What a busy month for Grammar Guardians. This month, I have received several e-mails from readers who take grammar guarding seriously.
I must fess up and report that one particularly astute reader guarded my grammar this month. I dedicated my June 2 education column in The Monitor to my seniors in the form of a traditional will. In that column, I wrote, “To you, I leave a freshman who you can guide in the right direction.” Grammar Guardian Sharon took me to task (in a sweet way) for using “who” rather than “whom.” After receiving her e-mail, I read the sentence over in my mind several times, and it still sounded better to me with “who.”
I realized I have never known a hard and fast rule for “who” versus “whom.” Rather, I have always depended on which one sounded right. So, I turned to the Grammar Girl web site. Grammar Girl writes, “First, to know whether to use who or whom, we need to talk about the difference between subjects and objects because you use who when you are referring to the subject of a clause and whom when you are referring to the object of a clause.” In my sentence, “freshman” is the object, so I should have used “whom.” Thanks, Sharon, for guarding MY grammar.
Another faithful Grammar Guardian asked me to remind readers about “February” versus “Febuary.” The rule here is merely to remember that one “r” isn’t enough for this month. It needs two. When pronouncing this word, I stick with “feb-you-air-ee” rather than “feb-rue-air-ee,” though both pronunciations are considered correct. A similar word is “library.” Many people spell and say this word without the first “r.” With this word, the pronunciation would be incorrect without the first “r.” It is said, “lie-brare-ee.”
Sylvia, another faithful Grammar Guardian, asked me to address the issue of hyphenated ages. She recently read in a newspaper article, “…and himself 8-months-old.” You use hyphens when age is used as an adjective. For example, it is correct to write, “He is a 17-year-old senior” because “17-year-old” is being used to describe the “senior.” However, “he is 17 years old and a senior.”
Grammar Guardians have much more work to do when it comes to the word “supposedly.” The use of the non-existent “supposably” seems to be spreading. Grammar Guardians unite. We need to stop this.
Another common error that appears to be spreading is the use of “answer back.” We often hear, “And he didn’t answer back” or “Did he answer back?” If someone “answers,” it comes “back” to you. “Back” is not needed, so take it out when you’re speaking or writing.
I learned something else this month. A local medical office has a commercial that refers to “preventative care.” Again, I relied on the sound of it. Certain they meant to use “preventive,” I looked it up. Much to my surprise, “preventative” is listed as an alternative to “preventive.” I’ve learned two lessons this month.
Let’s end with a bit of humor. One reader wrote that it isn’t necessary to say, “She gave birth to a baby boy.” Rather, one can say, “She gave birth to a boy.” Obviously, we would assume the boy was indeed a baby. It reminded me of when you ask a person how old he is and he says, “I’m 43. I’ll be 44 on my next birthday.” I always want to respond, “Really? So after 43 you turn 44?”
Until next month, guard that grammar.
Please send emails to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.