Sunday, March 24, 2013

Only YOU Can Prevent Grammar Meltdowns.

I don't go around continuously correcting people's grammar, but I do sometimes feel feverish when I see the same mistakes over and over again. I make no claim to perfection myself.  However, A) I get frustrated when people try to act like they have a superior intellect and use language they think makes them "sound smart" but isn't actually correct, and B) there are certain mistakes that I do not understand coming from students who have been required to attain at least a high school-level education and have had English classes from Kindergarten on. What I really don't understand is how students turn in school work or make speeches with these errors that could be easily eliminated by a quick review by peer tutors, friends/family, and even sometimes teachers themselves.

"By the donzerly light," is cute only when you're this age.

So without further ago, I give you my top five English language pet peeves:

#1  The Dr. Whom Complex: trying to sound more educated than others by using "whom" when "who" is actually correct.

If I wanted to sound condescending above, I could have said "I do not understand certain mistakes from students whom have been required to attain a high school-level education."

Sound fancy? Yes. Correct? No.  People often get confused when the word "who" comes after a preposition like from, by, with, for, etc. but isn't the object of that preposition. "Whom" is always an object, and "who" is always a subject. To test, remember that you can often rephrase a sentence as a question and substitute me, her/him, us, or them for whom and I, she/he, we, or they for who.

*Correct*: That is the girl from whom I borrowed some sugar.  (Whom did I borrow sugar from?  I borrowed sugar from her.)
*Incorrect*: I borrowed sugar from that girl whom has just moved in next door.  (Who just moved in next door?  She just moved in next door.)

Similarly, people sometimes use "I" instead of "me" when wanting to sound intelligent.  "Me" is an object, not a subject.

"The graduation party is just for the valedictorian and I."  Nope.

*Correct*: She is the same age as Julie and I.  ('Finish' the sentence: She is the same age as Julie and I are.)
*Incorrect*: She graduated with Julie and I. (Take out Julie to see if the sentence still makes sense.   She graduated with I?  No, she graduated with me.)

#2  Captain Carrot Syndrome: Overusing or underutilizing the comma.

As a general rule, use commas if you are making lists, in if-then clauses, or if you could take out conjunctions (and, but, etc.) and still form complete sentences.

Comma Needed: Commas are useful, but they should only be used when necessary.  (You can take out "but" and divide this into full sentences.  Commas are useful.  They should only be used when necessary.)

Comma Not Needed: Commas are useful but should only be used when necessary.  (You cannot take out "but" and divide this into full sentences.  Commas are useful.  Should only be used when necessary.  The second isn't a full sentence.)

Comma Needed: If you are a human being, you are a Homo sapien.  (If-then.)

Comma Not Needed: I am a human being and therefore a Homo sapien. (You cannot take out "and" and divide this into two sentences.)

#3  These are Not the Words You're Looking For: Using the words "irregardless," "kinda/sorta," and "like" in formal writing/speech.

Irregardless might be in the dictionary one day due to its widespread use... 

... but for now it is still a made up word that people use in place of "regardless," its real-word counterpart.  It is often another case of Dr. Whom Complex; people think "irregardless" is an intelligent-sounding word, so they don't bother finding out that it isn't a word at all.  

Kinda and sorta are fine to say or write informally, but they do not belong in formal papers or speeches.  If you must, write or say "kind of" or "sort of," but those are still wishy-washy terms that most teachers prefer you avoid.  Do remember, though, that "kind of" can be legitimately used to mean "type of."  

"Like" doesn't need much explanation. As with "kind of," remember that it has actual uses, such as in comparisons or explanations.  That whistling sounded like it came from a bird is a fine sentence.  The problem comes when you insert it into sentences that don't need it to make sense.  It's as if the whole world is like completely oblivious to the fact that people use the word "like" too much.

#4  Vowels, Vowels, Everywhere: the misspellings "independant," "definately," and "genious." 

I don't know why these particular misspellings bother me more than others, but they do.  Independent has only e's as vowels, definitely has two i's and two e's, and genius has no o's.  Perhaps it bothers me because they always have the red squiggly Spell Check line under them, so why not use Spell Check? 

(Image from
Those words must be underlined in red because they're just that awesome.

#5   Going Homophone Happy: "You're" and "your" being mixed up (also "they're," "their," and "there").  

These are probably some of the most common mistakes made, but they're like nails on a chalkboard to me.  You're = contraction of you + are.  You're riding a bike.   If you're ready, we will go to the movies now. Your = possessive adjective.  That is your bike.  Your friends would like to go the movies.  

They're = contraction of they + are. They're going with you to the movies.  Their = possessive adjective.  Those are their bikes. There can be a noun or an adjective but is most often used as an adverb meaning "to/in that place."  The movie theater?  We went there after dinner.

...You're going to roll your eyes at me for being a dork, now, aren't you?


It is true that language evolves.  Just one look at Chaucer's Canterbury Tales will confirm that.  It is also true that some grammar rules can (and should) be broken in certain cases; we wouldn't have poetry otherwise.  I break a few traditional rules fairly often.   I have no guilt using "And" or "But" to begin sentences when not writing a formal paper and sometimes will use one word as a "sentence" for emphasis.  But I suspect it will take a long, long time for language to evolve so much that the above rules become obsolete, and I doubt that your teacher will accept the argument, "We could be spelling independant with an 'a' in the next few hundred years or so!" when you turn in your paper.


  1. Love this post. My native language is Russian. As a result, I definitely overuse commas - Russians love nothing better than a good ole comma :)! However, when it comes to grammar, I find myself more English literate than many of the native English speakers. I always thought it was because grammar was probably not taught in schools here in as great a detail as it is taught back home. My significant other is British and well educated, so I was surprised to find out that he needed explanation on what is a subject and what is an object in a sentence. I am not claiming to have perfect grammar – I probably made a mistake or two in this post for all I know. But the errors you have described are so basic that really, there is no excuse for someone who grew up speaking this language for making those errors. And I have learned a thing of two about the punctuation rules from this very post – thank you :)

    - NK

    1. Glad you enjoyed it and took something from it :-). I certainly don't expect perfection from anyone, because like you I can't claim to be inculpable myself, but these few things do get on my nerves!