Monday, March 31, 2008

Grammar Monday: Look! Over There!

Today I'll focus on two issues, mostly because it's my blog and I make the rules, but also because my dear friend Jenni is always coming up with interesting little questions for me, and I want to answer one before she racks up a dozen that I haven't answered yet. Before I move on to regularly scheduled grammar programming, I'll conquer her question about which preposition to use with the word procrastinating.

You don't need to use a preposition with the word procrastinating. That is my official answer, and I have yet to find a contradiction to that in any of my favorite grammar guides. Instead, just leave it as it is. I am procrastinating ironing my trousers. I am procrastinating taking out the garbage. I am procrastinating going to the gym so that I can bring Grammar Monday to the people of the internet. The logic behind this is that to procrastinate means "to put off," which already includes a preposition, so to add one after the word procrastinate would be redundant. For example, one might try to say, "I am procrastinating on doing the dishes," but if you inserted the meaning instead, it would read, "I am putting off on doing the dishes," which simply makes no sense at all. The additional preposition is unnecessary. Even if you do not agree with my reasoning, you must admit that inserting the preposition is, at the very least, verbally awkward. It kind of sounds like you're talking with marbles in your mouth, which is a fine way to choke.

Item two today is a clarification of when to use the words there, their, and they're. This is quite simple if you just keep the definition of the words in mind. The definition of there is "in or at that place," so it refers to a point in space or time. There is the road. Put that enormous plate of cookies there, where I can reach it without moving. I would like to go there after we're done here.

The definition of their is "a form of the possessive case of they." In other words, it refers to something that belongs to them. It shows that they possess whatever object is being indicated. It is their dog. We will go to their house for dinner. I wish that scuba mask belonged to me, but it is theirs.

They're is a contraction formed by the words they are. If you would not say "they are" instead, you cannot use the word they're. They're going to the beach. If they're having a good time, they aren't showing it. Let's go where they're going to be.

Not too hard, yeah?

Friday, March 28, 2008

Behold! The Heavens Opened, and the Glory of the Swedes Shone Down Upon Us

The first time I saw Jarod's house, not so long after we'd begun dating, I thought to myself, "Oh, GREAT. If this goes anywhere, I might end up having to live in this house." It was a bachelor house then, and all the magnificence that goes with a house that bachelors live in was evident. Jarod had bought it because he really liked it, and to him it seemed just right. He'd spent his whole life helping his parents do home remodeling projects, so his thought was that finally he could live in a place that didn't need any of that. And when two bachelors were living there? It really didn't need any of that. But now that he's got a wife, well...things have taken a turn for the worse. While two bachelors might not mind that the linoleum is peeling up by the back door, and the kitchen counters are from 1972, I do mind. While two bachelors might not care that the toilet is has mineral stains and a crack in the tank, I most definitely do. And I have not been silent about this. The kitchen and bathroom both need updates. I've probably complained about this more than is necessary. Now we're getting around to doing something about it. This is my new IKEA kitchen:

that's my new kitchen

You'll have to use your imagination a bit on this one, but trust me, it's going to be beautiful. Once it is installed, I will probably want to sleep in there so that I can stare up at it in the moonlight and have sweet dreams every night. I will roll out my yoga mat and bring a pillow, and the cats will curl up next to me, and it will be the one of the best days of my entire life, tying only with the first night I slept in my Strawberry Shortcake canopy bed when I was seven. I couldn't fall asleep because I was too busy feeling so lucky and happy.

...

While we were in Chicago we felt it was necessary to indulge in as many culinary delights as possible. Unfortunately, we didn't really go anywhere with food except IKEA, so we had to go all Swedish style.

jarod got the meatballs

Jarod had the meatballs. They seemed to be pretty Swedish to me, especially dipped in the accompanying lingonberry sauce.

i got the cake!

I had the chocolate cake. Well, and also the chicken marsala, which isn't very Swedish, but which IS the reason that I wasn't smiling in the photo. I had a feeling that I still had bits of my meal, particularly the broccoli portion, stuck in my teeth, and boy was I right.

...

