Then the Grammar Gremlins Grumbled

I promised to share examples of grammar errors, especially the ones that trip me up (or out). Please feel free to let me know if you find them useful and to share your favorite grammar gremlins, as well.

Thender confusion
Oh, the pain! The unbearable pain! You’d think I had an impacted fang.

I received a new social media book to review, and right there in the Foreword (not “Forward”), before I’d even reached the numbered pages, was this glaring example of misuse (names withheld to protect the doomed):

“If the embodiment of advertising in physical space is Times Square, than the physical embodiment of social media is a crowded market filled with multiple conversations, debates, announcements, deals, transactions, barters, and yes – networking.”

We’ve all seen “than” used when “then” is called for, but mainly online, in hurried bursts of texting or commenting in forums. Occasionally, I’ve seen it in digital journals. But, this is the first time I’ve caught it committed to print, in a hardcover book, and purportedly penned by the executive vice president of a top-drawer PR firm. (I say “purportedly” because it’s younger folks, who’ve grown up with this misusage, who tend to suffer then/than confusion. So, it’s possible that the Foreword was ghostwritten for the EVP by someone with more familiarity with digital media than grammar, and then went without a proper proofreading.) Either way, last time I checked, a solid understanding of the English language was a prerequisite for jobs in PR.

That was then.

Now, apparently, you can rise to the very top of your division without knowing that “then” is the adverb and “than” a conjunction.

According to the American Heritage DictionaryThen means:

  1. At that time.
  2. Next in time, space, or order; immediately afterward.
  3. In addition; moreover; besides.
  4. As a consequence; therefore.

Than is a conjunction used to introduce the second element or clause of an unequal comparison.

Then (i.e., therefore): She is a bigger fan of “Twilight” than I. But, I am a bigger fan of grammar than the EVP of [NAMELESS PR FIRM].

Hardly and scarcely vs. no sooner
That EVP shouldn’t feel so bad; I learned this one today. Glad I looked it up before using the wrong word. There’s the rub: It’s the commitment to continuous learning that keeps us on the grammatical track.

This is a good one to follow then/than confusion.

I’ll let Patricia T. O’Conner, author of Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English, explain why:

“Watch your whens and thans with these. Use when with hardly and scarcely: We had hardly begun to cook when the smoke alarm went off. Or: We had scarcely begun to cook when the smoke alarm went off. Use than with no sooner: No sooner had we begun to cook than the smoke alarm went off.

Who’s that?
Which of the following sentences is correct?

When the attorney general didn’t get back to us, we called Senator Parthenon’s office, who has an interest in cyberterrorism.

Our dog, Charlie, who hadn’t felt well enough to play all week, is now in the yard chasing a rabbit.

I expected the third person that walked through the doors of the “Star Trek” convention to be dressed as a Klingon.

Sorry, that was a trick question. Each of these sentences abuses the rules regarding relative pronouns, which include: who, whose, that, which and what.

I’ll admit, when I encounter problems with relative pronoun usage, I get a bit batty. That’s when I turn to The Transitive Vampire: A Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed.

As author Karen Elizabeth Gordon notes, “Who refers only to persons…which refers only to animals and to inanimate, unmoving things.” That can be used for animals or objects.

So, while Senator Parthenon may be keen to prosecute cyberterrorists, his office is an inanimate object (no matter how many aides scurry around inside that office, getting the nation’s business done). If you want to use who with this sentence, then you’ll want to rewrite it like this:

When the attorney general didn’t get back to us, we called Senator Parthenon, who has an interest in cyberterrorism.

You love ol’ Charlie, and it’s hard to refer to him as which or that, especially when he doesn’t feel up to his old tricks after gobbling the entire lasagna you’d planned to serve for dinner. Perhaps a better way of handling this sentence is to retrain it, like this:

Our dog, Charlie, was sick all week, but now he’s in the yard chasing a rabbit.

Good grammarians know that The Transitive Vampire applies to Klingons, Romulans, Ferengi and Borg, as well as Star Fleet graduates. Type this corrected version into your tricorder:

I expected the third person who walked through the doors of the “Star Trek” convention to be dressed as a Klingon.

Live long and prosper, and may your grammar go boldly…

6 thoughts on “Then the Grammar Gremlins Grumbled

  1. I appreciated the humor in this piece and I always enjoy your grammar posts, Vickie. There’s so much to be reminded of, and so much still to learn!

    I see “who”, “that”, and “which” misused so often that I can’t even come up with one instance in particular. Thanks for the clarification.
    (But… although I know it’s not correct, I must admit to sometimes using “who” with my beloved pets!)

    • Thanks, Rita. Grammar, for many folks, is such a dull topic that I find it’s easier to remember with a little humor. That’s why I love the “Transitive Vampire” series.

      (I think you and gazillion other pet-lovers out there use “who” with their dogs and cats and birds, mainly because our pets are like family to us!)

      • Humor is a great way to add a little spice to the topic of grammar and that’s why I like your grammar posts so much. The Star Trek references are great!

        You’re right. Vickie—our pets are definitely like family to us! And so, I’ll probably continue to use “who” informally but will try to remember to use “which” or “that” in my writings.

        And speaking of pets…we’ve just added a new puppy to our household! We got 11-week-old “Annie” two days ago. Wow, has it been hard to get any reading or writing done this week!
        Maybe I should start a “puppy blog” to go with my travel blog!

        • Congratulations on adopting Annie!! What happy news! Will we see photos of the new arrival on your blog? (Rita’s blog, One Day in America, is currently featuring stunning photos from her latest trip to Kaua’i:

          I’m sure it’s been a busy week – there’s so much puppy-proofing and puppy training that goes along with adding a lovable little face to your family.

          A friend of mine has a dog that is also named Annie, and she gets to take her on the road for her job. I’ve been encouraging her to start a blog from Annie’s perspective on the wine trail, as they visit different vineyards! Maybe you and your Annie can start a canine camping blog…

          Canine s’mores, anyone?! 😉

          • A camping blog from Annie’s perspective? That’s a great idea, Vickie!

            Right now everything looks like a s’more to Annie. She’s busy chomping on anything and everything.
            And we don’t have any good pictures yet—she moves too fast!

          • Thanks so much for your kind reference to my blog. It’s much appreciated!

            BTW, I love your book corner!

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