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  • Jennifer Rubio

I wish I had a Grammar Genie...


A bottle, ready for a genie to pop out

Long time no blog. I call my business Magic Wand Editing, but if I had my druthers, it wouldn't be a magic wand I called upon, it'd be a Grammar Genie.

Because -- let's face it -- sometimes English grammar makes absolutely no sense!

There's a reason for that, of course. English is a hodgepodge of a language. Originally built from an amalgam of Germanic, Old French, and Greek, our magnificent bastard tongue (hat tip: John McWhorter) has adopted and corrupted so many source-language rules that none of us is sure why certain things are the way they are anymore. ("None of us is?" Why not "none of us are," if I'm basically saying "all of us are not?" See what I mean?)

So in my more frustrated days, I find myself wishing for a Grammar Genie who could change up some of our most basic rules. Here are my personal three wishes should this genie ever show up in my life:

1) Doom "whom." This is a simple one. "Whom" is outdated and confusing, and you need a Ph.D. to understand when and how it's used. It's not used in any informal speech or writing anymore. There's no reason not to consign this archaic form to the dust bin of history, especially since most people understand now that there's nothing wrong with ending a sentence with a preposition. "Who are you talking to?" is perfectly understandable. "To whom are you talking?" just makes you sound like a Downton Abbey reject.

2) Find a way to visualize subordination. So much of our grammatical structure (and so many grammatical errors) are based on subordination - which clauses are subordinate to which other clauses. I've covered this in previous blog posts like "How Hairy Is Your Dinosaur?" and "The sub-sub-sub basement." If we could simply color-code phrases that are subordinate to other phrases, or use font size as an indicator of which phrases were subordinate, our lives would be easier. One idea I'd give the Grammar Genie is this: How about using the ampersand for lesser conjunctions? How much harder is it to read

"Our hospital provides quality care and services to patients and assists patients and families with making crucial care decisions"

than

"Our hospital provides quality care & services to patients and assists patients & families with making crucial care decisions"?

Just a thought.

3) Fix pronoun confusion. Okay, this isn't so much a change I'd make to English (although I do endorse the singular "they") as a change I'd make to how people conceive of English. I've lost count of the number of times I've had to write "What's it"? or "Who's they?" in documents. If I had a Genie, I'd drum into people's minds that every time they (people) had to use a pronoun, they (people) had to know exactly to what it (the pronoun) refers. Of course, the situational it could also be pointed out when it (situational) is necessary to do so. (And need I mention that "do so" also needs an antecedent? Well, that's another blog post for another time.)

What changes would you make to the language, if the Grammar Genie appeared to you?

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