Category Archives: grammar (thoughts of a grammar purist and ex-proofreader)

the demise of the sentence (remember that?)


Please see new post of mine on my site:

“the demise of the sentence (remember that?)”

the demise of the sentence (remember that?)


— Roger W. Smith

The infinitive is infinite.



In a text I bought for my German course, Basic German: A Grammar and Workbook, 2nd Edition, by Heiner Schenke, Anna Miell, and Karen Seago, pg. 7, it says:

A verb with a personal ending — e.g., Woher kommst du? Ich wohne in Frankfurt, Woher kommst du? — is called a finite verb. This is in contrast to the infinitive form of verbs.

I never knew.

In other words, a verb when used with a subject and tense — we speak, they spoke, English is spoken — is finite, determinate; there is definite action, occurrence.

But, yes, Shakespeare can write to be or not to be, but to be is timeless, so to speak. But, I was satisfied — this refers to the past and an actual point on time, whether specified or not.



I love learning new things. In the category of learning “I never knew that.” Something simple that should have been obvious, but that for me represents a discovery.

When you learn it, some fundamental that increases overall understanding is now part of your mental repertoire.


— Roger W. Smith

   February 2020

copyeditors, who needs ‘em (The New York Times, that’s who)


Mr. Donleavy lived in London and on the Isle of Man for most of the 1950s and ’60s, then moved to Ireland in 1969 after it had abolished the income tax for creative artists, including writer [italics added].

— “J.P. Donleavy, Acclaimed Author of ‘The Ginger Man,’ Dies at 91,” by Anita Gates, The New York Times, September 13, 2017



I worked as a proofreader and copyeditor during the 1970’s and 1980’s and made a living at it exclusively for about five years during which I was self employed. I greatly benefited from a professional course I took with a Doubleday editor and from on the job experience. My work improved over time, pretty fast. It had to. One has to be thoroughly knowledgeable and competent, diligent, and meticulous to do such work.

I saved, many times, very good writers from egregious errors. As a writer over the years, I know how essential to any writer copyeditors and proofreaders are. Check out the acknowledgments section of a scholarly book and more often than not you will find the author stating just that.

So why did The New York Times eliminate its stand-alone copy desks?



“Editing is vital to The Times. It separates us from the competition. It is one of the reasons readers trust our information. And it elevates our language,” Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet recently stated. (“Dean Baquet Answers Readers’ Questions on Editing in the Newsroom,” The New York Times, July 6, 2017.) He was speaking about the Times’s decision to eliminate its stand-alone copyediting desks and fire dozens of (mostly veteran) copyeditors.

I agree that editing is vital. Also, as a regular Times reader for some 50 years, I have noticed that it has always seemed to be more carefully edited than most daily newspapers, in addition to the fact that the stories are notably polished and well written.

Suddenly, wouldn’t you just know it, despite assurances that quality would not suffer, frequent typos and the like are cropping up in Times articles. This despite Baquet’s assurances that “we will be watching closely to make sure that our stories are still up to the standards our readers expect.” When I read that statement three months ago, his words did not sound reassuring. Who will be watching closely?



As noted above, I once took an invaluable copyediting course. The instructor made a point about why attention to detail on the part of editors and copyeditors is essential: Sloppiness in editing and production tends to decrease the reader’s overall confidence in a piece of writing (I am not thinking of fiction) and its accuracy. One starts to wonder, with careless errors here and there, if maybe there are not more serious errors, such as misspelled names, wrong dates, errors of fact, and other mistakes for which one will find the newspaper apologizing in its “Corrections” section. Or that can make the informed reader of a nonfiction book wonder whether he or she can trust its contents. If there are frequent mistakes of the kind a copyeditor should have caught in the published book (such as the time that I found W. E. B. Du Bois’s name being misspelled throughout a book that was devoted to African American culture and writers), one may suspect that it was rushed into print and that one can’t rely on it as a source.



There is a noticeable trend away from correctness in written and spoken language. Electronic communication is mostly responsible for this, it seems: the internet, texting, and email. The age of print, which began with Guttenberg almost six centuries ago, may be ending. This would be incredibly unfortunate — devastating, in my opinion.


— Roger W. Smith

   September 13, 2017

grammar (again!)


“A documentary that aired on Britain’s Channel 4 two weeks ago generated news about how much sex — or not so much — Charles and Diana were having as their marriage cratered, mostly because Charles could not get over his one true love, Camilla Parker-Bowles, the Duchess of Cornwall, who he later married.”

— “Princes William and Harry are all grown up, and their mother would be proud,” by Karla Adam and William Booth, The Washington Post, August 28, 2017



These two reporters do not know that it should be WHOM he later married.

If, like me, you were carefully taught the eight parts of speech in elementary school, you would have learned that there are such things as PRONOUNS; for example, the pronoun who and its variant form whom.

This would have enabled you (as it did me) to better understand how language works. A pronoun such as who when it is a subject is who, but when it is an object, it becomes whom. Elementary, my dear Watson! So we were taught by prim fussy schoolmarms eons ago. (Don’t ask me to explain why this type of variation – in spelling – occurs with pronouns and not nouns.)

But now, it’s considered to be too much to ask schoolchildren to be taxed with such lessons. And, it also seems to be considered a waste of time.

I would be willing to bet that a lot of schoolteachers nowadays don’t know the parts of speech themselves, or how they function.


— Roger W. Smith

   August 29, 2017

subject-verb DISagreement


” ‘The racism and deadly violence in Charlottesville is unacceptable but there is a better way to remove these monuments,’ Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said via Twitter on Monday evening.”

— “Protestors in North Carolina topple Confederate statue following Charlottesville violence,” The Washington Post, August 15, 2017



Does anyone know (let alone care) that a plural subject takes a plural verb? This grammar rule is violated routinely — all the time. Not only by public speakers and journalists — both in speaking and in print — but also, incredibly, it is routinely violated by academics.

When you come to think about it, this is not all that surprising. After all, grammar isn’t taught in elementary schools any more; this has been the case since around 1970. It was considered too old fashioned, something prim schoolmarms used to fuss over.

I am very thankful that I had such teachers. They taught such things as sentence structure, the parts of speech, and the difference between a subject and an object. Heaven forbid, they even had us diagramming sentences!


— Roger W. Smith

   August 2017

grammar anyone?




“white nationalists, counterprotestors, violently clash”







There should not be a comma between “counterprotestors” and “violently.”

The way it’s punctuated, it would appear that there is an apposition indicating that the white nationalists are one and the same group as the counterprotestors.

Grammar! it’s gone the way of the curtsey.



— Roger W. Smith

  August 12, 2017