Professional Failings: a Grammatology


Here is the first paragraph of an email that I just received from the Association of Educational Therapists, a group of people who work with kids with learning disabilities outside of schools:

AB 2514, which has been introduced by Ms. Daucher, is the result of heavy lobbying by school districts to prohibit parents from getting attorneys fees in special education matters unless and until they proceed through a hearing -- and what will happen is the Districts will offer all of the substantive things the family wants and there won't be any basis for a hearing -- so the attorney fees will be the responsibility of the family, and a family has to be quite wealthy to be able to pay for the time now involved in handling these cases. We need to stop AB 2514 as soon as possible. Please, do everything you can and make sure that organizations of parents of children with disabilities with whom you might be associated makes it clear that they oppose this bill.

As you no doubt noticed, this was extremely poorly written for professional communication. I may make my share of errors, but not so many as this.

  1. First of all, the clause “which has been introduced by Ms. Daucher” is a) unnecessary (who is she anyway?) b) in the passive voice and c) is in the past perfect tense when the simple past would do, creating wordiness.
  2. The first portion of the first sentence is also in passive voice.
  3. “Getting” should be “being awarded.”
  4. “Attorneys” should have an apostrophe at the end, since the fees belong to the attorneys.
  5. There is no need for “unless and until” since the word “through” implies finishing.
  6. The entire phrase contained between the emdashes should be a separate sentence, as should the following two clauses beginning with ‘so’ and ‘and.’ That is to say that the first sentence is a run-on composed of four separate sentences connected by unnecessary punctuation and three coordinating conjunctions.
  7. The word choice in that phrase begins with the colloquial “what will happen is” and ends with the informal “won’t.”
  8. The word “Districts” should not be capitalized.
  9. The word “things” should be avoided in formal communication.
  10. The final sentence again uses ‘and,’ this time when it should use ‘to’ (Please do everything you can to make sure…).
  11. There is an unnecessary qualifier in the last line, “might,” since one is either associated with an organization or not.
  12. The repetitive use of 'of' is awkward (organizations of parents of children...)
  13. “Whom” should be “which” since the organization, while containing people, is not itself a person. And lastly…
  14. The subject of the last dependent clause beginning with “that” is “organizations” and therefore, it should take the verb form “make.”

Rewritten professionally, the paragraph should read:

School districts have recently been lobbying for AB 2514, a bill that would prohibit judges? arbitrators? lawyers? districts? from awarding parents attorneys’ fees in special education disputes except as the result of a hearing. If AB 2514 is passed, schools are likely to settle cases by meeting parents’ demands when they realize there is a chance they will lose the hearing. Since most disputes are quite protracted and only rarely proceed to a hearing, parents will be forced to shoulder the financial burden of pursuing a case—a cost most can hardly afford. Please insure that any parent organizations you know vocally oppose AB 2514.

Usually this sort of thing doesn’t bother me. I certainly don’t go around correcting dangling prepositions in my friends’ emails, but this is communication from someone qualified to teach grammar and usage. What’s more, as professional communication, it should be representative of the best that teachers have to offer. This makes us sound like ranting imbeciles. I’m ashamed, and whoever wrote it should be too.



When you first shared this with me, I recalled a similar grammatical error on an email from the almuni association of our alma mater. I think the subject line read "Were coming to you're neighborhood." Even more forgivable considering the popularity of the Little Red Schoolhouse writing course...

In a comment about a grammatically oriented blog post, I managed to write "forgivable" rather than "unforgivable."


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This page contains a single entry by published on April 17, 2006 9:03 AM.

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