Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Grammar Girl Guidebook Giveaway

Posted by Neal on June 28, 2011

On July 11, Mignon Fogarty, aka Grammar Girl, has three books coming out: 101 Words Every High School Graduate Needs to Know, 101 Misused Words You’ll Never Confuse Again, and The Ultimate Writing Guide for Students. I have a copy of each of these books, and I’m going to give them all away. I’ll send one to my parents, another one to my brother Glen, and the last one to my sister Ellen. Just thought you’d like to know.

No, on second thought, I’ll give them away to readers of this blog! Readers other than Mom, Dad, Glen, or Ellen, that is. Here’s how I’m going to do it. From now until 11:59PM, July 11, Eastern Time (GMT -4 hours), I’ll take comments on this post for a topic you’d like to see covered in a blog post here or on an episode of the Grammar Girl podcast. On July 12, I’ll select the three most interesting topics (in my opinion), and contact the commenters who submitted them in order to get their postal addresses to send them one of the books. And I won’t stop there. I’ll then actually send one of the books to each of those addresses! Oh, and I’ll write a blog post on each of the topics, too. Or, if a topic proves to be suitable for Grammar Girl, it will be the subject of a future episode.

The disclaimers:

  1. I can’t promise a particular book to a particular winner, although the winners are welcome to make their preferences known.
  2. Whether a winning topic is covered on the Grammar Girl podcast or here on the blog will depend on whether it’s already been done on the podcast, whether it lends itself to a more prescriptive or descriptive treatment, whether Mignon Fogarty finds the topic as interesting as I do, and possibly other factors. You can search the existing Grammar Girl episodes to see if a topic has already been covered there. If I’ve already written about a topic on the blog, I’ll give a link to the relevant post in the comments.
  3. Multiple suggestions are fine. If a single commenter has more than one of the winning suggestions, I’ll send them more than one of the books.
  4. Mom, Dad, Glen, and Ellen: Even though I’m disqualifying y’all, you’re still welcome to suggest topics.

Comments are (as always) open!

170 Responses to “Grammar Girl Guidebook Giveaway”

  1. As a current college student, I find it difficult to straddle the line between using proper grammar and letting my professors’ subjective (and often outdated) grasps of grammar rule my papers. Some maintain rules (such as not ending sentences w/ prepositions, not starting sentences w/ words like however, therefore, etc.) that have never seemed even moderately sensible to me – just contrived BS from their own grammar school days, in my opinion.

    Anyway, I think it would be very beneficial for the college crowd if you wrote a post in some way, shape, or form outlining the necessary evils of professor obedience (lest your grade suffer). Whether it’s a list of things to definitey challenge – woops, there goes another broken rule: the archaic ‘no splitting infinitives!’ – or a post detailing the most common made-up collegiate paper guidelines, or something else entirely, I think this is a vital topic.

    Especially since hardly anyone ever stops to question why, and merely obeys these enforced rules whose credibilities are questionable. I’ve argued my way into debates over these rules and it’s always been me versus the professor. I’d like to rile up some support! 😉

    Anyway, I know this idea is half-baked, but even if you were to reduce it down to ‘writing a college paper with or without regards to your professors’ nitpicking,’ I think it would still apply!

    • Ellen said

      Well said.

      • Bill said

        Brandon wrote “. . .reduce it down. . .” and I think down is redundant. Am I wrong?

    • Haknbud said

      How about a post on the beauty and heritage of the English language and subsequently how professors, with the wisdom and knowledge that made them professors, are encouraging students to maintain knowledge of their own language, which not only develops eloquent writing, but enhances a students’ ability to read the classics.

      A rather lengthy topic, I’ll admit, but it so saddens me that the current techno generation so readily rebels, suggesting that their “reduced” version of language use is superior to that of so many masters of the language. Maybe a proper understanding of the rules and their history would give students (those who need to be and desire to be educated, not those who already think their opinion is superior to that of their professors) a greater appreciation for applying the rules rather than avoiding them.

      • Rock on …. let’s see your post in some way, shape, or form outlining the necessary evils of professor obedience (I don’t want to be the first Classical English Professor to be the tyrant lest your grades suffer!!!) Wake up the old bats, stir then from their roosts, knock them down a few pegs from their laureates of Pulitzer Prizes and other book prizes, splash fresh water upon their faces so their eyes might see more exactly the realities of today’s modern world, and subject them to stern lecturing on the evils of professorship obedience (would that be maybe a proper understanding of the rules and their history that would give students (those who need to be and desire to be educated, not those who already think their opinion is superior to that of their professors) a greater appreciation for applying the rules rather than avoiding them?) My dear fellow, Shakespeare himself had little respect for proper understanding of any fancy rules it might surprise you – he fought vigorously with his editors over their trite pomposity to rules.Even if your professor’s requirements are nonsense, then aren’t you the cleverer one for knowing the difference, which though difficult circumstances makes you the wiser, the educated, the superior? Indeed it has! lux et veritas!!!

        Dr. Ian-Luc Marcel de Monde
        François Villon Chair, Classical English Literature Professor
        La Sorbonne in Paris

  2. Loidski said

    I’m from the Philippines, will you be willing to send me a copy if I win? 🙂

  3. I would love a blog post on spelling and grammar use and misuse in Social Media… it’s a REAL pet peeve of mine and I’d like to see it addressed (by someone other than me, post by post!)

  4. The evolution of the dictionary with social media and whether these “words” should really be added.

    • Neal said

      Actually, the June 24 episode of Grammar Girl was on dictionaries and how words get added to them, although it didn’t address social media specifically.

      • WotV said

        Well, social media is adding to our vocabulary and these new words are being added, so I stand by my topic.

      • Once a year a list is published of the words that are going to enter the English Oxford Dictionary and Webster’s Dictionary, most of the words are related to the internet or tweeter. Just recently texting was added. you came google (added about 5 years ago) the ist of words that have been added each year. Try: New words added to dictionary

        Ian-Luc Macel de Monde

  5. As a non native speaker, I would love to see a discussion about the possessive apostrophe, or the proper order of adjectives.

    • Neal said

      Several episodes of GG talk about apostrophes. You can search for “apostrophe” on the site and find them, or you could start with these two.

      • Bill said

        The “episodes” don’t “talk” about apostrophes, GG does.

      • Thomas R Yates said

        Thank you Bill, for addressing one of my pet peeves. I’m especially vexed to hear “The book (magazine, newspaper, etc.) says…” The correct form: “The author says…” Or use the author’s name: “Mary Doe states…”

      • Neal said

        Bill and Thomas:
        Ah, yes, true enough. And signs don’t say “One Way” or “Stop”; the people who wrote them say that. While we’re on the subject, it may be worth pointing out that when I meet my wife at a restaurant and ask, “Where are you parked?” I don’t mean where she is parked; I actually mean where her car is parked. And when the server comes to the table with our food and says, “A personal pizza with pepperoni and green peppers?” and I say, “That’s me,” I don’t mean that I have become one with the pizza; I mean that that’s the pizza I ordered.

  6. Lazy pronunciation causing misspellings of simple words: I notice that the ‘d’ sound seems to be falling off the printed word. ‘Supposed to’ becomes ‘suppose to’. ‘What happened?’ becomes ‘What happen?’

    • “Ax” instead of “ask”and “ask” instead of “asked” are annoying, too.

      • That is a culturally-ingrained morphing of the English language that goes back many centuries by African-Americans and has become part of their linguistic heritage. You may not like it, but you need to check you linguistic prejudice at the door!

