Thursday Thirteen

I’m writing this for today in place of yesterday’s missing Grammar Wednesday. I was very busy all day yesterday and didn’t get a chance to post. To my (two) loyal Grammar Wedensday readers, I’m sorry.

To make it up to you, I’m posting thirteen grammar mistakes it seems all TCC students make. I spent at least half an hour in each of my classes this week going over these perennial favorites:

1. “A LOT” is TWO words.

2. “Too,” “to” and “two” are three different words.

3. “Affect” is a verb. “Effect” is a noun.

4. It’s “could/would/should HAVE,” not “could/would/should OF.”

5. “Except” generally means to leave out; “accept” generally means to take in.

6. The first-person personal pronoun needs to be capitalized. It’s “I,” not “i.”

7. The period ALWAYS goes INSIDE the quotation marks.

8. “Then” denotes a quality of time or sequence; “than” signals a comparison.

9. “Didn’t,” “can’t,” “won’t,” and “shouldn’t” all need apostrophes.

10. “We’re,” “were,” “where,” and “wear” are all different words.

11. “Their” is a plural possessive pronoun. “There” is most often an adverb that is a marker of location. “They’re” is a contraction meaning “they are.”

12. “Who” is for people; “that” is for things.

13. Conjunctions are used to connect two or more words, phrases, or clauses; they are NOT to be used to begin sentences.



Filed under General Griping, Grammar

31 responses to “Thursday Thirteen

  1. wordlily

    I’m with you on these, but I’ve got one question and one comment. On No. 10, should one of the first two (identical) items have an apostrophe? Also, I would say that it’s perfectly OK to start a sentence with a conjunction now. I know this practice hasn’t always been accepted, but the rule has been changing for a long time.

  2. John

    I have to disagree about who/that. This is from the American Heritage Dictionary:
    “Some grammarians have argued that only who and not that should be used to introduce a restrictive relative clause that identifies a person. This restriction has no basis either in logic or in the usage of the best writers; it is entirely acceptable to write either the woman that wanted to talk to you or the woman who wanted to talk to you.”

  3. jamie

    I LOVE grammar Wednesday and look forward to it each week. Please keep it coming. (It’s probably wrong to have put LOVE in all capital letters, isn’t it?)

  4. You caught me, WordLily! I missed that (and I had to go back to edit this post a couple of times – I wrote it in the wee hours of the morning), and I must have just inserted the apostrophe in my mind. *I* knew what I meant – didn’t YOU?! Thanks for the heads-up: I’ve fixed my error.

    It IS becoming more acceptable to begin sentences with conjunctions, but I’m an old holdout. My (admittedly cynical) view is that it’s becoming more acceptable to start sentences with conjunctions because fewer and fewer people know how to use semicolons. My students know that if they’re handing something in to me for a grade, they DON’T start sentences with conjunctions. I’m the teacher, so I get to make that rule.

    John, the “who/that” fight has been going on for a long time and, in this, I am also an old holdout: “the woman that” just doesn’t sound right to me, so I teach my students to use “who.” I’m also old-fashioned about the subjunctive “were.”

    A girl’s gotta have SOME standards…

    Jamie, no; I use capitals to get my emphasis across ALL the time! : )

  5. John

    It’s not becoming more acceptable to start sentences with conjunctions – it’s always been acceptable. Why not just teach your students how to use semicolons?

    Just because you don’t like something is no reason to decide that it’s wrong, especially if it is part of standard English. 🙂

  6. John, I DO teach my students to use semicolons. Well, to be more precise, I TRY to teach them to use semicolons; whether or not they learn what I’m offering is a bit beyond my control. To address your point (and I’m not taking that point personally, I swear!), I’ve not decided that conjunctions at the beginnings of sentences are wrong (forever and ever, amen); I’ve just decided that I don’t like them there. In my classroom, I get to decide such things. It’s one of the few places in my life where I do exert a modicum of control.

    *I* was taught not to start sentences with conjunctions – or, more specifically, not to start sentences with coordinating conjunctions. Since this isn’t wrong, I teach my own students to do the same. Of course, sentences begin with conjunctions all the time, particularly in conversation. My contention, though, is that the structure doesn’t have much standing in formal writing.

    I got this from the site:

    Many have tried to get writers of English to stop using coordinating conjunctions (e.g., and, but, for, nor, or, so, yet) to start sentences. Generally, coordinating conjunctions are used to join words, phrases, and clauses that are balanced as logical equals and are used to coordinate two independent clauses. Because coordinating conjunctions are used to hold together elements within a sentence, some teachers have discouraged their students from starting sentences with coordinating conjunctions. However, their real mission is to help their students learn to avoid sentence fragments like, “And smart, too.” It is important to know that when you are writing in informal contexts and decide to start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction, you must be sure that what follows it is an independent clause, capable of standing alone as a sentence. In formal writing, it is best to avoid beginning any sentence with a conjunction.

