April 18, 2013
Sometimes, it’s OK to break the rules of grammar.
Sometimes, it’s OK to break the rules of grammar.
Grammarians, unite—and celebrate!
March 4 is National Grammar Day, a day to “speak well, write well, and help others do the same.” It’s a mission we writers and editors promote all year long.
So, how will you celebrate National Grammar Day 2013? Here are some ideas:
Play the AnaGrammar Game, and unscramble grammar-related anagrams to win a prize.
Download free wallpaper for your desktop (Check ’em out—they’re quite witty!).
Read some funny typo stories—or share your own!
Buy a language-themed T-shirt.
Write a grammar haiku.
I plan to spend the day—red pen in hand, stylebook at elbow—editing brochures for a client. A perfect way to observe this special day. However you choose to celebrate, do it with good humor—and great grammar!
September 24 marks the ninth annual National Punctuation Day® (NPD), the holiday that, according to the NPD website, “reminds America that a semicolon is not a surgical procedure.”
As grammar lovers know, there are many ways to celebrate this special day: Read a newspaper and correct all of the punctuation errors you find with a red pen. Bake your favorite pastry or bread in the shape of a punctuation mark. Or take photos of punctuation marks you find in nature.
Punctuation (and political!) pundits are encouraged to enter this year’s NPD contest and vote for your favorite “Presidential Punctuation Mark” in one, highly punctuated paragraph (see website for details).
However you choose to observe NPD, do it with style! (And consistency. And proper grammar …)
… double contraction, that is.
In the grammar world, double contractions are words that contain two clitics (unstressed words that can’t stand on their own so they attach to a stressed word), such as ’re and ’ve.
Some of the more common double contractions are I’d’ve, she’sn’t, and y’all’re. And although they look terrible—and my spell check is screaming red—they are in fact grammatically acceptable. But I caution you to use these apostrophe-laden mouthfuls wisely.
For instance, if you’re writing an email to a friend or a novel that contains informal dialogue, go ahead and include all the double contractions you can think of (there are less than 50 recognized in the English language). However, if you’re composing a court brief or your doctoral thesis, steer clear of these cumbersome contractions.
Here’s a sampling of double contractions and their meanings:
‘twouldn’t – it would not
couldn’t've – could not have
I’ven’t – I have not
mightn’t've – might not have
shouldn’t've – should not have
that’ll’ve – that will have
we’ven’t – we have not
y’all’re – you all are
These are fun because they are nouns in and of themselves. Apparently, sailors are big fans of the double contraction:
bo’s’n – boatswain (a petty officer on a merchant ship who controls the work of other seamen)
fo’c’sle – forecastle (a superstructure in the bow of a merchant ship where the crew is housed)
I mightn’t've included your favorite, so feel free to share!
On March 4, let’s march forth and honor grammar!
Established in 2008 by Martha Brockenbrough, writer and founder of the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar (SPOGG), National Grammar Day is an occasion to celebrate language. It is hosted by none other than Mignon Fogarty, “Grammar Girl” herself.
So make yourself a grammartini and join the fun at the National Grammar Day website, where you’ll find grammar-themed wallpaper, contests, photos, and even a theme song (“March Forth. Grammar’s the bomb …”).
And for some other grammar resources, check out some of our most popular posts:
• Where’s the semicolon love?
• Put it in parentheses (please)
• The colon: an unappreciated mark with an unfortunate name
• Quoth the writer, “Nevermore”
• The ellipsis is cool, but …
• The ampersand: form & function
… Stylebook, that is. As in the brand spanking new Associated Press 2010 Stylebook, which just arrived at my door!
For writers and editors like me, our stylebook is our bible, constantly in arm’s reach whether proofreading an official document for a client or composing a blog post. How do I use it, you ask? Well, in writing this very paragraph, I looked up the term “bible” to confirm that I lowercase it in this instance. (For those of you who are curious, “Bible” is capitalized when referring to the Scriptures in the Old or New Testaments; it is lowercased as a nonreligious term.)
Although I’m sad to retire my old AP Stylebook (2006 version), I’m beyond excited to break in my new one. Sure, I’ll end up highlighting the same entries that always give me pause (essential clauses, nonessential clauses; composition titles; academic degrees [I do a lot of work for educational institutions]), but now I have 100 new and updated entries to pore over and master.
As you can guess, a lot of the new entries are related to social media (e.g., Twitter, blog, text messaging/instant messaging [complete with popular terms like LOL]). One of the updated entries, “website,” is a marked change from the former “Web site”—and a welcome one to me and most editors I know. In fact, the change came, in part, as a result of user feedback to the AP.
Other new entries of note include “Great Recession,” referring to the recession that began in December 2007, “tea party,” defined as “Populist movement opposing Washington political establishment,” and “Bluetooth,” referring to the wireless standard that enables hands-free cell usage.
