It is with trepidation that I offer the world an e-learning course on grammar. I have a grammar textbook given to me by the subs at Computing when I left of over 1,700 pages. They obviously thought I would need help as a freelance, bless them.
English grammar is a slippery subject. There are so many irregularities in the English language. It’s a fine combination of German, French, Latin and bits of other languages.
I used to write software in the Basic, Cobol, Fortran, APL and Assembler programming languages. Give me them any time. Clear and unambiguous structures of language put through an unforgiving machine which will do exactly what you tell it.
As a natural language English evolves. And it evolves without the assistance of the equivalent of the Académie française to formalise it. When you’ve had a national academy formalising the language since 1635 you’re bound to have the structure modern French has. And when that structure is given priority in French education over a child’s self expression, you’re bound to have a surer grasp of grammar in France than in the UK.
Take “fewer” and “less”. I try to “keep the line” that “fewer “ is for figures, things you can count and “less” for mass. But you will often see it the other was round in supermarkets: “Less than five items”.
Its and it’s
And then there’s our friend the apostrophe. I’ve got a bottle of French’s Classic Yellow mustard in the fridge. On the back it says: “An American family favourite since it’s introduction at the St Louis World’s Fair in 1904!” Yes, it’s great with burgers and hotdogs, but it’s depressing to see such a blunder.
I’ve driven my colleagues at ContentETC, Lucy and Margaret, nearly to distraction as I put the e-learning grammar course together. They polished and tested it. And found my mistakes.
One of the problems I had was what to include. I’ve focused on what I think are the top 20 mistakes and how to fix them. But is it sheer pedantry to include “fewer” and “less” today?
I have included “who” and whom”. Perhaps because I think the only time the fictional Inspector Morse on TV got any nookey was with a woman who impressed him with their correct use. Or should it be “usage”? Surely “use” today?
What’s not there
And should I have included “affect” and “effect”? I did not. Should I insist that “impact” is not a verb? I did not. But they could be in “Another top 20 grammar mistakes and how to fix them” course.
Another problem was how far to drill own. I may be fascinated by the mechanics of language, but will others be?
The idea is not to rant at the world like an old pedant. The idea is to help people who are writing and may not have a formal understanding of grammar to express themselves better. And for them not to make howlers which will, for those who do know their grammar, devalue their work.
Here’s what I have included:
• Words and sentences: nouns, verbs etc;
• Punctuation: apostrophe, comma and dash, semicolon, hyphen, exclamation mark;
• Confused words: less and fewer; past and last; past and passed; I and me; into/onto and in to and on to; who, whom, that and which, frequent and regular;
• Making the sentence work: subject and verb working; dangling and wandering modifiers; wrong tenses; and gerunds;
• And a final five: parallel structure; faulty coordination; compounds; shifts in subjects; and what not to worry about.
Working at it
Those who know me may be surprised that with my erratic semi-dyslexic spelling I am the creator of a grammar course. I’m a bit surprised as well. But who better to do it than one who has had to work at it? After all, I lost lots of money for my publishers with libel actions, so I had to get my head around that.