Thursday, March 19, 2009

Quiz: Are You a Grammar Geek?

Quiz: Are You a Grammar Geek?

4:50 PM Friday March 13, 2009


When I teach writing, my students always make the same mistakes. Semester after semester I present them with a list of errors they will make, and they make them anyway.

You know what's next: another list of things to please, please stop doing. But this time, as a quiz — you know, for fun.

1. Which is standard usage?
a. I'm on the Internet!
b. I'm on the internet.

2. What's wrong with: "I would like to apologize. "

3. Which is standard usage?
PC's are useless as farming equipment.
PCs can be used as rudimentary hoes.

4. Which is standard usage?
a. He said, "Bite me."
b. He said, "Bite me".

5. Which is standard usage?
a. I want a hot dog because I feel like angering the gods.
b. I want a hot dog, because I feel like angering the gods.

6. What's wrong with: "The project will be managed by the project manager."

7. Which is standard usage?

a. Done. And now? (one space after the period)
b. Done. And now? (two spaces)
c. Done. And now? (three spaces)

8. What's lacking in the sentence: "There will be a reduction in force in the accounting department."

9. What's wrong with: "And, I told you so."

10. Which is standard usage?
a. I want the hot dog which is deep-fried.
b. I want the hot dog that is deep-fried.

I realize that with this post I've slipped into pedantry, but I'm really not that way. I've always been a descriptive rather than prescriptive grammarian. I accept and applaud that language changes over time, and prefer to say "standard" usage rather than "correct."

Even more shocking: I admit to liking, and using, smiley faces (in moderation) to help prevent misunderstanding for time-pressed email writers and readers. :-)

I'm also the least likely person to have become so cantankerous. Anyone who knows me from school is aware that it took many years and lots of red pen for me to stop thinking of the comma as a key you typed at random to ward off demons.

But with age comes wisdom and crotchetiness, and a desire to see things not done so much right as done carefully. So I mark my student's papers with triple question marks and quadruple-circled errors, and I feel like I've helped staunch some sloppy usage.

In the same way, perhaps, you may find it as cathartic as my red-pen-filled nights to accidentally email the quiz above to a few colleagues. Or you could always send them here.

How about you? Do you have your own grammar pet peeves? Or is this all just a bunch of squinty-eyed nonsense?

1. a. Ignore the exclamation point. There's only the one Internet, so unless you've invented another, capitalize it.
2. This means you aren't apologizing.
3. b. Despite your feelings about agricultural use of technology, the apostrophe isn't a way to pluralize acronyms. Not now, not ever.
4. If you are in England or like biscuits instead of cookies, then b. Otherwise, and if you are in my class, a.
5. a. Angry gods are caused by commas before the word "because."
6. Nothing, but what's wrong with "is" rather than "will be"? Why is every other document I read in future tense?
7. a. Unless you are using a typewriter with a fixed-width font, in which case b. This one makes me so overly upset that I once had someone throw a stapler at me for marking her paper for every instance of two spaces after each period.
8. A subject! This is classic "passive voice." Jobs will be lost, but magically, no one is doing the firing.
9. Nothing! You can start a sentence with a conjunction. Shakespeare did it. You can do it.
10. Reasonable people can differ, but the answer is b. And MS-Word sides with the concept that "which" means an independent clause that needs to be set off with a comma. Since Bill Gates feels that way about it, wouldn't it be easier to just agree with him?