I used Grammarly to grammar check this post, because I didn’t want to be thrown in Grammar prison…by my mother.
Seriously. I carry on the proud tradition of being second generation Grammar Police. My mother is the cause for my passion for writing and my tendency to correct people. As a person who learned her English as a secondary language, both the words and the grammar she learned were very proper. Slang was something with which she was completely unfamiliar.
“Ain’t is not a word” was a common refrain I heard in my household growing up. Of course when Mr. Webster was kind enough to make revisions, it was with glee that I announced to mom that ain’t had officially been recognized.
Maybe the fact that I noticed should have been a warning as to my own tendencies, but it wasn’t. Nope. While most kids played house, I played library and forced my kid sister to play along by checking out my books. I even tried to charge her late fees. Yeah, you guessed it. My mom came along and put an end to that part of the game. Still, my calling never occurred to me and it never occurred to me that there could be “good” and “bad” grammar police.
It wasn’t until the day I found my poor sister’s cookbook that I realized I’d become my mother. The poor girl was maybe in 6th grade when I found it. She had the misfortune of spelling the word chocolate phonetically (chocklet). As is the case in most sibling relationships, I poked fun. Yes, this would be a good example of Bad Grammar Cop behavior. Mockery and abuse of power never fall in the “good” category.
As mean as I was to my sister, it was worse for potential suitors at that age. When I was in Junior High/Middle School, when boyfriends would send me love notes, I’m a bit ashamed of what I did. I took a red pen to their notes and corrected their spelling and grammar. I also sent it back for a re-write. Maybe I’m the only person who’s ever done this, maybe not. Either way, it’s a miracle I had so many boyfriends back then or that they actually used to fix their work. 😉 Yes, this also fell in the “bad” category…but may explain why my English teachers used to love pairing me with their more “grammatically challenged” students for writing assignments and projects.
Fortunately, times have changed and I’ve spent the next several decades using my powers for the forces of good. 😉 I’ve become the gal my friends and family call to proof papers and double check resumes.
Recently my skills were put to work by a friend who went to work for one of the local counties. Because his reports became legal documents that could be subpoenaed, he was very concerned with utilizing the proper words. He’d come to realize that there were way too many words in the English language that sounded alike and needed help. He called me:
Him: What’s the difference between then and than?
Me: One is a comparison. The other is what comes next.
Me: Do you need me to use them in sentences that will help you remember?
Me: (Knowing my audience and what motivates him, I constructed the sentences.) Than with an ‘a’ would go something like this. “I’m better than you.” Comparison. See?
Him: Better than you. Got it. What about the other one?
Me: We took off our clothes, then we had sex. Next step.
Him: Ooh! Okay. Got it. I’m better than you is with an ‘a’. Then we had sex is with an ‘e’. I’ll never forget again.
Me: Why am I not surprised?
Him: Because you know me well. Hey, can you make me a little cheat sheet of other words that sound the same. You’re good at making it so I’ll remember.
Yes, I’d learned how to use my powers for the forces of good. To build people up and help them remember. In fact, I even made him that cheat sheet on the most commonly misused words. Wanna see?
There- used when referring to a location. “Sit over there.”
Their- plural possessive. “Seven is their dog.”
They’re- Actually 2 words combined. They are. “They’re lying.”
Two- the number “Two heads are better than one.”
Too- also “I love dogs, too!”
To- expresses a motion toward a direction/action “There is nothing to do.”
Wear- What a person puts on their body. “I have nothing to wear.”
where- destination based. “Where did he go?
Ware- something to be sold. “She stood in the courtyard selling her wares.”
I also recommended he buy Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss. I should have recommended Grammarly, too!
What about you guys? Any quirks, habits or stories to share around the complications of the English language or run ins with grammar police? Maybe you’re the grammar police. How did you discover your calling? What did you do? What drives you crazy?