Grammar 101: Basic Grammar Usage in Writing

Ok, I can’t take this shit anymore; allow me to begin this post by saying if you are easily offended or don’t take kindly to criticism, this may not be the post for you. Yes, harsh words will be used. Yes, I may be speaking about you directly and yes, there’s a sporting chance you’ll either A) be pissed off at the end of this post or B) feel like all of the money you spent on college or a private school education was for not, and consider taking a refresher course in grammar, usage, and the basics of the English language. With that being said, click away now. If you would like to learn more, read on… 

I don’t know how it happened or why it has become so socially acceptable but over the years I’ve noticed a major decline in proper use of the English language and an overall public display of ignorance which is truly driving me up the fuckin’ wall. I understand that perhaps some people didn’t receive the best education growing up or in some parts of the world, my beloved hometown included, displays of such ignorance are considered “okay”. News flash: it’s not okay. If you want to get somewhere in life, act like it. Speaking out of your ass, using words which you don’t understand or know the correct meaning of and publicly showing your ignorance (ie. grammatically incorrect blog posts, public letters, etc) are no way to get you anywhere other than working at the local supermarket for the duration of your miniscule life.

Class in session. Let’s begin with one thing that’s really been grinding my gears for the past couple of months. Where in the fuck did people develop the notion that the word “ratchet” means bad? I see Facebook statuses, Tweets, blog posts and other written publications that seem to use that word to drive home the point that something is bad or distasteful. Huh? Let us consult Webster on this matter: ratchet, n. 1. a mechanism consisting of a pawl that engages the sloping teeth of a wheel or bar, permitting motion in one direction only. 2. the paw, wheel, or bar of this mechanism. Growing up, one of my teachers taught me a pretty nifty trick that kept me from talking out of my ass that I actually still use to this day.

If you’re unsure if a word is the correct word to use in a sentence, use the definition in place of the word and make your decision from there. Now that we’ve established the proper definition of “ratchet” allow us to put my teacher’s suggestion to good use and use the definition in a sentence.

“This may be the most mechanism consisting of a pawl that engages sloping teeth permitting motion in a given direction video I’ve seen today.” I’ll let you decided if that makes sense; if for some reason you think it does, please contact your local high school or college and enroll yourself in a grammar and usage class post-haste.

Anyway, what I’m willing to bet happened with “ratchet” was some genius somewhere was trying to say “wretched” and in a best case scenario had an accent and when the word was spoken, came out as “ratchet” rather than the intended word. In a more realistic circumstance however, some dumbass somewhere probably truly didn’t know what they were saying and said “ratchet” and due to this mystical person’s popularity the word caught on as a new and hip catch phrase. How tragic. Just for shits and giggles, let’s use the same sample sentence with “wretched” as the key word rather than “ratchet”. Wretched, adj. 1. in a deplorable state of distress or misfortune; miserable. 2. characterized by or attended with misery or woe. 3. of a poor or mean character, dismal. 4. of very inferior quality.

“This may be the most inferior quality video I’ve seen today.”

“This may be the most deplorable or miserable video I’ve seen today.”

Between the three sample sentences, which sounds more correct? That’s right kids! Sentences #2 and #3. Before I move on, if you’re one of those people who uses the word “ratchet”, please, for the love of God in heaven remove that from your vocabulary and replace it with a word that actually makes sense. Thank you, ratchets all over the world appreciate your kindness. 🙂

Now that we’ve covered that, allow us to move on to more pressing matters; ensuring that your work is clear, concise and understandable prior to publishing it and subjecting yourself to public embarrassment. Take a look at this letter written by one star that I’m sure many of you adore. Before I begin my critique, give it a once over and notate any irregularities you come across.

