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A Grammar Rant

It's been a long time since Crabby Old Lady got her knickers in a twist over grammar but last week, Gnomedex founder and all-round technology guru, Chris Pirillo, posted a rant on the subject and Crabby has been muttering to herself ever since.

“It drives me batshit,” wrote Chris, “to see someone use your and you’re interchangeably. Hello! They are not the same word! Are people seriously not learning these things in school, or are they too lazy to type/spell the words correctly?! It makes me want to tear my hair out.”

Crabby's with you, Chris. She has always assumed the grammar police were mostly old people, but Chris is barely past 30, so Crabby is pleased to know there will be at least one person to take up the slack for her when she shuffles off this mortal coil. Someone has to uphold standards.

One expects a publication as esteemed as The New York Times to be on their grammatical toes, but there are increasing numbers of errors in the old gray lady of late. A few weeks ago, a reporter made Crabby's teeth ache, writing: “... with he and his wife, Juliet, expecting their first child.”

Crabby's teachers passed on a number of clever tricks to help students mind their grammar p's and q's. One of them addressed the Times' writer's mistake. When you are unsure whether to use he or him, or you or I in a pair, read the sentence while dropping the other name and you'll hear which is correct.

For example, if you omit “and his wife” in the quotation above, it is obvious you can't say “with he expecting their first child.” Too often, people write or say, “She went to the store with him and I” or “...with he and I.” Drop either one of the pronouns in each phrase and you can easily tell that me is correct, not I, and him is correct, not he - and you don't even need to know that it's a rule about which kind of pronoun follows a preposition.

Another teacher trick involves the choice between amount and number which are commonly misused. If it is a collective noun being referenced, amount is correct as in “an amount of money.” If you can count the items – 1,2,3 – then number is correct as in “the number of dollars.” Crabby hears amount used incorrectly almost every day on television business reports when it should be number. She thinks people who use the two words more frequently that most should know the difference.

A remarkable number (!) of people don't know the difference between then and than, as in “then we went to the beach” versus “it's bigger than a breadbox.” These can't be typos; a and e are on different rows using different fingers on a keyboard. So it must be ignorance.

Crabby reserves her greatest disdain for those who use less when they mean few or fewer. Less calories is nearly universal in television commercials for products related to weight loss and it drives Crabby – to borrow a term from Chris – batshit. Do you know how many people are involved in producing those commercials?

At the ad agency and the production studio, there are the writers, producers, graphic artists, a project manager, art director, account executive, audio and video technicians, a director, the actors or a voice-over artist and a variety of assistants. Does not one of them ever say, “Hey wait a minute, this is wrong”??? How can that be?

A similar number of people are involved in designing food packaging. Next time you're in the supermarket, take a stroll down the diet aisle. Every package that promises to help with weight loss boasts in big letters, LESS CALORIES.


The principle is the same as with amount and number: when the noun is collective, the word is less; when you can count the items in the noun, the word is few or fewer. Example: You will gain less weight if you eat fewer calories.

Whew. That should hold Crabby's ire for a little while. Given the high level of grammatical skill among Time Goes By readers who comment, Crabby Old Lady is pretty sure you will have your own pet peeves to add to this short collection.

The latest episode of Life (Part 2) takes on the physical aspects of aging. A number of people and organizations have created ways for younger people to understand elders' limitations. In this clip, a young man visits one researcher who helps him into an “empathy suit” to simulate some of the problems of an aging body.

You can view the entire episode – The Mechanics of Aging – here.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ellen Younkins: A Bowlers Lament


I can hear my mother applauding from her grave.

Uh oh, flexibility exercises here I come.

I know about aging - I'm there. As for incorrect grammar and spelling, my pet peeve is misusing their/they're.

Lose and loose -

My pet peeve is the use of the word "seen" when the correct tense would be "saw". I hear it everyday from a higher up in my office. A close runner-up is using ideals when one means ideas.

affect / effect

Yes!! I'm not alone. Dee

Oh! I am so glad it isn't just ME that cringes at these things.

"Where do you live AT?"

The whole their, there, they're along with the your you're confusion. Were the asleep during grade school? Isn't it taught properly anymore?

I have a photograph on my phone of a supermarket SIGN with an incorrect apostrophe in it. (TV's)

I hope my own blog has FEWER mistakes in it. My mother the editor keeps me right when one gets by me.

You want to talk about numbers? Here is one for you that is a classic for me….

We have a local television news organization who a couple of years ago posted an article released by the Associated Press on their website. The article related to a local university athlete who had been arrested for DWI. When addressing the blood alcohol content of the subject individual the jaw-dropping sentence read as follows…..

