Grammar, Please

My friend Patty Wiseman posted this photo on Facebook Wednesday:


This got me to thinking about grammar in general and how horribly most of us butcher it in our speech and writing. Another friend, Julie Glover, writes about grammar regularly in her Sunday blog posts. We would all do well to read her posts and remind ourselves of the points she covers—or learn them for the first time if we don’t already know them.

Raised by a strict grammarian, I find it difficult to ignore blatant errors in the use of the English language. I sometimes wish I didn’t know the difference.

Split infinitives, dangling participles and such always bother me. I frequently mark up our newspaper with a red pen correcting things of this nature, which I imagine my wife would prefer that I not do. I seem to go through stages of noticing a particular grammatical transgression over and over.

Here lately, the one I seem to notice most regularly is verb tenses. I’ve written in the past about starting a paragraph in one tense and then switching in the middle. I hear this all the time in dialog on TV shows. “He picks up a poker from the fireplace. Then he beat her on the head with it.” Really? He picks it up in present tense, but he beat her in past tense?

The one I’ve seen over and over lately, however, is compound verbs where the first one is a past participle and the second, a simple past tense. “He had gone into the bar and drank a beer.” The second verb in a sentence of this nature assumes an unstated “had,” since the first verb was a past participle. What the sentence really says is “He had gone into the bar and [had] drank a beer.”

Had drank? I don’t think so. It should either say, “He went into the bar and drank a beer,” or “He had gone into the bar and drunk a beer.”

It has become popular among writers to de-emphasize the importance of grammar. It’s the story that’s important—making it interesting enough to hold a reader’s attention. That’s true, but if we’re going to operate in the field of literature, shouldn’t we make some effort to be literate ourselves while we’re at it?

What grammatical error is your pet peeve? What do you think when you read a newspaper report or a novel or short story or whatever that’s filled with poor grammar?


WANA: We may not have it all together, but together we have it all.


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About David N. Walker

David N. Walker is a Christian husband, father and grandfather, a grounded pilot and a near-scratch golfer who had to give up the game because of shoulder problems. A graduate of Duke University, he spent 42 years in the health insurance industry, during which time he traveled much of the United States. He started writing about 20 years ago and has been a member and leader in several writers' groups. Christianity 101: The Simplified Christian Life, the devotional Heaven Sent and the novella series, Fancy, are now available in paperback and in Kindle and Nook formats, as well as through Smashwords and Kobo. See information about both of these by clicking "Books" above.
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18 Responses to Grammar, Please

  1. David – You must know by now that grammar is not my strong selling point. My 2 critique partners are perfectly suited for me. One never misses a misspelled word and the other never misses a grammatical error. I trade them my problems for my expertise in most things legal and terror related from my 20 years of gov. work. I think that’s a pretty fair trade.


  2. Julie Glover says:

    Great reminder, David! Thanks for the mention.

    To me, grammar is doing its job when you don’t notice it. The point of all those grammar rules is to facilitate the content, so that a writer accurately and smoothly gets his message across to the reader. Bad grammar makes for speed bumps in reading. A few bumps? No big deal. Lots of bumps? A turbulent ride.

    My biggest peeves? “It’s” when it should be “its” and “could care less” when it should be “couldn’t care less.”


  3. Davie Lee Giles says:

    What bugs me: incorrect grammar on billboards such as the Dr Pepper ad that said, “Drink slow”
    Really ?? “slow” is an adjective while “slowly” is an adverb because slowly describes how one should drink Dr Pepper!!! My husband hated to drive by the billboard because each time I would rant about the incorrect word used!!!!


  4. Barb Estinson says:

    Sigh. I wish I weren’t a grammar Nazi too, David. I think you are even more so than I am. My pet peeve is the use of it’s for its and vice versa.


  5. I’m bothered by the trend by sportscasters and other media personalities to always use present tense when describing events. They do this without regard for how long ago the event took place. Narrators of historical documentaries have started doing the same. Just a pet peeve of mine.


  6. It’s been some time since I studied grammar and parts of speech, but between high school English and journalism in university the principles somehow got drilled deep into my subconscious. I pick out errors all the time, to the point that I won’t read cheap newspapers because I spend more time mentally lamenting the terrible writing, punctuation and grammar than actually reading the news. I may not think of it in terms of infinitives and participles anymore…I just know when it’s right or wrong. Not sure if that saves me from Grammar Nazi status or not…I do know my wife says There, Their, They’re a lot. (She showed me that cartoon.) 🙂


  7. I’m not certain what *Word* managed to do with that third sentence of my text! It wasn’t meant to be bad grammar. Honest!


    • I don’t know whether it’s Word or my keyboard or what, Pat, but I’m always having to go back and fill in letters and spaces that get omitted. In fact, I had to change Idon’t to I don’t in this reply.


  8. You are so right. Terrible grammar is pervasive. i don’t believe it ” has become popular among writers to de-emphasize the importance of grammar”. Certainly not amongst serious writers. Sadly, I believe it is more that our education systems have de-emphasized the focus on grammar these past few decades. Thank you for this excellent reminder and continue your crusade to promote good grammar. It is needed!


  9. Sharon K. Walker says:

    My pet grammatical peeve occurs when people say “different than” rather than “different from.” I encounter this error daily, especially in the newspaper.


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