Some Perennial Grammar Questions

By Maeve Maddox

The DWT team appreciate the great feedback to Daniel’s question “What topics do you want to see covered in the blog?” and are busily responding.

Questions of grammar and usage are never out of date. Doubtless we’ll be writing new posts on topics that have been dealt with in the past. Preposition usage, for example, could fill a book.

Here are some of the recent suggestions, together with links to archived posts that may have already addressed them.

Verbs used intransitively and transitively…
English grammar 101 introduction to the English verb

…if you could address who/whom it would be great
Beware of whom

the difference between principle and principal
Principle or principal

the difference between assume and presume.
Is there a difference between assume and presume?

I’d like to know when (or if) it became acceptable to refer to an individual in the military as a troop, i.e. “Three troops were injured today.”
Soldiers or Troops?

Plural possessives?
The possessive apostrophe
When to form a plural with an apostrophe

give a list of ALL the parts of speech…
English grammar 101 parts of speech

use of the subjunctive subjunctive “if I was”
The subjunctive mood
I wish I were

Do you have an archive so I could catch up on topics already covered?
Archives

Please do a blog on the difference between lie (recline) and lay and their conjugations.
Lay/lie moribund but not dead yet
Mixing up lay and lie

the difference and usage of ‘passed’ and ‘past’
Passed vs past
Confusing passed with past
Taking another pass-at “passed”

I recall an experience from my days of classroom teaching. I’d just given a lesson on the use of the apostrophe to form the possessive. The students had been attentive and I was certain that my explanations and illustrations had been especially inspired. Still glowing as I passed a senior teacher, I shared my feeling that I’d settled the apostrophe problem for that group of students once and for all. I can still see the kind, but pitying expression that flitted across her face.

Common errors are common for a reason. At some level, the error makes sense to us. Once an error is habitual, effort and repetition are required to rid ourselves of the habit. And the first explanation is not necessarily the one that will prove effective in clarifying the matter.

Keep those suggestions coming.

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8 Responses to “Some Perennial Grammar Questions”

  • Linda KONTNIER

    Under the request for suggestions: please review the proper uses of “preventive” and “preventative.”

  • Geoffrey Van Wyk

    I picked up a mistake in the first sentence of this article.

    Should it not be “The DWT team appreciates”, instead of “The DWT team appreciate”?

  • Anna

    I never know whether there is meant to be an apostrophe when you say something like, “Runnings good for your health.” I’m not sure if it’s slang or not, as I hear it a lot but have never seen it written. The intended sentence is meant to be “Running is good for your health” so you would think that an apostrophe is needed as it is a contraction, but it just looks wrong.

    Worse is when you want to say something like, “Alexs running” (Alex is running). If you add an apostrophe, it looks like a possessive and can be confusing.

    I’ve always just avoided the problem by writing out the “is”, but I would like to know which is correct.

  • Maeve

    @Geoffrey Van Wyk
    “Team” is a collective noun.  Although current American usage treats all collective nouns as singular, British usage–and previous American usage– allows a choice. If the collective noun is thought of as acting as a unit, the verb will be singular. If the collective noun is being thought of as a group of individuals, the verb is plural. 

    My use of “team are” in this post was deliberate. I was thinking of the members of the team pursuing their individual efforts.

  • Maeve

    @Anna
    Although many contractions are fine in writing– I’ve, they’ve, don’t, etc.–I can’t see the use of contracting the verb “is” in writing.

    In speech one does hear words run together as in your examples “Runnings good for your health.” and
    Alexs running.”

    but in writing those sentences, I can’t see much point in writing “Running’s good for your health” instead of “Running is good for your health.”

    As for contracting “Alex is running” to “Alex’s running,” such a contraction would indeed suggest a possessive.

  • Peter

    Although many contractions are fine in writing– I’ve, they’ve, don’t, etc.–I can’t see the use of contracting the verb “is” in writing.

    Reporting speech, of course!

    And yes, they need an apostrophe. You could put a space before it, though, to avoid ambiguity: “Running ‘s good for your health”, “Alex ‘s running”.

  • Carl

    Our newscasters are all doing this.

    Instead of John Doe went to the baseball game they will say John Doe he went to the baseball game. They do it so often it is becoming irritating. Is this acceptable or is it incorrect usage of grammar?

  • Maeve

    Carl,
    No, it can never be correct usage, but it can be spread by sportcasters and similar entertainers who see a necessity to project a breezy, unconventional persona in talking informally about something or other. The anchors and weatherman on one of my local TV channels take this approach to the language. They don’t realize the pernicious effect they are having on speakers who haven’t internalized the conventions of standard English.

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