Dean's Corner News

On Valentine’s Day, Don’t Forget to Love Your Grammar

Dean Richard Franza’s column appeared in the Sunday, February 14 edition of the Augusta Chronicle. The post can be viewed here.

Happy Valentine’s Day! It is apropos that on this day, I have come to realize that no one knows me better than the person I love the most: my wife, Lorie. 

One of the things she knows about me is how much I value how others communicate, particularly the use (or misuse!) of grammar and spelling. Therefore, a number of years ago, she bought a small sign to go on my desk that reads, “I am silently correcting your grammar.” I have never had the nerve to bring that sign to my workplace, as I do not want those who work with me to be self-conscious when they speak with me. So, even though I keep the sign on my desk at home, I am given ample opportunity to silently correct grammar and spelling throughout each day.

In recent weeks, I have used this column to discuss the career preparation and development for my two daughters and my students at the Hull College of Business at Augusta University. For both of these audiences, I stress how important excellent oral and written communication skills are to their current and future career prospects. In particular, poor grammar, incorrect word use and improper spelling often are seen as signs of lower intelligence and/or inattention to detail.

My daughters probably wish I would adhere to the sign on my home desk, rather than correcting them verbally. However, I hope they will be better off in the long run by having lived with the “grammar police.” At the Hull College, our students are provided ample feedback on their oral and written communications throughout their program – in particular in their “Introduction to Business” and professional sales courses.

Unfortunately, poor grammar, improper word usage and misspelling are rampant throughout our society. It is particularly scary that those in the media, who speak and/or write for a living, are among the most frequent violators. While I could write several columns about these problems, I am going to identify four of the most prevalent problems just in this column, so that we can all communicate better.

1. Pronoun Use: It seems like many of us missed the lessons in school on the use of subjective vs. objective pronouns. Subjective pronouns are those that are used as the subject (performing an action) of a sentence – for example: “I,” “he,” “she,” “they,” “we” and “who” are subjective pronouns. Objective pronouns typically receive the action in the sentence – for example: “me,” “him,” “her,” “them,” “us” and “whom” are objective pronouns. A great way to easily identify if you should use a subjective pronoun is that in most cases, it precedes the verb in the sentence. Objective pronouns follow verbs or prepositions (e.g., “to”, “for,” “with,” “at,” “from”) in a sentence. The most common and flagrant misuse of subjective and objective pronouns occurs with “me” and “I.” For some reason, people think they sound more intelligent when using “I” instead of “me.” So, they very rarely use “me,” and will use “I” even when it is the object of the sentence. I am constantly correcting my daughters on this, but this problem is not limited to young people. I had a boss who did this constantly, but I was wise enough never to correct it.

2. Using Adjectives Instead of Adverbs to Describe Verbs: Many people incorrectly use adjectives to describe verbs, when adverbs should be used instead. For instance, when describing how somebody does something, people will often say they do it “good” (adjective), but they should say they do it “well” (adverb). In other cases, we forget to add “-ly” at the end of an adjective to make an adverb. For those of you who know me personally, you are aware that I speak at a very high volume (I blame it on growing up in an Italian home on Long Island). In a restaurant, a woman once let me know that I “speak too loud.” While she was very happy to hear that I agreed with her assessment of my volume and would do my best to lower my voice, she was less thrilled when I told her I actually “speak too loudly.” The lesson here is that when describing a verb (in this case, “speak”), add “-ly” to create the adverb to describe it (and not to give someone a grammar lesson when you have already annoyed them by speaking too loudly!).

3. Possessive vs. Contractions (Homophones): While the first two common error areas occur primarily in oral communication, the next two take place in written communication. There is definitely confusion between possessives (e.g., “its” and “their”) and their homophonic contractions (“it’s” and “they’re”). One of the most common mistakes in writing is likely the usage of “its” and “it’s.” “Its” is the possessive, whereas “it’s” is a contraction of “it is.” I assume that many think “it’s” is a possessive because it has an apostrophe, which is often used when we make words possessive in English.

4. Misspellings: While most people believe word processor “spell checks” have helped stamp out misspellings, I disagree. If you misspell a word that actually spells out another word, the spell check does not help. In my 20-plus years in higher education, I am stunned by the number of students who spell “lose” as “loose.” Obviously, a spell check does not catch that error and such spelling makes the student look like a one-O “loser!”  Also, we all have become victims of “autocorrect,” so we need to be aware of spelling the word that we really meant to use.

The manner in which we communicate sometimes sends unintended messages. I hope these hints will help many of us to communicate in a way that allows others to think most positively about us. However, in honor of Valentine’s Day, I am not going to correct the grammar of the ones I love, silently and otherwise. For them, there is no greater gift on this day!