Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Every two weeks, the blogosphere comes alive with something called a Blog Off. A Blog Off is an event where bloggers of every stripe weigh in on the same topic on the same day. The topic for this round of the Blog Off is "What's your grammar pet peeve?"

Oh, what a gift this week's topic is to a language teacher! I could go on and on and I probably will!  As those nice folk say over on the Blog Off site, nearly everyone is publishing at least some content on the internet these days and "the English language is being abused like never before." 

Yes, everyone is a "writer" these days and, by prefacing their names or twitter handles with either that word or "author", many are making sure that we know it.  Grammar rules are being broken everywhere and there are already societies for the protection of the apostrophe, semicolon and comma.  

The point is, does this rule-breaking matter?  That will depend to a large extent on who the target reader is and if he or she is someone like me the answer is "Yes" because if the writing is ungrammatical I will stop reading. 

Ridding the publishing world of the "men in suits" might be a good development in some ways but with them we are losing the quality control that used to make reading a joy and what the self-publishing outfits won't give you is an editor.  If, as a consequence, we are all to become our own editors, then, we need to take extra care and respect the reader by making our offerings legible - and yes, that means grammatical.

So what are the grammar mistakes that really drive me mad?  Number one has to be misuse of the apostrophe.  I cannot for the life of me understand why so many people find its use difficult because the rules are actually so simple. In my hometown of Cardiff I used to want to go around with a red pen to correct the signs of traders offering "potatoes' " or "carrots' ". I wish I'd written a book about it before Lynne Truss got the idea and I'm sure the erudite Stan Carey won't mind if I quote here a ditty I made up for a competition on his site a while ago. [No, I didn't win!]

Oh, what a problem is “it’s”
It’s driving me out of my wits
When “its” means “belong”
the apostrophe’s wrong
but students think “its” is the pits!

I wish that my name were Lynne Truss
who, spotting this error in us,
put it all in a book -
you should have a look,
She made a few million thus.

I took the photograph below in Modica Bassa some years back and it illustrates perfectly the kinds of mistakes that are made with the possessive apostrophe.  I would add that there is some excuse for the non-native speaker of English but none whatsoever for someone brought up and educated in the UK!

In case any of my students are reading this post I have explained the rules here on the EIS blog.

Other pet grammar peeves of mine are "could / should / would of" for "could / should / would have", the fairly new habit of using the continuous tenses with "state" verbs [ as in "I am loving"] and the use of "sat" for "sitting". 

Of the mistakes that Italians learning English most commonly make, "use to" to express a present habit [as in "We use to go to the sea every summer" for "We go to the sea every summer"] is the hardest to eradicate and I'd better not even get started on the present perfect tense ["have done" rather than "did"] because you Americans use it less often than the Brits.  The placing of "very much" in a sentence is also a nightmare and day after day I have to remind students that it is usually placed at the end. ["I like English very much", not "I like very much English."]

Any linguist will tell you that much erroneous grammar eventually becomes acceptable in the language - if that were not so we would still all be speaking Elizabethan English - but this is a slow process and it is almost as if there is an invisible consensus.  The jury's still out on the apostrophe so I will continue, when in the UK, to carry a large red pen with me wherever I go.

I have been loving very much this topic.

Below is the full list of bloggers participating in this theme:


Paul Anater said...

Bless you and your red pen, I have one too.

Joseph said...

There was a brief period of time when I considered teaching. If I had, I would have taught either English or history, preferably both! As I said in my own blog on this subject, I love the precision that proper grammar brings to English.

I recently read a self-published book and found the number of errors rather disconcerting. The sad thing, though, is that books these days are not being edited much better than those that are self-published. I often find typos and grammatical errors when I read books published within the last decade. Sadly, the publishing industry these days is in the hands of a few. Whenever there’s a monopoly, the prices go up, and the wages go down. One of the more clever ways of raising prices is to provide less quality, or, in the case of book publishing, less editing.

Rosaria Williams said...

Ah, those teacher's gut reactions!

What irritates me are menus that are written in Italian, or French, with gross spelling mistakes. I make a point of leaving a lovely note when I pay my bill, correcting the mistakes.
In this age of Google Translation application, anyone can find a simple translation.

jams o donnell said...

It's a case of getting the balance right. Grammar exists to ensure clarity (eats, shoots and leaves) but some things are discardable (split infintives etc)

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Thanks, Paul. I can just imagine you with one! Hi, Joseph. I'm sure you'd have made a fine teacher. I love the precision, too. That's interesting about thr publishing world - and sad, too, as you say. Hi, Rosaria. That's a good idea to leave a nice note. Internet translators are awful and I rant at my students whenever they use them! Agreed, jams.

Beyond Survivor said...

I can understand your frustration and as you know yourself my grammar leaves much to be desired at times...

The English language had evolved over the centuries. What if the things that annoy you and so many others now are simply part of on ongoing evolution? I'm not knocking you at all, I admire and respect your passion for languages. Unfortunately if an English teacher from 1850 was to look at your writings today they would have red pen marks everywhere... The world changes, not always for the good.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Well, I did say that the language is evolving in my last paragraph, Jam. If an 1850 teacher were to read my writing today, there would be some red marks, sure but he or she would still understand my argument. Sloppy grammar often impedes comprehension and this is why it is so urritating.

Arlene Miller said...

Thank you! I am an English teacher, grammar book author, and self-professed grammar hawk....even more awful than the misplaced apostrophe in possessives is an apostrophe placed in a plain old plural! Have you seen my photo's?? What's with that! I have many other peeves as well, most of them somewhere in my book.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, Arlene and it's so nice to meet you. I agree with you about the apostrophe on noun plurals - it drives me mad!

Beyond Survivor said...

What's urritating mean?

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Haha! Got me!


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