I’m thrilled to announce my first Guest blogger will be Dave Farland, NYT best-selling author of fifty novels, winner of many prestigious awards and writing teacher, besides provider of his own regular helpful blog posts. Be here next Wednesday, March 13, and tell your friends.
Meanwhile, my news this week is that National Grammar Day was Monday, March 4th. Okay, we’re two days late, but as writers we should observe it all the time, at least in our work.
National Grammar Day was started in 2008 by Martha Brockenbrough, founder of the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar, SPOGG. If you go to NationalGrammarDay.com, you’ll find all kinds of fun stuff, including quizzes, fiction, and even Punctuation Saves Lives T-shirts for sale. I love the one that says, ”Let’s Eat Grandma,” to remind us of the need for commas.
Grammar comes from the Greek word for “letters” and came into the English language in the 1300s. It referred to learning generally, but is now considered a set of rules describing the structure of language and how sentences are formed.
Grammar was traditionally taught in “grammar schools” which is what my first school was called. In a newspaper about Grammar Day last year, Ms. Brockenbrough said, “For me, the goal is to get people to think about language and why using it correctly matters... Speaking well and knowing how words work are not something elite and useless.”
Besides SPOGG, there is a certain amount of grammar vigilantism around and I learned that Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary defined “grammaticaster” as a “mean verbal pendant.” I hope I’m not mean, but I like being called a grammaticaster. To keep my status intact, here are a few of my bad-grammar pet peeves.
1. could’ve - could of. There is no legitimate reason to use “could of.“ I’ve seen it even in traditionally published books, and it apparently stems from the author--to say nothing of the editor--missing an English class. He/she means “could’ve” a contraction of the two words “could” and “have.“ Example: “I could’ve been a contender.“ or “I could have danced all night.”
2. doctors - apple’s. Plural words don’t get apostrophes. Example: “The apples were ripe and the doctors ate them.“ If you put an apostrophe before the “s” you have turned the word into a possessive. Example: “The doctor’s time was limited.”
3. Try to - try and. Technically there is no “try and” (or almost none.) If your character is going to try to do something, use “try to,” not “try and.“ Example: “I will try to help you.“ After all, if you say “try and” you imply you’ll succeed. But what if you don’t succeed? You’ve told a lie.
4. I couldn’t care less - I could care less. Once again, the second construction should never be used. After all, if you could care less, then you must care somewhat. But you’re trying to say that you care so little that it would be impossible for you to care any less than you do.
5. incidents - incidentses. The latter is not a word. One event is an “incident.“ Two or more events are “Incidents” (add an “s” to make a plural). There is no such word as “incidentses.”
6. I hope I don’t have to tell you that--unless you’re writing dialogue in the voice of an illiterate character--you should never write, “Me and my brother,” “Her and I,” “we was,” or “She don’t.“ But I often see “myself” instead of “me. “ Don’t try to get fancy. Wrong: “She gave the book to John and myself.“ Right: “She gave the book to John and me.“ If John were gone, you’d say, “She gave the book to me.“ Wouldn’t you?