    This came from English Grammar for Dummies:

    Beginning a sentence with a word that joins equals (particualry and and but) is increasingly popular. This practice is perfectly acceptable in conversational English and in informal writing (which is the sort you’re reading inthis book). In formal English, beginning a sentence with a conjunction may still be considered incorrect.

    By the way, John; do I know you?

  7. John

    Thanks for explaining. I didn’t mean to sound snarky; I just wanted to understand your reasoning.

  8. I didn’t get “snarky” from you – and the smiley face helped with that. I actually LIKE it when people challenge me; I DON’T know everything and having to explain what I’m thinking either serves to reinforce that thinking or to correct me when I’m wrong.

    You didn’t answer my last question, though; do we know each other? You aren’t MeadMaker’s brother-in-law, are you?

  9. John

    No, we don’t know each other.

  10. I have been told that #7 is different in British grammar. I don’t have any proof of that other than a hyper anal British boss who told me about it.

  11. There was a debate in my local broadsheet’s letters page a while back, in which someone made the claim that:
    It is ‘people who’, ‘animals which’ and ‘things that’. End of story.
    Oh, the hilarity. I’ll tell you, I’m an ‘old holdout’ when it comes to restrictive ‘which’. Cars which run on petrol… is rather bad for me. I know it’s accepted even by the prescriptivists these days, and that it’s been around in English for centuries at least, but my mental grammar just doesn’t allow it.

    Re: conjunctions. Tell them that if they’re writing formally, to read through, and if they find a sentence-initial ‘and’ to replace it with ‘moreover’ or ‘furthermore’. Similarly for ‘yet’ > ‘although’, ‘but’ > ‘however’, ‘so’ > ‘therefore’ or ‘consequently’. But obviously this wouldn’t work all the time.

  12. I love this post! EVERY one of these Thirteen annoy the heck out of me! And like you, I can try to teach my students grammar as well, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to actually apply that information in their writing….

    Unless of course “It’s for a grade.”

    Great post!

  13. Semicolons make me hot! 🙂

  14. Jane

    Re no. 7: it ought to include commas. And yes, the British do this differently. They only put periods and commas inside the quotation marks if they were part of the original quotation. But they also write “tyre,” “labour,” “judgement,” etc. Students (and teachers and bosses) still ought to know how to punctuate and spell according to the rules of the country they happen to be in.

    On the subject of formal vs. informal generally: maybe the problem is that more and more students don’t understand that there are two kinds of writing in the first place (?).

  15. bowyer

    I understand that #7 is a rule, but I do not agree with it. I feel our friends across the pond have it right in this instance.

    If the quotation is a complete sentence it makes sense that the period would be placed inside the quotation marks. The quotation marks are there to indicate that the entire sentence is being attributed to someone. A correct sentence ends with punctuation. If we can agree on both of these precepts then it stands to reason that the end of the sentence being quoted should end with a period.

    If the quoted sentence also happens to be the end of a larger sentence then a period would also need to follow the quotation mark to indicate the end of the whole statement.

  16. Love the list – can I print it out and give the list to my 9th graders?????

  17. You know why people write “should of,” don’t you? It’s because they say “should’ve.”

  18. Yeah, Bowyer, I can see where you’re going with this, but I really love the “the period always goes inside the quotation marks” rule. Absolutes are SO much easier for the kids to understand; they go insane when I try to explain that the question mark or exclamation point may go inside, but then again, it may go outside the quotation marks. They seem to prefer “always” grammar rules to “sometimes” ones.

    Yes, M-Dawg; feel free to copy the list. I’m going to turn it into a handout for my 13th graders…

    California Teacher Guy, YES! We talked about this in class last week: we DO say “should’ve” and that IS why they feel compelled to write “of” instead of “have.” When I wrote “should’ve” out on the board, though, and asked them what letters the apostrophe is standing in for, they all went “OH!!! RIGHT!!” I could see the proverbial light dawning. Anyway, this isn’t one of the really BIG boo-boos my students make, but enough of them do it that it deserved mentioning. Besides, I had to come up with thirteen things…..

  19. And you did an admirable job of coming up with 13!

  20. Brilliant list! Most of these annoy the crap out of me as well, especially the to/too/two and there/they’re/their idiocy.

