Just about the only thing I consider myself an expert in is language. By language, I mean grammar, words, and such. I speak a few languages, and have studied the “old” and “middle” versions of two of those languages. When my writer friends need help with a construct or want to make sure they are writing something correctly, they come to me. I love it not because I am “the expert,” but because I love looking up arcane grammar points, learning subtle grammar, and just expanding my knowledge base. Yes, I do language research just for fun.
Now before you go correcting anything and everything I write here, I also know the difference between casual and formal language, and I don’t proofread everything I post here. I am not a typist. I still have to stare at the keyboard to find the right letters (I’m sure it’s just a crutch by now, but I still stare at the keyboard) and not at the page to make sure I’m putting it on paper right, which is why autocorrect annoys me so much. It gets me every time. I don’t want to have to analyze everything I write or write in perfect sentences because then I will just shut down, but errors do not mean I don’t know grammar (Spelling is a whole other can of beans; I have never claimed to know spelling, but I can tell you why some words are spelled the way they are). We all make errors, and honest errors exist. Deal with it.
So without further ado, here is a list of my top ten word pet peeves:
- Fewer vs. less (and along those same lines amount vs. number)—If something has a specific number use fewer; if it’s abstract in number use less. If you can conceivably count it, use fewer. For example: 15 or fewer (items in this lane). Less money, fewer dollars. Fewer people, less humanity.
- Between you and I—(shudder) It’s “me!” Cases are important! There’s a country song out there now that says this. Every time I hear it I scream, “Me,” at the proper juncture. Object of a preposition—learn it. And speaking of cases…
- The use of “than”—Not then vs. than, just than. If I say, “She is taller than me,” most people will understand that I am shorter than the female in question. But that’s not correct grammar. It should read, “She is taller than I.” You wouldn’t say, “She is taller than me am.” Case matters. The meaning changes between “She likes him better than me,” and “She likes him better than I.” In one I would be invited second. In the other, she can invite him first and I don’t care.
- Try to do (or insert whatever verb you want)—I see this all time as “try and do.” In fact I once had a copyeditor change “try to” to “try and.” No. “I will try to sleep” means I am making an attempt at resting and probably failing. “I will try and sleep” means I am attempting something unspecified and then I am falling unconscious for the night. Two separate actions.
- Who vs. whom—Call me old fashioned, but I love the distinction. (And we’re back to cases again.) There is a bumper I spy often extolling the joys of rescue animals. While I applaud the sentiment, the slogan “Who saved who?” drives me crazy. Who saved whom? Not that hard. You wouldn’t answer the question with He saved I or I saved he. Where you would use a “him” or a “her” in the sentence, use a “whom” in the question.
- Have vs. of—I will disown you if you write “I should of studied English harder.” One is a verb, the other a preposition.
- Nonexistent words—I’m lumping these together because there are far too many of them, but my biggest irritations arise from expresso, supposably, and excape.
- Wrong phrases—Again, lumping here: For all intensive purposes; just desserts; nip it in the butt (These are the wrong ones. There are many, many more)
- Apostrophes for plurals—Do not use an apostrophe to form a plural except in rare cases (Trust me, they are rare). Apostrophes are used to show possession or a missin’ letter (See what I did there?). Not even with numbers.
- And while I don’t get too hung up on the whole its-it’s, they’re-their-there, to-too-two (Remarkable really. I usually just shake my head when I see it, but it’s far too easy to type those in incorrectly and not see it on a re-read), loose vs. lose and choose vs. chose annoys me. Watch for wrong words in general. There’s a huge difference between a loose bowel and to lose a bowl.
All rules can be bent, shaped, twisted, or broken to achieve a certain writing effect (not affect), but you do have to understand why you are breaking that rule to achieve the effect you wish. Words are important. What are some of your pet peeves in language?
Books I’m reading now:
A Dance with Dragons by George RR Martin (re-read)
Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare