Enough about political correctness – let’s just try to get the grammar right
Since tomorrow is April Fool’s Day, I thought I would try to find a non-political topic suited to the occasion. You will notice that I wrote try to find, not try and find. Every time I turn on the television, I hear some fool proclaim that he or she is going to try and do something. It doesn’t seem to matter whether it is some ignoramus off the street, an overpaid sports figure (from whom you might expect it), a newscaster or commentator (who should know better), or a prominent government figure, from the very top right down to members of our own city council. What is even more disturbing is that you will find the same error any time you read a newspaper or magazine, even from well-known reporters and commentators, who, presumably, take pride in their command of the language. (And, horror of horrors, this includes even some of those who write for this newspaper.)What is wrong with saying, “I am going to try and climb Mount Sopris”? That says I am not only going to try, but that I am also going to succeed. But this is a contradiction, since “try” implies uncertainty in the outcome. “Attempt” means the same as “try,” but you wouldn’t say, “I am going to attempt and lose 20 pounds,” would you? Of course you wouldn’t.Now let’s try putting the statement into the past tense. If you say, “I tried and lost 20 pounds,” that means you were successful. Otherwise, you would say, “I tried to lose 20 pounds.” Most of us get that one correct. Now, how about the progressive tense? Do you ever hear someone say, “I am trying and lose (losing) 20 pounds?” Of course not. They will correctly say, “I am trying to lose 20 pounds.” Why are people correct in any tense but the present tense? There is no rule that says use and in the present tense and to in all other tenses.So how do we correct this monumental problem? Making it a capital offense would certainly put an end to it, but it might destroy our government. On television it could be bleeped out, but that would do nothing for the written word. How about a $1 fine, which would double with each offense. That could rebuild Iraq, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, or save Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, or balance the federal budget – maybe even all three!Another common, grammatical offense is the misplacement of the word “only” in the sentence. The sign, “You may only consume beverages purchased on the premises” informs you that you may only consume the beverages – you may not pour them on the floor, on the potted plants, out the window, or down the toilet. You can’t even leave them sitting on the table. You must consume them. The sign should say, “You may consume only beverages purchased on the premises.” The word “only” applies only to the word or phrase that immediately follows it.Tomorrow (and in the days which follow) listen to how many people make fools of themselves by being grammatically incorrect. Don’t be one of them. Try to be grammatically correct.Glenwood Springs resident Hal Sundin’s column runs every other Thursday in the Post Independent.
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