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There lies trepidation, with their bug-bears ‘cos they’re apostrophes, with Pat Young – 6 December 2017

How do we properly employ ellipses, semi-colons, apostrophes, commas and quotation marks? These were just a few of the topics discussed during Pat’s ‘Grammar and Things’ session on 6 December. Grammatical correctness can be such a minefield that I suspect most of us approached the evening with a degree of trepidation. How many mistakes had we been making unwittingly in our writing to date? We need not have feared: Pat made this an engaging session with multiple grammatical ‘in-jokes’ and illustrations of humorous mistakes. Few of us can claim to be competent grammarians, and although Pat insisted that she wasn’t an expert, I think all participants departed with at least one new gem to improve their writing.

We began by writing down some of our grammatical ‘bug-bears’ or sticking points, and to her credit, Pat duly managed to cover all of them during the session. I think we all agreed, to our chagrin, that the difference between ‘they’re’, ‘there’ and ‘their’ is commonly misunderstood in this country. Most participants could volunteer an example of at least one miss-spelt sign they had seen locally. A few even admitted to the odd act of grammatically correct graffiti to correct them!

There was a healthy debate about the placement of apostrophes with words already ending in an ‘s’ (princess’ versus princess’s), and the merits of ‘I’ versus ‘me’ in various contexts. One of my favourite tips on this theme was the ‘Toff’s Error’; apparently common when one tries to sound aristocratic. If you can take out the other person in the sentence (for example; ‘He gave the bait to John and me’) and it would look very odd to have an ‘I’ remaining, then ‘me’ is the correct form to use. The correct use of ‘who’ versus ‘whom’ was another doozie, and apparently the key is to remember that ‘who’ is always used for the subject, while ‘whom’ is used for the object (‘This is the old woman who swallowed a fly’, versus, ‘This is the old woman whom the fly choked’).

The evening’s conversation highlighted not only that we were all taught slightly different grammatical rules depending on schooling era, but that the rules themselves have changed over time (the goal posts have literally shifted). While it was somewhat comforting to realise that overall my grammatical competence wasn’t horrific, my grammatical currency left something to be desired. (Hmm, what were all the parts of a sentence again?) Pat provided excellent notes so that we didn’t have to commit the material to memory, but could pore over all the advice in slower time at home after the session. There was so much discussion that we did, in fact, run out of time to cover all the material Pat had prepared!

This was a thoroughly enjoyable and useful session. If you missed it in 2017, perhaps we can persuade Pat to facilitate Round Two in 2018?

Anna Collard-Scruby

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