The Treachery of Grammar


The cold, disapproving stare of a wrinkly English professor. The red circles and underlines on your paper. Scathing criticisms spread across each page: “run-on sentence,” “awkward,” “HUH???”

Welcome to the NFL, rookie.

See, I never had to write essays in homeschool. I had papers to write that were LIKE essays, but they’re weren’t essays. No five-sentences-a-paragraph, no five-paragraphs-page. No MLA formatting or citation guidelines. Learning how to write a “proper” essay in college was an uphill battle.

However, even after taking two English classes, there’s still some grammar mistakes that bug me. Whether it’s because I always make them or because they just don’t make sense, these mistakes make me double-take every time I write.

Parenthesis at the end of a sentence

This one bugs me. I’ve had it drilled into my head that closing punctuation goes inside the quotation marks. Like so:

Peter fell to his knees and said, “John, I was the Shetland pony all along.”

However, things get weird when you introduce parentheses. Look at this:

Peter flipped through the dusty pages of the Equinominicon (he hoped it wouldn’t say he was the Shetland pony all along).

The period goes OUTSIDE the punctuation mark? Huh? Believe it or not, both examples are the correct format. I’m still unclear on the rules for closing question marks and other odd punctuation, but I assume they’re the same.

“A” an’ “an”

This one SOUNDS simple enough, right? You put “a” before words that start with consonants, but switch it was “an” for words that start with vowels. Easy to memorize.

BUT NO. Behold, the Treachery of Grammar:

In a different part of the world, an M.I.T graduate also realized he was a Shetland pony all along.

Apparently, this is correct because you don’t apply “a” or “an” based on vowels or consonants, you apply them based on whether the first letter of the word after them SOUNDS like a vowel or a consonant. I’m terrible with pronunciation, so this is a confusing rule.


Before you write the word “ironic,” you should seriously consider using a different word. Irony has a very specific that most people do not understand. It can be humorous. It can be tragic. However, it cannot be anything you want it to be.

Irony is when the opposite of what is expected occurs. For example, this would be ironic:

Peter thought, by reading the Equinonomicon, he could prevent himself from becoming a Shetland pony. Instead, reading the Equinomonicon turned him into a Shetland pony.

This would not be ironic:

Peter thought, by reading the Equinonomicon, he could prevent himself from becoming a Shetland pony. However, as he neared the book, a wild Shetland pony grabbed it with its slobbery lips and ran off into the night.

Irony is not a 20-something nerd wearing a Three Wolf Moon shirt. It is a reversal of expectations and results. While it’s not specifically a grammar mistake, it’s used incorrectly enough to warrant a place on a list of frustratingly-easy-to-make screw-ups.

Of course, these are just a handful of the tragic English errors you’re guaranteed to make as a homeschooler transitioning into college. Don’t worry, though: it gets easier over time. In a year or so from graduation, you’ll be writing dark fantasy equine fiction like a pro. This is the Homeschool Survivor, signing off. Tune in next week for more college-related rants!


The Homeschool Survivor is a self-proclaimed “real nerd” who considers leaving his USB drive at home a national emergency. He was homeschooled for most of his life and loved it (to the extent one can “love” school).

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

2 Responses to The Treachery of Grammar

  1. The other day we were driving along and my son had a point to make. He started the conversation with “Mom, you’re a grammar Nazi, right?”

  2. tiallarising says:

    Don’t forget the APA or Chicago style citations, with the NB or Author-Date styles comprising the Chicago style. 😉 English is pretty hard to get down…. I’m kind of surprised you didn’t have to write essays in homeschool! I’m sure that made it extremely difficult when you suddenly were expected to write them in college. Great post, though! This gives me ideas for my post next week. 😉


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