our Grammar page. Here, Literary Magic's
grammarians examine specific rules of grammar that are very common yet frequently not
adhered to. In this section, the Totalitarian Grammarian discusses rules of grammar that we use everyday but that are
too often used incorrectly, mistaken or tampered with. The Grammar section is especially great for those who love grammar
and hate when it's mangled with or misused. The Totalitarian Grammarian (Rocky Reichman) gives us articles on
all aspects of Grammar.
Spring Issue (2008)
This issue, the Totalitarian Grammarian (Rocky Reichman) gives us an article concerning
the usage of the words Forward and Toward, and how both these rhyming words are being misused in everyday English.
Forward vs. Toward
By Rocky Reichman
Both of these words have similar definitions. And both
are being misused in the same way.
It is incorrect grammar to say “towards” or “forwards.”
Grammar dictionaries agree that these words do not exist, and are no more than misspellings of the words Forward and Toward.
The addition of the extra S is only a recent phenomenon. Towards\Forwards is not an acceptable substitute for Toward\Forward.
“He went toward the house” would therefore
be correct usage, whereas “He went towards the house would be bad grammar.
This epidemic--which for now we’ll label the S Factor,
has infected a lot of words. It only started to penetrate our lexicon with words like towards and forwards,
but now its spread farther. It turned anyway into anyways.
Now to the bottom line. There is no such thing as towards
or forwards. Period. And anyways is not a word either. You don’t look “forwards” to something,
you look “forward” to it. There’s no such word as onwards, either--onward is the correct usage.
But the S Factor is very popular. More people say “towards”
than “toward.” Most non-grammarians find it hard to differentiate the difference between adding the extra S or
not, further contributing to the problem. Even popular fiction writers use “towards” much more than its predecessor.
(This is likely because novelists favor Style over Standard when it comes to grammar.)
Many people add the extra S, but that doesn’t mean you
should have to. Ask yourself what you want to do, and whether you look “forwards” or “forward” to
Looking forward for the next article? Onward,
Winter Issue (2007)
Farther vs. Further
By Rocky Reichman
The farther you go down the road of language, the further your knowledge
Further and farther, two words. Very similar, very confusing. They sound
the same, look the same, and are spelled with almost the exact same letters. There is only one subtle difference between them.
One letter. They use different vowels: further contains a “u” while farther bears an “a.”
These words can get easily confused. Speakers and writers have been using them interchangeably
for centuries (intentionally and unintentionally). But while they are spelled similarly, their meanings are not equivalent.
Grammar Girl, a popular podcast on grammar usage, reports that further is used when referring to physical distance
while farther means a figurative or abstract distance.
Examples. If you want to describe how someone outran you physically, you would use farther.
“He ran farther than me.” If you want to continue a conversation or meeting, use would use further. “Let’s
go further in this conversation.” Further and farther’s defintions should not be confused.
It can get tricky, yes--especially if you are not sure whether you are describing something that relates to physical distance
or figurative distance. But Grammar Girl offers some advice: “It's easy to remember because farther has
the word far in it, and far obviously relates to physical distance.”
There you have it. But if you are still having trouble remembering the difference between
further and farther, it’s always better to go with the former. Further is more versatile and has
less grammar restrictions. Which is why further is used more frequently than farther. In his paper for CMU Studies
in Corpus Linguistics, Terry Watts proves that further is more frequent by providing detailed charts and a statistical
analysis of how often each word is used in both the U.S. and the U.K. You are welcome to verify my claim there.
Now you know when to use further and when to use farther. We will tackle more commonly confused words farther
in the future as we go further in our study of grammar.
Fall Issue (2007)
This issue, the Totalitarian Grammarian (Rocky
Reichman) gives us an article concerning the usage of the words Can
and May, and gives the rules for when to use one or the other.
By Rocky Reichman
Can I go to the Bathroom?
Can you? I sure hope so. But that’s for you to know and me not (hopefully never) to find out. I’m pretty sure
you’re able to go the bathroom, however. What you mean is whether you may go to the bathroom. So yes,
you are allowed to. You may go to the bathroom.
This is a perfect example of how the words
Can and May are constantly being misused and abused. The mistake is due to confusion. People just aren’t sure which
word to use--Can or May--and when. That’s why the Totalitarian Grammarian is here. Let’s explain the rules behind
the usage of these words.
