December 24, 2014

Another Day, Another Worthless Grammar Quiz

Yesterday I did something I regret: I clicked on and took one of those stupid quizzes that go around Facebook. It’s called How good is your grammar? and I clicked on it not to find out how good my grammar is, but because I wanted to know what the test-maker thought good grammar was.

I started seeing problems with the test right away, including questions that had two or three right answers or no right answers, and no matter what I did, I couldn’t score higher than 13, a score which provided me this questionable feedback:

You’ve definitely got our respect! 13 out of 15 is a really, really impressive score. Your grammar skills are so good, you’re probably the person that picks your friends up on their mistakes, right? We’ll happily admit that this test was pretty hard and we’re pretty sure that you’re friends can’t do better – why not test them and find out?

“Picks your friends up on their mistakes”? I get what they mean, but I’ve never heard that expression before. And “We’ll happily admit that this test was pretty hard and we’re pretty sure that you’re friends can’t do better”? That compound sentence needs a comma before “and”, and more importantly, it should be “your friends”, not “you’re friends”.

The most frustrating part is that this quiz doesn’t provide a key or any question-specific feedback, so it’s impossible to tell what you’ve gotten wrong. I had to ask someone who managed to get 15 what his answers were, and the correct answers were pretty eyebrow-raising. To make matters worse, they seem to have changed since I took it yesterday. (Edited to add: As several people have pointed out, the answers seem to be right now, but some people are still reporting that they’re getting different scores every time even though they’re giving the same answers. Some are also reporting that they’re getting a score of 15 even when they deliberately answer ever question wrong, so it could be that the scoring is just random and the whole thing is a scam.) I’ll go through it question by question, highlighting the correct answer according to the quiz (at the time I took it) and explaining why it is or isn’t right.

  1. Let’s start quite easy: which of these sentences is grammatically correct?
    • There are seven girls in her class.
    • There’s seven girls in her class.
    • They’re seven girls in her class.

This one is fairly straightforward. Though there’s with a plural subject is quite common and is found even in edited writing, strict grammatical agreement requires there are. However, they’re seven girls is grammatical too, though with a very different meaning. Imagine that you were talking about seven different girls, and someone asked you who they were. You might respond, “They’re seven girls in her class.” It’s an unlikely conversation, but in that sense it’s not ungrammatical.

  1. Which of these is right?
    • The woman that works here
    • The woman who works here
    • The woman which works here

Many traditionalists insist that only who can be used to refer to people, but this isn’t true. That can also be used with people, as I’ve explained here and elsewhere. It has been in use since the days of Old English, over a thousand years ago, and great writers have been using it ever since. Even Bryan Garner, who is quite conservative in many regards, says it’s okay.

  1. What’s the subject in this sentence? ‘Today I went to the park’.
    • I
    • Today
    • Park

This is where things really start to get idiotic. The correct answer, according to the quiz, is park. In reality, the subject of the sentence is I. Park is the object of the preposition to.

  1. Should it be ‘there’, ‘they’re’ or ‘their’?
    • The students thought there homework was hard
    • The students thought their homework was hard
    • The students thought they’re homework was hard

This one’s easy: the correct answer is actually what the quiz says. (Though when I first took it, the options all had a superfluous comma after students. They’ve since been removed.)

  1. What’s a pronoun?
    • A word that stands in the place of a noun.
    • A ‘being’ word.
    • A particularly impressive noun.

It was at this point that I started wondering if the author of the quiz was just an idiot or if they were actually trolling everyone. A pronoun is not a particularly impressive noun; it’s a word that stands in the place of a noun or noun phrase.

  1. Which is right?
    • She could have done that.
    • She could of done that.
    • She could off done that.

Again, this one’s easy, and the quiz actually gets it right. Could’ve sounds just like could of, so people often incorrectly write the latter. (But no one writes could off. I don’t know why that’s even an option.

  1. Now they get a little bit trickier: Which is right?
    • If I was you, I would…
    • If I am you, I would…
    • If I were you, I would…

This is another oversimplification. Traditionally, were is used with counterfactual statements, but was has been used for centuries and appears in edited prose. (I once saw an example in Old English, which shows that this rule has been waning for over a millennium.)

  1. Which of these adjectives is a superlative?
    • Happy
    • Happier
    • Happiest

This one is right. Happy is a positive adjective, and happier is a comparative adjective.

  1. What’s the object in this sentence? ‘Yesterday she hated me’
    • Yesterday
    • She
    • There is no object in this sentence
    • Me

Wrong, wrong, wrong. The object is me.

  1. Which is right?
    • The boy to whom she gave the toy was called Matt.
    • The boy, who she gave the toy to, was called Matt.
    • The boy whom she gave the toy was called Matt.

Actually, all of them could be right depending on context and register. I don’t know why the second option has commas around the relative clause, but they’re not necessarily wrong. They could be correct if the clause is nonrestrictive, but it’s impossible to tell without more context.

The second option is informal, but it’s hard to call it wrong since that’s how pretty much every native English speaker would say it. Whom is on the decline, and there’s nothing wrong with preposition stranding, though it’s sometimes avoided in more formal speech and writing.

The other options are both correct. You can say either She gave him the toy or She gave the toy to him. The first has him as an indirect verbal object, while the second has it as an oblique (prepositional) object. You can make a relative clause out of either one, yielding either whom she gave the toy or to whom she gave the toy.

  1. And now for the really difficult ones: Which is grammatically correct?
    • There were fewer people in the shop today.
    • There were less people in the shop today.
    • Both are right.

Many people frown on less with count nouns, but there’s nothing technically wrong with it. Like so many grammar rules, this is an eighteenth-century invention. Fewer is the safer choice in formal speech or writing, though.

  1. How are you supposed to use apostrophes correctly? Which is right?
    • The ice-cream parlor was called Joes Ice’s
    • The ice cream parlor was called Joe’s Ices
    • The ice-cream parlor was called Joes Ices

Correct. Again, though, don’t ask me why two options have a hyphen while the other doesn’t.

  1. How about in this one?
    • Its going to be cold tomorrow.
    • It’s going to be cold tomorrow.
    • It going to be cold tomorrow.

Correct. Many people confuse it’s and its, but in this case you want the contraction. (I don’t know if anyone would actually say or write it going to be cold tomorrow.)

  1. A comma, colon or semi-colon? Which is right?
    • He wasn’t very hungry; he had already eaten earlier that day.
    • He wasn’t very hungry, he had already eaten earlier that day.
    • He wasn’t very hungry: he had already eaten earlier that day.

This one’s arguable. A semicolon might be preferred, but a colon wouldn’t technically be wrong since the second clause is elaborating on the first. The second option contains the error commonly known as a comma splice or run-on sentence.

  1. In the pluperfect tense, what is the second person form of the verb ‘to go’?
    • You have gone
    • You had gone
    • You went

Wrong again. Have gone is the present perfect; had gone is the pluperfect, also known as the past perfect. Also, when I first took the quiz, it asked for the third-person form, but you is the second person. This has since been fixed.

The strange thing is that I can’t figure out the scoring of the quiz, especially since it gives no feedback. I answered all the questions correctly—according to what’s actually traditionally correct—and yet I scored 13, even though I should have scored 11 because four of the supposedly correct answers are wrong. Either something is buggy with the quiz, or the author has been revising the answers and sometimes introducing errors. Either way, the quiz is absolute garbage and shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Oh, and to cap things off, the author of the quiz obviously has no idea what linguists actually do. This is the feedback if you manage to score 15 out of 15:

Those weren’t even difficult for you, were they? Either you’re a professional linguistic researcher at the Institute for English Language or you had a little bit of luck with a couple of your answers… We congratulate you – when it comes to English grammar you really are the best!

Because linguistics is apparently about memorizing a bunch of normative, prescriptive rules about how to use language rather than actually, you know, researching how language works.

Grammar, Rants 77 Replies to “Another Day, Another Worthless Grammar Quiz”
Jonathon Owen
Jonathon Owen


77 thoughts on “Another Day, Another Worthless Grammar Quiz

    Author’s gravatar

    I sincerely hope that you find time, maybe after the holidays, to proofread and edit this excellent article…

    Author’s gravatar

    Bless you, bless you. A bunch of FB friends, most of us writers, editors, or both, have been trying to figure out (a) the expected answers, and (b) the scoring for this thing. We’ve pretty much decided that they’re both random.

    Author’s gravatar

    I scored 14/15, but according to their incorrect correct answers, I should not have scored that high! I love grammar and tests; that’s how I got sucked into this one. I’m a language teacher(French); many of my students tell me that they learn most of their English grammar from me.

    Author’s gravatar

    Thank you for this!

    Author’s gravatar

    Try Answerd 2 All for 15/15

    Author’s gravatar

    OMG! Now I know which ones I got wrong! It was the object and subject questions I answered absolutely correctly but the quiz has the answers wrong! I actually had to go back and reconfirm my knowledge on subjects and objects in a sentence (apparently, I didn’t quite need to!)! I scored a 12; my third answer that I actually answered correctly was the pluperfect one. Phew! My grammar is in place.

