National Grammar Day: to infinitives and beyond

grammarToday is National Grammar Day. Missouri S&T’s public relations manager, @mhstoltz, informed me of this yesterday.

Today is the day to celebrate grammar. Get out your Strunk and White, undangle those participles, rejoin those infinitives and get your good grammar groove on. (Or should that be “get on your good grammar groove,” so as to not end the sentence with a preposition?)

(And yes, I’m sure true grammar lovers are shocked — shocked! — that there is no serial comma in the second sentence in the above paragraph. Sometimes more modern writing conventions, or the Associated Press Stylebook’s punctuation edicts, trump those old-school grammar rules.)

In honor of this day, maybe we should talk about the subject of grammar. In this day of text msgs, telegraphic tweets and the death of the serial comma, what constitutes good grammar?

Or maybe we should air our pet grammar peeves? Here’s one of mine:

10itemsorlessConfusing less and fewer. Grocery stores do this all the time with their “10 items or less” signs. Here’s an easy way to remember which is which:

If it’s stuff you can count, use fewer. As in: “I have fewer than 10 items in my shopping cart — that is, if my six-pack of light beer, which contains fewer calories per serving than regular beer, counts as a single item — therefore, I shall check out via the ’10 items or less’ lane.”

If it’s stuff you can’t count or quantify, then use less. As in: “I am less drunk than Bob, even though he drank fewer beers than I.”

If that isn’t clear enough, consult Grammar Girl’s tip on the fewer/less conundrum.

And tell me:

  1. How do you plan to celebrate National Grammar Day?
  2. What is your pet grammar peeve? (Limit two or less fewer per commenter, please.)

* * *

* Top image from Behind the Grammar. Bottom image from a Yahoo movie page.

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Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

14 thoughts on “National Grammar Day: to infinitives and beyond”

  1. The confusion between your and you’re. They are clearly two DIFFERENT words! Also, our and are. I can’t tell you how many college essays I read that confuse words and simply rely upon spell check to do the work for them. End of rant.

  2. My biggest frustration is with a punctuation issue, rather than grammar proper.

    I fail to see how not using the serial comma (like in AP style) is still an OK thing to do. We don’t have the same space limitations or ink conservation needs that we once did. Leaving out the final comma in a list only serves to add confusion to a sentence.

    Now that I think of it, I just wish AP style would disappear. I’m well versed in both Chicago and AP, having worked in academia and PR/journalism, and I would take Chicago over AP every time.

  3. Hey Andrew – I’m not a total grammar snob, but a few things do get under my skin. Here are a couple…

    1. The constant misuse of they’re, their and there. They’re just not using their words correctly over there. :)

    2. I see this a LOT more than you would think: The need many people have to put an apostrophe in front of any “s” at the end of a noun. As in, “we Pastor’s like to eat our doughnuts.” It just amazes me.

    OK, there are my two contributions. (See, I used “there” properly!) ha!

  4. I’m not sure there is enough time in the day for me to list all of my grammar pet peeves. I have to agree with Ellen — “irregardless” drives me crazy.

    I think topping my list, though, is the confusion between “they’re,” “there” and “their.” It shouldn’t be that difficult. Tied with that is the “its” versus “it’s” problem.

    Misuse of the term “entitled” in reference to the title of a composition also bugs me. “Entitled” means a right to do or have something, but, what? It sounds fancier than “titled”? Every morning I listen to Garrison Keillor on my local public radio station reading a poem “entitled…” Grr.

  5. Confusing “affect” with “effect,” putting “the” in front of a formal name or title, “that” and long words like “problematic” as in the affect of the National Grammar Day is problematic for me. Ok, so I used to be an editor…

  6. 1. Business speak, especially the abuse of the gerund. Every time I attend a meeting at which I hear a discussion about provisioning a project, I go little madder. Provide is the verb. Provision is the noun. Unless one is an Army Supply Corps officer, one shouldn’t talk about provisioning anything.

    2. The use of the word ‘impact’ should be reserved for meteors and wisdom teeth. In almost all other cases ‘affect’ or ‘effect’ is the better choice.

    3. (Sorry, can’t stop at 2) Data is plural. ‘The data suggests’ is incorrect. ‘The data suggest’ is correct.

  7. I dislike the over use of commas. Some, will write one sentence, with, a, comma, after, each, word, grrrrr.

    I also dislike the overuse of “that.” It is like saying “uh” during public speaking. It shows up unneeded in many sentences.

  8. Daring move to invite editors to share their pet peeves. We can get quite passionate about work. Not punctuation-related, but here are two things that drive me crazy:

    1) There’s no such thing as a “first annual” event. Inaugural, yes. Second annual, yes. First annual, never.

    2) Alumni/alumnae. If there is at least one man in a group of graduates, it’s alumni. If there are no men, or an all-female group of graduates, it’s alumnae. I’ve seen individuals with the title, “director of alumni/alumnae relations,” and it’s just wrong.

  9. A couple things, in addition to what everyone else mentioned:
    -the use of “that” for a person, as in, “He’s the guy that won the race.”
    -newscasters’ use of “this” when signing off, as in “This is John Smith, xxx news.”

  10. Oh yes, and the misuse of “over.” Most writers will say “We have over 4,000 alumni” when it should be “We have more than. . . .” Over means above. This is another one we’ll never win but one at which I keep poking my lance.

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