Today, I just learned as it comes to a close, is National Grammar Day!
If I’d known earlier, I would have thrown a celebration. With cake. And cocktails. And toasts to the few who get it right. Remember back when Facebook had a group called “I judge you when you use poor grammar”? Well, I do. Judge you, that is.
About 97% of my job on any given day is to edit other people’s writing, to catch typos, correct spelling and make the written word sound as smooth, intelligent and consistent as possible. I see a lot of carnage. At those times, I bless my librarian mother, my English-teaching grandmother and my mean-old journalism professors who gave no mercy when I violated the King’s English. It was brutal, yet effective, training.
You’ve heard me opine the downfall of grammar in America, which I’m pretty sure is leading us closer to the apocalypse, so I won’t ramble on about that again. I will take this moment to point out a few of my grammar pet peeves. Some people dispute these, and that’s fine. It won’t be the first time grammar or punctuation rules have changed on me. [Sidebar: as long as I’m writing on a blog, not publishing in The New York Times, I’m going to start sentences with as many “ands” and “buts” as I feel like.] But, I digress:
- “I” vs. “me” — I actually read a blog the other day that repeatedly stated how “Me and her went away for the weekend,” and “Me and Bob had a great time.” I :::shudder:::. There’s just no excuse for that one, since I thought we all learned the “me+and = mean” rule in elementary school. What I’m actually seeing/hearing everywhere these days is misuse in the opposite direction, a name followed by the wrong choice of I or me. My mother always taught me that when you need to reference I/me and another person in a sentence, the term you pick should stand on its own even if you remove that person’s name: “Barbara and I walked to the store.” and “I walked to the store.” or “This is a picture of Mike and me.” and “This is a picture of me.” I increasingly see (in reputable, journalistic publications!) and hear (on TV newscasts!) that used incorrectly. As in, “He called Steve and I to report back…” Yikes!
- “Over” vs. “more than” — I think this is a little known grammar rule, but once it got stuck in my craw, it’s been hard to get past. The basic rule: use “over” when referring to spatial relationships, like height. So, “The balloon floated over the house.” Use “more than” when dealing with quantities or numerals, “I haven’t been there in more than 10 years.”
- Watch your apostrophes — There are few things that enrage me as much as seeing inappropriately placed apostrophes. By definition, an apostrophe defines when something’s missing or denotes a possessive relationship, so don’t use it just to make things plural. Decades are the worst: 1980s and the ’80s, not 1980’s.
- That/which/who — Use “that” and “which” if you’re referring to an inanimate object or unnamed animal, but “who” if it’s named or refers to a person. To wit, “I saw the bear that was walking through the woods.” or “I saw the person who was walking through the woods.” You also make a distinction between “that” or “which” when referring to essential clauses. If you are using a non-essential phrase that is to be set apart with commas, use “which.” Otherwise, use “that.” So, “I’m heading to the movie theater that is around the corner.” or “I’m heading to the movie theater, which is around the corner.”
- Active vs. passive voice — writing in active voice is always stronger and more descriptive. For example: “I threw the ball.” (active) rather than “The ball was thrown” or “There were balls thrown.” (passive)
- A semicolon is not a colon — For some reason, everyone I work with wants to place a semicolon at the end of a sentence before a bulleted list. That’s where a colon (:) goes.
- “Affect” vs. “effect” — this one does get tricky. Affect is a verb; you are affected by the emotion of a moment. Effect is usually a noun; you feel the effect of something gone wrong. But then the waters are muddied by the phrase “effect change.” There “effect” serves as a verb: “We need to effect change before we will truly be successful.”
- Words that don’t exist/are unnecessary — Irregardless. Supposably. Amongst. Utilize. And the new one that rankles me: Resiliency. Just say “use” and”resilience.” You don’t need to make yourself sound so fancy … especially when it makes you sound ridiculous.
Now I step off of my high horse. And lest you be disgusted by my outright display of snobbery, I’ll confess to shortcomings of my own. I certainly am not perfect; there are probably 32 mistakes in this post alone. Sometimes I make up words for my own entertainment, like “ridiculocity.” As in, “the ridiculocity of this place is astounding.” And that “who” vs. “whom” thing … I can’t ever get that right. That’s something to work on before next year’s Grammar Day.
Photo source: Mediaite.com