Category: Grammar


By Sarah Binning

While organizing my “week ahead” blog schedule, I decided to check my e-mail. Although I already checked my e-mail approximately three times before 9 a.m. (at which time I sat down to work on this blog), I suddenly remembered I stashed some ideas in my inbox.

Last week, the same day I stumbled across the “Weird Al” grammar lessons, I also discovered a new blog: Hyperbole and a Half. While Allie’s blog isn’t dedicated to grammar, she has an engaging, humorous cartoon blog, which she illustrates herself. Allie’s style reminds me of the notes my friend Michelle would doodle and pass me in school. Maybe that’s why I enjoy reading it so much.

So what does Hyperbole and a Half have to do with I Spy Grammar?  A lot. No, really. That’s today’s topic: a lot. Notice how it is actually two words as opposed to one?

Alot is not in the dictionary. Don’t believe me? Just check here.

Allot (when spelled with two L’s) is one word, but it means something totally different from a lot.

Allot means “to distribute among.” Example: The professor allotted time for students to make up the exam on Friday.

A lot, on the other hand, is more of an informal phrase, which means “many.” Example: A lot of fans are predicted to watch the season finale of LOST (Sunday, May 23). LOST leaves me with a lot of questions.

In her blog “The Alot is better than you at everything” Allie discusses how she handles people who misuse “a lot.”

Her answer: “The Alot is an imaginary creature that I made up to help me deal with my compulsive need to correct other people’s grammar.”

Here are some illustrations to further her point:

"The Alot"

The Alot from Hyperbole and a Half

Image from Hyperbole and a Half

A special thanks goes to Allie for allowing me to use her drawings. Be sure to check out Hyperbole and a Half for more entertainment.

By Sarah-Ann Binning

Weekly spelling quizzes in elementary school were my kryptonite. My mom, being the innovative school teacher she is, came up with all types of “games” to help me pass my spelling quizzes.

At first, we tried having me practice verbally spelling my lists to my mother. But when it came time to take the test, I had difficulty writing the words on paper. The words look differently in manuscript form than how I pictured them verbally. This difference always seemed to throw me off, and I second guessed myself to the point where I’d change a correctly spelled word to an incorrectly spelled form.

So my mom turned study time into these hands-on activities:

1. Carpet Spelling. Write the word with your finger into thick lush carpet—the kind that you can see your finger markings in. Not only did touching the carpet stimulate my senses and make me more aware of the words I was spelling, the exercise also allowed me to practice writing out the words.

2. A touch of salt. Dump salt onto a baking sheet. Trace the spelling word into the salt. When I you get a word correct, smooth out the salt and start again. This activity also can be done with sand rather than salt. But I grew up in the flat lands of northwestern Ohio, where sand is found only in the local park sandboxes, so we used salt.

3. Skate it out. I loved being outside and I loved riding my bike and rollerblading. We were fortunate to have a large driveway for me to skate my spelling words out. My mom would call out a word, and I would shout each letter and then skate the shape of each letter

I’m almost positive that my mom played other spelling games with me as well, but I can no longer remember what they were. Obviously the games I do remember made an impact on my life. As I celebrate my 22nd birthday (today!) I can still retain vivid memories of tracing my finger in the salt and rollerblading in the driveway. Something my mom taught me must have worked because I graduated high school top of my class and finished my undergraduate Summa Cum Laude.

Every student is different. (Yes, I used the biggest cliché I could think of. But hey, clichés have to stem from some basis of fact, right?) The Internet can be a helpful tool in teaching your child or teaching yourself how to spell.  While these games worked for me, they might not work for others.

I recommend ilovethatteachingidea.com for more ideas on spelling games. Some of my favorites listed on the site are:

1. Rainbow Spelling (sent in by Kristen Lamsfuss, Texas). Give students a set of crayons in the colors of the rainbow. Trace each spelling word once with each color. This allows the child to trace the word seven times.

