Jul 10th 2013

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A President or a donut? Small things can make a big difference in grammar!

There are countless examples of how a small grammar or spelling mistake in a sentence can instantly change its meaning both in English and other languages as well.

One famous example of how small errors can make a big difference lies in President JFK’s Berlin speech that occurred just over 50 years ago. The most memorable part of his speech was when he said, in an expression of solidarity with the West Germans, “Ich bin ein Berliner.”

Translated directly into English, this means “I am a Berliner” which seems fine. In German, however, there is no need to add “ein” as a definite article when you are referring to yourself. As such, many scholars argue that by using the indefinite article “ein” (similar to “A” in English) JFK unwittingly told the masses that he was a “Berliner” the inanimate, yet delicious, German donut with a jam filling rather than a resident from Berlin.

There is more than a small difference between a president and a donut!

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What small mistakes that make a big difference in English can you think of?

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