Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A grammar infographic

I receive occasional e-mail pitches for snazzy infographics, none of which have made it to the pages of Orange Crate Art. These poster-like creations teem with statements that I have no way to verify. And infographics tend to be the work of, let’s say, interested parties. A recent infographic that purported to trace the history of the United States Postal Service was a thinly disguised pitch for an online stamp dealer — which helped to explain why most of the poster was about rare stamps and $$$.

Here is an infographic that I noticed circulating online today. The source is, a website offering online grammar- and spell-checking (and offline software). Of the ten tips on this skeuomorphic page, five have problems:

[Click for a larger view.]

“Mind apostrophes”: The explanation and examples are, at best, confusing. A clearer explanation: “Check whether the word is a contraction or a possessive pronoun. Only a contraction takes an apostrophe.” Keeping the examples in a consistent sequence — it’s /its , they’re /their — would help too. A less obvious problem: possessive case is a dubious term. The Chicago Manual of Style (5.19) and Huddleston and Pullum’s A Student’s Introduction to English Grammar (9.1) recommend genitive case. But why bring in the category of case at all? Possessive pronoun works.

“Always use a comma after an introductory or prepositional phrase”: Introductory and prepositional are not contrasting terms. Better advice: “Always use a comma after an introductory phrase or clause.”

“Memorise homophones and endings”: the -able /-ible rule has many exceptions. To offer this rule without qualification is unconscionable. One must be flexible.

“Appositives: these dependent clauses modify the subject and often add non-essential information – offset with commas”: Lynne Truss must have helped punctuate that sentence. But more to the point: an appositive is a word or phrase, not a dependent clause. An appositive may modify any noun or pronoun. The sample sentences contain appositives (Brian O’Brien, the popular sitcom), not dependent clauses.

“Countable and non-countable nouns”: Few works with countable nouns, not non-countable nouns. Few dresses , houses , cars ? Yes. Few money , snow , or time ? No. No!

Go in fear of infographics.

Related reading
All grammar posts (Pinboard)

[I can’t insist on the that / which  distinction. Notice though that tip no. 6 seems to imply that that can introduce a non-restrictive clause. And I won’t argue for a larger point: that most of these tips concern punctuation, spelling, and usage, not grammar.]

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