The Writing Process II, Part 3: From the Grammar Mafia

Godfather2Those who might have thought the Wayfarer congenial up until now must know The Godmother from New York has taken over this leg of the trip (see Uncle?) and California Girl’s backseat, engrossed in a book.

Last I checked, blogosphere was a beautiful democracy. If you are offended by what follows, remember you are free as the wind to check out or unfollow this blog. My point today is simple: learn the basics. Please.

I am not speaking of the innocent blue-moon typo. This proof of human fallibility is why we’re thankful for the saving grace of the edit. I’m not speaking to those whose native tongue is a language other than English. I’m talking to people who publish anything blissfully careless in the basics. You who faithfully streak your blog with words missing apostrophes or a whole letter as in your vs you’re, unabashed at the moments you regress to the achievements of a second grader. Before we get to the grammar, I’m talking about the mechanics that school drilled into you every darn year, third grade to middle. Do you know how to turn on the headlights so you’re visible to oncoming traffic? How’s the rear view? It’s the preliminary stuff the driving instructor wants to see you know before you pull away.

What have you to say of your intellectual laziness? Why would you give yourself license to be sloppy, to reduce your art, vandalize your presentation? If you were to take offense that I came over and markered your work, it would be curious irony given that’s what you do yourself. You owe it to yourself not to look less intelligent than you are. You owe it to your readers to be clean on paper and screen. Pave their way, shovel off the stones and debris so it’s that much easier for them. Why do you not show up to the office in slippers and the shirt you slept in – even if everyday were the Casual Friday it is in the Sunny State? An inkling of social protocol, respect for the boss. A hassle to learn once for all, you say? Honestly, it is doable. If fourth graders can get it, so can you. The mechanics are just a hairsbreadth up a notch from the alphabet. I’m not talking about complex constructions, style, voice.

Many of you have published. Tell me, would Doubleday or Bantam put out your final copy with the strings of indifferent technical blotches in your story? Okay then, would you self-publish that way? Then why in — name do you blog as you do? So you never claimed to be a writer. You’re here to share your hobbies and talk about your cat. Or showcase your art. If you’re going to put out more than two sentences and want anyone besides Nana and your best friend to see them, retain a measure of self-respect and file and sand, please. Ah, but you mean only to encourage others in their faith. Well, Scripture enjoins us to pursue excellence in all we do, and rewards the endeavor. “Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings.” Proverbs 22.29. God-fearing Mafia, you must know. You’re not wired for the screws and ratchet of language; you’re a genius Right-Brain who’s busy being creative. It’s the (professing) artist who believes there is no harm in exchanging blue for purple. What musician would shrug a B for C? They might be only a note apart but a single note changes the chord, Bach lives on to say through his arpeggios of precision. Please don’t insult me. Would you be as satisfied as the construction engineer who wasn’t so worried about the details to the foundation of your house? But he was preoccupied with the layout and paint. The rigorous Left Brains get this. You might be easy about donating a penny to the Ronald McDonald House but see how happy you’ll stay with the accountant who doesn’t believe numbers must be accurate. Don’t gyp your readers.

The blitzkrieg of analogies is to bring home the simple reminder that the fundamentals remain nonnegotiable in every area of life. If you’re going to take up the dignified name of writer or poet and need some work with the simple Dos and Don’ts, do retrain yourself – once for all. I begin with the epidemic glitches which happen to be the most elementary and move up to high school for those who care:

1) Before you throw it in there, make sure it’s a possession (Sarah’s bag) or contraction (it’s = it is) you want to express. That apostrophe stands for something.

You’re book
Your book

2) On this one matter of words ending in s, I dare to disagree with the Writers’ Bible The Elements of Style by Strunk Jr. and White: The authors favor the possessive with the additional ‘s (Charles’s friend) and go on to differentiate the times you tack on the apostrophe by itself (Moses’ staff), but the distinctions are just too much. Stick to the smokers’ room. The book has been out fifty years. Language favors elision over time, likes the path of least resistance. If it can drop something, it will.

3) The pronouns its, yours, hers, theirs take on no apostrophe because they already indicate possession.

its own ethic
song of yours
they took hers
that lodge of theirs

The preposition between takes objects, not subjects.

between he and I
between him and I
between her and I

between him and me
between her and me

The law of elision, i.e. the law of human laziness, will eventually canonize alright. But all right stand as two words.

Also two words.

Use the simple subject pronoun.

Cary and myself arrived at the lake.
Cary and I arrived at the lake.

The reflexive pronouns like myself, himself, yourself need a noun or pronoun in the sentence to reflect back to.

I congratulated me.
There’s the I, the referent.

