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Grammar lessons from Weird Al Yankovic's Word Crimes

Published on Jul 18, 2014 2:07 PM
 

In his new single, Word Crimes, Weird Al Yankovic rants and raves comically about the mutilation of the English language.

So are his lyrics grammatically accurate? We check with Helen Tan, The Straits Times' inhouse grammar guru, for some language advice. The lines in bold are lyrics from the song. 

1. You should know when/It's "less" or it's "fewer"
Question: What are the contexts in which you use "less" or "fewer"?

Answer: Less is used for bulk quantities, time, or uncountable quantities. Example: He asked for less rice.
Fewer for individual items, people, or countable objects. Example: He wanted fewer chairs in the room.

2. "Like I could care less"
Q: Is this colloquial expression actually just nonsense?

A: In order for someone to "care less" about a subject, he must first care about it. "I could care less ... " implies that there is some degree of care.

The correct expression is: "Couldn't care less". It means “it is not possible to have less interest since I am already indifferent”.

3. Say you got a "It"/ Followed by apostrophe, "s"/ Now what does that mean?/ You would not use "it’s" in this case/ As a possessive/ It's a contraction
Q: Can you please help explain the difference between a possessive and a contraction?

A: A possessive word "shows who or what something belongs to". Example: its. The dog bit its own tail.
A contraction is a shortened form of a word or group of words. Example: "it's" is a contraction of "it is". It's raining heavily.

4. Your participle's danglin'
Q: What is a dangling participle and why is it bad?

A: A participle phrase is an adjectival phrase that gives more information about a noun.
A dangling participle is one with a missing subject.

Example: Longing for a drink, the glass of juice looks tempting.
The missing subject is some person 'longing for a drink', not the glass.

5. Always say to whom/ Don't ever say to who
Q: Can you explain the difference between "whom" and "who"?

A: Not so much the difference between "who" and "whom" but you cannot use a preposition, in this case 'to', before 'who'.
Example:
Wrong: To who are you giving the present.
Correct: To whom are you giving the present.
Or, Correct: Who are you giving the present to. ('to' comes after.)

6. just now, you said You "literally couldn't get out of bed" That really makes me want to literally Smack a crowbar upside your stupid head
Q: Why is "literally" an incorrect in the first statement? 

If we take the meaning where 'literally' is used “to distinguish between a figurative and a literal meaning of a phrase. It should not be used as a synonym for ‘actually’ or ‘really'. ”
The first sentence has used it wrongly: You "literally couldn't get out of bed".
"Literally" is used here to mean "really".