By the end of the trip, it became clear that our purpose was not only to get a kitchen, but also to visit all the retail chain stores that we do not have in Kansas City. I don't have a photo of all the cute new wardrobe additions I acquired from H&M, but I did take a moment to document my Trader Joe's acquisitions.

i got what i came for

I don't know about you, but to me, nothing says SUPER FUN VACATION like a cart full of cereal meant to keep you regular.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Grammar Monday: Less is More

A lot of people are confused by how to use the words less and fewer, particularly those people who are in charge of making the signs to hang above the express check-out lanes. Really, it's fairly simple, so the explanation will be brief.

Fewer is used in reference to things that are individual items, or things which can be counted. We have fewer grapes since we made wine with some of them. Ten items or fewer in the express lane, please. There are fewer people on the island than when our plane first crashed. You can pluralize these words.

Less is used in reference to an unspecified quantity, generally something that has mass or volume and can be measured. These things cannot be counted. There is less coffee in my cup now that I've drunk part of it. We need less sugar than last time. I am carrying less weight in my pack since I drilled holes in my toothbrush handle. These words are not pluralized.

To sum up: if you can count it, use fewer, but if it needs to be measured, use less.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Being Mentally Unbalanced Has Never Been This Good

Last night I disclosed to some friends the insanely small amount of garbage that Jarod and I generate (one kitchen-sized bag per week, and most of the time it's not even full, even with the kitty litter inside). I was asked how we do it, and I know I gave some answer or another, but I didn't reveal the real reason. I mean, sure, we don't use disposable paper or plastic anything except toilet paper and the occasional tissue, and our rate of consumption of goods has gone way down since we discovered that our house is already full of enough crap, but that's not really it.

The truth is that we do not put out a lot of garbage because I am trying to win at recycling.

Seriously, I won't even throw a clothing price tag in the trash. And if I discover that Jarod has inadvertently thrown away something recyclable? I DIG IT OUT. I can't help it. If I see something in there that should be recycled and I do not retrieve it, I feel a little anxious until it's out and in its proper place. I'd seek help, but apparently OCD is good for the earth. Score one for mental illnesses!


P.S. I'm wondering if one could put cloth napkins in this? Because I kind of dig it, but I'm not really sure what I could do with it considering my, um, problem.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Grammar Monday: Lay? Lie? Lain? WHAT?

I've had more than one request for an explanation of how to use lie and lay and their respective conjugated forms. Fear not! It's easier than you think! Well, kind of.

First, let's talk about the words sit and set because most people understand those, and lie and lay are similar. The word sit refers to an action done by a person (or animal or other...uh...thing that can do the action on its own) and set refers to an action done to something. I sit, but I set things down. The cat is sitting. He is setting the box down on the stairs. Make sense? Yes? Good. I'm guessing that most of you already knew this, and not only that, but that you have been using those words correctly. Which is what will make remember lie and lay ever so much easier.

When it comes to lie and lay, lie is like sit in that it is an action that is done by someone/something. A handy way to remember this is by noting that the middle letter of both words is I. The next step is to conjugate it, which is tricky for two reasons. First, lie is a homonym, so it is fairly easy to confuse the conjugation of the word lie which means "to recline" with the conjugation of the word lie which means "falsehood." Second, the past tense of lie is lay, which makes a lot of people go, "No. Wait. Uh?" Honestly, if this is confusing to you every time, or if you do not have a mind like a steel trap for memorizing such things, there is nothing wrong with looking it up. The conjugation of the word lie (meaning "to recline") is as follows: I lie. He lies. She lies. They lie. We lie. In other tenses: I am lying on my couch. She lay on the floor last night. He has lain in that spot for years.

Now for lay. Like set, lay is an action that is performed upon something else. It means "to place," and so there is always a thing that is being placed. Conjugation is: I lay. She lays. He lays. They lay. We lay. In other tenses: I am laying down the book. She laid the brownie mix aside for later. He has laid the dog down in the doghouse.

To sum up:
Lie is like sit. Remember this by noting that the middle letter is the same.

The forms are: lie, lies, is (am) lying, lay, has lain.

Lay is like set.

