Grammar...not just extended family anymore!

Written By: Rachel Strong
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Can I talk to y’all abit about grammar? Right grammar and punctuations got to be some of the mostest important parts of English. They is also some of the mostest misunderstood parts of the language-and there not practiced at home-recent survey’s showed that bad grammar can even lead to the impression that someone may be of the lower class.

First, please allow me to apologize for the proceeding paragraph. I hope it hurt you to read as much as it hurt me to write. If you did not notice anything wrong, I suggest you read on, and take my advice at the end.

Grammar and punctuation are more important than one might realize. While one can get one’s point across with incorrect grammar (“I borrowed the computer to him” instead of “I lent the computer to him”), it makes one sound quite uneducated.

So if grammar is so important, why is it so misused? Well, there are rules, lots of rules. No one likes lots of rules. English also is one of the hardest languages to learn, because our rules are always changing-“I before E, except after C, except… except… except…” Take the verb “To Be”. To be is conjugated (present) as: “I AM, you ARE, he/she/it IS, we ARE, y’all ARE, they ARE.” I don’t care who you is, thats confusing! (Sorry.)

Also, grammar is not covered in English classes now the same way it was when we were in school. My senior year of high school, the English Department began offering an elective class-Grammar-and people took it because it was kind of a lark. When our parents and grandparents were in school, grammar was a required subject in and of itself.

According to the English Department at Dartmouth College, the 20 most common grammatical errors include:

Its (possessive) vs. it’s (contraction of “it is”)

Dangling or misplaced modifiers: “As a young girl, my father baked bread and gardened.”

Apostrophe errors: “Come inside for CD’s, VIDEO’s, DVD’s, and BOOK’s!”

Vague Pronouns: “The boy and his father knew that he was in trouble.”

Comma errors (in addition to false possessives): “Goats Cheese Salad … tomatoes, onions, goats, cheese” (This is an actual menu listing!)

Pronoun agreement: Everyone is entitled to their opinion. (Everyone is singular. Should read “Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion,” even in today’s P.C. world.)

Or consider the famous joke:

A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air.

“Why?” asks the confused waiter, as Panda makes toward the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.

“I’m a panda, look it up,” he says, leaving the café.

The confused waiter looks at the entry for “Panda.” “Panda,” it says. “A Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”

British Author Lynne Truss wrote a book on punctuation, “Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.” For those who do not believe that punctuation and grammar are important, she gives these two examples. Both paragraphs have identical wording. However, the punctuation is completely different, and shows the power of those small dots and curly lines.

Dear John- I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we’re apart. I can be forever happy-will you let me be yours? -Jill

We all wish we received letters similar to this. However, we have all received something similar to the following:

Dear John- I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For other men I yearn! For you I have no feelings whatsoever. When we’re apart I can be forever happy. Will you let me be? Yours, Jill

So what does one do to help our students? The most important thing a parent can do is practice at home. When you hear your student using the wrong verb, or when you hear “ain’t,” “got”, or when going over a writing assignment you see misplaced apostrophes or commas, correct them. Print out and go through your child’s MySpace page, or other e-mails with a red (or other color) pen-as writing has become more and more prevalent in youth culture, the rules have been completely left behind. Reward excellent behavior and well-written assignments.

But what if you as a parent need a refresher course on punctuation and grammar? According to Dartmouth, “When in doubt, check a handbook.” I recommend both Ms. Truss’ “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” as well as William Strunk and E.B. White’s (the “Charlotte’s Web author) “The Elements of Style”. Both are fairly short and easy, as well as entertaining, to read.

A bit of inconvenience now for your student could mean the difference later in life. A well-written college essay or resume (not to mention a well spoken applicant at an interview) can mean the difference between living the good life and living the high life.

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