Saturday, October 25, 2014

How's your "grammar?"

I took this "grammar quiz" yesterday, more curious about what sorts of questions they would ask than whatever my "score" might be. As it turned out, I got them all "right."

(1) Of the 12, only 3 were really about "grammar." And one of those asked for a form (whom) that is essentially obsolete, what one writer calls "nostalgia as repression." Another asked for the past tense of "lie" (as in "lie down"); which is "lay" but that's also somewhat archaic at this point. The one legitimate grammar question had to do with subject/verb agreement (is v. are).

(2) Perhaps one (lose v. loose) was about lexicon, although this spills over into...

(3) ... spelling, which is what the rest were about, and which is not "grammar."  One of the more egregious examples of this is the distinction in spelling between the two forms pronounced [ɪts], written its and it's.  The first is possessive, 'belonging to it'; the second is the contraction of it and is.  This is not a confusion that anyone would or could make in speaking, because they're homophones!  It's only in spelling that they get separate treatment, and this is not where the grammar is.  Another frequently cited "confusion" is that of there - they're - their.  No English speaker would actually "confuse" these while using English, because they're different things: an adverb, a subject-verb contraction, and a possessive determiner.  They might confuse the spellings, but not the grammatical functions.

It would be nice if the people who make up these things would actually learn what "grammar" is.  A linguistics course might help...