I congratulated myself.

I’m fine.  And yourself?
There is no you the yourself can hearken back to.

I’m fine.  And you?

Tanya hurt herself.
Tanya hurt her. (She hurt someone else.)

The numbers must match.
1) Each, either, everyone, everybody, neither, nobody, someone call for a singular verb.

Everybody thinks they are cool. (Here, they refer to the subject everybody.)
Everybody thinks he is cool.

2) When none means not one or no one, it takes a singular verb.

None of them are going.
None of them is going.

3) Either and neither take a singular verb.

Neither of you are coming.
Neither of you is coming.
Do you know if either of these is used?

4) It’s one number:

A number of cases have revealed that
A number of cases has revealed that
[One number of cases]

You can only think when writing.
You can think only when writing.

In the first instance, the only thing you’re doing is thinking because the only modifies whatever act follows. What you meant was to qualify the circumstance that allows you to write.

the point of what us writers are about

The underlined phrase modifies of and behaves as one noun. Try “the point of the story.” When uncertain between the object and subject form of a pronoun, cover the distraction and you’ll hear it:

what us [writers] are about —> what us are about

Now you know the phrase needs the subject: what we are about

the point of what we writers are about


If you’re still here, feeling positive that I wrote this just for you, I assure you it is not personal. How I would love the luxury of time to be able to keep track of who violated which writing law when. Maybe if I drew up a hit list of bloggers…

If you’re gun-shy at this point, you may breathe: I’m giving it back over to the Wayfarer. Decided on the hate mail? Send it to me. She’s a sweetie. I wish she were tougher. The girl refuses to police grammar in readers’ comments. Oh, homeschooling calls: Holistic Godmother goes off to teach her boy the ways of the Grammar Mafia.

Until next time.

242 thoughts on “The Writing Process II, Part 3: From the Grammar Mafia

  1. I seriously hope I wouldn’t be on that hit list of bloggers! But if you ever do see something in one of my posts which mightily offends your grammatical sensibilities, please send me an email so I can correct the error.

    As for published works, I get really ticked off when I purchase a print book and discover typos and/or grammatical errors. I always feel like circling the errors in red pen and sending the book back to the publisher with a nasty note.

  2. I just completed reading your post and all the comments. My brain is tired. Well done on your grammar treatise, and in your patient and kind responses to the comments. I perceive your heart in the effort you made to help the writer and the reader, alike. In this day of anything goes, and close enough; your words are fresh as spring after a long winter, and welcome as rain in a dry land. Thank you!

  3. Stop calling me out! 😉

    I jest. I will confess, though, that I spend so much time toiling over grammar before I hit the trusty “publish” button. That has to count for something, right? Even if it isn’t perfect? 🙂

    By the way, I’ve always been bothered by a certain line from the ever famous song by the Jackson 5 called “I’ll be there”. Does it bother you, too? People have been singing it this way for 40 years. I never thought it was grammatically correct, but if it is, I may be able to enjoy listening to it for once.

    “If you should ever find someone new, I know he’d better be good to you
    ‘Cos if he doesn’t, I’ll be there”

  4. I’m shakin’ in me boots Mama D…. I’d better triple check my posts each time before I publish! I would shudder to think what you would say about some of the correspondence I receive from other doctors!!!! The grammar is equivalent to that of Neanderthals…. Me doctor, he patient, broken bone, need to fix.

  5. I hate typos in printed material. I have my 6th grade teacher to thank for that. We got extra credit for clipping typos we found in the newspaper. That’s when I developed an grammar mafia eye. One of my favorite typos over the years was found in a personal invitation to an Eagle Scout ceremony: “Your present is requested.” I thought it was a little forward. However, I did plan to bring my presence there! As a faith writer, I did have a question about Jesus’s or Jesus’. P.S. I hope I didn’t leave a typo in here although you are giving us a pass! 🙂

  6. Almost 200 comments already in, so you don’t really need mine – except that I WHOLEHEARTEDLY AGREE WITH YOU. I’m shouting it from the rooftops: it’s all very simple, just learn the basics. Your analogies are superb. Thanks for cracking the whip, Godmother.

  7. I gladly tolerate minor grammar mistakes if they accompany original and clear thinking. That said, I do spend a lot of time reading essays from people who speak English as a second language, so perhaps my (lower stress) standards are skewed.

  8. I agree with your purpose. I’m amazed by your skill and style. I learned what “elision” means. What a gift you have. Please write a novel so I can read your prose long form (or is it, long-form? :).

    • Ha ha ha ha. You made the Godmother laugh. Gee, y’all are making her think with the “…or is it?” questions. Without breakfast fuel for her brain, she says no hyphen. She appreciates your support, Lon. (But I’m going to send her away today to blow off steam. She’s freaked out too many of my readers.)

