GQ Wishes You a Happy and Grammatically Correct New Year!

Good morning, students, and may I wish each of you a happy, productive, and grammatically correct New Year!

Yes, there is nothing like the start of a new year for resolving never again to commit grammatical faux pas. And the best way to avoid such embarrassment is to learn and remember the rules. That is why Grammar Queen has consented to grace you once again with the benefit of her bounteous wisdom.

This lecture is partially inspired by a news report aired some time ago on a local television station. In the segment, an adult appeared to be addressing a class of elementary students concerning acceptable conduct for handling misunderstandings. Unfortunately, I completely missed the rest of the report because I was distracted by the list of rules the adult was writing on the whiteboard.

Actually, it was the very first rule that I found so profoundly shocking. The sentence read, quite simply:

Ahem!!!

Say your sorry???????

In this case, Grammar Queen feels quite justified in overusing certain punctuation marks, because she is utterly and absolutely stunned!!!!!

How many mistakes do we find in this instance?

1. The adult should have used the word “you’re,” a contraction for “you are.”

2. The adult allowed this blatant error to be videotaped for local television news coverage, thus revealing her face to an entire metropolitan viewing area.

I understand that the occasional lapse in grammatical good sense happens to the best of us from time to time, and perhaps we can chalk up this person’s mistake to a bad case of nerves. After all, who would not be a teensy bit anxious with a video camera lurking over one’s shoulder while standing before a horde of antsy preadolescents?

All that aside, we come here today to arm ourselves with knowledge. And knowledge, as they say, is power. Power to overcome the grammatical affronts that bombard us nonstop from the ramparts, from the bulwarks, from the–

Excuse me. Myra, you raised your hand? A question, dear?

“Uh, Grammar Queen, sorry for interrupting, but maybe you could just get on with the grammar lesson?”

Ahem. Yes. Of course. And in today’s lesson we will address frequently misused, misspelled, or otherwise confusing words.

Clearly, contractions (or lack thereof, as in the sad example we just described) are among the most often to be misspelled or misused. A contraction, according to Merriam-Webster, is “a shortening of a word, syllable, or word group by omission of one or more sounds or letters.” Normally an apostrophe is inserted at the point of omission.

Let us begin with that dreaded contraction you’re.

You are ➔ you’re

But the problem is that we get in a hurry and confuse the contraction with the possessive pronoun your. One reason for this confusion is because the spoken words sound identical. In other words, they are homonyms.

Yes, homonyms are among the most frustrating culprits of correct usage. Let’s look at a few.

Its (possessive pronoun)
It’s (contraction for “it is”)

They’re (they are)
Their (plural possessive)
There (adverb)

Alter (to change)
Altar (a table used for a holy rite)

Compliment (to flatter, enhance)
Complement (to complete)

Led (past tense of lead, to show the way)
Lead (a heavy metal)

Peaked (reached the top)
Piqued (stimulated interest)

The list goes on and on, but in the interest of time let me refer you to this handy online resource

Now let’s discuss a few other problem words. An often confused pair is:

Effect (noun)
Affect (verb)

Although, not to confuse you more, but effect can also be a verb.

Dear me. How to keep all these words straight! Let’s try using them in a sentence.

Myra effected a major overhaul of her main character, and the effect was a much stronger story that affected her readers in meaningful ways.

Now let’s look at a pair of adjectives that are often used incorrectly:

Averse (reluctant)
Adverse (unfavorable)

Sally was averse to speaking directly with her publisher about an adverse term in her contract, so she relied upon her agent to handle the details.

Two words that go the distance when it comes to usage confusion are:

Farther (generally used for measurable or physical distances)
Further (generally used to describe a figurative distance)

Benjamin lives farther from the coast than Peter, but after further consideration they have decided they are quite happy where they are.

No discussion of this nature would be complete without another pair of oft confused homonyms:

Principle (always a noun)
Principal (as a noun, the head of a school, as in “the principal is your pal”); as an adjective, meaning prominent or important)

The principal reason the literature students attended the principal’s lecture was to learn more about the principles of good writing.

