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May 21, 2000 - Grammar Lady's New Book - 2002-02-16

INTRO: Wordmasters Avi Arditti and Rosanne Skirble talk with Grammar Lady, who has just published a new book.

AA: It's called "Much Ado About a Lot" -- and, despite the way a lot of people spell it, "a lot" is clearly two words on the cover.

RS: Mary Newton Bruder, the linguist who calls herself "Grammar Lady," made sure about that. After all, she says, you would never spell "a little" as one word.

AA: You might if you weren't as concerned as she is about upholding the traditional rules of grammar. Mary Newton Bruder runs a grammar hotline and the Grammar Lady Web site at

RS: She says the study of grammar has been missing from most American schools for a generation. She's glad to see new interest.

AA: But at the same time she's afraid that schools will go back to the old ways:


" -- the boring diagramming and the kinds of repetitive exercises that nobody really learned from and what made people turn off from grammar in the first place. What I'm looking for is an innovative way to teach grammar as a tool in the context of reading and writing. People don't really have to know grammar, if they are a natural, spontaneous writer or if they read very well. It's only a tool to achieve what you need to do."

RS: "What's it going to take to institute these reforms?"

BRUDER: "I think it's going to take a movement -- well, a movement on the part of the parents for one thing. And a lot of schools, I think, are rethinking their policies. I get calls from teachers and educators at least on a weekly basis (asking): `What can we do to do this?' I just got a call this afternoon to talk to a teachers group next October, so people are thinking ahead about it, at least."

RS: "How can you make language and grammar fun? In your book you do it."

AA: "Are there models out there right now that you can point to?"

BRUDER: "Actually I don't know of any models, because grammar has been left out of school for so long, but I know of teachers who are able to bring grammar into the classroom by way of reading. For example, if they pick a good book that the children are really involved in and like to read, and then they talk about the use of grammar within the framework of the story. So here we are, the characters are talking in the present tense - what does this tell us? And here this character is using the past tense. Where is the verb that tells us that? And so they use something that has really excited the children, to get to the matter of grammar that holds the story together. It helps them understand how the grammar of the story works in telling the story."

RS: "And perhaps they can model from that [in their own writing]."

BRUDER: "Right."

AA: So where does Grammar Lady think Americans could use the most help when it comes to improving their grammar?


BRUDER: "Well, the pronouns, that people shouldn't say `Give the book to John and I,' for example; `give the book to John and me.' And the other one that young people do all the time is `Me and Suzy are going to the show.' That particular lesson on the pronouns is very important. `Suzy and I are going to the show.' Or the other thing they do is substitute `myself': `Give the book to John and myself' or `If you have any further questions, contact John or myself.' And that's just as wrong as saying `John or I.'"

AA: "You state in your book that you're on somewhat of a mission to re-inject rules of traditional grammar into American society, so where would you start?"

BRUDER: "I would start in the first grade, I think. And I would also start with the sports announcers, who say things like `the National Anthem will be sang by Cher.' Those kinds of things. The sports announcers have done more damage to young people's ears in terms of grammar, I think, than almost anybody else." .

RS: Mary Newton Bruder, author of "Much Ado About a Lot: How to Mind Your Manners in Print and in Person." And, if you'd like to know more about the book, you can check out the Grammar Lady Web site. That address once again is

AA: Grammar Lady spoke to us from the studios of WQED radio in Pittsburgh. She will be back with us next month. That's all for Wordmaster this week. With Rosanne Skirble, I'm Avi Arditti.

MUSIC: "Me and You and a Dog Named Boo"/Lobo