FELLOW FORMER KINGSTONIAN Steve Frank posted a link on my Facebook page to an article titled “Top 10 Grammar Myths” by Mignon Fogarty (aka Grammar Girl) on the Mental Floss website. Steve follows my Strunkandwhitenit! category and knew that this piece would interest me—and it does! So I thought it my duty to both share the myths with my readers and offer my commentary to each.
Below, the myths (numbered 1 through 10) and the text in black print are Ms Fogarty’s statements from the original article. The statements that follow in italicized text in rusty brown print and preceded by an arrow (⇒) are mine. 1
⇒ You may proceed …
Just thought I’d open with a plug for Ms Fogerty’s excellent and enjoyably readable Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing, available at an Amzon.com near you!
1. A RUN-ON SENTENCE IS A REALLY LONG SENTENCE.
Wrong! They can actually be quite short. In a run-on sentence, independent clauses are squished together without the help of punctuation or a conjunction. If you write “I am short he is tall,” as one sentence without a semicolon, colon, or dash between the two independent clauses, it’s a run-on sentence even though it only has six words.
⇒ Agreed. I thought everyone knew this I always have!
2. YOU SHOULDN’T START A SENTENCE WITH THE WORD “HOWEVER.”
Wrong! It’s fine to start a sentence with “however” so long as you use a comma after it when it means “nevertheless.”
⇒ Agreed. However many times people are told this, ‘however’ is often improperly used to start a sentence without that requisite comma.
3. “IRREGARDLESS” IS NOT A WORD.
Wrong! “Irregardless” is a bad word and a word you shouldn’t use, but it is a word. “Floogetyflop” isn’t a word—I just made it up and you have no idea what it means. “Irregardless,” on the other hand, is in almost every dictionary labeled as nonstandard. You shouldn’t use it if you want to be taken seriously, but it has gained wide enough use to qualify as a word.
⇒ Agreed. However, I am uncomfortable with the choice of the term “bad word” here, even if used as an example. There are antiquated words and redundant words and incorrect words and non-standard words and irregardless may be all of those but it ain’t “bad.” However, Ms Fogarty is correct: ‘irregardless’ may be used by anyone, irregardless of anyone else’s opinion. But using it will probably make you look like a cretin …
4. THERE IS ONLY ONE WAY TO WRITE THE POSSESSIVE FORM OF A WORD THAT ENDS IN “S.”
Wrong! It’s a style choice. For example, in the phrase “Kansas’s statute,” you can put just an apostrophe at the end of “Kansas” or you can put an apostrophe “s” at the end of “Kansas.” Both ways are acceptable.
⇒ Agreed. Nonetheless, this is elementary rule of usage #1 in William Strunk Jr and E.B. White’s ELEMENTS OF STYLE: “Form the possessive singular of nouns with ‘s [apostrophe-s]. Follow this rule whatever the final consonant.” It is the only rule in that book that I do not consistently abide by.
I was raised by English teachers in Chester Street Elementary School NOT to follow a noun ending with an ‘s’ with an apostrophe-s EVER! It is a difficult bit of imprinting to overcome. Still, I need to make some sort of compromise here because I feel an unspoken pact with Junior and EB.
So I found another writer’s guide by another, contemporary authority (whose name I have forgotten, although I want to say Bill Bryson but won’t) who made a marvelous, common-sensical suggestion: say the word out loud, and if you say two ‘ss’ (esses), use the apostrophe-s. E.g., ‘My brother Charles’s favorite Rolling Stones album is STICKY FINGERS.’
But if you only say one ‘s’ (ess), do not use an apostrophe-s. E.g., ‘My brother Charles loves the Rolling Stones’ STICKY FINGERS album.’
5. PASSIVE VOICE IS ALWAYS WRONG.
Wrong! Passive voice is when you don’t name the person who’s responsible for the action. An example is the sentence “Mistakes were made,” because it doesn’t say who made the mistakes. If you don’t know who is responsible for an action, passive voice can be the best choice.
⇒ Agreed. And have I recommended the book Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me) by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson recently? If not, consider that boner rectified.
“Why do people dodge responsibility when things fall apart? Why the parade of public figures unable to own up when they screw up? Why the endless marital quarrels over who is right? Why can we see hypocrisy in others but not in ourselves? Are we all liars? Or do we really believe the stories we tell?” Chapter 5 on the law is worth the price of admission!
6. “I.E.” AND “E.G.” MEAN THE SAME THING.
Wrong! “E.g.” means “for example,” and “i.e.” means roughly “in other words.” You use “e.g.” to provide a list of incomplete examples, and you use “i.e.” to provide a complete clarifying list or statement.
