Tag s | Grammar

Tools to Tackle Grammar Gaffes

Oh my. We all have our peccadillos when it comes to English, don’t we? If I addressed them all, we’d be here til next year. So I’ll just give you the cheats…uh, tips I use most often.

Don’t be afraid of me.

Poor ol’ me has been sorely maligned, as it should be when used incorrectly. Usage such as “Jim n’ me will be happy to talk with you” stirs images of uneducated, backward folk who wouldn’t know a first-person, singular pronoun if it bit them on their knobby noses. But the answer is not to eschew me in favor of what some consider the more intelligent sounding I—not unless the usage is correct. So how do you know? Well, I could wax eloquent on subjects and objects in a sentence, but I’ve learned that there are many out there—yes, even writers– who can’t identify such in a sentence. As one such writer pointed out to me recently, grammar school was a looooong time ago. So here’s a simple test. Ask yourself, “If I took the other person out of the sentence, would the proper pronoun be I or me?” Let’s use the Jim sentence from last week: “Just give Jim and I a call” would become “Just give I a call.” Nope. Doesn’t work. So this should be, “Just give Jim and me a call…” Now let’s take Jim out of today’s me sentence: “Me will be happy to talk with you.” Unless you’re two years old, that just doesn’t work. So bring on the I! “Jim and I will be happy to talk with you.”

Myself reflects me or I.

Words like myself, himself, herself, themselves are…wait for it…reflexive pronouns. They can only refer back to the subject of a sentenc—oops. Sorry. Hmmm…how about this: Don’t worry about the why of it, just remember Myself reflects me or I. Think about it. What do you need to have a reflection? Someone looking in the window, mirror, etc. So you can’t use a self pronoun unless you’ve already used I or me  or him (and so on) in the sentence. For example, last week’s line from the commercial–“This product was tested by myself”–doesn’t work, because there’s no I or me that comes before the reflection. Now, it could say “I myself tested this product.” That’s fine, because you’ve got I to create the reflection. Should be, “This product has been tested by me and others in the medical field…” (I’m not even going to address the passive voice used in the commercial…sheesh!)

Fewer counts, less doesn’t.

If you can count the individual items you’re referring to one by one, use fewer. So in the grocery line, it’s “10 items or fewer” because you can count the individual items. Or “There are fewer steps than you imagine to getting this right,” because you can count the steps. But it’s “There’s less water in my glass than in Steve’s” because you can’t get in there and count each bit of H2O individually. Go ahead. Try it. I dare ya.

Which doesn’t matter.

Which phrases are parenthetical, meaning they’re plopped into sentences to give information you may want to know but they don’t alter the meaning of the sentence. For example, “The phrase ‘Which doesn’t matter,’ which Karen shared with us in her blog, helps you know when to use which or that.” If you pull “which Karen shared with us in her blog” out of the sentence, it still has the same overall meaning (that the phrase helps you know what to do): “The phrase ‘Which doesn’t matter’ helps you know when to use which or that.” However, consider: “The key phrase that Karen uses to know when to use which or that is ‘Which doesn’t matter.’” This sentence isn’t so much about the phrase itself, but about the fact that it’s the phrase I use. If you pull “that Karen uses” from the sentence, the overall meaning is changed and the sentence is again about the phrase, not my use of the phrase.

Okay, I think that’s enough for today. I’ll finish up next week, so feel free to ask questions or suggest issues for me to tackle.

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When Trying to Sound Intelligent Backfires

So, I’m at a writers’ conference—a professional setting, yes? With folks who are clearly well educated, especially about the use of words, yes?–and this is what I hear: “Just give Jim and I a call, and we’ll talk it over.” Cringe. Then came a recent commercial on TV, where a …

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Misused Words and Phrases


The English language is full of persnickety quirks, the most despicable of which are buzz words. Words and phrases we’ve decided work better than plain speech. Why say what you mean when you can just toss out a phrase that says what you want, but in such a vague and convoluted manner than people spend so much energy figuring it out that they can’t challenge you? Genius! Or how about those words we overuse, or misuse? Oy, da pain!

So here, for your reading pleasure, are some of the words and phrases that drive this logophile right up the wall. Literally!

Can you unpack that for me?

Nope. I can’t. Literally. What’s more, I don’t want to. I don’t like packing or unpacking. And what does packing have to do with anything? Whatever happened to the plain and simple, “Would you explain that, please?”


Folks, we all know what this means. Fired. Laid off. Out of a job. You can’t take away the devastation by giving it some innocuous name and hoping nobody challenges you on it.

