Grammar Phobia vs. Grammar Snobbery


Definition 1:  relating to a virus, a disease that poisons the system.

Definition 2: relating to any media that circulates widely on the web.

Late April 2016:  a video blog (vlog) from The Guardian earned this “viral” cachet when the presenting editor inferred that grammar rules are made by the white, highly-educated segment of the population, and thus grammar rules are designed to be prejudiced against those who break them.

What?  Wait.  Standard English rules are prejudiced?  No.

Actually, what the vlog editor inferred is that grammar helps communication, but some people become snobs when applying the rules.  I agree with this.

Look, here it is, in 15 Points.


Communication is both non-verbal and verbal, and verbal means spoken and written.


The audience needs guides to follow communication.  Those guides are tone and gestures that accompany spoken communication.  Punctuation provides the guides in written communication.


These guides help the audience “read” spoken and written communication.


The guides are what became standardized into common rules to assist communication.


Unfortunately, certain rules of grammar became imposed on the English language, which is itself a huge amalgamation on a Germanic root with a heavy Latin/French influence.

These rules often confuse communication.

For example, one of the confusing rules is now a famous statement by Winston Churchill.  About the preposition at the end of sentences, he quipped, “That is a rule up with which I will not put.”


The common grammar rules became a mark of the highly-educated.  This highly educated class also happened to be the wealthy who could afford tutors and governesses who ensured the next generation knew the rules.  And the wealthy, as always, form the established (predominant) culture.

One could say that the grammar rules are more economic stratification than anything else.


Business wants to stay in business.  It is able to do so when it caters to the established culture.  Therefore, business hires the people who will present the best image to their clientele.

Image is non-verbal communication.  Spoken (and gradually written) communication are also key elements of creating an image that will have people with money maintaining an association with that business.

To sell its product, business hires those who present the best image, non-verbal and verbal.  These sales people do their job best when they are not noticed at all by the purchasers.

The people who buy the products of a business have more influence than the business itself in determining a particular product’s success.


To create a larger work-base for business, the middle class ensured that its children also learned the common grammar rules.  [Originally, rhetoric (communicating to persuade) was the mainstay.]


Gradually, public education spread beyond the upper and middle classes and to the lower classes, and the teaching of the common rules became a mainstay of the curriculum.

Public education purported that its raison d’etre was to improve the lives of those not in the upper echelons of society.  Therefore, the claim was that these grammar rules would assist the lower strata of society escape dead-end jobs.  That did happen.



Imposition of the grammar rules by certain grammar snobs gave grammar phobia to the many who were learning the rules.


We have forgotten that the rules are guides for communication—and that communication creates community through commonality.


Commonality is necessary for community and is not antagonistic to diversity.

E.D. Hirsch (whose work Cultural Literacy has weathered a lot of controversy) stated that a common background created through education will create a more unified culture.  While many argue with his choices for the topics in the common background, his theory of a common starting point is valid.


Diversity in communication keeps the audience interested.


Too much diversity, however, may obscure communication.


Any communicator’s believability (credibility, ethos) is based on how well s/he communicates.

The Editor from The Guardian :: Does she have the final word on grammar rules? Or will the rules remain to aid communication? See below to locate the vlog.

If you watch and listen to the vlog, you can not fail to notice that the presenter, Mona Chalabi, explains her points in absolutely correct Standard English with an upper-class accent and fully rounded tones.

Even as she debunked grammar snobbery, she proves through her very presentation that she is a proponent of grammar snobbery.

Listen to the vlog.  Would you believe this denunciation of grammar snobbery if Chalabi broke numerous grammar rules?  Or is she more persuasive because she follows the grammar rules?

Chalabi’s side point is that grammar should not disrupt communication, which is the whole purpose of this writing and any other writing I will do about grammar in my attempt to help people understand.  We use grammar to increase communication, not to browbeat others.

As writers, we use grammar to manipulate our readers’ impressions of our works.

