January 7:  Grammar No-No Day

On this day in 1948 the movie The Treasure of the Sierra Madre was released. Directed by John Huston and starring Humphrey Bogart, the film is the story of four American men and their desperate quest for gold in 1920s Mexico.

Treasuremadre.jpgOne particular scene in the film features some famous dialogue between one of the Americans, Dobbs, and bandits posing as a police officers:

Bandit: “We are Federales… you know, the mounted police.”

Dobbs: “If you’re the police, where are your badges?”

Bandit: “Badges? We ain’t got no badges. We don’t need no badges! I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ badges!”

The last line of dialogue concerning “Badges?” was chosen as number 36 on the American Film Institute’s list of most memorable movie lines  In addition to being a famous movie quote, the line “We don’t need no badges!” is an example of one of the most infamous of grammar no nos: the double negative.  Using two forms of negation in the same sentence is considered non-standard English, primarily because it confuses the reader, as in the following examples(1):

Double Negative                     Correct Version

I don’t have no time to eat.      I don’t have any time to eat.

I can’t find my keys nowhere.  I can’t find my keys anywhere.

I can’t get no satisfaction.        I can’t get any satisfaction.

We don’t need no education.   We don’t need any education.

Since keeping sentences lucid and clear for the reader is a priority of every writer, double negatives should be avoided.

Today’s Challenge:  Turning Wrongs Into Rights
If you were to teach a lesson in English grammar, what common grammar mistakes would you consider explaining?  Select one specific grammar faux pas to address.  Then research and write the text of your lesson, including examples of the error and corrections.  The following are examples of some classic no nos.

Dangling participles

Misplaced modifiers

Run-on sentences

Sentence fragments

Comma splices

Passive voice

Lack of parallelism

Lack of subject verb agreement

Apostrophe errors

Incorrect word choice

Vague pronoun reference

Capitalization error

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day: The greater part of the world’s troubles are due to questions of grammar.  –Michel de Montaigne

1-http://www.afi.com/100Years/quotes.aspx

 

 

August 17:  Subjunctive Mood Day

On this date in 1929, James Thurber (1894-1961), the celebrated American cartoonist and short story writer, published an essay entitled “The Subjunctive Mood” in The New Yorker. In the essay Thurber used the context of a marital disagreement to explore the importance of maintaining the proper mood — the proper grammatical mood that is.  The essay begins as follows:

The importance of correct grammar in the home can not be over-estimated. Two young people should make sure that each is rhetorically sound before they get married, because grammatical precision, particularly in mood, is just as important as anything else. (1)

James Thurber NYWTS.jpgAn understanding of mood in English grammar means understanding the different ways we use verbs.  Most of the time we make statements; this is the indicative mood:  “The student arrived on time to first period.”  Sometimes we ask questions; this is the interrogative mood:  “Is there any homework tonight?”  Other times we are a bit more stern or imperious; this is the imperative mood:  “Take your seats so we can begin class.”  And finally, we sometimes use our imaginations to talk about things that are contrary to fact, such as dreams or fantasies; this is the subjunctive mood: “If I were to take that class, I’d make sure to schedule it after lunch.”

What makes the subjunctive mood tricky, however, is its strange conjugation. When using the verb to be in the subjunctive mood, the verb used is were, even when the subject is first person singular, as in the previous example:

If I were to take that class, I’d make sure to schedule it after lunch.

or the song from Fiddler on the Roof: “If I Were a Rich Man”:

If I were a rich man,

Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum.

All day long I’d biddy biddy bum.

If I were a wealthy man.

Today’s Challenge:  Assume the Position
What are some examples of positions of power or authority you might aspire to, and imagining that you did assume one of those positions, what would you do once you attained it?  Write at least 100 words in the subjunctive mood about what you would do if you were in a specific position or occupation, such as “If I were the king of the world I would . . . ” or “If I were the CEO of Microsoft, I would . . ..” (Common Core Writing 2)

Quotation of the Day:  The thing is, proper use of the subjunctive—once you learn it and get over that difficult-sounding word, subjunctive, which has absolutely nothing to do with pinkeye—is one of the most easily deployed copy editing techniques that will put you in good stead with word nerds. Essentially, you’re altering a verb to reflect what is or is not fact.Jen Doll

 

1-http://grammar.about.com/od/readingsonlanguage/a/The-Subjunctive-Mood-By-James-Thurber.htm

2-http://www.thewire.com/entertainment/2012/09/if-one-were-use-subjunctive-mood-properly/56739/

 

August 27: Superlative Day

On this date in 1955, the first edition of the the Guinness Book of World Records was published in the United Kingdom.

The idea for the book began on November 10, 1951 when Sir Hugh Beaver, Chairman of the Guinness Brewery, was hunting in Ireland.  After missing a shot at a golden plover, Beaver wondered if the plover was the fastest game bird in Europe. Sir Hugh was unable to get his answer, however, because he could not find a reference book that answered his question.

In 1954 Sir Hugh commissioned twin brothers Norris and Ross McWhirter to make his idea a reality. Today the Guinness World Records reference book is published annually in 20 different languages in over 100 countries.  In fact, the book holds a world record of its own, being the best-selling copyrighted book of all time (1).