Baby bump

Seriously? It’s not a bump. It’s a baby. Way better than a bump.

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What’s On Your Desk? (Part Two)

Last week I told you about my writing books, those valued, printed friends who’ve gone through this writing/editing/agenting journey with me. This week, I want to introduce you to some buddies that are too often ignored. Or avoided. Or cursed.

Yes, my friends, I’m talking about grammar books.

I, too, am less than delighted with grammar. However, I’m delighted by the following books that are a wonderful—and fun!—resource for those of us who work with words. So, without further ado…

Of course, The Elements of Style by Strunk and White is front and center. I have the little book with a white and red cover, but in ’05 I received a wonderful gift from writer/editor Erin Healy: The Elements of Style, Illustrated. It’s a beautiful clothbound version of EoS, with lovely, four-color illustrations that bring the examples to life. I love it!

Then there are the style and grammar books by

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It’s National Punctuation Day

Today is National Punctuation Day! In celebration, take out a comma.

Or at least visit the official site: www.nationalpunctuationday.com.

Recently I walked into a church classroom to find a list of the 10 Commandments on the board. The first line read “No other God’s.”

If you want to read a fun book on grammar and punctuation I can recommend Mignon Fogarty’s Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.

So while you take a moment to appreciate the need for precise punctuation enjoy this delightful five minute repartee between Dean Martin and Victor Borge singing with Phonetic Punctuation.

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Spell Checking

Shortly after I became a book editor, I was working on a nonfiction manuscript that focused on Mormonism. When I finished editing, I ran the spell check. Imagine my reaction when the dear spell check wanted to replace every Mormon with moron and Mormonism with Moronism!

Since those long ago days, spell check has invaded countless emails, files, and text messages. As much as we appreciate it catching our errors, we curse it for “fixing” words that didn’t need fixing. So when I came across recently, I knew I wanted to share it with you.

So here, for your reading pleasure:


Eye halve a spelling chequer

It cam with my pea sea

It plainly marques four my revue

Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.

Eye strike a key and type a word

And weight four it two say

Weather eye am wrong oar write

It shows me strait a weigh.

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To Comma or Not to Comma?

by Steve Laube

I came across this entry in the Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynn Truss. The book is a classic on punctuation (although based on British English usage it is still a great book). Read the story below and then answer the questions in the comment section.

On his deathbed in April 1991, Graham Green corrected and signed a typed document which restricts access to his papers at Georgetown University. Or does it? The document, before correction, stated: “I, Graham Greene, grant permission to Norman Sherry, my authorised biographer, excluding any other to quote from my copyright material published or unpublished.” Being a chap who had corrected proofs all his life, Greene automatically aded a comma after “excluding any other” and died the next day without explaining what he meant by it. A great ambiguity was thereby created. Are all other researchers excluded from quoting the material? Or only other biographers?

Which do you think he meant?

What other ambiguities with commas have you seen or written with your own hand?

Why should it matter? It is just punctuation.

Is punctuation important in book contracts?

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News You Can Use – May 29, 2012

Self-Publishing: Under 10% Earn a Living – An article out of Australia makes a bold claim. I would claim, however, that only 10% of traditionally published writers earn a living too. Of course that depends on your definition of “a living.”

100 Best First Lines from Novels – In honor of the last two weeks where we talked about “first lines” I found this article from the American Book Review that chooses the top 100.

Stephen King’s 20 Tips for Becoming a Frighteningly Good Writer – Jon Morrow extracts the best parts from King’s book on writing and then applies it to the blogger.

Six Ways Copyeditors Make Your Book Better – Linda Jay Geldens makes an excellent point. Never skip this step before putting your work out in the public.

The No-Tears Guide to Podcasting – There are many who say podcasting is an excellent way to extend your platform and engage your readers.

Two Excellent Articles about Commas: Their use and misuse – written by Ben Yagoda
Fanfare for the Comma Man
The Most Comma Mistakes

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Fun Fridays – May 8, 2012 -The Chaos of English Pronunciation

Fun Friday – May 18, 2012

Quoted in its entirety from The Better Spelling Society (read their article the history of this piece). My favorite is the last stanza that reads “which rhymes with enough? Though, through, bough, cough, hough, sough, tough??”

The Chaos – by Gerard Nolst Trenité

This version is essentially the author’s own final text, as also published by New River Project in 1993. A few minor corrections have however been made, and occasional words from earlier editions have been preferred. Following earlier practice, words with clashing spellings or pronunciations are here printed in italics.

Dearest creature in creation
Studying English pronunciation,
I will teach you in my verse

Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.

I will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy;
Tear in eye, your dress you’ll tear;

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