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Quotations about Grammar
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 and real‑life priorities, 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!
Syntax means joined together, dear,
Arrange the words then written here
By marking out each stop.
They're parts of punctuation—see
You'll understand them readily,
They must not be forgot.
~Mrs. Lovegood, "Punctuation," The Heart's-Ease, or, Grammar in Verse with Easy Exercises in Prose for Very Young Children, by a Lady Teacher, 1854
Grammar is politics by other means. ~Donna J. Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, 1991
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
A period's the longest stop,
Altho' it is a little dot...
~Mrs. Lovegood, "The Period," The Heart's-Ease, or, Grammar in Verse with Easy Exercises in Prose for Very Young Children, by a Lady Teacher, 1854
The comma is the shortest stop,
Look at this little curly dot,
'Tis used most frequently...
~Mrs. Lovegood, "The Comma," The Heart's-Ease, or, Grammar in Verse with Easy Exercises in Prose for Very Young Children, by a Lady Teacher, 1854
Style takes its final shape more from attitudes of mind than from principles of composition, for, as an elderly practitioner once remarked, "Writing is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar." This moral observation would have no place in a rule book were it not that style is the writer, and therefore what a man is, rather than what he knows, will at last determine his style. ~William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, The Elements of Style
Grammar stops at love, and at art. ~Terri Guillemets
The colon seems a little strange;
Not quite so easy to arrange;
Two periods you see:
Twice over I had made a dot,
Yet something more had been forgot,
And colons there must be.
~Mrs. Lovegood, "The Colon," The Heart's-Ease, or, Grammar in Verse with Easy Exercises in Prose for Very Young Children, by a Lady Teacher, 1854
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
Who climbs the Grammar-Tree; distinctly knows
Where Noun, and Verb, and Participle grows...
~Decimus Junius Juvenalis, Satire VI, translated by John Dryden, 1693
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 rather like bombing "murder...."
How will they know when they've won it?
With most wars you can say you've won when the other side is either all dead or surrenders. But how is "terrorism" going to surrender? It's well known, in philological circles, that it's very hard for abstract nouns to surrender.... Abstract nouns simply aren't like that. I'm afraid the bitter semantic truth is, you can't win against these sort of words—unless, I suppose, you get them thrown out of the Oxford English Dictionary. That would show 'em.
~Terry Jones, "The Grammar of the War on Terrorism," in Voices for Peace: An Anthology edited by Anna Kiernan, 2001
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. If you're doing it right, the reader will know who's talking. ~E.L. Doctorow (b.1931), "EL Doctorow: 'I don't have a style, but the books do': The author of Ragtime, The Book of Daniel and Homer and Langley talks to Sarah Crown," The Guardian, January 2010
Next to the semi-colon, quotation marks seem to be the chief butts of reformatory ardor. The fact that quotes within quotes are often confusing, and unhinge the minds of thousands of poor copy-readers every year, has fanned these flames. Also, there is frequent complaint that the marks themselves, as they stand, are unsightly, with demands for something better. ~H.L. Mencken, The American Language, Supplement II: An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States, 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
Dorothea's faith supplied all that Mr Casaubon's words seemed to leave unsaid: what believer sees a disturbing omission or infelicity? The text, whether of prophet or of poet, expands for whatever we can put into it, and even his bad grammar is sublime. ~George Eliot, Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life, Volume I, Book I—Miss Brooke, 1871
I have spent most of the day putting in a comma and the rest of the day taking it out. ~Oscar Wilde, variously worded paraphrase, see quoteinvestigator.com/2015/10/25/comma
Grammar: The grave of letters. ~Elbert Hubbard, The Roycroft Dictionary Concocted by Ali Baba and the Bunch on Rainy Days, 1914
A man's grammar, like Cæsar's wife, must not only be pure, but above suspicion of impurity. ~Edgar Allan Poe, critique of Edward Bulwer-Lytton's "Night and Morning," in Marginalia
The printer, who is, in many cases, possessed of some ambition, cannot afford to sacrifice the face of the book, its physical appearance, to the whims of it mental creator, the author. He declines to submit to the grammatical rules imposed upon him by the scholarly writer, believing that it may be well to consider antecedens and posterius, and the small regiment of auxiliaries, grammatical subordinates, as there are commas, semicolons, colons, periods, etc., in the text, the soul of the book, but he will never consent to permit these important little giants to terrorize him in the composition of the title page.
