OK, I know this
has nothing to do with roads, but besides being a road geek, I'm also
quite a grammar nerd, something my wife, thankfully, appreciates about
me. As such, bad grammar bugs me, sometimes to the point of
making me cringe. With the advent of the Internet (thanks Al
Gore!), we now get to see on a regular basis just how horrible many
people's writing skills and associated grammar and usage really
are. Even with spell-checkers and grammar-checkers (which are not
always correct and should not be relied upon), the number of grammar,
spelling, and usage errors that I see on a daily basis is
atrocious. To maybe help stem that tide, as well as to make
myself feel better for trying to do something about it, here is my list
of the most egregious and annoying errors I see. I know this can
be a touchy topic for some people, and I don't mean to offend anyone or
sound holier-than-thou, so please don't take anything below that
way. I know I'm not perfect either. All I'm really trying
to do is impress all my former English teachers. :-)
Me and I
As a child, many of us were scolded
by English teachers for saying things like Me
and Johnny went to school. It should, of course, be
Johnny and I went to school.
As a result, people often use "I" in every complex subject or
object. However, there are times when using "I" is wrong and
using "me" is correct. Without getting into the technical
details, the easiest way to know which to use is to drop the other
person from the sentence and see how it sounds. For instance, if
you want to know whether to use "me" or "I" in the sentence Bob came with Suzy and I to the movie,
drop "Suzy" and say what you're left with: Bob
came with I to the movie. That obviously
sounds wrong, so try it with "me" instead: Bob
came with me to the movie. That sounds better and is
indeed correct-- the rules don't change just because there's another
person. So the sentence should be Bob
came with Suzy and me to the movie. In either case,
it's generally considered proper to put the other person before "me" or
Us and We
In this case, I'm talking about sentences like Us
men are going to the game or That
is up to we employees to decide. Are those
correct? Just like with the me/I situation above, drop the extra
word after we or us and see if it works: Us
are going to the game and That
is up to we to decide. Both obviously are wrong.
The correct shortened sentences are We are
going to the game and That is up
to us to decide, so the corrected original sentences would
be We men are going to the game
and That is up to us employees to decide.
Again, all you have to do is simplify the sentence and see which
pronoun "sounds right".
Your and You're
"Your" is the possessive of you (What's your
name?); "you're" is the contraction of "you are" (You're going to freak out.) Here's
a sentence that uses both: You're going to
change your mind. If you're not sure whether to use
"your" or "you're", ask yourself if you can substitute "you are" in the
sentence; if you can, then use "you're"; if you can't, then use
"your". (Here's a little reminder from Ross on Friends: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=STYDAb_iCjg.)
"There" is the location (Go over there!);
"their" is the possessive of they (What's
their problem?); and "they're" is the contraction of "they
are" (They're going to freak out.)
Here's a sentence that uses all three: They're
going to drive their car there.
Its vs. It's
"Its" is the possessive form of it (What
is its problem?); "it's" is the contraction of "it is" (It's going to rain.) Note that
"its" is the only possessive that does not use an apostrophe (see next
topic.) Here's a sentence that uses both: It's taking its sweet time. If
you're not sure whether to use "its" or "it's", ask yourself if you can
substitute "it is"; if you can, then use "it's", if you can't, then use
vis-à-vis plurals and possessives
Apostrophe misuse with plurals and possessives is rampant. People
either use too many apostrophes or none at all. But it's not that
hard to know when to use an apostrophe and when not to.
Possessives always have an apostrophe (except for its, as
discussed above); plurals don't. It's that easy. Here's an
example that uses both: What color are
Bob's eyes? There are two eyes (plural) that belong to
Bob (possessive). For singular nouns that end in an "s", you
still add an apostrophe and another "s" at the end for possessives: The boss's office. But to make a
plural possessive, you generally just add an apostrophe; the other "s"
is assumed: The parking lot has space for
20 customers' vehicles. Note, however, that adding
another "s" after the apostrophe in such a situation is considered
acceptable, although not standard.
Decades (e.g. the
When referring to decades using numbers, the 90's is
acceptable, but the '90s (the apostrophe implies that "19" is
missing), or even just the 90s are preferable.
I guess people think the term is mute point because the point
that is being made should be muted (silenced) since it's irrelevant,
but the correct term is actually moot point. "Moot" means
something that is open for debate. So when you say something is a
"moot point", what you're saying is that its only relevance now is that
you could debate about it. Another way of saying it is that it's
Could care less
You could care less about grammar? Really? Then that means
that you really do care about it! After all, if you could care
less about something, then you must currently care some amount about
it. What people are trying to say when they (mis)use that
expression is that they don't care at all about something.
Therefore, the correct expression is could not care less,
or couldn't care less. When you say that, you're
saying that you already care the least amount possible and therefore
you can not care any less about it. I think people have just
gotten lazy in their speech patterns and couldn't care less has
become could care less. But it's still wrong, even if you
couldn't care less.
Hung vs. hanged
When pictures are put on the wall, they are hung. When a
person is executed by dangling them from a rope, they are hanged.
Faze vs. phase
I would like to say that people who get this wrong don't faze me, but
I'd be lying! Phase is a noun meaning "stage"; faze
is a verb meaning "to bother". Phase can also be used as
a verb in the terms phase out or phase in.
