GrammarPhile Blog

Release Your Inner Grammar Demons

Posted by Terri Porter   Aug 31, 2016 7:30:00 AM

I'm silently correcting your grammar.In our last post , we suggested that correcting others’ grammar often isn’t a good idea, especially in casual conversation. That’s not to say you can’t mentally correct mistakes. For me, it happens involuntarily when I hear or see certain errors. You know the ones — those that make the hair on your neck bristle, your jaw tighten, your heart skip a beat.

For some reason, I’ve encountered more of those than usual in the past couple of weeks — no doubt my recompense for having raised the issue at all. They say misery loves company, so I’m sharing the top five grammar transgressions that drive me crazy (some would argue the trip isn’t a long one), with the hope that you’ll do the same. If you can’t vent them elsewhere, do it here. It’ll be like a collective cleansing ritual so we can all breathe a little easier and move on with our lives. Thank you.

#5 Them for Those

Those can be an adjective (describing which person or thing: those apples) or a pronoun in either the nominative (e.g., Those are good) or objective (e.g., I like those) case.

Them is a pronoun only and takes only the objective case. You can’t use it as an adjective (e.g., I want them bananas) or as the subject of a sentence (e.g., Them are hard to peel) — only as the object (e.g., Those bananas look good; I want them).

BUT when using the idiom “How do you like them apples?” … DON’T change them to those. That kind of hypercorrection is equally problematic.

#4 Seen for Saw

Saw is the past tense of see and refers to something that happened at a specific time (e.g., I once saw Derek Jeter hit a grand slam).

Seen is the past participle of see, which means it could have occurred at any point in the past. Participles require auxiliary (helper) verbs — in this case, has, have or had (e.g., I have seen Derek Jeter hit many grand slams).

So any use of seen without a helper verb or to refer to a specific point in the past is incorrect.

#3 Myself for Me

Confusion about whether to use I or me as the compound subject or object of a sentence many times leads people to use myself instead, as in “Harry and myself met with the consultant,” or “The consultant told Harry and myself the leave policy needs a complete overhaul.”

Myself (and its variations, such as himself and herself) is a reflexive pronoun used to show that the action in a sentence happens to the person or thing doing the action — in other words, it reflects back to the subject. For example: Harry treated himself to lunch while waiting for the plane to arrive.

The correct versions of the sentences in the first paragraph are “Harry and I met with the consultant,” and “The consultant told Harry and me the leave policy needs a complete overhaul.”

#2 It’s for Its

That little apostrophe signifies a contraction — the shortening of two words into one through the omission of one or more letters: it’s meaning it is or it has.

Its (no apostrophe) is a possessive pronoun showing ownership: The company filed its taxes.

The confusion probably comes from people remembering that possessives are supposed to have apostrophes. But that rule applies only to nouns. Its (as well as his, hers, theirs, ours, yours, whose) is a pronoun and already shows possession, so it doesn’t require an apostrophe.

#1 Lay for Lie

“Lay down” is by far the misuse I hear most often, probably because I know lots of people with dogs. When the dogs don’t respond, I secretly wonder whether they’re passively resisting the grammatically incorrect command.

Lay in the present tense is used only with a direct object: Lay the file on my desk. Lie in the present tense doesn’t require an object. So a dog would lie down, but you would lay an unconscious dog on the bed.


That’s my Top 5 for this week (it could be wholly different next week). What’s on your list?


Topics: grammatical errors, grammar errors

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