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 got them all right, so at least a few of the errors have been corrected. In my comment to the person who posted the test, I complained about the use of pluperfect and ‘whom’. Your blog entry was then linked; how could I not click on ErrantPedantry? I look forward to reading more of your blog.

    Author’s gravatar

    I’ve got 15 /15 . we have a different opinions about test and about the wright answers

      Author’s gravatar

      If you’ll go back and read more closely, you’ll see that the test answers have changed since I first took it. You’ll also see that some people are taking the test multiple times with the same answers and getting different scores.

    Author’s gravatar

    Facebook quizzes are nonsense, of course. However, I find it utterly delightful that I should discover your site/blog via this hateful bit of garbage (the quiz). Knowing that people can and do bother to argue and, if you’ll pardon the expression, quibble over things grammatical makes me feel less despondent over the state of the world and everything. Yes, I am aware of linguistics, but this blog post feels like seriously *applied* linguistics, linguistics that has stepped out of the academia and unto a valiant crusade in the real world. Go Jonathon, I dig your stuff, dude.

    Author’s gravatar

    With due respect, Mr. Owen, so many of your assumptions about correct answers are plain nonsense, notably #1, 3, 5, 9 and 15, more often because you quote the test incorrectly, but in some cases you also present wrong answers based on questionable logic.

      Author’s gravatar

      And what assumptions would those be? Care to explain how I’m wrong about some pretty clear and unambiguous areas of English grammar, like what subjects and objects are? I’m guessing you were simply careless in your reading, because most of those are questions where the quiz originally got it wrong and I explained why.

    Author’s gravatar

    With due respect, Mr. Owen, so many of your assumptions about correct answers are plain nonsense, notably #1, 3, 5, 9 and 15, more often because you quote the test incorrectly, but in some cases you also present wrong answers based on questionable logic.

    Author’s gravatar

    I had taken this quiz before I read this article and scored 15. All the answers I gave exactly matched with what according to you should have been the right answer. If the test was really flawed as you say, I should have got (or gotten? Genuinely confused) 10 or 11.

    Author’s gravatar

    Ironically, read their comment after the test! It’s grammatically incorrect! I quote the following:
    “and we’re pretty sure that you’re friends can’t do better”.
    Hey “grammar master”! It’s called: “your friends” NOT “you’re friends” lol 😀

    Author’s gravatar

    A test prepared by someone with a low standard of English to test people with even less grasp.
    Schoolwork (homework) is not “hard”; it is “difficult”.
    And while we are on the subject, please use the word “children” instead of “kids”

      Author’s gravatar

      Bravo! Happy to see other people do indeed think like me on these two items.

      Author’s gravatar

      Why anyone should object to ‘hard’ meaning ‘difficult’, I have no idea. This meaning certainly has a long history, going back to 1200 (Online Etymology Dictionary), and what is usually regarded as the first English dictionary was Robert Cawdrey’s A Table Alphabeticall of Hard Usual words of 1604.

      In Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare wrote ‘And thou shalt see how apt it is to learne Any hard Lesson that may do thee good’, and in the King James Bible we have ‘Is anything too hard for the Lord’ (Genesis, xviii:14).

      Samuel Johnson gives ‘hard’ at least two meanings concerned with difficulty, quoting Sidney, Dryden and Milton And of course Dickens wrote ‘Hard Times’, the title of which no doubt plays on the multiple meanings of the word.

      And what about the idiomatic ‘hard to say’, which can be dated back at least to 1712, with this from Addison and Steele’s The Spectator – ‘that it is hard to say which they rather deserve, our pity or contempt’?

      There seems to be no justification, in literature, at least, to say that there is anything wrong with using ‘hard’ to mean ‘difficult’. I wonder where this idea came form?

    Author’s gravatar

    I agree with all of the comments you made. But why to say in the last paragraph “Because linguisticS IS apparently about memorizig…” ?

      Author’s gravatar

      Because the names of fields like linguistics, politics, and so on are usually treated as singular nouns.

    Author’s gravatar

    “…even though I should [have] scored 11…” 😉

    Author’s gravatar

    Thanks for the excellent article. If I wouldn’t have read this, I was about to stop my humanitarian job of correcting English grammar mistakes (I scored 13/15 in that test and was really disappointed).

    Author’s gravatar

    This quiz must have been created by people that wanted to frustrate “The Grammar Police”. It’s a flim flam scam. Grammar Flammers are the WORST!

    Author’s gravatar

    So what would a descriptivist grammar/usage quiz look like?

      Author’s gravatar

      This may come as a surprise, but it wouldn’t necessarily look that different. Questions about things like what subjects and objects are or what the pluperfect is would be the same, because those are pretty uncontentious and unambiguous areas of grammar. They’re based on simple and easily discoverable facts about the language.