Here's a sentence that uses both: I was not
fazed when my job was phased out. Don't worry if you
didn't know this one, though-- my wife is a logophile and she didn't
know this one until I told her! Even the media sometime gets it
The correct term is Daylight Saving Time (no "s" on
"Saving"). More appropriately, it should be daylight-saving
time. Why? Because it's a time when we're saving
daylight, a "daylight-saving time". Daylight Saving Time
(capitalized) is also a proper noun and can be written thusly.
Speaking of Daylight Saving Time, this one is more obscure and not
really a grammatical error, but annoying to me just the same.
Many people think that the term Standard Time means the time
that is the "normal" or "standard" time in the place where they
live. So to sound official and/or "proper" when scheduling
appointments or meetings, especially with people in other time zones,
they'll say something like The conference
call starts at 9:00 am Central Standard Time. What
they don't realize, however, is that to someone who understands these
things and is pedantic, they just sound confused most of the
year. Why? Because the term Standard Time refers to
the time in a place when it's not Daylight Saving Time, in other words,
the "unmodified" time. For instance, 9:00 am Standard Time is
10:00 am Daylight Saving Time (DST). So during DST, whenever
someone tells me to call them at "9:00 am Central Standard Time", I
sometimes find my self asking if they really meant 9:00 am Central
Daylight Time (CDT) just to make the point. If you want to avoid
all of that, just say The conference call
starts at 9:00 am Central Time. Ninety-nine percent of
the time (no pun intended), that's sufficient. The only exception
to that would be if you're in one of those weird (or perhaps
enlightened) places that doesn't observe DST; then you need to be
explicit or do the conversion for the person on the other end since
they probably won't know how to figure it out anyway.
Who vs. Whom
Many people use whom to sound proper or even snooty, but there
are only certain cases when you should use whom, and you should
generally always use whom in those cases, so it's not always
proper and it's never snooty. Whom should be used when
it's the object of the sentence, but that's the technical
explanation. The easiest way to know when to use whom is
to ask yourself if the question you are asking (or the question form of
the statement you are making) could be answered by saying "him" or "he"
(I'm using the masculine form for simplicity; feel free to substitute
"her" or "she" respectively.) If the answer is "him", use whom.
If it's "he", use who. For instance, (Who/Whom) is going to the store?
Answer: He is. Therefore, the correct question is Who is going to the store? Another
example: (Who/whom) do I love?
Answer: I love him. Therefore, the correct question is Whom do I love? One last example
that's a little more complicated: Bob,
(who/whom) you probably remember, is back. Change it
to a question: (Who/whom) do you probably
remember? Answer: You remember him.
Therefore, the correct sentence is Bob,
whom you probably remember, is back.
Ironically, the term ironic is often misused. Most of the
time when people say something is ironic, what they really mean is it
was coincidental. Irony is when something happens that
would not be expected. For instance, a fire station catching on
fire and burning down is ironic. However, someone being convicted
of murder 10 years to the day after the murder happened is just plain
coincidence. There's nothing special about that day that would
make you think they would or would not be convicted, so it's just a
coincidence that it happened on that day. Only use ironic
when it's something that on its face would be unexpected; otherwise,
use coincidental. By the way, most of the things in
Alannis Morisette's song "Ironic" are coincidental, not ironic.
Lots of people say things like I literally
died when he told me that. Really? You literally
died? If so, then you would be dead. When you stick the
word literally into a sentence, it's supposed to mean that
whatever you're saying is exactly what happened. But the word has
been literally misused by literally so many people for literally so
long now that some dictionaries now literally include a definition
equating the word to the real word that people mean to use: virtually.
I always love seeing signs in restaurants or stores advertising
something for ".75¢" (or ".25¢", ".50¢", etc.) I really want to get the
item in question and give the cashier a penny and tell them to keep the
change. What lots of folks forget is that .75¢ is 3/4th of one cent, so one penny would
pay for it with 1/4th of a cent left over. Of course, what they
really mean is the item is 75 cents, which is correctly written either "75¢" (no decimal) or "$0.75" (3/4th of a
of quotes for emphasis
I hate seeing signs like "Do not" park here!
The quotes around Do not are intended to emphasize those words,
but that's an improper use. Quotes are properly used to indicate
spoken dialog, a direct quotation from someone, a title, an undefined
term, a term used outside its normal usage, a nickname, or irony or
sarcasm. So a sign reading "Do not"
park here! could be interpreted as the author either saying
"do not" in a sarcastic manner, as in "do not (ha ha) park here", or
that it means something not consistent with its normal meaning, for
which I can't even think of an example. Instead, the correct way
to emphasize something in print is to use capital letters, bold type,
italics, and/or underlining, e.g. DO NOT
of all caps
Some people I know insist on writing something like My MAC gets a lot of SPAM when I access the WEB.
Neither MAC nor SPAM nor WEB are an acronym for anything, so they
should not be written in capital letters unless it's for emphasis (as
noted in the topic above.) Barring that, the sentence should be My Mac gets a lot of spam when I access the web.
Mac has a capital M because it's a proper noun; the
other terms should all be lower-case although Web with a
capital W would also be acceptable since it's a shortened
version of the proper name World Wide Web.