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Grammar School

Five 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.

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’m 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, 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 am 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:

“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.”

“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.

“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 can stop scratching.

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 are allowed in our home.

“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 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 step in and correct them when they say it incorrectly. I have come around to accept the singular “they.” (WashingtonPost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/01/08/donald-trump-may-win-this-years-word-of-the-year/?utm_term=.6d43470fb060) And ending sentences with prepositions isn’t 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.

 

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Excerpted from Eve Crawford Peyton’s blog, Joie d’Eve,  which appears each Friday on MyNewOrleans.com.

 

 

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