2. Board Game Spelling. This project is intended for students in fourth through sixth grade. Bring in ordinary board games and break a class into small groups. Group members collaborate to create new rules for the game that incorporate weekly spelling words.

And let’s not forget about the plethora of word games that already exist: Boggle, Scrabble just to name two. The point is spelling can be fun. Spelling bees are nerve breaking, especially for students who are embarrassed or afraid of their classmate’s ridicule. The purpose of this blog’s activities is to take the student out of competitive, embarrassing situations while still helping him or her learn how to spell. Making spelling entertaining, inviting and plain old fun is the key to helping students grow and learn

Tips and Tools to help Spell-Check

By Sarah Binning

Hello. My name is Sarah [“Hi, Sarah.”] and I have chronic misspelling disorder.

The facts of life are simple: typos happen. As I stated earlier this week, my atrocious spelling is a problem I battle every day.

Sometimes it seems that no matter how much effort I put into proofreading, I still misspell words and misuse grammar. I’ll be the first to admit it’s embarrassing. People always seem to remember when you spell something incorrectly (even if it was a minor slip of the finger on a keyboard). Even Grammar Girl expresses the same embarrassment and stress about missing one itsy-bitsy typo.

I’ve challenged myself to work on my spelling and I’ve complied a list of helpful spell checking tools. May the misspellers of the world unite under these tips and work toward a stronger, more accurately spelled tomorrow.

1. Never rely solely your word processor’s spell check. Now, I’m not saying you should turn off spell check. It is extremely helpful and can catch mistakes. However, it is not the brightest crayon in the box. Microsoft Word will not always catch if you type the incorrect form of a word , like “their/there/they’re” or “to/too/two” or “your/you’re.”

2. Don’t rely on auto-correct to save your butt. Sometimes I really, really, really love auto-correct. I accidently type “th” instead of “the” and Word automatically adds the “e” for me. Yet, auto correct also fixes words that I habitually misspell: like definitely, sandal, etc. Consider this for a moment: If Word is automatically correcting these words, are YOU personally learning how to spell them? No, you’re not. What are you going to do when you have to use a program other than Word and there is no auto-correct feature? Take the time to learn how to spell these words.

If you do use auto-correct, try to notice when the tiny lightening bolt flashes, signifying an auto-correct was made. Examine how auto-correct fixed the word and learn where you’re going wrong with your spelling.

3. Utilize Google. We all have those days when we’re typing along and our brain totally farts out. We cannot figure out how to spell (fill-in-the-blank). We try spell check, but the spelling is so incorrectly Word has no idea what we’re trying to say. Google, on the other hand, does. Type the word into the search bar and Google kindly suggests: “Did you mean (fill-in-the-blank)?” Why yes Google, that IS what I meant! Thank you!”

4. Read your work aloud. Many times, when we read on the screen, our brain automatically corrects what we’re seeing, without us ever noticing. We KNOW we meant to type, so our brain reads what we think we typed. When you read aloud, you force yourself to study each word individually. Your ears will catch what your eyes miss.

5. Utilize free online resources and free downloads. I am addicted to dictionary.com. As Copy Chief for Southeast Ohio, this site was my best friend (right after my AP and SEO Stylebooks, of course). Sometimes I read words and they just didn’t look or sound correct. Typing them into dictionary.com helps me a) learn if the words are spelled correctly and b) learn what the words mean and if the writer used them correctly.

I also work on a MacBook. One of my favorite features on my Mac is the widget screen. I can download all sorts of free widgets, like a dictionary (that I use frequently because it’s faster and doesn’t require an Internet connection to function). I also downloaded a “word of the day” feature and a Scrabble “two-letter” word of the day to help me improve my Scrabble skills. Playing word games also helps improve my spelling. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s blog for more fun, interactive games that help me battle my chronic misspelling disorder.