"Under Arkansas law, a driver is presumed drunk with a blood-alcohol level of oh-point-oh-eight percent."

When I noted the word “oh” being used in the context of the number “zero” at first I could not believe it and then I burst out laughing. I will be the first to admit I make my share of grammatical errors but there was something about this one that was way over the top.

I immediately wrote the editor noting the grievous error and suggesting that they either simply use the number itself in the article or use the word “zero”.

When I began blogging several years back it put me much more in tune with my grammatical roots, of which several of those roots had apparently endured a severe drought at some point.

I have a terrible time with the words “to” and “too”. And have also been known to use “your” when I should have used “you’re”. And then there are those times when I am trying to grammatically relate a conversation between two or three people, I feel like I am back in second-year Algebra.

When it comes to word-processing software and spell check, the blogging software I use, WordPress, has a unique check I haven’t really ever seen anywhere before. When you use words like “your” and “you’re” it will flag whichever word you used and ask if you meant to use that word or the other word. And not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but I will take whatever help I can get. :)

If you love writing however I think the bottom line is that getting the grammar and punctuation right is as much a part of the love of writing and the composition itself.

"Very unique" is the one that gets me. As far as I know, something is either unique or it isn't.

"Between you and I"

You done good.

Its and it's. I see that nearly every day. And it drives me crazy when I see it in a newspaper or magazine. Where are the copy editors?

I forwarded the column to my 87-year old mother. She will love it. She's still working on the 20-something grandkids!

I can still hear my Mother shouting back at the Television when the Winston commercial came on.

"Winston tastes good AS a cigarette should", Mom would shout, "Not LIKE a cigarette should, AS a cigarette should."

I think the "Boys" on Madison Avenue heard her all the way from Philadelphia.

None of that bothers me with other people. Most of the time I assume they were in a hurry. When I do it, it drives me nuts, but often it's the same reason-- in a hurry. Once in awhile I have commented somewhere and realize later I made some basic mistake like the wrong form of here/hear. It's not because I don't know. It happens to me most often when commenting as at least with my blog, I can edit it later if need be.

Top favourite for me is a proud sign outside a residence:
"The Smith's."

The Smith's what I wonder, his dog, her house, her mail?
And what comes to mind is a solitary Smith living in a lather of indecision trying to decide what (s)he can declare as hers/his.

I grind my teeth as I pass.

Yes, I get crabby about all these, too. Along with:
'should of' (instead of 'should have') and
'I'm going to the bedroom to lay down' (lay down what? Your sword and shield?)
And errant apostrophes abound. They are not just on greengrocers' signs any more. I've even seen them on the BBC website!

"I stood at the hotel."

"I hung the pitcher."

I agree with Rain. I often look over a comment or even a post and cringe when I see a "here" instead of "hear". I'm often in a great hurry trying to get a post out.

Even so, I still get bothered with people using "which" when it should be "that".

The trouble is, we see grammatical errors so often that they begin to look correct. Then we mimic the error in error. ;-)

"that" instead of "who" (when referring to a person)

"who's" instead of "whose"

Millie, please allow me to point out that "stood" is a Southern colloquialism for "stayed", as is "carry" for "take" (a friend may offer to "carry" one to the store.)

I see I join a long line of those who have their pet grammatical hates. The it's and its, apostrophes for plurals, we was instead of were

The struggle people have here in learning Spanish because they've never been taught English grammar. Can you believe it - never been taught it - so they don't know what a noun or a verb is.

One of my pet hates used to be the use of different than or different to, instead of different from, but I think it's customary in the USA to use the former.

Advertisers have a lot to answer for - cheez, toysRus and the spreading use of text shortforms in emails. Grrrrr....

my two favorites from NY:
I should have went
I axed him to call me later


Unfortunately, I think when I hear the error often enough, I begin to use it as if it were correct. mea culpa. But I agree completely.

I think we are fighting a losing battle, even though I believe that it's a battle that we have to keep fighting. "Texting" is training this generation of school kids to use a language that might well become the standard in another half-century. While times change, it's not always for the better.

When I taught grammar to eighth graders back in the 70s, we were still using diagramming, which I believe was a useful visual aid for understanding the grammatical structure of a sentence.

I recently read an entertaining and informative book, "Origins of the Specious," which offers some clever insights into the evolution of the English/American language.

Maybe it's because I read the sports pages more thoroughly than I do other sections of the newspaper, but I find some of the worst writing/editing there. One error that turns up too often is the use of "site" as a substitute for the verb "cite," as in "while admitting it was having a down year this season, the coach sited the team's excellent past record as proof of its talent level."

