Monday, March 7, 2011

Making Grammar Fun

While certain people find English grammar fascinating, many people cringe at the prospect of diagramming a sentence or explaining the purpose of a semicolon. Add a discussion of prepositional phrases into the mix, and apoplexy may ensue.

A wonderful way to truly grasp a concept is to correct someone else’s mistakes.

Start by reading Philip B. Corbett’s articles Wandering Phrases and Prepositions on the Loose. Both contain fine examples of the confusion a misplaced prepositional phrase or poor word choice can cause. A person reading these aloud may quickly hear what is wrong, and can then come up with an alternative writing. Consolingly, knowing top-notch writers for The New York Times can go astray gives hope to aspiring writers and grammarians.

Of course, other daily newspapers are not without guilt. The larger the newspaper, the more frequent the errors, simply because of the amount of writing that requires editing on extremely tight deadlines. First, look at the headlines. The need for catchy writing combined with limited space and the desire to be clever leads to questionable phrasing. How about “Include Your Children When Baking Cookies” (“Soylent Green is people!”), or “Iraqi Head Seeks Arms” (what about a torso or legs?), or “Red Tape Holds Up New Bridge” (who knew it was so strong?).

Next in your newspaper reading, go through the articles. More immediate stories—those about current events or breaking news—are more likely to contain errors than human interest stories, as writers usually have more time to review their work prior to publication. (This is not a damnation of journalists, just a result of the deadline-driven and limited-space issues of the business.)

For even more grammar fun, read Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, by Lynne Truss. Ms. Truss also has a children's version of her book, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: Why, Commas Really Do Make a Difference!, which will have the younger set laughing at the drastic changes a comma or two can make to a sentence.

Be honest, we would all much rather find someone else's errors, than have our own pointed out to us. So, check out your local paper, pay close attention when reading your next book, and see what hilarious grammar blunders you can find together.

Article by Sarah J. Wilson

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