Muprhy’s Law in action

You read that right. Not Murphy’s. Muprhy’s. Check the Daily Writing Tips blog (in our blogroll) for an excellent piece about it. (Short form: Any post criticizing the grammar, spelling, or mechanics of another post will in itself contain at least one error.)

Check here and here for examples of a corollary to Muprhy’s Law in action. (ETA: The second link takes you to a master list of worksheets. The page is set for auto-download; I have no control over that. The worksheet in question is #5. If you really want to see it, you’ll have to download it. Otherwise, just keep reading for my commentary.)

I call this a corollary to the actual law because what I’m pointing out are errors not in comments, but in teaching aids.These are actual worksheets available for free at the links provided. I downloaded them for use here at home for my daughter, who needs some help with English skills. Imagine my displeasure when, as we were going through the first one, she stopped and said “That doesn’t look right.” I wasn’t displeased with her at all; I was thrilled that she recognized the problem.

No. My displeasure was with the educator who wrote the material and then made it available for others, obviously without having someone proofread it first. (Never, ever proofread your own work. Trust me. You’re too close to it to catch everything. I will freely admit that every time I post here, I wind up coming back in afterward to fix something. It might be only a missing punctuation mark of some kind, but in the words of Roseanne Rosannadanna, “It’s always something.”) For heaven’s sake, people–if you’re putting material out there to teach English skills, make sure the material is error-free before you post it. Otherwise someone like me will find the errors and tell the world (the entire world, do you hear me?) about your ineptitude.

I do not make allowances for one error in this kind of material. There are no excuses. Period. The materials we use to teach our students mechanics, grammar, and spelling must be perfect. Period. (I apply this to all teaching aids, of course, but I’m not qualified to kvetch about physics, or algebra, or ancient Greek, or any number of other subjects. I am qualified to kvetch about grammar, mechanics, spelling, and literature.)

The second problem is clearly circular. (ETA: The vocabulary word is “perpetuate.” The third option for a definition is “to perpetuate.” Duh.) Someone didn’t change the entry for answer #3, question #10, to a definition of the word in question; the word was just left there. While some might be tempted to make that a “gimme,” I’m not one of them. The problem is, once the error’s corrected it becomes a gimme anyway–because now the correct answer is handwritten on the page.

Damn it.


Yes, I was a language arts teacher for junior high students. Yes, I’m still a substitute teacher who prefers language arts and literature classes to all others, and junior high or older students to younger ones. (I was certified 6-12, so I never had classroom experience with the little ones.) And we all know I’m still a copy editor and proofreader. This stuff is in my blood.

I can’t help it, I was born this way . . .


2 thoughts on “Muprhy’s Law in action

  1. Agreed x 1,000! Over the years, my kids have brought home loads of worksheets and assignments that are riddled with errors introduced by the people who created the materials. There are some teachers who seem barely able to write a string of coherent sentences and who clearly don’t proofread their materials (or don’t care enough to go back and fix mistakes).

    By the way, your first link (with the “breathe” problem) works, but the second goes to a page of worksheet links, not to a specific worksheet, so I couldn’t find the item you described.

    Also, I have other problems with some of the sample sentences in that first worksheet. For example, who the heck came up with “Send me your email address tomorrow with Mary”?


    1. Oops. Sorry about that. It’s worksheet #5. Whoever coded that page set it up so that as soon as you click on a specific worksheet, it auto-downloads. I’ll go back and tweak the original entry to reflect that.


      And yeah–some of those sentences are pretty clearly written by the seat of someone’s pants, without a lot of thought for common usage. I have that complaint about many examples in grammar books and on worksheets, actually.


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