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These are a few of my least favourite things...


sumbloke

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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!)


  1. 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
     
    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
     
     
  2. You and me should have dinner some time.
     
    But I cannot stand the hypercorrection that I see more and more of:
     
     
  3. *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
     
     
  4. Nothing must come between you and me.
     
    It's not hard to see that 2 is wrong. Consider a parrallel:
     
     
  5. Simon came between James and Victor.
  6. *Simon came between they.
  7. 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?
     
     
  8. He wants you and me to go with him.
     
    or
     
     
  9. He wants you and I to go with him.
     
    A similar hypercorrection occurs when people write or say
     
     
  10. *It is I!
     
    for
     
     
  11. It's me!
     
    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
     
     
  12. It is he!
  13. It's him!
     
     
    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!
     
     
  14. Some cheese would be nice after dinner
  15. 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
     
     
  16. *Less people voted Republican than Democrat in the last election.
     
    when what they should say is
     
     
  17. 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
     
     
  18. *You should of told me.
  19. *You shouldn't of told me.
     
    These should have been
     
     
  20. You should have told me.
  21. 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
     
     
  22. You have told me.
  23. You haven't told me.
     
    Not
     
     
  24. *You of told me.
  25. *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
     
     
  26. The dumbells are Peter's.
     
    You can check whether it's a possessive use by substituting a pronoun:
     
     
  27. 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
     
     
  28. It's a lovely day today.
     
    No difficulty working out that this is a contraction, just try to expand it
     
     
  29. 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.

8 Comments


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I try to keep quiet when people are just speaking incorrectly, but what really gets me is advertisements with incorrect grammar or even spelling. How is it possible for something to end up on a billboard or a TV commerical with a misspelled word? How many people look at these things before they're completed, and no one noticed? Most of the time while I'm ranting, someone will say, "Oh, who cares, it doesn't bother me if it's wrong, I get the idea." Argh! Not the point! Anyway, I think one of my favorites is a sign I saw in a grocery store once: Peache's.

 

Val

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Hey Sumbloke :)

 

I quite enjoyed that entry.

 

You know what really gets under my skin? People mixing up "try and" with "try to". For example "I'll try and win the game", surely unless this person is exceedeingly confident they mean "I'll try to win the game". "Try and" presupposes success, yet it seems like everyone around here uses the two interchangeably.

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Good post! Hmm. I used to HATE Latin.

 

What gets my Goat is sloppy enunciation. Dialects I like a lot, and I wish I was a mimic, but People who know better and still pronounce Had as 'ad, Here as 'ere. Grrr.

 

Camy B)

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Good post! Hmm. I used to HATE Latin.

 

What gets my Goat is sloppy enunciation. Dialects I like a lot, and I wish I was a mimic, but People who know better and still pronounce Had as 'ad, Here as 'ere. Grrr.

 

Camy B)

LOL not a fan of the cockney accent huh? :boy::P

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Guest Kitty

Posted

Here's one of my favorites, for which coincidentally I found a great example in the Forum this very day: the correct use of the modal auxiliary verbs may and might. They are often interchangeable, when they have the connotation of possibility and (to some extent) permission. The usage is changing over time, and sometimes a particular instance just feels "off".

 

However, there is one instance where might is the only correct choice, and that is when you are making a hypothetical statement, often referring to the past.

 

To wit,

 

* I got to meet people I may not have otherwise (sumbloke in the Should I? thread in the Gay Teen Spot)

 

I got to meet people I might not have otherwise

 

 

Seriously, I enjoyed this blog post. I love language, and I love talking about language.

 

 

Kitty 0:)

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Here's one of my favorites, for which coincidentally I found a great example in the Forum this very day: the correct use of the modal auxiliary verbs may and might. They are often interchangeable, when they have the connotation of possibility and (to some extent) permission. The usage is changing over time, and sometimes a particular instance just feels "off".

 

However, there is one instance where might is the only correct choice, and that is when you are making a hypothetical statement, often referring to the past.

 

To wit,

 

* I got to meet people I may not have otherwise (sumbloke in the Should I? thread in the Gay Teen Spot)

 

I got to meet people I might not have otherwise

Seriously, I enjoyed this blog post. I love language, and I love talking about language.

Kitty 0:)

 

Hoist by my own petard! :lmao:

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# *It is I!

 

for

 

# It's me!

 

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!

# It's him!

 

Nope, not so hard and fast.

 

It is I who am going <=> I am going

*It is me who am going <=> *Me am going

*It's me who am going <=> *Me am going

 

It is he who is in error <=> He is in error

*It is him who is in error <=> *Him is in error

*It's him who is in error <=> *Him is in error

 

Although the last one ("It's him who is in error") is not quite so irksome. It's not as simple as the nature of the verb that determines the correctness of the object form; whether the verb is contracted or not also makes a difference. Or something.

 

Oh, and what if the subject of the sentence (the "it") is actually an object? ("It is me you are looking for.")

 

This one is more complicated than made out to be, and is actually very interesting. If you're clever enough, maybe asking people about judgments such as these, combined with functional brain imaging, could tell you something new about language representation in the brain.

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# *It is I!

 

for

 

# It's me!

 

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!

# It's him!

 

Nope, not so hard and fast.

 

It is I who am going <=> I am going

*It is me who am going <=> *Me am going

*It's me who am going <=> *Me am going

 

It is he who is in error <=> He is in error

*It is him who is in error <=> *Him is in error

*It's him who is in error <=> *Him is in error

 

Although the last one ("It's him who is in error") is not quite so irksome. It's not as simple as the nature of the verb that determines the correctness of the object form; whether the verb is contracted or not also makes a difference. Or something.

 

Oh, and what if the subject of the sentence (the "it") is actually an object? ("It is me you are looking for.")

 

This one is more complicated than made out to be, and is actually very interesting. If you're clever enough, maybe asking people about judgments such as these, combined with functional brain imaging, could tell you something new about language representation in the brain.

 

OK, that's my PhD topic sorted out - you get the results in about 8 years time.

 

Now, I took days thinking about this on and off. How about

 

It's me who's going

It's him who's wrong

 

They seem OK to me. So contraction might make a difference.

 

And then

 

I am the one who is going

I am the one who's going

 

Both seem alright to me.

 

So erm maybe not contraction.

 

So, now, we just need a neuroscientist...*cough*Michael*cough*

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