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Term Paper

From Jagger to Gump, From Students to Editors:

No One is Safe from Grammatical Errors


Veronica M. Johnson


Dr. Ronald Eckard


English Language 304


April 3, 2008












Poet, Carl Sandburg once said, "I never made a mistake in grammar but one in my life and as soon as I done it I seen it." Although this quote was meant to amuse, oftentimes we hear people use the same nonstandard English that Sandburg was poking fun of.  While written grammatical errors are not caught as often as verbal errors, all you have to do is keep a close eye on newspapers, magazines, and fliers or listen intently to the lines in movies and song lyrics to find an occasional mistake or two.  Some of the most common errors come in the form of using double negatives while speaking, but written errors that may be even harder to identify could include missing words and subject-verb agreement.  Grammatical errors can be found everywhere and seem to be the product of people who either don’t think before they speak or write, or don’t seem to know any better. 

Double negatives are oral errors that I encounter and hear every day working in the school system.  Although adults are just as guilty of making this mistake, I hear it more often from teenagers.




I am an assistant girls’ softball coach who works with seventeen girls ranging from eighth through twelfth grade.   Knowing that I am an English major, most students are mindful of the way they speak when they are around me, but “I ain’t got no glove” was a comment that I overheard on our first day of practice.  My head immediately spun around and I screamed, “What did you say?”  Thirty-two eyes were staring straight at me.  The petite, blonde, thirteen-year-old freshman standing in front of me cast her eyes down.  During my six-weeks of observation in Mrs. Hargett-Slack’s freshman English class, I had the pleasure of getting to know Chelsea on not only an academic level but also on a personal one.  I learned that she was a below average student with parents who weren’t very concerned with her grades.  Knowing the types of English teachers in our school system, I was appalled at what she said, but I came to realize that she speaks just like every other child her age.




“…the use of the double negative in many varieties of nonstandard English (e.g., He *ain’t never home) is nonstandard because the negative intent in standard English requires a single negative (i.e., He isn’t home or He is never home), not a double one.  (Masters, pp. 116)  The first problem with Chelsea’s comment is that she used the contraction *ain’t*, which is not standard English.  While growing up I was constantly reminded by my English teachers that, “Ain’t ain’t a word, so don’t use it.”  Although “ain’t” is a word, this comment has stuck with me and I absolutely hate to hear someone use it.   The use of ain’t and no together in the same sentence, though, is the worst form of a double negative that can be used.




I calmly, yet sternly, told Chelsea that while I am not yet an English teacher, I would really appreciate her trying to speak correctly around me.  She actually asked what was wrong with her comment, so I proceeded to explain to her the mistake she made and how she could say it better. 


I don’t have a glove” or “I have no glove” would be the proper way to convey or   express what she wanted to say.  I have caught my girls using “ain’t” several times since then, but I’m proud to admit that I have heard fewer double negatives.




Another verbal error that I hear quite often from students who don’t understand how to do an assignment or ball players who are struggling is,



I’m not no good at this”.   



This is yet another form of double negatives.  To correct this statement, they should say, “I’m not good at this” or “I’m not very good at this”.




Brandon, a twelve-year-old deaf student who attends the school where I work recently had an accident while playing basketball with his brother.   The following is a description of the accident given to us by his mother:



            He was trying to dunked the ball but fell when he come down

            and broked his arm. 



Although this student’s mother is a high school graduate, it is obvious that she uses the ending –ed on verbs when it is not necessary, such as dunk and broke.  Also, the verb come is in the present tense but what she was referring to had already happened, which would put the sentence in the past tense.  To correct her sentence the –ed would need to removed from dunk and broke, as well as changing the verb tense of come.



            He was trying to dunk the ball but fell when he came down and broke

            his arm.



Double negatives are not only found in casual conversation, but they can also be found in the lyrics of some of the most popular songs.  Although he was born in England, Mick Jagger, lead singer for the band, The Rolling Stones, received a formal education and has spent a large part of his life in the United States.  One of the bands biggest hit singles, “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction”, uses two negative words, “Can’t” and “No”.  Although if the title were corrected to standard English by using the determiner any instead of no to make it say, “I Can’t Get Any Satisfaction”, the song would not have the same impact. 


