I was never a big fan of Weird Al Yankovic’s videos, but I love this one:

YES!!  Go, Weird Al!  We may not have much in common, but we obviously share a fundamental trait:  we’re both grammar grumps.  Every time I see 15 Items or Less at the grocery store, I’m nearly as annoyed by the sign as I am by that person in front of me stacking 187 items on the conveyor.  I’m triply annoyed if one of those items is a box of food with a label advertising 1/3 Less Calories!

In case you didn’t already know, less and fewer have different meanings.  So do number and amount, although a surprising number (not amount) of intelligent people use them interchangeably.  It drives me nuts when I hear newscasters talk about “a large amount of people” showing up at some public event.  I’ve been known to yell grammar lessons at the TV during such moments.

For the record, if you’re talking about something you can count, the proper words are number and fewerA large number of people attended, but fewer than last year. If you’re talking about something you would measure — or can’t count —  the proper words are amount and lessA large amount of manure passing for debate comes out of Washington, and I don’t expect any less of it this year.

Not sure if you’d count or measure?  Well, here’s the convenient way to think of it:  if the word is plural, you’re counting.  Fewer calories.  Fewer people. If it’s not plural, you’re probably not counting.  Less fat … but fewer grams of fat.

Perhaps in the scheme of things, the difference between less and fewer seems trivial.  I don’t care; it’s not trivial to me.  Language matters.  Precision matters.  Clarity matters, and clarity isn’t possible without precision.  Sloppy language honks me off.

Yes, I admit it:  I’m the guy who emails newspaper editors to complain when reporters can’t distinguish between it’s and its.   Again, for the record:  it’s means it is or it has. Its is the possessive form of it … his, hers, its.  So the dog most definitely does not wag it’s tail.

I see its and it’s mixed up all the time in emails, blog posts, tweets, Facebook updates, etc.   I cringe a bit, but hey, we’re talking about individuals who probably didn’t major in English or journalism and aren’t working with an editor.

Newspapers are another story.  Now we’re talking about people who are supposed to be language professionals, and whose work isn’t published until it’s been reviewed by at least two or three other language professionals.  Maybe it’s because media organizations are now staffed by people who grew up watching TV instead of reading books, but I’m stunned by the number (not the amount) of errors I see in newspapers, magazines, advertisements, online news sites, and even in title graphics that appear on network news and sports programs.  It’s a tough old world out there for a grammar grump like me.

I’m not sure why I grew up to be a grammar grump.  My mom taught high-school English, but not until I was nearly finished with high school myself.  In fact, she recalls sending my dad love-letters while she was in high school and he was away at college … and then receiving them back in the mail with the misspellings and grammar errors circled in red ink.  (Amazingly, she married him anyway.)

So perhaps I inherited grammar grumpiness from my dad.  He majored in business administration and ran his own company after a career in sales, but he had a professional writer’s way with words.  He would occasionally ask me to proof a business letter for him, and I was always impressed with his clear sentences, the logical flow of his paragraphs, and the fact that I never — and I mean never — found a misspelled or misused word.

If I did inherit grammar grumpiness, it was honed when I wrote for the campus newspaper in college — thanks mostly to Harry, our faculty adviser.  A retired newspaperman from the era when journalists drank at their desks, Harry read each day’s edition cover to cover, marking all the errors in red ink.  Then he dropped the “Harry edition” on our editor’s desk.

We usually crept over to pick up the “Harry edition” as if it were a live bomb, each of us hoping our own articles would be red-ink free.  That was rarely the case.  Occasionally, Harry would even scribble a helpful note in the margin:

Tom – you stated that this technology will likely be adopted in “a couple of generations.”  A generation is approximately 25 years.  Do you really expect it will take 50 years to be adopted?  Aren’t we looking at something more like 20 years?

Perhaps the most embarrassed editor ever to work at our college paper was the one who put this headline over a story:  English Department Opens Grammer Hotline For Students.  Harry’s note in the margin:  They’ll be delighted to know they’re needed.

What a pleasure it was to discover that Weird Al has some Harry in him.  I’m not ambitious enough to go the video route, but in Weird Al’s honor, I’m going to put on my official grammar-grump hat and list some of the all-too-common errors that would probably drive Harry to drink … or least stock up on red pens.

Don’t be jealous, but please be possessive … or plural … just make up your mind.

I understand the confusion with its and it’s.  We’re used to adding apostrophe-s to make a word possessive.  The dog’s tail was wagging. But I don’t understand when I go to a store and see that onion’s and apple’s are on sale.  Or that there’s a managers special.  (A special on managers?  How many per customer?)  And if I see one more mailbox telling me The Robinson’s live there … well, I won’t be outraged if some teenagers decide to play mailbox baseball.  I’ll just assume they’re grammar grumps in a convertible.

They’re grammar needs work

They’re over there, and their car needs a spare.  Okay?  It’s not they’re car, or there car.  It’s their car.  And it’s over thereThey’re sitting in it, planning a game of mailbox baseball.  The Robinson’s better beware.

Your an Idiot

There’s nothing quite so satisfying as being called an idiot by an idiot.  A couple of years ago, I made the mistake of participating in an online political debate with someone who believed insults trump logic and facts.  We had an exchange that went something like this:

Thats not true!  Your an idiot!
Yes, it is true.  You can look it up.  And it’s “You’re an idiot,” genius.
I am not.  Your an idiot!
You’re.  Not Your.  You are an idiot.  Not “belongs to you” an idiot.
You’re missing the point.  It’s a grammar issue.  You’re, not your.
@#$% you, theres nothing wrong with my grammar!  Your an idiot!

In a comedy club in Minneapolis some years back, I noticed an ad on the men’s room wall:  A hot-model babe wearing sunglasses (and not much else), along with the logo for the brand of sunglasses, plus the words:  When Your Ready For The Look!

I couldn’t help myself … I wrote down the name of the ad agency.  I called them the next day and, after managing to convince a couple of gatekeepers I wasn’t a complete nut, got the account manager on the phone.

“I’m sorry, what exactly are you calling about?”
“Your ad, the one for the sunglasses.  When your ready for the look. Y-O-U-R.”
“Yes?  I don’t understand, is there something wrong with it?”
“Y-O-U-R!  That’s like your dog or your car.  It doesn’t mean you are.  See the difference?  You’ve got a huge mistake there in a big display ad that’s probably all over the place.”
“Oh, my … holy @#$%!! Thanks, man!”  (click)

This was an expensive, poster-sized advertisement, you understand.  That means at least  a half-dozen people approved it … writer, art director, account manager, typesetter, printer, and of course the clients.  Nobody caught the error.  Amazing … and sad.

The last time I saw this particular error, a radar-activated highway sign in Illinois told me Your speeding! Yeah, I’m speeding … and your an idiot.

Don’t feel badly about it.

I feel great.  I feel awful.  I feel healthy.  I feel sick.  I feel strong.  I feel tired.  I feel optimistic.  But I never feel badly, because my fingers are in working order.  If they go numb, then I’ll feel badly.  In the meantime, if I’ve insulted anyone, I might feel bad about it.

Sort of unique, really unique, pretty unique.

You can’t be sort of dead, and you can’t be sort of unique … or even really unique.  The word means one of a kind. It’s an absolute condition — no modifiers need apply.  I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard newscasters talk about “a relatively unique situation.”  No, if there’s relativity involved, it would be unusual or perhaps even rare.  But it’s not unique.

Between you and I, if it’s up to you and I, it’s really up to you and me.

Okay, so as kids, we’d run home and say, “Mom!  Me and Billy went to the creek and –” and before we could explain that Billy was last seen slipping under some seriously muddy water and frantically waving for help, Mom would immediately interrupt to say, “Billy and I!  Billy and I!”

So now whenever there’s another person sharing any part of a sentence with us, it’s I, I, I … even when it’s wrong.  It seemed to my wife and I that … between you and I … if it’s up to you and I, we should … Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Billy and I went to the creek. Yes, that’s correct, because you and Billy together are the subjects of the sentence.  But you and Billy can also be considered objects together, even if you never move to California and visit the sex clubs.