The forms are: lay, lays, am (are) laying, laid, has laid.

...

Any questions? Corrections from those smarter than me? Requests for another Grammar Monday?

Friday, March 14, 2008

If I Could Pack Now, I Would

As news of the US plummeting into a full blown recession hits front pages everywhere, and the value of the dollar is dropping like bungee jumpers on spring break, Jarod and I are planning our next European vacation. Either we're idiots or optimists, perhaps both. In any case, the flights are booked, the apartment is reserved, and our purse-strings are hereby tightened as we anticipate the price of a Nicois sandwich going from pretty reasonable, even though the dollar is a little crappy, to WHOA THERE WE'LL JUST HAVE THE CARAFE D'EAU as the dollar becomes absolute shit. (My mother is reading this now going, "And someone's language is heading south along with the dollar...")

In case you haven't guessed, we're going to Nice. Also to London, but I don't even want to think about that exchange rate, so please shut up LALALALALAWECAN'THEARYOU. We had planned to go to San Francisco in the summertime for BlogHer and possibly a few extra days of vacay, but then one day I was waxing nostalgic about Nice and Jarod asked, "So, would you rather go to Nice than to BlogHer?" And I said, "Duh. Two tickets to the Riviera, please." As it happens, it's not a lot more expensive to go to Europe than it would have been to pay for our travel, lodgings, etc. in San Fran. So, falling dollar or no, we are headed across the pond in the autumn.

The news of the recession doesn't surprise me in the least. Our national pastime is spending money we don't have, so why should we be surprised to find out that we are now in dire straits, that we need to spend less and pay off more? We have been encouraged both by advertisers and our very own government to spend, spend, spend. Our government has been spending way beyond its means thanks to a war that was waged based on a pack of lies. Banks loaned money to people for mortgages that in time they wouldn't be able to afford. We have wanted more than we had, even though what we had was good enough. We have been unwise. What we have sown, we are reaping. And though that may hurt, I think it's the only way we'll learn to do better in the future. I know this from experience. Twelve thousand dollars worth of credit card debt experience, that is. It hurt to pay it back. I worked hard and got tired and cried buckets some nights. But it was worth it to get out the way that I did, more worth it than if I'd gotten out via some random financial windfall. If it had been easy to get out, I probably would have turned around and gone right back in again. I am grateful for the lesson as much as I am for the payoff.

I think that America will come back around. It will take longer than we'd like and be harder won than most people would prefer. But my hope is that, as individuals and as a nation, we will be all the better for it once it's over and done. In the meantime, I'll be plunking all my extra dollars into my jackelope bank so that once we do arrive on the shores of the Mediterranean, I can afford a damn sandwich.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

You Want It, You Get It

Though I really don't know why you're asking for grammar and punctuation advice from someone who doesn't bother to proofread her own blog most of the time. Sometimes I'll even catch errors a few days later and never change them. Perhaps in addition to this latest offering I should also promise to do a better job of proofreading. Let's start with the initial commitment, though:

You.

Me.

Grammar.

Punctuation.

Mondays.

We'll call it Grammar Mondays unless you have a better idea. I'll begin with the requests I've already received, then move on to new requests or randomly selected subjects. If you have a specific question related to grammar, punctuation, or, say, idioms or something, feel free to either leave it in the comments or email it to me at marymuses at gmail dot com. (Don't ask for help with run-on sentences, though, because...um...yeah. Can't help ya there!)

Then prepare for me to sometimes be wrong. I do not claim to be an English language guru, having gotten my English degree eleven years ago and not having used it professionally since then (unless sparkling dinner conversation counts), but I will attempt to answer your questions (often with help from my two grammar guides, just to make sure I'm not misleading you) and address some common grammar and punctuation mistakes.

Hopefully this will be helpful to all of us--both those with questions and those of us, myself included, who need a refresher.

...

In other news, the two StairMasters at my gym are broken, and this breaks my workout-loving heart. Perhaps someone would like to trade StairMaster repair services for grammar help? Please? I simply can't use that Precor EFX5600 one more time; it's like wading through mud.

