As far as Grammar Nazis go, I’m about as lenient as they get. I don’t have a problem with incomplete sentences (“Apology accepted.”), split infinitives (“to boldly go”), ending a sentence with a preposition (“Give them what they asked for.”), or pronoun disagreement (“Somebody left their book.”).
I just don’t think that the way we use English, particularly spoken English, can be completely prescribed by arbitrary rules that were written hundreds of years ago. As language evolves, sometimes the rules need to change. Which is why I don’t have a problem with ”a whole nother,” a phrase that drives many people crazy, but is really no different from ”abso-freakin-lutely.”
Yes, it’s OK to break some rules. But there are other rules that are there for a reason, and breaking them annoys the bejesus out of anyone with the slightest appreciation for the English language. Here are some of the best ways to have the Grammar Nazis knocking at your door.
1. I could care less
This is my number one pet peeve because it’s so common, and so obviously the opposite of the intended meaning. When someone says “I could care less,” I wonder, “Well, why don’t you?”
If they could care less, that means that they do care to some extent. What they want to say is “I couldn’t care less,” meaning that they don’t care at all.
Come to think of it, no one seems to have trouble with “I couldn’t be happier” or “I couldn’t agree more.” Why?
On second thought, this is my biggest pet peeve.
Maybe someone wants to say “My mind is exploding with new ideas,” but they think this figure of speech isn’t strong enough. They decide that they need to embellish a little, or you won’t take them seriously. So instead, they say “My mind is literally exploding with new ideas.”
Well, if their mind is literally exploding, you should call 911. But chances are, they meant that their mind was exploding in a figurative sense. This meaning would have been perfectly clear without saying “figuratively,” but for some reason they decided to clarify their thoughts by adding a word meaning the exact opposite.
On those rare occasions where the word is used correctly, it’s often useless. If someone says “It literally changed my life,” that’s correct, but they could have simply said “It changed my life” with no loss of clarity.
It’s only necessary to say “literally” when your statement is likely to be misinterpreted as a figure of speech. My difficulty in coming up with a reasonable example suggests how rarely this happens, but for example, “Girls like that are a dime a dozen. Literally – I’ve never seen mail-order bride prices this low!”
Apostrophes are not garnishes whose use is limited only by your imagination. They are used in contractions and possessives, not for plurals, and not whenever you want to spice up a sentence.
“Its about time you got you’re apostrophe’s right, dont ya’ think?”
4. Could of, would of, should of
“Could’ve” is a contraction of “could have.” Unfortunately, “could’ve” sounds like “could of,” and that’s how a lot of people write it. Maybe they could’ve, would’ve, should’ve learned some grammar.
5. Different than
The correct phrase is “different from.” Doesn’t ”I’m different than you” sound like fingernails on the blackboard? There’s a difference between “than” and “from.” You would never say “I’m taller from you,” would you?
Homophones are words that are pronounced the same, but which have different meanings. They are usually spelled differently (which technically makes them heterographs), which allows the potential to pick the wrong word.
Suppose someone says, “They’re too experiments really peaked my interest. Eye thought they wood have a huge affect on me, but they barely phased me.” The words they were looking for were “their,” “two,” “piqued,” “I,” “would,” “effect,” and “fazed.”
You don’t notice when you here it, but you sure do when you sea it. So take just a split second to decide between then/than, principle/principal, complimentary/complementary, discreet/discreet, to/too/two, there/their/they’re, right/write/rite, and all the other words that sound the same, but aren’t.
7. I vs. me
This one is controversial because the correct usage sometimes violates our instincts, as in “He’s taller than I.” It’s grammatically correct, but it sounds weird. I guess we’re all so used to hearing everyone say it wrong, including ourselves.
So people say “He’s taller than me” because it sounds right, and even some grammarians will look the other way. (BTW, it’s much easier to see what’s right when you add the missing verb at the end – “He’s taller than I am” vs. “He’s taller than me is.”)
What I can’t stand though, is when people hypercorrect their overusage of “me” by using “I” when “me” is actually the right word, resulting in ridiculous sentences like “Tom’s coming to the movie with Fred and I.”
While their intentions are good, there’s no need to use bad grammar and look pompous at the same time. “I” is a subject, and “me” is an object. Tom isn’t coming to the movie with I, he’s coming with me.
This post is long enough already, but I didn’t want to finish without giving a quick nod to some of my other favorites: “I’m going to lay down,” “Everything’s going good,” “Think different,” “Nip it in the butt,” “Let’s try and do it,” “I have less apples than you,” and “I entered my PIN number at the ATM machine.”
What else you would add to this list? And what is the role of Grammar Nazis in today’s society?
Photo by kenposan