Subject, object … let’s not get into diagramming sentences.  Here’s the shortcut:  remove Billy from the equation for a moment.  It’s up to I? I’m pretty sure even people who slept through grammar classes wouldn’t say that.  It’s up to me. Ahh, that sounds better.  Now put Billy back where he belongs:  It’s up to Billy and me.

As for between, remove Billy once again and substitute under for between.  It’s under I? I don’t think so.  It’s under me. And it’s between Billy and me, too.

Ain’t got a brain between them

Years ago a comedian I worked with had a funny bit about being arrested for drunk driving and then becoming belligerent with the cops when they took him in.  (Don’t try this at home.)  I’m paraphrasing, but part of the bit went something like this:

So I’m all stupid and drunk, and I turn to the cops and yell, “@#$% you, you damned cops!  Yeah, you got the badges and guns, but you ain’t got a brain between you!”  They all look at each other, and then the biggest, toughest-looking cop comes over, gets right in my face and says, “Look, punk.  There are three cops standing here, see?  So if you’re real smart, you’ll change that to Ain’t got a brain AMONG you.

Between is a bicycle built for two.  ‘Nuff said.

I realize that by picking this topic, I’ve pretty much invited everyone to point out every typo, every missing word, and every (egads!) misused word in any post I’ve ever written.  Go for it.  I can take it.  I learned long ago that while I’m good at proofreading other people’s work, my brain sees what it expects to see when it’s my own text.

And if you’re a fellow grammar grump, chime in with examples of your own grumpiness.  Maybe I’ll post another list.

37 Responses to “I Confess: I’m A Grammar Grump”
  1. Becky says:

    Oh Tom…. I need to add 2 variables.

    1. Spell-check that switches spellings especially when you are in a hurry.
    2. “code switching” to fit in with peers- I remember getting teased as a child because I used proper grammar. After being accused of being “snobby” I succumbed to slang.

    proof all Naughton coorespondence more thoroughly! (heehee)

    Good ideas.

  2. Natalie says:

    I am a grammar grump of the first order and like you, am often found purple-faced, screaming at the television.

    You know what really does my head in? It’s Americans who refuse to use adverbs.

    “You did that perfect!” Gah! NO! Perfectly! “I’m going slow” No! SLOWLY!

    But there are so many other things that get up my nose…Tte worst offenders are Animal Cops Houston, who also often say that an animal in pain is ‘painful’ and later that they’re ‘doing good’. Are they? Charity work by animals, who knew? Oh, she means they’re doing well.

    In fact, I’m such a grammar/correct usage grump, I even stopped listening to a band that sang “When you are with me I’m free/ I’m careless, I believe.

    Uh, surely they mean free of care, or CAREFREE. Unless the girl makes him so nervous he no longer cares what he does and you know, just breaks plates willy-nilly, or something.

    It’s hard for us out there Tom.

    That reminds me of another one: hopefully. “Hopefully, we’ll arrive later today.” So you’ll arrive later today, full of hope at the time? No, you mean you hope to arrive later today.

  3. GHarkness says:

    Love your post – and I am the worst grammar grump ever (also daughter of an English teacher). But, apropos of your second-to-last paragraph, you have a missed word….right here:

    “If did inherit grammar grumpiness,”

    I assume you mean If *I* did…..? And I agree. I can’t proofread my own work worth a hoot.

    Nevertheless, this is excellent. The only problem is that people who need this won’t be interested in it. Those of us who appreciate it, don’t need it!

    My wife caught the missing word as well. Too true, the people who need to read this probably won’t, but it’s fun for the rest of us to vent.

  4. mrfreddy says:

    I believe they’res medication for you’re condition.

    Will it make me feel badly?

  5. Steve says:

    Got to do it …

    Roughly paragraph 10: If did inherit?

    How do you feel about irregardless? I’ve been trying to purge that from my vocabulary for about fifteen years.

    My wife beat you to it. That’s my biggest weakness when I proof my own text … my brain fills in those little missing words.

  6. Andrew says:


    My one addition would be when people use “cause” or “cuz” instead of “because.” That one sends me into fits every time I hear it. Especially when one of my siblings uses it as a retort to a question.

    That would probably drive me batty as well … but best not to let a sibling know that.

