A couple of months ago, at my son’s baseball game, I was asked to help settle an argument between some good friends of mine. Because we were at a sporting event, you might assume that the dispute in question was about a rule of the game or a play that had just occurred. You would be way off base, though. The bone of contention that this long-married couple had to pick involved – of all things! – grammar. If only Ellen Jovin and her Grammar Table had been around to help settle the argument once and for all.
Ellen Jovin is a grammarian. She has built her profession on teaching people to use words and language to convey their thoughts clearly and effectively. In 2018, she set up a pop-up grammar advice stand outside her Manhattan apartment building and was blown away by the response. People of all ages, professions, and nationalities stopped by the table to ask their most pressing grammar questions, register their pet peeves, and vent about the grammar correctors in their lives (often while said correctors were standing right there). Since then, Ellen has logged over 30,000 miles and dispensed her Grammar Table wisdom in 47 states. These interactions with the grammar-hungry public, captured on video by her husband Brandt for a future film, are documented in her new book Rebel with a Clause: Tales and Tips from a Roving Grammarian.
POP QUIZ: Can you spot which four sentences contain grammatical errors and which one is correct?
- Tonight’s surprise party was organized by Jackie and I.
- Me and Tom are going to the store to buy party favors.
- The guest of honor wouldn’t tell us where she’s from.
- We are going to have dinner with the Smith’s.
- After taking this quiz, I need to lay down for a bit.
Sentence 3 is correct. Despite what your 6th grade language arts teacher told you, it is acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition!
I’ll leave the correct explanations for sentences 1, 2, 4, and 5 to the expert, but lest you think that Ellen’s Rebel with a Clause grammar lessons are dry, fussy, or hard to understand, I promise they are none of those things. Unlike the hard-and-fast rules that may have been drilled into you as a child, Ellen informs her readers – with humor and no judgment – that grammar rules are fluid, change over time, and often include more than one acceptable expression.
I found Ellen’s cheerful interactions with her Grammar Table visitors delightfully charming. I am, admittedly, a bit of a word nerd, so it’s no surprise that I enjoyed this book. But even if you think that grammar isn’t your thing, this book can finally answer those questions keeping you up at night:
- To Oxford comma or not?
- How do you write the possessive of a name ending in ‘s’? Russ’ drink or Russ’s drink
- What is the plural form of mongoose? Mongooses or mongeese
Do me a favor, though. Don’t use your new-found knowledge to become one of those people who – unsolicited – correct other people’s grammar. In your head, fine. Out loud, never.
Two spaces after a period are the mom jeans of punctuation.Ellen Jovin, Roving Grammarian