Monday, July 5, 2010

What's your grammar pet peeve?

When I was in junior high school (which my kids will tell you was around the time the dinosaurs roamed the earth,) I learned grammar. Boy, did I learn grammar! You had no choice if you had Peggy Riley Hughes for your English teacher. I’ve since come to realize that the world could use a few more Peggys.
As a writer, you have the license to take liberties in your writing. When you’re writing dialogue, no one expects it to be written in perfectly formed sentences. People don’t always speak in perfectly formed sentences. We speak in sentence fragments. Style often dictates that sentence fragments also be used in narrative. But there are grammar rules that should never be broken.
If you want to be a writer, you need a firm grasp of the English language. You may ask why this is important. Won’t the editor correct whatever needs correcting? Once upon a time that may have been the case but not any more. Editors don’t have the luxury of time to mollycoddle an author who refuses to learn how to write well, no matter how good a storyteller that author is. There are plenty of other well-written manuscripts sitting in piles on editors’ desks. No editor is interested in a high maintenance author. Submit a manuscript full of grammatical errors to an editor/agent and you’ll receive a swift rejection.
So now it’s time for me to choose the grammar error that annoys me the most. I think the reason it grates so on my nerves is that many people make this error thinking they sound more intelligent. In fact, it’s the complete opposite, showing their lack of grammar knowledge.

Are you ready for it? Drumroll, please…
Ta da! It’s misuse of pronouns.
A little background on pronouns. There are 3 types:
Nominative: I, you, he, she, it, we, they, and who
Possessive: my, your, yours, his, her, hers, its, our, ours, their, theirs, and whose
Objective: me, you, him, her, it, us, them, and whom
Too many people substitute the nominative form for the objective form. The nominative form is used when the pronoun is the subject of a sentence. The objective form is used when the pronoun is the direct object of the sentence or is part of a prepositional phrase.
WRONG: He likes Mary and I.
RIGHT: He likes Mary and me.
WRONG: He gave the papers to Mary and I.
RIGHT: He gave the papers to Mary and me.
WRONG: The choice will be between you and I.
RIGHT: The choice will be between you and me.
If a pronoun follows than or as, mentally insert the missing words to determine the correct case.
WRONG: I am as tall as him.
RIGHT: I am as tall as he (is).
WRONG: The coach picks John more often than I.
RIGHT: The coach picks John more often than (he picks) me.
Avoid reflexive pronouns -- pronouns ending in self or selves. Reflexive pronouns are used only when they refer back to the subject: He injured himself.
WRONG: The award was shared by my partner and myself.
RIGHT: The award was shared by my partner and me.
So there you have it. A few simple grammar rules governing pronouns that will make you stand out from the grammar-challenged masses.

Lois Winston is currently hard at work on the second book in her Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries series. The first book, Assault With A Deadly Glue Gun, will be a January 2011 release. Meanwhile, Anastasia is blogging at Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers
, and you can visit Lois at


CJ Lyons said...

Hey Lois!!! Just want to welcome you to 7CM, can't wait to read more of your posts!

Have fun here,

Lois Winston said...

Thanks, CJ! Now if I could only get the hang of all things techno. I really did have paragraphs when I typed the post!

Kelli Stanley said...

Welcome aboard, Lois! Sounds like Peggy Riley Hughes knew her stuff!! ;)


Gabi said...

Welcome, Lois.

Shane Gericke said...

Then how do we explain Cormac McCarthy with no punctuation or capital letters :-)

Awright, we have someone on the team who knows grammar. Finally someone can tell me what the hell a pluperfect is! Welcome to CM, Lois. A delight to have you aboard.

Vicki Delany said...

My pet peeve: The misuse of the reflexive pronoun. eg. Give it to myself. No no. Myself does not replace me. It is used when the receiver of the action is the same as the do-er of the action. I hit myself. John cut himself. As for Cormac McCarthy, good example, I think, of knowing the rules so you can break them.

Lois Winston said...

Thanks for the welcome, everyone! As for Cormac McCarthy...
no comment.

Joshua Corin said...

Lois, it sounds like you and I had the same kind of teacher - despised during, grateful after.

Joshua Corin said...


The pluperfect tense is nothing but a conspiracy concocted by Noah Webster and the sisters Funk & Wagnalls (not to be confused with twin cousins Barnes & Nobles, who for the record do not approve of their e-reader being referred to as the Nooky).

Sue said...

My biggest pet peeve is the misuse/abuse of the apostrophe. I work for the state, filing business names. It is shocking how many people file names with this error. We don't call them to try to correct it - no point, as they wouldn't "get" it if we tried to explain. I may be a snob, but I'd never do business with a company that displays such ignorance on their sign. I can remember driving past a business that had the word "delivery's" posted next to that particular door. ARGGHHH!

Sophie Littlefield said...

Hey Lois!! Welcome to the gang - sorry I didn't greet you sooner but I've been caring for my daughter who just had surgery. Now I'm back and excited to see all the new shiny stuff around here. :)

Great post on grammar - I can't often say *why* things are right and wrong, but that doesn't stop me from becoming completely froth-mouthed and choleric when people make grammar errors, particularly in the printed word. Grammar is incredibly important - I've already told my children not to date anyone who can't put a proper sentence together. It speaks of poor moral fiber...

Mike Dennis said...

Great post, Lois. My pet peeve: using the wrong homonym, eg, "I was pouring over my manuscript." Pouring what? Balsamic vinaigrette?

Second biggest pet peeve: use of redundancies, eg, "Prior warning" (I guess I'd rather get one of these than a "warning given after the fact").

"Close proximity" is another one that needs to head for the trash bin. I don't know, would the opposite of this be "distant proximity"?

Lois Winston said...

Josh, did your English teacher bang a yardstick on the blackboard? Peggy broke an average of one yardstick a week. The blackboards all had nicks and gouges in them, and rumor has it, she actually broke several blackboards throughout the years.

Sue, Sophie and Mike, there are so many people out there who don't have a clue when it comes to proper grammar. I'm afraid eventually grammar will go the way of the split infinitive once the OED gives up on all the rest of the grammar rules.

Joshua Corin said...

Mike, I often pour balsamic vinaigrette over my manuscript. It adds tang to an otherwise drab storyline.