Grammar Pet Peeves: Defending Words from User-Abusers

Someone recently posted on her blog (and I’m sorry, I don’t remember her name) that while she believed in teaching grammar in school, she didn’t take kindly to grammarphiles getting worked up over specific pet peeves in daily life. I’m paraphrasing, of course.

I could not disagree more. I proudly wear my badge of grammar corrector and purist, even when I’m the one caught in a mistake (which is not uncommon – I’m often the perpetrator of horrific grammar mistakes held up as pet peeves by others, and I simply haven’t learned to incorporate them into my standards, yet). I believe in using a language to it’s fullest extent, complete with rules and standards, especially for writers.

Because who is supposed to know and uphold the rules, if not us? How can we purposefully break them if we don’t acknowledge their importance?

Ergo, I thought I’d share my biggest pet peeves here and ask others for theirs. Surely I can’t be the only one, and surely there must be a society that cares about people like us – the Illuminati for Linguistic Perfection, if you will – who correct and mould the grammar of those around us, even if that means they shun us in return (my husband still gives me the cold shoulder when I stop him mid-sentence, but his participles have improved). You can tell I don’t believe in holding my true self back 😉

So here you go. My biggest pet peeves, in no particular order:

  1. The loss of adverbs. This one goads my spleen painfully, even though I’m not sure where my spleen is or what it would feel like to have it goaded. Nevertheless, my insides feel a constant open wound that aches for days after the offense. A few years ago, a radio commercial announced that [whatever the problem] was “major annoying.” I went so far as to try and find out who produced the commercial. I felt a letter that encompassed the suggestions of “majorly annoying” or “it was a major annoyance” would have served the producers well so as to not alienate potential customers like me. It was some kind of communications product. I don’t remember what it was, but I didn’t buy it, for sure. Similarly, when I taught Spanish in a high school, the principal of the school claimed she had started out in education by teaching English. She then went on in the meeting to discuss how we had some security issues around the building with doors propped open, etc. She told the staff, “Folks, we take that stuff serious.” After almost choking on my own spittle, I never took her seriously again.
  2. Misuse of past participles. “I could have went”, “We might have saw”, “I have drank”, and “I would have ran” are some of the most common blunders I hear, and they’re like the a tuning fork gone bad to my ears. Do people really not feel it necessary to learn past participles and their function? In Romance languages, verb conjugation is taught ad nauseum. Heck, I’m quite sure I’m better at conjugating verbs in Spanish than in English, simply because I’ve been made to do it so much. But apparently in English, we consider verb conjugation “pesky” and don’t have time to bother with even the basics. I do see these mistakes in blogs and it really bothers me. Do I write a note? Unsubscribe? Pretend I didn’t read the offending passage? Again, I can’t take a writer seriously if I can’t trust language to him or her.
  3. Incorrect subject pronouns. If I hear one more, “Her and me went to the beach” or “Me and so-and-so did such-and-such”, my brain will probably implode.
  4. Giving a singular subject a plural possessive. “Everyone has their opinion.” Argh. That doesn’t make it right. I fully understand the argument that English is a masculine language and therefore biased, so instead of using “Everyone has his or her opinion” all the time, the plural “their” is used as a replacement. That could be a fine argument except that 1) I’m sure we could come up with something better – akin to German’s “neuter” gender for this problem and 2) most people that make the mistake are completely unaware of the gender argument for its use, or heck, that it’s even a mistake. They bother me the most. I can forgive people trying to be equal if I believe that’s the case.

Here is another list of grammar points that I have yet to master but am aware of before I hit “print”, “send”, or “query”:

  1. Correct use of the subjunctive, a la, “If I were you” or “If I were in your shoes” vs. “If I was you” (which I’m clearly not) or “If I was in your shoes” (which I may or may not have been).
  2. Lay vs. lie. I still use a chart, but I believe in getting it right.
  3. Dangling modifiers. My first drafts are chock full of them. An editor kindly pointed out how often I used them. Since then, I pay attention. And she was right – not using them does add clarity to sentences. Now, my first drafts are still full of them. My second drafts are better. Darn them all, but I’m determined to keep them from slipping through.
  4. Who vs. whom. It shouldn’t be hard to figure out a subject from an object, but for some reason, we English speakers have a devil of a time with it.

So while this post is a bit off-track from my normal rants, those who know me will still call it representative of me as an individual. You’re forewarned. Now, if you like, add your pet peeves in the comments so we can grumble together.

 

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Soliciting advice: Best techniques for efficient novel writing

I hit a huge milestone in life – one year and three months after starting, I completed my novel and began to query agents. I couldn’t be more proud of taking the plunge but simultaneously, more scared. Most authors that have spoken on the subject speak about rejection the way that actors do – it happens to everyone, it’s part of the game, learn to expect it, keep going, and of course, it sucks.

While I anxiously await answers and revise and resend my query (my first version had a typo – grrrr), I am starting new projects. I have a few articles, perhaps a personal essay, and another novel in the pipeline.

My goal for the next book is to shave three months off the next effort, assuming the same hours per week worked. Before I invest another huge chunk of my life in another novel, I’d love to hear from others how they embark on such a journey. Do you outline your novel in scenes? Do you brainstorm wildly? Do you write page one and not stop until you hit the end?

Writers use myriad techniques to polish off a body of work, and while none are wrong, per se, some are certainly more efficient than others. What advice would you give a newbie author to keep the thoughts, drafts, and advice organized and rolling?