Times up! Now we begin the critique. First, I’m not sure where, when or what sort of elementary school Mrs. Cater went to but I thought that it was common knowledge that you begin a sentence with a capital letter. That first statement should read, “Is the ultimate…” rather than the way she has it written. In addition to that obvious mistake, to what stretch of the imagination is-“is” a proper way to begin a sentence? The word “is” can be used as a verb or a third person way to express the term “be”. It’s not a proper noun nor is it a subject or an action verb such as “run”. “Is” is not a word one should use to begin a sentence (unless of course you’re asking a question, which in this instance was not the case). Ignoring the fact that it just sounds silly, starting a sentence with that term leaves the reader wondering who or what the subject of the sentence is. If someone walked up to you and said, “Is going home today!”, how would you respond to that? Do you now who exactly is going home today with the way that information was presented to you? Do you know for sure whether or not the noun going home is a person or thing? Do you know anything at all other than the fact that some noun is going home? No! You do not. A sentence should convey all pertinent information about the subject (which Beyoncé forgot to establish) and should expand on any sentences that came before it. In this instance, since “Is the ultimate…” was the introductory sentence, there is no information to expand on and should fall in line with the previous example I gave. Capiche?

Next, why on earth does this woman keep saying “she” as if the person she wrote the letter to isn’t the person she’s speaking about? If I write a letter to Jay-Z and address him in place of where she has Michelle, I would say “you are a caring father”, since I am of course speaking to him. If however I wrote the letter to the President but was speaking about Jay-Z, the sentence would correspond with what the songstress has written; “he is a caring father”. Since I was trying to describe the traits of one person (Jay-Z) to another person (President Obama) I would use the term “he”. It makes no sense, socially or grammatical to use the pronoun term (she) when speaking to the subject (Michelle). When you speak to your friends you don’t say, “he sure is a great guy!” when the great guy you’re referring to is standing right in front of you, do you? No. You say “you sure are a great guy!”. The terms he, she, and any others that can be substituted are reserved solely for when speaking about one person to another.

The next bit of ignorance in this letter should come as no surprise to anyone with half-a-brain but I’d like to point it out just in case someone missed it. When writing it is proper to use a capital letter at the beginning of a sentence or when writing out a proper noun such as a name or title. Nowhere in the English rule book does it state that you can use capital letters to show emphasis; that’s why the English created italic letters. I’m willing to bet Beyoncé has a computer so once again, why she did such a silly thing is beyond me. In her defense, maybe she wasn’t sure if First Lady was a proper noun (to be clear, it is and ultimate, as she so kindly capitalized in the first sentence, is not) and decided to capitalize the entire title rather than the first letter of both words. Maybe in attempt to risk appearing ignorant she made a well-meaning mistake. Sadly that plan backfired; oh well, you live and you learn. Anyway, beyond the fact that capitalizing random letters and terms is grammatically incorrect, it just looks silly and makes the author appear ignorant. Only kindergarteners do shit like that, not grown ass women.

Speaking of writing like a toddler, I understand that it’s acceptable in informal or social writing such as Facebook statuses, Tweets and things of that nature to use multiple punctuation marks to show emphasis or to add oomph to your writing. That unwritten law does not hold ground in the world of proper English, grammar or formal writing. Why didn’t anyone love Mrs. Carter enough to point this out before she mailed this letter? Many forms of punctuation were created with the soul-purpose of showing emphasis; the exclamation mark is one such mark. The sentence “Bob is home.” shows no heart-felt enthusiasm. “Bob is home!” however shows that the author is jumping for joy as he/she types that; no need for four exclamation marks as our misguided author above chose to use. The same applies to questions marks; said marks were devised to signify that the question is being asked such as “where are you going?”. The point of question or excitement is made abundantly clear when these punctuation marks are used. There is no need to type multiple exclamation or question marks taking that statement question up two notches and turning it into a super-question/comment.

Jumping down to the second paragraph I couldn’t help but notice Beyoncé’s use of a hyphen. Most people do seem to think that those handy little dashes are used at the authors will to separate words, incomplete thoughts or beliefs. I’m sorry to rain on everyone’s black parade but that too is incorrect. The semi-colon was handed down to us by our lovely step parents (the British) as a way to do what I just described. For example “This isn’t a good idea” and “stealing could lead to jail time” are both incomplete thoughts, but when joined in matrimony by a semi-colon they go great together, see: this isn’t a good idea; stealing could lead to jail time. After reading the entire sentence you get a full view of what’s going on in the story/situation and the author has managed to make two broken thoughts one whole one. Perfect! Now, on to the hyphen. The hyphen is supposed to be used to separate certain words that contain prefixes from their root words such as semi-sweet compound phrases that contain two root words such as well-meaning, terms that contain two root words that are held together by prepositions such as run-of-the-mill and lastly, a complete term that is composed of more than two root words such as ten-year-old. Again, referring to the English rule book, it does not say “if you want to run two thoughts together stick a hyphen in the middle”. As described, hyphens have a specific purpose in life as do semi-colons. Please use them accordingly.

I wont bother to elaborate too much on the obvious comma abuse in this letter. Did you know comma abuse is more common in America than child abuse? How tragic. Maybe someone should start a “save the commas” fund, or better yet, dare I say it… remember what you learned in elementary school about their use! Commas are to signify a brief pause in reading, that’s all; period! Maybe Beyoncé was wheezing while writing this letter and that explains the pauses every four seconds but in the real world, we don’t do that. Remember that the next time you want to abuse a poor, defenseless comma.

In closing, the last screaming error in this letter; Beyoncé chosing to underline the word proud two times as if the world will leap off of the page with the use of lines. In formal writing, a single underline is used to show the title of a written publication such as a book. “A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens will be the subject of my book report”. Notice there is only one underline, not two, and I am not trying to show emphasis as it so seems this wayward woman is attempting. If I wanted to show emphasis in my sample sentence, it would read: “A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens will be the subject of my book report!”. See the difference? Despite that simple logic though, I don’t think that is what Beyoncé was going for and that in itself is why it hurts me to read. I’ve already explain that italic letters are to be used to show emphasis in print when an exclamation mark is inappropriate. Nowhere in the previous paragraph or in the English rule book does it say that an underline accomplishes this mission and I’m willing to bet a shiny nickel that a whopping two underlines wont accomplish what its singular brethren did not. Someone please explain these basic things to the leading lady of the Carter family: multiples do not show emphasis and each punctuation mark and notation has a job of its own. It’s not okay to mix and match to create a desired effect. It gets confusing and quite frankly, makes it seem as though baby Blue Ivy wrote this letter.

Whew! Finally, we’ve come to an end of The Jeanious’ Grammar school! If you did not adhere my warning at the beginning and find yourself pissed off at me, please refer to the comics below compliments of The Oatmeal. They offer more practical applications of common grammar errors such as the epic and ongoing battle between “there”, “their” and “they’re” while providing a bit of comic relief at the same time. 🙂

How to Use a Semi-Colon

Ten Words You Need To Stop Misspelling

What It Means When You Say “Literally”

The Jeanious’ Comprehensive Grammar Guide

2 thoughts on “Grammar 101: Basic Grammar Usage in Writing

  1. As a writing teacher and linguist, I’ll add my thoughts: since the beginning of time, people have been complaining about the declining state of their particular language, and how much better things were in the good old days. Several centuries ago, people were complaining about how English was a degenerate version of Latin, and needed to be re-made in the mold of Latin.

    Fact is, language changes with time, and there’s a constant tension between the conventional ways of doing things and new innovations. In spite of these complaints, we’re still able to communicate pretty well and society has yet to collapse.

    As a teacher, I would be the last to advocate an “anything goes” approach, but in my teaching, I know it’s not a good use of my energy to get bent out of shape about tiny variations in how a students use the language or their failure to proofread perfectly.

    Appolagies in advance for any typos in this message. I’m not perfect either!


  2. If I may add, I also dislike emoticons (like I tell my 2 year old, use your words), “LOL” when it is clear you are not actually laughing out loud, and the inappropriate use of the word “literally”.


Add your two cents...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s