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Prose Parade
Grammar and writing basics

December 28, 2010

Verbs and Plurals

OK, I saw a posting from the Urban Dictionary on Facebook today: mechanic – A paid assassin who “fixes” a problem, i.e. off’s someone who has been causing trouble.

Do you see the verb to off? Do you see the apostrophe? Can you tell me why a dictionary, for heaven’s sake, even a popular dictionary, would make a verb plural with an apostrophe. Why don’t I just beat my head against a wall.

One more time:

The plural is formed by adding an -s or an -es (or changing the -y to -i and adding -es). So simple, yet so challenging apparently.

The entry should read: mechanic – A paid assassin who “fixes” a problem, i.e. offs someone who has been causing trouble.

Just because the verb to off is colloquial doesn’t mean the rules of grammar don’t apply. English is hard enough without making it even harder.

November 21, 2010

-self, -selves

Why do people use words like myself, yourself, etc. when they mean I/me or you? Do they think it’s more elegant or even self-effacing? Well, they’re wrong, and they’re annoying me.

So, here’s the rule.

These words are called reflexive pronouns because they reflect on or refer to another word in the sentence that is directly related.

For example, “Susan thought highly of herself.”

See? “Herself” refers to Susan. Why she thinks highly of herself is another matter entirely.

The one that really yanks my chain is “myself.”

Wrong: Keep this just between you and myself.

Oh, for heaven’s sake, what’s wrong with “me”? In fact, that’s the right word. “Myself” doesn’t refer to anything. (And by the way, using “I” in that sentence is wrong too.)

Right: Keep this between you and me.

That’s elegant, not at all self-promoting and correct.

Or how about: Myself and John are going to the movies.


Right: John and I are going to the movies.

Again, simple, elegant and correct.

And just because I didn’t give examples of himself, itself, ourselves, themselves doesn’t mean the rule doesn’t apply. It does.

October 20, 2010


I’ve been mulling transitions recently, probably because I’ve haven’t seen them used very often; just herky, jerky sentences strung together. So, to make me feel better and to point would-be writers in the right direction, here’s my section on transitions taken from the page on syntax and style.

Transitions tie ideas, sentences and paragraphs together and keep the reader’s eyes moving across the page smoothly and efficiently. Usually, they’re just one word or a couple of words, but they’re vital to interesting reading. These transitions indicate relationships.

1. Transitions that add
And also in addition too furthermore moreover likewise

2. Transitions that contrast
Although however nevertheless

3. Transitions that prove
Because obviously in fact

4. Transitions that exclude
Yet still despite sometimes
(Yes, I know the word “but” excludes, but I don’t like to see it starting a sentence, no matter who says it’s OK now. Phooey.)

5. Transitions that emphasize
Definitely positively absolutely without a doubt

6. Transitions that show progression
first, second, third A, B, C after now next

These are always useful in a step-by-step essay, but don’t, for the love of Mike copy Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers, and mix and match them.

7. Transitions that set an example
for example for instance

8. Transitions that end it
in conclusion thus consequently

Iif you must use “thus,” OK, but to me this is very old-fashioned)

September 27, 2010

Ellipsis (…)

What did the poor little ellipsis ever do to deserve such brutal treatment? Look at any direct mail letter, and they’re scattered around like seasoning on a piece of meat. I know it’s annoying, but even the poor ellipsis has rules.

First, it’s used inside a quote to indicate some part of the quote is missing.

For example, “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war,that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation,shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”


Second, in general, it indicates an omission outside of a quote, for instance, to show a thought has trailed off. “I was thinking we could jump off a bridge, but

Sometimes with a thought that’s trailed off, we can see the logical end of the sentence, so the sentence should have the ellipsis and a period. “On the other hand.”

So, no matter how many times the direct mail letter has ellipses to grab our attention, we still know what the writers want: our money. And you don’t want to be in their company, do you.

July 23, 2010

Every day/Everyday

Yes, people, they are two (well, actually, three) different words with two different meanings. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen them used incorrectly on huge billboards, TV, newspapers and magazines. Jeesh.

So, in the interest of my sanity:

“Every day” (two words, a noun and an adjective) means each day. For example, “Brush your teeth every day.”

Everyday (one word; an adjective) means ordinary or commonplace. For example, “Brushing your teeth is an everyday occurrence.” (At least, I hope so.)

So, are we clear now?