  7. Jeanie Campbell says:

    Yes! As a fellow grammar snob, you’ve hit most of the big ones that irritate me. Here’s another BIG one. “If you don’t mind me asking”. WRONG! It is “If you don’t mind my asking”. I don’t even know what that is called in grammar (a gerund?) but it gets me boiling every time. Oh, and another – comparatives. “My eldest son”, when you know she has only two sons. It should be “elder” or “older”. Thanks, Tom, for letting us join in on your rant. I’m sure my husband (who WAS an English Major in college) will have more. I’ll send him this post.

    I forgot about that one. “Eldest” requires at least three, although I don’t see that one misused often enough to drive me up a wall. Now, if you hear “more older than this one,” you are entitled to scream.

  8. Sean says:

    Tom, I think your a great writer and you’re blog is among the unique one’s.

    Actually, I didn’t know about the correct usage of less and between, and I thought my grammar was pretty good.

    There’s a big difference between being a grammar grump and a grammar snob. I thought June Casagrande did a great job of elucidating that, and teaching grammar in general, in her book ‘Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies’.

    Some of the these hard and fast rules that I disagree with are usually the quickest cited by grammar snobs, such as split infinitives and beginning a sentence with a preposition. The split infinitive thing seems to have come from having infinitives that couldn’t be split as in French or Latin. And starting a sentence with a preposition is perfectly legitimate if one has a complete thought that is tied to the previous sentence, in my opinion. The your you’re thing has become something of an internet meme, I think at least some people are writing ‘your an idiot’ ironically.

    Someone once criticized Churchill for ending a sentence with a preposition. He allegedly replied, “That’s the sort of pedantry up with which I shall not put.”

  9. Jan says:

    Ah, a subject dear to our hearts. But before I go any further, let me just explain that my better half (he’ll be the “Be” in your comments section) types very quickly, but not as quickly as his brain works. His comments will be rife with typos; please cut him some slack (I can only imagine the effect his comment on your immigration post had on you).

    Some of my pet peeves? As well as all of those you mentioned, effect and affect – the typos had an adverse effect on you. They affected you in a bad way. Another is “well” and “good” – you do something well. You feel good. My biggest peeve, however, is the use of “up” when you mean “increase.” Up is a direction, not a verb – balloons and airplanes go “up” – you “increase” your medication or the contribution to your 401K.

    You yell at the television; I’ve been known to say unrepeatable things to Microsoft Word’s “grammar check” function.

    I should probably have mentioned that I don’t judge anyone’s grammar or spelling skills based on the comments. We all tend to type those in a hurry, and we can’t go back and edit after they appear. (I can, but readers can’t.) My wife frequently points out missing words in my replies, which I also type quickly.

    In fact, she just found a missing word in the post …

  10. ML says:

    The one that drives me nuts is the then/than thing.
    It’s almost to the point on the internet that the correct
    usage is the rarer.

    But not the most rarest.

  11. Anna says:

    Great post. Even though I am a bit of a grammar grump (according to my 5th grader), there’s always something new to learn or review.

    One of my favorite PBS radio shows is A Way With Words. The show discusses grammar and language in an enjoyable and friendly format.


    I wasn’t familiar with that one. Thanks for the link.

  12. Kate says:

    I moved to a town where the locals said, “hows come?” instead of “why?” Yes, “how” can be plural, or possess come.

    I guess you can consider that local color.

  13. D. says:

    I am another grammar snob. I had very good English teachers, who emphasized proper grammar. My 8th grade teacher always said that “dove” is a bird, not the past tense of dive, which is dived. Now the dictionary has dove as the past tense of dive. I suppose it’s become such a common usage, that someone editing the dictionaries just threw up his hands and said, “It must be right, everyone says it now!” Same thing with the word “pled” as the past tense of plead. What’s wrong with “pleaded”? Why change the language with sloppy substitutes when the real words are so much better?!
    I find great joy in reading simple, well-written items.

    TBS advertises “less commercials”, drives me crazy every time I hear it. Yes, I yell at the TV, too. It makes me feel better, and perhaps a bit superior, too. After all, I am a grammar snob.

    Language does evolve, which is why we don’t sound like people from Shakespeare’s era. I suspect “snuck” will eventually become the accepted past tense for “sneak” instead of the (currently) proper “sneaked.”

  14. Lori says:

    Many people seem to have forgotten the difference between “lose” and “loose.” When you lose weight, your pants become loose.

    There is no such word as “nother.” The word is “other.”

    Then there is “compose” vs. “comprise.” Animals compose a zoo; a zoo comprises animals.

    The worst is when someone suspects that there’s an error in a document that he’s being paid to produce, but doesn’t look up the answer.

    I’m putting loose vs. lose on my list. I do see that one all the time.

  15. Melissa says:

    It’s crazy that I know all of these grammar errors yet I still make them all the time.
    Usually I type like mad, press that post button and then read my post and go “Oh great, I typed their instead of they’re or it’s instead of its.”
    It drives me nutters for about four seconds, but then I get over it, because I know it’s a result of me being impatient and always multitasking.
    Okay maybe a slight bit of forgetfulness.

    I’m a victim of my own impatience as well. My fingers don’t quite keep up with my brain.

  16. Sarah says:

    I’m not so much a grammar grump as much as people saying things that don’t make literal sense. Like my Mom when she gets up, she’ll start eating breakfast and if I want to talk to her about something, she’ll say “I’m not awake.” Wtf? Are you asleep? You’re very good at sleep eating and sleep talking then. Why not “I can’t think straight yet.” or, “I don’t wanna talk about it, let me eat my breakfast.” Don’t walk around with coffee in your hand for an hour and tell me you’re not awake. D:

    I must admit, I toss out the “I’m not awake” line myself. I guess I’m awake, but certainly not alert until the coffee kicks in.

  17. Charise says:

    I hear this a lot where I live – “Hey, I seen you the other day.”
    SAW. It’s I SAW you. I want to hurt people who say “I seen.” +twitch+

    That sounds like southern slang. You’re hearing this in Canada?

  18. Desia says:

    English is not my first language, and I may be wrong here, but using “should of” instead of “should have” irritates me; I see it quite regularly online.

    You’re not wrong. “Should have” is correct, but people hear the contraction “should’ve” and write it as “should of.”

  19. Dave says:

    Have you read the US Constitution lately? “We the people, in order to form a MORE PERFECT union…” What did you call it? An absolute condition? How many people reviewed that document before it was published. I have always believe it needed some revisions.

    Those idiots! They should have written “more better union” … ! No, wait …

  20. Paul B. says:

    Ok I’ve got a few–

    “Founder” v. “flounder”–if something is sinking, it is foundering. Floundering is when you go finshing for flat ugly fish.

    “Flaunted” v. “flouted”

    “Object” v. “abject”–lots of journalists talk about “an object lesson”–should be “abject lesson.”

    “They’re” v. “there” v. “their”–I think someone covered this one.

    “Whose” v. “who’s”

    “Irregardless”–we use that a lot in the South.

    “I could care less”–usually said when one couldn’t care less.

    Is all this due to public schools?

    I think it’s more likely the result of audio-video entertainment displacing reading to a large degree.

  21. Debbie says:

    I admit I’m another who suffers a bit in the brain/typing fingers coordination department. I know the difference perfectly, but short-circuits from the brain to the fingers are always sending it’s/its and there/their confusions, not to mention many others. I’ve *never* confused “less” and “fewer” however. It’s the grammatical homonyms that trip me up.

    But it makes me think of a story. My sister and her husband used to live in small town out in the western mountains of North Carolina. Their local school system was so poor they had no budget for “extras” like music or art or physical education, and parents who had some knowledge or experience used to come fill in. My sister was an art major in college, and used to come in to do art projects with the kids. In that way she got to meet her son’s first grade teacher and was utterly horrified at the grammar (or lack of it) that “Mrs. Smith” used. She was upset to think of her impressionable son being exposed to an improper way of speaking, so she went to see the principal to complain.

    “Grammar?” questioned the principal. “I ain’t never heard nuthin’ wrong with Mrs. Smith’s grammar.”

    That was the day my sister came home and told her husband, “If you don’t agree to move away from here I’m leaving by myself and taking the kids with me.” (they moved).

    I still chuckle at the sign in a local county park which reads “No dog’s allowed”. I always wonder “Dog’s whats?” dog’s leashes? dog’s chew toys? dog’s bones?

    Oh well, better re-read to see what slips occurred between brain and fingers while typing this. I’ll probably find them all with a re-read except the most egregious, which naturally I will not see until my finger has inexorably mashed the Submit button.

    I once read a list someone had compiled of errors in notes sent by teachers to parents … “Johnny felled to do his homework again,” etc. It was scary.

  22. George says:

    I think you’ll like this, Ten Words You Need to Stop Misspelling: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/misspelling

    Love it.

  23. traderpaul says:

    Son: I did good on my English test at school.
    Grammar Grump: No, you did well on the test.
    Son: Yeah, I did well too.

    I hope the son is young. (But not “Hopefully, he’s young.”)

  24. TonyNZ says:

    I concur, though maybe if I pour a large number of water on you’re head you would feel fewer badly about it.

    Yes, I’d probably feel more better.

  25. Bruce in New Zealand says:

    Great post, me too!!
    Try listening to Americian sport commentators using “momentarily”.

    I tend to let the commentators slide if they’re ex-jocks. It’s the journalists — many of whom majored in English or communications — that annoy me.

  26. D. says:

    A few days ago I was reading the comments on another blog, and someone actually wrote “for all intensive purposes”. And I chuckle at people who write “wa la” when they mean “voila”. Of course, that’s not English, so I guess we can cut them some slack on that one. To slightly change the subject, it’s also annoying to read horrendous spelling errors, such as “shewawa”, (a small, yappy dog). Oh, and all those mispronounced words, like “nucular” for “nuclear”. That one makes me cringe every time I hear it, especially from a news commentator.

    Even Jimmy Carter said “nucular” … and he served on a nucular submarine.

  27. Rishara says:

    My grandmother drilled grammar grumpiness into me at a young age. The two that really drove her crazy were the use of ‘taste’ as a noun, as in “I love the taste of Pepsi.” She’d always scream out that you love the FLAVOR of it. She probably rolls over in her grave with its usage today. Her other favorite, similar to unique, was the saying “they are exactly the same except…”

    My dad’s mother spoke with perfect grammar (so he probably inherited grammar grumpiness from her), while my mom’s mother was the “Him and me went to the store” type. It was quite a contrast.

    I’ve never fully recovered from the transition of “impact” into a verb.

  28. Pat says:

    I have trouble with its and it’s, but what makes me wince are their, there, and they’re.

    There’s no excuse for their bad grammar, but they’re not aware of it.

  29. Mark Green (GHS 77) says:

    Hey Tom,
    When we attended CTK & GHS, using correct spelling,grammar and punctuation was not optional. I don’t know if this was a result of attending private schools or if there was more emphasis placed on this during the 1970’s.

    Maybe a bit of both, although when I was in public schools in Iowa, they were just as strict on spelling and grammar.

  30. Natalie says:

    You know I forgot to mention the one that well and truly rips every nightie I own:

    ‘Sugar is addicting’


    No it’s not, it’s addictive!

    I need a lie-down…

  31. John says:

    Wow, I guess we can argue about something this silly when everything in the Gulf of Mexico is doin’ good with all of that oil. Grammur is such an important issue that it doesn’t matter people are still dying every day in Darfur.

    I respect (are you ready for this?) y’alls’ wherewithal to worry about proper usage (well just use). Personally, life’s a (little) too short to spend time fretting a misplaced apostrophe or an improper use of the word ‘less.’

    Yes, I think we should stop worrying about spelling, grammar, mathematical literacy, etc., until all the problems in the world are solved — especially considering that while writing the post, I stupidly ignored the State Department’s phone calls requesting my help on the Darfur situation.

