Mulhall column: The grammar I live by

Mitch Mulhall
Mitch Mulhall.

Dixie Luke graded my ability to conjugate English verbs when I was in 7th grade. I remember well. I was not accustomed to stellar grades. It stood out.

I ascribe my success on that 7th grade test mostly to having heard English spoken correctly at home during my childhood. It’s a good bet. Better by far than other possibilities.

For me, English came easy, and there can be no doubt looking back at it that English, alongside art, shouldered my otherwise dismal high school GPA. It’s fair to say that at the end of high school, English was the only academic subject that kept me barely admission — worthy at a few colleges.

Yes, my sentence diagramming skills delighted Mrs. Stapp, and while I wrote a few pieces for the Brimstone, my journalism background is best characterized by my eagerness to solicit local businesses to buy ad space, mainly because this constituted a free pass to leave campus and fart around.

By my sophomore year in college, however — what seemed like unimportant memories of puerile indifference about English, and all things academic for that matter — got straightened out when I took a class called Major British Writers.

Sure, it was a lot of poetry — which I regarded as something like a time waste for tortured souls — but in a semester, the rhyme and meter of British poets revealed how words were their own medium and any sheet of paper a canvas.

That class inspired forays into the history of the English language, word etymology, and intensive courses on the works of Milton, Blake, Donne and numerous others. I found in studying writers and poets new and unusual (to me) grammatical constructs, punctuation uses, and rhetorical strategies of the written word. I even went on to graduate school to study the spoken word.

It’s also fair to say that most of my professional life has involved writing to one extent or another, not as an author or a professor or even a columnist, but as a technical writer, mostly. Even when writing hasn’t been the central focus of my work, knowing the English language well enough to write somewhat effectively has always been an asset.

I mention all this as a backdrop to the stretching of English pronouns to accommodate a broader array of sexual identities.

English pronouns reflect biological reality, which says there are two genders: male and female. You can argue that there are more, but the reality is that no matter how you frame it, there are two genders.

English pronouns fall into three categories: masculine, feminine, and neutral. Most understand the masculine and feminine pronouns. The English pronoun “it” allows for gender neutrality, mostly to reference an inanimate object, and pronouns like “they” allow for the possibility that a group may consist of both men and women (or inanimate objects). But English pronoun gender is otherwise inferred, as in “I” or “me,” or explicit, as in “he” or “she.”

Other Romantic languages have binary gender. Interestingly, however, in Spanish and German, for example, gender extends not only to pronouns, but also to articles and nouns, as well. This makes the prospect of changing other Romantic languages a bit more of a problem — though at most a theoretical one since English is the principal language in the US, and it’s fair to say US and Canadian political movements have driven the cause.

Languages are modeled on truth, which accounts for English pronoun gender. The irony of the pronoun expansion effort is that progressives often proffer science as the basis for human governance — until, of course, science, or in this case biology, runs counter to what’s wanted.

I find allegiances of convenience unappealing.

It’s also a bit odd that in an exuberance to break the long-standing rules of English pronoun gender, some insist that you observe and use the pronouns chosen by others — like saying, “It’s OK to be a rule breaker; now follow this rule.”

For me, the written and spoken word has been a bottomless well of learning that I have come to appreciate more and more over time, and I choose to honor the rules of English grammar in my writing and speech as best I can.

You might say I was born that way, but maybe there’s more to it than that.

Mitch Mulhall is a husband, father and longtime Roaring Fork Valley resident. His column appears monthly in the Post Independent and at

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Glenwood Springs and Garfield County make the Post Independent’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.