Where Romance and History Meet - www.heartsthroughhistory.com/

Saturday, May 8, 2010


Seduced By History recently conducted a poll, asking if those who read our blog were readers, writers, or both. The results? Readers, 24%, writers 6%, and readers/writers a whopping 61%.  And since writing is as much technical as it is creative, I'd like to talk about a few of my favorite grammar pet peeves.

It was my now 13-year-old daughter who coined the term "grammariffic" several years ago. And okay, maybe I'm a little obsessive about correcting people's grammar. I was in labor - with this same daughter - when my husband told me, "You're doing good." Between contractions, I snapped, "It's you're doing well!"

Perhaps my obsession is a result of my late father, who was largely self-educated. If there was a word he didn't understand, he'd consult his pride and joy, the Funk & Wagnall's dictionary. That dictionary now has pride of place on my desk.

There are a few grammar mistakes that really bother me when I either read them or hear them spoken. "If I would have known..." instead of "If I'd known." "It wasn't that good of a grade," instead of "It wasn't that good a grade." "As best as he can" rather than "As best he can."

Of course, when you're talking, it's easier to overlook these mistakes than if you're reading them. A friend I knew from school asked me to read a short story she'd written. The plot was interesting, and the characters were believable. But the grammar ... well, let's say it needed work.

Things like effect instead of affect, wood instead of would, there, their and they're. I gave an honest critique, telling what I liked and didn't like, then suggested she buy a good grammar handbook!

How about you? Are there grammar mistakes that drive you crazy? That resonate like fingernails on a chalkboard?


Regencyresearcher said...

My pet grammatical peeve is the use of I when me is required, particularly after a preposition. People will rarely say "You and me will go;" it is far more common for them to say "between you and I." They also say "he gave it to Tom and I" I have heard reporters, preachers, eminent authors, and other well educated people make this error. It has become so common an error that many do not know it is an error.

Clover Autrey said...

It has to be a significant grammar boo-boo to yank me out of a good story.

Cynthia Owens said...

Hi Regencyresearcher, yes, you're right abut the "I" and "me" errors. I've often found myself correcting my kids on that one, too. Thanks for visiting!

Cynthia Owens said...

Hi Clover, thanks for stopping by. It's true that some grammar mistakes are so common they don't always pull you out of a story. I'm not sure that's a good thing, though!

Celia Yeary said...

The first comment listed my very biggest pet peeve--using incorrect objects of prepositions. drives me crazy.(Our current President of the USA does this) Another one comes from Wheel-of-Fortune (okay, I admit I'm an addict.)Every guest says, "I'm married to my husband ___." Redundant, isn't it? I always mutter aloud, "I'm married to Bill." Or "Yes, I have a wonderful husband named Bill." Celia

Rose!~ said...

It drives me crazy when people blithely use lathe for lave, taunt for taut, and other mistakes like that without stopping to think what they are doing. I know editors are not perfect, and sometimes they don't catch them and let those through. For me, however, this is a distradtion and disrupts the flow so fast it is scary. I don't think authors bother so much with grammer anymore, and it makes the editor's job that much harder. If an author wants to make an impression with me, then they better get their grammar and verbage correct and choose their words carefully.

Cynthia Owens said...

Hi Celia, nothing wrong with "Wheel," it's a fun game! I enjoy solving the puzzles, too! And you're right, married to my husband is redundant. By the way, I have a wonderful husband named Gary! Thanks for stopping by!

Cynthia Owens said...

Hi Rose, thanks for visiting. You're absolutely right that editors aren't perfect and can't catch every grammatical error. That's why authors should do so. An author's job is not just to write a wonderful story, but to write it well!

Julie Robinson said...

Great post, Cynthia! Yes, grammatical mistakes and incorrect word usage throw me out of a story. If it's a print book, I have no choice but to get out my pen, circle the word, and earmark the page. It's a compulsion. Besides the ones you mentioned (especially the 'there' usage, some words that drive me nuts include:

lose/ loose
it's /its

These are just a few I can think of right off hand.

When I was subbing for an assistant teacher on the kindergarten level, the teacher had written a message on the board so that whenever the class would get noisy, she would point to the board and say, "Okay, class, what does it say?" And all those young brains would say, "Be quiet." However, she had written, "Be Quite." OMG, I sat in the back of the room in a dilemma the whole day, not getting up the nerve to correct her.
Then, I noticed that same year while my son was in 2nd grade and I was subbing for his class that his teacher had posted a message on the bulletin board, in cut-out letters, no less,
"How to Loose Points."
I HAD to tell her when she came back.

Incidentally, the woman who mixed up 'quite' and 'quiet' was moved to 3rd grade that very next year as my son's homeroom teacher. I regretted not saying anything.

Cynthia Owens said...

Hi Julie, you mean I'm not the only one who circles incorrect words?!?

Love the "teacher" stories - maybe that's one reason a lot of kids graduate high school without knowing how to read and write properly. Thanks for visiting!

Julie Robinson said...

"Editors aren't perfect and can't catch every grammatical error. That's why authors should do so. An author's job is not just to write a wonderful story, but to write it well!"

Cynthia, I am going to use this bit of wisdom as my writing quote of the day.


Susan Macatee said...

Cynthia, I've gotten to the point where nothing bothers me in spoken grammar anymore. There have been so many changes in modern speech lately, it's just too hard to keep up. LOL.

I think when you hear a phrase spoken a certain way so many times, it just starts to sound right, whether it is or not.

Cynthia Owens said...

Feel free, Julie, I'm flattered!

Cynthia Owens said...