  9. You are absolutely right, and guess that occasionally I have been guilty. It’s not deliberate though. Thank you for reminding me of things I knew long ago, and with my poor old brain had forgotten. Must try to do better or stand in the naughty corner!

  10. Diana it is one of the reasons it took me so long to write anything. The fear that someone would be able to detect my lack of education. Thank goodness for books. I read, I write and I am learning slowly. Thanks for the reminder to give our best work every time.

    • Please shed the timid fear, Kath. Whenever you set out to type and on this blog! You’ve been doing wonderfully and I never picked up on the matter of education, reading your work. All the more kudos to you for setting out to write with limited training. I appreciate how conscientious you are.


      • It was a battle to decide whether I could do it Diana and at first I was afraid to learn. But now I am embracing the new learning curve and accept that I will always be a student of life. Soaking up new challenges is why we are here. Happy day to you friend.

  11. Now we’ve been told. 🙂 I’m scared to put an apostrophe in the wrong place here now. 🙂 Seriously, a fabulous post! I’ve shared around the cyber world. 🙂

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  13. Over the past three months, I’ve read 34 rough drafts of creative essays submitted by classmates for a creative nonfiction writing workshop. The whole point of the workshop is to offer guidance to classmates about what is and isn’t working in the essay in terms of ideas and structure. Yet I have a hard time offering that type of guidance when the writing is peppered with fundamental mistakes in grammar and punctuation, making for an altogether confusing read.

  14. Nothing wrong with this post, Diana! My pitfall is to be surrounded by students who abuse the language, I hear it wrong too often and find I can fall into the mistake. Editors are priceless. No matter how hard I try, I will make mistakes. I went through the revision process probably twenty times before I published. I’m working on the second one now and have intentions of hiring an editor, even though I have an above-average command of the language. Thanks for the reminders, Ms. Grammar Nazi. 😉

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  17. I shouldn’t say anything, in case I incriminate myself. LOL.

    During my schooling years, grammar was wiped from the Australian curriculum in most States. The generations after me are even worse off, at least I did get in some basics. I’m trying to fix this by doing Grammar MOOCs at edX and Coursera. My old brain is having trouble grasping the concepts, so I’m retaking the same classes, until I get it right. I want to be able to look at a sentence and know what each part of it is called, what it does, and why.

    I hope I don’t turn into a grammar nazi. 😀

    • I won’t go off on Australia for the bravery of your honesty. =) The homeschool approach/curriculum we’ve adopted is dead serious about laying the foundation of grammar in all subjects. That is, the nonnegotiable (word takes no hyphen) characteristics and rules in all fields of learning. I appreciate knowing this part of your journey and how you are seeking knowledge and understanding in this area. Very neat. =) And thank you for the support.


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  19. Thanks for this. I am sure I have made these mistakes myself. I find it amazing that you can remember all of that.

      • Well I know that I am guilty of this because I do not get a complete education. I missed very much. I just keep trying, I hope I can learn from my mistakes.

      • Well what if one feels they don’t possess the intellect? I never finished school, so I did miss out on a lot.
        I regret that now. I was young and stupid then.

      • Feeling you don’t have the capacity and feeling that you do but simply need to learn are two different things. Fixed mindset vs. growth mindset in modern psychology parlance. I encourage you to change your self-talk. =)

      • I know that I need to do that, but it has been years of self doubt and low self esteem. I am working on it. I am doing much better than I was.
        Thank you so much, I appreciate your thoughts.

  20. I am very glad there are others in the blogosphere who have the same penchant for grammar. One of the things I most admire about all the technical writing and email that I read in my profession, is the command of language. Several other comments swirl in my brain at the moment, but for brevity I will say I enjoyed the Grammar Mafia post.

  21. The three things I found most helpful were the misplaced modifier, the explanation of “a lot” and “alot” because I think I struggle with that the most, as well as the object pronoun.

  22. Three most helpful reminders:
    1) how to properly use match the subject verb agreement
    2) Subject of a prepositional phrase
    3) object pronoun

    103F Madison

  23. The three things I found most helpful were:
    1) Misplaced modifiers
    2) The apostrophe
    3) Subject of a preposition phrase

    103F Valerie

  24. English 103F – Kayla Garcia
    Three helpful reminders
    1-Reflexive Pronoun
    2- Subject of a Prepositional Phrase
    3- Misplaced Modifier

  25. three helpful reminders
    1. A lot is two words.
    2. The object pronoun “between him and me”
    3. The reflexive pronoun

    103F Ariana

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