My friend Connie gave me a pin that looks like a sheriff’s badge. It says, “Grammar Police: To correct and serve.” The words are very dim, so it’s more symbolic of her opinion of me than of any real power I might wield by wearing it.
Sometimes I am able to overlook poor grammar. Sometimes. But being the child of my Grammar Police mother makes it almost a genetic thing. I don’t mean to be critical or judgmental; the correction just pops into my head unbidden.
I’m not talking about errors such as “ain’t got no.” Those are spoken by people who have limited education and know no better. When I was helping Letitia, who desperately wants to get her GED, she said, “I ain’t got no way to get there.”
My hand jerked up in a “stop” signal before I realized it. She quickly said, “I know that was wrong. I do know better. I should’ve said ‘I haven’t got no way to get there.’” Well, that was an improvement.
No, the errors that bother me more are those from educated people. These people should know better! It’s not a matter of having poor teachers in middle school, high school, or college. We can and should educate ourselves on the finer points of language, especially if we are writers. And the internet has made that so easy!
As James said, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (3:1.) I go by the same principle for writers: we will be judged more strictly because we presume to know grammar well enough to write.
Just last night I was reading a book from a prolific and respected novelist and saw “They were glad to have a friend like Ella.” NO! They weren’t glad to have a friend LIKE her. They appreciated HER friendship. They were glad to have a friend SUCH AS Ella. Or even better: They were glad to have Ella as a friend.
And this author also wrote: “..and she knew it was so because he was hungrier than her.” No…”hungrier than she.” I love this explanation from The Grammar Logs: “I am taller than she” is correct because the word “than” is actually introducing a clause, the verb of which is understood, “than she is tall.” However, some writers will argue that the word “than” functions as a preposition here and they want the object of a preposition, “her.” You can join their camp if you wish, but you must be prepared for lots of other writers (especially English teachers) to say you’re wrong and then you’ll have spend your days bickering over grammar.
But these are trivial matters compared to educated people who cannot distinguish between when to use me and when to use I as they are including someone else with themselves. I still remember my elementary school teachers saying that if you try the word without the other person’s name, you can easily sense which word is correct.
So yes, I cringe when I hear a Ph.D. say “You have done so much for Mary and I.” Excuse me! You’ve done so much for I? That person would never say that. Why have people gotten the idea that I is always the educated choice for a personal pronoun? Here’s a quick tip, in case you struggle with that yourself: If you don’t have time to think of how to say it without the other person, toward the end of a sentence it’s usually me and at the beginning of the sentence it’s usually I. That’s because I is used for a subject and me as an object. Subjects are usually at the beginning of a sentence and objects are usually toward the end. Please note that that is merely an accommodation, not a grammar rule!
So please, please do not ever say “for ___ and I.” Ninety per cent of your listeners will never notice; the other ten per cent will be appalled at your lack of correct grammar.
Reflexives? You don’t need to know a definition of the word. Just know that you never should use “myself” unless you’ve already mentioned yourself or “yourself” if you haven’t yet said “you.” Some people I dearly love insist on saying “I’m fine. And how about yourself?” Arrgggghhh! What’s wrong with “How about you?”
These are random grammatical pet peeves of mine.
But in all of the above situations, I must return to the book of James: “ … judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (2:13.)
So don’t be self-conscious when speaking to me. If I notice any grammar lapses, it’s not your problem—it’s mine.
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