The Past Form Isn’t Present

lead-led meme

It was mid afternoon as Grammar Smith walked into the Hunt and Peck after an extended shift at the Department of English Language Offenses. She just wanted a quick glass of Chardonnay to unwind before heading home.

The bar was pretty much deserted. Grammar sat down a couple of seats away from Led and Paid, and ordered her drink.

“Hello.”

“Hiya, Lieutenant,” Paid replied.

Led just grunted and stared into his beer.

“Rough night?” Paid asked Grammar.

“Not sure I’d say it was rough, more like complicated. We had to track some subject-verb agreement offenses over at Fustian University. It took way too much time. What about you two? What are you doing here in the middle of the afternoon?”

Led snorted, looked up at Rocky, the bartender, and said, “Again.”

She brought him a shot and a beer.

“Whoa there, Led. Hope you’re not driving anywhere,” Grammar said.

“No, I’m driving him home later,” Paid explained. She didn’t look too happy as she nursed her drink.

“What’s going on?”

“Led’s in a bad way,” Paid said. “Both of us have been pushed out by incorrect verb forms. ‘Payed’ has been butting in more often for me, but Led has it worse. Seems like everyone, including writers who should know better, are using ‘lead’ for the past tense of ‘to lead.’”

“It’s just too heavy!” Led downed the shot and gulped the beer.

“C’mon. How bad could it be?”

Paid shot a quick glance at Led, who had his head cradled in his arms on the bar.

“It’s everywhere, Lieutenant. I’m almost thinking the DELO should get involved. It’s killing Led, literally if he keeps drinking like this.”

Grammar sighed. She never seemed to be able to get away from her work.

“I’ll put it on the department’s investigation list,” she promised sipping the last of her wine and heading for home.

Collective Nouns — a Singular (or Plural) Puzzle

jury as unit vs. jury as individuals

“Lieutenant Smith, I think you should see this.”

Sargeant Metaphor placed a copy of The Pencil Post on Grammar’s desk. It had this paragraph circled in red:

The jury in the En Dash identity theft case is expected to reach a verdict today.

Dash is accused of thousands of counts of masquerading as a hyphen. After a long trial and verdict, the jury will be able to return to their families.

“Yes, it’s been a long and exhausting trial, but there’s no doubt in my mind that she’ll be found guilty.”

Dis Connect, looking over Grammar’s shoulder, agreed, “She’ll get what she deserves.”

“That’s not why I’m showing you this. Look at the first and last sentences. How can ‘jury’ be singular and plural? Should I send a couple of officers over to The Pencil Post to see about it?”

“Actually, there’s nothing wrong with that paragraph, ” Grammar said. “‘Jury’ is a collective noun and can take either singular or plural verbs and pronouns depending on how it is being used.”

“I dunno, Boss. That doesn’t sound right,” Dis said.

“Collective nouns — like ‘family,’ ‘team,’ ‘flock,’ ‘class,’ and ‘crowd’ — are singular when the members work as a unit and plural when individuals take separate action. In this case, the jury will be acting as a unit in providing a verdict but as individuals when returning home.”

“Oh, you mean like ‘deer’ which could be a buck standing in the woods or a whole herd,” Dis said.

“No, that’s just the same word for the singular and plural form a noun,” Grammar explained.

“What about corporations. Can a corporation be a singular and plural noun?” Sgt. Methaphor asked.

“Well, most of the time a corporation is singular since it usually acts in a unified manner. Plus, corporations like Kraft take ‘it’ as the pronoun despite what so many writers do,” Grammar said.

“Well, it still seems fishy to me,” Sgt. Metaphor said as she walked back to her desk.

Hotel Incognito: Where Nobody Knows Your Name

Hotel Incognito

“Welcome to the Hotel Incognito,” a bored, shabby, elderly question mark intoned. “How can I help you?”

The hotel unsuccessfully tried to project the grandeur and luxury it once had.

Grammar Smith scrutinized the question mark. There was something vaguely familiar about him.

“We’re looking for En Dash,” Dis Connect said flashing his badge. “Have you seen her?’

The question mark turned his back on the two and started sorting mail into pigeonholes.

“I’m sure I don’t know who you mean,” he said.

“We have good reason to believe she’s staying here,” Dis got stern. “Look at this picture. She may be going by the name ‘Henrietta Hyphen.’”

