what I’m hating (grammar edition)

Hollaback Health has done a lot of really good posts on grammar, spelling and punctuation and I’m not trying to rip them off. I love those bitches! But rather than leave them another five-mile-long soulful outpouring of all my favorite grammar tips, I thought I’d share them with YOU in a very special way that – with any luck – will make you hate yourself enough to want to change.*

I would also like to acknowledge the fact that people who aren’t writers are not obligated to care about this stuff. Some of you are very capable, very intelligent graphic designers, applications developers, chemists and surgeons who just franklymydear don’t give a damn about which version of your is correct.

And you know what? I’m willing to overlook it, because you’re probably smarter I am.

But if you fancy yourself a professional writer, there are a few things you need to get through your very thick and probably misshapen skull.

Also, don’t give me any horsey about how you’re lazy or in a hurry. If you expect people who read your work to take you seriously, you need to extend them the courtesy of proper grammar. Unless you think your readers are stupid. DO YOU THINK THEY’RE STUPID? DO YOU?

1. Quotes and punctuation. If you’re putting something in quotations, the punctuation goes inside the quote. Not like “this”. Not ever. No. Nope.

2. Adverbs. This is probably debatable, but AP Style and I prefer you don’t put an “s” at the end of adverbs like backward, forward and toward. (Unless you’re a Brit, in which case we’re all just staring at your teeth rather than listening to you anyway.) Also, using anyways just sounds childish. Don’t do it.

3. It’s not alright. It’s all right. Look it up.

4. Bad/Badly. You feel bad. You spell badly. When you say you feel badly about something, you’re saying the mechanism that allows you to feel things is broken. Maybe you were set on fire and you’re experiencing nerve damage? Maybe you had a lobotomy? If so, my sincerest condolences.

5. The past tense of drag is dragged. Drug refers to pharmacology. (Although I have word from my top-secret military grammar sources that snuck has become an acceptable past tense of sneak. You’ll still never catch me using it.)

6. Over/More than. I hate this one more than anything. Over means “on top of;” more than means “greater than in number.”

7. Comprise/Compose. I heard this used incorrectly on NPR the other day and nearly cried. A whole is composed, or made up of, many smaller parts. To comprise means to contain: “Crack comprises cocaine and baking soda;” but, “crack is composed of cocaine and baking soda.” Easy.

8. An ellipsis…is three periods. Three. Unless you’re intentionally being an asshole………………………

9. Passed/Past. The former is a verb. The latter is everything else.

10. The apostrophe. The apostrophe is used for possessives and contractions and never for plurals. Also: it’s is the contraction of it is; its is the possessive of it. You know what? I can’t believe I’m typing this. If you don’t know the apostrophe rule by now you should just kill yourself.

11. Big words don’t make you sound smarter. In general, try to be economical with your words and don’t speak in the passive voice. What I mean is this: “Breakfast was eaten after yoga was practiced and it was enjoyed by me.”

Active voice: “After yoga, I ate breakfast. It was good.”

Just because a sentence is longer, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better or more descriptive. And really, if you’re agonizing over ways to make a dull sentence sound more interesting, maybe you should instead ask yourself if that sentence has any value at all.

Don’t use a big word just to sound smart. Don’t use component when item will do just fine; and use is almost always better than utilize. And for goshsakes, please don’t use a word unless you really understand the meaning. You’re already on the internet for the love of god, just swing on over to Dictionary.com and LOOK IT UP.

Last, understanding the internet has bastardized the English language and blogging takes on a more casual and conversational tone, here are few things that, while technically incorrect, are not punishable offenses:

1. Incomplete sentences. They’re fine. Especially when you want to emphasize that you’re being dramatic: “This. Can’t. Be. Real.”
2. Slang. But know where the apostrophe goes when using y’all.
3. Cursing. It’s fucking mainstream.
4. Ending a sentence with a preposition. This is something I’ve given up on.

Last, to completely negate everything I’ve just told you:

Break the rules with intention. Some people have a very unique voice and their poor grammar has a purpose. If it makes you who you are, then it’s right. (But 20 bucks says this exception does not apply to you.)

*Inevitably, there are dozens and dozens of grammar, spelling and punctuation errors in this post. If you email me to tell me about any of them, I will eat your face.

