I am, much to my chagrin, a grammatical snob. Sure, I’ve got my own quirks. I have an overly developed fondness for commas, I constantly search for opportunities to use semi-colons, and my propensity for allegory drives even the most subservient sycophants to the brink of insanity. And yet, despite my own literary tendencies, I do not try to force them on other people. Everyone should have their own literary style, lest we all end up sounding like a poorly crafted set of stereo instructions. However, while I’m more than happy to accept the stylistic differences of writers across the globe, those of you who choose to ignore the rules of grammar will forever be silenced in my mind. I refuse to read anything that sounds like it was composed by a semi-literate teenager sending a text message to his or her significant other in the 60 seconds between arriving in a classroom and the start of a lecture.
While I could literally write an entire book on the heinous sins against grammar that have seemingly become accepted by the general populace, I will not do so here. Partially because no one wants to hear me complain about people who can’t write for several hundred pages, but mostly because it would take a long time and the only reason I write these posts is because The Man says I have to. Therefore, here are just a few small tips of things you can avoid so that people won’t think that you’re a functioning illiterate.
- Your vs. You’re – Figuring out when to use your vs. you’re is extremely simple. Just remember that “you’re” is a contraction for the words, “you are,” and substitute those two words in the sentence you just wrote. If your sentence now reads, “Hey, when is you are party?” then you’ve used the wrong version. Conversely, remember that the word “your” implies ownership. If you’re referring to an object – ex. your bike, your train, your mom’s delicious apple pie – then you’ll be on the road to literary utopia.
- Literally vs. Figuratively – Whenever someone misuses the word “literally,” the wisdom of Mandy Patinkin should be applied. Remember that when something is literal, it means that you mean exactly what you’re stating is true. There are no literal metaphors, similes, or analogies. Furthermore, if you claim that you’re literally going to kill someone, then you could be charged with making a death threat and thrown in jail for an indeterminate amount of time. Therefore, if you’re going to use the word literally, make sure you’re willing to back it up 100%, or face the consequences that may result.
- Proofreading is a responsibility, not a luxury – In my life, I have written hundreds and hundreds of articles, reports, studies, essays, etc. At no point did I ever get it exactly right on the first draft. Chances are, neither have you. When you write, your first draft should be filled with freely expressed emotion. Right after you’re done with that, go back and fix all the stupid things you just wrote. Failing to go back and proofread your work implies one of two things… either you don’t know the proper rules of grammar, or you’re just too lazy to care about your own work. Both are disrespectful to your reader, and should be avoided at all costs.
After reading this, chances are you think I’m kind of a jerk. After all, who am I to tell you how to write? No one died and made me the Literary Liege of all the Land (once again, here comes the allegory). Of course you can feel free to disregard what I’ve written, as well any other rules of grammar I didn’t mention here. The reason I chose to write about this today is that I’m genuinely concerned about the state of the written word in today’s society. The fundamentals that make up good writing are based in a strong knowledge of grammar, and that’s something that appears to be vanishing. 25 years ago, when we misspelled a word we had to re-write it 5 or 10 times so that we would learn it. Today, no one ever misspells anything, due to spell checkers that correct the word before we even see that it’s wrong. Punctuation errors are noted by any word processing program, and are fixed instantly with a simple click of the mouse. The sad truth is that people are no longer learning the basics, and it’s destroying an art form that has existed for thousands of years. And so I urge you, when you take the time to write content for your website, your blog, or even your private journal, take the time to do it right. Show the world that the written word is not dying, and everyone, myself included, will be happy to take the time to read what you have to say.
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