You Can Date Boys When You're Forty: Dave Barry on Parenting and Other Topics He Knows Very Little About (8 page)

W
e’re becoming a nation of illiterates. Ask any group of businesspeople who read a lot of job applications to name their biggest single complaint, and chances are they’ll tell you they’ve gained weight since college, even though back then they ate pizza and drank beer all the time.

But if you clarify that you are asking them about the job applications, chances are they’ll tell you that young people today have terrible writing skills. They don’t know the rules of grammar or punctuation, they can’t spell, they use tiny, unreadable fonts that look like bacteria and they’re always texting each other pictures of their private parts, which is not directly related to their writing skills but, dammit, what is
wrong
with these kids?

Who is to blame for this illiteracy? I think that we in the older generation—the parents who raised these young people—have to look in the mirror and, painful as it is, face the culprit: a combination of factors, including the Internet, reality television, “hip-hop,” global climate change and Starbucks.

But whatever the cause, it’s a big problem because writing is a crucial life skill. If you’re a recent college graduate and you send a poorly written résumé to potential employers, they’re going to throw it straight into the trash. Whereas if your résumé is well written and error free, the odds are very good that they’re still going to throw it into the trash, because the job market sucks. But they throw the well-written résumés away a little later.
That’s
the group you young people want to strive for.

“But,” I hear you whining in unison, “isn’t grammar hard and boring?”

No, English grammar is
not
“hard and boring.” That is a myth. All you have to do is learn a few simple, logical rules. Once you’ve mastered those, all you have to do is learn nineteen trillion totally illogical exceptions to the rules because otherwise you will sound like an idiot. So reflecting back on the opening sentence of this paragraph, we see that English grammar is, in fact, hard and boring. We’d better get started!

Step one is to learn:

THE PARTS OF SPEECH

 

The parts of speech are sometimes called the building blocks of grammar, because most of them are rectangular. The main parts of speech are:

Nouns

 

A noun is a person, place or thing. For example, consider this sentence:

As far as actors,
Leonardo DiCaprio
is no Marlon Brando.

In this example
,
“Leonardo DiCaprio” is a noun because he is a person whereas “Marlon Brando” is not because he died in 2004.

Exception:
Zombies, despite being technically dead, can be nouns when used grammatically in lymphatic phrases, such as:

Help!
Zombies
is eating my spleen!

Pronouns

 

Pronouns are words that stand in for nouns when for some reason you don’t want to come right out and say the name of the noun:

     
  • You better not let
    you know whom
    get a load of that hickey.
  •  
  • I’m not saying who dropped the air biscuit during the State of the Union speech, but his
    initials are Joe Biden
    .
  •  
  • After seven straight hours on the back of Darnell’s Harley, Marge was feeling a little funky
    down there
    .
  •  

Verbs

 

Verbs are words that describe actions.

     
  • What is all that
    ruckus
    ?
  •  
  • You are
    darned tooting
    .
  •  
  • Don’t make me come over there and
    open up a can of whupass
    on your ass
    .
  •  
  • Dang
    it!
  •  
  • When Vernell found the duck sauce on his Barcalounger, he like to threw a [ke
    conniption fit
    .
  •  
  • I would describe those actions as
    very unusual
    .
  •  

Exception:
If no actual action takes place, the sentence does not need a verb, as in these examples:

     
  • Francine watched the entire 2010 season of
    Cake Boss
    .
  •  
  • The pitcher threw a no-hitter.
  •  
  • The president met with congressional leaders to discuss ways to improve the economy.
  •  

Adjectives

 

Adjectives are words that tell you something about a noun:

     
  • For a person of his stature,
    Leonardo DiCaprio has quite a large head
    .
  •  
  • In the 1991 movie
    Critters 3
    , Leonardo DiCaprio
    plays a young man who locks his mean stepfather in a room with space creatures that eat him
    .
  •  
  • The letters in “Leonardo DiCaprio”
    can be rearranged to spell “A ripe raccoon dildo.”
  •  

Adverbs

 

Adverbs are words that end in “ly,” such as
personally
,
frankly
,
manly
and
ugly
. They are used to form parts of sentences, as follows:

