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Grammar expert Arlene Miller teaches seventh-grade English at Petaluma Junior High School, in Petaluma, on Tuesday, April 30, 2013. Miller is the author of several grammar books. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

'Grammar Diva' guardian of language

Do you think correct grammar is important?

Everyone who agrees should raise their hand. Looks like me and you could work together on this. It's time to lie down the law on the proper use of language.

OK, if the previous paragraph didn't make you wince at least three times, you need help from the Grammar Diva.

Arlene Miller, Petaluma English teacher and author of "The Best Little Grammar Book Ever" and "Correct Me If I'm Wrong," created her "Grammar Diva" blog to help people avoid common grammatical mistakes.

"One day I noticed everybody makes the same mistakes - lie and lay, who and whom. People don't know the difference between I, me and myself," she said. "People want to get rid of 'whom' because no one knows how to use it."

When anyone proposes simplifying the rules of grammar to fit what people commonly say and write, Miller takes the opposite position.

"Why not just do it right?" she countered. "I'm a grammar hawk."

So when someone says, "Everyone raise their hand," instead of "Everyone raise his or her hand," Miller speaks up.

"I can't stand that one," she said. "That makes me crazy. Someone told me Webster's Dictionary says it's OK to use 'their' as singular. I don't like it. It's not right. You don't say 'everybody are.'"

At least, no one says that when Miller's around, not without getting a little impromptu grammar lesson.

"If you can't figure it out, then just rewrite your sentence," she advised.

You might think that Miller's pointed advice on everyday grammatical mistakes would rankle people, but that hasn't been her experience.

"There are a lot of people who really do care," she said. "The basic reason we have rules about grammar and punctuation is so we can understand each other."

It helps that Miller has a sense of humor about her mission.

The latest "Grammar Diva" blog entry posted on her website - bigwords101.com - opens with this introduction:

"I have been asked to write a blog post about 'which' and 'that.' Frankly, I would prefer to avoid that issue altogether and do something more enjoyable - pulling weeds or cleaning my house, for example. But here goes ..."

Miller, 61, is originally from the Boston area and moved to Petaluma in 1993. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism, a master's degree in English and "an affinity for language," a recurring theme in her widely varied work history.

"I have had many careers," she said.

Her past jobs include medical biller, medical transcriptionist, technical writer, technical editor, freelance book editor, aerobics instructor, professional tap dancer and tap-dance teacher.

"An earlier ambition was to be a songwriter," she said, "and I won Best of Show for poetry at the 2001 Sonoma County Fair."

Now she's a speaker and author, publishing her books under her own "bigwords101" imprint. She also teaches seventh-grade English part-time at Petaluma Junior High School.

Her love of language has been lifelong, but the idea for her "Grammar Diva" career came to her suddenly.

"I remember exactly where I was," Miller said. "I was coming out of the gym, and the woman working at the desk there was an aspiring novelist. And I said to her, 'I've got an idea. I'm going to take all of the common grammar problems people have and put them into a book.'"

That idea eventually became "The Best Little Grammar Book Ever," published in 2010.

"I wrote an outline, and then I sat on it for a while," Miller said. "Then a couple of years later, I sat down and wrote it."

Her second book on grammar, "Correct Me If I'm Wrong," came out in 2012. She also wrote "Beyond Worksheets," a book of creative lesson plans for teaching grammar.

Others may not take the subject as seriously as Miller does, but she never doubts the importance of her quest to protect and preserve the rules of grammar.

"Otherwise," she declared, "it'll end in chaos."

(You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at 521-5243 or dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com. See his ARTS blog at http://arts.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.)

Dan Taylor

Arts & Entertainment, The Press Democrat

Do you take fun seriously? I know I do. Tell me what you want to know about arts and entertainment in the North Bay to make the best use of your leisure time and money. As a longtime local arts journalist, I have learned where to look and who to ask.

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