        Dr. Ian-Luc Macel de Monde, Professor, La Sorbonne in Paris

  7. Andy said

    I think an interesting topic for Mignon Fogarty to cover would be the most common grammar and punctuation errors made by business executives. It’s amazing to me that CEOs with degrees from Harvard still don’t know how to use semicolons or that quotations marks go outside of periods and commas at the end of sentences. These mistakes – and many others – are constantly bogging down emails, presentations, and other marketing collateral. I think a lot of business folks could benefit from a blog post called “The Top Grammar and Punctuation Rules The Business World Needs To Know.”

    • Pat said

      Unless these CEOs are doing their won final copies, I would hold the secretaries/administrative assistants responsible for the errors. However, I do believe that if your name is on the paper, you are responsible for the content.

      • Marie said

        Speaking as an administrative assistant, I find it interesting that the perception is that we are expected to know more about correct use of English than our supervisors; many of whom hold advanced degrees. This becomes particularly difficult when one has used a word that could be taken either way, and depending on which way, would result in a completely different message being sent. We are not mind-readers. All in all, I like what I do, but I hate being taken for granted, in the way that Pat indicates. My boss makes a mistake, but it’s my fault? That doesn’t sit well with me.

    • Polyglot said

      Also worth noting, specifically with regards to quotation marks, that the U.S. is unique in putting them outside periods and commas. Even we put them inside semi-colons and colons; in the UK, France, etc. they put them inside all the time. This was a pretty arbitrary rule someone made up at some point (I don’t know the history), but once you get used to it this way, it’s hard to change!

  8. The Oil and Gas industry developed and uses a technology by the name of Hydraulic Fracturing, sometimes called fracing or frac’ing, both terms are industry norms. While unsubstantiated by any proof and more than a few fabrications (think Gasland), this technology has become controversial. When the media writes about this technology they spell it “fracking” even though it is the wrong spelling. I have sent multiple corrections as have hundreds if not thousands of others and still they refuse to spell it correctly. This is my issue; if it is a technology developed and used solely by one industry, doesn’t that industry determine how it is spelled? I can’t see the media telling one other industry how they should spell a certain technology, I would love to hear what Grammar Girl thinks about that.

    • Ran said

      I like Beverly Jernigan’s suggestion. Even otherwise descriptivist linguists often get annoyed when laymen abuse linguistic terms of art. Who “owns” a specialized term’s meaning, spelling, pronunciation, grammar, etc.? When (if ever) does it make sense to say that a non-technical usage is simply “wrong”, and when (if ever) does it make sense to try to distinguish between the way that current experts use a term and the way that the population at large does?

    • The Ridger said

      Spell it “fracing” and I guarantee virtually nobody will pronounce it to rhyme with “backing” but instead to rhyme with “lacing (up your shoes)”. That would annoy you more, wouldn’t it?

    • Neal said

      I’m with the Ridger here. Spell it “fracing” and you just add to the confusion of English spelling. For the same reason, I spell fridge the way you see it here, and not frig. When people spell it that way, I don’t applaud their faithfulness to the spelling of the source word refrigerator, but wonder where the heck they learned to spell. Likewise for mike and mic, though it looks like I’m on the losing side there.

  9. Monica said

    At the age of 41, and going from a home-based business as a Medical Transcriptionist to starting a new home-based business, I always thought my grammar was pretty well on track. I read things that people publish and post and find typos and grammatical errors and go nuts. As time evolves, what is correct and what is incorrect?

  10. Rita Tice said

    Why grammar still matters. In a world that is ruled by texting and email, we seem to have forgotten how to use proper spelling, punctuation and grammar. Okay. I know I sound like an English teacher, but after recently accepting facebook friend requests from some students, I am currently at a loss. I also recently received a very long email that lacked proper spelling and punctuation; three of us who read it had difficulty deciphering the meaning. I actually used it as an example of why grammar matters! If I should be a winner, I would love to have the 101 Misused Words book to share with my future students (and friends).

    • Angie said

      This is a great idea, Rita!

    • Polyglot said

      These errors and careless drive me nuts too, and definitely interfere with understanding the intended meaning sometimes. Some of it doesn’t bother me (I’m pretty okay with the systematic loss of capitalization), but the absent apostrophes, then/than, you’re/your, there/their/they’re, etc. mistakes are getting old.

      What I wonder is: are people actually getting more careless? Or are we just writing (as opposed to speaking) more, and publishing everybody without an editor? 20 years ago none of us would be able write out our thoughts in a public forum like this. Would we have been much more careful than we are in emails if we were writing letters by hand? (Maybe – it’s a lot more work, and more likely to be kept and re-read!) Would we have written nearly so much? I wonder if all this written communication isn’t just revealing the people out there who perhaps never cared much about spelling/grammar/punctuation. Just look at all the errors on teabaggers’ protest signs and graffiti!

      • Polyglot said

        Eek! CarelessNESS! A typo, I swear!

      • The Ridger said

        Try actually reading handwritten documents from the 17-19th centuries. People have always been bad spellers (mostly nobody cared) and have never known what to do with apostrophes, and so on. The widespread literacy and “everybody writes” of today have simply made these problems more noticeable.

  11. Jennifer Rose said

    I’m sure you’ve covered this, but please, please, please re-explain the proper way to use “I” and “me”. And to give you a choice, I’ll also submit my runner-up pet peeve, which is the incorrect use of “real.” For example, “she hit that she real hard!!!” (Can you tell I’m watching Wimbledon right now??!)

    I know these are not particularly creative topics, but the frequency with which I hear these grammatical nails-on-a-chalkboard indicates that the lessons still need to be learned.

    BTW – in your sidebar under Literal-MInded on Twitter…I believe there is a typo in @GramarGirl (should be @GrammarGirl ?).

    • Neal said

      Dang, you’re right! Not only did I misspell GrammarGirl, I misspelled giving. Not the best first impression for all these first-time visitors.

    • Neal said

      Oh, and GG covers I and me in this episode. I’ve also written a number of posts on pronouns, some of which cover I versus me; find them here.

      • Jennifer Rose said

        But how to get people to read them!!!????

      • Polyglot said

        I read Grammar Girl’s column on I/me. I understand subjects/objects perfectly well myself (I’m a grammar geek). What I think she missed in the column is where this mistake came from and why it has caught on in the specific group it has caught on in, which is interesting from a sociolinguistic perspective. The error we used to make (back in the 80’s!) was “Me and Sarah are going to the movies” (this was also back when approximately 1/3 of every class was named Sarah). English teachers started covering I/me, focusing on cases where it was the speaker and someone else, because no one was making the mistake “Me am going to the movies.” So we all got drilled in saying “Sarah and I” this and “Sarah and I” that, and that’s how a whole generation of memorizers learned the rule – if I’m doing something with someone else, it’s always “I.”

        To the credit of the teachers, they did generally teach about subjects and objects and mixed in a few examples of “My mom is taking Sarah and me to the movies,” but before they were teaching this rule so heavily, no one ever used to make the mistake of over-using “I,” so they probably didn’t foresee how the teaching of English to fix one mistake would accidentally introduce the opposite mistake. (Is anyone else on here old enough to remember this happening?) And because we learn language by hearing something over and over so that the wrong way sounds wrong, now that everyone is saying “___ and I” all the time in all situations, it’s starting to infect the speech of all but the most vigilant English speakers.

        Where it gets interesting, to me, is the way the new hyper-correction mistake has caught on. At first, it was almost exclusively educated but not-quite-perfectly-educated middle/upper-middle class white people, who paid attention (but not quite enough attention) in school and who want to sound educated, especially in the workplace. Fixing the old “Sarah and me are …” mistake marks them positively, so they go “correcting” it all over the place to sound smart, driving the grammar geeks nuts, and bringing us to the situation today, where song lyrics all over the place are rhyming “fly” with “you and I.” I get poetic license, but come on – is “me” SO hard to rhyme???

