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Thursday, March 4, 2010

National Grammar Day

Thursday, March 4, is National Grammar Day! I’m going to celebrate by wearing my “I’ve Got a Preposition for You” T-shirt. (I bought it from Grammar Girl.)

When I told my business communication class about the “holiday,” one of my students said he’s not going to speak that day. A gentleman in England will not stand in the “five items or less” line at the grocery store because the sign should read “five items or fewer,” although he does that every day, not just for Grammar Day.

Are you familiar with “Headlines,” a Monday night “Tonight Show” feature with Jay Leno? People send newspaper and magazine clippings that have grammar and spelling errors to Jay. Two of my favorites include “Chance of rain, possibly mixing with some wet snot” and “Add a bottle of out house wine for an additional $12.99.” Yikes! One letter can change the meaning of the sentence! Even copy editors don’t get it right all the time.

So, let’s go back to 3rd grade for a grammar review; today’s lesson is pronouns. As I tell my students, “Just because it sounds right, doesn’t mean it is right. People say things wrong all the time!”

Possessive pronouns do not have apostrophes. The possessive pronoun its is often used incorrectly; many professional signs confuse the possessive pronoun and the contraction. It’s is a contraction for it is. Its is the possessive pronoun. It’s wonderful that grammar has its own day.

Pronouns need to agree in number with their antecedents (the words to which they refer, which are generally the subjects). For example, an employee has the right to see their file is not correct. Employee is a single subject [the antecedent]; their is a plural pronoun. Make the subject plural as well as the verb to correct the sentence: Employees have the right to see their files.

Singular pronouns are used when referring to an organization or department, as long as the group is acting as a single unit. For example, Jones, Smith, and Doe, Inc., is having its [not their] company picnic in July. The marketing department won its [not their] volleyball tournament.

When subjects are joined by or or nor, the pronoun agrees with the subject that comes after the conjunction [or or nor]. Here’s an example: Neither Stacy nor Jim wanted his desk moved. Many people think this statement should be written as Neither Stacy nor Jim wanted their desks moved. Because Jim is closest to the pronoun, you need to use a singular pronoun.

Enjoy National Grammar Day! My mom, Flo, would have loved this day; she was a true grammarian. What will you do to celebrate Grammar Day?