The More You Know, The Less You Know

I LOVED learning grammar in middle school and high school.

Mr. Porter rode a motorcycle, wore a black leather jacket, and went prematurely gray at 17 years of age, and he taught me how to diagram sentences in 6th grade.  I love learning how things, including sentences, are structured, and so I LOVED diagramming sentences!  Yes, I’ll admit I’m a bit odd.

I would attribute the bulk of my grammar knowledge to Ms. Williams and Mrs. Glasgow – 7th and 8th grades.  I still remember chanting the mantra “Which one? What kind? Whose? and How many?”  If a word in a sentence can answer any of those questions, it’s an adjective!  I also remember trying to memorize – and still have partially memorized – “is am are was were be been has have had can could will would shall should may must might…” as auxiliary/helping/linking verbs.

Fewer versus less.  Ms. Williams drilled this rule into me.  If you have six items in your grocery cart, then you can go to the “10 Items or Fewer” line.  “Ten items or less” is grammatically incorrect!!!

“Stationary” with an “a” means you’re motionless.  You write on “stationery” with an “e.”  I found myself emailing several years ago because they were promoting one of their “stationary” lines in a graphic on their home page!!!  Tsk tsk, Hallmark!  They never responded to my email, but the next time I pulled up their home page, they had corrected the spelling!

Mr. McBride…  He was an interesting fellow.  Always very smiley.  10th grade I believe…  From him, I learned that the past tense of hang when you’re hanging somebody on a gallows is HANGED, not hung.  I remember that he was ESPECIALLY smiley when he emphasized that grammar rule.  Um.  Good to know, Mr. McBride!  But from him I also learned about types of adjectives (eg, in/definite article, number, color, size) and their order in a sentence.  For instance, the article (eg, “a,” “an,” or “the”) goes first.

My favorites were prepositional phrases.  I was taught to look for and bracket off these first to examine them as units.  Then I would ask myself, “What is the function of that prepositional phrase in the sentence?  What does it modify?”

Perhaps I’m too technical to an absurd point – and UNINTENTIONALLY so!  In 8th grade, my geometry class had to cut out pictures from magazines to make a poster that would show representations of a point, a line, and a plane.  I still remember that my teacher took off 2 points because I wrote “the seemingly endless plain” under a picture of the plains of Nebraska!  Of course the plains aren’t REALLY endless, so why did she take off those 2 points for the word “seemingly”?!  I didn’t write “seemingly endless PLANE.” (A plane defined geometrically is TECHNICALLY boundless.)  I got second place in the school spelling bee, so I’m quite sure I didn’t confuse plain and plane!!!  I’m still upset!!!  (Not really.  …but a little!)  Ah, but Ms. Coe…  That was a great class.  From HER came my love for geometry, shapes, angles, theorems, and proofs!  Yes, I LOVED proofs!

Where am I going with all of this rambling???  I’ll be hanged – not hung! – if my love of prepositional phrases, sentence structure, and technical details gets me this time!  Erg.  Even when I try NOT to be so technical, I just can’t seem to help myself!

HA!!!  And I just found myself examining a prepositional phrase in the bolded line above to figure out which verb to use!!!  It’s a habit that I wasn’t even aware I had — until now!!!  The prepositional phrase [of prepositional phrases, sentence structure, and technical details] can be bracketed off, so the correct verb to use is “gets” – NOT “get.”  In other words, “I’ll be hanged… if my love… GETS me this time”!!!  Knowing how to break up sentences isn’t completely useless!!!

But is it useFUL???  I’m still mulling over a certain three-word prepositional phrase in my head!  Let’s not get into THAT…  I THOUGHT I knew my prepositional phrase and grammar rules, but maybe I don’t!  Or maybe I do, and my subconscious attention to detail is what got me into trouble instead.

Well, I’ll be hanged!!!

P.S.  Yes, I do realize that my blog entries aren’t always grammatically correct.  There are several sentence fragments in this post among other grammar “errors.”  But rules, especially grammar rules in blogs, are meant to be broken…  That’s my excuse anyways!

3 Responses

  1. All I can say is, I totally understand and completely agree. I too LOVE grammar and diagramming sentences. My favorite grammar teacher was Mr. McSweeney in 6th grade at Albright MS. He also had a thing for Poe (I had him for Language Arts too). Anyway, I’m probably not as good at it, since I never memorized that list of verbs, or their purpose, but I still enjoy being corrected and learning new things, such as, where to use apostrophes correctly and the correct use of “good” and “well” ie. “She did a good job.” and “She did well.” I also loved geometry and trig and algebra. Funny, I love the math side of most things. Maybe that’s why I’m not a big novel reader, and majored in Music Theory. Sometimes I wonder if I should have been a math major, but I had a bad experience with Calc. in HS that I haven’t gotten past. (passed or past?) 🙂 Thanks for that fewer vs. less rule. I didn’t know that! Keep blogging 🙂

  2. @ Leigh: Thanks, Leigh! I’m glad SOMEBODY is with me! Yes, I know my grammar isn’t perfect either, so I, too, appreciate being corrected. Most of the time, though, I hold my own tongue and try not to correct others!

    And okay, you don’t live in Texas anymore… 🙁 But you HAVE to still have a lot of “Texas” in you! What am I getting at? The word “y’all” of course – since you brought up apostrophes! An apostrophe marks an omission:

    don’t = do not (missing “o”)
    doesn’t = does not (missing “o”)
    ma’am = madam (missing “d”)
    y’all = you all (missing “ou”)

    I can’t understand why Texans can’t spell y’all!!!

    A random note about etymology and the shortening of phrases but not so much about apostrophes, “goodbye” is a derivative of “God be with you”! Ah, I also love etymology!

    Sorry about your bad experience with calculus – ooh that’s another one… Capitalization of school subjects… 😀 Ahem…

    I fortunately had GREAT GREAT GREAT high school pre-cal and calculus teachers, Coach Durnford and Ms. Stephenson, and LOVED math. My college calculus teacher wasn’t that great and he almost completely killed my love for math. I’m slowly rekindling that old flame.

    Teachers can be powerful, no?

    You love the math side of things, but you’re a great writer, Leigh; I love reading your blogs!

    (Ooh, another pet peeve – leaving out the comma that’s supposed to separate the noun of address from the rest of the sentence…)

    Leigh, you just gave me a soap box by responding! And I COULD ramble more… But won’t!

    But yes… Rules of grammar are in flux, especially now… Sometimes what’s “right” depends on whom you ask. (Ask HIM? Ask HE? No, ask HIM. Therefore, it “depends on whom you ask.”)

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