      • Neal said

        You might be interested in this blog post by Arnold Zwicky, which is mostly a bibliography on just this kind of pronoun coordination problem. One thing I learned from a downloadable paper he links to is that hypercorrection alone won’t explain everything.

      • Polyglot: Interesting hermeneutical theory on the sociolinguistic origins of counter measures taken in the 1980s to prevent mistakes in the use of ‘I’ and ‘me’. I do remember the emphasis given to ‘Sally and I’ bypassing the need to remember if it was “‘me’ or ‘i’ and Sally are going to the movies.” You make an excellent case and point that this perspective which you call ‘hyper-correction’ seemed to become vogue and was as you point out ‘didn’t foresee how the teaching of English to fix one mistake would accidentally introduce the opposite mistake.’ English educators over compensated and fixing the ‘Sarah and me’ suddenly because of the strong emphasis on ‘Sally and I’ reverted back to to, as you say, to the misuse of ‘I’ and ‘me’ again ‘almost exclusively educated but not-quite-perfectly-educated middle/upper class white people’ who as you pointed out wanted to sound educated – two such individuals from that period are stellar examples, former vice president Dan Quail and former president George W. Bush, both of whom had grammatical problems with the correct use of ‘I’ and ‘me’ on a regular basis. Wanting to sound correct, ‘you and I’ seemed right, all because of the strong shift in emphasis on ‘Sally and I’ – too bad they didn’t pay a little bit closer attention in class, so they were smart enough to know it’s ‘you and me baby!’ Nice piece of work Polyglot!!!

  12. Jade Barsalou said

    In FULL agreement with CanningGranny. There are times (which, incidentally, are increasing frequent these days) where I can’t even understand what (or should I say ‘wat’?) my friend/the person is trying to say. It actually takes me more time to decipher what the person is attempting to communicate while he or she has saved time. Frustrating!

  13. MT said

    Noun-pronoun antecedent agreement, and the difference between the spoken and the written. Spoken: That person left their car’s lights on, but written is incorrect

    • Neal said

      GG covers pronouns and antecedents here.

      • Chris O'Neill said

        Yeah, but she didn’t address this sort of situation, in which an antecedent refers to person whose gender is unknown to the writer/speaker. Ex. “Somebody forgot their wallet”. ‘Somebody’ is singular, but ‘their’ is plural. It seems to me according to the logic of our grammar, you would have to say “his, or her”, which are singular pronouns, instead of ‘their’. But this can be cumbersome if you have to refer to “his, or her wallet” many times, so using ‘their’ seems acceptable. I wonder what Grammar Girl thinks about this.

      • Neal said

        Sorry, I didn’t read your original comment carefully enough. GG has written on singular they here and here. I’ve written about it in a column for Visual Thesaurus/

  14. Ann said

    I’ve noticed over the many years I’ve been out of college regularly writing papers that my spelling, grammar, vocabulary have really suffered. Auto-correct has taken the place of learning to spell. I’d love to see a blog discussing the challenges of today (technology, text, etc) while covering ways in becoming proficient again through practice. As I’ve gotten older (low 30’s) and have started to use more technology, I’ve noticed more mistakes in newspapers and books, even email. That irks me, especially knowing I’m not an editor and am lacking in the skills myself. I’ve also seen the value in communication and want to get back to being able to communicate my thoughts intelligently.

  15. Lisa said

    From reading posts online and emails from colleagues (casual or professional), I think some people could use whole hours devoted to explaining who versus whom (and continuing into whoever and whomever).

    Another topic I’d love to resolve for some people once and for all is affect versus effect. Not that difficult to understand!

    The most mundane one I’d like to see addressed (the one I see almost daily, especially in advertising and marketing today) is everyday (one word, adjective) versus every day (2 words). Too often, I see “everyday” used where “every day” should be used. Personal pet peeve, I guess. Again, quite easy to fix, though.

    Also, I agree with the poster (Andy) who recommended punctuation! Semicolons, colons, and commas are murdered these days…overused, underused, you name it.

    • Neal said

      GG has done three episodes about whom, the third of which just came out the week before last, and discusses whomever. I guest-wrote that episode, and in it are links to the earlier two episodes. I also blogged about whomever in this post.

      • The Who/Whom and It is I/It is me conventions are like beating a dead horse – Who & It is me have been accepted as linguistically correct alternatives and acceptable forms – there is no going back, although I use what I believe to be the grammatical conventions, and feel as if I have just stepped out of the Victorian era by the looks and responses I get (and I’m French, English is my second language) when I invoke them, but I take great pride that my English is spoken like a gentleman, as excellently as my French.

  16. Angie said

    I am a high school teacher, and my students have no clue how NOT to plagiarize. I would love a book/blog that clearly (not in the too academic language of the MLA Handbook that students hate to read) shows students examples of plagiarism and all that it entails.

  17. Korine Fideler said

    I would like to see a podcast about text speak and how it has changed our language. I feel as though more and more people aren’t even bothering to learn English because in day-to-day use it’s ‘unnecessary’.

  18. I’d like to see her cover text talk. You know, they way people break down words when texting.

  19. Wayne Ferrier said

    What’s the story about non-continuous verbs and their use in continuous verb tenses? I know the rule, but what is it about the English language that explains their relationship to these verb tenses; and other verbs tenses, for that matter. I can’t find anything on the Internet, or in what grammar books I could find lying around the house that clues me in on the behavior of these verbs.

    • The group of Non-Continuous Verbs contains those verbs which are rarely or never used in continuous tenses. The second group, called “Non-Continuous Verbs,” is smaller. These verbs are usually things you cannot see somebody doing. These verbs are rarely used in continuous tenses. They include:

      Abstract Verbs

      to be, to want, to cost, to seem, to need, to care, to contain, to owe, to exist…

      Possession Verbs

      to possess, to own, to belong…

      Emotion Verbs

      to like, to love, to hate, to dislike, to fear, to envy, to mind…


      He is needing help now. Not Correct
      He needs help now. Correct
      He is wanting a drink now. Not Correct
      He wants a drink now. Correct

      For example, let’s look at the verb hate. We can not say:

      I’m hating you.
      But we can say:

      I hate you.

      • Neal said

        Thanks for this nice summary, Ian-Luc. I may yet write about this topic, but this is good information in the meantime. Also, GG talks about this issue in her episode inspired by McDonald’s grammatically anomalous slogan “I’m Lovin’ It.”

  20. Glen said

    Aw, man.

  21. Susan said

    Hi, I am a new reader. I have seen the post from Grammar Girl FB account. So, I thought why not!, let’s try. Besides, I have an oral English exam this Friday, it will be a good practice for me. By the way. I am a university student and one day maybe I’ll be a good interpreter, I’m looking forward for that day =).

    Here is my idea. Something that I’ve been looking for these days for my examination, is audio, or video examples of how to give opinios in English. There is some written material, but almost nothing in oral form. Specially, the use of linking words. We students know them, but don’t know yet when to use them the best way. The topic then will be: How to structure your discourse in an oral way about any subject. I think listening is better for the speaking part of a language. Of course, you have to practice anyway your speaking in front of the mirror if you cannot travel abroad. However, listening is better than reading when a student needs to get familiar with English expressions and words.

    Thank you.

  22. Glen said

    All right, fine. Here are my two suggestions:

    1. The increasing confusion of ‘then’ and ‘than’. It would never have occurred to me to confuse these words, because their pronunciations are totally distinct for me. But in my students’ writing, I notice students constantly confuse them (most often in the ‘then’ for ‘than’ direction, as in “basketball is more exciting then soccer”). I suspect this is a generational thing.

