"...it's like Will Rogers, Jean Shepherd and some grumpy Jewish man all rolled into one."

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Grammar and Grampa

There are elements of speech and grammar and certain turns of phrase I just can’t keep straight, no matter how many times I watch the series of “Comma Queen” videos online. Here are some of the challenges that currently flummox me:
Flounder vs. Founder: I think of one of these as a fish and the other as someone who… found something. Yet “flounder” also means to flail about (like the fish, I guess) and “founder” is used when something sinks like a stone (let me illustrate with this example: “The career of the founder of American Apparel foundered after both employee morale and the company’s finances foundered.” Makes sense now, yes?) This brief rhyme may help to clarify the distinction:
A flounder may founder
A founder may, too.
The difference between is
Confusing to you.
Verb tenses: I become increasingly tense when trying to identify the various forms of verbs. All I recall from the days I didn’t cut English class is that there are three different verb tenses – past (“I went to the store.”), present (“I go to the store.”) and future (“JEE-zus! I just went to the store and now you want me to go back again?”). However, there are additional verb tenses to which I must not have been introduced to while cooling my heels in detention, including:
  • Present Perfect (This is the condition Grandma insists she is in when the family tries to convince her to move to an assisted living facility.)
  • Past Perfect (Confusingly, also known as “Pluperfect.” Am I the only one this strikes as a made-up word? Maybe someone meant to say “Plumpernickle”, as in the bread. Which is also known as “dark rye”, so go and try to make sense of that.)
  • Future Perfect (This is what Donald Trump is promising.)
Depending on which resource you care to explore further (Or should that be farther? Because you want to get as much distance between yourself and these confusing explanations as possible.), there are claims of there being only TWO and as many as THIRTEEN different verb forms. Here’s an actual definition from one grammar site, attempting to explain a particular verb tense that, according to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, ceases to exist the moment I start to type about it:
  • The past perfect progressive (continuous) is used to describe an action that started in the past and and was still in progress when a second action started. Both actions began and ended in the past.
(Before I offer an example, let me point out that the description above actually displays “… and and was still in progress…” -- on the website of a company trying to sell you software to check your grammar.)
Anyway, here’s an example of a sentence describing an action that started in the past that was still in progress when a second action started:
  • “By the time any of this verb talk started to make sense to me, I had been dying for at least twenty minutes.”
Remember, the proper use of this specific verb tense means the second action also ended in the past, which in my example means at this moment either 1) I’m already dead, or 2) regardless of how Governor LePage feels about it, somebody administered Narcan to me.
Fewer vs. Less: “Fewer” is used to describe things you can count, while “less” is used for things you can’t count. As an example: “I couldn’t care fewer about that” is absolutely correct since, if given sufficient time, I can come up with exactly how many ways I couldn’t care about whatever “that” is referring to. Plurhaps how many different kinds of bread there are.
Use of the apostrophe: Apostrophe was the Greek goddess of love. We use her name to form the words “apostle,” “posture,” “trophy,” and “fee for services rendered.” It’s also the source of a common phrase derived from French – “Apropostrophe of nothing, he started to ramble on about pronouns as if him knew everything about the subject and me knew nothing.”
If you have any additional insights to share via comments that may unflummox me farther, please feel to do so. Or don’t so. Or do-si-do, if you prefer to dance around the subject.

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