May 15, 2010


Let’s make this easy. A memento is a keepsake such as a photograph or a Boston Red Sox pennant from 1955. There is no such word as momento (unless you’re speaking Spanish). Erase it from your memory banks. Oh, look, I wrote memory. Doesn’t it look a lot like memento. Of course, that’s because they have a common Latin root word that has to do with remembering. Oh my, look, another “mem” word.

I’m ragging about this because I heard a reporter on 60 Minutes say “momento,” and he wasn’t speaking Spanish, and he should know better. For shame.

March 28, 2010

Good writing

A friend who is a published author and I were talking yesterday about all her projects (and there are many), and I thought some of you might want to see some good genre fiction. Go to www.barbarahambly.com to see some examples. If you like her work, you can even download three of her fantasy short stories.

And, believe me, even her books go through a rigorous editing process before they’re published. A writer always needs a good copy editor even if it’s just to catch a few misplaced commas. Don’t think for a minute that your first draft is your last. It isn’t.

February 27, 2010

And then he goes

What on earth is this construction? Here’s the conversation:

“And then he goes, ‘Let’s hook up.’ ”
“And then I go, ‘OK, when?’ ”
“And then he goes, ‘Tomorrow at the mall.’ ”

And then I go rushing for an aspirin.

This construction used to be heard among teenagers, but they brought it with them into adulthood, and now I hear it from educated grownups.

For heaven’s sake, we don’t go, we say. Go indicates movement. Say is such a lovely, succinct word that (if I may) says it all.

So our conversation should now sound like:

“And then he says, ‘Let’s hook up.’ ”
“And then I say, ‘OK, when?’ ”
“And then he says, ‘Tomorrow at the mall.’ ”

Ta da. Meaningful conversation. Well, maybe not so meaningful, but you know what I mean.

January 18, 2010

Redundant Redundancies—Again

OK, here’s one that’s like an icepick jammed into my ear: where it’s at. If the phrase is used in popular songs, well, who cares. However, it’s moved to general conversation, and it shows the speaker doesn’t trust the English language. What on earth do you think “where” means? It indicates place. “At” is unnecessary and, you guessed it, redundant.

Here’s the phrase without “at”: where it is. Gasp! You still know what it means. For example, “Do you know where it is?” Lovely. Not, “Do you know where it’s aaaaaattttt?” Also, “I know where it is.” So flexible, so clear, so melodious.

Try it; you may like it.

January 14, 2010

Big of a

What on earth is this construction? Usually I hear it as in, “It’s not that big of a deal.” It’s means it’s not a big deal. It should read, “It’s not that big a deal.”

I’ve looked through my grammar books, even looked online (Grammar Girl uses it), and although I can find no rule, I’m sure it’s wrong.

Here’s my reasoning.

At first I thought it was the prepositional phrase, but no. “Of a deal” is fine. Then, I looked at big. An aha moment. A prepositional phrase should have a noun antecedent, and big is an adjective.

So, the sentence really should read, “It’s not that big a deal.”

So, OK, where does the confusion come in? I think it’s the placement of the article “a,” and the word “that.” English, as we know, can be weird. In the sentence “It’s not that big a deal” the “a” comes after the adjective, which is not the way English ordinarily flows. So, maybe, using the prepositional phrase “of a deal” or just the word “of” is maybe a stutter word like “um” or “you know.”

I suppose your reaction to my little rant is that it’s not that big of a deal, but it grates on my ears, makes my teeth clench and generally annoys me completely.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

January 7, 2010

Redundant Redundancies

Now, I like the TV show Bones, but if I hear the Seeley Booth character say “this here” one more time, I’m going to find a way to put my hand through the TV set and smack him.

What, he thinks “this” doesn’t say what he wants to say? “This” indicates someone or something close by, so adding “here” is redundant and considered nonstandard English.

For example, “This is my partner.” See? No “here,” and we still know who he’s talking about.

Respect the language and let it do its job fro crying out loud.

I think this last paragraph was a very loud harrumph.

December 16, 2009


Okay, here’s the first problem, and it’s a problem with the language. For the most part English doesn’t have declensions (a form of a word that indicates number, gender or case [don’t ask!]) as the Romance (French, Spanish, etc.) languages. But… Of course, there’s a but. We have pronouns (words used instead of a noun) that not only follow an older form of English that had some declensions, but they’re irregular, which leads to the second problem.

In the case of me/I there is much confusion. Much confusion. And, on my part, much anguish.

“I” and “me” are personal pronouns, that is, used instead of a person’s name. These two words are first person. (You don’t really want me to write “nominative case,” do you.) So when do we use “I,” and when do we use “me?”