    2. Whether the iPad’s predictive typing may contribute to a common grammar error: ‘it’s’ versus ‘its’. Whenever I type ‘its’ on my iPad keyboard, it always gets corrected to “it’s.” Very annoying, given that both words are valid and common. Notably — and possibly worth a separate post — the iPad keyboard does not include the apostrophe in the basic layout; you have to push the letters-to-symbols toggle to access the apostrophe. This strikes me as a very poor design choice, given the frequency with which the apostrophe is used in English. There’s a reason for its prominent placement with no shift required in the QWERTY layout.

    • Polyglot said

      I notice the its/it’s one myself (on my iPhone). I’m sure they left the apostrophe off the main keyboard because while the apostrophe is exceedingly common, there are very few cases where the computer’s auto-correction is wrong (dont, shouldnt, doesnt, isnt, youre, etc. – “wont” is a word but a rare one), and every extra key you have to fit on the screen makes the keys smaller and therefore harder to type accurately on. Its/it’s and plural/possessive pairs are the most common places it’s wrong, but if you anticipate it, you have a chance to reject the autocorrection with one touch, which isn’t as fast as typing the apostrophe, but compared to all the times you get it inserted for you, you hopefully come out ahead. The QWERTY keyboard was invented for typewriters, where nothing makes it in that you don’t type, but they still didn’t put the most common keys in the most convenient places (the DFGHJKL down the middle row is a leftover from an earlier alphabetical version). I like not having to type the apostrophe most of the time, but autocorrect definitely backfires sometimes!

  23. Stash said

    Decades ago, ebonics tended to be a social/political/racial/educational issue–should the educational community allow its use, etc. Now with technology, we are seeing a shift to tech-talk crossing over into educational settings and business settings where it is as inappropriate as ebonics in these situations. I would like to see a conversation about the purpose and value of being able to shift into and out of this type of “language” for the appropriate settings. As I tell my students, I doubt that the way we talk at a party is the same way we talk to our grandparents. Unfortunately, I am seeing more and more students claim that they do not make the shift in diction, etc…

  24. I think it would be fascinating to read about the different ways that certain ‘dialects’ warp words and meanings. Because I’m from Minnesota (it’s called pop not soda) it always makes me smile when my southern friends tell me they’re ‘fixin” to do something.

  25. Katie said

    I invented (for my grandchildren while trying to teach them to spell) the Lazy Tongue Syndrome. This disease is why ‘February’ is so often pronounced and misspelled as ‘Febuary.’ This progressive diease effects hundreds; probably thousands, of words. I think a discussion of this type of wrods and witty ways of remembering the correct pronounciation and therefore, spelling, would be invaluable.

  26. Marie said

    The use of poor grammar on TV shows and in film.

  27. Rider said

    Editing diplomacy: How to deal with someone who stubbornly insists the content of their document is correct or fine as is. You could include talking points, breathing and yoga exercises to lower your blood pressure before approaching the writer again with necessary edits, idyllic vacation get-aways, spas, creative margarita recipes….

  28. Polyglot said

    I have lots of ideas!

    1) I have a pet peeve, but as a blog entry, I think you could go a few different ways with it. The pet peeve is the hyper-formalism you see in business emails where people are trying so hard to sound formal that they cross over into being technically ungrammatical, such as:
    – I/me hypercorrection
    – using “myself” rather than “me” in sentences like “feel free to contact John or myself.”

    If you took it in the business-speak direction, there’s a long list of words and phrases that have suddenly caught on (please advise, in case of queries, speak “to” as in “I can speak to that point” during a presentation, etc.) that I think basically act as markers of register and in-group-ness (the same way slang or local dialect marks your membership in one group, mastery of business-speak shows your membership in this one).

    If you took it in the language evolution direction, I think you could argue that this is language change in action. There are a lot of grammar forms in languages we’re familiar with that must once have seemed ungrammatical. For instance, in English, “you” used to be the second person plural pronoun, and “thou” was the singular. There were probably a lot of people like me that thought it was stupid to refer to one person as plural, the same as I think it’s stupid now to refer to myself as “myself” when there’s no reflexive verb involved. In French, “vous” is either the singular or the plural – if they weren’t so insistent on preserving everything just as it is, it’s conceivable they would eventually lose their singular pronoun “tu” as well. In Spanish in Spain, they have a singular informal “you” (tu), a plural informal “you” (vosotros”, and singular and plural formal pronouns (usted/ustedes), where “usted” take verbs conjugated for the third person, because it was seen as more formal to refer to the person you were speaking to in the third person. “Vosotros” has more or less dropped out in Mexican/South American Spanish – if you’re talking to multiple people, you have no choice but to be formal.


    2) On a completely separate note, I would love a well-written and concise explanation of how to hyphenate noun phrases when they’re used as an adjective (“Are we looking at the most up-to-date numbers?” vs. “Are these numbers up to date?”) What about for something like “ad hoc” – “ad(-)hoc queries” vs. “we just do the work ad hoc”? “At-will employment”? etc.

    Separate to the hyphen question but slightly related as it pertains to the same words/phrases being used as different parts of speech, the internet has yielded a bunch of new words that people don’t seem to know what to do with. For instance, is the verb “to log in” and the noun “my login”?


    3) Lastly, I LOVE David Foster Wallace and the way he plays with language – specifying what pronouns refer to when it’s already obvious to make you laugh at how ridiculous the alternative interpretation would be, making up ridiculous acronyms, mixing extremely formal language with casual/conversational forms (especially “like”), artful use of sentence fragments, etc. (not to mention his creativity with plot, characters, physical descriptions, etc.) He’s a great example of an author who definitely learned all the rules so he could decide exactly how and why to break them, and might offer a nice counterpoint to prescriptive grammar (while still showing a very good reason to master it).


  29. Ana Bynes said

    An interesting topic might be a look into the linguistical style of some big authors, deconstruct grammatical errors within the pages, and discuss why those errors “work” for that author. Are some errors deliberate or are they flaws throughout the entire story? Or maybe, what was considered acceptable at one time, is no longer acceptable today.

    I am an English teacher and I find myself having to explain how “great” literature can have grammatical errors. Help!

  30. Jan Smith said

    A topic that would be of interest to me is the use of nouns as verbs. My daughter corrected me for saying “I googled her name”. Of course, I would like to be told that I am correct, but I fear that my daughter is ….again!

  31. Karl said

    A few things I’d like covered:
    1) Very recently I’ve seen a couple articles using “since” with the past tense. That seems totally bizarre to me.
    2) I hate when I see something like “…increased to 150 from 112”. I always have to go back and read it again thinking “OK, from 112 to 150”. Is this something new in the last few years? Am I the only one it bothers?
    3) I’ve also noticed that 80% or more of Americans don’t use the past perfect form of verbs when the other clause in the sentence is a third conditional. They use the simple past form instead. I find myself doing it when I speak fast. For example, talking about a party which has finished: “If I knew you were there, I would have said hello” instead of using “had known”. Do other English speakers in other countries do the same thing?
    4) “Nasalization” (probably not the right word) of vowels. I notice that I “nasalize” my As when they come before Ns and Ms, so that the vowel in “ban” is not the same as in “bad”. Is that right? Or am I imagining it? I’m from the northeast, and I’ve noticed that people outside the northeast nasalize As and Es when they come before Rs and Ls too, so that “Aaron” and “Erin” (or Carey and Kerry) are pronounced differently in Boston, but the same in most of the country.

    • Neal said

      I talked about the since tense issue in this episode I wrote for GG.

      I’ve noticed sentences like If I knew you were coming, I’d’ve baked a cake, too. Is your 80% number a general impression, or do you have some data? If you do, I’d be interested in learning more..

