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Est. 1998


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Quotations about Grammar

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Welcome to my page of quotations about grammar, spelling, punctuation, and all that jazz. Even though I have my own strong opinions about the various rules of grammar, I'm a firm believer in poetic license so we shouldn't always take such things too seriously. However, I must warn that if you are a non‑supporter of the serial comma, you should probably leave this page now because you are entering enemy territory. All others, enjoy! —tεᖇᖇ¡·g

The flesh of prose gets its shape and strength from the bones of grammar. ~Constance Hale

[M]y spelling is Wobbly. It’s good spelling but it Wobbles, and the letters get in the wrong places. ~A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh, 1926

Devotees of grammatical studies have not been distinguished for any very remarkable felicities of expression. ~Bronson Alcott

Correct English is the slang of prigs who write history and essays. ~George Eliot, Middlemarch, 1872

Grammar is the logic of speech, even as logic is the grammar of reason. ~Richard C. Trench

[A] man must be a d—d fool, who can’t spell a word more than one way. ~Author unknown, 1855, anecdote from Jamestown Journal (Thanks, Garson O’Toole of quoteinvestigator.com!)

Correct spelling, indeed, is one of the arts that are far more esteemed by schoolma’ams than by practical men, neck-deep in the heat and agony of the world. ~Henry Louis Mencken, The American Language

Women are the simple, and poets the superior, artisans of language... the intervention of grammarians is almost always bad. ~Rémy de Gourmont

You may say a cat uses good grammar. Well, a cat does — but you let a cat get excited once; you let a cat get to pulling fur with another cat on a shed, nights, and you'll hear grammar that will give you the lockjaw. Ignorant people think it's the noise which fighting cats make that is so aggravating, but it ain't so; it's the sickening grammar they use. ~Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad

Would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofs and tell him or her that I write a sort of broken-down patois which is something like the way a Swiss waiter talks, and that when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will stay split, and when I interrupt the velvety smoothness of my more or less literate syntax with a few sudden words of bar-room vernacular, that is done with the eyes wide open and the mind relaxed but attentive. ~Raymond Chandler, letter to Edward Weeks, 1947 January 18th

And all dared to brave unknown terrors, to do mighty deeds, to boldly split infinitives that no man had split before... ~Douglas Adams

Nostalgia is like a grammar lesson: you find the present tense, but the past perfect! ~Owens Lee Pomeroy

The past is always tense, the future perfect. ~Zadie Smith

Every English poet should master the rules of grammar before he attempts to bend or break them. ~Robert Graves

There is no element in which language resembles music more than in the punctuation marks.... Exclamation points are like silent cymbal clashes, question marks like musical upbeats, colons dominant seventh chords... ~Theodor W. Adorno (1903–1969), "Punctuation Marks," Notes to Literature, Volume One, translated from German by Shierry Weber Nicholsen

Not long ago, I advertised for perverse rules of grammar.... The notion of making a mistake while laying down rules is highly unoriginal, and it turns out that English teachers have been circulating lists of fumblerules for years. As owner of the world's largest collection, and with thanks to scores of readers, let me pass along a bunch of these never-say-neverisms:
   • Use the semicolon properly, always use it where it is appropriate; and never where it isn’t.
   • Reserve the apostrophe for it’s proper use and omit it when its not needed.
   • Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.
   • Avoid commas, that are not necessary.
   • And don’t start a sentence with a conjunction.
   • If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
~William Safire, "On Language," New York Times, 1979 November 4th

There’s a fine line between funny and annoying – and it’s exactly the width of a quotation mark. ~Martha Brockenbrough

[S]ometimes... quotation marks are an absolute crime against humanity. ~Richard Lederer and John Shore, Comma Sense: A Fun-damental Guide to Punctuation, "Introduction," 2005

      The use of quotation marks to say "their word, not mine" is growing.... World Book Dictionary editor Sol Steinmetz thinks that "disbelieving quotation marks" first became popular during the Nazi era, and then were given a boost in the Vietnam years, especially around the word "advisers."
      Disdain now has its own punctuation. One reason is that quotation marks are being used more often to call attention to a special meaning: Henry L. Trewhitt of The Baltimore Sun calls these "cop-out quotation marks" — when a writer uses a bit of jargon or a colloquialism and encloses it in quotes to show he really knows better. Another reason for putting rabbit ears on a word is the growing popularity of skepticism. Those whose illusion is disillusionment revel in the use of the device that expresses disbelief and disavowal with four inverted commas, and trendy critics can even put quotation signs around a spoken word by wiggling two fingers of each hand.
      ~William Safire, "On Language," January 1980

Bad grammar makes me [sic]. ~Author Unknown

There are grammatical errors even in his silence. ~Stanislaw J. Lec

Grammar is a piano I play by ear. ~Joan Didion

Man 1: Where are you from?
Man 2: From a place where we do not end sentences with prepositions.
Man 1: Okay, where are you from, jackass?
~Author Unknown