“Our guests are entitled to some discretion,” the question mark ignored the outstretched picture.

“Turn around, and take a look!” Dis was miffed. “We have a warrant for her arrest. If you don’t tell us what room she’s in, I’ll haul you in for obstructing justice.”

Out of the corner of her eye, Grammar caught a figure stealthily creeping toward the lobby door.

“Hold it right there!” she commanded turning around.

Almost in mid-step, Then froze. It was almost as if he thought remaining motionless would make him invisible.

“Well, well,” Grammar sauntered over to him. “If it isn’t my old pal, Then. Have you been up to your old tricks popping into comparisons again?”

Then slumped. “C’mon, Lieutenant. You know I try to stay out of the racket. I can’t help it if writers keep dragging me in where I don’t belong.”

“I could haul you in on suspicion, but right now we’re here to track down En Dash. Have you seen her?”

“Well, uh…” Then stammered and glanced over toward the question mark whose total lack of energy was stonewalling Dis.

Leaning in, Then whispered, “I don’t know what room she’s in, but I’m sure she’s on the fifth floor. Can I go now?”

“You’d better not by lying to me or I’ll hunt you down,” Grammar warned.

Then slunk away as Grammar returned to Dis and the question mark.

“It’s okay Dis. She’s up on the fifth floor. Which room?” she grilled the question mark.

He sighed. “502”

Dis got the passkey from the crestfallen question mark, and Grammar had Sgt. Metaphor stay with him to keep him from warning En Dash.

As she turned to go, Grammar snapped her fingers as recognition dawned on her.

“Now I know where I’ve seen you before! Weren’t you the butler at Anthology Acres? I met you about three years ago when I was tracking down the missing Oxford Comma. What happened to Fiver and Paragraph Essay?”

The question mark grimaced. “Reading habits have changed, and the Paragraphs had to cut back. They let me go with a very small retirement.”

Grammar shook her head. “And here you are running the Hotel Incognito, a known den for words and punctuation marks masquerading as something they’re not.”

 


(Thanks, BERL! 🙂)

If you’re into some grammar giggles, check out the New Yorker’s “A Compiled List of Collective Nouns.”

Dash Masquerades as Hyphen — Criminally

mask-875534_1280

As she walked into the squad room, Grammar Smith glanced over at Dis Connect’s desk and saw Henrietta Hyphen slumped in a chair.

Henrietta was a “frequent flyer” at the Dept. of English Language Offenses.

“What have you done this time?” Grammar asked as she ambled up to Dis’s desk.

“I haven’t done anything!” Henrietta snapped. “I’m here filing a complaint against my cousin, En Dash.”

Grammar raised an eyebrow. Dis nodded his confirmation.

“What’s the problem?” Grammar asked.

“En has always been jealous of me, and now she’s stolen my identity! She keeps popping up in phrases where I should be. She’s stealing my thunder!” Henrietta fumed.

“There’s evidence.”

Dis showed Grammar the file:

Exhibit A: the 25 – year – old lawyer

Exhibit B:   The antique — book collector pounded upon the first edition.

Exhibit C:  She could be a full – or part – time worker.

“There are many more instances we’re still tracking down,” Dis said.

“Why is En doing this?” Grammar asked.

“It’s infuriating,” Henrietta ranted. “En hates that she’s not actively part of a phrase or sentence. She doesn’t accept that she’s used to set aside and emphasize ideas. I think she’s afraid of not being essential. That’s why she’s always butting in where she doesn’t belong.”

“Just because she appears where she shouldn’t doesn’t make it criminal,” Grammar explained.

“She’s not just showing up where she shouldn’t. She’s pretending to be me. She’s stealing my livelihood.”

“That is criminal – very tough,” Grammar admitted. “Good luck.”

Pursuing Pop-up Prepositions

Popup Preps

“I don’t know where to begin,” Dis Connect complained to Grammar Smith.

He pointed to a stack of warrants on his desk.

“What are those about?” Grammar asked.

“They’re Over Exposure Warrants for a bunch of prepositions. I’m supposed to get them out of the sentences they keep popping up in where they shouldn’t.”

“Well, tell me what you have.”

“There are tons, but there are a few prepositions that are frequent offenders. Take of for instance. It tags along with off. Then it’s always shoving have out of the picture to hook up with could and should.

