Verb trouble (#1 in an occasional series)

I’ve seen it again in the last few days, so I’m writing about it.

“I have never nor will I ever eat kidneys.”

Looks okay to some of you, I’ll bet. Others of you stopped to parse the sentence and found it wanting. Specifically, it’s wanting another form of “to eat” to go with “have.”

What we need is this:

“I have never eaten nor will I ever eat kidneys.”

Why? Because, if you take the clauses apart, you’ll see you end up with “I have never eat.” And we know that’s incorrect, grammatically. (We know that, don’t we?)

When you’re writing about things that happened in the past in conjunction with those things happening in the future, you have to watch your main verb forms. I don’t see problems with the auxiliary (helping) verbs, but I see them often with the main ones. If it’s difficult for you to work with this within the single sentence you’re trying to write, try writing the two clauses separately at first and then combine them.

“I have never eaten kidneys.”

“I will never eat kidneys.”

See there, how there’s a different verb form in each sentence (independent clause)? When we combine them, we have to retain those forms to be grammatically correct (and keep our copy editors happy). Put them together and you get “I have never eaten nor will I ever eat kidneys.” Sure, there’s some position-swapping required, and “kidneys” appears only at the end of the whole sentence, and you’ve used “nor” as the conjunction to join the clauses. That’s all good stuff.

Unlike kidneys, which I can tell you are vital to our daily functions but to my taste are not very good.

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 . . .