By Sarah Binning

The opening song of the classic television show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” is cleverly and artfully catchy. Which is as any theme song should be. The tune always manages to put a smile on my face, no matter how foul my mood is.

“So let’s make the most of this beautiful day/ Since we’re together, we might as well say/ Would you be mine?/ Could you be mine?/ Won’t you be my neighbor?”

Wait a minute, Fred Rogers. “Won’t you be my neighbor?” Won’t is a contraction for “will not” (Side note for the word’s Old English etymology: wonnot = will not. This explains why there’s not ‘i’ in the contraction).

So what Mr. Rogers is really saying is “Will not you be my neighbor?”

That doesn’t sound right at all … Doesn’t the man who has a never-ending supply of shoes want to say “Will you be my neighbor?”

One of my readers posed an interesting question. She wants to know why our culture says “won’t” when we really mean “will.”

Examples:

Won’t you tell me the answer?

Won’t you be my neighbor?

Won’t you get the door for me?

A response of “yes” can have either a negative or positive connotation, depending on one interprets the question.  Won’t you be my neighbor? Yes. Wait … Does that mean you will or you won’t?

These questions are in a negative interrogative form. When used, they generate strong biased responses. The speaker is bias in favor of a particular answer. The speaker has already decided how he or she would like you to respond. (Yes, I’d love to live next door to you Mr. Rogers. Maybe we could share sweaters?) When one uses a negative interrogative question, he or she is suggesting a response as opposed to asking a real question.

Won’t you tell me the answer à what we’re really saying is “you should tell me the answer.”

Won’t you get the door for me à please, get the door for me?

In addition to “won’t” there are other examples of negative interrogative:

Didn’t I tell you this would happen?

Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?

Let’s see if we can’t finish this before 3:00.

Let’s see if we can’t win this game.

Fine! See if I won’t!

Allow me to elaborate on my “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself” example. If we reconstruct this sentence to a simple sentence it becomes: “Are you ashamed of yourself?”

Notice the subtle difference?

“Are you ashamed of yourself?” à this is noncommittal. The speaker doesn’t anticipate the outcome one way or another. Whereas “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself,” leads one to believe the speaker anticipates the person HAS something to be ashamed about.

Now that we understand the purpose of negative interrogative questions, shan’t we return to Mr. Rogers. I can only conclude that when Fred asks “Won’t you be my neighbor?” he really mean “Will you be my neighbor … because you should be my neighbor. My puppets and I make the best neighbors and you would consider yourself lucky to have such pleasant company.”

One, singular sensation

By Sarah Binning

The idea to begin a grammar blog began a little more than a week ago, after reading an online article in my Monster.com newsletter. The headline really sealed the deal for me: “Writing Mistakes that Make You Look Dumb.” I was hooked in by my rather geeky sense of humor.

One of my favorite mistakes mentioned was number 9: None is. (Never none ARE.)

I made a mental note to dedicate a blog entry to “none” and other commonly abused singular words. My intention was to write this entry yesterday. Yet somehow I spent the evening crocheting a Christmas Granny square afghan. (Yes, I am aware of the fact that I act like a 80-year-old grandmother. What’s next?  Want to come over and bake cookies? I’ll wear an apron and let you lick the bowl. Anyway, I digress).

Feeling guilty about my lack of entry yesterday, I awoke early to research the word “none.”

Long story short: none IS singular.

Examples:

None was hurt during this experiment.  None of the girls was able to come today.

How can this be? It SOUNDS so incorrect. Colloquial habits damaged our ability to hear grammar mistakes. It sounds wrong because we say it wrong everyday.

While this might not be horribly exciting news to you, my research proved rather interesting.

When examining the etymology (or root origins) of the word, I discovered that “none” is derived from the singular phrase “not one.” So what originated as the contraction no’ne (not one) eventually dropped the apostrophe and became “none.”

(Isn’t the history of language fascinating? Maybe I should have gone into linguistics … Oh well, it’s a little too late to change my degree now.)

