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November 6, 2009

An open letter to native – English speakers from Grammar Nazi

Dear native-English speakers without learning disabilities:

Why have you all forgotten the grammar and spelling rules you learned in school? Why, once you have graduated from high school and/or post-secondary school, have you forgotten how to use an apostrophe or a semi-colon? Is it because you spend too much time texting and not enough time writing actual letters to people? (letter-writing is such a lost art!) Or is it because you spend too much time watching television and not enough time READING something?  Below is a list of what I’ve found to be some of the most common spelling/grammatical/word usage errors out there:

  1. There, their, or they’re? Wait, you mean they aren’t interchangable? That’s right, they mean different things! “There” implies direction: “I put the Grammar for Dummies book over there.” “Their” implies ownership: “This is their Grammar for Dummies book.” “They’re” is a contraction of “they are” implying action: “They’re looking for a new Grammar for Dummies book.”
  2. Your or you’re? Like above, these are similar, but not the same; they have different meanings. “Your” implies ownership: “Is that your teacher?” “You’re” is a contraction of “you are” implying description or prediction: “You’re going to be late for English class again!”
  3. It’s or its? Once again, these are almost the same in appearance, but they do not have the same meaning.  “It’s” is a contraction of “it is,” as in: “It’s getting difficult to read your emails because of all the errors.” “Its” implies gender-neutral ownership: “I liked this book so much that I dog-eared some of its pages.”
  4. Where do we put the word “at” in a sentence or question? If I hear someone say something like, “What time are we leaving  for class at?” I think I might scream. In such a question, the word “at” is not needed at all. “What time are we leaving for class?” is a correct question all on its own. For love of all that is grammatically holy, PLEASE refrain from putting the word “at” at the end of your questions and sentences. PLEASE. PLEASE!
  5. “Irregardless” is not an actual word. I don’t care that your father, neighbour, or double-Ph.D professor uses it all the time, it is NOT a word. It has NO actual meaning, my friends. By having a prefix of “ir” and a suffix of “less” it is now a double-negative word, which would then turn into a positive, so we are left with “regardful,” which – you guessed it – NOT a word. People who use “irregardless” tend to be people who are trying to be impressive, or seem smarter than they actually are. Using a pretend word is probably not the best way to sound smart, however.
  6. Between vs. Among? “Between” is for two people/places/items/etc: “Let’s keep my grammar mistakes between the two of us.” When talking about more than two people/places/items/etc.: “Just among the five of us, I use the word “irregardless” because I think it makes me sound smarter than I actually am.”

Now, you might be wondering: why did I address this open to letter to native-English speakers without learning disabilities? Well, to be brutally honest, non-native speakers of English, or native speakers with learning disabilities have excuses to make errors; the rest of us do not. Many grammatical/spelling/word choice errors we make are frankly the result of laziness, or an unwillingness to pay too much attention to how we speak. The sad part about that is that the words that come out of our mouth advertise us to other people; if you sound lazy, or uneducated, guess what that stranger over there will assume about you? He or she is not going to take the time to figure out whether or not you really DO know the difference between “regardless” and “irregardless,” they will simply assume you do not, and move on.

Does this make me and old-fashioned dinosaur? Probably. Will some people think of me as some kind of elitist? Most likely, unfair to me as that may be. You see, I’m not an elitist at all; I fully understand and support the idea that education and intelligence do not necessarily go hand in hand. However, I also fully understand and support the idea that if you want people take you seriously as a smart and mature individual, you must leave your adolescent text messaging and poorly constructed sentences behind you. When did it become “fashionable” to sound like a fool? When did we start being embarrassed by sounding too correct, instead of taking genuine joy in the beauty of our language? When did we begin looking the other way when glaring errors occur?

Please, native English speakers without learning disabilities, renew your pride in your language. Embrace its intricacies, its romance, its rules AND exceptions, and don’t be ashamed to be correct. Others around us may have lowered the bar, but that does NOT mean we cannot strive to raise it back up. Grammarians, stand and be counted: our time is now.

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