I was young and idealistic, once. I imagined moving to the great western prairies like the homesteaders of yore, living off the land and frequently stepping outside so that the wind could whip romantically through my hair as I gazed wistfully in the distance. I recall once reading a book about homesteading women who literally fought off the wolves from their doors, and I fancied myself being just as strong, had I lived in those times. And then a hornet flew into the house and I freaked out trying to kill it.
I also thought I could change the world as an English teacher. I got my healthy dose of reality there, too. I then had my own kids and left the classroom to raise them and became an at-home grammar snob.
I must add that being a stuck-up grammarian does come with its downfalls, for I have been stymied by my own snobbery. I have rewritten entire sentences because I was uncertain of comma placement.
Also, I am frequently stumped by the word “bring.” (Do l bring it to you or take it to you? I usually sidestep the issue and just say that I’ll drop it off). As for “lay” and “lie,” my rule of thumb is the same for directions, in that whichever way I want to go, the opposite one is probably correct.
But I’m still waging my own private war against the improper use of “its” and “it’s.” I’ve written on this theme before, but it bears revisiting, especially at the start of a school year, especially when learning 2020 is unprecedented in the various forms that it is taking.
Maybe the attempt at grammar ed is futile because full-grown adults-with-degrees (who should know better) are falling off the wagon. For years we have been writing in incomplete sentences, and now our incomplete sentences aren’t even complete.
Witness the devolution of a phrase. “Here are a few of my favorite things” became “Few of my favorite things” and, sadly, finally, “Few faves–“. Actually, the final devolution will likely be a series of heart and food emojis.
It seems as if we are too busy to figure out how to stick both a subject AND a predicate into whatever message we want to type. Or, are we concerned that it somehow says that we’re just not up with the times if we bother to construct a complete thought? Are we too cool to be clear? Are we trending towards pithy yet vague and error-ridden brevity?
Don’t be swayed, kids! Remember the basics! Punctuation is important! A sentence expresses a complete thought! And if you know the difference between “to,” “too,” and “two,” you can rule the world.
Moreover, I say that after the opposable thumb, the evolution of man reached its apex with the ability to use an apostrophe. It’s your gift. Don’t squander it.
Now, for the public-service announcement portion of this column and for all you students out there, I offer the following tips:
It’s: a contraction for IT IS. It’s about time you learned this.
Its: the possessive form of the pronoun IT. Modern civilization as we know it would crumble without its apostrophe.
They’re: a contraction for THEY ARE. They’re throwing punctuation out the door.
Their: the possessive form of the pronoun THEY. Their gift to the world is good grammar.
There: usually refers to location, typically meaning NOT HERE. He is not there because he is learning virtually.
To: a preposition or part of an infinitive. She went to school to learn about such things.
Too: an adverb meaning ALSO or EXCESSIVELY. Is all this grammar talk getting to be too much for you, too?
Two: refers to NUMBER. That makes two of us.
They’re going to pull their hair out if the two fellows over there don’t stop texting long enough to learn the mechanics of writing too, and it’s not that hard of a thing to learn.
Now, go forth and conquer, kids. But first, could you please kill that wasp for me?