"... your call will be answered in the order it was received." Yikes. ... order in WHICH it was received, puh-leez!

I have forgotten a lot of the grammar I learned in school, but I also get riled up at the miss use of their/they're, then/than and a few others. I might mess up with typos on occasion, but I do know the difference!

But is it "One expects a publication as esteemed as The New York Times to be on "their" grammatical toes"? or should it be the New York Times on "its" grammatical toes? just curious.

I'm a retired editor. The errors I most often pointed out were using "it's" instead of "its" and putting apostrophes in plurals. Those still make me gnash my teeth.

I join those who "don't get their knickers in a knot" with occasional grammar errors, especially in blogging, because I know I make my share -- usually because I'm in a hurry and haven't taken time to double check, or just plain overlooked some as I noticed not long ago included writing "they're" instead of "their" even though I know better, plus sometimes I'm tired and don't think as clearly and get confused with "effect" and "affect" though I know the difference between those two words, also, too, and then "their" are those people, to, who write run-on sentences up to paragraph length, redundantly never letting them end as I am sometimes very guilty of doing, but I would never think of doing such a think -- oops, thing -- here in a comment on this grammar post since I'm busy putting my commas in all the wrong places. Whew! Gotta catch my breath. I've noticed Word's spell check makes errors sometimes.

Please feel free, anyone, to point out any of my grammar errors whenever, or wherever, as I've always welcomed the thought of having an editor. I could use more guidance with my overall writing, too.

I am almost afraid to post to this, in case I make a grammar error! The horror!

I will just say this:

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff--and it's all small stuff!

Read the book by Richard Carlson!

I’ve always wanted to get my pen on to the "12 items or less" sign at the supermarket. Unfortunately, they’re a bit too high so I don’t.
And don’t get me started on apostrophes.

Also don’t start sentences with "and".

I do believe that some overly aggressive grammar critic is on a mission to eliminate the use of the word "take" and replacing it with the word BRING. They have done a good job of it too. Perhaps I've used "take" incorrectly all my life but I hate to hear "BRING" being used by everyone today. I'm not going to stop using "take" even when faced with proof that it is an error to do so.
It has served me well for almost seventy years, and frankly Scarlet; I don't give a dam what others think. You can TAKE that to the bank.

They taught us that "take" is "from here to there," and "bring" is "from there to here." You TAKE the car to the store and BRING home the groceries.

My father used to rail against modern grammatical shortcuts. I tried to convince him that language is a process, not a product, but I'm beginning to see what he was talking about. I love the English language. I ignore some of the rules I was taught as a child, but my parents and teachers still hammer at me from The Great Beyond.

My 86 year old mother corrected my continual (not continuous) misuse of lie/lay/laid from her hospital bed. Through a heavily medicated haze, still she cared.

You might enjoy The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks.

Thank You Ronni for clearing that up. I feel so much better. I'm going to BRING my pills now.

And my personal problem with the use of the English language is with an all-too-common error in pronunciation -- pronouncing "our" as "are".
"Our" is supposed to be pronounced exactly like "hour", not as "are". This sends chills right up the spine of this long-time radio announcer.

Regarding the use of words that are singular in their form but plural in their meaning such as The New York Times or the crowd, in the US we usually use the singular for of the pronoun as in "The New York Times should mind its Ps and Qs." However, in the UK a word that refers to a plural such as crowd is followed by a plural as in "The New York Times should mind their Ps and Qs."
Am I correct in this? Anyone want to comment?

Oooops,typo --
should be "....in the US we usually use the singular form ..."

Red troo da comments above and dint see my least favorite grammatical confuser: infer and imply. And today, listening to Limbaugh on hate radio, an exercise that's the aerobic equivalent of a brisk two mile walk, I heard the miscreant himself talk about a bank "borrowing someone the money." That's a goof you don't hear very often, but it bespeaks a terrible upbringing. I often blunder around in the lay/lie laid/layed/lain confusatory set... and I confess to a certain carelessness in the misuse of apostrophes. It's and its fly from my fingers with equal weight. I trace the confusion to a grammar school fixation on "its" as a possessive and so why the hell shouldn't it have an apostrophe? And don't bother me with pronoun and proper noun distinctions.

My second wife frequently used "brought" when I would have said "bought." I think she just did it to bug me.

Off the top of my head: disinterested for uninterested; hone in on for home in on; one in the same for one and the same; lay for lie. There are many more. I work with words all day and my employer's message in recent years has been, "Productivity! Profits for the shareholders! Your knowledge and the time you take to correct the work of others is of little value these days. Just get it out there."

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