Friday, July 22, 2011

Time for a grammar tune-up?

I’m dismayed at the number of blogs, news articles and reviews that contain bad grammar. It’s not rocket science, yet many educated people (yes, even those with Master’s degrees and PhDs) often get tangled up in the proper use of the English language. Here is a quick primer:
Their (refers to people) vs. there (refers to a place)
They’re (contraction for “they are”) vs. there, which refers to a place (noted above)
It’s (means “it is”) vs. its,  a pronoun that shows possession (e.g.: its passage)
Proper usage: It’s cold outside. Let’s see if we can find its master. (referring to a dog’s owner)
Here’s a quick test to check if contractions are used correctly. Use the real words to see if the sentence still makes sense. For example, in the above sentence, it doesn’t make sense to say, “it’s master,” which translates to “it is master.”
To clarify, a contraction substitutes an apostrophe (‘) for part of the word. Why? Perhaps to save space. Maybe it was an early adaptation of texting – condensing two words into one.
Moving on then…
To (expressing motion or direction toward a point, person, place) vs. too (means excessive: too many, too much). Improper usage: “I had to much to eat.” (first “to” should be “too”; second “to” is correct)
When you see a red or green squiggly line under copy, something is wrong. Do a spell-check in Word or cut and paste the word into to verify the spelling and/or usage.
Even Hollywood knows the importance of good communication. You may recall a classic line from the cops and robbers’ movie “Heat” set in L.A. in the ‘90s. Police lieutenant Vincent Hanna (played by Al Pacino) was a superb communicator. Early on, he was arguing with his wife Justine, played by the amazing Diane Venora, over how much he worked.*
He intoned, “I say what I mean and do what I say.”
Diane did not exactly melt at the statement but she took notice. Vincent's credibility was ratcheted up among viewers, who could see that he was a man of his word. I know this line wasn’t original to Mr. Pacino but he gets credit for making it stick. He did a great service to English teachers and consultants who work tirelessly to communicate well and help others do so.
If your associates or employees need more in-depth help than this blog can provide, contact me about conducting an on-site seminar. I will discuss common mistakes made in writing; how to shorten and clarify e-mails; the need to proof and reread copy (reports, articles, e-mails) before submitting; and how to become a better communicator through effective writing. Check it out here: (Click on the PDF “presentations” attachment at the bottom of the Expertise page.)
I much prefer writing to editing, but need to share my pet peeves in the hope that these mistakes will never occur again!
Please report back on your success of changing bad grammar as well as glaring errors that you’ve seen. Measurement is a critical component of success.
*This is how I remembered it, without re-watching the movie.

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