Thursday, September 4, 2008

Puncture-ation from Rachel Lucas (and a bit of grammar, too)

By the way, before I go further, I admit I make mistakes sometimes too. Even in public and in writing, right here.
Oh, me too, Rachel, me too! My mum is an "old school" infants/primary school teacher. With much of the grammar and punctuation I have 'absorbed', I've forgotten the rules, but I usually get it right.

My surname ends in an s and I've mastered the ending. But I just can't get this "if you sound the extra s you add it", Boss's? Nah. I was taught, I'm sure, that you NEVER have three esses!

Pop over to Rachel's and have a chuckle!

I work with someone who uses "myself" instead of "me" or "I". That drives me insane - it's just so pretentious... maybe it's the confusion between using "me" or "I"?


Skeeter said...

The jury is still out on the use of possessive apostrophes for noun's ending in -s.
Wiki has this to say on usage:

"Singular nouns ending with an "s" or "z" sound
"This subsection deals with singular nouns pronounced with a sibilant sound at the end: /s/ or /z/. The spelling of these ends with -s, -se, -z, -ze, or -ce. Traditionally it was more common to require[dubious – discuss] and many respected sources still do require that practically all singular nouns, including those ending with a sibilant sound, have possessive forms with an extra s after the apostrophe. Examples include the Modern Language Association, The Elements of Style, and The Economist.[5] Such sources would demand possessive singulars like these: Senator Jones's umbrella; Mephistopheles's cat. However, many modern writers omit the extra s. Some respected style guides such as the Chicago Manual of Style recommend the traditional practice but say that both are correct."

Although it's not mentioned by Wiki on this topic, my generation grew up with Fowler's Modern English Usage as our guide on these matters. My copy of FMEU was last corrected in 1966, so I suppose it is now no longer "modern", but I remain comfortable with its rules.
Fowler devotes a whole page to possessive puzzles and has this to say:
"It was formerly customary, when a word ended in -s , to write its possessive with an apostrophe, but no additional s, e.g. Mars' hill, Venus' Bath, Achilles' thews ."
That custom was retained "in verse, and in poetic or reverential contexts...and the number of syllables is the same as in the subjective case, e.g. Achilles' has three, not four syllables... But elsewhere we now usually add the s and the syllable — always when the word is monosyllabic and preferably when it is longer."
So, according to Fowler, we should use Jones's and preferably use "Pythagoras's.
It makes sense when you think about it because we we will probably say it with the extra syllable, and it leaves the reader in no doubt of meaning in the written form.
The other argument for the usage of the additional s is that, according to Fowler, the original possessive form of Jones would have been spoken and written as Joneses. The apostrophe was initially put in place of the second e and later evolved as a possessive marker.

kae said...

The Jones' home.

The Joneses' home.

David Jones' food market.

useful link: there are three links from here to contractions, unusual plurals and possessives. Looks useful.

I just throw my arms in the air and give up!

Minicapt said...

"using me or I": you're not confused by being used?


kae said...

Is that better, Mini?

Skeeter said...

Kae, I thought you were being a very brave blogger to post this contentious topic.
After writing my earlier comment, I had the thought that Fowler may be a bit too old and too British for your American and younger Australian readers.
So I looked up my American English usage reference, The St Martin's Handbook. My edition is dated 1989 and it clearly supports Fowler:
"Add an apostrophe and -s to form the possessive of most singular nouns...including those singular nouns that end in -s." (Page 457)
It then gives examples such as, "The reading list included Keats's poem."

It seems that a lot of rules have been thrown out in recent years.
I fear that the current mess of different English usages is a direct result of bad teaching in our schools since they abandoned teaching the rules of grammar.

As a working class boy, I was corrected at school for using the incorrect objective case me in a sentence that required subjective case I Example: Fred and me are going to the beach.
If I used the correct pronoun when talking to my mates, they would assume that I was putting on airs and trying to pretend that I came from a better class of home. However, the correct usage was drummed into my generation at school and was backed up by our learning the rules of grammar and gaining skills at parsing.
In the next generation, our daughter topped English in her high school Leaving Certificate, but even now in her forties, she always uses I if it comes after and, (whether it is subjective or objective case), and so she often gets it wrong. She learnt her English after the teaching of grammar had been abandoned in our schools, so she has to rely on it "sounding right" rather than applying case rules to her choice of pronoun. I am convinced that I always sounds right to her because it sounds more "upper class" than me. This is probably an over-correction from the prevalent incorrect use of me in my generation, without understanding what made its use incorrect.
The incorrect use of I is now so prevalent, I suspect that it is actually being taught as preferable, regardless of its case in the sentence.

kae said...