When using adjectives to make comparisons, think of three forms:  positive adjectives, comparative adjectives, and superlative adjectives.

Positive:  I am tall.

Comparative:  Sam is taller than I am.

Superlative:  Bill is the tallest one in the class.

As you can see by the examples above, the superlative form is the highest degree of comparison, as in tallest, greatest, fastest, richest, or highest.

When an adjective is three syllables or more, add the word more to the comparative form and the word most to the superlative form.

Examples:

Comparative:  more beautiful or more memorable

Superlative:  most beautiful or most memorable

Today’s Challenge:  Speaking in Superlatives
Write a review of something, some place, or someone you consider to be the worthy of superlatives.  Explain what makes your topic the greatest.

Quotation of the Day:  It’s very important that people know that I really enjoy everything that has happened to me. And I tell my kids… you’re not going to be the tallest, fastest, prettiest, the best track runner, but you can be the nicest human being that someone has ever met in their life. And I just want to leave that legacy that being nice is a true treasure. —George Foreman

 

 

August 19: Royal “We” Day

On this day in 1588, Elizabeth I addressed her land forces at Tilbury, England.  Knowing that the Spanish Armada was poised to attack, Elizabeth’s purpose was to inspire her troops to protect their homeland from imminent attack.

Elizabeth’s speech is a masterful example effective rhetoric, and one specific aspect — her use of pronouns — is especially worth noting.  She opens her speech using the royal “we,” also known as the majestic plural.  This is the use of a plural pronouns by a single person, usually a person of high rank, such as a monarch or pope.

Constance Hale, author of Sin and Syntax, explains the background of the royal “we”:

The origin of this pronoun has been traced variously to 1169, when the English king Henry II used it to mean “God and I,” and to King Richard I, whose use of the pronoun bolstered his claim to be acting in concert with the deity and to be the ruler by divine right. A more recent example of the royal we would be Queen Victoria’s oft- quoted “We are not amused.”

The genius of Elizabeth is her shift from the royal “we” to the singular pronoun I.  In doing this she speaks both as the Queen of England and as a woman willing to stand among the people and join them by taking arms against a common foe.

My loving people

We have been persuaded by some that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit our selves to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery; but I assure you I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear. I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good-will of my subjects; and therefore I am come amongst you, as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live and die amongst you all; to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and my people, my honour and my blood, even in the dust.

I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain,or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field.

I know already, for your forwardness you have deserved rewards and crowns; and We do assure you on a word of a prince, they shall be duly paid. In the mean time, my lieutenant general shall be in my stead, than whom never prince commanded a more noble or worthy subject; not doubting but by your obedience to my general, by your concord in the camp, and your valour in the field, we shall shortly have a famous victory over these enemies of my God, of my kingdom, and of my people.

Today’s Challenge:  Read and watch Elizabeth’s speech and evaluate its rhetorical effectiveness.  Besides its use of pronouns, what makes her speech effective?

Quotation of the Day:  Over time, the “royal we” has made its way from the mouths of Queen Victoria and Margaret Thatcher into our writing. At best, it seems a crutch, while at worst it’s an assumed arrogance. —Jeremy Gordon

August 17: Subjunctive Mood Day

On this date in 1929, James Thurber (1894-1961), the celebrated American cartoonist and short story writer, published an essay entitled “The Subjunctive Mood” in The New Yorker. In the essay Thurber used the context of a marital disagreement to explore the importance of maintaining the proper mood — the proper grammatical mood that is.  The essay begins as follows:

The importance of correct grammar in the home can not be over-estimated. Two young people should make sure that each is rhetorically sound before they get married, because grammatical precision, particularly in mood, is just as important as anything else.

An understanding of mood in English grammar means understanding the different ways we use verbs.  Most of the time we make statements or ask questions; this is the indicative mood:  “The student arrived on time to first period.”  Other times we are a bit more stern or imperious; this is the imperative mood:  “Take your seats so we can begin class.”  And finally, we sometimes we use our imaginations to talk about things that are contrary to fact, such as dreams or fantasies; this is the subjunctive mood: “If I were to take a class, I’d make sure to schedule it after lunch.”

What makes the subjunctive mood tricky, however, is its strange conjugation. When using the verb to be in the subjunctive mood, the verb used is were, even in the first person.  As in the previous example:  If I were to take a class, I’d make sure to schedule it after lunch, or the song from Fiddler on the Roof: If I were a rich man.

Today’s Challenge:  Assume the Position

Write at least 100 words in the subjunctive mood about what you would do if you were in a specific position or occupation, such as “If I were the king of the world I would . . . ” or “If I were the CEO of Microsoft, I would . . ..”

Quotation of the Day:  The thing is, proper use of the subjunctive—once you learn it and get over that difficult-sounding word, subjunctive, which has absolutely nothing to do with pinkeye—is one of the most easily deployed copy editing techniques that will put you in good stead with word nerds. Essentially, you’re altering a verb to reflect what is or is not fact.Jen Doll