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.
Paula Travis is a retired teacher from the Newton County School System. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.