A pronoun, too, will aptly reflect the number of its antecedent: "they" does not refer to one person, no matter how many personalities she or he has, or how eager you are to skirt the gender frays. ~Karen Elizabeth Gordon

Grammar Checker – A software program that is not needed by those who know grammar and virtually useless for those who don’t. ~Richard Turner (1937-2011), The Grammar Curmudgeon, a.k.a. "The Mudge," from "The Curmudgeon’s Short Dictionary of Modern Phrases"

Grammar is politics by other means. ~Donna Haraway

After all, when a thought takes one's breath away, a lesson on grammar seems an impertinence. As Ruskin wrote in his earlier and better days, "No weight nor mass nor beauty of execution can outweigh one grain or fragment of thought." ~Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Preface to Poems by Emily Dickinson Edited by Two of Her Friends, Mabel Loomis Todd and T.W. Higginson, ©1890

Writing is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar. ~E.B. White

Grammar stops at love, and at art. ~Terri Guillemets

Do not be surprised when those who ignore the rules of grammar also ignore the law. After all, the law is just so much grammar. ~Robert Brault, rbrault.blogspot.com

The rules of punctuation seem arbitrary. How can they not, when an apostrophe looks like nothing in this world so much as a comma that can’t keep its feet on the ground? Or when, by simply placing next to that wafting comma its twin, one creates (of all things) a quotation mark? ~Richard Lederer and John Shore, Comma Sense: A Fun-damental Guide to Punctuation, “Introduction,” 2005

What really alarms me about President Bush’s “War on Terrorism” is the grammar. How do you wage war on an abstract noun? How is “Terrorism” going to surrender? It’s well known, in philological circles, that it’s very hard for abstract nouns to surrender. ~Terry Jones

People who practice freedom of expression are terrorizing our grammatical way of life. ~Bauvard

I like commas. I detest semi-colons — I don’t think they belong in a story. And I gave up quotation marks long ago. I found I didn’t need them, they were fly-specks on the page. ~E.L. Doctorow

Next to the semi-colon, quotation marks seem to be the chief butts of reformatory ardor. ~H.L. Mencken, The American Language: Supplement II, 1948

Let school-masters puzzle their brain,
With grammar, and nonsense, and learning;
Good liquor, I stoutly maintain,
Gives genius a better discerning.
~Oliver Goldsmith, She Stoops to Conquer: Or, The Mistakes of a Night

I have spent most of the day putting in a comma and the rest of the day taking it out. ~Oscar Wilde

Grammar: The grave of letters. ~Elbert Hubbard, The Roycroft Dictionary Concocted by Ali Baba and the Bunch on Rainy Days, 1914

A kiss can be a comma, a question mark or an exclamation point. That’s basic spelling that every woman ought to know. ~Mistinguett, quoted in Theatre Arts, Volume 39, Issue 12, 1955

An exclamation point looks like an index finger raised in warning.... A colon, says Karl Kraus, opens its mouth wide: woe to the writer who does not fill it with something nourishing. Visually, the semicolon looks like a drooping moustache; I am even more aware of its gamey taste. With self-satisfied peasant cunning, German quotation marks [« »] lick their lips.... Every text, even the most densely woven, cites them of its own accord — friendly spirits whose bodiless presence nourishes the body of language. ~Theodor W. Adorno (1903–1969, a.k.a. Theodor Ludwig Wiesengrund), "Punctuation Marks," Notes to Literature, Volume One, translated from German by Shierry Weber Nicholsen, 1991 (Noten zur Literatur, original copyright 1958)

The serious dash.... mute lines into the past, wrinkles on the brow of [Theodor Storm's] text.... set bald and naked between the events they draw together, they have something of the fatefulness of the natural context and something of a prudish hesitancy to make reference to it. So discreetly does myth conceal itself in the nineteenth century; it seeks refuge in typography. ~Theodor W. Adorno (1903–1969), "Punctuation Marks," Notes to Literature, Volume One, translated from German by Shierry Weber Nicholsen

Among the losses punctuation suffers through the decay of language is the slash mark or diagonal... ~Theodor W. Adorno (1903–1969), "Punctuation Marks," Notes to Literature, Volume One, translated from German by Shierry Weber Nicholsen

The test of a writer's sensitivity in punctuating is the way he handles parenthetical material. The cautious writer will tend to place that material between dashes and not in round brackets.... Dashes... block off the parenthetical material from the flow of the sentence without shutting it up in a prison, capture both connection and detachment. ~Theodor W. Adorno (1903–1969), "Punctuation Marks," Notes to Literature, Volume One, translated from German by Shierry Weber Nicholsen

This is the sort of bloody nonsense up with which I will not put. ~Attributed to Winston Churchill, rejecting the rule against ending a sentence with a preposition, c.1948, may instead have been said by an anonymous official, see notes at www.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/churchill.html

Grammar makes the difference between feeling you’re nuts and feeling your nuts. ~Author Unknown

I always put the apostrophe in "ain’t" to make certain I’m using proper improper English. ~Author Unknown

Making love to me is amazing. Wait, I meant: making love, to me, is amazing. The absence of two little commas nearly transformed me into a sex god. ~Jarod Kintz, Love quotes for the ages. Specifically ages 18-81.

