Monday, May 25, 2015

Endangered-Grammar List: My Top Four

Grammar Ninja isn't back. She never really left. 
The other day, one of my favourite Facebook pages posted the following:

What caught my attention was the question they asked: Is the apostrophe endangered?
I agreed with this answer:

It's so very true! I've spotted so many abuses of the poor apostrophe lately. People seem to be sprinkling them about like fairy dust. Plural? Just add apostrophe-S! 

So I don't think it's going to fall into disuse, but it does seem to be plagued by misuse. But as I lay couching [not a typo; see note below] last night, it occurred to me that there are other linguistic rules that are much higher on the endangered list.

Here are mine.

1. I vs. Me (Subjective and Objective Case)
Me and Jenny are going steady. 
No. No, you are not. What you ought to have said was, "Jenny and I are going steady." But you already knew that, didn't you?
Sorry about that. Leave it to Jenny and I to sort out.
Now you're just messing with me. If you just leave Jenny out of the picture, you'll realize exactly which pronoun you should use.

But my purpose today is not to give instruction. It is simply to note a linguistic trend: people seem not to care (or know) whether to use a subjective or objective pronoun. I'm sure it's still being taught in schools, but popular media, especially social media, really undermines proper usage.

2. To Lay or To Lie

You can imagine how frequently I cringed during our dog-training classes while owner after owner commanded her dog to "Lay down, Fido!" Fido, as it happens possessed nothing he could lay on the ground. The owners meant: "Lie down, Fido!" (I would like to think that the disobedient beasts were demonstrating passive civil disobedience in the face of bad grammar, but I'm pretty sure dogs know nothing of grammar.)

I'd lay good money that the correct usage of these verbs exists now only in formal writing where an editor or proof-reader with a keen eye has wielded her red pen (while muttering, "Oh, for the love of grammar! When will they learn?"). Or in the writing of pedants, like yours truly.

3. Proper use of Hyphens

Recently, I saw this on my Facebook newsfeed:

She does not really want to end all male panels, just the ones that are composed only of men.
You can read the article (which makes a good point) here.
Elan Morgan, the creative, sensitive, and brilliant blogger behind, made a typo. I saw it and didn't comment on it, but one of my friends did.

The rules for hyphenation are actually pretty fussy, so I can see why people are just dropping them. And I concede that, nine times out of ten, the reader can surmise the intended meaning. But if you drop the hyphen, then you do open yourself up to misinterpretation, sometimes with humorous results, as in this delightful blooper from a church bulletin.
The ladies of the church have cast off clothing of every kind. They can be seen in the church basement Saturday.
I'm willing to bet they had a good turnout for that thrift sale!

(True confession: I had to amend the title of this blog post. I had originally written "Endangered Grammar List," which could have implied that the list was endangered, not the grammar.) 

4. Adverbs

Do you remember that Schoolhouse Rocks cartoon? I only remember the refrain "Lolly, lolly, lolly, get your adverbs here!" Catchy, but not very effective as an instructional tool. I've written about the dearth of adverbs before. I haven't noted any improvement in the interim.

Those are the first four that come to mind. I'll probably think of others.

[Editorial note: "Couching" is my invented portmanteau of "cough," which is what I did all afternoon and evening, and "ouch" which is what I yelped every time I did so, because of my very sore throat.]


  1. the one that always gets me is the use of "affect" versus "effect." Even I look it up sometimes just to ensure that I am using the correct form. Oh, that's another one!!! Ensure vs. assure!
    I suppose we could go on and on. :)


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