  32. ethyl d says:

    I used to be quite the grammar grump, but after having studied several foreign languages, historical linguistics, and linguistic phonetics, I am inclined to argue that what we see as bad grammar and spelling are merely developments in the language that are inevitable. Words have been changing in meaning and pronunciation in all languages from the beginning of human language; spelling changes over the centuries are the norm for any written language. Many elements of standard English today were once not standard, and what we consider standard will one day be archaic and ultimately obsolete. Mass communication, a written language, and an educated populace can slow down the rate of linguistic change, but not eliminate it. I certainly agree that many of the changes happening today in English are the result of its speakers being poorly educated and even pleased to be so (have you ever been criticized precisely because you insisted on good grammar?), and I do my best to speak and write in a social register appropriate for someone of my educational and professional level, but I honestly believe we are witnessing the natural evolution of language and what we lament as “bad” will one day become enshrined in the grammar books as the correct usage when enough people employ the “bad” as the conventional expression. Just as 2010 speakers of English can’t comprehend what survives from Anglo-Saxon without studying it as a foreign language, a thousand years from now people speaking English won’t be able to understand our writings and recordings if they survive. As a result, I don’t “go all English teacher” on people who make all the mistakes we hear unless I’m in a situation where my language expertise is expected or requested. Languages change, and we can’t keep it from happening.

    Language does change, which is why we don’t sound like people from the Middle Ages. However, when we confuse it’s vs. its, write apple’s for the plural of apples, or tell motorists your speeding, that’s not language evolving; that’s just lousy grammar.

    Side note: Andrew Carnegie led a movement to simply the spelling of English words — wrong would become rong, etc. One of his few failed endeavors.

  33. Pat says:

    I have a question. When do I use ” its’ “? (I hope never).
    Also, where should the apostrophe be in “hers” in this sentence?
    “…I have mine but she lost her’s.” Is that right?


    Hers is already possessive, so no apostrophe required. I lost mine, she lost hers.

    I can’t think of a proper use for its’.

  34. Anthony says:

    You’re my hero, Mr. Naughton.

    A fellow grammar grump, I take it.

  35. Barbara says:

    Didn’t Weird Al place the “fewer” sign inappropriately? My ear prefers “15 or fewer items” over “15 items or fewer.” But maybe that’s just my ear. I appreciate his grumpiness and activism, though. I have identical urges.

    My own special crotchet is an issue of punctuation: the widespread practice of putting quotation marks inside the period or comma rather than outside. You see that everywhere and it drives me nuts. I practically had to send three different secretaries to 12-step programs, to stop them from “correcting” what they were certain were my misplaced marks.

    If you want to know how grammar, spelling and punctuation are overlooked in today’s schools, just take a peek at Facebook where users boast about their advanced degrees from top universities, yet use “your” for “you’re,” “there” for “their,” spell definitely with an “a” and ignore punctuation altogether.

    Journalists aren’t much better. One of my favorite headlines (among many clunkers) in our local newspaper a few years ago was: “HAWAII STUDENTS EEK OUT MARGINALLY BETTER READING SCORES.”


    I’m assuming you’re in the U.S. In England, it’s correct to put quotes inside the period. Perhaps your secretaries are anglophiles?

  36. JM Gulley says:

    Lighten up. English grammar rules were put into place to help people communicate when the printing press was created. In order to more effectively reach the most people, Caxton used the dialect spoken by the greater majority. The purpose of language, then, is to communicate; it is not to communicate via some arbitrary rules used to make other people feel like they can’t speak their own language. You should spend more time listening to the meaning behind what people say, not worrying about them saying it your way. Have you ever had someone say to you, while listening to music, “goodness, no resounding chord? This is aweful!” No? Well, music theory sets the standard rule for music, just as grammar rules do for language. Again, and as an English Professor, I urge you to lighten up. You’ll get an ulcer if you worry about these trivial things so much.

    As a former touring comedian, I don’t need to lighten up. Trust me on that one. The rules of grammar may have been arbitrary when they were created, but it’s by following them that we communicate clearly, which is the purpose of language.

  37. Ericka says:

    Perhaps it’s too late to comment on this; however, I had to throw in my two cents about how much misuse of punctuation around however, when it is used as a conjunctive adverb between two complete sentences, drives me figuratively to insanity.

    Misuse of adverbs and adjectives affects me badly (or real bad, as people around here are wont to say), as well.

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