Now, while you ponder the fact that “bologna” is the sausage or luncheon meat, and “baloney” is foolish or exaggerated talk, I have some fascinating reading to do.
Oh, I just love this time of year. Snow is falling, carolers are singing, Christmas tree’s are twinkling—wait, “Christmas tree’s”? Really?
Sorry to be the grammar grinch, folks, but I can’t help but feel a bit grouchy when faced with holiday-related misspellings and typos in ads, signs, and greeting cards. Just because we’re filled with cheer and goodwill (and eggnog) doesn’t mean we should abandon proper grammar and style.
Here are just a few of the grammatical errors I’ve encountered this holiday season:
Don’t get me wrong: I’m more than happy to give and receive warm greetings of the season—but only in a grammatically correct way. You see, the proper term is Season’s Greetings, with an apostrophe before the “s” signifying a possessive.
Christmas tree’s for sale
As we know from my post on the proper use of apostrophes, these marks are primarily used for forming possessives and indicating missing letters or numbers—neither of which apply to the sale of Christmas trees. Vendors beware: The next incorrect sign I encounter may end up with red editing marks!
New Years Eve
Reading about New Years Eve and New Years’ Eve celebrations makes me as sick as drinking too much champagne. Note to party promoters: It’s New Year’s Eve (and New Year’s Day).
Again, it’s that pesky apostrophe! When you’re addressing a Christmas card to a family of people with the last name Smith, you should address it to The Smiths. (The only time you’d use an apostrophe is if you’re addressing something belonging to the Smith family, and, in that case, you’d add the apostrophe after an “s,” as in “The Smiths’ dog.” But that would be weird. Why not just call her Riley?)
I suppose I should let this one go, since the term in question dates back to the 1400s and is rarely used these days. But, if you want to be grammatically correct, the proper spelling is ’Tis, with an apostrophe before the “t” to indicate the missing letter “i.” (’Tis is a contraction of “it is,” as in ’tis the season for good wishes and bad grammar.)
Season’s greetings, everyone!
Well, here it is, one of my favorite days of the year: National Punctuation Day (NPD).
Now in its sixth year, NPD has a mission to cure the “epidemic of poor punctuation in the United States,” according to founder Jeff Rubin.
How can you observe NPD?
Go around town and point out all the incorrectly punctuated signs you can find—but please don’t vandalize!
Enter the NPD baking contest; whip up a pastry or bread in the shape of a punctuation mark and win a prize.
Write a blog post including as many punctuation marks as possible (like I did here [did you notice?]).
Brush up on the proper use of punctuation:
OK, I admit it: Sometimes I break the rules—grammar rules, that is.
You may find this hard to believe (coming from a self-proclaimed grammar guru), but, in some cases, I think that disobeying certain rules results in better copy.
Here are some common grammar regulations and my thoughts on when it’s acceptable to defy them:
Pshaw. In my writing, I’ll sometimes use sentence fragments, because I believe they add emphasis:
My dog enjoys naps, walks, and treats. Lots and lots of treats.
No, the latter sentence is not grammatically correct, but it certainly lets the reader know how much my dog likes treats, doesn’t it?
And why not? I find that beginning a sentence with and, but, as, or because lends a tone of informality to my copy—something I strive for when writing for a young adult audience, for instance:
In our program, you’ll work harder than you ever have in school. But you’ll have a blast doing it.
Where did you pick that up from? At times, ending a sentence with a preposition (e.g., by, for, on) is much less awkward than the alternative. For example:
Where are you from? sounds much more natural than From where (whence?) are you? (unless, of course, you’re at a Renaissance Fair).
What are some grammar rules that you’ve been known to break?
As a copy editor, I often find myself correcting the misuse of the terms i.e. and e.g.
These seemingly harmless letter combinations can actually do a lot of damage when used improperly: Not only can they change the meaning of your work, they can also make you look stupid—and no one wants that. So here’s a quick lesson on their proper usage:
an abbreviation for the Latin term id est, meaning “that is” or “in other words”
Use i.e. to provide clarification:
Many writers become flummoxed, i.e., frustrated and confused, over the use of i.e. versus e.g.
an abbreviation for the Latin term exempli gratia, meaning “for example”
Use e.g. to provide examples:
Perhaps they should turn to the professionals at SmithWriting for help with their writing projects, e.g., advertisements, brochures, and Web sites.
Always put a comma after i.e. and e.g. And be sure to include a period after each letter in both abbreviations.
Since I don’t know Latin, I use this trick to determine which term to use:
I ask myself, “Am I giving examples?” If so, I use e.g. (Reverse the first letters of “giving examples,” and voila!) If not, I use i.e.