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The Grammar Nerd


Original Post
Ron Olsen · · Boulder, CO · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 11,400

OK, OK, I know it's been a long time since high-school English, and we're just climbers talking about climbing, drinking beer, etc.

An' sometimes ya jes' wanna be a little colloquial, awright awreddy?

However, I see several common errors in grammar, punctuation and usage in posts and comments on this site, so I thought that at least some people would appreciate a little refresher:

1. it's vs. its.

it's = contraction of "it is". It's almost time for Happy Hour!
its = possessive. The dog wagged its tail.

It's quite common for a dog to lick its genitals.

2. you're vs. your

you're = contraction of "you are". You're going to love this pitch!
your = possessive. Don't forget your #4 Camalot!

You're sure you have your passport?

See Possessives and Apostrophes for more examples.

3. Compound adjectives. If the individual adjectives do not stand alone, use hyphens to connect them: a left-facing corner (It's not a left corner; it's not a facing corner; it's a left-facing corner.) Also: a 2-bolt anchor, a 6-inch-wide crack, hand-sized cams.

Note: this applies to adjectives that come before the noun they modify, not after:

Correct:

the left-facing corner (adjectives before the noun)

but

the corner that is left facing (adjectives after the noun)

Failure to hyphenate compound adjectives is the most common error I see, closely followed by misuse of "its" and "it's".

4. If the adjectives are independent, no hyphen is needed: a big loose block. (It's a big block; it's a loose block.)

5. If you have an adverb (usually a word ending in "ly") modifying an adjective, no hyphen is needed: a partly detached flake, a nearly horizontal roof.

See Compound Adjectives and Hyphens for more examples and exceptions.

OK, that's all for now; class dismissed. Be sure to correct any errors you find in this post, and use that Spell Check button!

Ron Olsen · · Boulder, CO · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 11,400

My favorite is Strunk and White's The Elements of Style.

Their favorite aphorism: "Omit needless words".

Ron Olsen · · Boulder, CO · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 11,400

One more:

there, their, and they're.

there = that place. Let's go over there.

their = possessive. They were so scared they wet their pants.

they're = contraction of "they are". They're not going to like that long approach.

They're going over there to meet their friends.

Ron Olsen · · Boulder, CO · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 11,400

...and another:

lead vs. led

lead (verb) = to go before. I want to lead the next pitch. Pronounced "leed".

lead (noun) = first place. He took the lead in the race. Pronounced "leed".

lead (noun) = soft, heavy metal. His legs felt like lead. Pronounced
"led".

led (verb) = past tense of lead. Yesterday, he led the pitch in fine style. Pronounced "led".

Common error: "Yesterday, he lead the pitch in fine style". This is incorrect.

Peter Franzen · · Phoenix, AZ · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 3,760

One that often irks me is "lose" versus "loose".

Ron Olsen · · Boulder, CO · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 11,400

cite, sight, and site:

cite (verb): to refer to. Be sure to cite first ascent information properly.

sight (noun): something to see, vision. What a sight!
sight (verb): to see. Can you sight the anchor?

site (noun): place. MP.com is a great site for climbing beta!

Correct: John Long gave an on-site class on the art of leading.

Correct: Sally did an on-sight lead of the crux pitch.

Incorrect: Sally did an on-site lead of the crux pitch.

marc rosenthal · · Canyon Lake, TX · Joined Feb 2006 · Points: 225

Long overdue for someone to correct the misuse of our language. My hat is off to both of you. No, I am not an English teacher. I just hate to see the language used improperly.

Only ten years ago, many dramatic events occurred in this country that had an immense impact on rock climbing. Since then, these events impact the sport. Boys, that's using a noun as a verb!

May the Lucas be with you.

John J. Glime · · Salt Lake City, UT · Joined Aug 2002 · Points: 1,165

Misuse of our language!!!??? Language is about communication... languages are living things (okay, well latin is dead) but english is a living thing. english grammar is over-rated... not knowing rules of english isn't a problem (that is what grammar and spell checks are for); not being able to think, analyze, predict, and philosophize... now that is a problem.

Ron Olsen · · Boulder, CO · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 11,400

Yes, John, language is about communication, but poor writing detracts from the message one is trying to convey.

Fortunately, most of us don't have to write for a living. But many times I've read letters or reports filled with errors not expected from a college-educated individual.

Good writing is less important in an on-line forum, but bad habits propagate. I'd hate to see these errors show up in someone's resume or business report.

John J. Glime · · Salt Lake City, UT · Joined Aug 2002 · Points: 1,165

It may detract, but as long as the message is given and recieved... that is what is important.

