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Feb 3, 201711:23 AM
Joie d'Eve

Living, loving, laughing, and learning in the new New Orleans

Grammar School

The top 5 things I bug my kids about saying properly

Most of the time, I think I’m a pretty cool mom. I yell too much, and I let my kids eat canned ravioli and frozen non-organic chicken nuggets, and I allow too much screen time … but I also make it to every school play, performance, or sporting event; once hand-assembled mini-whoopee cushion valentines for 29 third graders; and frequently have frank discussions with both kids about everything from sex to racism based on whatever questions they have. I let Ruby dye her hair pink one summer, and although I make the kids try unfamiliar foods, I never force them to finish anything they don’t like.

Basically, what I’m saying is that I think most of the time, I wouldn’t hate to have myself as a mom.

Sometimes, though, I feel a little bit bad for my kids because I am constantly correcting their grammar. Not just the things every parent does — correcting stuff like “runned” and “eated” — but actually overexplaining compound sentences to Ruby to the point that she got half of them wrong on her homework. (I still think they were technically actually right, but I just told her to do it the way her teacher explained it and forget everything I’d told her the night before.) When she was in first grade, I made her write a query instead of answering the question: “Which quilt is the (thicker or thickest) one on the shelf?” “Cannot answer without knowing whether there are two quilts or more,” she wrote down, her brow furrowed, looking at me like I was crazy.

But it’s true. If there are only two quilts, “thicker” would be correct. If there were three or more, it would be “thickest.” I’m really not trying to be a pain-in-the-ass pedant; I just get truly excited about language and grammar and want to share that passion with my kids.

The things I won’t let slide are:

 

  1. “Fewer” versus “less.” Fewer is for anything that can be counted; less is for abstract quantities. When I taught grammar to college kids, the example we always used was “fewer kisses, less sex.” With my own kids, I use “fewer jelly beans, less candy.”
  2. “You’re” versus “your.” I still feel moderately bad about the time Ruby gave me a card that said, “Your the best mom,” and I told her it was sweet and beautiful and I loved it … and then gave her a lesson on possessives and contractions and asked her to go fix the card. However, she now knows this distinction about 9,000 percent better than the majority of people who write YouTube comments, so I make no real apologies.
  3. “Itch” versus “scratch.” You scratch something that itches. You don’t itch something that itches. The tag inside your dress can itch you … but you can’t itch your neck; you scratch it. This is one that probably only irks me because it’s one my own mother corrected me on when I was little, and so I always hear her voice in my head when I remind my kids that their mosquito bite might not stop itching but they cannot stop scratching.
  4. Misuse of “literally.” I know I should probably give this one up for dead, as the language has already evolved, but I’m not ready to do that yet. “I was so surprised I literally died today.” “My head literally exploded.” “My heart was literally beating out of my chest.” NONE OF THESE IS ALLOWED IN OUR HOME.
  5. “Lie” versus “lay.” As I remind my kids more or less all the time, “lie” means “recline.” You can hear it in the word: “re-cLIE-nuh.” “Lay” means “place.” You can hear it in the word: “puh-LAY-suh.” So you’re going to lie down. You’re going to lay your head on the pillow.

 

There is plenty I let pass. (Honestly, I let many of these pass, too, depending on the situation. If Ruby says, “My heart is literally breaking right now,” her emotions take precedence over linguistic precision.) But I don’t stress over every grammar infraction. I don’t care all that much about “may I” instead of “can I,” although I know lots of people still are bothered by it. I haven’t harped overmuch on the subjunctive mood yet; I model it when I say something like, “Well, Georgia, if I were you,” but I don’t really step in and correct them when they say it incorrectly. I have come around to accept the singular “they.” And ending sentences with prepositions is not a hill I’m willing to die on. (Get it?)

But these are the five that I most consistently nag my kids about (about which I most consistently nag my kids). Luckily, even after all of it, I still manage to get cards that say I’m the best mom. The fact that they’re almost always grammatically correct is just icing on the cake.

 

What are your biggest grammar pet peeves? 

 

 

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Joie d'Eve

Living, loving, laughing, and learning in the new New Orleans

about

        Eve is further proof, if any is needed, that New Orleans girls can never escape the city. After living here since the age of 3 and graduating from Ben Franklin High School, Eve moved to Columbia, Mo., where she received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Missouri School of Journalism and became truly, unhealthily obsessed with grammar.She had originally intended to strike out to New York City and work in the cutthroat magazine industry there, but after Katrina, Eve felt a strong pull to return home, to her roots, her family, her waterlogged and struggling city – and a much more forgiving work atmosphere that would allow her to skip a routine of everyday makeup and size 0 designer label business suits and enjoy the occasional cocktail or three with an absurdly fattening lunch. She moved back home in January 2008 and lives in Mid-City with her two daughters, Ruby and Georgia; her stepson, Elliot; and her husband, Robert Peyton.Eve blogs about the joys and struggles of living in post-Katrina New Orleans, the unique problems and delights of raising a child in such a diverse and challenging city – including her experiences with the public education system – and her always entertaining and extremely colorful family.Eve has won numerous writing awards, including the Pirates Alley Faulkner Society Gold Medal, the Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence award for column-writing and Press Club of New Orleans awards for her Editor’s Note in New Orleans Homes & Lifestyles and for this blog, most recently winning the award for "Best Feature Affiliated Blog."She welcomes comments, advice, empty flattery, recipes, drink invitations and – most especially – grammatical or linguistic debates.

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