Grammar Rant

A retired English teacher bemoans the state of the language today among the masses.

"We seen that deer run through the yard."

"Me and my brother will help you with that."

"If my husband had went to Home Depot instead..." (spoken by an English teacher!)

"Where you at?"  (not even "Where're you at?")

"We was workin' on it all day."

"People are like dead, and it was like scary, and I'm like no way..." ( interview)

Answering the phone: "Yeah, this is him. 'Sup?"

These are all real.  These are all horrible.  These are just a few really horrible English grammar or usage errors that have attacked my linguistic sensibilities recently, and I have had it!  This isn't the way English was used when I was growing up, and it certainly wasn't permitted when I spent 30+ years teaching English or Language Arts.

No, I didn't have one of those foreign-born, we-must-learn-to-speak-good-English-to-succeed-in-this-country childhoods.  It was a very normal, we-speak-correctly-in-this-family, plain old family that had been here for many generations. Dad, mother, sister, brother -- all good in English.  In all humility, though, I think I was the best in the family.

It was the nuns.  Now you may have all your cry-baby, the-nuns-were-so-mean repressed memories, but the nuns -- specifically the Humility of Mary (Blue Nuns) Sisters of Villa Maria, PA -- were the best teachers I could have had in grades 1-8, especially in English.  From first grade on, we had massive English lessons every day and English homework almost every night.  I learned -- I really had no choice.  But I learned proper English, correct usage, good syntax.  By the time I was in eighth grade, I was pretty sure that I knew more - tons more! - about the English language and its correct usage than my public school contemporaries.

I switched to public school for high school, and I was lucky enough - due to my English skills - to be placed in an "Honors/Advanced Placement" pilot program in English that had come to that school.  I liked it and did well.  I had several male English teachers along the way, and I decided that I would follow the same path they had pursued.

Once I became an English teacher I discovered that not all of my students spoke or wrote as well as I thought they would/should.  I became the English monster, the grammar nazi, and -- so-named by my high school students -- the grammar god.  You can bet, though, that my students would never have written or said any of the examples at the beginning of this piece.  They would have paid a horrible price if they had.  So why am I hearing and seeing it now?

I truly believe the problem began when many school systems stopped the teaching of grammar and usage in the upper grades as a discrete (don't even question my spelling there) subject.  No one conjugated verbs any more, so "we was" popped up.  No one learned the principal parts of verbs (necessary for learning conjugation!), so "we seen" and "he had went" became acceptable.  No one learned the difference between nominative and objective case pronouns, so "me and my brother" popped up. (Not to mention the politeness of never mentioning yourself first.)  No one learned about what follows a linking verb, so "this is him" popped up.  No one learned the difference between like and as, because none of this was being taught. The "theory" was that the students would learn all these things through writing, but I could never understand how they would know what I was marking on their writing (agr., pron/antecedent agr., tense, awk., shift, case, etc. etc. etc.) if they had never learned the basics to begin with.  I could go on and on.

I still do my share of editing, correcting and judging.  I am often bewildered by what I read or hear from seemingly intelligent people.  All those example at the beginning are from people I know, sometimes socialize with, and younger than I. (One is from the child of a friend and one was taken from the news.)  What do I do? Cringe and bite my tongue, I guess.  I can't correct them -- that would be rude.

By the way:  I once complimented Giant Eagle for its grammatically perfect Express Lane sign:  "12 Items or Fewer."  The folks there thought I was putting them on and that the sign should read "12 Items or Less." 


And don't even get me started about e-mail and texting, the "rules-free lower case flow that is little more than [poor] conversation."

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Dave Nadzam July 27, 2012 at 01:18 PM
I'm no grammarian but I enjoy these discussions because it makes me think and wonder... Texting shorthand (2 for to, r for are, LOL, etc.) came about because cellphones originally did not have full keyboards and typing complete words became a chore. I think it also came about to speed up "instant messaging." I haven't a problem with it as long as the shorthand does not cross over to formal written communication. It's like another language and the two need to be kept separated. "The Smith's" as in a sign planted in front of a house. Without the Smiths standing behind the sign, it is the Smith's house or residence. I don't know when it may have happened but could the sign be shorthand for the Smith's house? What if there is only one Smith living there; would the sign read "The Smith?" Likewise, someone says, "I'm going to the Smith's" or I am going to be at the Smith's." Without the word "house" (as in "I am going to the Smih's house") is it incorrect to use the apostrophe? If using first names, would one say, "I am going to Bills" or "I am going to Bill's?". In English, it is a tangled web we weave!
Dave Nadzam July 27, 2012 at 02:15 PM
When people use "see" in this manner, it means "understand" and it's use is correct. In this use it means discern or deduce mentally after reflection or from information. Examples: 1. I can't see any other way to treat it 2. I saw that perhaps he was right 3. she could see what Rhoda meant
CFCSParent July 27, 2012 at 03:11 PM
This blog has really touched a nerve with a lot of people, me included. I agree with many of the respondents, the way the English language is used will continue to get worse as technology increases. People are lazy and rely on their computers to auto-correct grammatical and spelling errors. While typing this comment, the red squiggly line has appeared a few times for various spelling errors. I have paid attention and corrected my mistakes but there are many people that don't. They ignore them and hit send or save before re-reading the content. I don't know how many emails I have received from people with spelling, capitalization, grammatical and sentence structure errors. I just shake my head in disbelief. These people are supposed to be business professionals! As an example, when you type "form" instead of "from", the computer says "form" is a real word and does not recognize it as an error. Doesn't matter if it makes sense in the sentence, it's a real word so it is left alone. This is one of my biggest pet peeves. Please, please, please proofread everything before you click the 'send' button. (stepping off soap box now) My grandmother was an English teacher and everything I learned from her, as well as my English teachers in high school, plays a big part in my everyday life. Proofreading is part of my job and if I didn't know the little bit that I know, it would be very difficult to do what I do ;-)
James Thomas July 27, 2012 at 06:24 PM
Got Me.
Susan Kaminski July 27, 2012 at 06:49 PM
In addition to not knowing the difference between its and it's, my pet peeve is people using "should of, would of, could of". Obviously not realizing it's "should've, etc.".


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »