Good grammar is best used to serve others

Teaching Your Child

Teaching Your Child


"Was we out of cereal?"

"Don't know. Might as well get some."

"What kind you want?"

"How about this one?"

It was a typical conversation in the cereal aisle. The man and woman decided on a box and put it in their cart.

I momentarily forgot what kind of cereal I was seeking while standing there thinking about their ungrammatical exchange.

Communication was shared between two people who obviously care about each other. They each were considering the other's preference.

We've all overheard conversations in public places that aren't so considerate. Perhaps all the verbs and subjects agreed but the people were anything but agreeable.


When I'm teaching English, I don't want students to be afraid of making mistakes. We look at usage in a matter-of-fact way and help each other remember what's right.

After all, the study of grammar should empower us to be better communicators. We never should use our knowledge to make others feel inferior. To the contrary, we should apply what we know in order to serve others.

Lately in class we've been reviewing several words that are commonly confused. Take "there," "their" and "they're" for instance.

It's easy for children to forget which one to use in their writing, so it helps to have some clues that they can learn.

"There" is used to tell where something is. There and where have the same ending.

Where is my book? My book is there.

"Their" is used to show ownership. It is always followed by a noun and shows that something belongs to someone.

We will ride our bikes to their driveway."They're" is a contraction for "they are." The apostrophe is written in place of the "a." To check this one, the words "they are" can be substituted in the sentence.

They're coming to the party also would be correct as They are coming to the party.

Sometimes people form words that are just slightly different from what is correct.

Take for instance, "hisself," which is not a proper English word. Yet it is only one letter off of the correct word, "himself," as in John ate all the pizza by himself.

Or, consider "theirselves," which also is not a proper word. It's very close to the correct word, "themselves."

The children saw themselves in the mirror.

Another commonly confused duo is "its" and "it's."

"Its" is used to show that something belongs to an object. "Its" also can be used with an animal if we don't know whether the animal is male or female.

The book fell from its shelf.

The dog wagged its tail.

"It's" is a contraction for "it is." The apostrophe is written in place of the second "i."

To check this one, the words "it is" can be substituted in the sentence.

It's a beautiful day also can be said It is a beautiful day.

This is a tough one to remember because we associate the apostrophe-"s" - 's - with possessives, showing ownership: Sally's car, Michael's book.

Inserting "it is" in place of the contraction can provide a comical look at the potential mistake.

For instance, we wouldn't say The dog wagged it is tail or The book fell from it is shelf.

Grammar and usage, after all, can be fun. Especially in the cereal aisle, where the choices themselves are endless.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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