Grammar Nazi gets it Wrong!

rogersgeorge on June 10th, 2017

Okay, sometimes those dogmatic folks who correct your English unasked get it wrong! Jump Start is a Case in point:

She makes three points, and two are wrong.

Split infinitive. Not putting an adverb between the “to” and the rest of the verb is a hold-over from Latin, promulgated by stuffy English teachers. English has been splitting infinitives for centuries. Just remember that Star Trek Movie, “to boldly go…”

Passive voice. She’s correct here. Not that the passive is ungrammatical, but writing that doesn’t use the passive is more energetic. Don’t go passive unless you want to hide the blame.

Ending a sentence with a preposition. Sorry, those are actually adverbs, part of separable verbs. Think of Churchill’s famous (and possibly apocryphal) remark, “Impertinence, young man, is something up with which I will not put.”

However, most of the time in this comic, she’s right.

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Adverbs Inside Infinitives

rogersgeorge on December 11th, 2016

I’ve written about this before, but hey, I have a comic!

Everybody knows about the TV show (or was it a movie?) that started with something about “to boldly go where…” and you probably had an English teacher (if you’re old enough) who said not to do that, you should say “boldly to go…” or maybe “to go boldly.” You might remember that I said that this rule was promulgated by Latinists who wanted English to be more like Latin. Baloney! Put those adverbs right there in the middle of the verb! (If you’re going to use an adverb, anyway. Try your sentence with a better verb and no adverb.)

So here’s the comic. See the second cell:

Thank you, Scott. I’ve been hanging onto this comic since 2014 and only now got around to finally using it. Shame on me.

By the way, at the top of that second cell, he writes, “have only noticed…” a similar construction.

Did you Granulate?

rogersgeorge on December 1st, 2016

I know, it’s supposed to be “graduate,” but I had a friend whom I’ve lost touch with (Hi Andrea!) who liked to say it that way, so the word in the title is in her memory. Anyway, what do you call someone who graduates? Here’s a little Latin lesson for you.

First, someone who gets it wrong:

Pearls Before Swine

Okay, here’s how it works:

  • If you’re a male graduate, you’re an alumnus. If you want to refer to more than one of you males, it’s alumni.
  • If you’re female, it’s alumna; if there are more than one of you, use alumnæ. (The æ is pronounced like the a in hat.)
  • And if you’re referring to a mixed group of graduates, you act like everyone is male and use alumni. Sorry—Latin died before they had gender equality. Or women’s lib, if you’re old enough.

I learned this from my favorite English teacher in high school Mrs. Baird; I never took Latin, but I remember this!

And apparently you don’t even have to graduate, you just had to have been a student.

What may you end a sentence with?

rogersgeorge on November 2nd, 2011

(I use “may” in the sense of “permission,” not as a weak version of “might.”)

We all have heard the prohibition: “Never end a sentence with a preposition.”Recently someone commented twice on this blog, both times on the subject of sentence-ending prepositions. I get too few comments to satisfy my narcissistic nature, and this person was kind and alert enough to comment more than once, so I feel the subject merits a fuller discussion. I hope he sees this post. (I think it’s a “he.” The reader uses a pseudonym.)

First, a bit of history. This proscription seems to have descended from English teachers who loved Latin too much. The same folks who said you shouldn’t split an infinitive (to boldly go, for example), which is verboten in Latin. I confess I’ve never studied Latin (Greek and German, yes), but I take it you mustn’t ever end a Latin sentence with a preposition. English belongs to the Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family, and terminal prepositions are fine in German. They are called separable verbs. See the fourth point, below.

Second, a bit of apocrypha. A young aide is said to have corrected Sir Winston Churchill for ending a sentence with a preposition. Sir Winston is said to have replied, “Impertinence, young man, is something up with which I will not put.”

Winnie staring down an aide

Third, a bit of style. A sentence with one o’ them there preposition thingies at the tail end is more casual than a sentence constructed using something such as “with which” or “for whom.” I shall add that formality has its place; but see the rule at the end.

Finally, a bit of grammar. Those prepositions at the end of sentences are used as adverbs. When you see a sentence with a preposition at the end, the preposition goes with the verb; it doesn’t have the feel of missing an object. Take a look at the title of this post. “With” is telling you how.

My conclusion, the rule: Write whatever flows the most smoothly, what your reader will absorb with the least effort and with the least likelihood of misunderstanding. Write so your reader thinks about the content, not the writing.

My thanks again to the person who stimulated this post. If you comment, you might give me something to post about.