Family Life / The English Teacher

Pardon Me. With Whom Might I Register a Complaint?

Quoting myself here: ‘Good grammar is always in season.’  Subjects and Verbs agreeing with each other. Proper attention paid so that participles and prepositions aren’t left dangling — so awkward, really. Fragments used only for effect. Run-ons eliminated. No impediment to our understanding, good grammar usage clarifies what would otherwise be a cloudy idea. I myself am guilty of regularly trying to cram too much into one sentence, creating confusion rather than easing a reader’s way to meaning. And I have grown over-fond of the parenthetical aside — adding additional commentary to my already stated thoughts. (I find it helpful, okay?) As already evidenced, I start too many sentences with coordinating conjunctions; however, such a stylistic choice may merely demonstrate my ‘voice.’

We all have our grammatical weaknesses, and I realize I break many of the rules I profess to uphold. Even more alarming, I must also confess to this: nearly all of my sentence diagramming skills have rotted away from lack of use. On the positive side: I can still name the parts of English speech without breaking a sweat. Nouns. Pronouns. Verbs. Adjectives, Adverbs, Prepositions, Conjunctions. And Interjections! (you’ll have to wonder if I looked those up or typed from memory). I can still underline all the simple subjects once and the verbs twice.  I can draw a vertical line between the subject and the predicate. I know that linking verbs require predicate nominatives or predicate adjectives (and those bits either rename or describe the subjects preceding the linking verb), but action verbs demand that direct and indirect objects trail along after them. Prepositional phrases modify. So do verbal phrases. (you know, those words that look and sound like verbs, but aren’t?)  I can also circle modifiers and draw arrows to the words modified. Whoop-de-freakin-do, right? Those ‘grammar lessons’ don’t help anyone be a better writer, but shouldn’t we know how the language we’re speaking and writing WORKS?!?!

Yes. Yes, we should.

Why, then, have so many people (I am not counted in their numbers) replaced the proper use of personal pronouns with the impersonal and frankly incorrect (not to mention wholly annoying) use of ARTICLES?!?!  Example:

Current, Improper Usage. “Just waiting for the hubs to get home.” or “The husband is on a business trip this week.” In that first example, the user further irritates all grammarians by shortening husband to hubs. Never mind the transposed letters which actually seem to indicate that the speaker/writer is waiting on some sort of wheel replacement. I’m sure it’s simply a stylistic maneuver, right?

THE husband. The poor chap isn’t even afforded his own dearly wedded wife’s claim on him as HER very own. Nope. She doesn’t say ‘my.’ She says ‘the.’ Giving her a smidge of credit, maybe what she’s trying to say is this:

‘I love the man I married. I am frankly besotted — literally overcome by my deep and abiding love for my lawfully wedded husband. He is THE only one for me. I like to call him ‘the husband’ when I refer to him. I don’t bother with his first name (which all of my friends already know since we do spend time together and they attended our wedding, got the thank-yous from both of us and so on…) — no need for names at all, really. What’s in a name? A husband, the husband, my husband — would smell as sweet no matter how I use or mis-use pronouns and articles when I refer to him…”

Indeed, she probably often thinks of ‘the husband’ in rhapsodic paraphrases of Shakespearean verbiage. ‘O husband, the husband! Wherefore art thou ‘the husband’?’ (And, in case you’ve forgotten your high school freshmen English class — you know, the one when all students are subjected to Romeo & Juliet) — that’s translated: Why are you ‘the husband’?

I have no answer to such a ridiculous question. Juliet meant something far more profound when she asked why Romeo was ‘Montague.’ She didn’t mean, ‘I don’t know why you have such an odd, and strangely UN-Italian last name — please explain it to me.’  No. She meant: I’ve fallen in love with the son of my father’s sworn enemy! Why, oh why, oh why, do you have to belong to the only family I am bound to hate, Romeo? Why couldn’t you be from a different family? Wear a different name? Because “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet…”

See. Names matter. Romeo was Juliet’s husband. Til death parted them. Of course we all know that didn’t take very long. Tragedies being what they are and all — nearly everybody sort of ends up dead. But make no mistake. For Juliet, there was no ‘the husband.’ She married Romeo. She identified him as HER husband. Belonging. Partnership. Exclusive possession. She forsook all the others so that she could have her husband. And he belonged with her. Not to her. With her. (Turns out, prepositions matter too — but that’s another story)

Articles are quite useful as adjectives go. ‘A’ husband would be one of many, while ‘the’ husband remains singular — a standout. The only one. But relationships are personal. My friend. My mom. My son. If I write about a high school girlfriend, I will likely refer to her by name, or as MY friend from the dark ages. (we’re old). Without question Ramona was MY mom. Not a mom — though she was. My mom. Different from yours. Different from all the other moms. The same is true of the husband/wife relationship. Possessive. Exclusive. MY husband. Not, I have ‘a’ husband. (I do, but he is distinguishable from all the others.) Not, I have ‘the’ husband.’ (I mean, I kind of do have THE BEST husband, but there are many in the world.) Articles just don’t quite work.

So, all of you out there who might have grown sloppy in your personal pronoun usage — mixing them up with the articles and thinking, ‘So what? who cares about grammar, for cryin’ out loud!?!?’  Well, I for one, do. And others like me are still out there. When you refer to the one you married, try personalizing your identification of ‘husband.’ Let him, and everyone know — he’s not ‘the’ husband.

He’s YOUR husband, you ninny!!!


Thank you.




2 thoughts on “Pardon Me. With Whom Might I Register a Complaint?

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