8 grammar mistakes even smart and sexy people like you are making



portrait-1072696_960_720A while ago, I wrote about people’s misuse of the word “literally,” a condition that has reached pandemic level, with even very smart people saying stupid things like, “My board is so great, I’m literally in love with all my board members.” I carry small rocks in my jacket, just so I can throw them at people who use “literally” wrong

Well, after writing that post, dozens of readers wrote to thank me for raising awareness of the issue, and by “dozens,” I mean two people. So I thought we should shed light on other common grammatical mistakes that occur in our field, where 90% of the work is done by talking and writing.

Now, first of all, a disclaimer: I am not a grammarian, and I don’t claim to have perfect grammar or anything. Anyone who scans NWB posts will see countless mistakes.

Second of all, not all grammar needs to be correct all the time. Sometimes for the sake of flow I make grammatical mistakes on purpose, e.g., “Someone did not pay for their ticket to our fundraising dinner, so I am going to hunt them down and put this horse head in their bed.”

I know that should be “Someone did not pay for his or her ticket, so I am going to hunt him or her down and put this horse head in his or her bed.” But that sounds ridiculous and cumbersome, so for casual conversations, I’ll use the wrong subject/verb agreement on purpose and I don’t mind if others do the same.

This also applies to things like ending a sentence with a preposition, like “That’s what I was thinking of,” because it just sounds dumb to say “That is of which I was thinking.”

I’m also not addressing basic laziness in grammar. For example, most people who mistake “your” and “you’re” or “their,” “there,” and “they’re” are just lazy in proofreading, not actually ignorant of the rules. “It’s” and “its” are another example, I think.

What I want to talk about are mistakes that nice, intelligent, well-respected, good-looking, and very hygienic people make all the time without knowing that it literally makes me want to punch them in the neck. Please stop making these mistakes:

The point being is… 

The point being is that we may need to stage an intervention for our board chair’s habit of whittling wooden animals during meetings. Wrong! “The point being is” is redundant and stupid sounding. Drop the “being” or the “is;” they cannot coexist in the same sentence. Just stop it! Stop saying “the point being,” because if I were to get a nickel donated to my organization for every time I hear it used wrong, I could probably stop writing grants. Actually, no, because I’ll probably just get 40 or 50 cents per year, which is not enough to fund our programs…Whatever, the point is that we all need to stop saying, “the point being is that.”

The amount of people…

The amount of people who came to our puppet show fundraiser was disappointing. Wrong! You mean “the number of people.” Amount is used for non-countable stuff, like water, or love, or organic hemp milk. For stuff you can count, like people or bunnies or cartons of organic hemp milk, you use “number.”

Less and fewer…

Same thing, use “less” when you can’t count something and “fewer” when you can. For example this would be wrong: “Maybe we should have had less puppets that looked like local program officers.” You can count individual puppets, so replace “less” with “fewer.”

Who and that…

Our target population is teenagers that have a fear of clowns. Fun fact, the fear of clowns is called “Coulrophobia,” with “coulro” likely coming from the Ancient Greek word κωλοβαθριστής, which means “stilt-walkers,” who are very creepy. Anyway, out of respect to human beings, use “who” when you’re talking about people and “that” when you’re talking about non-people. Animals are negotiable, depending on how much you love them, so “we help dogs that are abandoned” and “we help dogs who are abandoned” are both correct.

Nauseated vs. nauseous…

This grant application is making me nauseous. Wrong! It’s making you nauseated. Nauseous means something can cause other people to be nauseated. Toxic wastes are nauseous, along with rotting fish, ammonia, molds, and poorly planned special events. They make you nauseated. So just think, when you say something makes you “nauseous,” you’re saying that something makes you smell like rotting fish.

Redundant acronyms…

One time, we were involved with the Refugee Impact Grant (RIG), which everyone called the RIG grant, which irritated many people, and by many people, I mean mainly me. The G in RIG already stands for “Grant,” so RIG grant is redundant. Other redundant acronyms are “PIN number” (PIN stands for Personal Identification Number) and HIV virus (the V stands for virus). Also, ATM machine, SAT test, and LCD display.

I wish it was…

This is a tricky one, since it involves the subjunctive, a form of grammar to express stuff like hopes and wishes. It is so complicated that only four people in the US can use it perfectly: “It is important that everyone donate;” “I wish she were a board member.” So I can understand why most people get it wrong. No one will look down on you if you do not master this, but you get this right, you can earn some grammar brownie points that can be used for other stuff you get wrong. Just remember that it’s “I wish it were Friday” and not “I wish it was Friday,” and “I wish Bill Gates were my BFF” and not “I wish Bill Gates was my BFF.”

Between you and I…

The number one most annoying grammatical mistake, after “literally,” is the wrong usage of “you and I” or “he and I” or “they and I” or whatever. Seriously, I will throw live scorpions at the next person who says something like “Here’s a photo of my board chair and I playing dueling harps at our last retreat” or “Next Tuesday works for Bob and I to meet with you to discuss starting an emu farm as an earned-income strategy.” I don’t know where I will get live scorpions, but I will.

