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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My Driveway is Clean, but the Grammar is Not!

A fellow with a pressure washer did a great job cleaning my driveway this week. However, his flyer left a little to be desired as far as good grammar is concerned. He offered a Holiday Special this way:

All driveway's, sidewalk's, house's, anything - 50% off.

Whoops! I think I will take up a collection to post billboards that say: PLEASE, PEOPLE, YOU DO NOT NEED AN APOSTROPHE TO MAKE A WORD PLURAL. His special should have read this way:

All driveways, sidewalks, houses, anything - 50% off.

Underneath the photos of "before and after" steps, driveways, and decks, he put this sentence:

Hurry and schedule your appointment while offer last.

Whoops again! The word "offer" is SINGULAR, so the verb "last" should have an "s" on it. The sentence should read this way:

Hurry and schedule your appointment while this offer lasts.

What do you think? Should I ignore the goofs with the attitude--who cares? He's not an English major. Or, should I note the problems so that his business flyers give a better impression?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Letter to the Editor Judges Author of I Judge You....

Jim Daniel wrote a Letter to the Editor this morning calling out Sharon Eliza Nichols on a grammar point. Daniel criticized Nichols for saying in an interview, "I know I don't have 15,000 friends, so it's not just them who are buying it (her book)."
Oops, says Daniel. "She violated the rule that states the object of the verb 'to be' always takes the nominative case." She should have said, " it's not just they who are buying it."
Daniel is technically correct, BUT, as I have stated several times on this blog, a little leeway is allowed when a person is speaking casually and out loud. Most grammarians do not expect us to go through all the analysis every time we open our mouths. We use contractions, end some sentences with prepositions, and use WHO for WHOM out loud when we would be more careful and technically correct on paper.
Because Nichols was speaking out loud during an interview and making a casual rather than a formal statement, I don't have a problem with her choice of words.
I'd like to point out something else from Jim Daniel's pontifical letter to the editor. He suggested that Nichols "should have remembered the advice given us by Abraham Lincoln in his second inaugural address: 'but let us judge not, that we be not judged.'" I will take things a step further and judge Daniel who did not correctly attribute this advice. Although Lincoln used it in his second inaugural address, the advice actually comes from Jesus Christ who, in the King James translation of the Bible, is quoted in Matthew 7:1 as saying, "Judge not, that ye be not judged."
Do check out Nichols' Facebook page, which is generating a great dialogue about grammar glitches and pet grammar peeves.

Watch Your Word Choice

I hope all of my readers had a wonderful Christmas. I also hope you are looking forward to a good New Year.

Birmingham will elect a new mayor in a run-off election on January 19. The two candidates are very different--William Bell is a political veteran, and Patrick Cooper is an attorney with a background in the business sector.

In a recent interview article about the candidates' opinions on economic growth, the reporter made the following statement:

They agree on many economic development fundamentals, but they come at economic development from different approaches.

This is confusing wording, mainly because "come at" and "approach" mean the same thing. What the reporter wants to get across is that these two candidates approach the issue FROM DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS or maybe that they HAVE DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES. The sentence should read like something close to one of the following:

They agree on many economic development fundamentals, but they approach economic development from different directions.

They agree on many economic development fundamentals, but they have different perspectives on how to achieve economic development.

I hope you agree that either of these would be clearer.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sharon Eliza Nichols Judges You By Your Grammar!

Sharon Eliza Nichols is a law student at the University of Alabama. In 2007, she started a Facebook group called "I judge you when you use poor grammar." According to Wayne Grayson's article for The Tuscaloosa News, Nichols started the group out of boredom and figured a few friends might join in.

To her surprise, the idea has caught on and spread. More than 4,000 people have joined the Facebook site, and they have uploaded more than 10,000 examples of poor grammar--from business signs and T-shirts to hair gel labels. I'm impressed!

This year, Nichols took things a step further. She has published a book (see cover at left above) that includes the pictures her Facebook group has mailed to her. With her "short and snarky captions for each picture," the book has become a hit. The first printing of 15,000 copies has sold out, and St. Martin's is printing 7,500 more. For now, it can still be ordered at

When Grayson asked Nichols why she thinks the book has been successful, she told him she thinks "it goes back to just how important language is to life." That is so true, and so is the message that people DO judge you by your grammar. I have been "preaching" that message in my workshops on resume preparation at the Hoover library for two years. When I surveyed HR directors at major Birmingham companies, the #1 complaint they had about resumes was POOR GRAMMAR AND USAGE.

