Grammar can be a difficult and tedious subject to impart. There are so many rules – and exceptions to the rules – that kids can have a hard time remembering things like:
- forming the correct plurals and plural possessives of words (the poem, “The English Lesson,” cleverly illustrates the quirks of our language in this regard)
- using correct verb forms (Is the past tense of sneak “sneaked” or “snuck?”)
- properly placing those pesky commas and apostrophes
Fortunately, there are many free resources on the Web that can help with the daily, (or whatever your schedule is) grammar grind. For example, here’s an article highlighting 15 oft misused phrases that people can’t seem to get right. One grammar infraction that’s mentioned on the list that happens to be one of my pet peeves is when people use “could of” or “should of” instead of could’ve or should’ve. To avoid this problem, head over to SpellingCity where you can get free lessons, games and worksheets on (among other things) how to use contractions, and how to properly spell them.
The article also points out mistakes that are made because people use the wrong word in an expression. (For example, using “mute point,” instead of “moot point”). An expression that has always puzzled me – one that is not covered in the article -- is “beyond the pale.” When I first heard it, I thought of two possible meanings: “beyond the pail,” as in something went further than what was desired (i.e. you didn’t hit the mark, but overshot the bucket); or “beyond the pale,” meaning an experience was darker than what was expected. Yet another possible meaning that I hadn’t thought of but heard elsewhere is that “beyond the pail” is where you go when you “kick the bucket.”
As it turns out, the word “pale” in the expression has nothing to do with lightness of color. According to the experts at World Wide Words, “Pale is an old name for a pointed piece of wood driven into the ground and — by an obvious extension — to a barrier made of such stakes, a palisade or fence. Pole is from the same source, as are impale, paling and palisade.
The explanation goes on to say that the expression “beyond the pale” means, “an action that’s regarded as outside the limits of acceptable behavior; one that’s objectionable or improper.”
Granted, that expression is not widely used these days, and some people have no interest whatsoever in the derivations of words and phrases. Still, basic grammar is important, so here are some additional sites with helps:
- English Grammar 101: an e-textbook with lessons
- English Grammar Revolution: shows how to diagram sentences
- Interactive Grammar Games: has games for punctuation, sentence structure, prefixes and suffixes, word types
- Online Grammar Checker: Copy/paste or enter your text in a box. A word highlighted in red means a spelling error was found; blue indicates a style suggestion, and green means there's a grammar mistake. Click the words to see the suggestions and apply them. (When I put in this article, a couple spelling errors were flagged, I was told to fix sentences written in the "passive voice," and “beyond the pale” was marked as "cliché").
- Get a Grip on Grammar: list of additional grammar sites