Well, I just happen to know.

“I” is always and only used as the subject of the sentence. It’s that simple. For example: My friend and I are going to the movies. Elegant.

So, I ask why do I hear, “Me and my friend are going to the movies.”? And this isn’t once in a while. I hear this consistently and constantly from people who should know better and on TV, who may or may not know better. Drop “and my friend” from the sentence. It reads, “Me are/is going to the movies.” Now you know it’s wrong, huh?

Use “me” for everything else. It’s the direct object, indirect object, object of the preposition, blah, blah, blah.

December 9, 2009

A Rant About Who/Whom

I hate the word whom. I think it’s clumsy, and no one knows how to use it. Last night, on one of the ubiquitous Law & Order repeats I heard Sam Waterston use it incorrectly.

One of the problems with who/whom is that unlike most of the English language “whom” has a case ending somewhat like the Romance languages. English is not a Romance language. If you get right down to it, English is a mutt.

The case ending means whom is used as an objective. For instance: For whom the bell tolls. See, it’s the object of the preposition “for.”

OK, that’s how it’s supposed to be used. It isn’t; it’s slaughtered. Very few people know how to use it, and so, I recommend we banish it to the heap of archaic language. Let’s just use “who” for everything.

“Who” in all cases works just fine and communicates orally and on paper. The language then is left with the irregular case endings of personal pronouns (I, me, he, she, it, etc.), which we can’t ever get rid of because they’re so ingrained and have no substitutes.

So, fling caution to the winds and stick your chin out (don’t you love the metaphor mixture) and say and write “who.”

November 22, 2009


I’m b-a-a-a-k! Who knows for how long because I’m now looking for work again since I’m almost finished with editing a novel. Unfortunately, work has to come first now since the economy took its steep dive. I really was enjoying my retirement.

Anyway… Affect and effect.

Affect is ordinarily a verb. It means to influence.

For example: Your tears don’t affect me. In other words the tears don’t influence me.

Effect is ordinarily a noun. It means a result or something that makes an impression.

For example: His tears had no effect on me. I know I’m a hard-hearted one.

Another example: The effects of the avalanche were catastrophic.

But wait! Fasten your seatbelts. This is English, so you know it can’t be that easy to differentiate the two words.

Effect can sometimes be a verb, and affect can sometimes be a noun. Well, really! How rude.

As a verb effect means to bring about or produce.

For example: The company effected some downsizing changes.

As a noun affect is used mainly in psychological terms to describe a facial or other physical reaction.

For example: Your child has a flat affect. This means the child show no reaction of any kind.

Another example: Your laughter at something sad shows an inappropriate affect.

August 21, 2009

Misplaced Subject/Passive Voice

I know I said the next entry was affect/effect, but a friend sent this to me, and I just couldn’t resist.

Here it is. Can you find what’s misplaced?

Another victim was pistol-whipped and taken to a hospital by paramedics, said Sgt. John Cuenca of LAPD’s Foothill Division.

Info from my friend: Published 8-20-09 in the Daily News, authorship credit: By City News Service (which ought to hire competent copy editors)

What the writer said, but I’m sure didn’t intend, is that the paramedics pistol-whipped the victim and took him to a hospital.

If instead of burying the subject in a prepositional phrase (by the paramedics), the writer actually put the subject in the right place, the sentence would read:

The paramedics took another victim who was pistol-whipped to the hospital, said Sgt. etc.

The major problem in the sentence that led to the mishap is passive voice (was taken). See the page on Syntax and Style for more info on passive and active voice.

August 6, 2009

I’m sorry

I know, I know. I’m extremely busy with two, count them, two clients who have full-length books. I’ll get back with my regular posting ASAP. FYI, the next one is on affect/effect, a real poser for so many people.

July 12, 2009


I saw this mixup today, so it’s today’s topic. Usually the topic I choose is because I’ve seen it somewhere, and it yanked my chain.

“Accept” is a verb. It means to receive. For example, “I accept this Oscar for Arnold Swarzenegger who couldn’t be with us tonight.” (That’ll be the day Arnie gets an Oscar.)

“Except,” generally speaking, is a preposition and means to exclude. (Remember a prepositional phrase contains the preposition and a noun and can act as an adjective or an adverb.) For instance, “Everyone’s going except you.”