  32. Lauren T. said

    I am a medical transcriptionist, and I’d love to see a blog post here about how much grammar we have to correct. I can personally attest to the fact that just because a doctor is qualified to diagnose what’s wrong with you physically, it doesn’t mean that doctor knows how to formulate sentences about it!

  33. John Polk said

    I suggest you write about the uses and abuses of metaphors. Metaphors can be so powerful when used properly, but they make you look like an idiot when used improperly. Like when my boss said someone was a “flash in the pants!” See some examples here:!/ClichesGoneWild.

  34. The Ridger said

    I’d love a column about why people attribute any difference in others’ English to “laziness” or “mistakes”, and why they always seem to feel that whatever the “problem” is it’s brand new.

    Well, no, not really. That would be too contentious and outside of your mission statement.

  35. diana said

    Somebody please explain to me whether or not it’s fine to initiate a sentence with a preposition. I have had countless teachers with different opinionss and it’s becoming quite annoying. I know I can just google it, but i’m too lazy. 😦

    • Neal said

      I’ve never heard of such a rule. Can you give me an example of a violation?

      • “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God …” that came to mind as starting with a preposition and I haven’t heard any grammar police make issue of it!

        I write fictional short stories and novels, and it’s a common practice. I’ve never had a book editor say anything or make changes to them. It just reversing the structure of a sentence, and if you diagram it, it still has the subject (nown), verb and direct object plus a prepositional phase in a different order, but all the necessary elements for it to be a sentence exist.

  36. I haven’t heard a podcast or read anything about the misuse or overuse of the word, ‘so.” Perhaps it is because it is in spoken rather than written English. “I am SO not going to work tomorrow” or “He is SO not getting a second date!” are examples. I hate that!
    Other trends that makes me want to stab my computer with an ice pick are the following: using fail improperly, for example, “that is a fail.” Worse, when it is shortened to ‘that is fail;” using the word “hot” in any context other than temperature by anyone over 16 years of age; and one word sentences. I. Hate. Them.

  37. Meghan Mills said

    What about the gradual demise of “its”–they say it will become obsolete in a few years. That may happen because of its (haha) frequent misuse and confusion among writers of all ages.

  38. I’d love to see some concrete evidence that the words “avoid” and “prevent” are not always interchangeable. I’ve only found a few good examples from blogs here and there; nothing official.

    • willis said

      Is avoiding a rockslide the same as preventing it? Looks like two different, sometimes tacit, nouns are related to the verb. The first being “I” as in I avoided the rockslide (which presumably still happened). The second being the “rockslide” as in I prevented the rockslide with my bulldozer.

      • Yes. I totally agree; however, finding information to back it up is the problem. What makes it even more confusing for some is that the definition for “avoid” includes the word “prevent”:

        ” avoid – … 3.b, to prevent the occurrence or effectiveness of ” ~Merriam-Webster Dictionary (online)

      • I did just a little more research (on the Merriam-Webster site) and found that, although “prevent” is listed as part of the definition, you don’t see it listed as a synomym – only related words (same goes the other way around).

    • If you check the English Oxford Dictionary it’s clear “avoid” is an intentional action taken on your part to stay clear of something and “prevent” is an action taken to stop something dangerous from happening on your part; the two have no correlation in definition.

  39. Sheri K said

    As I work with teens, it is most difficult to read their/they’re/there writing and cringe at the misuse of words and misspellings.
    These books would be a wonderful addition/edition to my bookshelves as a resource.

    Thank you!

  40. captbrando said

    I’d love to see a more detailed discussion about adding the suffix “ize” to words (for example, Utilize), and how it is often misused in professional writing. These phrases sound buzzword-worthy to me.

    Would love to get a copy of the 101 misused words if selected! Thanks!

  41. Numbers drive me crazy. Seems like every style guide has their own set of rules. I know this has been covered before in various ways, but I’d love to see a comprehensive blog post that addresses when to spell out, when to leave in numeric form and compares it for the various style guides. I can’t tell you how many times I look up something related to numbers in The AP Style Guide, The Chicago Manual of Style and several others. It would be great to have just one place to go look up this information.

    • In my profession (editing engineers’ correspondence/reports), we go by the rule that anything less than 10 should be spelled out. We have an exception though: when referring to time/money/units of measurement, the number is never spelled out (we also abbreviate all units of measurement [inches = in., etc.]). Most of our engineers write like this anyway, so we found this to be the easiest way to be consistent and maintain quality.

  42. CarderB said

    Hello! I would love to see a listing of abbreviations that can be used appropriately within educational materials. I edit course materials and am amazed and perplexed at the abbreviations I see used. Thank you!

    • Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary lists all the acceptable abbreviations used in all fields: military, education, medical, engineering, science, legal, etc. I suggest you start there. Good luck!!! 😉

  43. Ellen said

    My question is likely too quirky to be of general interest, but I would love the help of a real writer/editor on how to select the correct preposition. It seems that more and more of the business writing I see is tough to read because the writer has selected the wrong preposition – on instead of in, from instead of in, through instead of … something else. As a reader, I often can’t determine what’s wrong on the first pass, but I know that it doesn’t read well and that I don’t understand what the writer is saying.

    Co-workers often ask me to review their writing and give them tips for making it better, but I’m stymied when it comes to the correct use of prepositions. I know when something is wrong, but I don’t know the rules that I can pass along to others (assuming rules exist). I can’t remember having this problem, as a reader, until recently, but I suspect it has something to do with a lack of education on English fundamentals. Although I had a lot of that, I didn’t have enough to help me advise others on prepositions.

    Thanks for the chance to contribute. I really enjoyed reading all the other posts.

  44. Paula Weitnauer said

    I would love to see a podcast on how to start our kids out right with good grammar, from the start. It just seems like we perhaps are not teaching our children enough grammar from the start. Our teachers have too many children with abilities on each end of the spectrum to try and reach.

  45. Jeannie said

    I’ve been interested in the recent debate over teaching handwriting and penmanship in our elementary schools.

    Some school districts are dismissing it entirely and I think that’s a big mistake. Why can’t we have both? Shouldn’t students be able to learn keyboarding along with great handwriting?

  46. As a high school English teacher, I can tell YOU that the use of the 2nd person YOU is rampant! You know what I mean?

  47. ridgely said

    In a word: redundancy. Yes, I’m aware my prior utterance was not a sentence. Didn’t you know it’s ok if you know what you’re doing, i. e. (now remember this is used for ‘that is) you have chosen the verbiage for the effect (not to be confused with affect).

  48. Sherri Evans said

    As wordsmiths by trade, my girlfriend and I were thrilled when Grammar Girl tracked down the obscure interrobang. Just when we thought that we had utilized every form of punctuation, it’s exciting to find something new — really, I mean it!/? Unfortunately, although Grammar Girl hopes that we will use the interrobang in blogs, it can only be typed in certain fonts (not this one). We’d like more of these treasures unearthed, and also the ability to actually use them!/?

  49. Jennifer said

    I would love to read about the relationship between grammar and rhetorical effect. Both in terms of the effect created when following rules and when breaking them. For instance the effect parallel structure has or why you might choose to use a fragment or a run-on. A second idea would be an examination of how grammar relates to the living, evolving creature that is language. To me, it is a paradox. Language is constantly changing, yet grammar, in part, exists to try to keep that from happening.

  50. sarabeth said

    I would love to see something about the change that is taking place in spoken English and how some phrases/words are just disappearing; case in point: the slow (or fast, depending on one’s opinion) of the phrase, “You’re welcome”. These days, when I say “thank you” to a store clerk or even a colleague, I get a “No problem”. Are there other phrases disappearing?
    and, of course, the constant misuse of “myself”…drives me crazy

  51. Robb Knapp said

    I just learned that warranty and warrantee don’t mean the same thing although guaranty and guarantee mean the same thing. How about a blog post on that?

