Generally speaking, I have pretty good grammar. And my spelling isn’t bad either. I memorized the rules in school like everyone else, but mostly I rely on my ear to tell me whether or not grammar is correct.
I know what English teachers say about our ears as grammar guides, but mine has always served me well. I credit my dad with this. He moved to the United States from Germany at the age of eight, so for him, English was a second language. His early experiences with learning the language were difficult and people around him expected that he would learn to speak correctly — and he did. He also came to expect the same level of proficiency from native English speakers.
My high school friends certainly have some stories to tell. Calling our house could be quite the traumatic experience, as you tried to ask for the person in our household with whom you wanted to speak. It wasn’t easy on them or the three teenagers in our home (me included), but it did train us to recognize correct grammar when we heard it. In fact, when I couldn’t remember the rules in English class, I went with what sounded right to me and was almost always correct, because although the rules may not have been stuck in my head, I had enough practice with speaking correctly to know the right usage (particularly of pronouns) when I heard it.
Spelling, on the other hand, I mastered by memorizing words and in some cases, the rules. To this day, I rely on little phrases I learned in school to remember the order of letters in certain combinations.
Fast forward to present day. I work part-time as a freelance writer and editor (mostly editor these days). Therefore, I am able to put my ear for grammar and my mastery of spelling rules to good use. But a few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from a good friend (also a freelance writer and editor) that said, “Do you realize that you always spell “weird” wrong?”
I do? And she included my last e-mail. There it was in black and white: wierd.
Well sure, “i before e, except after c”. . . I guess not this time.
I hung my head, acknowledged my frequent error, and made a mental note to reverse the “i” and the “e” in that word in the future.
A few days ago I received a catalog in the mail and as I was perusing the pages, I saw this:
It’s so nice to know I’m not the only one. 🙂
So what about you? Are there spellings or grammar rules that stump you every time?