A gram­mar teacher’s view

The Covington News - - LIFESTYLE - PAULA TRAVIS COLUM­NIST Paula Travis is a re­tired teacher from the New­ton County School Sys­tem. She can be con­tacted at pnbtravis@att.net.

My sis­ter called me last week. We both watch Jeop­ardy and had been sur­prised that Ken Jen­nings did not win the Bat­tle of the Decades on Jeop­ardy. She also com­mented on the dif­fi­culty of the an­swers in that Jeop­ardy Tour­na­ment. I agreed. I usu­ally can guess more of the ques­tions than I did dur­ing that tour­na­ment. But, what she called to com­ment on was that none of the cham­pi­ons in a par­tic­u­lar game rang in and knew the ques­tion for the an­swer “an­tecedent.” That’s a gram­mar ques­tion. An an­tecedent is the noun that a pro­noun is tak­ing the place of.

I have had a few other puz­zling gram­mar prob­lems hit me in the face re­cently as well. I had to go to visit my Ma­con grand­daugh­ters and help one of them pre­pare for a fi­nal exam which cov­ered a good bit of gram­mar. I like gram­mar and liked teach­ing gram­mar. It is so nice and tidy to find a place and ex­pla­na­tion for ev­ery word in a sen­tence.

One of the tasks my grand­daugh­ter had to do was to find and iden­tify com­ple­ments. A com­ple­ment is a word that com­pletes the mean­ing of a verb. There are three types: pred­i­cate noun, pred­i­cate ad­jec­tive and di­rect ob­ject. I was some­what sur­prised, how­ever, to find that the list of com­ple­ments had grown to in­clude in­di­rect ob­ject. My col­lege gram­mar book (Yes, I still have my col­lege gram­mar book and usu­ally have rea­sons to re­fer to it on more than a few oc­ca­sions dur­ing the year.) de­fines an in­di­rect ob­ject as an ad­ver­bial ob­jec­tive. I am sure my stu­dents re­mem­ber my say­ing over and over that you can­not have an in­di­rect ob­ject un­less you first have a di­rect ob­ject. So any sen­tence with an in­di­rect ob­ject also has a di­rect ob­ject. How can they both be com­ple­ments? I don’t know if in­clud­ing in­di­rect ob­jects in the list of com­ple­ments was her teacher’s idea or stated in her text book. But ei­ther way, I am not amused (to quote Queen Vic­to­ria).

She also was to be tested over com­mas and comma rules. One of her comma rules was that you sep­a­rate the city and state with a comma and that you sep­a­rate the day and year with a comma. This rule was in her text book. That rule is also wrong. The rule is you set off (set off means put a comma be­fore and a comma af­ter) ev­ery item af­ter the first in an ad­dress or a date.

A sen­tence should read … July 1, 1901, is my birth­day. Or Cov­ing­ton, GA, is my home. If you fol­low the rule in my grand­daugh­ter’s text book, the sec­ond comma in both sen­tences would not be needed, and they are! You are not sup­posed to use an ex­cla­ma­tion mark in news­pa­per writ­ing, but I get a lit­tle hot about gram­mar. Sorry, oc­cu­pa­tional haz­ard.

The third thing that got me into a gram­mat­i­cal twit was a commercial for a com­pany which cleans car­pets. A ra­dio per­son­al­ity asks the spokesper­son if the chem­i­cals used in clean­ing car­pets is safe for chil­dren and pets. The spokesper­son an­swers (some­thing close to these words) that it is so safe that they (the chil­dren and pets) could lay right next to the ma­chine as it is clean­ing the car­pet.

The spokesper­son should say that they could lie right next to the ma­chine. Lie means to re­cline. Lay means to put or place un­less you mean the bi­b­li­cal and ar­chaic us­age which meant to lay with for the pur­pose of the equally ar­chaic and bi­b­li­cal be­gat or pro­cre­ation.

There­fore, the pic­ture in my mind’s eye of those chil­dren and an­i­mals lay­ing next to a ma­chine that cleans car­pet is both lu­di­crous and ob­scene. I know English is a liv­ing lan­guage. A liv­ing lan­guage is con­stantly chang­ing. New words con­stantly en­ter the lan­guage and old words get new mean­ings. Mrs., the ti­tle mean­ing mar­ried lady, is an ab­bre­vi­a­tion of mis­tress. We don’t think of a mis­tress as a mar­ried lady to­day.

But who­ever is writ­ing those com­mer­cials and text books are mak­ing a whole lot more money than I am. They should be able to clean up their own gram­mat­i­cal act with­out any help from me.

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