  52. ade said

    right. right! right? write

  53. Andrea said

    I have the most difficult time with semicolon use.

    Thanks for hosting the giveaway!

  54. A post that makes that explains to younger writers how to use different tones/formality in different forms of communication (memos vs. text messages, emails vs. project proposals, etc.)

  55. Grammar Girl’s columns and website are provocative and helpful. Please enter me in the giveaway of her books. Thanks.

  56. Lynette Bell said

    Please enter me in in the giveaway! I am a new writer and need it terribly!!! Thanks!

  57. JasmineG said

    I’m sure I’ve seen bits and pieces covered in various posts, but I’d like to see a great collection of the common British English vs. American English side by side. Some of the differences between these two are the cause of so much grammar confusion today. I’m perhaps skewed to this topic because I’m in Australia. Most Aussies read American novels, watch American tv shows, yet we’re taught in school to follow British English. Can understand how students get confused these days especially when you’re exposed to a different format through pop culture.

    If I win, I’d LOVE the 101 misused words book – I managed to get through university (and likely with a number of grammatical flaws, as explained above!) so would value the common misused words copy. 😉

    • Polyglot said

      I lived down in Australia for a few years and always tried to be careful to adjust my spellings and word use – there are a lot of differences! A few of the spelling differences (-or/-our as in color/colour; -ize/-ise; traveler/traveller and the same when adding -ing to verbs ending in a single L) get a lot of notice, while others (judgment/judgement; enroll/enrol; learned/learnt) seem to be almost unknown. And there are a few rules that are Aussie but not British, such as the pronunciation of the word “cache.” I found the group noun rule particularly hard to pick up (“the group are…” vs. “the group is…”) and could never quite bring myself to say “in hospital.” (Which brings up the question of where those blasted quotes go – another UK/US difference!) And none of this even touches on the vocabulary differences! It would be fun to see them all spelt [sic] out. Language evolution in action!

    • Neal said

      Oh, you want Separated by a Common Language!

  58. Sally Ong said

    I often find that authors begin their sentences with prepositions. I had to constantly remind the students in formal writing not to do it. Its tough when the really famous writers keep doing this. However for the word “because” it can be allowed in certain circumstances. Did you post about this before?

    The other matter I would like to raise up is how to pronounce words ending with sks, sts, eg. risks, pests, pesks, and the ‘th’ as in two-fifths, three-fourths, two-sevenths, seven-elevenths…. do we pronounce the ‘th’ and ‘s’ separtely, or do we skip and just emphasise the ‘s’ eg ‘two-fifs’ as opposed to ‘ two- fifth-s’

    I would like to enter in the giveaway scramble, as I am starting to give English coaching to junior and middle school here in my country, especially to English as a second language students. Thanks heaps!

    • Glen said

      I’ve seen a couple of comments asking about whether it’s okay to begin a sentence with a preposition. But I don’t think anyone has ever suggested you shouldn’t begin a sentence with a preposition. They have, however, suggested (1) that you shouldn’t *end* a sentence with a preposition, and (2) that you shouldn’t *begin* a sentence with an article. I think both of these so-called rules are totally bogus, by the way, but they are rules that some grammarians have supported.

      • Glen –

        There are no rules preventing the use of beginning a sentence with a preposition. ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God …’ I haven’t heard any grammar police make any comments!!!

        There is stylistic form and their is grammar, ending a sentence with a preposition, in my opinion, is just bad form (sloppy writing), but I don’t believe it’s grammatical incorrect, though they think stylistically it is wrong and frown upon it.

        Again in fictional writing, beginning a sentence with an article can give tension or suspense to a scene: They were half asleep in bed both anxious about different things. Neither had the courage to talk to the other. A window suddenly slammed shut. They both frozen like corpses. – See how injecting that sentence chanced the mood – it overtook the scene – and hopefully if this was a real book you be dying to find out why the window slammed shut.

        *bogus is one way of seeing it – stylistic form is more my taste (less offensive to the grammar police!!! 😉

  59. Tom said

    To be a sentence, a word group must consist of at least one full independent clause with a subject and a verb. Otherwise, the word group is a fragment. Yet, I have seen skilled writers use fragments.

    I would love to see a discussion demonstrating when sentence fragments are appropriate.

    • Bill said

      Not so, Tom. A sentence can comprise just a verb and the subject is implied. For example, one might write: “Run!”

  60. Adina said

    I’d love to read an entry on how reputable grammar and dictionaries, such as the Oxford English Dictionary, have begun incorporating contemporary and internet-friendly language into their official standards (e.g. “LOL,” “FML,” “I heart you”).

    It would also be helpful to learn other ways of making personal statements so that “I” doesn’t pollute all of my emails to prospective employers.

    I also apologize for any incorrect uses of punctuation or redundant points in this comment. Clearly, I need one of Grammar Girl’s books on my bookshelf!

  61. JoeBoomer said

    I would like to see you post on the proper use of toward/towards and the related backward/backwards. While the former word in each pariring seems to be correct, common usage seems heavily skewed to the latter. Can you illuminate the proper – and best – choice?

  62. Arch said

    Hi GG,

    I often hear, read and see a lot of idiomatic expressions being used on a daily basis. In what situations (oral and written communications) are idiomatic expressions appropriate? When and how should i used them? (please discuss both american and english idiomatic expressions)

    Please help and thanks


  63. Chiew said

    I’ve touched on this subject in one of my blogs, but would like to see more of it, especially from an expert 🙂
    The topic is none other than false friends (or faux amis).

  64. loidski said

    I’m not a native speaker and I always get confused whether I should use “on the list” or “in the list.” I swear I always consult Google for this. I am not sure if this has been covered by GG already. It would be nice if GG would come up with a trick that can make me remember the right term to use! Thanks! 🙂

    • Neal said

      My native-speaker intuition is “on the list”. One way to remember might be a joke that I saw in a children’s video. You can read about it here.

      • On the list is far more appropriate as In the list implies the material needed is actual somewhere with in the list, at least that’s how I was taught. So I’m in complete agreement with Neal (intuition based on years of experience!!!),

  65. Angela Grosse said

    Vocabulary is the weakest link with many of our students today. I look forward to incorporating additional vocabulary into my students work.

  66. I would love to win!

    Here’s what’s been on my grammatical mind: Because grammar. I keep seeing sentences or sentence fragments like this; “because noun.” Shakesville has an ongoing series called “Because James Franco.” It seems very recent, yet ubiquitous. So, um, WHAT? WHY? Sorry for slipping there, but it is an formation and I’m curious as to its origin.

  67. Neal said

    There are some common adverbs, likely quickly, from which people drop the ly. For instance, “Do it quick!” I would love to see an explanation of when the “ly” can be properly dropped and when not. For example, is “Quick!” correct or should it be “Quickly!”

    • Neal said

      The above is from some other Neal. Unfortunately, one who didn’t leave any contact information.

      • Dropping the “ly” from common adverbs may be convenient for the speaker who is flustered, as in your example, “Do it quick,” but it doesn’t excuse the grammatical correctness, which would be quickly. In almost all cases, adverbs will follow the rule of adding the “ly” to the end of the word.

  68. kate thorn said

    I would a copy of any of her books! Might help me correct some of my mistakes Before Re-Writing!!

    Kate Thorn

  69. mujus said

    How about a post about “the changes that happened in English over the last 20 years”, it can focus on words e.g. different ways of pronunciation or grammar rules? We see or hear many words/sentences that were ‘mistakes’ in the past but are ‘acceptable’ now.

