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The Abuse of Apostrophe’s and Other Sad Grammar Tales


English grammar can be tricky stuff. Students (and many adults) labor over the correct usage of “lie” and “lay,” as well as when to use “who” instead of “whom.” Many of us also have our personal grammar pet peeves – mine happens to be the rampant misuse of apostrophes, as in “The Walton’s welcome you to our home!” or this one from a recent political mailing: “Every state has it’s unique resources.”

I hate to admit it, but grammatical errors such as these set my teeth on edge. President George W. Bush, who was frequently flummoxed by the English language, regularly absorbed the slings and arrows of outraged grammarians worldwide for his linguistic gaffes. Yet, in this age of texting, does proper grammar still really matter? We all pretty much know what people mean, despite bad grammar, right? Does anyone still really care?

I’m going to argue “yes,” and I’m not alone. People who write and speak well are automatically treated with more courtesy and respect than people who demonstrate poor communication skills. Numerous studies show that the use of poor grammar in spoken and written statements reflects negatively on the speaker/author, and that people who use bad grammar are instantly perceived as less intelligent, less educated, less reliable, and less trustworthy than people who use proper grammar. Studying grammar can be deadly boring (I feel your students’ pain!), but it’s an essential skill to master. The use of proper grammar becomes more important over time, and bad grammar is tolerated less as the perpetrators age. According to ACT, professors rank grammar as the most important skill to attain for students entering college, while high school teachers feel grammar is the least important skill. The disconnect between these two differing views can have some very real consequences. Most college professors have a zero tolerance policy for bad grammar in their classes, and students are expected to articulate themselves properly in both their writing and speech. There are also countless stories of businesses who have lost lucrative accounts because of grammatical errors in their promotional materials or presentations; even a single error may cause clients to question the company’s attention to detail, their ability to perform, the quality of the product or service itself, and the company’s overall level of prestige in the marketplace. In short, the use of bad grammar puts the offender’s very reputation at stake.

The knowledge of proper grammar cuts across the curriculum, as it improves skills needed in all subject areas. The use of good grammar sharpens writing skills and helps students to craft clear, powerful prose. It also allows for better speaking skills; as the habit of clear communication becomes internalized, students become more attuned to what proper speech sounds like. Grammar is also an exercise in logical thinking, as students discern different parts of speech, their relationships, and how to refine them further. The enforcement of proper grammar in all subject areas, then, is important in order for students to learn and internalize the rules more quickly, and thus, more naturally.

My picks this week feature a variety of resources that are enormously helpful in helping students to learn proper grammar. We’ll also be featuring many more grammar lessons, resources, and examples of grammatical errors on the Gateway’s Twitter and Facebook pages throughout the week, so please be sure to check those pages regularly.

Creative Videos for Basic Grammar Concepts
Subjects: Grammar
Grade: K-2
In this lesson, students make videos to help enhance understanding of action verbs, pronouns, nouns, proper nouns, and adjectives. This resource is a product of Digital Wish, a non-profit that seeks to modernize K-12 classrooms and prepare students for tomorrow's workforce. On the Digital Wish web site, teachers can create wish lists of technology products for their classroom. Donors then connect with their favorite schools and grant classroom wishes through online cash or product donations.

How Does It Sound?
Subjects: Grammar
Grade: 3-5
The students will participate in a game that uses the elements of grammar in an inappropriate way. They will transform the inappropriate grammar into grammatically correct statements. This lesson was produced by Beacon Learning Center, which offers standards-based resources and professional development activities for Florida educators.

Bad Grammar
Subjects: Grammar
Grade: 8-12
This lesson uses a video parody of rapper Timbaland’s “The Way I Are”, and examines the bad grammar and slang used in pop music. Students will learn common terms like, “ain’t”, “got no”, and “we be”. They then discuss why pop songs often have bad grammar and spelling and also whether these terms are really all that bad. Be aware that the video does show a woman in lingerie; if you prefer, you can just use the printed lyric sheet instead of the video (included in resource). This lesson is offered by English Advantage, which offers lesson plans and activities for teachers of English as a second or other language.