    As an Anglophile, I don’t follow #7. I put commas and full stops after the close quote unless it is part of the original quote. Of course, I also write ‘tyre’, ‘tonne’, and ‘endevour’. 😉

    #13 is my bane. When I blog, I am rotten about beginning sentences with conjunctions. I never do it anywhere else.

    I adore Grammar Wednesday even if it’s on Thursday!

    (Mrs C … I did some grammar shirts in honour of you, as well; did I tell you?)


  21. No, Blue – you DIDN’T tell me! Where do I find them? I’m off on the hunt!

  22. One of my favorite gripes: seeing phrases like “several months rent” or “a weeks lodging” in print.

    No, no, no!

    It’s “several months’ rent” [notice that apostrophe?] and “a week’s lodging” [there’s that apostrophe again].

    Why the apostrophe?

    The AP Stylebook calls this usage the “false possessive.” It’s as though the rent belonged to the months or the lodging belonged to the week. Use the apostrophe!

    End of rant.

  23. Teacher Guy – RANT AWAY! You can suggest a couple of Grammar Wednesday topics, too, if you want; I’m always looking for material.

    I’m off to see if I can make a Google password so I can comment on YOUR blog; I hate being left out…

  24. John

    From the Chicago Manual of Style:

    “There is a widespread belief – one with no historical or grammatical foundation – that it is an error to begin a sentence with a conjunction such as and, but, or so. In fact, a substantial percentage (often as many as 10 percent) of the sentences in first-rate writing begin with conjunctions. It has been so for centuries, and even the most conservative grammarians have followed this practice. Charles Allen Lloyd’s 1938 words fairly sum up the situation as it stands even today: ‘Next to the groundless notion that it is incorrect to end an English sentence with a preposition, perhaps the most wide-spread of the many false beliefs about the use of our language is the equally groundless notion that it is incorrect to begin one with ‘but’ or ‘and.’ As in the case of the superstition about the prepositional ending, no textbook supports it, but apparently about half of our teachers of English go out of their way to handicap their pupils by inculcating it. One cannot help wondering whether those who teach such a monstrous doctine ever read any English themselves”

  25. “One cannot help wondering whether those who teach such a monstrous doctine ever read any English themselves.”

    WOW! Tell us how you REALLY feel, there, Chuck!

    We have to recognize that languages are growing, changing entities with lives of their own. Very little about ANY lanugage – at least, any that’s still alive, that is – can be summed up in a series of rules. We all know that in English (and, I suspect, in every other language) there are far more exceptions than there are rules, and that’s part of what makes the study of languages so interesting and challenging.

    Having said that, I’ve got to stick to my guns on this, whether it’s put down as doctrine or (as has been eloquently argued) not. I find that sentences that begin in coordinating conjunctions in formal writing are distracting. By formal writing, I mean something turned in for a grade; I’m not talking about letters or notes here. I have even caught myself starting sentences with coordinating conjunctions on my blogs. I’m not saying it should never happen, or that it’s a felony English offense; I’m saying that I don’t like it, so I don’t promote it in my classroom.

    I’m in the midst of Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier, and there are several grammatical structures that he uses that are problematic for me (his refusal to use quotation marks and his penchant for starting sentences with “but” and “and” chief among them). I’m making it through the story, but I’m finding that the delivery system – the writing – is taking up more of my attention than the plot. That, in my mind, is the mark of a poor writer. I don’t want to necessarily be aware of the structure that holds the story up: I don’t want to see the strings in the puppet show. Really great writers are those whose language and style feel natural and unobtrusive in the readers’ own minds. Since I find conjunction-started sentences to be jarring and distracting, I teach my students to avoid them.

  26. As long as your students know that you’re teaching your preferences, and not standard English, I guess it’s ok.

    “Very little about ANY lanugage – at least, any that’s still alive, that is – can be summed up in a series of rules.”

    I’m not sure… all language is rule-based. It is possible to discover what the rules are. David Crystal says that when he was asked to give an answer, he said there were are 3500 rules in English – although he notes that it all depends on your analysis, and that the question is probably pointless:

  27. I make a POINT of telling my students that I’m teaching them my preference, because the topic usually comes up after I’ve given them an exceedingly well-written and intelligent hand-out that has a few conjunction-started sentences. I’ve also come up against a few students who insist on being shown some sort of PROOF that such-and-so is an actual rule in English before they’ll buy a thing I’m saying (as if there’s some sort of bible or consitution or something. Imagine!) Since I can’t point to a scroll or tablet handed down to us by a benevolent Grammar God/dess, I have to explain to them that the things I teach them, while not etched in stone, do have some standing in grammatical tradition and useage.

