Dear Mortals: Welcome to my new column. I am your Grammar God, and am the infinite arbiter of proper usage. Enjoy.
Dear Grammar God: If you’re doing a clothing drive, is it “our efforts,” or “our effort”?
While both are technically correct, I will be persnickety on this one, and I do change stuff like this when copy editing.
There is ONE clothing drive, thus EFFORT is the better choice.
Example: “We finished our clothing drive, and our EFFORT brought in over 100 garments.”
Example 2: “We conducted a clothing drive and a canned food drive, and our EFFORTS brought in over 100 garments and 500 cans of food.”
You see, in that example, there are TWO or more events going on. Thus plural.
My philosophy on this also comes from my years of editing for periodicals, where even cutting one letter may help layout.
Dear Grammar God: Should one use “he” or “she” for the generic third-person pronoun? Or s/he or both?
I’ve shifted positions on this one over the years. I personally prefer “he or she” when the gender is unknown. For example, “If a student is going to the cotillion, HE OR SHE must purchase a ticket in advance.” Though, some make the argument that “he or she” is too clumsy, and “s/he” looks too dispassionate; and others argue that there are more than two genders. So, and this hurts my ears if I read it out loud, but I no longer will take offense at using the plural “they” or “their” to refer to a gender-unknown single person. For example, “Each person grabbed THEIR jacket and quickly departed.” Now, please. I need to take a deep breath to recover from allowing the use of a plural pronoun to refer to a singular person!
Dear Grammar God: Why is “it’s” not the possessive form?
On Internet message boards and in social media posts, this is one of the most common mistakes I see, along with “you’re/your.” Let me address both. The possessive form for “it” is ITS. For example, “The grenade has ITS pin in place.” “It’s” is a contraction for “it is.” For example, “It’s Monday!” I know this is counter-intuitive. “You’re” on the other hand is “you are” while “your” is not a contraction. Here’s an example that uses both correctly: “YOU’RE not coming to YOUR son’s game?” Now, let me try to use all four words as concisely as possible in one example: “IT’S not YOUR dog, unless YOU’RE ITS owner.” You see what I did there?
The Grammar God has edited for years, taught Freshman Composition and scored in the 99th percentile on an editing test. Yes, he’s that good. Send him questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.