as they are written; but a card is savored, even displayed, with lingering sentiment.

I say this not simply because I am old fashioned. I say this because we are raising a generation of people who don’t know how to write. Our built-in auto-correct and grammar tools have taken a parallel role to the “calculator” for the English language. I say this humbly, because I have lost the ability to confidently calculate even a simple 2-digit math calculation in my head. Fortunately for me, I don’t walk around speaking math, and math is not required in every personal interaction that I have throughout my day. Grammar is.

The ability to construct a complete and well-written sentence is no longer an assumed job skill. It is rare, this gentleman and I agreed, for either of us to review a résumé or cover letter that does not contain at least one (oftentimes multiple) grammatical errors. This is potentially the most important document of your career! If you can’t get this one right, why should I trust you to represent my business?

My husband, another advocate for the written word, recently pointed out a frustration with the iPhone auto-correction of “its” to “it’s.” While in most other ways I treasure this handy device, on this point I stand firm: If I type “its,” I mean “its.” Don’t we have enough trouble with possessiveness in this country? Do we really need a device to further muddy the waters even for those of us who know the rules? Folks, IT’S is short for IT IS (e.g. It’s unfortunate when people don’t respect the rules of grammar). Its is the possessive form of it (e.g. The iPhone cannot be fully trusted for its auto-correct feature).

Of course, writers of even reputable television shows commonly make chill-inducing errors like, “Her and I went for a walk.” Seriously? Her and I? Would anyone dream of saying, “Her went for a walk?” Of course not! So why, when we add ourselves to the equation, do we change the rules? A subject pronoun is a subject pronoun, whether it has company or not.

Similarly offensive is, “He gave it to her and I.” You wouldn’t say, “He gave it to I.” At least, I hope you wouldn’t. If ever in doubt, drop the partner and see how it sounds alone. “He gave it to me.” Furthermore, contrary to popular opinion, using “myself” in place of I or me in one of the above scenarios does not make it correct. Use I or me when the right word should be used. Then you can say, “I am proud of myself for speaking correctly.”

There is surely more to come on this topic. What are your grammar pet peeves? Please share! The Girl on the Roof loves company.

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7 Responses to “On Grammar”

  1. Sherry April 9, 2010 at 12:35 pm #

    Interesting article. I’m amused that people are too scared to comment for fear they may misspell or misuse a word.

    If you will, send me your friends info so that he may receive a hand-written letter from the younger generation.

    Also, I’d like to share something that has infuriated me lately. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/8604625.stm

  2. Carol Reeve April 9, 2010 at 1:15 pm #

    Thanks, Sherry, for your response. I am OUTRAGED at your link re: the change of rules for Scrabble. I play Facebook/iPhone Scrabble with several friends and family members. We each have at least four or five games going at a time. (Yes, I’m a nerd, but that’s already been established from my post.) When my mentor used the words Zaire and Japan, I nearly went through the roof! So wrong! I agree with the comment in the quote: it’s because people think Scrabble is too hard. Sad!

  3. Jeanne Brennesholtz April 17, 2010 at 10:27 am #

    Thank you for writing about grammar, Carol. I’m so afraid that a whole generation (and more) will lose that ability to write. English teachers must be banging their heads against the wall in total frustration. Keep on writing . . . .

  4. Pat Foster April 17, 2010 at 12:42 pm #

    Thanks for your thoughts. I know get excited when I receive snail-mail notes. You’re right on target! Keep up the good work/thoughts.

  5. Canal de Panama April 26, 2010 at 4:35 pm #

    I am new to blogging and actually enjoyed your site. I am going to bookmark your blog and keep checking you out. Thanks for sharing your blog.

  6. Dave April 26, 2010 at 7:14 pm #

    Thank you for writing about grammar, Carol. I’m so afraid that a whole generation (and more) will lose that ability to write. English teachers must be banging their heads against the wall in total frustration. Keep on writing . . . .

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