This is a tough era for readers who care about grammar. I try to tread a fair line between absolute purist (“bad grammar is something up with which I will not put”) and 21st-century slacker (“me and her went to the mall instead of diagramming sentences yesterday”). And I’ll confess that age has softened me somewhat; there’s only so much flailing against the tide of widely accepted modern usage a person can do before starting to feel like a Victorian schoolmarm.
I don’t think it is too much to ask for copyeditors to be the last bastion of correct usage. When I come across “shrunk” and “drunk” being used as simple past tense, I don’t expect copyeditors to necessarily know that they are past participles, but I expect them to know how they should be used.
As the good people at Grammarist.com explain so simply:
Sank vs. sunk
Sank is the past tense (e.g., the ship sank to the bottom of the sea). Sunk is the past participle, so it’s used in the perfect tenses (e.g., the ship has sunk to the bottom of the sea) and as an adjective (the sunk ship is at the bottom of the sea).
“Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” is ear-gratingly wrong, as is “He sunk to the bottom of the sea.” The latter is actual text (altered to disguise its origin) drawn from a September 2014 nonfiction picture book that has received at least two starred reviews, and will be used in countless classrooms fulfilling Common Core requirements. How can this clear and obvious a mistake make it through to the final book?
Editors, I am mostly okay with vernacular speech in novels. I understand that authors are trying to sound like real people, and lots of real people are casual about grammar. I will say, though, that I personally know lots of children who do use grammar correctly and wouldn’t, say, start a sentence with “me and her.” Bad grammar begets worse grammar. No wonder people are losing any sense of what the actual rules are.
But you lose me altogether when bad grammar slips past the gatekeepers of nonfiction, books we hold to a higher standard, books that are used by teachers (who themselves are confused about the rules of grammar these days). Lately, I’ve come across many fundamental grammatical mistakes in books. I can’t bring myself to order a book for the store when there are glaring grammatical errors in it, especially when it’s a nonfiction title. If the author and editors were lazy about basic grammar, what else in the book might they have gotten wrong?
Am I just being a curmudgeon? Or are there others out there who feel that grammar matters, that correct usage is graceful, and that there’s a difference between knowing correct usage and therefore making a deliberate vernacular choice, and simply not knowing what’s incorrect.
I know I sometimes ignore or have forgotten more grammar and usage rules than I ever knew,* and purists likely can point to all kinds of infelicities in my writing, perhaps in this very post. But books have editors and copyeditors, and as long as we haven’t thrown out the very hope for correct grammar in our children, let’s make a game effort on their behalf.
*I often like to deliberately split infinitives. (See what I did?)