This mistake is a result of the aspersion we are taught to cast on people who say things like “Me and Josh are going to get a drink after our 10am staff meeting.” Only ignorant degenerates stay stuff like that! Do you want to be an ignorant degenerate?! Huh?! Do you want to marry your sister and make moonshine out of possum milk or whatever moonshine is made of?! Of course you don’t! So you learned to always say things all proper, like “Josh and I are going to get a drink after our 10am staff meeting.” Now you’re hyper-vigilant and you think that you can NEVER ever say “me and Josh” ever again.

And this is why we have so many great people, who are smart, whom I look up to, who get this wrong, confusing subjects (I, he, she) and objects (me, him, her). Here’s an easy way to remember: Take out the other person, and see what sounds better: “Here’s a photograph of me” sounds better than “here’s a photograph of I,” so “Here’s a photograph of me and Bill Gates” and not “here’s a photograph of Bill Gates and I.”

Next Tuesday works for Bob; next Tuesday works for me; next Tuesday works for Bob and me to discuss starting an emu farm as an earned-income strategy. Please pay attention to this, even if you forget everything else I just wrote about. Because if you say stuff like “Between you and I, nonprofit work is fun,” you might as well break out those vittles and start milking them possums.


Related post: This Literally Makes My Head Explode


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  • Great post! I hope you enjoy your trip to Europe.

    • Vu

      Thanks, Talking Violin. You have a cool website with great videos.

      • Thank you very much for your comment on my blog. I hope you keep coming back for more.

  • OK, so, can you let people also know that you can’t just randomly sub “myself” in there, when you don’t know if you should say “me” or “I”? It’s not, “Here’s a photo of my board chair and myself playing dueling harps at our last retreat” or “Next Tuesday works for Bob and myself, to meet with you to discuss starting an emu farm as an earned-income strategy.” And if I hear, “Between you and myself…” (as in, “Between you and myself, selling medical marijuana to our clients – or our donors – may be a more successful earned income strategy than that dang emu farm.”) one more time, I’ll get that bag of scorpions from you.

    • Vu

      Yes, today I heard that. “Myself and a staff are meeting to discuss so and so.” I was reminded of you, Claire. We may run out of scorpions at this rate…

  • Judith Edwards

    Congrats on the Fellowship and have a great trip!!

    • Vu

      Thanks, Judith. I’m looking forward to it, though I think I’ll miss the baby like crazy

  • You’re wrong on nauseous. Random House says, “The two literal senses of nauseous,’causing nausea’ (a nauseous smell) and ‘affected with nausea’ (to feel nauseous), appear in English at almost the same time in the early 17th century, and both senses are in standard use at the present time. Nauseous is more common than nauseated in the sense ‘affected with nausea,’ despite recent objections by those who imagine the sense to be new. In the sense ‘causing nausea,’ either literally or figuratively, nauseating has become more common than nauseous : a nauseating smell.”

    • What’s happened, Josh, is that so many people have misused the word that the Random House dictionary feels obliged to give the wrong definition. A sad state of affairs.

      • Vu

        Thanks, Josh, for weighing in, and Claire for providing counterargument. The nauseous/nauseated debate has been slightly contentious, with some grammarians saying that the boat has sailed. How about we just agree to use “sick” and “sickening”?

    • In fact, the whole thing makes me want to barf.

      • Yup, I’m with Claire. I call it The Oranutang” effect. Enough dumb asses spelled Orangutan incorrectly that Merrian-Webster caved on the correct spelling.

        • Janmborgt, are you serious? Oranutang? Who ARE these people who are changing official spellings and definitions based on dumb asses’ mistakes? They’re even bigger dumb asses!

    • Josh, thanks for pointing that out. After so much feedback, I might go easy on the nauseous/nauseated dilemma. Not so with anything else, though, especially not “literally.”

  • According to Merriam-Webster (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/literally)

    lit·er·al·ly: in effect : virtually

    • Vu

      My-Linh, if you read my post on literally, I described my consternation at the dictionary people, who just change things willy-nilly whenever enough people use a word or phrase wrong. They justify this as “evolution” of the language. I think it’s insanity and an insult to English. Enough people mess up “then” and “than,” so why don’t we just make them interchangeable? Same with “principle” and “principal.” Literally cannot also mean figuratively!!! It is a word people need to learn to use right!!!

  • Christine Hill

    love it! wise and funny, what could be better!

    • Vu

      Aw, thanks, Christine.

  • I found this post via LinkedIn and it made me smile, roping me in with – not just my obsession over all the things I’m doing wrong (and hardly care about in most cases but do deep down wish I had more time to proofread or even have someone else draft my things) – but also because I got to this line and had to finish the piece [yes, long run on sentences are my thing for sure. I’m of German blood, after all, and we speak for miles before finishing a thought/sentence. I don’t know why others can’t keep up]:

    “Well, after writing that post, dozens of readers wrote to thank me for raising awareness of the issue, and by ‘dozens,’ I mean two people.”