Hi Susan, you're right about that! But personally, I think I'll remain as obsessive as I am now - just can't help it, I guess. I'm a hopeless grammarian! Thanks for stopping by!

Paty Jager said...

I'm not obsessive, but my mother used to correct our grammar all the time when we were growing up. Usually, isn't for ain't, may I and can I, good and well, more fun for funner.

When I'm reading a book, it's a misspelled word or a typo that yanks me out faster than a me or I.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

YES - when someone says "me and Cynthia" instead of "Cynthia and me" makes me nuts - chalk on the blackboard nuts!

I was a Camp Fire Girls leader for 13 years and it got to be inbred in the girls because when somebody slipped up and said me first, everyone stopped breathing while I ranted. I think they probably remember to this day not to do it. :)

Cynthia Owens said...

Hi Paty, I'm hoping that by correcting my kids now, it will become ingrained in them. And yes, typos are irritating! Thanks for visiting!

Cynthia Owens said...

Hi Paisley, if they remember your rants to this day, then you've accomplished something. Congrats!

Julie Robinson said...

Paty, Typos are mostlyt what I circle. Sad to say, I remember seeing a few in a magazine or two. Julie

Cathie Dunn said...


Ahh, grammar. A bugbear of mine if people get it wrong.

A UK publisher of books for children has recently started to publish romantic fiction novels by certain US authors. I had the lovely job to review two of them. The first one was riddled with typos - to the extent that I had to mention it in the review. The second one had improved, so I didn't mention the few missing speech marks or full stops. But not the best kind of advertising.

Proofreading is essential but publishers cut down on staff so much that this vital job is under threat. Very sad.

Particular bugbears are the misuse of 'there', 'their' and 'they're'. It's unbelievable how many people get it wrong. Why?

Julie mentioned 'loose/lose' and 'its/it's'. Equally bemused by their misuse.

It can't be so difficult, surely!

Lovely discussion, by the way. :-)

Josh Lockwood said...

Oh, you don't want to get me started on this one!

The English language is probably my pet bitch in the whole, wide world. Especially the pronunciation.

My wife is an amazingly beautiful little Filipina, so English is a second language for her and I have to explain a lot of these things.

Take, for instance, a sign you see frequently on the highways ... 'Good Food'.

Sorry. It's either Gud Fud or Gooood Fooood.

How can you possibly explain that kind of stupidity to someone who is new to the language?

Cynthia Owens said...

Hi Cathie, yes, being short-staffed is a problem for publishers, but I still believe it's the author's job to get it right in the first place. Thanks for your input.

Cynthia Owens said...

Julie, I think typos are less irritating - at least to me - than blatant grammar errors.

Cynthia Owens said...

Josh, I hadn't thought of it from the pronunciation point of view, though perhaps I should have. I live in Quebec, where you not only have English, but French, too, as well as that uniquely Quebec language of Franglais, a mix of English and French.

Rose!~ said...

On my website, I will post good articles, and anyone who wants to submit any on grammar, writing tips, and any other tips and tricks to help budding authors are welcome. You can submit them to me at rose@romanceatheart.com, and from the replies here, I would be happy to hear from many of you on this subject. I really don't think people who aspire to be authors think about what they are doing. Yes, it may be an editor's job, to fine tune, but when it comes down to it, the true responsibility belongs to the author to get it right. Thanks Cynthia for stressing this point again. I hope people take advantage of your insights and are more careful. It also makes the editor's easier and that helps to avoid errors when they don't have to keep going over and over a piece until they can't see the errors because of familiarity. I know because that has happened to me.

lisekimhorton said...

So many grammatical errors that amuse and annoy me, so little time to recount them all! But really most of mine are incorrect word usage, rather than grammar issues. Reign and rein confusion. It's and its. Their and they're. Sheer and shear. The nearly always misspelled "liaison". Malaprops can peeve me as well, though often they are so funny, the humor almost makes up for them. And of course, there's the old chestnut: prostrate v. prostate. And as Regencyresearcher noted, the misused "me" and "I".

Cynthia Owens said...

Lise, I completely agree with you on all of these! Thanks for stopping by!

Elizabeth Delisi said...

I have to say, one thing that bothers me is when people use an apostrophe for a simple plural, like "Jean's For Sale" in a store window, or "The Smith's" on someone's house.

The other one that drives me nuts is using "try and" rather than "try to," i.e., "I'll try and get to the movie" or "We'll try and be on time." The "try" modifies what comes next, it's not in addition to it. So it should be "I'll try to get to the movie," and "We'll try to be on time."


Cynthia Owens said...

Elizabeth, I've seen professional writers do the apostrophe thing, on loops and blogs, and it drives me crazy! As a "professional," shouldn't we know these rules - or at least make an effort to learn them? The "try and" thing is equally annoying, and I'm working on that one with my kids. Thanks for visiting!

Carol L. said...

I have to agree with Elizabeth Delisi when she says "people using an apostrophe for a simple plural, like "Jean's For Sale" in a store window, or "The Smith's" on someone's house." Or their and there.

Carol L.

Blythe Gifford said...

My pet peeve? Improper use of the subjunctive. "If I was..." when it should be "If I were..."

Cynthia Owens said...

Another good - or bad - one, Blythe!

librarypat said...

We moved to Northeast Tennessee and I cringe when I hear even the teachers talk. Poor grammar is not a reflection of intelligence, but does reflect poorly on you. "We was" is used constantly. My poor grandson is constantly being corrected. My son-in-law thinks it is funny to talk like a "hillbilly" and doesn't seem to care what a disservice he is doing to his sons and step-son. Who would you hire? Someone who said "We was fixin' to take them partials to the post office."
or "We were getting ready to take those parcels to the post office."