Grammatical Memory

I wanted to write a post about parts of speech, subjects, objects and all that. One of the reasons is my annoyance over misuse of pronouns, especially two cases: after prepositions, and as subjects of an implied phrase, but I quickly fell into the mire of memory. You see, I remember all this stuff, the grammar, the parts of speech, the rules of usage, because my father drummed the rules relentlessly into my head. Almost every night at dinner featured discussions about some point of grammar.

In French, the rules are simple: if the pronoun is the subject of the verb, AND it comes right before the verb, it's the subjective form.
But in English, what is a subject is a little more complicated:

Jack is taller than I.

Why? Because "I" is the subject of the implied phrase, "than I am."


It's I, or was, when I was in school.

Here are two old poem of mine. I give them to you unedited, in its original form, in spite of my itch to revise them.

This is why I remember my grammar.

If You Were Still Alive

In spite of what I know everyone says
About each successive generation

Being deficient,
Not as able,
Morally superior
Or grammatically correct

As the one before,

I am privately convinced
Of the truth of the proposition
That today's youth's knowledge
Of the English language

Is sadly lacking,

And that even those
Who should know better,

To wit,

Those writing for the local paper,
Do not know how to properly use pronouns

Or, indeed,

That English has a subjunctive,
A fact that you revealed to me
When I came home and told you
That French had a subjunctive but that

English didn't

So I just wanted to say that I still remember
All that stuff and that in spite of my

Extreme annoyance

At your continual repetition of the entire rule
And its complete explanation,
Every time I said,

"It's me"

I want you to know that every time
I hear someone misuse a pronoun
I not only mutter under my breath,
But I think of you and think,

"If you were still alive..."


You took out the garbage
and got lost outside your apartment,
unable to recognize your front door.

That night you wandered naked
down the hall. I waited for you to flinch
as you recognized me, your daughter.

You never noticed me,
instead continued to the bathroom,
where you attempted, fruitlessly, to pee.

Your pubic hair was gray. When had
you gotten so old?

Where was the father who taught
me to make scrambled eggs,
pledging me never to add milk?

Where was the father who argued
about gerunds over dinner?

In the morning I took you to
Mount Sinai hospital, where
they diagnosed prostate trouble,
admitted you.

When we took your grandsons to see you;
you barely remembered their names:
your mind, once so sharp, now rusted.

We moved you to the nursing home
near Trinity Church. When we came to visit
we would go across to the church
and pray.

I had to take care of you.

It was my time.


Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Oh, my gosh! What concept! Illustrate grammar with poetry! Maybe more people will pay attention! (-:

For anyone who would like to know lots more about the difference between grammar rules and style choices, may I recommend a book and a booklet:

Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies--a humorous book on grammar! By June Casagrande (Penguin)

Great Little Last Minute Edits by me (Carolyn Howard-Johnson). As an e-booklet it is only $2.99. (-:


Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Excited about the new edition (expanded! updated! even more helpful for writers!) of The Frugal Book Promoter, now a USA Book News award-winner in its own right (

Margaret Fieland said...

Carolyn, thanks for the book (and booklet) recommendations. I'm going to have to go buy them.

NancyCL said...

LOVE IT! Thanks so much!

Shirley Corder said...

What an unusual idea, to combine poetry with grammar. Thanks, Maggie.

Unknown said...

Your poems brought tears to my eyes. Thanks Peggy.

Anne Duguid Knol said...

Also found myself welling up especially when reading the second poem.

Mary Jo Guglielmo said...

A grammar poem - that's a poem to get into the hands of teacher.

Your second poem touched me deeply. THank you.

Heidiwriter said...

Wonderful, Maggie--I love this!

Karen Cioffi said...

Maggie, these poems are wonderful. I relate to the second one. My father had alzhiemers and it was so sad to watch his mind deteriorate.

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