Getting Grammar Right

Grammar Bowl

Susan Littlejohn and Jill Miller lead a round of grammar questions during a Kansas Professional Communicators seminar.

I’ve participated in two Grammar Bowls during affiliate meetings in the past few months. As someone who took advanced grammar in college (one sentence required four sheets of paper to successfully diagram it!), I thought I would be a great team member.

Turns out I forgot some basics, as did my peers. Whether we’d been in the communications profession for 30 years or fresh out of college, we all realized there is much to keep straight.

Kansas Professional Communicators is selling a little book called “Grammarisms,” which was written by Phyllis Spade and compiled by Shannon Littlejohn. It offers one tip for each week.

Here are three to share:

Prepositions: Prepositions tend to attach like leeches to words that should hold their own. Do we really need to find OUT the facts, firm UP and agreement, slow DOWN our speed, cross OVER the bridge? Does “This is what he brought over” really tell us more than “… what he brought”? And perhaps the most pervasive: “Where are you at?”

Which vs. That. Which is Which? “That” introduces a clause that is integral to the meaning of the sentence. “Which” clauses can be cast out without damaging the core meaning. Read the sentence with and without the clause. Essential? Use “that.” Not essential? Read “which” as “witch,” and set the entire clause apart with commas fore and aft (equivalent to shunning the witch!).

It’s flu season, do you feel badly? In a valiant effort to speak properly, we erroneously attach “ly” to a perfectly good adjective. Think it through: If we feely badly, our sense of feel is impaired. We’ve frostbitten our hands or callused our fingertips from keyboarding or reading Braille. We can hear badly (our auditory sense is poor) or see badly (poor eyesight) or read badly (deficient literacy) – but to express how we feel, it’s bad. Too bad. Next year, get a flu shot.

Would you share your favorite grammar tip?

6 thoughts on “Getting Grammar Right

  1. Marilyn Saltzman says:

    My pet peeve is “very unique.” Since unique means unparalleled or one and only, very should not modify it.

  2. One of my favorite grammar errors was the singluarity of some indefinite pronouns:

    Everyone should mine their own business.”..Should be “Everyone should mind his/her own business.” To avoid the whole thing use the word “people” or “all.” Then you can use the plural pronouns.

    Business English 12 at Liberty High was designed to prepare future administrative aassistants in the art of making their bosses look literate. 😉 It was a tough course.

  3. Louise Seals says:

    Pity the poor comma. A most versatile tool to speed understanding, it suffers terrible abuse. A comma indicates a pause, a very brief separation, and the sense of your sentence is the key, not any hard and fast rule. Don’t insert a comma unless you can say why the reader needs it.

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