Winston Groom, author of the famous book-turned movie, Forrest Gump, used a variety of Southern slang and verbal, as well as written errors, to depict an unintelligent young man who was raised in Alabama.



“They sending me to Vietnam...”  Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump-1994. 

This sentence is missing the auxiliary verb/linking verb “are”, meaning “to be”, to accompany “sending” because the subject “They” is a plural pronoun.  In order to have subject/verb agreement to make this sentence standard English it should read: “They are sending me to Vietnam.” 




             Authors, actors, singers, and students aren’t the only people who make grammatical mistakes.  College graduates who are professionals in the publication field are just as prone, if not more so than others, to make errors in their publications.

            In the March 18, 2008 edition of the News-Democrat & Leader, newspaper editor, O.J. Stapleton, covered an article on the Girl Scout cookie program.  It read:         




Due to this past weekend's heavy snowstorm throughout much of the state, Girl Scouts of Kentuckiana is extending its cookie program an additional week.




“Girl Scouts of Kentuckiana” is a plural subject because it is referring to a group of girls.  The verb “is extending” is singular and does not agree with the plural subject.  In order to correct the subject/verb agreement, Mr. Stapleton could have said one of the following to show the present or future tense:



            Due to this past weekend’s heavy snowstorm throughout much of the

            state, Girls Scouts of Kentuckiana are extending its cookie program an

            additional week.


Due to this past weekend’s heavy snowstorm through-

            out much of the state, Girl Scouts of Kentuckiana will be extending its

            cookie program an additional week. 



            Other written errors that I have found in the local newspaper, made by both the editor and a staff reporter, include articles from the March 28th and April 1st editions.


After negotiating were well underway, CHC came back with a three year agreement for $260,000 but before the court could act, CHC withdrew its offer of three years and came back with the current two options claiming they hadn't thought about the fuel increases.


                        Meanwhile, the current tenants at the shopping center making plans to

                        continue operating in other locations.




            The error in the first paragraph involves using an –ing ending on the word negotiation, turning it into a verb, whereas the verb in the prepositional phrase is were.  In order to give the phrase a subject, it should be corrected to say:



                        After negotiations were well underway, CHC came back with a three

year agreement for $260,000 but before the court could act, CHC withdrew its offer of three years and came back with the current two options claiming they hadn’t thought about the fuel increases.



            In the second example, there needs to be a subject/verb agreement.  The subject tenants is plural, referring to more than one, so making should include the verb are meaning “to be” before it in order for the verb to be plural.   To be correct, the reporter should have said:


                        Meanwhile, the current tenants at the shopping centers are making plans to

                        continue operating in other locations.



            Written errors have also been spotted on flies advertising everything from items for sale to a magazine drive.  The first was found at Russellville High School and posted by the marketing class who were preparing for their annual Christmas sale.  The flier read:



                        We be set up in the concession stand at lunch.



We is a plural subject, referring to all of the students in the marketing class, and be is a singular verb.  In order to have subject-verb agreement in this statement, the verb be needs to be put into the simple future tense stating when the class will be in the concession stand.




                        We will be set up in the concession stand at lunch.


            The second flier I found was posted on one of the bulletin boards at WKU’s South Campus.  The flier, which is for a magazine drive and sponsored by the Science Awareness Society, said:



                        Reduce the number of magazines you have laying around



Lay and lie are often confused because lay is most commonly a transitive verb and takes an object. Its meaning is to “place” or “put” something.  Lie is intransitive, takes no object, and means “to be in a horizontal position, recline” and “to rest, remain, be situated, etc.”  Lying is the present participle form of the verb "to lie," so the flier should actually say:




Reduce the number of magazines you have lying around




            While all languages are knowable and learnable, the English language seems to be the one that is misused most often, both verbally and written.  From knowing which tense should be used for verbs or ensuring that singular subjects have singular verbs and plural subjects have corresponding plural verbs to avoiding double negatives and slang, grammatical errors are prevalent in songs, movies, conversations, and print.  Being familiar with standard English, listening intently to what others say, and reading printed materials closely can help eliminate the most common of errors.