Greg, you will be happy to know that I am a teacher, and the kids I am turning out are basically illiterate, no... not true, they can read, they can write, but they don't know what a past participle is... but they can think! Rote memorization of rules solves nothing.

and yes, I don't seem to understand what you are getting all excited about.

Ron Olsen · · Boulder, CO · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 11,400
John J. Glime wrote:It may detract, but as long as the message is given and recieved... that is what is important...Rote memorization of rules solves nothing.
"i before e except after c"
Ron Olsen · · Boulder, CO · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 11,400
Steve Levin wrote:Isn't there a tendency, in guidebooks at least, to form contractions for common rock climbing terms? For example, although "on-sight" is correct, I've seen "she onsighted the difficult corner". Works for me, and think of all the ink saved by omitting the dash! Or how about "run out"? "The pitch is runout and difficult" seems more concise than the alternative. Or "rockclimbing" vs. "rock climbing"? Haven't many climbing terms been coined by forming contractions from words in the pedestrian lexicon? Answer my query, I beseech thee oh Grammar Nerds... What of "L-facing corner" vs. "left-facing corner"? My personal peeve: "spicey" used instead of the correct spelling "spicy".
Steve,

"onsight", "runout", and "toprope" are commonly seen in climbing literature, and I have nothing against their use.

However, I prefer "left-facing corner", not "L-facing corner" or "LF corner". Most guidebook authors agree.

The irregularities of English require memorization:

  • "spicy" and "dicey" are both correct.
  • The past tense of "read" (pronounced "reed") is "read" (pronounced "red")
  • But the past tense of "lead" (pronounced "leed") is "led" (pronounced "led").
Ron Olsen · · Boulder, CO · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 11,400
Dave Holliday wrote: Seize the day. Oops! All those exceptions to remember.
Exactly. The exceptions and irregularities in English make it one of the more difficult languages to master. Memorization is important in learning the language: Check out this list of irregular verb forms.
John J. Glime · · Salt Lake City, UT · Joined Aug 2002 · Points: 1,165

You can memorize all you want... but it won't solve a bigger problem... and memorization only lasts until you don't need it anymore.

recieved...

perhaps if I keep using it that way, websters will eventually change it.

But thank you for making my point... I didn't even need to hit spell check, and you knew what I was trying to say... you were a mind reader, or it was magic. But the point is that I communicated to you and you understood, mis-spelling and all. Now sure, you might think I am an idiot because I misspelled a word, but that is what editors and spell checkers are for, right?! I will be sure to hit spell check after I write my next resume.

I also teach ESL students... and rote memorization is not the way to learn a language.

Ron Olsen · · Boulder, CO · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 11,400

John,

I didn't say memorization is the way to learn English; I said it is important in learning the language. There is a difference, but maybe you didn't get my message.

English is far more difficult to learn than French or Spanish due to its irregularities and exceptions.

But even a language like French requires memorization: our high-school French teacher drilled us over and over on the forms of "etre" (to be), "avoir" (to have), and "faire" (to do/make).

Of course, we did a lot more than memorize irregular verbs in French class: speaking, reading literature, writing, and learning vocabulary were more important. The same is true for English.

Spell check isn't going to fix errors in capitalization, punctuation, and usage, so you'd better proofread your next resume carefully.

D Winger · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2006 · Points: 20
Ron Olsen wrote:1. it's vs. its. it's = contraction of "it is". It's almost time for Happy Hour! its = possessive. The dog wagged its tail. It's quite common for a dog to lick its genitals. 2. you're vs. your you're = contraction of "you are". You're going to love this pitch! your = possessive. Don't forget your #4 Camalot! You're sure you have your passport?
Thank you, thank you, thank you! I cringe every time I see these used incorrectly. Unfortunately, I see these errors not just in casual places like this Forum, but in professionally prepared advertisements and literature as well.

Cringe, cringe, cringe.
John J. Glime · · Salt Lake City, UT · Joined Aug 2002 · Points: 1,165

Okay, okay... memorization has its place in life... you are right. Sorry for misrepresenting your comments. But my bigger problem with what all of you are writing is that it sounds crotchety.

i don't feel the need to capitalize right now... and you are all acting like crotchety old people who are saying, spell correctly! speak correctly! write correctly! why? because that is how to speak english! but why? to communicate better?

to me, you sound like the same people who respond in the following ways to many of today's big issues (i am not saying that this is what you think, just that you are sounding like these same people):

Should illegal immigrants be allowed to be in the country? No! they are illegal, they need to come to the country the right way.

Should we have signs that are in English and Spanish? No! This is America, Americans speak English! And dammit, they better speak it correctly! Otherwise, get the hell out!

It is like you are saying "It's not fair!!" (pouting) I had to learn and memorize English the right way, so you should have to too! Now I am not saying that knowing how to speak English correctly isn't great and everything. It is great! Yippee! But when you come off as sounding elitist (which, maybe you are not intending, but that is what I am hearing. You may be writing correctly, but you are not communicating very well then... ha,ha.) it strikes a nerve in me to remind you that it is a changing world. Globalization of Microsoft. Which has a grammar check and spelling check. Microsoft Word is pretty good, but Appleworks sucks! Speaking English in the correct way is not ever going to be the end all and important part of life in our future. You need to accept these changes and not fight them. Just try to communicate baby, in the best way that you can... it is not how you say it, it is what you say that is important.

Hell, look at our president, he can barely talk, and for good or bad, he is accepted as president and we more or less know what he is trying to say.

Revolution. Evolution.

John J. Glime · · Salt Lake City, UT · Joined Aug 2002 · Points: 1,165
Greg wrote:So John, if I understand correctly what you're saying above, you're a teacher and you don't care about the finer points of the basic communications skills of reading and writing as long as the student can "think"??
Greg,

To be honest, if my students read this, they would be shocked! They would be like "That isn't Mr. Glime!" Yes, I try to teach grammar like it is the best thing since white bread/sliced bread... but what I know is that they aren't going to remember every stinking rule. And who cares if they do? I am trying to cultivate students who can think and communicate to the best of their ability, and being perfect grammatically isn't as necessary as you seem to think that it once was.

You say that all students think!!??? Uhh, well, hate to disappoint you, but no, they don't. They don't know how to think, they don't know why they think what they think. They would rather do nothing in general and just be. (Now this is a gross over-exageration, but is true enough in too many cases.) Check out Bloom's Taxonomy. That is what we are trying to accomplish.

Would you rather have a country full of grammatically correct idiots or a country full of grammatically incorrect socially aware geniuses? Not that you can't have both... but what is more important in the big picture???
Ron Olsen · · Boulder, CO · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 11,400

John,

Developing cognitive, affective, and psychomotor skills as described in Bloom's Taxonomy is more important than being able to write proper English.

But that isn't the point. I never said that writing English well is the most important goal of education. Nevertheless, it is an important skill, and is fundamental to the product being created here: written words describing climbing routes.

I'm striving to help people produce a better product; that's all.

It's wlel kwnon taht wertitn Eslignh can be udrsoteond if the frsit and lsat ltteres of erevy wrod are in the poprer oderr, and all the oehtr ltertes are meixd up.

The above sentence was adequate to communicate my meaning, but that doesn't make it OK to write that way. We should strive for quality, not just minimal understandability, in the MP.com database.

John J. Glime · · Salt Lake City, UT · Joined Aug 2002 · Points: 1,165

Alright, truce... lets go climbing! oh damn, I am at work.

I agree, if a person posts a route here and we can't understand her/him, then we have a problem. Oddly though, I did understand your gibberish... so its win, win. (you communicated, i understood.)

phil broscovak · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2002 · Points: 1,576

Whoa Mr. Glime
Sounds like you would be just fine if the written word were reduced to emoticons and international symbols, so long as you comprehend the message. Kind of reminds me of the old joke where prison inmates have heard all the same jokes so many times that they reduced the jokes to numbers. Hearing others call out seemingly random numbers to raucous laughter a new con asks what it's all about. Finally understanding, the new con yells out 42. Dead silence. "What's wrong?" he asks his cell mate. His cell mate replies "some people just can't tell a joke". Surely you know there is much more to communication than "Blog-Speak" (e-blogniks). There is intent, inflection, emotion, nuance and subtlety. Do you want your Cardiologist to explain why you need heart surgery in "Doc-Speak"? Or would clear concise communication be perhaps better? Even though he and his hospital co-workers understand his abbreviations and lingoistics do you? Teachers in particular are infamous for having whole discussions about students in nothing more than acronyms. Even though your fellow teachers get it do the students and parents understand you? Language and clear communication are crucial to society. And by the way, Latin is far from dead; just ask your co-workers in the science dept. Or have they been co-opted into teaching "Intelligent Design"? Certainly people do not need to memorize all the rules of language to communicate. But they do need to use them. Certainly not everyone will be eloquent wordsmiths but communicating properly is vastly more important than you seem to want to acknowledge or accept. One need only observe our current president to see where mumble-mouthed ignorance can lead us. Or do you believe the language of convenience that connected nine-one-one with the knuklear threat of Eyerack? To quote the man who proclaimed himself the education president...IS OUR CHILDREN LEARNING?

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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