Grammar glitches are also welcomed at this blog, and I will be happy to pass them along to Nichols. Just today, I sent her a photo of the Wal-Mart pharmacy bag that says Colgate is recommended by "denists."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

"Magic & Tragic" Column Features Apostrophe Goof

The "Magic & Tragic" column in The Birmingham News this week got the ITS straight (without the apostrophe when possessive), but failed to use an apostrophe correctly in a different incidence of possession in the same sentence. Here is what I read:

UAB wants one of its former scientists research papers to be retracted because of concerns about fabricated findings.

Oops. Not only is it necessary to show that ITS means belonging to UAB, but it is also necessary to show that the research papers in question belong to a scientist. It DOES get complicated because you have a reference to "one" and then to a group of "scientists" and then to the "papers." The "to be" phrase also complicates the sentence.

My suggestion would be to untangle things before deciding how best to show that the papers belong to the one former scientist. I would rewrite the sentence this way:

UAB wants the research papers of one of its former scientists retracted because of concerns about fabricated findings.

Written this way, I conclude that the apostrophe is not needed, but the sentence is now grammatically correct, and we know that the writer is referring to ONE scientist and a GROUP of that person's papers. Did you get that?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

ITS and IT'S again! And millions of dollars!

I counted. It's been nineteen days since the last time I spotted a grammar glitch with ITS and IT's. Here is the one that greeted me in a full page ad for Thomasville furniture this morning:

In preparation for a new Thomasville in 2010, the factory has authorized the liquidation of inventories from it's stores and millions of dollars from the warehouse.

Whoops! This ad is not talking about "it + is" stores. It is talking about stores belonging to the factory (the factory and its stores...). NO APOSTROPHE IS NEEDED WITH THE POSSESSIVE PRONOUN.

There is another problem here, too. I would love to have my share of the "millions of dollars" they've been hiding in that warehouse. According to this sentence, they are liquidating inventories from their stores AND liquidating millions of dollars from the warehouse. Where do I get in line???

The sentence ought to read as follows:

In preparation for a new Thomasville in 2010, the factory has authorized the liquidation of inventories from its stores as well as millions of dollars worth of inventories from its warehouse.

Amazing how much difference a little wording change can make!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Pay Attention to Time Line When Choosing Verbs

I am currently reading a wonderful book called "the blue cotton gown" (NOTE: The title IS in all lower case letters!)by Patricia Harman. It is about her experiences as a midwife in Appalachia.

I love the book, but one sentence I came across last evening bothers me because it uses the past perfect tense (HAD as a helping verb) in a confusing way. Here is the sentence:

When I called R. G.'s office to inquire about what was going on, her receptionist had told me R. was in Europe.

If you think of verb tenses in terms of a time line, there would be a crossbar in the middle of that time line for RIGHT NOW. Every verb expresses action in relationship to RIGHT NOW. So, when the author says "When I called...." she is setting up an event that happened in the PAST. Logic tells us that what the receptionist TOLD her should be in the same time frame as CALLED. However, the author uses HAD TOLD, which is incorrect because HAD TOLD would be used for something that happened farther back in the past--before the telephone call. The sentence should read as follows:

When I called R. G.'s office to inquire about what was going on, her receptionist told me R. was in Europe.

Below are some examples of how to use the past perfect tense (HAD + the verb) to express the correct time relationship:

  • When I called to inquire about what was going on, the receptionist told me R. had been in Europe for the past three weeks.

  • Before I accepted the teaching position, I had been working as a gardener.

  • Although Peter now lived in Cleveland, he had grown up in Columbus.

If any of my regular readers would like a copy of my sample time line for choosing verbs correctly, please send along your e-mail address, and I will send a copy.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

RNS Denies Creating "That clause" Sentence Fragment

In my last post, I fussed about a sentence fragment and attributed the error to the Religion News Service in South Hamilton, Massachusetts. An e-mail I received points out that the sentence was grammatically correct as written for Religion News Service and posted on their website ( The culprit, apparently, was a copy editor at my local newspaper who did a poor job when editing the article for publication.

My e-mail correspondent pointed out that the original sentence was written correctly as follows:

That evangelicals, who compose a quarter of the American population, must refocus on shaping authentic disciples for Jesus Christ has always garnered wide support.

I am happy to set the record straight.