The Kids are Listening

 I am certainly no expert when it comes to English grammar, but thanks to teachers like Mrs. Green at Jordan Vocational High School, I do remember the rules enough not to be egregiously ungrammatical. Mrs. Green was considered by a lot of kids to be pretty tough, even mean. As I look back on her methods, I realize that she wasn’t being mean. She just wouldn’t put up with students who didn’t make the effort to meet her expectations.  In other words, she cared.  The end result was that she was probably one of the most effective teachers in the school.

When I hear some members of the Muscogee County School District Board of Education murdering the language, I get a little upset. Why are we electing people to the school board who have a tough time making subjects agree with verbs? It makes me wonder about the wisdom of having an elected school board. I don’t remember this happening back when the Grand Jury selected members of the board.

What’s even worse – since board members don’t teach classes and not many students hear their atrocious grammar – is when I hear teachers who don’t understand things like possessive pronouns. I saw in the Ledger-Enquirer where a teacher said, “You can’t negate you becoming a doctor.” Bam! It jumped right out at me that she should have said, “You can’t negate your becoming a doctor.”

Since I really couldn’t remember why that would  be correct, I wanted to  make sure I was right, so I asked Connie Ussery, a friend of mine who is a retired high school English teacher, about it.  This is what she said:

“I love questions like this.  ‘Becoming a doctor’ is a gerund phrase and you are absolutely right in that the possessive pronoun is used to ‘own’ the action in this case.  Since the verb ‘can negate’ is transitive, the example in your email would indicate ‘You can not negate you….’ and ‘becoming a doctor’ makes no sense as a participial phrase describing ‘you’ because it simply isn’t one.  The speaker could have said, ‘You can’t negate becoming a doctor,’ but that would have made the phrase apply to anyone who is a doctor.  ‘You can’t negate your becoming a doctor’ is grammatical.

Thanks for the brain exercise.”

Thanks, Connie.  Now  I  know why I was right.  Also, I think it’s too bad you retired. They need you.
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