9 Jul 2009
I've written before about how preparation material for the SAT writing section sometimes presents an over-simplified view of grammar that can get you into linguistic trouble. Here's another case in point: The following question appears in a Kaplan practice SAT (12 Practice Tests for the SAT 2009 Edition, p. 589):
Although talent may be a crucial element on the road to fame, it is difficult to succeed without a highly developed work ethic.
8 Jul 2009

That's so fail

Submitted by Karl Hagen
While adults are just starting to notice, usually with disapproval, "fail" used as a noun (as in "That's an epic fail."), my students are already racing ahead and converting it to an adjective.

We can tell that "fail" has become an adjective because it can be preceded by the quantifying adverb so, as in "I'm so fail." [Cf. I'm so happy (adj.), but *I'm so student (n.)].

26 Jun 2009

Those crazy biologists

Submitted by Karl Hagen
Anyone who thinks scientists don't have a sense of humor only knows scientists through their movie stereotypes. Still, it takes a certain daring to get this into the title of a major peer-reviewed journal: Campos-Arceiz, A. 2009. Shit happens (to be useful)! Use of elephant dung as habitat by amphibians. Biotropica doi:10.1111/j.1744-7429.2009.00525.x And no, this is not a spoof. Here's the abstract.
22 Jun 2009
The Grammarphobia question for June 22 addresses our old friend "none is" vs. "none are."

Q: As an SAT writing instructor, I am intrigued by your Grammar Myths page, which debunks the rule that "none" is always singular. Since the College Board follows this rule, we have thousands of students learning to write sentences like “None of the chickens is hatched.” What do you think about that?

10 Jun 2009

Prescriptive Fetishes

Submitted by Karl Hagen
Discussing the people's understanding of the split infinitive, Fowler said, "Those who neither know nor care are the vast majority, and are a happy folk, to be envied by most of the minority classes."

Fowler's dictum holds for many other prescriptive rules of grammar. In many cases, ignorance is bliss. Your writing will probably be better, because you're not twisting yourself into knots trying to avoid some illusory error, and you won't waste your time thinking about other people's grammar when you should be attending to their meaning.

18 May 2009

Comma fanboys

Submitted by Karl Hagen
In a recent discussion on the ATEG mailing list, a question arose as to the origins of the acronym FANBOYS (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) that is often used to teach how to punctuate compound sentences. Brett Reynolds, who writes the blog English, Jack pointed to a post he wrote a few years back trying, without success, to pin down the origins of the word's use as an acronym.
1 May 2009

Langue and Lingua Franca

Submitted by Karl Hagen
Writing in the New York Times, David Cohen meditates lyrically upon the differences between British and American English. Cohen uses these differences, especially individual words--loo vs. bathroom, bonnet vs. hood, car park vs. parking lot, etc., as a token of a larger cultural divide. He quotes Victor Katz, noting
There is the illusion that we speak the same language, but we really don't.
26 Apr 2009

Why we need empty categories

Submitted by Karl Hagen
One of my recurring frustrations with the way grammar is taught in the K-12 world is that by clinging so tenaciously to books that have not seen any real innovations in syntactic theory since the nineteenth century, teachers wind up with no explanation for many phenomena that occur all the time. A teacher sent me an email with the following question:
I've tried looking this up in every grammar guide I can find, but I haven't found the answer. Consider these two sentences: I bought a car to drive myself to work. I bought an alarm clock to wake me in the morning.


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