Declining Grammar Skills Are No LOL Matter

Most people would agree there’s no shortage of problems with the Internet, social media and all the technology that’s associated with them – viruses, scams, pornography, phishing, cyberbullying, identity theft – we could go on all day. Now there’s another evil to worry about: declining grammar skills among teenagers.

If that doesn’t sound nearly as dangerous as some of the previously mentioned issues, consider the fact that, unlike most adults who have already acquired a good writing foundation before they start texting or using e-mails, teenagers are still learning the fundamentals of how to write properly.

The problem starts with a whole new language called “techspeak” that’s been created using a variety of abbreviations, acronyms and emoticons in place of traditional words and phrases. That’s all fine within the context of e-mails, text messages and social media, but now it’s starting to spread to students’ essays and exams, a troublesome sign that the barrier between our actual language and techspeak is already starting to disappear.

In the new language, entire words are turned into letters, numbers or combinations of both (e.g., “are” becomes ‘r”, “to” turns into “2” and “great” morphs into “gr8”). On top of that, a dictionary’s worth of abbreviations have been created, including the popular “LOL” (laughing out loud), “TMI” (too much information) and “OMG” (oh my god). Hyper-savvy kids have hundreds of these at their fingertips, including ones like “POS” (parents over shoulder), which alerts teens who are sending messages about the presence of adults lurking near the recipients.

The problem is especially critical among teenagers, an age group where students are in the midst of learning proper grammar use and starting to compose more formal papers and write more involved exams. In a recent study, noted by, it was discovered that students who use techspeak frequently have difficulty switching to proper grammar when it’s needed. That’s very troublesome.

Not only are 13-17 year olds more than twice as likely to send text messages than any other age group, they’re also inclined to respond in the same way their friends send them messages. In the study, 64% of teens admitted to using techspeak in their writing assignments and 38% say they’ve used abbreviations like “LOL” in their papers.

The study concluded, “A decline in grammatical skills is attributed to the use of techspeak in most daily communications.” In particular, teens are more prone to making punctuation errors, using sentence fragments, inserting emoticons (such as ❤ for heart), misusing apostrophes and using inappropriate abbreviations.

Still, you may be asking yourself, what does it all matter? Does anyone care if students can’t spell or write properly or compose complete sentences? Yes, they do, especially post-secondary institutions that frequently ask students to submit written material as part of their entrance requirements. An article in The Globe and Mail said recently that texting is actually killing students’ grammar skills, not just harming them. Students themselves realize there’s an issue, with 86% saying that proper writing skills are essential for success in life.

But, how can you solve a problem that’s so widespread? Kids aren’t going to give up sending texts and they’re certainly not going to stop using techspeak and risk looking uncool to their friends. On top of that, e-mails and text messages have an inherent problem, in that they often don’t communicate someone’s mood or tone, something that is often solved by using “LOL” or a similar interjection. Without these abbreviations, a “conversation” can run seriously off-track and lead to major complications – friends breaking up, couples splitting, etc. – all because someone got the wrong impression from a text message.

In the end, parents and teachers have to make students aware that there are two languages and that the real one, not its techspeak counterpart, should always be the default when it comes to doing schoolwork, applying for a job or completing any other task that operates outside the realm of cyberspace or text messaging amongst their peers.

Years and years ago, the common belief was that proper spelling and grammar would gradually become a thing of the past. Although language has continued to evolve over the last two thousand years, that prediction has never become a reality. You can LOL all you want, but proper writing is here to stay.

Don’t Be Scared of Homophones! Part 2: “there” versus “their” versus “they’re”

Those nasty homophones. Why do they torment us so with their soundalike-ness when they’re all spelled differently? And why can’t we ever remember the right one to use?

If you joined us for Part 1 – the death match battle between “it’s” and “its,” welcome back.

We’ve got the big granddaddy of them all today – the epic three-way struggle that continues to confound people around the globe. Yep, that’s right, we’re talking about that tri-nasty head scratcher: there, their and they’re.

Let’s get started, shall we?

Probably the easiest way to begin is by separating the odd man out, which is “they’re.” Like “it’s,” this is a contraction, so if you can replace it in a sentence with its uncontracted version, “they are,” you’re using the right one.

Example – “They’re flying to Mars to pick up groceries” can be replaced by “They are flying to Mars to pick up groceries,” so we’ve used the right one!

As far as “their/there,” think of “there” being related to place and remember that it contains the word “here.” Once you do that, you’ll know which one to use.

Example – If you’re writing, “Put the book over there,” replace the last word with, “here” and, obviously, “there” is the correct choice.

On the other hand, “their” also contains its own word: “heir.” An heir is someone who will, eventually, own something through inheritance. Similarly, “their” also implies ownership, as in “their monkey sandwich.” So, if you’re referring to something that someone owns, use the one that has the word “heir” in it.

Hope that helped you sort out these three troublesome bad boys.

Which homophones do you have the most problems with? Let me know and, in future posts, I’ll try to come up with some easy ways to help you remember the right ones to use. Or maybe you have an easy way of remembering some tricky homophones yourself? I hope you’ll share them with my readers and me – we could all use the help!

Don’t Be Scared of Homophones! Part 1: “it’s” versus “its”

What are homophones – and why do people have so many problems with them?

If you’ve forgotten all those lessons Mrs. Whackruler taught you back in Grade 5 grammar class, I’m here to simplify your life. Homophones are just the fancy schmancy name for words that sound the same but have a different meaning and/or spelling (it’s/its, they’re/their/there, etc.).

Maybe you’re someone who never has a problem deciding which homophone to use. If that’s true, you must be in the minority, because I see these darned things spelled incorrectly almost every day.

Or maybe spelling isn’t really a big deal in your life, especially if most of your conversations involve versions of “lol” and “wtf.” That’s cool.

However, if you’re someone who’d prefer to get the spelling right (writing a blog, sending an important email, creating a 50 foot billboard that’s going to be seen by a million people), I’m going to help make your life a little easier with some easy ways to remember the trickiest, most-often confused homophones.

First up, the ever-popular “its” and “it’s.”

This one is dead simple. “It’s” is a contraction of “it is.” That’s the only time you use it. If you can’t replace “it’s” with “it is,” you’re using the wrong one.

For example, “The dog scratched its fleas,” cannot be replaced with “The dog scratched it is fleas,” so there’s no apostrophe.

If you’re not using the contracted version, you want to use “its” in every other situation. That’s all there is to it.

“It’s” versus “its” – It’s a no-brainer that its use is ever a problem!

Which homophones do you have the most problems with? Let me know and, in future posts, I’ll try to come up with some easy ways to help you remember the right ones to use. Or maybe you have a simple memory trick to remember some tricky homophones yourself? I hope you’ll share them with my readers and me – we could all use the help!