    Author’s gravatar

    The scores generated for this test must be random. After receiving the same score (14/15) as two others on my Facebook feed, but not sure what I got wrong, I decided to “test” the test and I retook it, intentially answering every question wrong. My score? 15/15 CORRECT! This is completely impossible, hence my conclusion that the scores are randomly generated.

    Commenter Giovanni: “Wrong, In general, when the independent clauses in a compound sentence are joined by a coordinating conjunction, they’re separated by a comma. The comma PRECEDES the coordinating conjunction. A common error is to place the comma AFTER the conjunction:”

    You are correct that the comma precedes the conjuction. However, your statement contain their own slew of grammatical mistakes. Firstly, a period should follow “Wrong,” not a comma. Furthermore, a period should end your sentence, not a colon.

    Author’s gravatar

    Okay, I see I messed that up, too. That’s what I get for not proofreading my comment before posting it. “However, your statement contain their own slew of grammatical mistakes.” Should say “statements.” Good day to all.

    Author’s gravatar

    Totally agree with you about the quiz, but ‘to pick someone up on something’ is standard, in BrE at least. This is from the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary:

    pick somebody up on something
    to mention something that somebody has said or done that you think is wrong
    “I knew he would pick me up on that slip sooner or later.”

    And from Macmillan – “She’s always picking me up on my grammar.”
    And Longman – “I knew he was lying and I should have picked him up on it.”

    But have another look at that comment of their’s – ‘you’re probably the person that picks your friends up on their mistakes, right’. By their own rules shouldn’t that be ‘who’, not ‘that’?

      Author’s gravatar

      Aha! Thanks, Warsaw Will. I should have guessed that “pick someone up on” was simply from a different variety of English.

      And good point about their alleged who/that error. Even proponents of such rules often break them, usually without realizing it.

    Author’s gravatar

    I knew that, of course. It was just a little mental lapse as I was writing. It’s fixed now.

    Author’s gravatar

    I’ve taken this test numerous time but even if I change my answers I continue to get 12 out of 15. Thanks for writing this response because it explains that it is not me, but that this test is ridiculous and makes no sense.

    Author’s gravatar

    I took the test today and — on consecutive tries giving identical answers — received different scores. Without consistency in the grading, there is no grading key that can be considered the author’s version of the “correct” grading key. Thus, we really only have our own analysis of what the correct answers ought to be.

    Author’s gravatar

    You made SO many mistakes in your “analysis”. First, the first question is There’s because there is singular. Then, Today I went to the park. The subject is I, not park. The park is where the subject of the sentence went. I got a perfect score of 15, so the answers you claim the quiz gives as correct, like the subject is park and not I, are incorrect. The quiz does have the correct answers. A colon precedes a list, so the colon would not be correct in the sentence used. The semi-colon is the only correct choice. The boy, who she gave the toy to, was called Matt is not correct because whom would be correct because the objective case is to be used there. Who is the nominative case.

      Author’s gravatar

      Actually, “there” is not the true subject of the sentence, so the verb doesn’t agree with it. It’s a dummy subject, and the real subject—the one the verb agrees with—is what comes next. Here’s a good explanation from Grammar Girl.

      As for the subject of Today I went to the park, I’m not sure what my supposed mistake is. If you’ll go back and read the post a little more closely, you’ll notice that I did indeed say that I is the subject, not park. Also, you’ll see that I noted that the answers have changed since I took the quiz.

      As I said, a colon might arguably be correct. There are more uses for the colon than just introducing lists. See rule 4 here, for example. It’s still a borderline case at best, and, and as I said, the semicolon is the better choice.

      The who/whom question opens up a whole can of worms. What’s correct, and how do you know it’s correct? Just because something is technically correct according to a traditional rule doesn’t mean it’s always the appropriate choice. And even if you reject the idea that who she gave the toy to could be considered correct in some circumstances, the fact is that both of the other answers are equally correct.

    Author’s gravatar

    Thank God, I was not the only one baffled by the quiz.
    I love grammar and taking tests…

    Author’s gravatar

    I’m glad someone debunked this quiz. I was wandering around in a cognitive dissonant fog. Having scored 14/15, I retook it to change the one arbitrary answer (less/fewer), and achieved the same score. Impossible, I cried. But your article has saved my sanity. I really need to get a life.

