A monthly column in which we attempt, however futilely, to defend the English language against misuse and abuse

by Bob Yearick

And the Winners Are . . .

Twenty readers took on the grammar contest that appeared in the August “War on Words.” It proved to be challenging; none of the entrants got a perfect score. Larry Kerchner came closest, followed by Jane Buck. Both are long-time readers of the column, and Larry has won twice previously. He’ll receive a gift certificate to Iron Hill Brewery and copies of my books, The War on Words and Sawyer. Jane wins copies of the books. Congratulations to both of these stellar grammarians.

The contest presented 15 sentences, each containing at least one error — a redundancy, bad grammar, misplaced or missing punctuation, or a misspelling. Here are the sentences, with corrections indicated by italics or strikethroughs, along with some explanations and comments, as space allows. If you would like further explanations, let me know. We may address your questions in a future column.

1: Where did you get your degree from? Ending a sentence in a preposition is not always wrong, but in this case, it can be avoided. From where did you get your degree? is also acceptable.

2: Personally, I graduated from Slippery Rock University. Personally is superfluous, and graduated needs to be followed by from. 

3: It is one of the most a unique universities university in the country, and I exalted exulted in becoming an alumni alumnus, alumna or alum are acceptable. Alumni is plural. Exalt: praise, laud. Exult: rejoice, take pride. 

4: Now that I have earned a an undergraduate degree, I am in the throws throes of trying to figure out my future. 

5: I had a bout with COVID-19, but I’m now hail hale and hearty, and I believe I’m a shoe-in shoo-in to be drafted by an NFL team. 

6: Despite my daring-do derring-do on the football field, I know I have a tough road row to hoe to become a top pick. You hoe a row — of corn, tobacco, beans, etc. — but you can’t hoe a road.

7: I have already visited many teams, including the San Francisco Forty-Niners 49ers. (Some people cut already, which is acceptable.)

8: I am a friend of Coach Smith Smith’s and I have visited the Smith’s Smiths many times at their home. This is tricky, but Coach Smith’s (with the possessive apostrophe s) is correct (kudos to daughter Danielle for catching this). And, of course, there is no apostrophe in the plural Smiths. 

9: There is a real connection between Coach Smith and I me. The preposition between requires the objective pronoun me. 

10: He calls me “son”. “son.” Periods and commas go inside quotes. Also, no need to capitalize son.

11: He has given me a peak peek at what the NFL is really like. 

12: Now I have a whole, entire, new prospective perspective on my future. A comma after now is acceptable, but not necessary.

13: I also excel at golf, where I have recorded three hole-in-ones holes-in-one. 

14: I played yesterday, and after hitting a ball into the rough, I had to play it as it lied lay. 

15: It was hot, and I would have drank drunk some beer, but I have a tryout tomorrow.

Media Watch

Serendipitously, we recently came across two writers who may have had trouble with our grammar test:

•First, Jarrett Bell, writing in USA TODAY about New England Patriots players making the Pro Football Hall of Fame: “Besides Brady and kicker Adam Vinatieri, there are no shoe-ins from the early dynasty teams.” 

•Second, the usually excellent and eloquent Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Marcus Hayes: “They needed six preseason games to sweat out all the Coors they’d drank since January.”

•Meanwhile, reader Maria Hess captured the image at the top of this column. The sign requires the phrasal verb stand by. Standby is a noun meaning readiness for duty or immediate deployment, or the state of waiting for a spot for a journey, usually allocated on the basis of earliest availability.

Department of Redundancies Dept.

•Peter MacArthur, on WDEL: “The two men got into a verbal argument.” Aren’t all arguments verbal? Otherwise, it’s a fight.

Word of the Month


Pronounced fleg-madic, it’s an adjective meaning not easily made angry or upset; calm.

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