“Except” is also a conjunction (like “and” or “but”), a word than joins other words, thoughts, etc., but in this case it means only or otherwise. (It still has that deep meaning of exclusion.) For example, “I’d buy that wedding dress except it’s over my budget.” (I confess, I do occasionally watch “Say Yes to the Dress” and thank my lucky stars I didn’t wear a traditional white wedding gown when I married.) In this case “except” means only. Go ahead substitute “only” for “except.” See? If you care, the function of the conjunction in this case is to introduce an adverb clause.

Once in a great while “except” is a verb, and I mean a great while, and means to leave out or exclude. For example, “We excepted your first written warning, but you’ve still messed up enough to be fired.” Since most people don’t know about this usage, we don’t hear, but it still exists, so I’m telling you about it.

July 9, 2009


Shear has to do with cutting, you know, like sheep shearing. Scissors are sometimes called shears (a noun). See, more cutting. Even your hair is sheared, well, at least in a fancy salon. At Supercuts, it’s cut, and you’re out of there. Shear is nearly always a verb.

Sheer, though, has several different meanings. As a verb, it means to swerve from a course.

As an adjective it means thin or transparent. Lace curtains are sheer. We sometimes transform sheer from an adjective to a noun, especially when we call curtains just sheers. For example, “Those sheers let in a lot of light.”

Again, as an adjective it can also mean complete or pure, sheer happiness, for example.

More adjective stuff: It can mean steep or nearly perpendicular. “It’s a sheer drop from the top of Half Dome in Yosemite.” Presumably if it’s you at the top of Half Dome, you’ll be hanging on for dear life and don’t really need this bit of info. And don’t look down.

My dictionary says it can also be used as an adverb to mean almost perpendicular or complete, but for the life of me I can’t think of an example sentence. But then, I’ve sheered from my dictionary many times in the past.

July 6, 2009


What means this word “nother”? I’ve heard it used like this, “That’s a whole nother story.” Feh.

How about “another whole story” or a “whole other story”?

My dictionary says using nother is acceptable in informal settings. My dictionary forgives too much.

The word, everyone out there, is another or other. Stop using nother. You make me nuts. And, you sound illiterate.

Feh, again.

July 4, 2009

Happy 4th

A refresher course in powerful, persuasive language. More than 200 years later, the words can still move people.

The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America
When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

— That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

— That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

— Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.

— And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

July 2, 2009


This one just seems to kill people. Well, at least it kills me. Truly, I don’t know what is so befuddling about an apostrophe or, for that matter, pronouns, but they clearly are.
How many times have I seen “Who’s coat is this?”

Fasten your seatbelts.

One of the jobs of the apostrophe is to indicate a letter or letters are missing. In this case the missing letter is an “-i” or maybe “-ha.” (although not necessarily with “who.”) So, it can mean “who is” or “who has.” For example, “Who’s on first?” (With a tip of my hat to Abbott and Costello. The answer is, “I don’t know.” A very funny routine. Right up there with their [Oh, look there/their] “Slowly I turned.”)

Whose is a possessive pronoun meaning belonging to whom. (I know I said I’d like to see “whom” go away, but I can’t stop using it.) For instance, “Whose coat is this?”

I think the problem arises because most people don’t know the word “whose” exists.

Let’s go over it again. Pronouns have endings like the Romance languages (although you couldn’t tell it from the way people slaughter I and me).
Yes, those are endings.

I could go on a whole riff about teachers, their teachers and our teacher training system, but I’ll desist. Just one little thing: If you’re going to teach language arts, make sure you know language arts.

I think I need a harrumph here.

June 28, 2009

Reflexive Redux

In a previous posting (see Me, Myself and I, Part 3) I fussed about sentences that use the reflexive (pronoun + the word “self”) when they’re not supposed to. Today, it’s quite the opposite: not using it when you must.

For a long time I thought this construction was regional, mostly from the South, but I hear it everywhere now. Here’s an example: “I’m gonna get me a cold drink.” Huh?

Remember what I said in the other posting? Use the reflexive when the sentence’s subject is a personal pronoun (I/myself, you/yourself, he/himself, she/herself, it/itself, we/ourselves, they/themselves). So, it’s not “gonna get me.” it’s “gonna get myself.” The -self word is an indirect object (see Parts of a Sentence) and relates or reflects (hence the term reflexive) on the personal pronoun subject.

Better still don’t use the reflexive in this construction at all. The sentence communicates just fine without the “me.” “I’m gonna get a cold drink.” See?

And could it hurt you to offer a beverage to other people?

June 25, 2009

A Few Words about Mark Sanford

I know the less you hear about that subhuman the better, but this is about language.

