Wednesday's are For Grammar (Sound Smarter)

Grammar is the logic of speech, even as logic is the grammar of reason. ~Richard C. Trench

Those Who Get to Display the Button
- Sweet Camden Lass
- Martha
- Julia S
- Two Hands
- JamieD
- Alice (Alice, you should be able to right click, save the picture and put it in your blog that way)
- Elizabeth

There is a challenge in talking about grammar, and the way that people use it badly; one must make some sort of judgment about the person, whom is, or is not using standard grammar. We necessarily make some sort of judgment about their intelligence, and possibly, their social standing. I prefer to assume that those who use poor grammar are ignorant, in the classical sense of the world. Not meaning rude or primitive, but unschooled, not knowing better. I, myself are sure that they would like too do better.

The other challenge with English grammar is that standards of correctness vary, from time and country too the text book or style manual that you use. In my professional life, our style guide for writing often requires me to stretch the bounds of good English, two almost a breaking point. I seen some awful mistakes and really bad wording.

Many of you have emailed me to ask me a particular grammar question. And I'm always happy to give answers. Really. But, sometimes, the questions are grey - it really is a matter of preference. Or what country you live in. What Sam or Sweet Camden Lass in the UK would find appalling, we would find quite normal. Sometimes you have to lie your expectations down.
So, with those proviso’s, I offer Mrs. Spit'ts Grammerian Guide to Making Yourself Sound all Intelligent-like and making less mistakes.

Is and Are (and Am)
Is, Are and Am are conjugations of the verb to be. Blogger, in it's stubbornness doesn't let me show you a table, so here's my best approximation.

I am a blogger (First person, singular)
You are a blogger (Second person, singular)
S/He is a blogger (Third person, singular)
It is a blogger (and likely a troll, we don't use 'it' to refer to people.)
We are bloggers (First person, plural)
They are bloggers (Third person, plural)

So, the rules for this conjugation:

'I' takes the form 'am', it's singular in the sense that it refers to one person, speaking of them self.
He, She, and It take the form is, it's singular in the sense that it refers to one person, that we are speaking of.
We takes the form are, it's plural, and we are talking about ourselves and at least one other person.
They takes the form are, it's plural and we are talking about other people.

You is an interesting case. A remnant in the English language, from the Latin, that had two forms of 'you' - Thee (for people you were familiar with) and Thou (for everyone else). It's the only remnant of the second person singular, and you will just have to remember, we use are with you, NOT is.

Who and Whom
Can I confess - I hate who and whom. I always have to think about which one to use. I think, eventually, the archaic whom will go away, and we will use only who. Until that blessed day, here's how to tell the difference.

Who and Whom are actually pronouns.

If you can replace the who with he, she or they, you are using who correctly.

If you can replace the whom with him, her or them, you are using correctly.

Alright, a few examples.
Mrs. Spit gave us a grammar lesson. Who gave you a grammar lesson? (You could replace Mrs. Spit with she, so you use who)
Did you see Mrs. Spit leave? Whom did you see leave? (You would replace Mrs. Spit with her, so you use whom)

I warn you, with this rule, significant re-jigging of sentences might be required. Sometimes it's easier to guess, you have a 50% chance. Just saying.

To, Too, and Two
Well, I get to and too mixed up a lot. Let's see if we can straighten us all out.

Two is a number. We use it when we are referring to a count noun - Mrs. Spit has two dogs. There are no excuses for getting this wrong. None. You get banished to grammar perdition if you mix up two with to or too.

To is a preposition. That means it describes the relationship of one thing to another.

She is going to bed.
She likes to knit.

Too is an adverb. (I know, an adverb that doesn't end in -ly. It's not fair!). Remember, an adverb modifies the verb. Or to make it much, much easier, if you are stuck, ask yourself, could I replace the too with words like "as well, also, excessively, likewise, overly." If so, you mean too.

See, Saw, Seen
Ahh, getting this wrong is very, very VERY likely to get you smacked in Mrs. Spit's house. I mean it, there is a special place in grammar perdition for those who use seen when they mean saw. This actually isn't conjugation, it's tense.

I see - Present tense. You are seeing this item right now.
I see that you are all committed to learning better grammar.

I saw - Past tense. You saw this in the past.
I saw Mrs. Spit knitting yesterday.

I have seen - Past participle. Past participles are a bit tricky to explain, without explaining verbal tenses. So, let me try it this way. Remember those auxiliary verbs we talked about? I'll make it very simple. When you are saying seen, you are saying that you did see something, in the indeterminate past. You need to add a helping verb so that your listener can figure out what you mean.

Do NOT ever use "seen" in a sentence without an auxiliary verb like "to have". I mean it, if I catch you saying "I seen that", I will completely lose it!

I have seen Mrs. Spit knitting.

Starting a sentence with a conjunction (And, But, Or, Not)
Ok class, how many of you remember a teacher telling you that you can't start a sentence with one of these words? I thought so. You can, but with some proviso's. Very often, when we start a sentence with 'and', we don't actually make a complete sentence. If you are going to start a sentence with a conjunction, you must make sure that you have a complete sentence.

I, Myself
Another thing that drives me crazy. This is wrong. You can start a sentence with I.
I like knitting.

Myself, on the other hand, is a reflexive pronoun. That means that you may only use "myself" when the subject of the sentence is the same as the person taking the action (the object).

You would say "I bought myself a present".

Do NOT say "I, myself bought a present". As opposed to you, the other person?

Count Nouns (Fewer and Less)
I went to a Trader Joe's in California. There was a sign about the check-out saying 12 items or fewer. I was irritated at first, but they are actually correct. Use:

Fewer for count nouns - things that can be counted - apples, cars, money.

I have 12 fewer knitting needles today.

Less for non-count nouns - things that cannot be counted, space, ideas, anything that can't be quantified in units.

I have done less knitting this year.

Proviso: In spite of this rule, we always use less for people. It's rude to count people as items. Don't ask why. It's just one of those odd-ball English things.

There are less people knitting now.

Lie or Lay
This is the easiest one to figure out. Let me introduce you to the chicken rule.

A chicken lays an egg, and then lies on them.

Lay: to place or set an object on something. Many verbs take an -ed ending in the past tense. Lay is different. Both the present and the past tense are lay. There is no such word as 'layed'.

Lie: to recline.

Mrs. Spit has a wee lie down every Saturday at 2 o'clock.

Mrs. Spit lay her knitting down on the chair.

Your Homework
I have made 9 deliberate mistakes in the first paragraphs of this post. See if you can find them all.