Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Introducing the Grammar Ninja!

To start with, I object to the title "Grammar Nazi:" it implies that those of us who love grammar will stop at nothing to exert our delusional ideals. That is not the case with me. While I have an OCD-style compulsion to notice typos and grammatical errors, I care more about the people in my life, so I make no comment, most of the time.

Also: my ideals are not delusional.

However, I do like to be asked for input, and I also reach out to my peers and fellow grammar-philes for guidance. I consider myself more of a grammar ninja: stealthy, ready to avenge.

I've contemplated starting a regular grammar column on this blog for a while, but hesitated for four reasons:
  1. Honestly, everyone hates a pedant. (Please don't hate me!)
  2. There is no shortage of excellent information readily available on the Internet -- much of it quite funny. (Example: Hyperbole and a Half)
  3. Oh, god, the PRESSURE! In a column like this, every letter, every punctuation mark will be scrutinized. (I questioned the placement of the colon in that very first sentence.)
  4. I don't want people to think I'm judging every word they write. Honestly, I really only get judgmental when people are being arrogant or otherwise obnoxious. We're all human and I care more about what you're saying than how you convey it. (Even if you're one of my children, and am obliged to correct you. It's my JOB!)
Meanwhile, there have been a few times where I have been unable to resist giving a little language-related lecture. Some examples:
Sometimes I feel that it is all a losing battle. Especially when my husband persistently tells our dog to lay. Sweet Kane lies down despite the bad grammar.

But "hope springs eternal* in the human breast," so, here we go. I'll start by sharing answers to some questions I've received, and I invite you to send me more questions, so I'll have fodder for this blog.

Quick punctuation question for something that I need to write. "He is at Duke working on his Masters degree." Does Master's have an apostrophe?

Good question. I had to look it up. According to my source, Daily Writing Tips (a site I refer to often), in this case the correct punctuation would be master's degree, all lower-case. Both my correspondent and I were surprised at the lack of capitalization.

English writers tend to sprinkle capital letters willy-nilly in their writing, unlike French writers. It may be a carry-over from our Germanic roots (where all nouns are capitalized), but we need to let it go.

The question relates to the use of capital letters in headlines. Until recently, newspapers capitalized each letter in the headline (and they may still do so in print), but online publication and greater flexibility in formatting obviates the compulsion to save space by "telegraphing" sentences. Modern headlines essentially become full sentences (though they often omit the full stop at the end).

Headlines on October 15, 2014
This aligns with my own preference. If the heading or sub-heading is a full sentence, I use sentence-case capitalization and punctuation. If it is a sentence fragment, then I use what is called title case. ("Sentence case" is what you use in ordinary writing. Title case is what is typically used for book titles or advertising headlines. You can read more about title case here on Grammar Monster.)

I know I've received other questions, but I can't find them, so please send me more! Or just send me any pet-peeves you would like me to weigh in on.**

* The quote "hope springs eternal in the human breast" is from Alexander Pope. Grammar Ninja would really like to change "eternal" to "eternally," but would not dream of correcting Pope!

** Although I've ended this sentence with a preposition, which would be offensive to many grammar-philes, It would just sound pedantic if I wrote any other way ("on which you would like me in to weigh"?). So deal with it.

And, in closing, here's a little grammar game that helps you identify parts of speech. It caught me out a few times and is a good refresher even if you have already reached ninja status.
Play the Grammar Ninja game!
P.S. Share this post so I'll get more questions!


  1. I do believe that everyone should know how to write correctly. However, it does not necessarily follow that you always must write well. Or perfectly. I suppose it's a matter of: know the rules; than you may break them - occasionally.
    I find with blog reading, it's nice to hear the author's voice in the piece. Which means, people often will write exactly how they speak. This can be interesting and add to the tone of the writing; or, conversely, severely detract from the writing. As with all things: balance is the key.

    1. Absolutely, there are different styles, and I also appreciate a more casual tone in blogs (as opposed to formal writing). And a lot of correct usage can sound pretentious if used in an informal setting. One of my favourite blogs (no longer published) was written by a woman who had NO SPARE TIME at all -- four kids, one with profound special needs -- but who took time jot a few words and share a picture occasionally. Her writing was riddled with errors and typos, but her sentiments were worth going out of my way to read. I just had to consciously take off my "Editor" hat while doing so.

  2. bad grammar can really hinder you as a blogger, so i try good grammar all the time

  3. Good to know we have a go-to "ninja" on our side! The mind is percolating while I try to come up with a good question for you. I will share to get the "word" out :).


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