Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Grammar quiz... and proof of my nerdness

First, let me preface by saying that I pride myself on my proper Queen's English--no just kidding, I don't speak the Queen's English. I did teach English, however, for several years. I more recently teach Spanish, and as you know, in order to really learn a language well, it is helpful to have a good grip on the workings of your first language. Now, I am not a grammar nazi, mind you, but.................I have to admit that when I hear people speak, in my head I am thinking, "oh he just used a double negative: you can't do that in English" or "did my sister really just say: 'I seen'? Doesn't she know that "seen" is NOT, I repeat, NOT the past tense of see?" But I never correct anyone and I am not judgmental about it (except that one with my sister, some errors bug me a teeny-tiny bit). In fact, I take a rather linguistic viewpoint, that languages change and evolve (just think that Shakespearean English used to be all the rage) and that, though there are prescriptive rules (how you should speak), anything a native speaker says is "acceptable."

(is everyone asleep by now?--can you believe this is the stuff I think about? ............... My husband can't either!)

I should also add, that there are some "rules" of English that I just don't believe in. Some rules were borrowed from Latin grammar (how much sense does that make?) That is where you get rules like "don't split infinitives" and "don't end a sentence with a preposition" which frankly just don't jive with spoken English, though they are rules you are essentially forced to comply with in academic settings, especially in writing.

So, everyone makes little mistakes when they speak, including me, but writing is different because you have much more control. I will admit, humbly, that I am a good writer (grammar-wise). I am not always clever and interesting, I make typos sometimes, and I don't always follow punctuation rules, I kind of make up my own, and when I write informally, I don't pay as much attention.......................... but, usually, most of the time, when I have time and patience to think and to edit, my grammar is purtty durn good.

No one likes grammar, so this isn't really a grammar quiz (are you secretly relieved?) It is an admission of an error that I made that was (gulp) caught by my (gulp) Dissertation Supervisor (gasp... the horror.......) and in effect, inspired this whole grammar-rambling post.

This was my sentence: "What is your principle reason for studying Spanish?"

Do you know what is wrong with that sentence? (now that I have told you there is something wrong with it, you probably got it and you are now patting yourself on the back, thinking that I am such a moron for getting it wrong and that you could teach me a lesson or two)

If you don't know ..........................scroll down and I'll tell you







Ok, here it is: I should have written "principal" reason (principal, as in primary; not principle as in "it's a matter of principle). It hadn't so much as crossed my mind when I wrote it.

I was flabbergasted, to say the least, that I would make such an elementary mistake. I thought I had all of the heterographic homonyms pegged (you know, like to, too, and two)

It's principal not principle.................. who'dda thunk?

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