Defending Ignorance

The news is awash with examples of reporters trying to undertake school tests intended for 10/11 year olds, and Caroline Lucas hit David Cameron with some grammar questions during PMQs today.

Comparing the grammar skills of generations who were not taught English grammar with those of youngsters who have been taught grammar rules tells us what exactly?

I’m not commenting on the matter of testing of young kids, to which I’m generally opposed, nor whether the methods by which children are taught grammar are good or bad, but based on the generally poor standards of written English widely on display by people who were schooled from the 1960s onwards, often put to shame by people who learn English as a foreign language, and widely complained about by higher education establishments and employers, something has had to be done.

As much as it may seem important that little Beyoncé can write creatively and rap about her interests, out in the real world it will be more important and will do her far more favours if she knows the difference between there, they’re, and their; two, to, and too; and that she never follows a modal verb with ‘of’, because she thinks that would’ve, could’ve, and should’ve are actually would of, could of, and should of when she writes in a professional capacity.

People judge a person with poor spelling and grammar, whether we like it or not. So, by all means dismiss the small matter of learning your own language properly for yourself, but can we please stop the knee-jerk anti-grammar crap, for the sake of our kids? Just because we don’t understand, because we weren’t taught it, doesn’t mean that they don’t.

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Grammar, We Love You

Right. Let’s get this sorted once and for all. I’ve bitten my tongue for the last time while reading yet another howler of a crime against my mother tongue, and so…

To whom it may concern… Please read and inwardly digest, print out (as a crib sheet), and feel free to refer on to all the native English speakers you know…

Your/You’re

your = belonging to you
you’re = a contraction of ‘you are’

There/They’re/Their

there = shows location.
they’re = a contraction of ‘they are’
their = belonging to them

Its/It’s

An understandable confusion, due to the common use of the apostrophe to show possession, but…
its = belonging to it (yes, there’s no apostrophe, even though it shows possession)
it’s = contraction of ‘it is’ or ‘it has’

Watch this one. With autocorrect on, the iPhone at least insists on inserting the apostrophe when you don’t want it. It’s caught me out a few times.

‘ve, not of

Would’ve, could’ve, should’ve, might’ve, and must’ve are contractions of would have, could have, should have, might have, must have.

Rule of thumb – never follow the words would, could, should, might, and must with the word of, unless you are also in the habit of saying ‘I of a car’, ‘I of been to Spain’, and ‘I of had it up to here with all this poor English!’

You and I and you and me

Feel free to use me rather than I when appropriate.

You and me went to the shop. – Wrong
You and I went to the shop. – Correct

She saw you and I at the shop. – Wrong (despite what you may have been told)
She saw you and me at the shop. – Correct

This is easier to remember than you think. Simply remove the other person(s) (or more precisely the grammatic ‘objects’ – those on which the action is taken) involved from the sentence and think what you would say.

You wouldn’t say ‘She saw I at the shop’: you would say ‘She saw me at the shop’.

Just because you add another person to the list of people she saw, doesn’t change anything else in the sentence.

So…

“She saw me at the shop.”
“But I was there too!”
“Ah, yes! She saw you and me at the shop.”

Finally, it’s polite convention to list others before yourself in such sentences, so you always put the I or me at the end of a list of people.

What’s Your Problem?

Every time these are used incorrectly, which, based on what I read online, is pretty much nine times out of ten, people judge the offender, even if they’re polite enough not to say so (because nowadays we’re conditioned not to correct people). As an aside, can someone tell me when it became politically incorrect to correct peoples’ mistakes?

Learning the above commonly-used elements of our language correctly is not difficult, and if your English teacher had done his/her job correctly (one of mine did), and you’d paid attention (I might’ve done), you would’ve and should’ve grasped these basic elements of English before you left school.

If you’re affected/afflicted by any of the above tendencies, you can take this rant in the spirit it’s intended – to prevent people from looking stupid in the eyes of others, or you can in turn get on your high-horse and do the predictable ‘who do you think you are’ speech back at me. Bad English is bad English, and no amount of PC bullshit about hurting feelings will stop people who use bad English from being judged and potentially missing out in life, including by making such howlers in the cover letter for that all-important job they’re after.

But don’t take my word for it…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kge9ZzjsfW8

If my generation and the following generations have grown up in an environment where it’s rude to correct people, or correct English is considered unimportant, perhaps this small guide will help those who do care, but have been victims of educational fads in English  teaching, where content is considered more important than grammatical and syntactical accuracy.

In my case, I had a great teacher in my middle school, who taught grammar, but that went out the window in secondary school. In my opinion, many secondary schools of my vintage failed in one of their core responsibilities – their teaching of our mother tongue. It was only because I studied foreign languages to A Level and then to degree level that a firm grasp on grammar was required, and so I learnt my own language’s grammar in great part thanks to studying foreign languages.

For the record, I do occasionally slip up with things too, especially when writing in haste. If I spot the mistake, I’ll go to the effort of changing it, or, as I have done previously on Facebook, deleting the post and rewriting it.

No, I am not perfect. We all make mistakes. Feel free to correct me when I make a mistake. I don’t fear education, nor do I take being corrected as a personal slur.

Fill you’re boots!*

*Hope you spotted that one. 😉