Confessions of a Grammar Enthusiast

Phyl CampbellStarred Page By Phyl Campbell, 13th Oct 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Personal Experiences

If seeing signs with bad grammar makes you cringe, this is an article for you!

People are just People, but People are Judged by Language

Being a grammarian from "small town" Arkansas has definitely left a chip -- or rather a sizable chunk -- on my shoulders. As an Arkansan, I am supposed to speak with a hillbilly accent, use the word "y'all," (a lot), and also use words like "ain't," "cain't," and "dja want to?" (Which I don't -- meaning both "I don't want to" and I don't use those words in my normal speech.) Not that there is anything wrong with speaking that way. Former President Clinton is from Arkansas, though a different part of the state, and his speeches could move and befuddle people all at the same time. His accent make him seem more personal and personable than his education would have otherwise dictated. Southern people are supposed to be able to say the most hateful things and they still come across as polite. However, this has little to do with the written word.

Maybe it's my Neck of the Woods, but...

I am often left thinking that my education from my neck of the woods can't be as good as an Ivy Leaguer's, as good as someone from UCLA or NYU. What I tend to forget is that not everyone who hails from California is a UCLA grad, nor is every former New Yorker a graduate of NYU. People everywhere are just people. Most people, without the need to assure "the world" that their grammar is just fine in spite of their modest country upbringing, can look past errors when they find them. Else, they are like me, and we are collectively labeled Grammar Nazis. I prefer the term Grammar Enthusiasts. I like being able to understand what I read.

Grammar Enthusiasm and Writers

As an indie published author, I try to support other indie published writers. Last weekend, I attended a meet and greet at my local library, and there were 50 local authors there (or 49 plus me). During the conference, I was able to mingle a bit with several authors, and at the end, I traded books with two of them. This can be a good way to share fan bases and score reviews.

And I mistakenly thought, for the second year in a row, that an Arkansas transplant -- someone not native to the area, but moved here later in life -- would not have that Appalachian grammar that is thought to pervade speakers here. (There are Arkansans who speak with Appalachian dialects, mostly because they or their parents hail from the Appalachias.) Like so many others, I expect to find more mistakes among the truly local-yokels than people who have moved here from bigger cities in bigger, better-educated states. Partly, this is crazy, since I was educated here and I hate it when people assume I won't speak or write well. Partly, this is because I've taught many students here, and I know it is "cooler" to make mistakes and talk in slang or a drawl (depending on one's clique) than to speak and write correctly. In either case, I expect better from authors, because why would someone spend so much time on something that he or she wasn't going to do well?

However, I expect that, like last time, if I write to this author, offering the experience of my grammatical enthusiasm, I will either get no reply or a reply I get will be mean-spirited, like I talked about here. Will my own reviews suffer as a result of a spiteful author's tyranny? What can I do?

Education, Education, Education

All I can do, when faced with this dilemma, is educate. Without naming the offending authors, I can post informative pieces like this, this, this, or this on my blog and site and hope that those who need them will see them and take my lessons to heart. Or that good writers who lack the time to teach good writing will share my work with those in need, and this gentle push among friends will serve dual purposes. First, readers will experience better quality writing, if lessons are taken to heart. Second, the term Grammar Nazi will be exchanged for Grammar Enthusiast, for those of us who care about grammar (many of us being misunderstood Americans, Southerns, Yankees, or the like) are really concerned with being understood. We laugh to prevent the tears. Sometimes, the tears come anyway.

With that being the case, here are two grammar lessons that the writer of the book I stopped reading really needed to learn before publishing. If you are a writer who would never make these mistakes, you have probably been harassed, bullied, or teased by someone who needs these lessons. I'll take the flack for you -- if you'll share my article with those who need it. We know they are out there, selling "fruit's, CD's, and other thing's."

To and Too

Yes, there is also "two," but the writer I am addressing did not confuse the number, and I only want to include examples of mistakes I read.

Possessives and Plurals

I know I've written Happy Father's Day -- A Grammar Rant in the past, and tried to cover these topics then. But when the mistake is repeated, a broken record I may become. So here are some different explanations to the same end.

It -- only has an apostrophe (') when IT'S is a contraction for it is.

BECAUSE we do not write:
hi's, her's, their's, your's, our's OR his', hers', theirs', yours', ours'

INSTEAD we write:
his, hers, theirs, yours, ours -- these are possessive pronouns.

Since possessive pronouns already replace a noun to save us time and typing, we are saved the apostrophe as well. The possessive pronoun its is also void of the extra mark.

There are people who get confused when writing about a family collectively. Take my last name, for example: Campbell. There should only be an apostrophe S ('s) when ownership is being discussed.

We are the Campbell family. We're the Campbells. NOT: We're the Campbell's.

The house belongs to the Campbell family, or every member of the Campbells. Therefore, it's the Campbell's house.

The soup that is Mmm, Mmm, good is Campbell's soup; however, we are not those Campbells.

Our friends could say:
We had a lovely time with the Campbells (the three people in that family).
We had a lovely time at the Campbell's (meaning at the Campbell's house, where the word "house" is inferred by context). The same is true for signs that read "Welcome to the Campbell's" that one often sees on houses, and I would guess from which most of the misunderstanding and misuse stems. While the sign is probably correct in referencing the owner's home, people thinking only about the family are led to incorrect grammatical thoughts.