It makes the heart bleed to see one of these little marks spoil the symmetrical proportions of an otherwise perfect title page composition; to see the beauty of the picture, its æsthetic value, subordinated to and ruined by the predominance of cold-blooded grammar. Imagine a curve-line ending with a comma! Imagine such a grammatical terror on the end of every second line! How awkward! How disgusting!...
Whoever must rely upon comma, colon and period to understand the sense of a title, ought not to attempt to try to understand what follows the same; let him drop his literary ambition and seek shelter in a house for the care of idiots.... Sapienti sat.
~Gustav Boehm, "A Discourse on Title Page Composition," in The Inland Printer (Chicago), March 1886
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)
We make this mark of admiration
To show we've used some exclamation
To indicate surprise...
~Mrs. Lovegood, "Admiration or Exclamation," The Heart's-Ease, or, Grammar in Verse with Easy Exercises in Prose for Very Young Children, by a Lady Teacher, 1854
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
A dash indeed is quite abrupt,
'Tis put almost to interrupt...
~Mrs. Lovegood, "The Dash," The Heart's-Ease, or, Grammar in Verse with Easy Exercises in Prose for Very Young Children, by a Lady Teacher, 1854
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
If the English language had been properly organised by a businessman or Member of Parliament, then there would be a word which meant both "he" and "she", and I could write, "If John or Mary comes heesh will want to play tennis", which would save a lot of trouble. ~A.A. Milne
A pronoun... 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, "Agreements," The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed
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
Look! here is a parenthesis,
It means—there's little use for this;
But since we've put in here,
We'll place this mark (before, behind),
And when you read these words, you'll find
They might be out, my dear.
~Mrs. Lovegood, "The Parenthesis," The Heart's-Ease, or, Grammar in Verse with Easy Exercises in Prose for Very Young Children, by a Lady Teacher, 1854
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
Years ago, students were warned not to end a sentence with a preposition; time, of course, has softened that rigid decree. Not only is the preposition acceptable at the end, sometimes it is more effective in that spot than anywhere else. "A claw hammer, not an ax, was the tool he murdered her with." This is preferable to "A claw hammer, not an ax, was the tool with which he murdered her." Why? Because it sounds more violent, more like murder. A matter of ear.
And would you write "The worst tennis player around here is I" or "The worst tennis player around here is me"? The first is good grammar, the second is good judgment...
~William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, The Elements of Style
The great logical, or grammatical, framework of language, (for grammar is the logic of speech, even as logic is the grammar of reason,) he would possess, he knew not how... ~Richard Chenevix Trench, "On the Study of Words," lecture to the pupils of the Diocesan Training School, Winchester, c.1851
Two words are often joined in one,
When that's the case, see what is done—
A hyphen's put between
Or blind-man's-buff, perhaps high-spy,
Sweet-pea, or kidney-bean.
~Mrs. Lovegood, "The Hyphen," The Heart's-Ease, or, Grammar in Verse with Easy Exercises in Prose for Very Young Children, by a Lady Teacher, 1854
Grammar makes the difference between feeling you’re nuts and feeling your nuts. ~Internet meme
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
Th' interrogation's put to show
There's something that we wish to know...