Skeeter, they stopped teaching times tables when I was at school, that's probably why I am so awful at maths.

Most of my grammar, etc, was from being corrected at home by Mum, who didn't explain why something had to be so, and if she did I didn't listen... and she knows all the rules, being your vintage and an infants school teacher.

Mum still corrects kids who say "Can I...." She'll say "Of course you can, but you may not."

I get annoyed that teams no longer play games, they have wins and losses.

Fortunately I'm a reasonable speller.

I used to think I was pretty good with the grammar and punctuation, but I've been shown to be wrong by the amazing writers at Blair's.

splice said...

Ah, but many of the best writers at Tim’s would also know that there’s an old saying; when money talks, nobody notices what grammar it uses!

Kaboom said...

I loved my grammar, and I was so sad when she died....

splice said...

A grammar question for fellow conservatives: Which of the following is correct…

a). If I were John McCain, I would select Sarah Palin as my VP candidate.

b). If I was John McCain, I would select Sarah Palin as my VP candidate.

c). Who cares? Sarah Palin is a great choice in anybody’s 14|\|9U493.*

d). Answers a, and c, above. (And God bless America!)

*L33t translation: language.

Anonymous said...

Skeeter. That's the most interesting blog I have read for a while.

I couldn't agree more. My four children have no idea outside my dictatorial application where I have tried to counterinfluence their limited understanding of syntax etc from their 12 years in school.

My memory of an easy way to work it out based on the example of

Jenny and (I or me) rowed the boat

would be to remove the subject 'Jenny and'

that would leave 'I rowed the boat' Assuming no one would say 'me rowed the boat'.

therefore the sentence would read

Jenny and I rowed the boat.

Simple theory...but it works most of the time.

And your very good resolution does reflect the qualities that working class boys had to undertake at school in our day. Notwithstanding the chip on the shoulder if one was to take a stancd and appear to the others as 'from the upper class'. What a load of denigrating crap that was.


kc said...

Both my grandmothers were schoolteachers, small-town, VERY small-town or one-room country schools. Both taught proper grammar to everyone they came in contact with. Little Grandma quit teaching after her first baby, but Big Grandma taught till she was 85. When she was forced to retire due to age in 1971, she joined the Peace Corps & went to the Philippines to teach THEM how to teach their young'uns. She went back to work in private schools when she got back.

I have acquired some of the southern U.S. laziness of speech in my time here, even a bit of a drawl, but I recognize it as laziness because I WAS taught correctly & I straighten out my speech patterns & habits when I go back up north!

kae said...

Hullo, Splice.
Money talks... not getting it won't improve my grammar!

Kaboom, hi! I miss my grammar, too.

Splice, I got that question correct, so is there a prize? C was easy, but A took a bit of thought.

Hi Mehaul! I think I've got it wrong a few times. I'll survive.

G'day kc! My mum just turned 73, retired when she was 55 from the state teaching system but decided that she 1. liked teaching too much to finish and 2. didn't have enough super to last until she was in her 90s (nanna was still going strong and lasted til she was 93).
Mum then commenced teaching in a private school and eventually set up their primary & infants departments. She's really retired, after over sixteen years in the private school, but still returns to teach as a casual when needed. She needs the money now as a self funded retiree. Kids love her... when they get over her scary-teacher vibe!!

kae said...

Oh, Nanna (Mum's Mum), would have been 99 on August 3 this year.

Skeeter said...

LOL Splice, but I need some help.
I knew that A is correct because it sounds more upper class, but I can't remember why we should use the plural were.
You are also plumbing my ignorance with your "L33t". That sounds very upper class (NTTIAWT).

Mehaul, thanks for your kind words.
I agree that your suggestion to drop the first noun/pronoun works, especially when the nouns/pronouns are subjects, and thus make the "preferred" I the correct choice anyway. That's how we were taught to stop using an incorrect me.
The problem arises when the nouns/pronouns are objects. The speaker then has to apply your rule on-the-fly in time to say me before the I creeps out.
Example: Fred, I want you to do an errand for Jane and me.
Our daughter will invariably say "Jane and I" even though she is aware of your suggested test rule. When corrected, her explanation is that she doesn't have time to apply the rule while she is speaking and, anyway, I always sounds better to her. She works at an executive level in a job that needs good language skills. We are trying to convince her that she should be setting a better example for her team.

splice said...

Hi Skeeter. Sorry it took a while to post a reply, I can’t post comments from work.

“If I were…” is an example of the subjunctive mood. Wikipedia has a thorough and detailed article on the subjunctive in English and its occurrence in many other languages. Simply type ‘subjunctive mood’ in the search field on Wikipedia’s main page or Google ‘subjunctive in English’ for lots of articles and examples at other web sites.