Nov 19

"Can I have a Question?"


I wonder why so many Americans make grammatical mistakes in spoken and written English. Some of improper grammar became an acceptable and overwhelmingly popular, such as the notorious short cuts: “4 sale”, or “I need 2 do it”.

My introduction with improper grammar came with my tennis instructor, who used to say “don’t hit no balls.” I had a hard time with it, though later I realised that it is a surprisingly common mistake to use double negatives. I don’t know why people after the graduation of a high school, “ gotta do” those “clumstrocities”. I also wonder where all these “wouldya's” came from? So I made a brief research.

The first uses of incorrect English comes from the Southern Plantations, where the non-english speaking slaves self-taught language of their masters having no idea of grammar and spelling. It caught on among other commoners, and of course, turned viral. By the time of the Civil War, even some of the higher class folks were adding “southern talk” to their jargon. Up to this day, many forms of improper grammar are referred to as Southern lingo.

More common are sneaky mistakes, overlooked as conversational flops turn into a complete embarrassment in writing. I define them into several categories:

1. Confusion of contractions and similar sounding words. Its with it’s, too with to, into with in to. “In the afternoon we went too the park.” This is one of the most common and seemingly trivial flops that I find quite amusing.

2. Confusing who and whose, which and that, and me and I, it and they. These mistakes creep in quite unnoticeably in a spoken language and, unfortunately, I am not exempt from those either (in fact, along with probably 90% of other Americans).

3. Dangling modifiers. It reminds me of a chess piece that can be taken without a consequence or a dramatic, life-or-death situation such as hanging precariously off a cliff. (Of course grammar mistakes are never that painful, but it helps me to remember to keep them out of my writing). This mistake results in general confusion, for example: After declining for months, I tried a new method to increase my grades.Was I declining? Or my grades? This sentence needs to be rephrased into…  I tried a new method to increase my grades after they have been declining for months. Better, right?

4. As for the written language, the use of commas, semicolons, hyphens, underlining, and apostrophes just need to be remembered and practised. Just a tiny misplacement of a symbol can change the whole meaning of the sentence. It’s not as scary as it sounds; it can be avoided by memorizing some of the rules we were supposed to learn in school.
I don’t try to pass for a grammar geek, as I still make silly mistakes in passive voice in particular, and write rambling sentences.

However, I learn to follow a simple rule: “if you’re in doubt, take a brief moment to look it up”.

After all, speaking and writing correctly shows respect for the language, the listeners and the readers.