So what other words take singular verbs?

  1. When the adjectives each, every, many a, more than one, either and neither precede a singular or compound subject, they take singular verbs.

1a. More than one parent disagrees with Mrs. Draxler’s teaching methods.

1b. Every student enjoys snow cancellations.

2. Indefinite pronouns (with a few exceptions) require singular verbs and singular personal pronouns.

2a. Allow me to name a few indefinite pronouns: another, anybody, anything, each one, everyone, everything, nobody, no one, somebody, something.

2b. Everyone is waiting for the game to begin.

2c. Somebody laughs at all my jokes.

3. Title of businesses books, movies, TV shows, poems, short stories and songs take singular verbs. Don’t let the titles fool you. Although they may appear plural, they function as one singular entity.

3a. Jurassic Park is the best book I’ve read this year.

3b. Bad Romance was on the radio a moment ago.

3c. LOST is on Tuesday night at 9 p.m. LOST is the single greatest TV show in the history of television.

3d. McDonalds McDonald’s is the fastest growing food chain in the world. (NOTE: I have not idea if this sentence is TRUE. I made it up to illustrate the proper use of company names as a singular verb-taking entity.

3e. Ghostbusters is playing on a TBS marathon this weekend.

While the list for words that take singular verbs is seemingly endless, I think I’ll leave them for another day.  Nothing is more important than allowing you brain to digest this information.  (See what I did there? Kudos to me for inserting another cleaver example of a singular word: Nothing IS.)

Tomorrow we’ll examine words that take plural verbs.



Who[m] do you love?

By Sarah-Ann Binning

Gathered around a table at Jefferson Dining Hall, Gail, Cagney and I fell into one of our nerdiest conversations. I was in the middle of “Precision Language” and I finally trudged my way through learning who/whom. Gail chimed in with a comment I have never forgotten: “Yeah, you know that song ‘Who do you love?’ If it were grammatically correct you would sing, “Whom do you love?”

At this point in the conversation Cagney jumped in and started singing the song in proper English.

Over the years, I’ve often returned to this conversation, mainly to chuckle at how silly “Whom do you love” sounds. Yet, I wonder how different would the greatest hits of America be if musicians had an editor proof read lyrics?

What if musicians used their music to teach their audience proper English?

Think about it; musicians and bands are highly influential. Tweens cut and paste their lives from celebrities, trying desperately to mimic their ambitions, morals and glam.

Maybe sometime in the future someone famous will follow my advice. But for the time being, I’m left enjoying correcting the grammar of poorly written songs.

Rich Girl” by Gwen Stefani and its Fiddler on the Roof counterpart. “If I was a rich girl.” The verb mood here is subjunctive, which calls for “were” to be used rather than “was” … “If I WERE a rich girl.”

An example of subjunctive mood used correctly is “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol.  The chorus line: “If I lay here. If I just lay here, would you lie with me and just forget the world.” (NOTE: thanks Gail for correcting my subjunctive here!)

God Bless the U.S.A” by Lee Greenwood. This patriotic songwriter needs to examine his independent and dependent clause agreement in the lyric “And I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.”

The use of “where” indicates a place-reference. In this lyric, it is meant to reference “American” but “American” is NOT a place. For the song to work grammatically, Greenwood would have to sing “I’m proud to be in America, where at least I know I’m free.

In the early months of sophomore year, I learned that Gail, Cagney and I were not the only grammar nerds. As my soon-to-be-roommates and I made the drive to sign our lease Fergie’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry” starts playing on the radio.  As Gail reminded me, Corinne vented about how she hates this song because it was grammatically incorrect.  So what is Fergie’s grammatical infraction?

“And I’m gonna miss you like a child misses their blanket.”

Allow us, for the time being to ignore the fact that “gonna” is not a real word. Can you find her mistake? Child is singular; thus it cannot be “their” blanket. It could be his or her blanket … but not their blanket. Or made child plural and you could sing “like children miss their blankets.

