A 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.
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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