      But when you get to questions such as whether it should be less or fewer or whether it should be that or who, then you’re straying from areas of fact and getting into areas of opinion. Some people think that one is always right and the other is always wrong. Most speakers—including well-educated speakers of Standard English—ignore these opinions or are simply oblivious to them, so in what sense can we say that who or fewer is right? Just because some people say they’re right doesn’t mean they are.

      So if you still wanted to test someone’s knowledge of those points of usage without implying that one is objectively correct, I’d probably say something like “According to some grammarians, which is these is right?” But I think it’s important to point out that there are divided opinions even among grammarians on points like these. So maybe a descriptivist usage quiz could include questions about who thinks that a certain rule is important, what facts there are to back it up or disprove it, and so on.

    Author’s gravatar

    Love your post. Your discussion of each question took me back to seventh grade English. I am thanking all my enlish and spanish teachers in prayer, tonight!

    Author’s gravatar

    Sorry, that should be English and Spanish teachers. I too, should proofread before posting.

    Author’s gravatar

    Well done. This annoying little quiz has been annoying me for days. I kept getting 14/15 even when changing 2 or 3 answers. I am definitely going to give up on these Facebook quizzes now and follow websites like your own. (Flattery intended)

    Author’s gravatar

    As a college English prof for over 10 years, I know the correct answers. I have to agree with Mr. Owen 100%. Yet I only got 13/15?
    I think that…
    There’s a rotten apple in this barrel.
    There’re a rotten apple in this barrel.
    Theres a rotten apples in this barrel.
    Gee, I wish I were better at this…or is it I wish I was better at this? LOL

      Author’s gravatar

      As mentioned previously, the quiz will always return a grade of 12 or 13 or 14 or 15, regardless of your answers. It does so to generate Facebook posting to generate traffic to generate advertising revenue. In other words, it is a scam.

    Author’s gravatar

    I shake my head at myself every time I take a Facebook quiz, but for some reason, I keep doing it anyway. It’s a little harder to do them while shaking my head, but I manage.

    Author’s gravatar

    A belated query concerning Question 10, option 3, but nothing to do with ‘whom’, an area where I believe prescriptive grammar has lost all touch with reality. It’s rather to do with indirect objects:

    “The boy whom she gave the toy was called Matt.”

    In your comment you say “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’.”

    In EFL, however, we teach that you can’t have a relative pronoun referring to an indirect object but need to use the prepositional option – “the boy to whom she gave the toy” or more usually, of course “the boy (who/that) she gave the toy to”.

    This position seems to be supported in CaGEL, where Pullum and Huddleston state that “relativisation applies to direct objects but not usually to indirect ones” and asterisk the following examples:

    “*The student whom he showed the exam paper informed the police”
    “*They found the boy that I lent my key”
    “*He’s the one she gave that CD last Christmas”

    Any thoughts?

      Author’s gravatar

      Good question. “The boy to whom she gave the toy” sounds better to my ear than “the boy whom she gave the toy”, but the latter doesn’t sound ungrammatical to me—just a little odd or uncommon. It sounds a little better if you leave out the relative altogether—“the boy she gave the toy”—but still a little odd. If it were me, I think I might mark those with question marks rather than asterisks.

      I don’t have the data to say how common it is to relativize indirect objects, but it seems safe to say that it’s far more common in English to relativize prepositional objects.

    Author’s gravatar

    Ewe persons have two much timing on you’re hands. Ewe all should real E find a hobbies. Its a sill lee on line quizzes. Are E el A ex.

    Author’s gravatar

    Actually, I scored 15/15 and 2 of your answers are indeed wrong. Number 9 is yesterday, and Number 11 is both. Got to love these teasers!

      Author’s gravatar

      Actually, you should go back and read a little more closely. The quiz is a total sham. Some people have tried deliberately answering every question wrong, and they still get 15/15. The score appears to be randomly generated.

      Yesterday is not the object of the sentence. It’s simply an adverb. In layman’s terms, the object is something that receives the action of the verb. What did she hate? Me. Read more about objects here.

      The only teaser here is a test of one’s ability to figure out whether this quiz is legit. You failed.

    Author’s gravatar

    Nothing like a pissing contest to entertain my day! College professor or not… the smart will prevail! bahaha.

      Author’s gravatar

      I’m not sure who you’re even addressing here, since I’m not a college professor, but the only pissing contest going on here is a lot of people with bad reading comprehension coming over here to argue about stuff they don’t understand.

    Author’s gravatar

    I knew when i took the test (a FB friend posted it: he and his wife got a 13 and 14) and scored a 12 that it had to be bogus. I’m confident enough with my grammar skills and knowledge (I edit for a living and taught grammar in the past) that I figured if I googled the quiz, I’d find someone to back me up. Thank you for allowing me to keep my grammar nerd head held high!

    Author’s gravatar

    Thank you so much for this post! That quiz was driving my friends and I crazy and I’m glad to hear I was not the only one! Looked elsewhere around your blog, neat stuff. My cousin is a linguistics major so passing along to her too. Thanks and Happy New Year!

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