I really was reticent to write this article. There are, after all, many more important topics. Indeed, it could be argued that most topics are more important.
I confess: I am a grammar cop.
On too many occasions, I find myself cringing when I read something where the grammar is obviously bad.
Certainly, I could offer an article of greater import. Like something on soteriology. Or ecclesiology. Even eschatology.
What kind of nerd writes about grammar?
I do. I am indeed a grammar cop.
My concern, I guess, is one of trajectory. From my experiential perspective, writing skills are diminishing. Is it possible that we are directionally headed toward unintelligible written communication? I have read papers, manuscripts, emails, and memos where I had great difficulty understanding the author’s intent. I have seen PowerPoint and other presentations that left me more confused than not.
On a more important note, are we not told to do all things for the glory of God? (1 Corinthians 10:31). Or am I stretching the text a bit for my own argument?
The Specific Issues
Okay, I’ve made enough prefatory comments. You are either with me or not by this point. What, then, are some of the more common grammatical errors I’ve noticed in written documents? My list is not exhaustive, but allow me to note a few.
· Random capitalization. I have an email that I’ve saved for a few weeks. It illustrates my concern: “The Meeting will be held in the Sanctuary at 7:00 PM on Saturday. All Concerned people are encouraged to attend.” So why is “Meeting” capitalized? Or “Sanctuary”? Or “Concerned”? There are no rules of capitalization that apply to those words. The upper case letter was applied just because someone thought it looked right.
· It’s and Its. It’s is a contraction. It means “it is” or “it has.” Its is a possessive pronoun meaning “of it” or “belonging to it.” Too many times I see both of those words used incorrectly. And there is absolutely, positively, no such word as its’.
· The reflexive pronoun. Those pronouns that have the suffix “self” are meant to reflect off another pronoun and not stand alone. You do not say: “The team included Judy, Mike, and myself.” Instead say, “The team included Judy, Mike, and me." It is correct to say “I will go to the game myself” since “myself” reflects off the pronoun “I.”
· Your and you’re. Your is a possessive pronoun. You’re is a contraction that means “you are.”
· There and their. There has many usages. The more common usages include a reference to a place (We need to go there), or as a pronoun (There is no hope in this situation). Their is a possessive pronoun (I lifted their luggage).
· Dangling participle. This error seems to be one of the more egregious writing errors. Here is an example: “After rotting in the basement for several weeks, my brother threw away the apples.” According to the sentence structure, my brother has been rotting in the basement for several weeks. Pretty gross. “My brother” is incorrectly connected to the participle phrase, so the intended subject (apples) is not clear.
· Incorrect word. Sometimes we simply use the wrong word because it sounds like it belongs in the sentence, or because it sounds similar to the correct word. I recently received an email that included the following sentence: “We are dealing with a reputed company.” The author of the email was obviously referring to a “reputable company.”
The Importance of Communication
Clear communication is important. Clear written communication is important. How we speak and write says much about us.
The trend in clear written communication seems to be deteriorating.
Be careful about how you speak. Be careful about how you write.
You never know when a grammar cop may be following your words.