“Yes, I’ve seen the trouble of can sometimes cause. What other problem prepositions do you have there?”

To is another one that keeps butting in where it doesn’t belong. It seems to dog near and go a lot.”

“Hmmm,” Grammar mused. “That’s a bit tricky since to has to appear in verb infinitives. Can you give me an example of its straying ways?”

Dis frowned. “It mainly surfaces in questions. It shouldn’t be in ‘Where are you going to?’”

“Yes, that’s an offense that’s getting hard to overlook.”

“It’s when those prepositions slide in at the end for no good reason that gets me,” Dis said.

“Oh, yes! The worst is at,” Grammar agreed. “When I see or hear ‘Where are you at?’ I want to strangle someone. It’s worse than someone not turning their car alarm off all night.”

Dis nodded. “The best we can do is put them in handcuffs and keep them out of those sentences as much as possible.”

Just then, Wally Wordorder, head of the Fugitive Syntax Squad, ambled up to Dis’s desk.

“Ready to go?”

Dis stood up, gathering his equipment. “We’ll have to stop and get extra pairs of handcuffs.”

 

All Caps ≠ Importance

Carlotta Capilito

The building reverberated with a stentorian voice.

What is going on?” Grammar Smith was startled in mid-sentence of a report on a particularly nasty case of apostrophe abuse.

“I WANT TO SPEAK TO SOMEONE IN CHARGE.” The voice was getting closer – and louder.

“What’s all the fuss about?” Grammar asked Sgt. Metaphor.

“Huh?” The sergeant took earplugs out.

“What’s the fuss?”

“Oh, it’s just Carlotta Capilito. She’s here to talk to you about arrangements for the annual Composition Benefit Gala.”

Sgt. Metaphor put the earplugs back in as a tall, stately woman rounded the corner.

“ARE YOU LIEUTENANT GRAMMAR SMITH?”

“Yes.” Grammar was surprised that her hair was actually being blown back. She thought that only happened in comic books.

“I AM CARLOTTA CAPILITO, AND EVERYTHING I SAY IS IMPORTANT. I AM HERE TO DISCUSS THE GALA.”

“Right this way,” Dis Connect had appeared and was showing Carlotta to a meeting room.

Sgt. Metaphor handed Grammar a pair of earplugs, “Here. I also have some Chardonnay on ice for when the meeting’s over.”

Mystified, Grammar took the earplugs and was putting them in when she heard, “Hi, Grammar!! How have you been?! Working on this gala together is going to be great!!”

Pushing Grammar toward the meeting room, Sgt. Metaphor nodded sagely, “Eddie Exclamation is on the committee, too.”


Thanks to Roxie for inspiring this week’s entry. 🤗

The Progressive, Perfect, Perfect-Progressive Tense Crime

Simple-Tense-Crime

Grammar Smith and her team met Monday morning for a status report on an assault case reported Sunday night by Simple Verb Tense.

“Where do we stand?” Grammar asked.

“Bffnbb argghwng tiddycrmsc.”

What?

Sgt.  Metaphor tried not to snicker.

Dis Connect swallowed the last of his doughnut. “Biff and Bob are going to the crime scene to collect evidence.”

“So they’re on their way?” Grammar asked.

“No, they haven’t left yet.”

“But you used the progressive tense which means they are in the process of going.”

“They haven’t left yet.”

“Then just use the simple future: will go.”

Grammar always had gotten grumpy when people misused verb tenses. Today was no exception.

“Okay, let’s move on. What do we know about the assault?”

“The victim had been reporting the assault last night.”

“Did something happen?” Grammar was confused.

“When?”

“When the victim reported the crime.”

“Like what?”

“Good grief, Dis! You used the past perfect progressive which means something else happened. What was it?”

“Nothing.”

“Then just use the simple past: reported. How can you, a police officer, be so inaccurate in your verb tenses. Get the time right from now on.”

Dis was crushed. He thought he was being precise.

Inspector Nigel Honour, on loan from Scotland Yard’s Grammar Centre, put his arm around the shoulders of the disheartened detective.

“Don’t worry too much, old chap. Lots of people get their tenses mixed up. Here, use this.” Nigel handed Dis a chart. “The only difference is, we Brits use ‘continuous’ for the ‘progressive’ you Yanks use.”

Dis brightened up considerably. “Gee, thanks, Nigel. You’re a real pal.”