We can enchant with lyricism.

Or convert with suasion.

We can entertain.

Or we can turn off our reader.

Communication is all that matters.

. ~ . ~ . ~ .

You can see the original vlog—as of this writing it’s still available—by searching “Grammar snobs are patronising, pretentious, and just plain wrong.”

(That’s the British spelling of patronizing in your search, BTW).

Punctuation: Type I Errors Test

Here’s a test, for free for you, that I once gave to my students on three of the Type I errors.  I know, I know.  I only talked about two of the errors, but the third error is the sentence fragment, and you should be able to figure it out.

Test Covering Three Type I Sentence Errors

Identify the following sentences using the coding provided.

A = fragment     B = comma splice      C = fused sentence       D = correct sentence

  • Five of the options will be correct sentences.
  1. The children played in the backyard, the swings and the sandbox amused them.
  2. The boat docked, all the passengers got off.
  3. The combination of diet, exercise, and rest which must be strictly followed to bring about healing.
  4. The architects have worked hard the lowest contractor bid will get the job.
  5. Languages are not easy for me I do better at math.
  6. The boy that you invited to the party.
  7. Jack listens to his i-pod all the time except when Laura hides it.
  8. Lisa left early but no one knew why.
  9. The cove is quite pretty, it is rocky at low tide.
  10. She loved science however she failed the test.
  11. The action during the first scene.
  12. Although we were hungry, we waited patiently.
  13. Bagels used to found only in the Orient.
  14. A wide meadow, a babbling brook, and bright sunshine.
  15. Carlos wanted to be an actor, jobs were hard to get.
  16. We rounded the bend, the castle came into view.
  17. Many cacti are odd-looking plants they have beautiful blooms.
  18. Emily Dickinson wrote most of her poems without leaving her home.
  19. Without saying a word, the messenger handed me the envelope.
  20. The trick amazed the crowd they had never seen anything like it.

If you want to check your answers, then email  Place CSFSFRAG test in the subject line.  Have fun!

Punctuation: Type I Errors Practice

If you want exercises to drill avoidance of the comma splice and the fused sentence, you can head over to, a delightful website with lots of exercises.  Multiple college writing labs around the nation uses chompchomp, officially titled Grammar Bytes, with a big gorilla as the site image.

Here’s another practice for you for free, that I used with my students.  I don’t remember the source;  it’s certainly not mine originally.

10 total errors >> Highlight the error.  Label in the L margin.  Pick from missing words, CS, FS, fragment, subject/verb agreement.

Office gossip no longer at the water cooler.  Companies that are online have a better way to relay gossip and email is the medium.   Some court cases have made corporate executives rethinks policies on transmitting emails and destroying old messages.  Seemingly harmless communications have been retrieved, this information has been used in sexual harassment cases and other lawsuits.  A single employee can thousands of pages of email messages, however, the mail is not censored or monitored.  Consequently, companies are eager for systems that reviews and spot-checks email. Company executives are employing programs that censor email and block messages containing inappropriate material this monitoring of emails prevent embarrassing situations.  CEOs understand that Big Brother has a better view.  Since employees began hitting the Send button.

Punctuation: Type I Errors

What’s a Type I Error?

Actually, we have four Type I Errors.  They definitely belong in the realm of Grammar, but our semicolon vs. comma discussion is an appropriate place for this information.

Punctuation errors are classified based on their severity in creating incorrect sentence structure.

Spelling and usage and spacing errors matter little to sentence structure.  Everyone spots these Type III errors and thinks they’re horrible.  Nope, the horrible ones are the Type I errors.

Continue reading “Punctuation: Type I Errors”

Punctuation: Semicolons & Conjunctivitis


Now we advance to the use of the semicolon that twists people around.  Even English majors spiral out of control with this one.  The conjunctive adverb!

First, a grammar lesson.

Conjunctions join items.  We have three types of conjunctions.