~Mrs. Lovegood, "The Interrogation," The Heart's-Ease, or, Grammar in Verse with Easy Exercises in Prose for Very Young Children, by a Lady Teacher, 1854 [the question mark
Every time you make a typo, the errorists win. ~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
Language, never forget, is more fashion than science, and matters of usage, spelling, and pronunciation tend to wander around like hemlines. ~Bill Bryson, The Mother Tongue: English & How It Got That Way, 1990
Mr Speaker, I said the honourable Member was a liar it is true and I am sorry for it. The honourable Member may place the punctuation where he pleases. ~Attributed to Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751–1816), responding to a rebuke from the Chair for calling a fellow Member of Parliament a liar
When money talks, no one checks the grammar. ~Author unknown
[Grammar] is divided into four.
The first's Orthography;
Then Etymology and Syntax;
(These long big words look so like intakes);
The last part's Prosody.
~Mrs. Lovegood, "English Grammar," The Heart's-Ease, or, Grammar in Verse with Easy Exercises in Prose for Very Young Children, by a Lady Teacher, 1854
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 pedant is a bookish thing
That makes a mighty clamour
To plait a wreath from dead men's bones,
And strangle thought in grammar.
~John Stuart Blackie (1809–1895), "Pedantry"
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
When writing, you may oft forget
Words here and there—then you must let
A caret mark that place,
And over it put the word,
Which, if neglected, how absurd...
~Mrs. Lovegood, "The Caret," The Heart's-Ease, or, Grammar in Verse with Easy Exercises in Prose for Very Young Children, by a Lady Teacher, 1854
The Swamp Monster abhors the extra keystroke. That is "so 20th-century" (or even more antiquated); writing complete words, capital letters, and punctuation marks should have gone out of fashion with the quill pen. We don't have time for that in our super-efficient world of electronic communication, any more than the we have time to bother with archaic rules advanced by Neanderthal grammarians, who are completely out of touch with modern reality. How else will we find time to text trivial messages, post videos of dancing hamsters on YouTube, share gossip on Facebook, and tweet platitudes on Twitter?...
When we grammarians attempt to defend traditional rules and usage, we are accused of denying that language changes as if we were idiots with no awareness of the history of language. The truth is that most people who are interested enough in a language to learn its grammar in depth are probably more aware of the changes that have taken place over time than are those who merely mimic what they see and hear....
This is where the Grumpy Grammarian sighs, shrugs, and heads for the exit. I shouldn't let it bother me. Almost all the defenders of traditional grammar are old coots like me, so we won't be around when the English language devolves into grunts, pictographs, and hand gestures.
~Richard Turner (1937–2011), The Grammar Curmudgeon, a.k.a. "The Mudge," The Grumpy Grammarian, September 2010
In using phrases not our own—
Words spoken by some other one—
We quote their words you know.
Thus, when we quote from Solomon
"A father should chastise his son,"
These marks are put to show.
~Mrs. Lovegood, "The Quotation or Inverted Comma," The Heart's-Ease, or, Grammar in Verse with Easy Exercises in Prose for Very Young Children, by a Lady Teacher, 1854
Oh, Cedilla! I hyphenventilate as I kiss ur ellipsis! I crave your caron & long to be bracketed by ur guillemets #nationalpunctuationday.com ~Eric Jones, @dericjones, 2010 September 24th
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.
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"
Linguists are no different from any other people who spend more than nineteen hours a day pondering the complexities of grammar and its relationship to practically everything else in order to prove that language is so inordinately complicated that it is impossible in principle for people to talk. ~Ronald W. Langacker (b.1942), Language and Its Structure, 1973
No one can write perfect English and keep it up through a stretch of ten chapters. It has never been done. ~Mark Twain
For children find it difficult
To travel Grammar's road,
And feel it quite impossible
To carry such a load
Of nouns and pronouns, adjectives,
And prepositions too,
Conjunctions, interjections, verbs,
And adverbs not a few.
~Mrs. Lovegood, "A Letter in Verse to My Little Readers" (1854 February 9th; 3, Perseverance Place, Glasgow), The Heart's-Ease, or, Grammar in Verse with Easy Exercises in Prose for Very Young Children, by a Lady Teacher, 1854 [The authoress is believed to be Jessie Connell.
Serial Comma Quotations, Oxford Comma Quotes
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: An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States, 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
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