Anesa Miller

Tsk, Tsk! Do’s & Don’t’s for the Grammatically Challenged

Author, author!

Take heart, Gentle Reader! Author and recovering print &  broadcast journalist Sarah Scott is here to rap all our knuckles, er, to provide a pep talk on proper English. “Read & Lerrn”: that’s my motto!

Sarah Says —

What grammar goof sets your teeth on edge, makes you seethe with snobbish intolerance? If you’re coming up with nothing, then you might want to stop reading at the end of this sentence. If you are in the other camp, the one pitched on the temple grounds of correct usage of our mother tongue, then please read on and offer your own grimace-inducing examples in the comments section below.

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Before I list mine, let’s begin with the (yeah, yeah) agreement that English isn’t sculpted in marble, never to be improved upon, revered in its fixed state forever. We all know that what once was acceptable (e.g., “ain’t” and double negatives) is no longer considered appropriate. It’s also true that the stickler choice isn’t always the best. If I were to say, “It’s not I,” you might well think I am a pompous tush, with said tush as stiff as a week-old cadaver’s. “It’s me,” just sounds better, doesn’t it?

That caveat out of the way, I offer my grammatical equivalents of nails on a blackboard:

1) “More unique” or “rather unique” or any qualifier at all before unique. Either it is or it isn’t.

2) “More (or most) importantly” rather than “more (or most) important” in a sentence such as this: “Most importantly, we have to consider that we should be grateful people still use the spoken word to communicate anything at all these days.” Most important, it’s not an adverb we’re after.


3) Okay, here’s a really picky one. I was reared to make a distinction between “healthy” and “healthful.” (And I was reared to say one rears children and raises tomatoes.) Back to my whine. A human being is healthy, because his or her diet is healthful, full of vitality. I suppose a carrot could be both healthful and healthy, depending on its condition.

4) “Who” when “whom” is warranted. This blunder appeared in a recent online article in The New York Times: “Ms. Lazarus, who [sic!] New York magazine called ‘the Martha Stewart of weed baking’ makes confections….” Perhaps this writer should be excused for delving too deeply into the subject matter. Some grammarians claim this one doesn’t matter anymore. My retort: for whom?

5) “Less” when “fewer” is correct. The most pervasive usage of that goof, of course, is at any grocery store’s checkout section: “Express Line: 12 or Less Items.” If anyone knows of a grocery that uses “fewer,” please gladden my heart by telling me. I’ll write the manager a thank-you note.

6) This last one probably is on your list too. It’s the one NPR’s listeners chose as their most detested grammar peeve. Yep, it’s using “I” instead of “me” as the object of a preposition. “Would you like to come to dinner with Jim and I?” “She sat next to Mary and I.” “Could you bring around the car for Ed and I?” Sadly, the mistake is made by people who want to sound intelligent and literate, poor dears, and are convinced “me” is substandard English. These well-meaning folks would never say, “Come to dinner with I” or “Sit next to I.” In a phone call not long ago, I heard myself say defensively, “That will work for my husband, and it will work for me too,” just so the customer service guy on the other end wouldn’t think I was ignorant and stupid to boot!

If you’ve read this far, you too might be aware of a recently published book by Mary Norris, copy editor for The New Yorker, titled Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen. It’s said to be as funny as Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss, but presumably with fewer punctuation errors than that book on punctuation contained.

My blog host Anesa might want to throw in a few of her own grammar gripes in the comments, and I know we both want to hear yours. As for any errors you might find in this guest blog that you think are my failings, they were inserted by the NSA during email transmission.

Sarah Scott is the author of the mystery Lies at Six: “A thriller’s pacing. Vivid Southern locales. Witty dialogue and wry observation about what passes for news on TV…and truth in our lives,” available as an e-book and in print. She lives in remote Ashford, WA, at the entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park. Her husband Bill Compher has been recognized worldwide for his imaginative treehouse designs: Visit for lodging and tour information.

♥ Don’t forget to sign on for a great #GIVEAWAY through April 2015: Win $50 in free books from Powell’s of Portland! Support indie writer & bookstore.Click here! ♥

14 thoughts on “Tsk, Tsk! Do’s & Don’t’s for the Grammatically Challenged”

  1. Egad! #5 always slays me. How hard is it to remember “fewer cows give less milk”? I, to, was reared while Daddy raised tomatoes, but my current bugaboo is lie and lay. They make me yearn for the French reflexive. I lay my book on the table before I went to lie down. And then there is lain, which one never hears anymore, correctly phrased or not.
    Thanks for carrying the banner, Sarah Scott.

    1. Those are top-notch examples, KTraynham! (Or should that be knotch?) “fewer cows give less milk”–brilliant! If I could only commit it to memory, I know it would help me attain better usage. Personally, I always loved the word “lain,” but rarely find an opportunity to work it into conversation. As an archaic term, it should eventually be even more fun.
      Still trying to pinpoint my absolute biggest grammatical complaints… I’ll get back to you. One phrase that does irk me considerably is “fiction novel,” which strikes me like Sarah’s “more unique.” But are those strictly grammatical sins? Or maybe a bit more….lexical?

    2. At day’s end, when I’ve laid the banner down, sometimes I nonetheless have lain awake pondering such particularities. Funny that you and I, Kathe, given our love of language, are veterans of television news, that wasteland of accuracy and precision.

  2. Oh Sarah, I would relish in your nails on a chalkboard when I am battling employees over, “I seen him” and “where you at”

  3. How funny – just noticed that the NSA clearly caused my “too” to become a “to,” so apologies for poor proofing skills on my part. How kind of you not to call attention to it. Let’s hope we don’t have to endure any to, too, two discussions as a result. My fault.

  4. I have a lot of grammar pet peeves. My biggest one is “till” when it’s supposed to be until or ’til if you MUST shorten it! Till means something completely different! And your vs you’re. But that’s just a given. 😉

    1. I’ve been chastised by many an editor on that one, Emerald! Somehow “until” strikes me as overly formal in character dialogue. I know it’s correct, but don’t people normally drop the first syllable in conversational speech?

  5. Julia Park Tracey

    I swear by all that is holy, the expression “fiction novel” should be outlawed. By royal fiat. I send lightning (not “lightening”) bolts upon those who say this. Yea, verily, I mean it!

  6. You’ve covered most of the things that set my teeth on edge – and I wouldn’t say grammar is my strong suit. What irks me more than poor grammar is the mispronunciation of the word “nuclear” – especially on the lips of high-ranking politicians.

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