⇒ Agreed. Personally, I used to use ‘i.e.’ in place of ‘that is.’ Now I just write ‘that is.’ However, I never use ‘e.g.’ Ever. 2
7. YOU USE “A” BEFORE WORDS THAT START WITH CONSONANTS AND “AN” BEFORE WORDS THAT START WITH VOWELS.
Wrong! You use “a” before words that start with consonant sounds and “an” before words that start with vowel sounds. So, you’d write that someone has an MBA instead of a MBA, because even though “MBA” starts with “m,” which is a consonant, it starts with the sound of the vowel “e” [Em Bee Ay].
⇒ Agreed. A word that throws a lot of people is ‘honest.’ If English were phonetically consistent, we would pronounce the ‘h’ and say HAWN-EST, as though the word began with a consonant. We don’t—we say ON-EST, as though it began with a vowel. Hence ‘honest’ requires an ‘an.’
8. IT’S INCORRECT TO ANSWER THE QUESTION “HOW ARE YOU?” WITH THE STATEMENT “I’M GOOD.”
Wrong! “Am” is a linking verb and linking verbs should be modified by adjectives such as “good.” Because “well” can also act as an adjective, it’s also fine to answer “I’m well,” but some grammarians believe “I’m well” should be used to talk about your health and not your general disposition.
⇒ I’m good with this.
9. YOU SHOULDN’T SPLIT INFINITIVES.
Wrong! Nearly all grammarians want to boldly tell you it’s OK to split infinitives. An infinitive is a two-word form of a verb. An example is “to tell.” In a split infinitive, another word separates the two parts of the verb. “To boldly tell” is a split infinitive because “boldly” separates “to” from “tell.”
⇒ Agreed. If you recall, in the original Star Trek series, the opening mission statement from Kirk was “To boldly go where no man has gone before.” Apparently, this ticked off someone’s sense of political correctness and “man” was changed to “one” in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Now we have to listen to Picard intone, “To boldly go where no one has gone before.”
Well, “one” is not gender specific (i.e., it is neither male nor female, which is apparently acceptable), but “one” is also not human race specific. So how can the USS Enterprise go where “no one” has gone before and find such “ones” as the Ferengi or the Romulans? Please restore this “man” to his rightful place …
10. YOU SHOULDN’T END A SENTENCE WITH A PREPOSITION.
Wrong! You shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition when the sentence would mean the same thing if you left off the preposition. That means “Where are you at?” is wrong because “Where are you?” means the same thing. But there are many sentences where the final preposition is part of a phrasal verb or is necessary to keep from making stuffy, stilted sentences: “I’m going to throw up,” “Let’s kiss and make up,” and “What are you waiting for” are just a few examples.
⇒ Agreed. (Uh oh! The three examples that Ms Fogarty uses above reminded me of a blind date that I had many, many forgotten years ago. It was not quite in the league of the date that Bruce Willis survived with Kim Basinger in Blind Date, but it was leaning in that direction. She was my best friend’s wife’s best friend, for cryingoutloud; I had to do it!
Anyway, I made it through the night, got her home, and then—like the gentleman that I was—I walked her to her door. And, apparently expecting me to kiss her, she said, “Well, what are you waiting for?”
And, having had a few too many Jack Danielses—however do you think I made it through the night?—I blurted out, “Let’s not kiss, or I’ll throw up!”)
HEADER IMAGE: Blind Date (1987) was Bruce Willis’s début as a leading man in a feature-length move and he was great. You could see he was going to be starring in a lot more movies. Kim Basinger was in her prime and perfect as the drop-dead gorgeous blind date from Hell. That’s all I am going to say.
Hopefully, you will know now that this piece exists for two reasons: education and entertainment. The former is covered by the insights and advice of Grammar Girl, the latter hopefully by my witty rejoinders. And of course Grammar Girl has a website (Quick and Dirty Tips) and a Facebook page
Um, as much fun as I had writing “Grammar Girl on Grammar Myths,” I had more fun writing about fantasizing about the beddableness of Marisa Tomei. Just sayin’ … 3
1 I know, I know: where the hell do I get off critiquing the bloody Grammar Girl, heyna? It’s easy: it’s my bloody website you’re on! Plus, despite the French given name, Ms Fogarty is a fellow mick and can no doubt handle it and me and anything else you throw her way! Plus, I agree with her on every point!
2 Mark DeCoursey posted this in the Comments section below, but I want to make it a part of the body of this piece: “The permission to split infinitives and end sentences with prepositions should be applied with discretion, and I believe Strunk & White add a warning here. Sentences can be constructed with whole subordinate clauses between the ‘to’ and the verb root, making comprehension very difficult and violating another Strunk & White rule of clarity.
THAT is the origin of the rule: clarity. Short interruptions are comprehensible and even brilliant, but long interruptions of the infinitive can be ‘word salad.’
The same is true with terminal prepositions. If the object of the preposition is obvious, go ahead. When it gets obscure, the obscurity police with relegate your writing to the Limbo of Never-Seen Blogs.”
3 I wanted to end this post with a Grammar and Grampar Umphred joke, but Berni warned me agin it …