The problem lies more with the word May
than Can. Can is quite fine. That word has been overused, if anything. But May is being used less and less. People
are saying Can when they should be saying May. Maybe with a bit of grammar help though, we can turn the tide and help save
a dying word from passing out of our lexicon.
The rules. Grammar is all about rules.
Rules can change, yes, but may they? Sometimes, when people change language, they are not completely altering
it in a positive way. Words can zip out of existence quickly--new forms of words can be born quicker than one can say “Incorrect
grammar usage!” (three times fast). And May and Can are no different. They have their rules.
May is used when someone is asking for
permission to do something. Don’t get confused: May, as in “May I do this” implies that the subject
(in this case, the person asking whether he or someone or something else may do something) already knows he can, or
is able to, do that action. It’s being used to ask whether he is allowed to do it. The word Can should
only be used when someone is asking whether they or someone else the ability to do something. They’re not necessarily
asking if something is allowed; they want to know if it’s possible for someone or something to even have the capability
of doing that action in the first place. While Can is used to ask whether someone is able to do something, May
is the correct word to use when asking permission to find out whether one is allowed to do something.
Now let’s provide some examples,
to properly show when someone should use Can or May. The example I gave above, “Can I go to the bathroom,” is
clearly wrong, and now you know why. Questions like “Can he have some water?” or “Can she have a turn?”
are incorrect too. It would also be wrong to use May in a sentence like “May he do it?” when asking whether someone
has the ability to actually do something--as opposed to just asking for permission to find out if they are allowed
to do it. “May I go the bathroom?” is asking if one is allowed to do this, and is therefore correct
usage. So is “Can he run a four-minute mile?” Both are great examples of the right way to use Can and May.
The substitution of Can instead
of May in phrases like “Can he walk with you?” (assuming it is known that he indeed is able to do the action
and is really just asking whether he is allowed to do it”) is becoming popular. Too popular for the Totalitarian
So can you use Can instead of May from now on? Not up to me. The
Totalitarian Grammarian only decides if you may do something. But can you? I sure hope so.
Summer Issue (2007)
By Rocky Reichman,
The Totalitarian Grammarian
I’m not talking about its literal meaning,
which is to force something by means of a pump, but rather its new meaning. Pumped (slang, informal) now has a new meaning,
and is defined by the Concise Oxford English Dictionary as being filled with enthusiasasm and excitement (another phrase,
similar to this and also slang, is pump up, meaning to turn up the volume of the music.) Besides for this, pumped can also
be said in the context “he’s pumped,” meaning ripped (which is also slang), or exceedingly stronger. If
you Google pumped then you get 11,100,000 results, although most of them have to do with its formal meaning. After doing some
research though, I discovered that there were instances when pumped was cited for its slang meaning. In 1981, a journalist
for the New York Times reporting on the Superbowl wrote “... get ready, pumped up, on Thursday and ….” Here,
the informal use of pumped was clearly used. It seems I’m pumped (full of enthusiasm) is a relatively new phrase. We
know it was around in the 1980s, although it was never really as popular then as it was now. Even though its slang, people
nevertheless (especially teenagers) use the phrase I’m pumped very often, and a day doesn’t go by for me without
hearing someone say it at least once. Pumped’s informal meaning is in every Webster’s dictionary that exists today,
but has it always been. I’ve checked in a Webster’s Dictionary that was published 1951, unabridged, and in more
than 2000 pages of definitions in tiny print, the informal use of the word pump simply doesn’t exist. Therefore, we
can assume that I’m pumped was first used after the 1950s, probably more likely in the 1980s, but it was not until the
1990s when the phrase became popular. Boy oh boy, now, after reading this article, I’m pumped for the next one.
Slang Busters (SIB-Slang and Informal Busters.)
Convict # 0003
Spring Issue (2007)
There, They’re and Their
The Three THs, and when to use them.
By Rocky Reichman
No matter who you are or what your profession, speaking
and writing grammatically correctly is essential to being successful in your life and in your career. Even if you’re
a litteratus or a writer, grammar can be confusing, especially when words have similar phonetics (sounds). When to use there,
their and they’re—the three THs as I call them—is a very important grammar lesson to learn.
First I will give you the rules, then examples of how to properly use the three THs.
