When grammar isn’t grammar, but something else

(And a digression at the end)

I’ve been involved in several discussions over the years about this particular issue, and I remain unmoved. I hold to the belief that it does no one any good to continue to conflate “grammar,” “usage,” “mechanics,” “syntax,” and “style” into one big blob called “grammar.”

Because it’s not true, it’s not accurate, and it’s not helpful in the long run—to anyone who wants to truly understand their language. (I won’t say “English,” only because how rude is that? EVERY language has grammar and syntax.) Continue reading “When grammar isn’t grammar, but something else”

Back to basics: forming plural possessives

Every time I think it’s useless to rehash basic GUMmy stuff, something happens to prove me wrong. This time it was seeing an incorrectly formed plural possessive of a proper noun in a published children’s book.

I saw red.

So, I’m writing what’s sure to become the first in an informal series on the basics. Welcome, and I hope you enjoy the ride.

First, let’s talk about plural formation. There are two basic types: regular and irregular. A regular plural simply adds -s or -es to the singular form, like this:

house/houses

car/cars

An irregular plural sometimes changes the form of the noun, like this:

goose/geese

mouse/mice

die/dice

But sometimes, it doesn’t change at all.

deer/deer

moose/moose

Now, what if we need to form a possessive of those plurals?

Well, for the regularly formed plurals, we only have to add an apostrophe. That’s how it’s done. Honest. Just an apostrophe.

houses’ (as in “All those houses’ exteriors will be repainted according to the HOA’s specifications”)

cars’ (as in “Their cars’ bumpers were torn off in the collision”)

But for the irregularly formed plurals, we need to add an apostrophe and an S.

geese’s (as in “The geese’s diet was organic”)

mice’s (as in “The mice’s blood was sampled every six hours”)

dice’s (as in “The dice’s results were suspect”)

deer’s (as in “The three deer’s hides were tanned behind the cabin”)

moose’s (as in “I heard those moose’s bellows from all the way down by the river”)

Now, what about a proper term, like Taino? That’s the name of the indigenous people Columbus met when he landed in 1492. In the free version of the online Merriam-Webster dictionary, it states that the plural is either “Taino” or “Tainos.” The first one’s irregular (the form doesn’t change at all), and the second is regular (just adding an S). Form the possessives according to the rules: Taino’s OR Tainos’. Context helps the reader know when “Taino’s” is plural. (And if it doesn’t, it should.)

Similarly, if your surname is Dickens, a number of you are the Dickenses. Together, all of you live in the Dickenses’ house. (Sure, you can say “there’s the Dickens house,” but the meaning’s not the same, and it totally misses the point of this post.) It’s a regular plural that adds -es to the singular form, so you use only an apostrophe to form the plural possessive. We’re the Conlins. Our house is the Conlins’ house. Regularly formed plural takes only an apostrophe.

There are no stylistic variations for forming plural possessives. This isn’t a guideline; it’s a rule.

There you have the basics. Remember, this is only for plural possessives. If we need a refresher on forming possessives of proper names like “James,” I’ll cover that in a separate post. (Hint: there are stylistic variations for forming proper singular possessives.)

Grammar Day 2018

I love grammar.

More precisely, I love grammar, usage, syntax, semantics, and mechanics.

I’m one of those bitchy editors who will point out that “grammar” as used by Average  Robin encompasses all of those things, which is why “grammar quizzes” are usually bullshit. Most of what’s in them isn’t grammar. It’s mechanics or spelling or usage or style. And that last one has a lot of gray areas, so making a generalized quiz about it is fucking cruel. No, it’s NOT wrong if you don’t use a serial comma. Not as clear as it could be, perhaps, but it’s not wrong. Continue reading “Grammar Day 2018”

REVIEW: The Perfect English Grammar Workbook, McLendon

Any grammar text that makes me literally laugh aloud is a winner on at least one level. Making grammar fun is one of my personal goals, so I always enjoy seeing others succeed at doing so. I laughed a lot during my read-through of Lisa McLendon’s workbook. This is a very good thing.

Not only does she know her grammar (she’s the one who teaches the Deep Grammar classes at various editing conferences), she explains it in plain language. No small feat, that. Lisa won me over right off the bat with her statement that she’s not a “grammar cop,” but rather a “grammar cheerleader.” I don’t know as I’m bubbly enough to be one of those, but I appreciate the imagery, that’s for sure. Continue reading “REVIEW: The Perfect English Grammar Workbook, McLendon”

Book Discussion: Accidence Will Happen, by Oliver Kamm

Right off the bat, let me say that there isn’t a typographical error in the title. I wager most of this blog’s followers know that, but some might not. My college-student stepdaughter winced when she saw my copy of this lying on the table, and said, “That typo on the cover, though.” I set her straight immediately.

Accidence is that portion of grammar that deals with inflection. Inflection is the way a word changes to denote a specific grammatical category. For example: “Sang” is the past tense of “sing.” We know that because it changes form. It changes again for the past participle “sung.” Of course, that’s an irregular form. The same process happens with regular verbs, like talk/talked/talked, but by adding a suffix instead of altering the spelling of the root form. It happens with nouns, too: cat/cats, goose/geese. Now you know, if you didn’t before.

Now that I’ve concluded the brief grammar lesson, on to the discussion. Continue reading “Book Discussion: Accidence Will Happen, by Oliver Kamm”

G-string, but g-force

In the category of “things editors need to fact-check,” today we have “G-string.”

First, a bit of culture. Please enjoy this video of “Air on the G-string” by J. S. Bach, played on original instruments. I suspect that means “on instruments originally specified by the composer” as opposed to “instruments the original composer used in his own lifetime,” but I could be wrong. It happens.

When we write about strippers (see why I shared some classical culture first?), we probably write about what they wear. Those little bits of fabric that keep the dancers just on the proper side of the law (except where total nudity is legal, that is) are called “G-strings” with a capital G. According to Chambers, the original spelling was “gee-string” (1878), but by 1891 it had changed to “G-string.” It’s very possible that the term’s related to the string of a violin tuned to G. They’re both about the same width. ::cough:: I exaggerate, of course, but you get the point. Or the picture. Whatever. Also according to Chambers, the first recorded use of the term to refer to something a stripper wears dates to 1936, in Big Money by John Dos Passos.

By comparison, “g-force” is styled with a lower-case g because that’s how gravity is referenced in physics equations. It’s not an arbitrary editorial decision. We need to be aware of why terms are styled the way they are.

And now, I have to get back to this project with the G-string. Something about a demon dancer in a strip club. No Bach, I’m sure.