So You Think You Know Grammar? (Are you smarter than 116 editors and writers?)
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Just when I was beginning to think that good writing was going to hell in a 140-character Tweet, an argument about apple trees has renewed my faith in the future of the English language.
Here’s what happened: I wrote an article in which I penned this sentence:
“Two hundred varieties of apple trees grow on this fifth-generation family farm.”
My editor changed the sentence thusly:
“Two hundred varieties of apple tree grow on this fifth-generation family farm.”
I demurred. “It’s ‘trees,'” I insisted. She stood firm. We each had our good grammatical reasons. She’s the boss. But I secretly knew I was right. Right?
So I turned to LinkedEds and Writers, a LinkedIn group to which I belong, along with 53,777 other language lovers. I figured that surely these folks would know the answer and could also point to the definitive rule stating why the word should be “trees. Or “tree.” But probably “trees.” Unless it’s “tree.”
I expected one or two pedantic professors to come forth, providing the correct answer and thus decisively ending the debate between my editor and me. Within a few days, 116 grammar gurus chimed in, each vigorously arguing the point. People wrote about countable nouns, the genus apple tree, horticultural terms, British vs. American English, and ultimately “whatever sounds best.” Five days later, and the spirited debate shows no hint of cooling off.
So far, opinions are about equally divided between “trees” and “tree” — but no one has been able to name an actual, authoritative grammatical rule. So I’m back to where I started.
But I’m just delighted that so many people care about getting the words right.
Maryann Hammers, owner of Writing • Editing • Solutions, is an award-winning writer, editor, and writing instructor. She has more than 20 years of professional, published experience for major magazines, newspapers, websites, small and large businesses, nonprofit organizations, associations, and universities.