There is used adjectivally when describing
a place where a noun (something or something) is (or was or will). There is possessive, and is used to
indicate that something belongs to, or is of a particular person or group of people. It can also be used as a subject (occasionally
an object too). There is a contraction, and is used as an easier way of saying (or writing) “they are.”
There are many examples that show you how to use
there, their and they’re the right way, correct and incorrect ones. For there, it would
be incorrect to say “There really good.” Instead, the proper word would be “They’re really
good.” The correct way to use there can be seen in the following example: “There are really good people.”
Moving on to the next of the TH words, the incorrect way to say there is illustrated in the sentence, “Their
were good apples and bad apples.” Here, the correct TH word to use would be there, not their. The proper
way to use their would be in this sentence: “Their apples were both good and bad.”
Confused yet? We’re not even finished. The
last of the THs, they’re, is actually probably the easiest to remember, but even it can get confusing. There
(no, not their) can be tricky sentences where determining which TH to use is difficult.
“They’re apples are delicious” is the wrong way to use this word. “They’re known for having
delicious apples” is a correct example of how to use the contraction. The easiest way to tell whether you have used
the word they’re correctly is by breaking up it up and testing it out in the same sentence; by using “they
are” now instead of “they’re,” it’s much easier to see whether you have used the word correctly.
A lot of grammar—the three THs included—can
be confusing at times, although, paradoxically, the whole purpose of grammar is to actually give a strict set of rules and
make sentences clearer. Everyone is free to try to “bend” the rules of grammar, but it’s not always recommended:
if the whole purpose of grammar is to help give structure to sentences and communication, then by breaking those rules wouldn’t
you be threatening everything grammar stands for?
There are sticklers, but then there is the Totalitarian
Grammarian and his Slang Busters, who are the ones correcting them. Myself? I’m a writer, editor, etymologist and linguist,
but grammarian? I’m no grammarian, I’m a Totalitarian Grammarian, and I hope that whoever reads this is too. There
is much to learn in grammar. As for the Totalitarian Grammarian and other sticklers, they’re not out to get you if they
correct your bad grammar; their purpose is only to help you.
Summer Issue (2006)
In our Summer issue, Rocky Reichman wrote about the Oxford Comma (Serial Comma)
and whether or not you should use it. Geoff Anderson delivered a poem about punctuation.
a Ditty on the travails of Punctuation. (No, it doesn't need editing!)
Although I've got a drawerful
Of books that help a lot,
My colons are: catastrophes:
never get apostrophe's
To take their rightful s'pot,
My commas, are, too common,
Relying too much on 'em,
end should have a dot.).
My semicolon's tragic;
It quite destroys the magic;
My style; just goes; to pot.
Supposed to shock but "Hark!" is
My hundredth on the trot !!!!
I've punctuated badly
Through all my
life - but sadly
I couldn't give a JOT.,;?!:
The Oxford Comma, by Rocky Reichman
Find any mistakes in "My Punctuation?" Have an argument why not use or to use the Oxford Comma?
E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and the Totalitarian Grammarian (and his secret police the Slang Busters) will get right on it!
Spring Issue (2006):
chips in the cupboard, honey, and there’re some left over.” If this sounds grammatically correct to you, then
please stop reading this article. For those of you who do recognize the mistakes, keep reading. In the above line, I have
portrayed the two basic is/are grammatical mistakes I have seen used most often. It’s hard to get through a day without
hearing, “there’s ices in the fridge” or “there’re computer on sale.” It can drive someone
berserk (although please believe that this isn’t the case with me) when so much lack of proper grammar usage is visible
in one day. There have even been days when (excluding the instances when I did not notice the mistakes) seven or more is/are
grammar mistakes were made. In fact, just recently I saw a commercial for Philadelphia Cream Cheese with two women talking.
The first asked the second why she was rushing and what she was looking for, and the second woman asked, “Where’s
my shoes?” Therefore, here’re the rules (not here’s the rules!) from start from to finish: use is
if the noun following it is singular, and use are if the noun following it is plural. True, it can get more complicated
and you might have a question, but that’s no problem, since you need only a grammar book to look the answer up. That’s
it! That’s all there is. So, next time you hear someone say, “There’s good burgers at this new ranch house”
or “here’s the goodies you wanted” or even “where’re he go?” please correct them. Don’t
be afraid to speak up and show them your vast knowledge of grammar.