For instance, from one of his amorous e-mails: “I think I had told you, taking the family to China, Tibet, Nepal, India, Thailand and then back through Hong Kong on world wind tour.” World wind?! World wind?! This is from a supposedly educated man. For crying out loud, it’s whirlwind, you doofus. Whirlwind!

And again: “How in the world this lightening strike snuck up on us I am still not quite sure.” Lightening?! How about lightning? The one with an “e” means to go from dark to light. Lightning is the electrical spark from the sky to the earth. Presumably, that’s what this cretin means.

And you know how I feel about “snuck.” It’s “sneaked” as far as I’m concerned no matter what my dictionary tells me.

I think he should resign on the basis of his pathetic language skills, even in an e-mail.

And don’t get me started on the quality of the mush he wrote. Barbara Cartland (RIP) could write better stuff. I was waiting for him to compare her teeth to pearls. Gag.

June 21, 2009

Could/Couldn’t Care Less

I know a lot of people think these two terms are interchangeable, but they’re not. One means you don’t care; the other means you have more depths of caring to plumb.

If you say, “I could care less,” I’m tempted to ask you how much less you could care. No, really, tell me just how much less you could care. I’m vicious if I need to be. This is one phrase that sends me up the wall, around the ceiling, down the other wall and back to the floor.

I think the problem arises because “couldn’t care less” is an odd construction and tries to strike a tone of sarcasm or ennui or cover-up of the real feeling, a dramatic interpretation anyway. Whatever the reason, the construction is odd and confusing. I think if you’re writing it, maybe it’s better not to because the tone needs a real live voice to convey its meaning. It’s better to write, “I don’t care.”

Unless you’re writing fiction, then you can have your character say anything you or he/she pleases. It’s fiction; you can get away with a lot of bad grammar, bad syntax and bad colloquial expressions. Characters are defined in ways like these.

In the end, however, for all of you who say “could care less.” Cut it out. It’s “couldn’t care less.” Period. It’s not a matter of opinion (as someone once told me), they don’t mean the same thing (as many people have told me), and even though I know what you mean (as most people have told me), I don’t care. Use the right expression.

BTW, I rarely correct people’s grammar or anything about what they say in conversation because by and large it’s rude and interrupts the flow of the conversation, but I make an exception for this one.


June 18, 2009

Different From/Than

As most of you know by now, I’m a grammar and syntax purist, and I’m a pain about it. This post is no different.

In the past we were told to use “different from” at all times, even though people used “different than” in speech all the time. “Different from” is used for contrast.

“Than” is for comparing (smarter than the average bear). Some grammarians, including my dictionary, think it’s OK to use “than” if a clause follows the “than.” For example, “The house is different than I remember it.” What follows “than” is a complete sentence.

So, it follows even if it is unwritten that the dictionary disallows “than” if it’s not followed (sorry, two follows) by a clause. So, it’s not all right to write, “Yogi is different than Boo-Boo.”

I say phooey to all that hair-splitting. I say use “from” all the time. BTW, so does the AP Stylebook. The example sentence can easily read, “The house is different from my memory of it.” Also, “Yogi is different from Boo-Boo.”

I know I’m sweeping the ocean with a broom, but I’ll stick to my guns (do you love that mixed metaphor?) until they pry the keyboard out of my cold, dead hands.

June 14, 2009

A Poser

A friend posed this to me, and I think someone posed it to her, and none of us knows the answer. So here goes…

In English we have a habit of saying some words twice, maybe for emphasis, maybe not. For instance, “there, there,” when consoling someone. The Brits say, “Here, here,” when they applaud something. “No-no,” which is baby talk, has made it into the dictionary as a grown-up (or sort of) word that means a misstep or mistake or something forbidden. “Now, now” we use instead of telling people to settle down.

OK, there are the examples. Is there a word that describes these doubles? I’ve looked in the dictionary, my grammar books and my prosody books, and nothing. (And, yes, I have multiple grammar books and prosody books [having to do with prose].) I even looked in my Thrall and Hibbard (a handbook of literature). Nothing, nothing, nothing. Oh, there are three; I must feel very emphatic.

June 10, 2009

Writing Tip/Prepositional Phrases

Sometimes we get on a roll, and we don’t notice we’ve strung about four prepositional phrases together. Um. No good. Too many prepositional phrases slow reading down, which is not the goal. The goal is to be concise and readable.

For instance, “In the dark of night beneath an overcast sky, we took a walk.”

Holy smoke! You have to fix that one right now.
How about this? “It was dark and overcast, but we took a walk.”