UPDATE 3/24/11, 4:25 p.m.: Well, I called it. Spelled a word wrong in the title. If you were one of the exalted few who read this before I corrected it, consider yourself lucky. It’s like going to a gas station where the “3” has fallen off the sign and you get to buy gas for $.29. Except that it will probably happen again tomorrow.


69 thoughts on “what I’m hating (grammar edition)

  1. Love your blog and this post. Along with all you’ve listed above, the one that always gets me is “less” versus “fewer.” Aaaaagggghh.

  2. Awesome. Love this! Especially #8. That really annoys me.

    I screw up on the Passed/Past all the time. I have to double check it whenever I use it. LOL

  3. Wow. I knew you were making those grammatical mistakes throughout on purpose. Never wrote one down.

    You’ve probably heard me complain about grammar on my beer blog once or twice, but I bet you didn’t know Daily Beer Review has a red-headed bastard stepchild that gets totally neglected named http://www.GrammarPrude.com/ It’s not quite as eloquent as this post for sure, but let me know what you think.

    One of my personal favorites has to be… “Will you bring this up to my mother”?

    Yes, I purposely left the punctuation outside of the quote, b/c that’s the way I roll. And I also use a shitload of fucking incomplete sentences. But you let me know when I lose your respect.


  4. What? You corrected Grammer in the title? I was so sure that was on purpose! Poorly played! You should have strangled anyone who said anything!

  5. I want to show this to my students, since the word “grammar” evokes groans and eye-rolls in my direction. And I am so glad that you referenced putting punctuation inside parenthesis. People rarely do this.

  6. Anyways is one of the most annoying things people can say. Most of my college professors said it. My respect for them was not high.

    My boss sent me an e-mail today that said “U da gurl!” (Not grammatically incorrect, I guess…just bad in general.) I’m really hoping that he sent it from his blackberry, since that’s pretty much the only thing that would begin to excuse. . . THAT.

  7. Oh honey, the past tense of drag is Lady GaGa.

    I try to avoid the big words but blogging is my outlet for the inner child who used to read the dictionary. No fer realz. As a kid I guessed “putrid” while playing Taboo.

    The correct answer was “rotten.”

    • There’s almost never any reason to use them, which is why it pisses me off so much when people use them and use them WRONG. (Wrongly?! LOL.)

  8. There are actually one or two occasions in which punctuation inside quotation marks are appropriate………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….I just don’t remember what they are.

  9. Regrettably, most of my mistakes are ones of carelessness or ignorance. I do enjoy cultural differences in grammar, spelling, and language use. Canadians and Brits place punctuation outside the quotation marks … (sidebar: I overuse the ellipsis – I like the way it looks – and I add extra .s all the time because I simply do not have enough free time to backspace) … I was taught the the punctuation only went in the quote if it was part of the quote, but if the punctuation was part of the general sentence it went outside the quotes. Very logical. Mass reliance on MS Office grammar has inflicted US conventions northward, so now both are acceptable in this land of anything goes.

    I have many grammatical quirks, like starting sentences with and (informal writing only), which have probably repelled more than a few readers.

  10. What if someone uses commas instead of periods in an ellipsis? I think if I killed someone out of frustration/annoyance for doing so, it would probably be pardoned in court.

  11. Ha, nice. I was planning on bringing up grammar at some point, but more spoken language than written (ps, then/than–big one). I am guilty of the extra s; anyways, towards, etc. It’s a local accent Philly thing. I draw the line at “yous” though. As in “yous guys”. That comes from NE Philly, thank God I’m from the suburbs.

  12. We should all just hire copy editors. I’m sure there are a bunch out there who could use the work.

    A few confessions:
    1. Whenever I screw up with language, typically spoken, not written, I blame it on English being my second language (even though that’s false).

    2. I love the Grammar Girl podcast.

  13. Best. Grammar. Post. Ever. Y’all!

    Seriously, I consider myself a spelling and grammar nerd and totally learned something new. I love learning. And #10 is the bane of my existence. For the love of god, the DVDs don’t own anything.

  14. Pingback: Your errors are offensive, mine are unavoidable « Motivated Grammar

  15. After a list of peeves that includes more/over, I’m amazed that you then go on to use “very unique,” apparently without irony.

