Category Archives: Stylistic Issues

AGTV: Talking Tenses

This is a really great grammar question that I received from reader Linda.  Here it is:

Hello, Kate,

My friend and I disagree over the use of “went” in the following excerpt. The speaker is talking to a person in Milwaukee.

“So, I was hoping that, if you had the time and were willing, you would show me around the city if I went back there for a few days? Or is that a lot to ask? I know I would be in good company,” he added hastily.

To my ear, it sounds better to say “if I came back there for a few days,” since the person he’s talking to is already there. Is one or the other correct? Or does it matter?



When I read this, I thought back to high school French class.  Whenever we worked on our “si clauses” (the grammar to use with “if, then” statements), they would always say, “Paris, France Is Cool.”

If Present, then Future.

If Imperfect, then Conditional.

If she does meth, then she will scratch her face away.

If she did meth, then she would scratch her face away.

(And you wonder where they get the expression “methface.”)

Oh, man.  I just reread the question and I’m realizing that what I just wrote was completely irrelevant.  I thought this was going to be about “if, then” statements.  Okay.  Apologies.  I’m going to leave it up, because I think it’s good grammar material.

Both the words came and went are the past forms of the verb.  Because of that, I think either word could be used.  I’m assuming that the character originally came from that city.  You could also use returned if the character is originally from there.

It doesn’t matter where the person to whom the character is speaking is currently located.  You could come or you could go.  It’s up to you.  However, because you’re using the word back, I think that the word went sounds better than came.  If he originally came from the area, you could also use returned and drop the word back.

So, I was hoping that, if you had the time and were willing, you would show me around the city if I returned there for a few days?


Thanks, Linda — and thanks especially for using the comma after the word Hello!  I love to see that!


The Soup’s take on How She Move

Reader Lisa sent me this awesome video of The Soup‘s interpretation of the film How She Move:

Love it!

In other news, I bought a new camera today — the Olympus FE-280, which I enjoyed immensely before losing it on New Year’s Eve — and will be trying it out at the Spice Girls concert tomorrow night!  🙂 That means that there will be plenty of new pictures of local errors and grammar vandalism!

Thanks, Lisa.

Is this even legal?

Earlier today, I was reading one of my favorite blogs, I Don’t Like You In That Way, and I came across a curiously worded ad for an adult DVD rental service.

Read it closely:


Really?  This was recommended by Oprah magazine?

Well, technically it’s O: The Oprah Magazine.

There’s no way that an ad for this appeared in O.  If it had, we would have heard about it now, with Oprah sending her Mafioso henchmen after the perpetrator.

I’m no legal expert, but are any of you?  Do any of you know if it’s legal for this ad to say it was endorsed by Oprah?  Or does it mean nothing because the magazine, though clearly implied, was technically correct?

Heh.  I know this isn’t exactly grammar, but it’s along the lines of something I think you’d like.

And, just because it made me crack up when I saw it:


ATGV: Defining fruits (and many other things)

I received the following email late last night and thought that it would make a great discussion:

Kate: Could you please enlighten us language teachers about the following sentences- which is/ are correct usage? And why?
1. My favorite fruit is apples.
2. My favorite fruit is an apple
3. My favorite fruit is the apple.
4. My favorite fruit is apple.
I tend to think 1, 3 and 4 are correct. What do you think?
Thanks for your help,
E Trottier

What a great question!  Ordinarily, I would go to look it up in my books and online, but I have no idea even where to start.

If you’ve read the Globe feature on me, you know that I mostly go by instinct.  In this situation, I think that 1 and 3 are correct.  The second option would be correct if you were referring to your one favorite piece of fruit in the world.  (My favorite fruit is an apple that came from a farm in the Berkshires, and it had a red and green swirl on it that kind of looked like Drew Carey when you squinted really hard at it.)

What do you think?


Slightly Unnerving

Ignore the fact that Heather Mills is insane. Focus on the text in these Viva ads.

I know that these are British, and there are different rules and styles in British and American grammar, but both of these don’t look quite right to me.

I’m not saying that these are outright wrong; I’m just saying that something doesn’t seem to be quite right.

Take a look.

What do you think?

On Texting

I’d like to start a discussion.

How grammatically accurate are you when you send text messages? How closely do you pay attention to your spelling?

If you’re running late or pressed for time, does you become u and your become ur? Do you skip the apostrophes? Do you ever drop punctuation completely?

Vertical Lettering

I’m having trouble posting pictures tonight, so I’m going to post about something I was thinking about yesterday.

I was walking down Union Park Street in the South End of Boston (better known as my dream address) and came across Aunt Sadie’s, a lovely little gift shop.

The sign had the letters listed vertically:



There was no apostrophe on the sign, though the apostrophe was used on every other occurence of the store’s name.

That got me thinking. How would it be appropriate to include an apostrophe on a vertical sign like this? I wonder if anyone has ever thought about this before.

There are three options:

  1. Use no apostrophe
  2. Put the apostrophe above the S and below the E
  3. Add the apostrophe to the right of the E

#2 sounds like it would make it look worse, and to strict grammarians, #1 is worst of all.

I think that #3 would be the way to go. If it were me, however, I would have made it a bit different than the other letters — maybe I’d make it a different font; maybe I’d put it at an angle. That’s just what I’d do for aesthetic reasons.

What do you think?