Questions for a Professional Grammarian: Elizabeth O’Brien
Elizabeth O’Brien has been a grammarian for more than 10 years, for the last 4 years she has been running the Grammar Revolution website, promoting sentence diagramming and “Grammar the Easy Way.” She and her husband, David, recently raised almost $25,000 for their “Grammar Revolution” film, a documentary that they plan to complete by the end of the year.
How did you get from grammar teacher to grammar revolutionary, Elizabeth?
From 2004 to 2008, I taught at a private school that had a strong grammar curriculum. The school used sentence diagramming, an old-fashioned method my students and I enjoyed. I wished that my childhood teachers had used it with me; I wondered why they hadn't and why I had always been confused by their grammar lessons. Then I realized that the two were related. I didn't understand grammar because I wasn't ever taught it. The few lessons that I did get were confusing because they were haphazard and sporadic. I decided to start a website devoted to providing teachers and students with valuable grammar instruction materials. It's now my full-time job, and I love it!
Yes, we’re both proponents of sentence diagramming (a lost art!), which is how I discovered your Grammar Revolution website and materials. How has diagramming changed your approach to teaching grammar?
Diagramming is what finally enabled me to see how sentences work and why grammar is valuable to understand. Also, diagramming is basically a word game, so it makes grammar fun.
What do you find satisfying about teaching grammar?
It feels great to understand how words work. Language is a fundamental and personal subject, so an understanding of it brings confidence and a sense of awe. It's satisfying to help people grasp powerful truths.
What grammar-specific resources would you recommend?
There are many great resources out there. I often use Grammar Girl's website for usage questions.
What fortune-cookie-sized grammar advice would you give editors?
Training the mind trains the ear.
Have you had any recent adventures in grammar you’d like to relate?
Writing and speaking about the subject of grammar is an adventure. Someone will always try to catch you doing something wrong. For example, I recently heard from someone who was disappointed to find that I occasionally commit the “crime” of ending sentences with prepositions. The wide variety of opinions on grammar is fascinating.
Grammar aficionados seem to have a number of names for themselves: grammar nazi, grammar police, grammar guru, etc. What’s your go-to moniker and why do you prefer it?
I call myself a "grammar lover" because it's fresh and positive. It's also the best description of me and my approach!
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