I like words. I like spelling and grammar. And this is kind of odd for someone who’s an engineer, I guess. But I also do a lot of writing, and I think that’s where the cross-over happened. From time to time, I’ll write about grammar and words here. I’m not a self-proclaimed grammar expert. I make mistakes like everyone else. There are certain ones, though, that are like fingernails on a chalkboard. I actually don’t mind when people point out my grammar follies, because it will make me a better writer (presuming they do it in a polite and constructive way).
Below is the first of such grammar and word posts. I hope you get at least a smile out of the whole thing, and maybe a bit of enlightenment, or a subconscious reminder to not make these mistakes.
- your/you’re and their/they’re: These are pretty straight forward. I still can’t understand how people can confuse these. People’s minds should be wired to re-read stuff before it is sent or mailed to catch these kinds of things. And the worst offense? When you see the “Your welcome”. Just standing there, almost naked. So stark, calling attention to itself… “Look at me! I’m terrible grammar!” And I love it when people chalk this up to a typo. No, this is not a typo, no matter how much you try to convince yourself. This is bad grammar, and this is you owning it.
- its/it’s and then/than: The its/it’s gets a little more slack than (ha!) it should, because it takes an extra second to think about it. If it can be “it is”, it can be “it’s”. And that’s it. Really. If that’s confusing, check this site out. It explains it nicely, and in one paragraph. As far as then/than goes, I can see where this might be a typo. But this is probably one of those things where in your head, it sounds right to type one, but the reality is that the grammar calls for the other. It pains me to see this, though.
supposably: I don’t see this in text all that often (though I have on occasion, which makes it six times as offensive), but it’s painful nonetheless. This isn’t even a word! The word is “supposedly”. Suppose (present), supposed (past participle), supposedly (adverb form). This isn’t a hard construction to follow. I remember when I was young and wasn’t very diplomatic, I heard this from someone. I think the exchange went something like this…
- Person: “Well, he was late Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday for work. Supposably his car broke down.” (incredulously)
- Me: “Supposedly” (I’m correcting you because that’s not a word, and you just embarrassed yourself to anyone within earshot)
- Person: “Hey, I’m just telling you what I heard.” (Don’t challenge me on the issue, I’m just the messenger… a messenger with a poor grasp of the English language)
- “I could care less”: This one is just a mangled mis-heard expression, and it propagates like a bad rumor. If you pick apart this phrase and apply it to what you’re saying, you will realize that you’re not saying anything. What you very likely want to say here is “I couldn’t care less.” As in, I care so little about this issue/story/topic/etc., that there’s no possible way I could care any less than I already do now, which is to say I care zero about it. Saying “I could care less” means that you care about the issue on some level, and that at some later point, you might not care as much. But what’s that really telling me? It’s adding nothing to the conversation, and even wasting time.
- myself: This one irritates me to high heaven, and I think it’s because people use phrases like this without thinking what they mean. Here’s an example. Imagine the close of a business letter, where you are offering the reader the opportunity to contact your or your colleague for more information. “I hope you’ve found the information above useful. Please contact James or myself for further information.” Ack! Myself (and yourself and herself and the entire ‘self’ gang ) are reflexive pronouns – they reflect back to the subject. The subject is the direct object, if you want to go full word geek here. So, in the example above, it’s not correct to have the reader contact myself – that just doesn’t make any sense. You need to pick it apart to see that. One of my former managers made this mistake often. I’d copy-correct the work on which we collaborated, and he’d insist on changing it back (from the correct “me” to the incorrect “myself”), thinking it was me that was making a grammar mistake.
I think this stems from people’s avoidance of the word ‘me’ in business and ‘polite’ speak. It’s OK to use the word ‘me’! Like when using it as a direct object! “She gave the contract to Shawn and me”, not “She gave the contract to Shawn and I”. What?! That doesn’t make any sense! Take ‘Shawn and’ out of that sentence. What makes sense to go there? Yes. Now you’ve got it.
I don’t want to sound all nit-picky, but language is a form of communication. It pays to get it correct. You are doing yourself a favor, and you also show to your listeners/readers/consumers that you care to take the time to get it right.