Teach Your Children (Grammar) Well

Dear Dr. Linda,

I’m not a retired English teacher, nor do I profess to speak perfect English, but I can’t help noticing how so many kids, and adults as well, speak and write incorrectly, even the most highly educated.

I remember spending hours in school diagramming sentences. I learned and still know when to use “I” as opposed to “me,” when to use “can” as opposed to “may,” when to use “good” as opposed to “well.” These are just three of the grammar mistakes that I hear daily at work and at home, even from my own kids. I don’t know why, but it really bothers me. Is it just me or do others notice this?

Sign Up for E-News


Dear Karen,

Yes, I notice it, too. In fact, I was watching the movie “Baby Boom” not long ago when Dianne Keaton’s character, a Harvard graduate, is asked how she is doing after living for a year in a small town in Vermont. She answers, “Good. I’m doing good.” (She may have been doing good in that small town, but in answer to the question, “How are you?” her answer technically should have been, “Well. I’m doing well.”)

It’s happening all over and not just in the movies. In today’s world, if you ask most people how they feel, they’ll answer, “Good.” If they said, “I’m feeling well, thank you,” some would think they were speaking old English. Even so, we don’t send “Get Good” cards to people who are ill, do we?

Why is this happening? The amount of information and knowledge students are faced with learning has exploded, and things like grammar and music have taken a back seat. Is it still taught? Yes, but not with the same attention. To meet increasing demands on their time, teachers don’t have the luxury of dwelling on when to say “good” vs. “well” or “I” vs. “me.” Or “can” vs. “may.”

Here’s a quick quiz:

1. Please tell Jane and ___ (I or me) when you leave.

2. (Can or May) ___ I have a glass of water?

3. I feel ___? (good or well)

The answer to number one is “me.” The key to which is correct is technically whether the pronoun refers to the subject (I) or object (me) of the sentence. In normal speech, nobody would say, “She’s going to spend the night with I,” or “Me is going to the store.” When in doubt, a good rule of thumb for a sentence like this one is to drop “Jane” and then fill in the blank, e.g., “Please tell __ (I or me) when you leave.”

The rule for “can” and “may” is also pretty straightforward, but you have to stop and think about the meaning of the words. “Can” means you are capable of doing something, whereas “may” in this context means you’re asking permission. In No. 2 above, if you’re asking if it’s OK for you to have a glass of water, you should have answered, “May I have a glass of water?” whereas if you aren’t sure you are capable of swallowing it, you might ask, “Can I have a glass of water?”

The rule for the use of “good” and “well” can be more confusing because the two get used interchangeably a lot. However, “good” is an adjective, usually describing a noun or following a linking verb like “am” or “were” or other forms of the verb “be.” For example: He is a good person. She was good to me. “Well” is almost always an adverb that modifies a verb, except for when it describes a person’s health. Then, it’s an adjective. For example: I did well on my math test, not poorly. She was sick last week, but she feels well today.

Having said all of the above, remember that the English language, especially American English, isn’t set in cement. If it were, we’d still be saying words such as “thou” and “shall” in everyday conversation. New words appear in our dictionaries every day and different forms become acceptable over time. Like it or not, our language is dynamic and ever-evolving. As long as you understand what your kids are saying, no matter which words they choose, correct them if you like, but for the most part, sometimes we have to just relax and go with it.

Be well,

Dr. Linda

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of TAPinto.net or anyone who works for TAPinto.net. TAPinto.net is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News


Here's What You Missed Last Week

Last week, the Daily News ran a headline, “When is our father coming home?” This dealt with a person here illegally, married to an American woman with a family, who was arrested at an Army base while delivering pizza. You are supposed to think that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), under Trump, is tearing families apart. As usual, it was a crock of cow pies. It was ...

Watergate Analogies Apply to Obama, Not Trump

My liberal counterpart in this publication is about my age. Maybe I am the baby of the group, but we all have had the same seminal experiences of our youth: Vietnam, the civil rights movement and Watergate. These are what shaped our political perspectives.

Looking back, maybe, just maybe those who thought Nixon was really deserving of his fate cannot be faulted for thinking so. It was once ...

Reagan on Trump

The party of “Honest Abe” has now become the party of Dishonest Don, and what follows are some disturbing displays of a Republican Party that has become devoid of conscience:

• More than 4,600 American citizens dead in Puerto Rico—a postscript to the government’s abysmal response to the widespread devastation of Hurricane Maria; 
• The underhanded ...

The Rich Get Richer, and We’re Paying For It

According to a Harvard University study published late last year, most Americans believe that the richest 20 percent of Americans own just half of the nation’s wealth. Wrong! The top 20 percent own 93 percent of the nation’s wealth, and the top 1 percent own 40 percent of that wealth. Additionally, the top 10 percent of earners in 2017 took home more than half the nation’s ...

Competing—Against Yourself

This is the time of year when students are recognized at public ceremonies for notable achievements in their studies, their sports and in their extracurricular pursuits.

Where we live, there are awards in various sports that are named for our son, who also is memorialized by town ballfield Harrison Apar Field of Dreams and a charitable foundation of the same name.

Due to a rare dwarfism, ...

Honoring Our Veterans’ Freedom of Speech

Memorial Day is over, but writing about America’s veterans doesn’t have an expiration date.

My dad, George, was as proud a veteran as you’d meet. He served in the Army in World War II and loved our country no less than the next veteran. I am proud of him, as is my brother, Robert, who served in the Air Force.

Growing up, the one vacation we took each year was spent with ...

I Come from the Land Down Under

I know this is a family column, so I’m going to put this in as delicate terms as possible.

This morning I woke up and I knew, as sure as the sun shines over Bora Bora, that something was very, very wrong in that place in my body where the Bora Bora sun doesn’t shine.

It’s that place I used to refer to my daughter as her hoo-hoo. But it certainly wasn’t a happy ...

Mouthing Off

When I went for oral surgery last spring, the doctor told me he could only do one half of my mouth that day or I wouldn’t be able to eat for two weeks. Considering it was almost bathing suit season, I didn’t think that was necessarily a bad thing. But he convinced me otherwise, and told me if I was really gung ho about getting it all done, I could come back in a month or so to have ...

Upcoming Events


Wed, June 27, 9:00 AM

Putnam County Department of Health, Brewster

PCDOH Free HIV Testing Day

Health & Wellness