Confused about grammar? This expert wants to talk

Expert shares her love of grammar

New Hope, Pennsylvania — Imagine you're out walking, shopping, or doing some other gerund, when out of nowhere, a woman on the street prepositions you. What would you think? You might think, who is this crazy lady? Who sees grammar as such an imperative, that she sets up a table just to talk about it?

By day, Ellen Jovin runs a company training people in business communications. But her real passion is linguistics. She has a huge library of grammar and stylebooks from Arabic to Zulu.

To share the knowledge and have some fun, last year she began setting-up her grammar table around New York City, where she lives. It went so well, she is now taking the table to the collective noun that is America.

We caught up with her in New Hope, Pennsylvania, where Ellen spent the day reminding people how to diagram sentences, explaining when to use who and whom and counseling people on their comma addictions. She even answered something I've always wondered about. Does the period have to go inside the quotation mark, or can it go outside, sometimes?

But Ellen said her favorite part is settling grammar disputes between husbands and wives. She said it has been very enlightening.

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Ellen Jovin in the New York City subway. Ellen Jovin

"In my experience, usually if a couple comes up, usually the woman is right," Ellen said. "I mean, in my limited experience."

She hung me out like a dangling modifier. But you can't help but love her passion. And a lot of people do appreciate her mission. One guy at a red light just had to know, right then and there, do you always capitalize after a colon?

"If it's only a piece of a sentence, definitely no cap," Ellen said.

That made her day. One more convert, in Ellen's ever-growing army of grammar defenders.

"You will be intensely popular because people love to be corrected on their grammar," she told a group of girls.

Her next lesson is sarcasm.  


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  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.