The Campbells (all of them, the whole family) took us to a nice restaurant.
I'm glad I don't have to eat at the Campbell's (house) with the Campbells (the family) when they are only serving Campbell's soup.

Citing Examples

Lest one say I am being overly critical of typos, let me quote the pages (though anonymously) on which these mistakes occurred.

On one page:
"Fear has become my parent's constant companion as we go about our daily lives."
(The character has two parents and is talking about both of them. The apostrophe should go on the other side of the S: parents'.)

"...their very existence could mean her death as well as my fathers and mine."
(The character has only one father, and he should own his death: father's.)

On a different page:
"*Name withheld* questioned if he had learned anything at all about the *family name*'s during the time he spent with them."
(The 's should only be s, since the reference is to all the family members, not something they own.)

"'What was your impression of the *family name*'s?'"
(same as above; the character wants the other person's impression of the people, not something they own.

These weren't the only mistakes in the book. There were also bothersome word choices errors and formatting issues, the latter, at least, to be expected of a novice -- I had my share in my first book. And unlike the last indie author whose mistakes I exposed here in my early Wikinut days, multiple people weren't thanked for their editorial expertise.

While typos and mistakes happen to the best of us, multiple mistakes on the same page confuses readers and brings down the entire industry's reputation. It is hard enough to be an indie author. Self-doubt can be an overwhelming burden, which is why support is so important in this business. However, it can be difficult to support work of authors who aren't yet ready for the exposure. Flaws at the sentence level don't even begin to address dropped plot points, abandoned characters, story lines gone awry, or work that just doesn't flow. Flaws at the sentence level are objectively noted and addressed. It is my hope that when sentence level flaws are met with objectivity, the larger flaws will be found and addressed with grace and care. The overall published work, then -- and the readers who read it -- will benefit.

Articles and blogs to inspire good writing...

One way to show off writing skills or to write to improve writing skills is by writing articles for Wikinut. Click here to get started.

My friend and fellow Grammar Enthusiast Jenn McClory blogs about the finer points of grammar and life. A Southern Belle, McClory doesn't mind the word "y'all," like I do, provided that it's used correctly. She's also a great chick-lit writer, if chick-lit is your thing.

Fellow Wikinut Connie McKinney has posted some great articles about grammar, and I hope she continues to educate and inspire with them. Some of her grammar articles can be found here and here.

Another fellow Wikinut, Marilyn Davis, also has some great advice for writers. Some of those articles can be found here and here.

One of the sites I go to when I'm having a really bad grammar day is here. Another is here or here. Or here. I hope you'll like them, too.

Write with Grammatical Enthusiasm!


Grammar, Grammatical Errors, Writing, Writing Skills, Writing Tips

Meet the author

author avatar Phyl Campbell
I am "Author, Mother, Dreamer." I am also teacher, friend, Dr. Pepper addict, night-owl. Visit my website -- -- or the "Phyl Campbell Author Page" on Facebook.

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
13th Oct 2013 (#)

Thanks, Steve, for the quick publish and the star. That was SO FAST!!

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author avatar MarilynDavisatTIERS
13th Oct 2013 (#)

Good Morning, Phyl; as per usual, you have written well. I also appreciate the reference to any of my articles.

I moved to the south about 30 years ago, so write from Georgia. As a transplant, I sound like a “Yankee “to some native southerners. However, I have gotten comments from people stating that they are surprised at my writing skills since I am from the south.

Since I was born in Indiana, I am neither Yankee nor Southern, just a Grammar Enthusiast.

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author avatar Connie McKinney
13th Oct 2013 (#)

Thanks, Phyl, for referencing my articles.
I always learn something from your grammar articles. Keep up the excellent work you do as a grammar enthusiast, and I will do the same.

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author avatar Sivaramakrishnan A
13th Oct 2013 (#)

Good post, thanks Phyl. Always good to know how to write well. Some mistakes can be quite grating and due to carelessness. I try my best to edit properly before submitting them. I may miss some finer points of grammar due to ignorance but we can always learn with a positive outlook - siva

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
13th Oct 2013 (#)

Thank you, Marilyn, Connie, and Siva!!

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author avatar Stella Mitchell
13th Oct 2013 (#)

Phyl , I think your lines which say ....
It is my hope that when sentence level flaws are met with objectivity , the larger flaws will be found and addressed with grace and care . The overall published work , then - and the readers who read it - will benefit ...
Says it all .
Keep aiming high ...and succeed.
Bless you
Stella ><

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author avatar cnwriter..carolina
13th Oct 2013 (#)

Another good piece Phyl...I love the way you too write from your holds barred...

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
13th Oct 2013 (#)

Thanks Stella and Carolina!

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author avatar MMD
27th Oct 2013 (#)

Grammar is the core of every language.

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
27th Oct 2013 (#)

I think so, MMD. Thanks for your comment.

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author avatar MarilynDavisatTIERS
11th Nov 2013 (#)

Good morning, Tweeting - more aspiring writers should read this, Phyl. ~Marilyn

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
12th Nov 2013 (#)

Awesome! Thanks!

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