Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Grammar Reaper

I suppose you think we sit around all day at Poetry yakking it up about, well, poetry. Yes, in fact, we do. But we also do down-and-dirty editorial work, such as looking things up in such standard reference sources as the Chicago Manual of Style and the Oxford English Dictionary and Wikipedia and stuff. Oh, sure, typos get past us now and then, and matters of grammar and style are as debatable as the merits of, say, flarf and conceptual poetry. But we try our best. And so, as a public service, I am instituting a new feature of this blog which I will call The Grammar Reaper. (Wait, that should read: which I shall call....) There are many blogs devoted to the proper use of the English language - but the distinction of this feature will be that it's one of the very few composed by an actual working poet. Granted, very few poets are actually working, but you take my point.

In this inaugural post, I will answer two questions submitted in person while I was riding the train this morning. Oops: I shall answer them.

Q1.) I notice that the CTA pre-recorded announcements include one asking riders not to leave their belongings on the seat next to them... "so that others may sit down." Is this correct? Shouldn't it be "so that others can sit down?"

A.) There can be no doubt that can is and sounds better. Others may - or may not - sit down if a seat is unoccupied, but they will if they can. In fact, I think that an even better construction of the phrase would be "so that others will sit down." If riders will only sit down, then they won't be clogging up the aisles making it hard for others to get on and off the train, and there'd be fewer people bumping into each other.... or should I say less people? Topic for a later discussion!

Q2.) I was looking out the window of the train while we were "waiting for signal clearance," and noticed a sign on a storefront that read: "WE MOVED." Shouldn't that be "WE HAVE MOVED?"

A.) "Have" is one of those "helper words" you may dimly remember having heard about in school. So I would need additional information to answer this question, namely: Did they have any help moving? If so, you're right - "WE HAVE MOVED" would be better; if not, well, who can blame anyone for feeling proud of moving all by him or herself. Wait: should that just be himself? Topic for a later discussion!

Well, I certainly hope you have enjoyed this new feature, and that you have found it to be helpful. I know I have. If you have any questions or comments, you have an opportunity to have me respond in the comment box to this post. Have a nice day!


Anonymous said...


You think signs in English need editing? Check out the signs in Spanish!

By the way, here's a suggestion for a worthy Poetry Foundation project: Poems on the CTA in Spanish. Most Spanish-speaking riders would actually read them!


Andrew Shields said...

Don Share goes Dave Barry! :-)