Friday, November 22, 2013

The Way of All Grammar

When my father was a kid, English grammar, parts of speech, verb tenses and the like were an important part of the school curriculum. By the time I got to school, now a good many years ago, things were much laxer, to the point where my first real introduction to verb tenses was through my French classes.

I still remember coming home and telling my father, who spoke fluent French, that French had a subjunctive but English didn't. He set me straight.

Even so, we learned far more about grammar than today's kids, who apparently can't even figure out which form of a pronoun it's appropriate to use after a preposition. If you don't believe me, take a copy of your local paper and go through the Op Ed page looking for grammatical errors. I'm pretty confident you'll be shocked. That is, assuming you are old enough to have learned
grammar in school.

I say it's past time to bring back rigorous instruction in the fundamentals of our language.

Prepositions were a particular peeve of my dad's. Here's a typical conversation:

Me; It's me.

Dad: it's not 'it's me', it's 'it's I.

Me: I know, but no one says that.

Dad: You don't know, or you wouldn't be saying 'it's me."

Me: grinds teeth.

Dad: repeats rule and explanation of subject and object pronouns, etc.

Once I made the mistake of pointing out that "C'est moi" is perfectly correct in French. Dad then repeated the rules for pronouns in French -- in French.

I can still repeat both sets of rules. And it's been a *long* time.

Dad always repeated the entire rule and it's full explanation each and every time we made a grammatical error. Major teeth grinding, but now I can still recall my grammar, and as a result was a whiz at helping out with fifth grade English homework -- also math, but that's another story --

Dad also would never give us the meaning of a word we didn't know -- he made us look it up in the dictionary. This was most annoying at the dinner table, when we, for what I hope were obvious reasons, weren't eager to jump right up and look up the word.

I didn't relentlessly correct my own kids, and as a result they lack the firm grasp of adjective, adverb, and the like that my sister and I had. I don't know -- maybe it was a mistake. However annoying it was at the time, I did really learn a lot as a result.

Here are a few resources. For more check

Flags adverbs, weak words, passive voice, said, cliches, and more :

Sentence length, pacing, dialog tags, homonyms, vague and abstract words, and more:

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  1. My mother never gave us rules when she corrected our grammar usage, but she corrected us. I knew correct grammar before I started school. When I became an English and a speech teacher, I expected and taught correct grammar. I hate the dumbing down of our language.

  2. Margaret,
    I saved your list of resources. I'm sure I will find it very helpful. Thank you!

    I had a grandmother who always corrected us if we ended a sentence with a preposition. Now, it's considered okay. I wonder what her reaction would be to that.

  3. Great article and so sad too. Soon young people will no longer be speaking correctly, they won't know how to write (many schools are not teaching cursive), and spelling correctly will be a thing of the past. What happens if all the iPhones and computers crash? :)

  4. Margaret, great post! I help my grandson (2nd grader) with his homework two night a week and YIKES. The school system is making things so complicated in spelling/grammar and math. I just don't understand why if it's not broken it needs to be fixed.

    My grandmother spoke 'broken' English. It was a combination of Italian and English, but much more Italian. There was no grammar help there. :)

  5. Dear Margaret,
    Thanks for sharing your personal experience about how much grammar and vocabulary you learned from your father. Priceless moments in time.

  6. Karen, my mother's mother was Hungarian and her father Polish. Grandma spoke German and Grandpa Yiddish -- they spoke a bastard German at home, which my mother never picked up. She learned French in school, and my folks would speak French to each other when they didn't want us to understand. Mom's was not nearly as good as Dads, but when we were in France, it was Mom who asked for directions {grin}. Ah, male ego.

  7. This is good stuff. I struggle a lot with sounds "right" to my Texas drawl but really isn't proper grammar.