     
  • Four people died from wings-related injuries inflicted during a
    family
    function at Chuck E. Cheese.
  •  
  • Bernice put a
    doily
    over the hamster doots.
  •  
  • Holy moly
    , there’s mice in this lasagna.
  •  

Prepositions

 

Prepositions are words such as
in
,
of
,
to
,
from
,
around
,
about
,
aforementioned
and
yonder
. They introduce prepositional phrases, which are used mainly to write song lyrics:

     
  • I’ve been
    through the desert on a horse with no name
    .
  •  
  • I got passion
    in my pants
    and I ain’t afraid to show it.
  •  
  • In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida
    , baby, don’t you know that I’m loving you.
  •  
  • She’ll be coming
    ’round the mountain
    when she comes. / She’ll be coming
    ’round the mountain
    when she comes. / She’ll be coming ’round the mountain, she’ll be coming
    ’round the mountain
    , / She’ll be coming
    ’round the mountain
    when she comes.
  •  
  • Round round get around
    / I get around / Yeah / Get
    around round round
    I get around.
  •  
  • Since you put me down there’s been owls pukin’
    in my bed
    .
  •  
  • ut me downquote>
    Who put the ram
    in the rama lama ding dong
    ?
 

Very Important Rule:
You must never, ever end a sentence with a preposition. Why? Because
Hitler
ended sentences with prepositions, that’s why. So if it appears that your sentence is about to end with one, you need to change it:

 

Wrong

Right

Where is that odor coming from?

Where is that odor coming from, God damn it?

Australia is known as “The Land Down Under.”

Australia is known as “The Land Down Underneath.”

What up?

What up, home dog?

Come on over.

Come on over, God damn it.

 

Articles

 

The articles in English are
a
,
an
,
the
and sometimes
why
. Grammatically, articles are used to form permutative interjections, as in these examples:

     
  • Like I give
    a
    rat’s ass.
  •  
  • What
    an
    idiot.
  •  
  • Sam
    the
    Sham and the Pharaohs.
  •  
  • Why
    , God damn it?
  •  

OK, now that we have mastered the “building blocks,” let’s see how they go together in the next section, titled:

FORMULATING A CORRECT GRAMMATICAL SENTENCE

 

Every sentence contains two main parts:

     
  • The
    subject
    , which is the subject of the sentence, and
  •  
  • The
    predicate
    , which is the other main part of the sentence.
  •  

Consider this example:

 

Lester wondered how come lately whenever he called Francine to find out where she was, she always claimed she was in “yoga class,” even though, number one, she did not own a yoga mat that Lester knew of, number two, he was not aware of any yoga classes in the greater Waco area that met at 2:30 a.m., not to mention which, number three, one time when he called, her a man in the background yelled, “Francine, hang up the damn phone and take off the rest of your clothes,” although Lester was leery of making a fuss about this in light of the recent situation wherein, the morning after he allegedly attended a Monster Truck rally with his brother Wesley, Francine happened to be rooting around under the front seat of his car and found a brassiere that was not remotely her size.

At first glance this sentence appears to be very complex, but when [ex,hatwe break it down into its basic components, we suddenly see how our grammatical “building blocks” work together:

 

Subject

Predicate

Lester

wondered how come lately whenever he called Francine to find out where she was, she always claimed she was in “yoga class,” even though, number one, she did not own a yoga mat that Lester knew of, number two, he was not aware of any yoga classes in the greater Waco area that met at 2:30 a.m., not to mention which, number three, one time when he called her, a man in the background yelled, “Francine, hang up the damn phone and take off the rest of your clothes,” although Lester was leery of making a fuss about this in light of the recent situation wherein, the morning after he allegedly attended a Monster Truck rally with his brother Wesley, Francine happened to be rooting around under the front seat of his car and found a brassiere that was not remotely her size.

 

When writing sentences, you should always follow this basic format, which has been the “backbone” of English grammar dating back to the ancient Greeks.

The Kinds of Sentences

 

There are four kinds of sentences:

     
  • Declarative:
    Call me Ishmael.
  •  
  • Interrogative:
    Call me, Ishmael?
  •  
  • Imperative:
    Call me Ishmael or I will punch your face in.
  •  
  • Text:
    ish
    r u awake?
    (
    Picture of private parts.
    )
  •  

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