And finally (at least for today’s discussion) we have the often confused pair:

Sight (something worth seeing; a device to aid the eye)
Site (location)

Jo arrived at the site of her new dude ranch in Montana and immediately invited her friends and family to enjoy the breathtaking sight.

We cannot begin to cover all the words that belong on this list, so for further study, let me refer you to this handy website I came across. Simply  click on the word groups you want to study, and you can even take a short quiz to check your comprehension.

Caveat: Grammar Queen makes no claims about the accuracy of such sites and cannot be held responsible for any misinformation distributed therefrom.

Now, as our lecture time draws to a close, Grammar Queen is happy to take your questions. Do I see any hands? Yes, you there in the back row. Don’t be shy. Share your questions and comments below, or feel free to send them to me personally using this comment form.

You can also follow Grammar Queen on Twitter

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Grammar Queen has moved!

Good morning, class. Welcome to my new classroom location, right here on Myra’s blog! I hope you will visit often and work diligently to keep up with your studies!

Our subject today concerns . . . yes, you are correct: grammar. An understanding of proper grammar is essential no matter your vocation, but especially so for writers, who certainly do not have to be told that GRAMMAR IS YOUR FRIEND.

On the other hand, although I am certain each and every one of you is quite charming and likable, Grammar Queen is not here to be your friend. Grammar Queen is here to INSTRUCT YOU IN THE RULES OF PROPER GRAMMAR.

Ah, yes, I can hear all you writers already. “But I write fiction. Fiction writers have permission to break rules. We start sentences with and and but. We use incomplete sentences. We let our characters say ain’t, or even to WHO it may concern.

Yes, yes, yes, I understand completely. And Grammar Queen is not here to compromise your elusive writer’s voice or correct imaginary speakers who may not be as well educated as moi.

Grammar Queen is here to ensure that when you do break the rules of grammar, you are not breaking the rules that truly matter.

What might those be? you may ask. (Notice correct placement of question mark.)

It shall be my greatest pleasure to enlighten you on a select few of my personal favorites. (Any reference to real people, alive or dead, is purely coincidental and is not necessarily to be construed as fact.)

  1. Do not dangle your modifiers.

No, no, no, I am not referring to your overly long beaded necklace that is dragging through your soup. Let me offer some examples.

Incorrect: While feeding the horses, Suzie’s new shoes became soiled with horse poop.

Correct: While feeding the horses, Suzie’s soiled her new shoes with horse poop.

Incorrect: After searching the house, Tommy’s glasses turned up next to his computer.

Correct: After searching the house, Tommy found his glasses next to his computer.

The point here is that the phrase that begins each of these sentences modifies the subject of the sentence. Suzie’s shoes obviously were not feeding the horses, and Tommy’s glasses were not searching the house. Need I say more?

  1. Do not confuse possessives with plurals.

Possessives indicate possession. Plurals imply more than one. How much simpler can it be? One of Grammar Queen’s greatest annoyances is coming upon one of those darling little carved wooden signs indicating ownership of a cabin, boat dock, or some other such charming property. Perhaps you have seen them:

The Smith’s

Welcome to the Jones’ Cabin

The Smiths simply needs a sign that states this lovely home is where the Smiths live. No need for the possessive form. Therefore the sign should read:

The Smiths

As for those pesky Joneses, they should have informed their sign maker that their sign should read:

Welcome to the Joneses’ Cabin  

Yes, yes, I know the “es” attached to Jones seems like too much . . . something or other. But trust me, this is the correct way to imply that the entire Jones family owns the cabin.

It would also be correct to say:

Welcome to the Jones Cabin

Here, “Jones” is simply used as an adjective modifying “Cabin,” so again, the possessive form is not necessary.

Unfortunately, Grammar Queen could go on and on ad infinitum on the subject of grammatically incorrect wooden signs because she has seen far more in one lifetime than any true grammar aficionado can abide. So we must move on.