Only in grammar can you be more than perfect. ~William Safire

Every time you make a typo, the errorists win. ~Author Unknown

In the United States the apostrophe seems to be doomed.... In other respects American and English punctuation show few differences. The English are rather more careful than we are, and commonly put a comma after the next-to-last member of a series, but otherwise are not too precise to offend a red-blooded American. ~H.L. Mencken, The American Language: Supplement II, 1948

There are people who embrace the Oxford comma and people who don’t, and I’ll just say this: never get between these people when drink has been taken. ~Lynne Truss, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation

The serial comma is sexy, smart, and useful. ~Author Unknown

You know you’re a language nerd when you have a strong opinion about serial commas. ~Author Unknown

Your participle's danglin’
But I don’t want your drama
If you really wanna
Leave out that Oxford comma
Just keep in mind
That be, see, are, you
Are words, not letters...
And listen up when I tell you this
I hope you never use quotation marks for emphasis...
~“Weird Al” Yankovic, “Word Crimes,” Mandatory Fun, 2014

There’s the Oxford comma, but I like the Shatner comma. It’s when you pepper them in, so, you know where, to add, dramatic pauses. ~Nicole Leigh Shaw

Shatner commas: Oddly placed commas that don’t seem to serve any actual purpose in punctuation, but make it look like you should take odd pauses, as William Shatner does when delivering lines. ~Author Unknown

The writer is in a permanent predicament when it comes to punctuation marks; if one were fully aware while writing, one would sense the impossibility of ever using a mark of punctuation correctly and would give up writing altogether. For the requirements of the rules of punctuation and those of the subjective need for logic and expression are not compatible... The conflict must be endured each time, and one needs either a lot of strength or a lot of stupidity not to lose heart. ~Theodor W. Adorno (1903–1969), "Punctuation Marks," Notes to Literature, Volume One, translated from German by Shierry Weber Nicholsen

Grammarians squabble, and will squabble long. ~Horace (65–8 B.C.), De Arte Poetica, translated by George Colman, 1783

laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life's not a paragraph
And death i think is no parenthesis
~e.e. cummings, "since feeling is first," 1926

When money talks, no one checks the grammar. ~Author Unknown

Let me just acknowledge that the function of grammar is to make language as efficient and clear and transparent as possible. But if we’re all constantly correcting each other’s grammar and being really snotty about it, then people stop talking because they start to be petrified that they’re going to make some sort of terrible grammatical error and that’s precisely the opposite of what grammar is supposed to do, which is to facilitate clear communication. ~John Green

A semicomma, we should note, doesn’t exist; we just made the word up. But it sounds like a punctuation mark that should exist, doesn’t it? ~Richard Lederer and John Shore, Comma Sense: A Fun-damental Guide to Punctuation, "Introduction," 2005

Grammar, which even rules o'er kings and princes
And with high hand subjects them to its laws!
~Molière, Les Femmes Savantes/The Learned Ladies, 1672 (Act II, Scene VI, Philaminte), translated from French by Curtis Hidden Page, 1908  [Molière's learned ladies' (précieuses') attempts to purify speech were based on real life. The French Academy was working to publish an authoritative dictionary to fix the standards of proper usage. Vaugelas, one of its members, wrote that not even kings or emperors have the right to create new words. —tεᖇᖇ¡·g]

Belise: Materialism
            Quite rules your genius, it must be averred!
            I, is first person, notice; talks is third.
            Why will you outrage grammar all your life?
Martine: Who wants to outrage gram'ma, eh? or gran'pa?
Philaminte: O heavens!
~Molière, Les Femmes Savantes/The Learned Ladies, 1672 (Act II, Scene VI), translated from French by Curtis Hidden Page, 1908

Belise: Grammar, I tell you, teaches us the laws
            Of verb and subject, adjective and noun.
Martine: Well, all I say is, I don't know those gentry....
Belise: Those are the names of words;
            And we must see to making them agree.
Martine: Let 'em agree, or fight it out, who cares?
~Molière, Les Femmes Savantes/The Learned Ladies, 1672 (Act II, Scene VI), translated from French by Curtis Hidden Page, 1908

[B]ut why care for grammar as long as we are good? ~Artemus Ward (1834–1867), Pyrotechny, "V.—What This Young Man Said"

No one can write perfect English and keep it up through a stretch of ten chapters. It has never been done. ~Mark Twain

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Last modified 2015 Jun 30 Tue 11:04 PDT

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