On Facebook the other day, one of my friends offered her services as an English tutor — and included a grammatical error in her offer. Admittedly, it was an error that involved a usage that has been changing over time, but I still expect an English tutor to avoid this particular mistake. Even if her usage is correct colloquially, it doesn’t pass muster in grammar books.
Don Quixote, to whom I told this story, said that I’m fighting a rearguard battle here. I certainly agree with him that language changes (otherwise we’d all sound Shakespearean), but the fact remains that there are rules of grammar, and that good writers and speakers know these rules. Nor are these rules merely useless holdovers from older, more formal times. Many developed to advance one specific goal: clarity. If you assemble the parts of your sentence in accordance with strict grammatical rules, you need not fear that it will be open to misinterpretation. The writer (and speaker) who controls his dangling or misplaced modifiers, random pronouns, subject verb disagreements, etc., is the writer who actually gets his message across.
Immediately after having delivered my ringing endorsement for good grammar, I turned on the radio and got proof that I’m right. I heard a snippet of Michelle Obama’s CBS interview, the one in which she rebutted the charge that she’s an angry black woman. Through the miracles of mangled grammar, though, even as she claimed that the charge is untrue, Michelle explicitly stated that Barack Obama himself has “announced” that she is an angry black woman:
… I guess it’s more interesting to imagine this conflicted situation here and a strong woman and– you know? But that’s been an image that people have tried to paint of me since the day Barack announced, that I’m some angry black woman. (Emphasis mine.)
Even with the comma that CBS helpfully inserted, the sentence reads as follows: “That’s been an image that people have tried to paint of me since the day Barack announced that I’m some angry black woman.” Certainly when I heard Michelle on the radio, I did a double-take and had to rewind the sentence in my mind to figure out that she meant to say that, “Since the day Barack announced that he was running for president, people have tried to paint me as some angry black woman.”
Whether you’re speaking or writing, grammar matters — unless you’re comfortable telling the world that your husband stands in the forefront of people contending that you are indeed an angry black woman.