I'm going to rant and probably be unfair and doubtless hypocritical so in advance, forgive me and I'll chant later. No real life examples have been used to protect the innocent (and that's a beautiful grammatical ambiguity right there!)
I'm a fully paid up liberal - on just about everything including 'grammar'. I'm even liberal about spelling. But, I'm inconsistent because there are some things up with which I will not put. Partly, it's because I have spent years in English classes being drilled in grammar and years in Latin classes. I also have a language professional as a parent so I guess I'm a bit obsessed. Anyway, despite my misgivings about being seen as an authoritarian pedant, I've decided to share with you, dear blogue, some of the errors I see in writing that make me groan.
A * in front of an example means I think it's WRONG, WRONG, WRONG.
Hypercorrection is the misapplication of what the speaker or writer misunderstands to be the "formal" rules of grammar or useage.
People pick up somewhere along the line that in subject position they should write "you and I" and not "you and me". Now, I don't much mind "you and me" in speech or in written dialogue, in fact I use it and find it quite natural as in
You and me should have dinner some time.
But I cannot stand the hypercorrection that I see more and more of:
- *Nothing must come between you and I.
OK, the point is that here "you and I" is not in subject position, it's the object of the preposition "between". It should be
Nothing must come between you and me.
It's not hard to see that 2 is wrong. Consider a parrallel:
Simon came between James and Victor.
*Simon came between they.
Simon came between them
Five is wrong and six is correct. The pronoun should be in the object (or accusative) case. It's the same with "you and me".
For your homework, which of the following is correct?
He wants you and me to go with him.
He wants you and I to go with him.
A similar hypercorrection occurs when people write or say
- *It is I!
The mistake seems to be based on that old grammar pedant tactic of trying to make English fit the patterns of Latin grammar. But it doesn't. In English the complement of the verb to be is in object (or accusative) case. If you need convincing, try saying the next example out loud to yourself
It is he!
Can you really say that 11 is the correct form? It's hardly even natural. It's ugly and wrong.
Making and mess of mass and count
Although the distinction can look fuzzy, a mass noun is one that has no plural and where you can't count individuals. Conversely, a count noun has a plural and you can count individuals.
OK. A good example is a noun that is both!
Some cheese would be nice after dinner
Some cheeses only ripen after many months
See the difference? In 13 we're talking mass (an amount of cheese) and in 14 we're talking a number of different specific cheeses: gruyere, cheddar, parmesan, etc.
So how does this go wrong? It's with less and fewer. People say and write
- *Less people voted Republican than Democrat in the last election.
when what they should say is
Fewer people voted Republican than Democrat in the last election.
(see how illiberal I am? I think there are ways people should and shouldn't write!). Mass nouns take less and count nouns take fewer. Alas, less and less people know the rule these days...
Of woulds and shoulds and could have beens
Increasingly I see the examples like the following
- *You should of told me.
- *You shouldn't of told me.
These should have been
You should have told me.
You shouldn't have told me.
What we have is a string of three verbs: a modal, an auxiliary and the main verb. But the common, elided pronuncation auxiliary have combined with a lack of grammatical awareness leads people to write what they hear as of. Now you can check whether it should be have or of by just getting rid of the modal (and doing something with the negation in 20). You get
You have told me.
You haven't told me.
- *You of told me.
- *You ofn't told me.
It's the little things that get to you...
OK. Ever grammar tyrrant has vented about this one. The apostrophe is used in English in three distinct functions. First it is use to indicate possession on nouns. For example
The dumbells are Peter's.
You can check whether it's a possessive use by substituting a pronoun:
The dumbells are his.
If you substitute with my, mine, your, yours, his, her, hers, our, its, ours, their theirs then the noun is in the possessive case and you use an apostrophe.
The second use of the apostrophre is to indicate contraction - the omission of letters. So we get
It's a lovely day today.
No difficulty working out that this is a contraction, just try to expand it
It is a lovely day today.
The real problem here is confusing the possessive pronoun its with the contraction of it is. But once you know the difference and think before you write there's no need to be confused!
The last funciton of the apostrophe is in forming the plurals of lower case letters: mind your p's and q's!
OK. I'm feeling calmer now. I'll stop. But I think I'll come back and edit this one as I think of more examples for me to be judgmental about.