  1. Do not forget who is calling whom.

Now we come to the eternal who versus whom debate. “Who” is a nominative case pronoun; “whom” is a subjective case pronoun. But what you call them is not nearly as important as how you use them. To simplify, “who” performs the action of the verb; “whom” receives the action of the verb (or in other uses becomes the object of a preposition, which is a subject unto itself).

Even in my tricky little sentence above, “who” is still performing the act of calling “whom,” even though here “who” follows the verb “forget.” Any questions?

Lest we decide Grammar Queen is becoming slightly too picky, please remember that in naturally written speech (or even in deep POV narration), it is usually perfectly acceptable for your more casual and/or less educated characters to use “who” willy-nilly when perhaps correctly they should really be saying “whom.” 

On the other hand, using “whom” incorrectly usually makes even the most intelligent among us appear quite pretentious if not scathingly illiterate.

  1. “I wonder” is a statement, not a question, and therefore requires a period, not a question mark.

Incorrect: I wonder where I laid my Chicago Manual of Style?

Correct: I wonder where I laid my Chicago Manual of Style.

Or in dialogue, use a comma:

“I wonder where I laid my Chicago Manual of Style,” Myra mused.

There are certain variations of “I wonder” phrasing where different punctuation might be required, but Grammar Queen is already tired of this subject and suggests you invest in a helpful grammar reference book such as Grammatically Correct, by Anne Stilman.

  1. In a compound sentence the comma is placed before the conjunction (and, but, or), not after the conjunction.

Incorrect: Joseph likes chocolate chip cookies but, Eva prefers snickerdoodles.

Correct: Joseph likes chocolate chip cookies, but Eva prefers snickerdoodles.

  1. Do not restrict your nonrestrictive descriptors, and vice versa.

Let us begin by explaining the difference between restrictive and nonrestrictive. A restrictive descriptor is essential to the meaning of the sentence, whereas a nonrestrictive descriptor, if removed from the sentence, would not affect the meaning. Nonrestrictive descriptors are set off by commas; restrictive descriptors are not.

Are we clear on this? Perhaps more examples are in order. What is wrong with the following sentence?

Jane’s friend, Lisa, invited her to a movie.

Think . . . think . . . 

Alas, if we take this statement as true, it means poor Jane has only one friend, the tireless and loyal Lisa. But unless Jane is terribly unpopular, we must assume she has many, many friends. Thus the sentence should have no commas:

Jane’s friend Lisa invited her to a movie.

The same is true when mentioning a spouse:

Incorrect: Myra’s husband Project Guy always likes to keep busy [name changed to protect the innocent].

We know for a fact that Myra is not a bigamist, which means we must insert a comma in the above sentence so that it reads:

Myra’s husband, Project Guy, always likes to keep busy.

And one more example, this time regarding restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses:

Incorrect: The avid fan, who accosted Julia Roberts at her premiere, was quickly wrestled to the ground.

It should be clear to anyone that Julia Roberts has more than one avid fan. Therefore the sentence above should contain no commas.

Correct: The avid fan who accosted Julia Roberts at her premiere was quickly wrestled to the ground.

We could spend hours and hours discussing Grammar Queen’s pet peeves, but I shall save some for our next class. In the meantime, should you have any questions for the Grammar Queen, feel free to send them along using this comment form. Grammar Queen is never far from her Chicago Manual of Style and innumerable other grammar reference books, and perhaps I shall feature your question in an upcoming lecture. 

You can also follow Grammar Queen on Twitter

 

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Grammar Queen is moving!

For all Grammar Queen’s faithful students who have been attending her classes in Seekerville for the past few years, we have a very special announcement:

Grammar Queen is moving

to Myra’s blog!

Yes, beginning shortly, GQ will share her wit and wisdom right here on this site. To go directly to class, just look for “Grammar Queen” in the drop-down menu above under “blog.”

You can also follow Grammar Queen on Twitter

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