    A sense of humor to be appreciated for sure. I apologize if there is a glaring and unforgivable error in this comment; and at the same time I say, “eh, really?” But if you gave it to me to proofread, I’d tear it up in ways only those who’ve had my editing put to them can truly appreciate (or cry about).

    With far too much experience thinking about (and viewing and documenting, sadly) cruelty to animals, I’d like to toss in to please go with “who” for non-human animals, everyone. The non homo sapiens have enough to suffer without us further objectifying them with ever reference. Our language in fact dictates a tone for those around us. To me, no person is “illegal,” though they may be undocumented. They are not an object or a criminal act. Neither are animals. Here are the big few that you’d make my day if everyone adjusted in their writing and in their heads:

    “Companion animal” versus “pet”
    “Guardian” versus “owner”

    Animals Used for Things –
    Also, to make an advocate cringe (and most animal protection folks do the same thing because it’s all around us) use “farmed animal” versus “farm animal” and for the same reason do not say “circus animal.” Animals are used (and abused) in circuses (so attend ones without animals, please!) and are farmed. Their existence is not to be farmed and it’s not to be in a circus or a zoo or anywhere else that we may have put them. They are each individual sentient beings in and of themselves who have their own needs, desires, fears, joys, and suffer and feel pain just as you and I do (with some physiological differences, naturally). Fish feel pain, too. And they are animals. And no, you are not a vegetarian of any sort if you eat sea animals. They are animals, folks. But you are a vegetarian if you are a vegan, but not necessarily a vegan if you are a vegetarian (though that number is growing within the world of vegetarianism as people see the reality behind animal agribusiness where animals are treated as commodities such as wood or steel rather than living and feeling beings.

    OK, one more: “animal cruelty” is when animals are cruel. “cruelty to animals” is when we are cruel to animals. Reasonable time to ignore that rule (and seriously it irritates me enough that I will rework it to make it fit wherever possible) is because of space concerns in the TITLE (only) of a news release. Just say it right. lol.

    Oh, and one more thing – anyone who ever studied German (maybe they have these for other languages) grab English Grammar for Students of German. All of the years of English classes (or “Language Arts” as it was called) taught me most of my ability to get things right for the most part but it wasn’t until I read this book for my German classes in college that I FINALLY had light bulbs going off everywhere. And I was a straight A student, so this isn’t as if I was just not paying attention. I’d ace a test, in Spanish and Arabic courses too, and be rather clueless about what I was saying; Until I landed that book in college, of course and then things changed.

    No time to proofread. Gotta’ run! ha.

    • Thank you for the thoughtful, comment, Daniel, and for a spirited argument for better treatment of animals and for pointing out the mistakes people make such as saying “animal cruelty.” As a vegan, I completely agree.

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  • Betty Brewer

    I just want to “Like” all of these comments. Although, I must admit, Bob and I may have to have a discussion about that emu farm and whether we need more or fewer emus. [Note penchant for the Oxford comma.]

  • betty barcode

    Oooh! Ooooh! Pick me, pick me! [waves hand wildly]

    More grammar peeves:

    Rampant abuse of “myself:” No, I don’t mean that kind of self-abuse! I mean everyone now saying, “Jane and myself will collect your feedback forms” instead of “Jane and I will collect…”. Or, “Send your receipts to myself,” instead of “Send your receipts to me.” There’s enough euphemistic syllable inflation in our jobs. Cut it out, people.

    Using “there’s” (there is) to mean “there’re” (there are). Example: “There’s 10 people in line.” There is 10 people in line? Wrong! There *are* 10 people in line. Maybe more on a good day.

    “Gift” as a verb. We already have give, donate, contribute, present, and more. Check your thesaurus. But no, now I guess we’re all supposed to say, “Jane gifted us with a check of $___.” Would any of you ever turn to your beloved and ask, “What can I gift you for your birthday, dear?” The only time I want to hear the word gifted is when you’re talking about kids.

  • As a fellow grammar-obsessed person, I must point out that it’s actually perfectly correct to say “Someone did not pay for their ticket…”, since “they” is an acceptable single-person gender-neutral pronoun. It’s important to note that opinions have shifted over the years, but “his or her” and its variations are no longer best practice because of their binary gender approach. My organization is switching all instances of “his or her” in the personnel manual to “their” in order to maintain gender inclusivity. It sounds weird to some people but is correct.

  • adrageli

    I hate, hate, hate “different than” and “I wish you woud’ve.” It’s “different FROM” and “I wish you HAD!”

  • Acronym abuse happens not just when one of the terms is repeated in full-word form, but in general when people forget what the acronym means.

    For instance, if you receive an RFP, the work you prepare in response is *not* also an “RFP”. It might be a “proposal”, or a “paper”, or, if you must, an “RFP response”. But answering a request with another request is unlikely to get the results you want.