Monday, March 10, 2008

I"ve Always Thought That Daylight Saving Time Was a Stupid Idea

As it happens, I've been right all this time. Admittedly, I thought it was stupid because we're not saving any actual daylight, just redistributing it to the end of the day, and for that, um, privilege (??) we have to readjust our body clocks twice a year. I have enough trouble with my body clock wanting to dance to its own unique circadian rhythm as it is, so it's never been good for me. It's nice to have the economists on my anti-Daylight-Saving-Time side.

...

And now for a brief lesson about apostrophes, simply because most of you need it:

There are relatively few uses for apostrophes, though many people insist on using them in many ways. I understand this can be confusing. After all, if you see a lot of other people doing it, then who's to say that it's not right, or that at least you'll have a lot of company when you do the same thing? Well, if all the other lemmings were jumping off a cliff, would you follow them because you didn't know any better? Don't answer that; I'm afraid of what you might say. Whatever your lemming-like tendencies may be, I"m here to help you not go off that cliff.

First of all, apostrophes are NEVER used to express plural form. For example, if you have more than one cat, you would not say, "I have cat's." The apostrophe doesn't belong there. You simply have cats. Or ideas. Or suggestions. Or brains.

Second, apostrophes ARE used to show possession. For example, if I have a cat, you could say, "That is Mary's cat." The apostrophe in my name shows that the cat belongs to me. Whose cat? Mary's cat. To show plural possession, the rules change a bit. If the plural is indicated by a word that does not end in the letter S, such as children, you would apply the apostrophe in the same manner. "That is the children's cat." However, if the plural form does end in S, then you would put the apostrophe after the S. Imagine that a group of nuns shares a cat. You would write, "That is the nuns' cat." If it were only one nun that owned the cat, you would use the singular form, "That is the nun's cat," but with the plural form the apostrophe needs to go after the S.

The possession rule seems to get particularly confusing for people when it comes to last names. One of the most common mistakes I see is when people are indicating that their family will do something, but there is no indication of possession. The correct way to write this is to simply use the plural form, "The McBrides will bring egg salad to the pot luck." Because it is simply a plural, referring only to the fact that more than one McBride is in charge of bringing the egg salad, it does not need an apostrophe. However, if you are showing possession, it would be used more like, "Dinner will be at the McBrides' house." Note here that the apostrophe goes after the S since this is plural (more than one McBride, refer to plural possession rules above). The only time you would put an apostrophe before the S in possessive form is if there is just one person, as in, "We are going to Mr. McBride's house." Or, if you call someone by their last name, you might write, "We are going to McBride's house." This is the case only if it's just one person.

Third, apostrophes indicate missing letters, such as in the case of contractions. For example, if you make the words did not into the contraction didn't, the apostrophe indicates the missing letter. This is also sometimes used when abbreviating words, such as when the word international is written int'l. There the apostrophe fills in for more than one letter.

A good rule of thumb for apostrophe use is simply not to use one if you're not sure if it belongs. I see far more incidences of apostrophes being put where they do not belong than words that need apostrophes going without them. Better yet, if you're not sure, ask someone who can help you. There's nothing wrong with having questions as long as you ask them instead of just making up your own answer.

Does that make sense? I hope so.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

These Days They Call It "Having Trouble Listening"

Back in my day, it was just called disobedience. But whatever the case, it's what got Mary Liz into trouble, and what earned her an hour time out in her room yesterday afternoon. Once she was done with her homework and reading, I told her to head on to her room, get it over with, and then she'd be free.

"Free like that Harry girl?"

"What?"

"You know, that Harry girl."

"No, which girl is that?"

"Oh, yeah, Harriet Tubman!"

Hmm..well, um, that's a little bit different.

...

In the car the kids were discussing their Spanish teacher. Jack insists that she doesn't really know much Spanish, that's she's not really that good (Thank you, Calvin Critical.), that she doesn't know more Spanish than a fourth grader. Mary Liz, coming to the rescue of her teacher, pipes up, "Nuh-UH! She knows a lot of Spanish! She's from SPANISHLAND!"

I wonder if I can go there for spring break...

Saturday, March 01, 2008