1] We have the basic ones, the coordinating FANBOYS and their fraternal twins the correlatives.  It’s smart to think of these two types in the same way.  We use them in the same way.

Most compound sentences require only a comma before the conjunction.  Remember these two sentences?

  • Jack carried the bucket up the hill, but he fell down the hill.
  • Jill ran, and she laughed happily.

These two sentences are Compound.  Each has a subject with its own verb.  In the first sentence, Jack carried but he fell.  In the second, Jill ran and she laughed.  Again, length does not determine designation.

The placement of the punctuation is alphabetical:  the comma comes before the conjunction.

Fanboys get that name from the mnemonic device that helps us remember them.

FANBOYS:  for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so.  (The comma is only behind the conjunction because this is a list.  In actual practice, the comma comes before the conjunction;  it is attached to the previous word.)

Doubled-Up Correlatives

CORRELATIVES:  both/and, either/or, neither/nor, just as/so, not only/but also, and whether/or.

Independent becomes Dependent

2] Then we have the subordinating conjunctions.  Subordinating conjunctions turn independent sentences into dependent (or subordinate/secondary) ones.

Subordinating conjunctions belong to the realm of commas.  However, a brief list includes the following:

After / As / Although / Because / Since / If (which always comes with then), Who (and whoever, etc.) / While / Until

This list is not complete.  We have many subordinate conjunctions.

Conjunctivitis is Catching

3] The odd conjunctions are the Conjunctive Adverbs.  My mind always calls these Stop Conjunctions.  In speaking, no matter how rapidly, we stop before and after each of these words.

Read this sentence aloud: Einstein has many contributions to the field of science;  nevertheless, he is primarily known for this theory of relativity.

You paused twice, didn’t you, before and after nevertheless?  Even if we forced ourselves, our minds would still hear the pauses.

Here’s a chart of the most Conjunctive Adverbs that I could think of.  I am certain that I missed a few.
Accordingly Additionally Again Also Anyway
Besides Certainly Comparatively Consequently Conversely
Elsewhere Equally Finally Further Furthermore
Hence Henceforth However In addition In comparison
In contrast Incidentally Indeed Instead Likewise
Meanwhile Moreover Namely Nevertheless Next
Nonetheless Notably Now Otherwise Rather
Similarly Specifically Still Subsequently Then
Thereafter Therefore Thus Undoubtedly Yet

See how each word or phrase takes a whole breath to say?

The Conjunctive Adverb takes the place of the basic conjunction between the two joined sentences.  Then we place a semicolon BEFORE it and a comma AFTER, surrounding the ConjAdv.  The semicolon comes first, to stop the first sentence and link the second.  The following comma represents the verbal pause of our breath.

  • “Dirt used to be a badge of honor. Dirt used to look like work.  But we’ve scrubbed the dirt off the face of work;  consequently, we’ve created this suspicion of anything that’s too dirty.” ~ Mike Rowe
  • “I’m about a monolingual as you come; but nevertheless, I have a variety of different languages at my command, different styles, different ways of talking, which do involve different parameter settings.” ~ Noam Chomsky
  • “I am here for a purpose, and that purpose is to grow into a mountain, not to shrink to a grain of sand; henceforth, I will apply all my efforts to become the highest mountain of all, and I will strain my potential until it cries for mercy.” ~ Og Mandino
Ticky Detail #4

In simple sentences, we can use these ConjAdvs like an interjection.

  • “If a man does not keep pace with his companion, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

Note, the second sentence—the one which contains however—is not two sentences.  It is only one sentence.

This use, with the ConjAdv as a mere modifier, inserted like a parenthetical expression, trips up the good grammar people.  They use the interjecting word and fly past without difficulty.  Then they join two sentences with only a comma (as for the interjection) and crash into a Type I Error.

And it’s Type I Errors up next!  Those pesky subject/verb problems that trip up college composition students.