You can rewrite the sentence any way that gets rid of the phrases. I turned it into a compound sentence. Also give thought to changing the prepositional phrases into a clause or a prepositional phrase with words in a series as the object of the preposition.

If you like a bunch of prepositional phrases starting the sentence (for artistic reasons, perhaps, or striving to make a word count on a subject you don’t know enough about), then put a comma after the last one. That is, in the first example the comma would come after “sky.”

See, reads better already doesn’t it.

June 2, 2009


At one time “toward” and “towards” meant slightly different things, but now dictionaries say they’re interchangeable. My American Heritage says the Brits tend to use “towards,” and the Americans tend to use “toward.”

However, when writing and using a style guide, check the style guide. The AP Stylebook says always to use “toward.” The Chicago Manual of Style (13th edition) is mute on the subject. I’ve never used the APA, but if you do, check it.

It’s little things like this slight difference that can set off Klaxons in a copy editor’s head. Blaaaat!

May 30, 2009

Me, Myself and I, Part 3

Ok, now we come to “myself.” I don’t know why people use it instead of “I” or “me,” but they do. For example, “Those tickets are for myself and Robert.” No, they’re not. They’re for “me and Robert.” Well, actually, they’re for “Robert and me.” but who’s counting? Or “Myself and Robert went to the concert.” Nah. “Robert and I went to the concert.”

Now, hang on to your hats. There is a rule for when to use “myself” and all the other selves. It starts by identifying those words that have the suffix “-self” or “-selves” as reflexive pronouns. That means the “-self” refers to someone. Ah ha! So, if it refers to someone, then that someone’s identity has to appear somewhere before the “-self.” Get it? For example, “I rewired the house myself.” Look! “Myself refers to “I.” (BTW, if you think I can rewire a house, be prepared to see a blazing fire and my house in cinders.) The “I” has to come before the “myself.” So, it’s “he himself,” she herself,” etc.

The “-self”s can also be used for emphasis. For example, “I myself rewired the house.” That shows how a big a deal it is. (Not how big OF a deal, but we’ll deal with that one later.)

So, no more “myself” as subject of the sentence even if you think it sounds more polite. It ain’t polite, and it ain’t grammatically correct. If the sentence doesn’t start with one of the personal pronouns (I, me, you, it, we, they) or a proper noun (capital letter time), then don’t use “-self.” Period.

May 28, 2009

Me, Myself and I, Part 2

Sorry, I’ve taken so long to get back to the subject, but I’ve had a few hectic days.

Now, though, let’s talk about “me.” The word “me” is the objective case of the word “I.” Remember, it’s irregular.

The objective case is used in direct and indirect objects and as the object of the preposition. (Look in the Parts of Speech and Parts of the Sentence pages for more info.)

For example, “Give the book to me.” object of the preposition to.
“Give me the book.” indirect object
“Jim drove me to the library.” direct object

So, OK, “me” can never, never, ever act as the subject of a sentence because it’s the objective case, and the subject of a sentence is the nominative case. The objective case will always be acted upon in some way.

If you’re tempted to write, “Me and my friend was going to the movies,” think before you do and while you’re thinking, remove the words “and my friend.” Would you say, “Me was going to the movies”? Of course not. Then, don’t do it just because there’s a compound subject.

“Me” and “I” are forms of the same word, but they have entirely different functions in a sentence, and never the twain shall meet.

May 23, 2009

Me, Myself and I, Part 1

Pronouns are not simple. One reason they aren’t is because they’re the only words in English that have case endings, and not only case endings, but they’re also irregular. The one we’ll deal with now is “I.”

“I,” if you care, is the nominative case. This means that “I” is the subject of a sentence. It’s also a predicate nominative, which means it comes after the verb, but the verb has to be a form of the verb “to be.” To put it more simply, there are only two uses for the word “I.”

For example, “I came. I saw. I conquered.” (with many thanks to Julius Caesar) See, it’s the subject of the sentence.

An example of a predicate nominative is: “It is I.” Yes, I know we say “me,” but that’s wrong except in casual conversation. Then, who cares. Everyone gets the meaning.

OK, if “I” can only be the subject or predicate nominative, then why do I see any of the following:

“Me and my friend was going to the movies.”
“Keep this strictly between you and I.”
“Myself and John wrote the report.”

Holy smoke, people. What happened to our language?

For the record:

“My friend and I were going to the movies.”
“Keep this strictly between you and me.”
John and I wrote the report.”