Okay, so “children miss their blankets” doesn’t quite roll of the tongue in a melodious fashion.  But “like a child misses her blanket” does. Come on Fergie: edit before you sing!

I must also note that Fergie receives an honorable mention for her song “Fergalicious.” Thanks to her, millions of children will misspell tasty for the rest of their lives. “T to the A to the S-T-E-Y, girl you tasty.” Was the extra “E” really necessary in the song? You couldn’t rewrite the rhythm to spell tasty correctly?

Interested in more grammatically incorrect musics? I suggest this my hmphs blog post.

The your/you’re dilemma

By Sarah-Ann Binning

My brother’s sarcastic yet supportive comment on my last blog post inspired this first grammatical lesson: your and you’re. For some, the difference between “your” and “you’re” has been drilled into our heads, while others can never seem to use them correctly. Does it really matter if you don’t know the difference? Is anyone really going to care if you mix them up?

The answer is, of course, YES!

Say, for example, you were applying for a job and your cover letter started a little something like this. (NOTE: This is a dreadful opening to a cover letter. I would never recommend opening letter like this. But for the sake of this example, please just go with me.) Example: To Whom It May Concern: I am interested in applying for the secretarial intern position with you’re company.

BAM. Your cover letter just went into the garbage. When applying for any position (be it school, job, etc) employers throw away resumes with any spelling errors. If you cannot take the time to make ONE resume error free, why should they hire you? The worst part about the “your/you’re” problem is that spell check won’t catch when you use the incorrect one, only if you spell them wrong. So you have to be extra diligent in your editing.

Honestly, using the incorrect “your/you’re” is embarrassing. Not only can it hurt your employment opportunities, it also will make others think less of you. Just this past week I was reading a note from my boss in our manager logbook. His grammar was, well, atrocious. One of the student managers actually took a red pen and corrected his many mistakes. Front and center of all those mistakes was using “your” instead of “you’re.” When employees half your age are correcting your mistakes, it doesn’t make you look good.

But don’t lose hope. It’s never too late to learn. In fact, I encourage you to learn. Yes, occasionally you’ll mix-up the two words. I understand in the heat of that Facebook wall post, you don’t think about spell check. I’ve fallen victim to the un-proofread wall posts many times. And boy do my friends love to point out my own “your/you’re” errors.

So let’s break this down.

YOUR is a possessive pronoun. Example: Your coat is on the chair.

A more in depth Explanation: What does possessive mean? The coat belongs to you. You posses it. Thus, “your” is possessive.

YOU’RE is a contraction for YOU ARE. Example: When you’re at the store, please pick up some chicken.

When using “your/you’re” I ask one simple question to make sure I’ve used the correct one. Can you substitute “you are” for the word? If the answer is yes, then you want to use YOU’RE. If not, then use YOUR.

While we’re on the subject of “your/you’re”, I’d like to address another issue: UR. While texting lingo is becoming widely popular, I don’t believe you should incorporate it into your everyday communication. Again, it all goes back to professionalism. Practice makes perfect, but it also creates habits. If you use “U” and “UR” in e-mails with friends, it will slowly leak its way into your professional life. My roommate, a reporter for Ohio University’s student-run newspaper, received an e-mail from a PR official from a major corporation in New York. He used “UR.” Seriously? He couldn’t take the time to spell out the word correctly? Is he really that great at communicating with media if he’s using such informal grammar?

So, if you couldn’t already tell “your/you’re” is a pet peeve of mine. Take the time to re-read your work. Taking the time to learn small grammar bits can make a big difference when you’re applying for jobs. But for now, here are some more examples:

Your:

What’s your favorite color?

When is your recital?

She went to your house.

Don’t forget to e-mail your friends.

Get your coat.

You’re:

You’re looking wonderful tonight.

You’re assigned to the late shift.

Sing while you’re dancing.

You’re responsible for him.