  70. Jess Spears said

    I’d like to read your opinion on how to address errors concerning grammar and punctuation in someone else’s writing. There are times when someone has written something on behalf of a group I belong to (i.e. my best friend’s sister recently sent out bridal shower invitations on behalf of the bridal party) and their writing includes many errors. I would like to learn the proper way to correct these errors (or at least the most glaring ones) without offending the writer. The bridal shower invitation was really, really badly written and formatted and I was genuinely embarassed to have it sent out with my name on it.

    • For those of us who care about using proper grammar, correct spelling and punctuation, it is our angst to deliberate whether to infuse ourselves when its abundantly clear a blunder is in the making. As for Jess, I might of said something along these lines, “Oh is this the draft?” And after commenting on the fine stock and color of paper and how beautiful it will look, then I’d say softly, would you mind if I helped you make some corrections to some small spelling mistakes?” I think she be happy to have you point this out as most people don’t want to look illiterate and slowly say “Oh, you need this and that, do you terribly mind if I change this dear?” And again I think done that way you and she are part of the process and it doesn’t come off as “your a dim whit!”

      It’s a tricky dilemma to maneuver in safely. I certainly have been berated for being a social snob and who cares if the Bishop’s title is The Most Rev’d John Jones … and not Father John Jones, Bishop. Then again I’ve offered to give something a look over and they were so appreciative I would take the time and the corrections I made they were sincerely grateful for making it better. The phrase “Why do people put up fences”? “To keep nosy neighbors away”. Good intentions can often come across as intrusive and unwanted – “If I wanted your help, I’d have asked!” So there are times we must let things go there natural course, certainly the world won’t crumble because of poor grammar and spelling. Que sera, sera!!!

  71. Mary Maxwell said

    I am constantly challenged by the use of ‘bring’ and ‘take.’ It appears that public opinion has given sanction to the use of ‘bring’ in almost every situation, but I still ‘take’ my computer home each day !

    • I don’t think there is much difference other than a matter of personal choice! I tend to use “bring” if I’m in the act of bringing something to the table or “May I bring you a cup of coffee dear?” and likewise “”Honey may I take your dinner plate for you?” As for do I bring or take my laptop with me to work, I guess it depends on what phonetic mood I’m in!!! So stick with your guns and take your laptop to and from home, but if it starts acting up bring it to a PC tech!!! Good luck 😉

    • Neal said

      GG wrote about bring/take here. However, I may have some more to say on the subject. For example, what if we’re talking about a situation in which something is being taken from point A to point B, neither of which is the location of the speaker? I’ve never seen a usage guide address that situation!

  72. Haknbud said

    How about a post on the beauty and heritage of the English language and subsequently how professors, with the wisdom and knowledge that made them professors, are encouraging students to maintain knowledge of their own language, which not only develops eloquent writing, but enhances a students’ ability to read the classics.

    A rather lengthy topic, I’ll admit, but it so saddens me that the current techno generation so readily rebels, suggesting that their “reduced” version of language use is superior to that of so many masters of the language. Maybe a proper understanding of the rules and their history would give students (those who need to be and desire to be educated, not those who already think their opinion is superior to that of their professors) a greater appreciation f
    or applying the rules rather than avoiding them.

  73. Barbara said

    I’m from Cuba and on July 11 will be 11 years since I moved to USA as a refugee. In 2007, I took an internet-based TOEFL test and obtained a high score, so I decided to go to school. I finished my master’s degree in 2009 and I’m currently in my specialist degree. I have done a lot to improve my English but I’m still confused when it comes to the use of apostrophe.

  74. dmd said

    Looking forward to learning more about this blog.

    My topic would be how words are misused in the media. The misuse of less/fewer is probably my biggest pet peeve. I frequently see things like, “Now, with less calories!” I cringe.

  75. Ruth said

    I love this 🙂 Since English is my second language, I may want to learn tricks on how to speak English without too much stutter not just by means of practice. Building up verbal communication skills are important in school and professional area. There are books regarding English as second language but it is a good thing to know how Grammar Girl see and share perspectives on this topic especially that English is evolving. I always enjoy correcting myself with the help of Grammar Girl because of examples that are very easy to understand. I hope to get a copy of the books 🙂 Hope it will be available also in my country.

  76. cynthia raper said

    I’m just a wordy girl!

  77. English spellings are very tricky most of the time. Please suggest easy method to overcome spelling mistakes.

    Best Regards

    • Have a good spell checker on your computer is tops. Second is just a matter of memorizing those words you have difficulty spelling. I had trouble with dessert and desert, until I made up a little trick that dessert is yummy so it must have two s-es – silly but I’ve never spelled either word word wrong since the 4th grade!!! And third it’s always good to have a good spell checker among your family or friends for important things. Hope this helps some 😉 !!!

  78. Cindy said

    How to properly use the words granter, grantor and grantee, especially in regards to people receiving grant funds to implement a project.

  79. Ammon said

    I’d love to see a column (or listen to a podcast) on when it’s OK to use foreign words in conversation and writing. I’ve lived in Latin America for a number of years and so have picked up the habit of using español in all my communication

  80. Sarah Lake said

    I would really like to hear your comments on the word (non-word?), “all’s”. As in, “All’s you have to do is correct your grammar and you’ll be able to graduate fifth grade.” I have heard too many people use this in sentences, and it makes me absolutely crazy. In fact, my husband and I go round and round about whether or not it’s an appropriate word to ever use (not!), and whether or not it’s even a word (in my book it isn’t).

    Thanks for listening to my little rant. All you have to do now, is choose this topic.


  81. EmmanuelR said

    Here is another question from a non-native speaker.

    When a noun (or a noun phrase) qualifies another noun, the first noun is usually in the singular. For example a person who keeps bees is a bee-keeper, with ‘bee’ in the singular, and a cherry tree bears cherries.

    This is even the case when the first noun is preceded by a number: one speaks of a two-digit inflation, and (my favourite example) a juggler may perform a trick called a five-ball cascade.

    There are exception, though, where the first noun is in the plural. For example:

    “goods receipt”
    “sales assistant”
    “human resources department”, apparently this phrase more common than “human resource department”.

    A search in the Brown Corpus ( with the NLTK toolkit ( retrieves other examples with a plural first noun.

    “The fire department here has been torn for months by dissension involving top personnel and the fight between the { fire fighters association } and the { teamsters union }”

    “The jury said it found the court “ has incorporated into its operating procedures the recommendations ” of two previous grand juries , the Atlanta Bar Association and an interim { citizens committee }”

    “State and federal legislation against racial discrimination in employment was called for yesterday in a report of a “ blue ribbon ” { citizens committee } on the aid to dependent children program”

    In a Googlefight ( between ‘citizen committee’ and ‘citizens committee’, the latter wins by 48,000 results to 15,700.

    Other examples from the Brown Corpus:

    “Sam Caldwell , State Highway Department { public relations director } , resigned Tuesday to work for Lt. Gov. Garland Byrd’s campaign”

    “Vandiver opened his race for governor in 1958 with a battle in the Legislature against the issuance of $50 million worth of additional rural { roads bonds } proposed by then Gov. Marvin Griffin”

    “The proposal would have to receive final legislative approval , by { two-thirds majorities } , before March 1 to be printed on the April 4 ballot , Roberts said”

    In a Googlefight between ‘two-third majority’ and ‘two-thirds majority’, the latter wins by 98,600 results to 8,960.

    “There is no registration fee but there will be a charge of $2.50 for the luncheon to be held in the library and { fine arts building }”

    Could you clarify for me the circumstances when the rule doesn’t apply and the qualifying noun or noun phrase is plural?