    While I agree that all languages are rule-based (how could they not be?), I think we can also agree that it’s nearly impossible to get a handle on any language solely through its rules. Languages get spoken, and they flow and change in the speaking of them. I tend to think of (most) grammar rules – in English, which is the only language to which I claim any sort of mastry – to be guidelines rather than cast-in-stone-forever-and-ever-amen edicts. Now, having said that, I also have to say that there are certain guidelines that I like my students to try to follow as closely and as often as possible. I’m also mindful of choosing my battles well and wisely, and I really do think that my students’ writing benefits from the rules I ask them to obey.

  28. I’d say that most rules of grammar not guidelines… they’re rules that we very seldom break.
    For instance, we don’t put adverbs between the verb and the object:
    I hit the ball hard
    *I hit hard the ball

    We put adjectives in a certain order:
    the old stone wall
    *the stone old wall

    English grammar consists of rules of this sort. The things that we have any control over, like “it’s I/it’s me,” “who/that,” etc. are only a very small subset.

  29. This reminds me of my favorite grammer song:

    “Oh, if you want it to be possesive
    It’s just I-T-S
    But if you want it to be a contraction
    Then it’s I-T-apostrophe-S… Scalawag”

    [sigh] I love that song.

  30. JR

    I realize I’m about one year late weighing in, but maybe you still get alerted to late comments when they’re posted.
    I recently had my “wrist slapped” by a proofreader, for starting a sentence with the word “and.” I fixed it in my next version — however, I still very much preferred the original, so I did some research. After Googling terms such as “grammar rules” and “beginning a sentence with a conjunction,” I found several grammarians who insisted that there is nothing wrong with the practice; you were the only one insisting it is improper.
    I don’t understand this. Conjunctions are merely words that join; who made the rule that the joined thoughts must be in the same sentence? Sure, words such as “furthermore” and “also” can work, but sometimes simpler words such as “and” or “but” are the most straightforward way to get the point across.
    You mention that you were reading a book by an author who violated these rules: “there are several grammatical structures that he uses that are problematic for me (his refusal to use quotation marks and his penchant for starting sentences with ‘but’ and ‘and’ chief among them). I’m making it through the story, but I’m finding that the delivery system – the writing – is taking up more of my attention than the plot. That, in my mind, is the mark of a poor writer.”
    I’ve never read that author, but I did wonder, is he really a bad writer? Or do you simply perceive him to be one, because he breaks your “rules?”
    I’ve read several well-written essays and news articles that use “and” or “but” to join thoughts together, either as two adjoining sentences, or even (*gasp!*) as the first word of a paragraph, to tie it to the previous one. Examples abound, not in crappy local journalism, but in places such as The Smithsonian, The Wall Street Journal, and National Geographic. Shakespeare, too.
    Read on:
    H.W. Fowler called this rule an “ungrammatical piece of nonsense.” There is nothing wrong with starting a sentence with a conjunction as long as the sentence is a complete thought. The rule against starting a sentence with a conjunction is old and pervasive; it is primarily intended to prevent children from writing fragments. You would not want to write: “I have a cat. And a dog.” Basically, it comes down to a stylistic choice. A sentence that begins with a conjunction will draw attention to itself. Unfortunately, most teachers will enforce the rule, so if you are a student, it is probably best not to start sentences with conjunctions. (
    There is no historical or grammatical foundation that you should not begin a sentence with a coordinating conjunction. I could find no substantiated evidence that beginning a sentence with a conjunction is an error and is mainly taught to avoid writing fragmented sentences.
    If you decide to begin a sentence with a coordinating conjunction, keep these points in mind:

    – Be sure that a main clause follows the coordinating conjunction.
    – Use a coordinating conjunction only when it makes the flow of your ideas more effective.
    – Do not use a comma after the coordinating conjunction. Coordinating conjunctions are not considered transitional expressions like “in addition” or “for instance.”
    As a parent, this is frustrating. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to help with my child’s schoolwork, only to be admonished that my edits would be breaking her teacher’s rules. (The worst example is when ALL paragraphs of an essay must be at least X sentences long. Examples such as these are what prompted that one writer to wonder “whether those who teach such a monstrous doctine ever read any English themselves!”)
    For another great discussion about this topic, see:
    I wish that more teachers would be less dogmatic, and instead taught young minds how to think! Let them know the difference between a hard and fast rule, and rules that may be broken with care.

  31. Pingback: Blast From the Past « A Teacher’s Education

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s