    Author’s gravatar

    I was feeling sooooo good about my almost 52 year old brain being able to still function fairly well, as I received a 13/15. Now, however, I am understanding that I was correct in my original thought processes: I am aging and not as well as I’d like! LOL Thank you to everyone for helping me to ‘strain my brain’! Please do not dissect my sentences ~~ my fragile aging emotions might not cope well! LOL I am curious though, was I correct in the use of “processes:”? Ok, ok, I guess I do want to be raked over the proverbial grammar coals! I thank you in advance…

    Author’s gravatar

    Thank you!!! I have been beating my brains out over this stupid test! I knew I had gotten them all right! I scored a 13/15 as well, and the ones I missed are the ones you mentioned are wrong. This makes me feel so much better. I have been known as a grammar guru to all my friends and family, and it was frustrating to see that I did not get a perfect score on it!

      Author’s gravatar

      You may be a grammar guru to your family, but not to an English person if you use that dreadful word “gotten”.

        Author’s gravatar

        Only, I would suggest, to the sort of ‘English person’ who thinks that the standard American past participle of ‘get’ should somehow be dreadful. And who doesn’t seem to realise that ‘gotten’ originated in ‘English’ English long before America was colonised:

        “But though thou haddest gotten six hundreth teachers, to instructe the[e]”
        (A Playne and Godly Exposytion Or Declaration of the Commune Crede, Erasmus, translated and published in London in 1533) – easily checkable at Google Books

        And can something that was used several times in the King James Bible really be considered dreadful?

        98:1 O sing unto the LORD a new song; for he hath done marvellous things: his right hand, and his holy arm, hath gotten him the victory. (Book of Psalms)

        Signed ‘A Scots person’

    Author’s gravatar

    I agree with all of your comments apart from No. 12. The correct answer is that it’s called whatver Joe called it: if the sign outside said Joes’ ices’ then that’s would be what would be called. So we have no way of knowing which of the suggested answers is “correct”, or whether any of them is.

    Author’s gravatar

    I still don’t understand that how came i got 100% correct answers :O

    Author’s gravatar

    I have taught grammar for over 30 years and I know my answers were 100% CORRECT but scored only 13/15. What is really bizarre is that (according to the test answers above) I should have scored even lower. My advice: buy a really good grammar book.

    Author’s gravatar

    I just took this test and tried hard to give wrong answers but I didn’t get less than 13 numbers/marks. I guess my English is good enough to deliberately choose incorrect answers, yeah, that also requires some knowledge of grammar.

    Author’s gravatar

    I also took the quiz a couple of times and got different scores even though I selected the same answers each time. I even went back and changed only one answer and went from 15 out of 15 to 12 out of 15. So I think it’s just someone trolling.

    Author’s gravatar

    I was wondering about your analysis of #11. As a student of Spanish, I am aware that “la gente” (the people) is always plural in Spanish. In English it is used both as plural and singular. But, it seems to me that it would most correctly only be used in the plural and that “person” should be used in the singular. For that reason, I selected “less people” for the answer to #11 and not “fewer people”. Although common usage allows for counting people, you should really only count “persons” !!!! Of course, saying “much people” sounds awful in english but in Spanish “mucha gente” is perfectly fine! I teach English (not professionally) to Spanish speakers who want to learn the language and have come to realize, through much experience, that grammatically English is a bitch to teach!

      Author’s gravatar

      In standard non-legal English, the (irregular) plural of person is people, just as men is the plural of men, so technically it should be ‘fewer’. However, many educated speakers say things like ‘there were less people there than last time’, at least in conversational English, and this has always been the case. In fact the insistence on ‘fewer’ is relatively recent (as the language goes), seemingly starting as a suggestion by the grammarian Robert Baker, in 1770.

      The question is a bit similar to the who/whom one, although not as exaggerated (virtually no one would say ‘The boy, whom she gave the toy to, was called Matt’, correct or otherwise). Is it only formal English that most of us use rarely if at all that is the only thing to count as correct?

    Author’s gravatar

    I think the ultimate take-away here is that all Facebook quizzes are stupid.

      Author’s gravatar

      Yes, because the purpose of the quiz is to get people to post the results to facebook, to generate traffic to the quiz site, to generate advertising revenue for the site owners/operators. That’s why the “grading” results are random. Every time you take it, you are going to get 12 or 13 or 14 or 15 correct. Reason being: so you will post your results to facebook. No one is going to post the result to facebook if it is 9 or 10 or such correct, out of 15.

        Author’s gravatar

        That’s a great point Jim O! I just re-did the quiz and tried my best to choose deliberately incorrect answers. I got 15 out of 15.

      Author’s gravatar

      In other words, greed and deception. I suspect most if not all facebook quizzes of various types are also designed this way. Just duping people for profit. It’s disgusting and reprehensible.

        Author’s gravatar

        Which is why I block as many as I find. They are the worst of the time wasters on a site which specializes in time wasting.

        I shake my head every time my wife takes one. 🙂

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