    • Glen said

      As a native speaker, I second EmmanuelR’s suggested topic. I have no idea what the operative rule is, yet I intuitively know the right thing to say in each of these cases. I’ll bet this a nice example of one of those rules-we-know-without-knowing-you-know-them.

    • Neal said

      Elisa Sneed has a good paper on the subject. I may still do a post on the subject, but if not, I recommend reading the paper.

    • Neal said

      Also, there are a few Language Log posts on the subject from Dec. 1, 2003. Click here and scroll to the bottom.

  82. Gail Huang said

    Hi, Great contest!

    I am never sure by how to write so that the subject agrees with the verb….what is the rule. I came across this sentence in a book I was reading yesterday. Why does the verb not agree with the singular “food” or is it assumed to be plural because there are numerous items?

    “While the most popular food with the snowmobilers were the chicken wings and the onion rings and the french fries, Danny stuck to the BLTs and coleslaw-when he went there at all, which was rarely.”

    excerpted from Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving

  83. Anne said

    I happened upon your site today and am finding it fascinating. I have to say though, I’m feeling more than a little inferior to try to comment among the ranks of grammarians.

    Last year I enrolled in an Ancient Greek language course. The cases, tenses, verb agreements etc. came as a shock to me and for that reason I began searching out how to use English correctly. My impassioned instructor told us of the trade culture of Papua New Guinea that necessitated words that specified relationships between parties. He said there was a word for “you and me”, a word for “you and me but not them”, a word for “you and me and them” etc. It got me thinking about how extremely specified English is, yet rarely (at least among my peers, although probably more often in circles of linguists) are the definitions of words heeded when used. The loss of definition in conversational use is frustrating; it really started to bother me, for example, that my friends thought “the movie was awesome” when clearly it wasn’t meant that the movie inspired them with a sense of awe. Why would they say “learning curb” instead of “learning curve” or vice versa? Do they know what “intensive purposes” is vastly different from “intents and purposes”? I think this is an interesting topic to explore because more and more definition is being replaced by the connotation a word carries. The negative nuances of words get thrown to the “politically incorrect”, out-of-service pile and at the same time “awesome”, “totally” and the like are being brutally misused. Furthermore, we see previously offensive words being adopted by youth who apply new, lighthearted connotations to the words, again disregarding definition. We keep adding words to the dictionary but the words we use are still less distinguished from each other in common use.

    Also, I took an introductory Japanese course and learned to denote a question by adding “ka” at the end of a sentence. English requires not only appropriate punctuation but also inflection to supply meaning. I’m interested to learn more about the role of inflection in English. I understand it is part of what has set apart Old English from our modern language and I wonder if inflection still is changing and if, like our changing vocabulary, it’s causing English to evolve.

    As I said, this is my first encounter on your blog so maybe this is not what the focus of your blog is or maybe you have written on this already.

    • Polyglot said

      I like your post! I also got interested in linguistics from studying other languages (Latin and Japanese, among others) and then looking at my own language through that lens.

      I (personally) would draw a distinction between “mistakes,” like “intensive purposes” or “if you think x, you’ve got another think [vs. thing] coming,” and the gradually changing meanings of words (such as “awesome”). A lot of words that we use today have a current definition that would seem (to English speakers from only a few hundred years ago) like a gross misusage. It’s part of language change/evolution that words shift in meaning, and slang is a major source of new words as well. It’s inevitable that some people won’t like it, just as some people don’t like the shifts in grammar taking place (such as the singular use of their discussed on this blog and elsewhere to avoid the awkward his/her construction). A language is a tricky thing to define, but one of the most common definitions is something like “English is what English speakers speak” – i.e., the language is defined by how we use it. To be prescriptive about every detail is to fight a hopeless battle – language changes MUCH faster than most of us realize.

      Mistakes actually also make it into the language too, through a process known as folk etymology. Check it out on Wikipedia! (I just got sucked into the article myself.) That process put the “roach” in cockroach, the “male” in “female” and the “house” in “penthouse.” Good luck getting anyone to go back to the old versions! 🙂

  84. If ever America needed to take a hard grip on its grammar, it is now! I’m from Paris and English is my second language and it annoys me to read and hear how poorly grammar is used. “Grammar Girl Guidebook” is the perfect anathema to this growing problem in our schools, but learned in the sacrosanct of the home. It was bad enough that American’s were overly fond of adding “s”es to every department story: “I’ll be right back, I’m just going to Walmarts [sic] or Targets [sic].” They are so close to being correct, if only they added “…going to Walmart’s Department store.” then no fuss, no mistake, but wanting to shorten everything and take the easy way out of language only results in further trouble, in my Parisian opinion.

    The who/whom and it’s I/It’s me conventions are like beating a dead horse. I use them and feel as if I’ve just walked out the the Victorian era. It seems they are left for literary writers and the occasional brilliant movie script (and a High Episcopal Mass with all the smells and bells!). The word Irregardless still irritates me when there is a much more appropriate word at the speakers disposal in “regardless,” but the OED seems to give the user of “irregardless” just enough wiggle room calling it “archaic and not in popular use, or something close to that.

    Another interesting common mistake is in the use of lend and loan. My French English teacher made the issue simple for us; She’d repeat, “banks loan money, we lend our toys”. Seemed easy enough. I con-vexed how Americans can’t decide if they live in a house or a home, both can’t be right, can they? I would argue that one is the physical structure while the other is the psychological element of having a place to which one belongs, like the burst of joy shouted upon returning from a vacation as one plops on the familiar sofa, “We’re home!!!”. It would be a bit sterile to shout, “We’re in the house!!!” So I maintain one uses “house” when referring to the overall structure where your home is, as when being taken home, one would say “my house is just up the hill on the right.” And if friends drop by for a visit, you want to invite them into your “home,” the center of family life, not into your house. Perhaps too fine a distinction, but that’s how words morph and get misshapen.

    I’ve probably hardly touched on many of the insightful misused grammar found in the “Grammar Girl Guidebook,” which if selected, is the book I would most cherish. This has been a delightful exercise in any event and good luck to all the competitors.

    With all warm wishes, I remain

    Ian-luc Marcel de Monde

    • E said

      Regarding the home vs house issue, I think the distinction is actually a very large one, as “home” can also refer to places which are not houses, such as apartments. For example, my home is on the second floor of an apartment building, so I can’t refer to it as a house. You are – as far as I know – correct when you talk about the difference between the physical and psychological differences between the words and how they’re used.

  85. I would like to get one of the copies. But I live in Brazil. Are the books e-books?

  86. E said

    I would love an explanation of why writers use quotation marks for any reason other than to show that the word is being quoted. For example, an article from the BBC’s website about the recent US shuttle launch uses what I would consider unecessary quotation marks here:

    “But the promised showers never materialised and controllers in the “firing room” gave the “go” for the ascent after a positive poll from their ground teams.”

    I’ve noticed that my older coworkers often put words such as online and email in quotation marks, and while I understand that these are newer words, I don’t understand why quotation marks would be used. Are there prescriptive rules regarding this that I’m unaware of?

    I would also like to see a post on why some nouns are mass nouns and why some are count nouns. For example, why can I order a burrito with beans and corn, not bean and corns?

  87. […] that in mind, here is the topic suggestion from a reader named Karl, the second winner of my Grammar Girl book giveaway: I’ve … noticed that 80% or more of Americans don’t use the past perfect form of verbs […]

  88. […] right, time to finish making good on my Grammar Girl book giveaway contest. Today I’m writing on the topic suggested by the third of the winners, named Anne. […]

  89. shotgun microphones…

    […]Grammar Girl Guidebook Giveaway « Literal-Minded[…]…

  90. Nifty Tips

    Grammar Girl Guidebook Giveaway

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