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?
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