All posts tagged grammar

Grammar of the Day – Apostrophe

The Apostrophe Protection Society website was created in 2001, and it looks like it. Never mind. It’s the content that matters, not the style. Right? That’s how it used to be, anyway. In the good old days when substance mattered more than appearance. And (coincidentally?) people knew how to use apostrophes. Go to the site and have a look. It has examples of badly used apostrophes. It even has a song called Apostrophe Apostasy.

They took a light-hearted approach to the fight to save the apostrophe, but they were serious about it. John Richards, the founder of the society, was appalled at the indignities being done to it and he and his many supporters fought hard to defend it. But Richards is getting old and the problem is only getting worse. It seems he has lost hope in the prospect of success. As he said in his resignation message, uncaring ignorance and laziness seem to be prevailing.

With regret I have to announce that, after some 18 years, I have decided to close the Apostrophe Protection Society. There are two reasons for this. One is that at 96 I am cutting back on my commitments and the second is that fewer organisations and individuals are now caring about the correct use of the apostrophe in the English Language. We, and our many supporters worldwide, have done our best but the ignorance and laziness present in modern times have won!

The society website has a FAQ for the use of the apostrophe. Or should that be an FAQ? It also has a lot of examples of misused apostrophes.

Go visit the Apostrophe Protection Society website, if only because it might be your last chance to see it. They say they’re going to continue, but it might be hard with the departure of their founder. Also see my earlier post on the apostrophe.


Grammar of the Day – Two Spaces

There should be two spaces after a full stop. I know everyone says there should only be one. The style guides agree with them. Even this blog software agrees with them, turning all of my double spaces into singles. The one-spacers say we two-spacers are living in the past. They say that two spaces might have been needed when people were using those old-fashioned printing presses, but not now with our modern technology. They say we’re stubborn. Luddites, even. They dismiss us with condescension. They’re blithely sure that they’re right and we’re wrong, but they’re mistaken.

I have challenged one-spacers with eight little words, and not one of them has been able to meet the challenge. My challenge: Is this one sentence or two?

“When I was dying?” Fran finished for him.

The only way to know for sure is if full stops are consistently followed by two spaces. As it is, we don’t know if that question mark is at the end of a sentence, or in the middle of one. For clarity of communication, we have to bring back the double space.

So there.


Credit Matuschka CC-BY-SA

Grammar of the Day – Bring and Take

I imagine this conversation in front of a restaurant where two people have just had lunch and they’re getting on with the rest of the workday:

Person One, handing Person Two a file folder: “Bring this to the office. I’m going to meet a client.”

Person Two: “Do you mean you want me to bring it to you at the office when I come in tomorrow?”

Person One: “No. I want you to bring it to the office now.”

Person Two is confused because Person One is going to meet a client and won’t be at the office to bring it to. Then their face lights up as they get it. “Oh! You mean TAKE it to the office.”

Person One, frowning: “That’s what I said.”

Some English language users use the word “bring” where the rest of us would use the word “take.” Most of us speak with the sense that things are brought here and taken there. “Please bring the coffee here, to this table.” “Please take the coffee there, to that table.” But some people use “bring” in both cases. (Is anyone else beginning to think that “bring” sounds funny?) To us, that usage just sounds wrong, while to them it’s perfectly natural. I’ll bet they can’t even see why it would be a problem. The truth is, I can see their reasoning. When they are taking the coffee to that table, they are going there and bringing the coffee with them. When looked at in that light, from the point of view of the destination rather than from where the statement is made, the concept of bringing becomes synonymous with taking. Therefore, the people making that mistake have no compelling reason to change, nor to even see that anything is wrong.

This grammatical error is probably permanent.

Brief definition in the Oxford dictionary.
Longer definition in the Cambridge dictionary.
Quite long discussion by the Grammar Girl at Quick and Dirty Tips.


Grammar of the Day – Epicene They

Some style guides are beginning to accept the epicene they. We’ll find out who, but first some groundwork. Epicene, in this case, means gender-free. English is a language with gender in its grammar. He-she, his-her, for example. This leads to clumsy or biased language. All the he/she, his/her, s/he, hir awkwardness has been unable to successfully replace the pretense that “he” can stand in for a gender-neutral pronoun. It is the third person singular pronoun that is a problem. We have the binary pronouns he and she for gender-specific third person singular application, and they for non-specific plural. But there is no gender-neutral singular pronoun for the job if the third person’s gender is unspecified.

English used to have a solution for the problem: the singular they. Beginning in the 14th century and continuing for 500 years, English speakers used “they” for the indefinite third person singular pronoun. Until this day it has continued in common speech and everyone knows what you mean when you use it. But in the 19th century linguists and grammarians took issue with it because they is plural. They decreed that we should use he, or even one.

Merriam Webster Dictionary – One common bugbear of the grammatical nitpicker is the singular they. For those who haven’t kept up, the complaint is this: the use of they as a gender-neutral pronoun (as in, “Ask each of the students what they want for lunch.”) is ungrammatical because they is a plural pronoun.

Oxford Dictionary – It happens when they, them, their, and themselves refer back to subjects that are grammatically singular.

“They” is making a comeback, and none too soon. It has been the correct choice in the case of indeterminate gender. “Does everyone have their life jacket?” Everyone is singular grammatically, and their is plural, but this usage is considered correct. Now it’s becoming more acceptable to use it to avoid assigning gender. “Do they have their lifejacket?” They and their are both ostensibly plural, but the subject is obviously singular. This usage, once frowned upon as ungrammatical and a sign of a lack of education, is returning to its proper and useful place. The result is a singular, non-binary they.

I’m glad because I made a conscious decision to use they this way when I began writing Green Comet.

This article on the Copyediting website discusses the Associated Press style guide moving toward accepting the singular, gender-neutral, third person they. The epicene they.

This Los Angeles Times article discussed the rise of the epicene they.


different from

Grammar of the Day – Different To

I used to think that “different than” was bad. As in, “Reading a book is different than watching a movie.” But now it seems almost like an old friend. I think it’s been used in the place of “different from” for so long that the language has begun to accept it. And there’s almost a rationale for it. If you can have “bigger than” and “smaller than” and “older than” and “colder than,” then why can’t you have “different than?” After all, those other phrases imply a “difference,” don’t they?

Okay, I admit it: it still annoys me. I don’t think people would make the same mistake with “similar,” the antonym of “different.” I doubt if anyone would say, “Reading a book is similar than reading a magazine.” They would say that it’s “similar to.” Different – similar. From – to. Apart – together. All very logical. But with language, usage trumps logic, so it’s not surprising that the incorrect usage has become so widely used that it’s also widely accepted.

Does that explain “different to?” Has the original error become so mainstream that it has to be replaced by another one? An even worse one, if you ask me. As explained above, “different than” at least has a rationale, however specious. But “different to” is beyond the pale. It has taken the correct “from” and replaced it with its opposite. When I see it I just roll my mental eyes. I’m beginning to wonder if someone’s doing it on purpose. What happens when this one becomes widely accepted? “Different as?”

By the way, a little research shows that all three — from, than and to — are considered correct, but that “from” is least likely to get you in trouble.