Common Stupid Mistakes. Custom Essay Writing Service


Some Common Stupid Mistakes

A more obscure but equally noteworthy mistake is the use of the possessive apostrophe within a possessive. It is hard to resist the temptation to write "That was a mighty wonderful speech of Churchill's." Well, the possessive is already there in the "of." To what does the "'s" refer? A noun is missing: "of Churchill's maid"? "of Churchill's dog"? We will never know. If you can't say, "That was a wonderful speech of Churchill" (and that cer- tainly isn't idiomatic), say, "That was a wonderful speech Churchill gave." Sometimes, a writer has to go back and straighten out an entire sentence in order to fix a small problem.

The Split Infinitive

Here we separate the true language snobs from the language slobs. It is important to realize that grammar is by and large an arbitrary convention. Moses did not bring it down from Sinai. It changes constantly, especially in America. There is no board of official grammarians in this country that sits and decides the rules. These evolve through usage. What one person sees as a mistake might be seen by another as the cutting edge of change. The important thing is not to learn the rules but to learn the arguments. Second-rate minds know all the rules but only the rules; first-rate minds know all the rules and all the objections to them. If your grader in English class has a second-rate mind, it is up to you to decide how you are going to react. Either you rigidly follow his rules, or you prepare your first-rate mind to point out the problems after he hands you back your D. Understand that we graders cannot tell the difference between a clever innovation consciously contrived and a stupid mistake blundered into, and it is our duty to deny the student the benefit of the doubt. It is the student's duty to communicate his or her knowledge to us.

Nowhere does the arbitrary nature of the grammar wars surface more clearly than in disputes over the split infinitive. All of you, I trust, recognize this error. An infinitive is the "to" plus a verb, to go, to swim, to cheat, to steal, and the like. The traditional language-snob law demands that no words ever be inserted between the "to" and the verb. To do so is to split the infinitive. Yet infinitives are split all the time. What is the mission of the starship Enterprise? "To boldly go where no man has gone before," and to boldly split infinitives where no infinitive has been split before. The writers did change the wording in the new series, you will be glad to note. The new mission is "to boldly go where no one has gone before." The only change is a clear indicator of modern sensitivity to sexist language; "man"

has been changed to "one," but the split infinitive remains. In the bold new world of the future, split infinitives are okay, but sexism is a sin.

I personally do not care if an infinitive is split as long as the meaning is clear. I force composition students to follow the old law exactly, in the hope that in the future when they do split infinitives, they will feel a twinge of shame. If they must do it, I want them at least to intentionally split (sic) the infinitive and not do it by accident or from ignorance. In my general literature classes, I allow split infinitives to go unpunished as long as there is not more than one word in the split. Hence, I am neither slob nor snob but wishy-washily in the middle. In no case is it okay to accidentally or intentionally split an infinitive with more than one word.

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