We Use Math and Grammar Rules – They Don’t Use Us!

I got engaged in a twitter fight about grammar with Chiew from @aClilToClimb. Yes, I’m the math mom, but my college minor is English. And I tend to be a sharpie carrying, sign correcting, grammar vigilante.

I complained that Twitter has the link “Who To Follow” when it should be “Whom To Follow.” Here’s an excerpt from the fight:

The fight raged on.

This guy was so adamant that you could use “who” as the object in a sentence (clearly wrong), and just wouldn’t let it go. After quite a few tweets I got curious. “What’s this guy’s deal? All he has to do is pull out the Little Brown Handbook and read it in plain black and white.”

So I went and looked at his site. Holy cow! He’s a grammar blogger!

I couldn’t find his “About” page, but from what I could gather in his fervor in our twitter fight, he’s trying to do for grammar what I’m trying to do for math. Demystify, take away the “have to” rules, and make it accessible, acceptable and appreciated by everyone.

We make the rules!

The rules of grammar, like the rules of math, are created by humans and used by humans. They are changeable.

Of course the difference is that, in grammar, if you deviate slightly from the rules that others follow, you’ll most likely be understood. In math, you really have to define how you’re using things before you begin to work.

For instance, if I wanted to have a conversation with someone about a new way of adding fractions I was inventing, I could totally do it. As long as I started the conversation with, “Here’s how we are going to talk about adding fractions for the next hour…”

Make it your own!

Teaching math and teaching grammar are two of the fundamental things we do for our children. And neither should be hard, creepy or frustrating. They should be a normal, natural flow of who we are as people.

Another great math mom says, “Make math your own, to make your own math.” I’d bet Chiew would say something similar for grammar.

And for this, I respect him. </fight>

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6 Responses to We Use Math and Grammar Rules – They Don’t Use Us!

  1. I’m glad, mom, that it’s just a Twitter fight! I’d hate to be in the same ring with you! 😉 The thing is that there is a lot of difference, sometimes, between spoken and written English. There is also a clear boundary between what is acceptable and what isn’t. For example, ‘To who shall I write’ is not acceptable, just as ‘She don’t love me’ isn’t. Both can be heard, however, more often than they ought to be.

    I quote from Cambridge Grammar of English (Carter/McCarthy) 205: “Who can be used in both subject and object forms. Whom is used in object forms and following prepositions in more formal contexts”. An example given: Who did the prime minister promote to the cabinet?

    • Thanks so much for the engaging interaction. It was a joy!

      And thanks for the information. I might continue to say “whom” but I will know in my heart that it’s okay for others to say “who.”

  2. I’ve always had difficulties with “who” and “whom” usage, but I do have to say your way sounds right to me. I think it’s great, though, that the man is a grammar blogger! And you unknowingly got into a grammar fight with him. Sounds like somethign I’d get myself into!

    • After I realized that he was a grammar blogger, I really felt like I knew the other side of the coin. I often wondered what people thought when I went nuts rallying against a math topic that is typically known as absolute fact. Now I know.

      Thanks for your comment, Erin!

  3. This is basically an argument about whether grammar should be descriptive or prescriptive. You will hear people say “It was me what done it,” in the street in the UK… you’d probably lose street-cred points, or get beaten up badly, if you said “It was I who did it.” Spoken language has a different grammar/usage from written language too, aside from any ethnic/class use. “To boldly split the infinitive” and not to use no double negatives, etc., were impositions from the Latinists three or four centuries ago (“neither… nor” is a double negative, after all!) = prescriptive. I was schooled during the days of prescriptive English grammar, however, insisting on prescribing some types of language use can give the impression of being ‘overly stuffy’ or pedantic, rather than treating it as a means of communication. It all comes down to the impression you want to create, I suppose, and whom one would wish to impress!

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