  16. the ability to recognize and point out other’s grammar failures must make you a hit at parties. people love it when you try to correct them. especially when they aren’t wrong and it’s just a style choice that you prefer, yet you insist on telling them that are incorrect and stupid. you must make tons of friends with this behavior.

    and i’m so glad there are so many like minded people it the comment section. real A+ personalities all the way!

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  18. “Unless you’re a Brit, in which case we’re all just staring at your teeth”

    Yes, I guess it must be very strange, to people from a culture where it’s the norm to get into crippling debt having one’s teeth replaced with ludicrous oversized luminous porcelain chiclets, to see anatomically normal teeth.

  19. My readers are not stupid enough to take a lot of this seriously. Good grammar is essential and I always adhere to it. But I also always put punctuation marks outside the quotes where they belong and people like Partridge (the writer of “You Have a Point There”, the best book on punctuation) and others advise. I do what is logical and sensible. The half-witted American convention that the punctuation marks go inside the quotes exists because there was a time when that is how type-setters had to do it because of technical limitations in old-fashioned machines. Only in America could anyone think this was a rule of “grammar”.

    Number 2 is certainly arguable and nothing to do with grammar.

    Number 3: I’ve been tracking it in dictionaries and corpora for years. You don’t think the battle may not be already lost? Sorry, should that be all ready? Alright means ok, and All right means all correct.

    Number 4: You should look that one up.

    Number 5: True. But I have never heard anyone use “drug” in that sense. Snuck started out as a jocular usage. I wouldn’t use it a formal register either, but it’s fine in informal or colloquial usage.

    Number 6: The OED gives 15 odd meanings for “over”. If someone lives “over the road” they don’t live on top of you. Over can mean above and the OED accepts such expressions as “over 20%”, “over 50”, and so on. I find it difficult to believe you are serious about this. Are you over or under 25?

    Number 7: There is an accepted distinction between the two, but you haven’t described it accurately.

    Number 8: I thought that an ellipsis should be four periods if it came at the end of a sentence (one of the dots is the period).

    Numbers 9 to 11 Ok except for criticism of the passive voice. About 20% of Orwell’s famous essay about the degeneration of the language was in the passive. Newspaper writing had about 15% in the passive. Appropriate use of the passive is a sign of a sophisticated writer.

      • Never mind, it’s possible there may be some people out there amongst your readers with attention spans greater than that of a hairy-nosed wombat. Yes, it’s doubtful, I know, but not impossible. And if there aren’t, it is my own fault for writing at a level that only bright teenagers and above would understand. (I say this in a caring way.)

      • As a biologist and nature educator, I take issue with this comment. You discredit yourself by employing a misguided and egregious slight against the hairy-nosed wombat. Your wildly deficient understanding of this animal’s intricacies undermines your point and serves to proliferate unfair stereotypes that promote a reduced understanding of and appreciation for the natural world. I say this only with care and concern. Please either research or spend time in the field observing and studying hairy-nosed wombats before abusing them in simile again.



  20. Cut the poor old oldies a bit of slack. Schools used to teach people to put apostrophes in years — 1950’s, and in a whole raft of other situations: p’s and q’s, for example. Apostrophes are used in contractions and in the genitive (which covers a lot more than just possession: e.g. “A week’s rent”, and so on). Why can’t they also be used to reduce ambiguity in other situations? I’m all for making the language more logical, if possible, and I follow the modern trend of leaving the apostrophes out of years myself. But if you just explain quietly and politely to people that apostrophes aren’t being used quite the same way they used to be, they are more likely to listen to you. (If you really want unbelievers to listen to you.)

  21. Courts don’t pardon people. I suspect that if you murdered someone for using commas in an ellipsis (which sounds like a typo or performance error — the two keys are next to each other) your best defense would be insanity.

  22. Under “comprise” sense 8, the OED gives:

    8.b To constitute, make up, compose.

    8.c pass. To be composed of, to consist of.

    So the greater Oxford lists them as synonyms.

  23. I must remember to make sure my responses are in 100 words or less or the dim-wits who read this Blog won’t be able to concentrate long enough to read them.

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