Archives for posts with tag: Grammar

There’s something very comforting about proverbs. They’re rather like a comfy armchair to me, in the way a spreadsheet is to an accountant.

They are the shorthand of our language, as well as a useful guidance to living life by the numbers.

“A stitch in time saves nine.” “If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” These phrases have been honed and shaped over time, a little nub of the collective experiences of humankind over the centuries.

They can serve you well in business too, as long as you understand them for what they are. One of my favourite business proverbs is “A rising tide lifts all boats.” It encapsulates the notion that everybody benefits from an improvement across the board.

Anyway, don’t take my word for it. After all, actions speak louder than words. 🙂

As our beloved written and spoken languages evolve and become – dare I say it – a little more relaxed, we don’t seem to mind committing the formerly heinous crime of ending a sentence with a preposition. Back in the day – which itself is an odd idiomatic phrase – people used to get pretty worked up about grammar and syntax.

This was the one rule which caused the well known Churchillian reaction:  “This is the sort of English up with which I will not put.”

They say that language neither progresses nor decays, it simply changes. Whatever it does, I think it serves us all better to be more flexible and less rigid. A great example of this is in poetry and songs, where ending a line with a preposition can help the writer out and make the line scan more elegantly. Who could forget the famous double preposition of Wings’ Live and Let Die: “…this world in which we live in…”?

More recently, but already a classic, is the Jay Z and Alicia Keys song Empire State of Mind with its line “concrete jungle where dreams are made of”.

Prepositions are handy little nodes connecting elements of a sentence together, so let’s continue to allow them to roam free, for which our language will be the better :-).

 

 

I’ve touched on our troubles with apostrophes in a previous post. Sometimes these rogue apostrophes appear in content without reason. Lest we forget, apostrophes can only be used for 2 principal reasons:

1) To signify possession, as in Paul’s house is rather small

2) To signify a missing letter, as in Paul’s a rather small man

As I’ve touched on in the previous post, you don’t need one when you’re using plurals with nothing possessed. The trees were swaying, for example. But you do see apostrophes with nouns, so the confusion is perhaps understandable.

Not so when you see the howler of an apostrophe with a verb. Just the other day I was reading a press release from a company I admire, and presumably it was written by someone who writes for a living. It began as follows: “Today see’s the launch of …”

What?! On what planet does that make sense? Hell’s bell’s … 🙂

Why oh why, dear reader, do folks put an apostrophe before the ‘s’ in your common-or-garden plural?

As we’ve talked about before, an apostrophe only ever signifies possession, as in the dog’s bone, or a missing letter or letters, as in the dog’s got a bone which is short for the dog has got a bone. But to start a sentence with ‘The teacher’s taught the pupils’ betrays an alarming lack of knowledge of that simple rule.

While we’re on the subject of plurals and apostrophes, let me just remind those unsure of how the possessives work with singular and plural nouns. The apostrophe goes immediately after the thing or things doing the possessing. So we write the dog’s bone, but the parents’ association. Where it gets confusing is where the thing doing the possessing has a built-in plural. So, we say the children’s toys, the and the couple’s daughter, but the couples’ children when it’s more than one couple doing the possessing :-). And then we get onto ‘folk’, from the German word volk, meaning people. Some people prefer to say folk, some say folks, so where do you put the apostrophe then? Wherever you like in my view.

Like I say, folk’s punctuation drives me mad…

Why do people use brackets, or parentheses as our American friends would say, in the written word?

We don’t use them verbally, other than an aside perhaps. For me, brackets are rarely used to explain some background detail, like something you might see in a footnote.

When I see content in brackets, I think it reduces the power of what you’re trying to say.  It feels like you know you should write less, but don’t have the courage to edit down, so you put your potentially superfluous text in brackets. Or maybe you just want to separate clauses out.  For that you could use the hyphen – or is a dash? – to get your reader to pause.

Remove the brackets and let your words go free, or lose them altogether (or not, as the case may be).

I checked my daughter’s homework today and her grammar questions were on the different uses of it’s and its. She’s 10. She got them all right.

It amazes me how many times you see the incorrect version used in emails and signed off communications from senior people and established companies. Have they forgotten the rule, or did they never know it? It must make every teacher or former teacher cringe when they see these kinds of mistakes.

Of course, the confusion lies in the fact that the apostrophe can denote both a missing letter and possession.  Paul’s a simpleton stands for Paul is etc, whereas Paul’s friend is a simpleton denotes the friend belongs to me. The exceptions to the ‘apostrophe for possession’ rules are – inconveniently – his, her and its, otherwise known as your possessive pronouns.

So, therefore, I offer you a primer.

It’s is ONLY EVER USED TO DENOTE A SHORTENING OF ‘IT IS’ or ‘IT HAS’ .

Its is ONLY EVER USED TO DENOTE ‘IT’ POSSESSING SOMETHING.

Thus, you say: It’s a dog, and it’s got its bone.

Does this post help, or does it come with its own headache?