Editor’s notes: Some errors in this column are deliberate.
Dear Mr. Dad: I read your column on grammar mistakes, and I honestly don’t know what the big deal is. You’re obviously an elitist snob, so it makes a difference to you. But, what about the rest of us? Why should we care?
A: The response to last week’s column on grammar mistakes was huge, and while a few readers agree with your assessment that I’m a snob (which, in this case, may be true), the majority sent in their own pet peeves. Before I share some of those (along with a few more of mine), let me address your question. Simply put, grammar and word choice are important because they clarify meaning and improve the likelihood that people will understand what we’re trying to say. One more point. Grammar mistakes are just that — mistakes. Making them doesn’t mean you’re stupid — and not making them doesn’t mean you’re smart.
Myself. Another example of the confusion so many of us have over when to use “I,” “me,” and “myself.” In almost all cases, “I” is the subject, “me” is the object. Therefore, “My kids and myself took a walk on the beach” should be “My kids and I …” since we’re the ones who did the walking. And, “For more information please call Bob, Joe, or myself,” should be “… call Bob, Joe, or me,” since we’re the ones people will be calling. Use “myself” in situations where the subject and the object are the same, such as, “I hit myself in the head.”
Should have vs. should of. Although “should’ve” sounds like “should of,” it’s actually a contraction of two words, “should” and “have,” as in “I should have gone to the store on the way home.” The same rule applies to “could of” and “would of.”
Uninterested vs. disinterested. If you’re bored or don’t care, you’re uninterested. If you’re unbiased or don’t have a stake in the matter at hand, you’re disinterested. If I were on trial for my life, I’d much rather have a disinterested judge than an uninterested one.
Two vs. to vs. too. They’re all pronounced the same, but “two” is a number, “to” is a preposition (meaning it usually indicates a direction or a limit, such as “to the store” or “nine to five”), and “too” usually implies excess (“too many mistakes to count”) or “also” (“cats are mammals, too”).
Lie vs. lay. Lie is a falsehood or a state of being, as in, “After writing my columns I often need to lie down.” Lay is a transitive verb, meaning that the subject is doing something to the object. For example, “I lay the book on the table.”
Like, you know, sort of, kind of. As far as I can tell, people use these phrases to keep from saying, “ahhh” or “ummm,” and that’s a good thing. Unfortunately, more often than not, these phrases are the English language version of empty calories: they fill up your sentences but add little or no substance. For example, if someone says, “Well, like, you know, we, like, sort of went to the store,” what does that mean? Did you go to the store or not? Warning: Once you start keeping track, you’ll be shocked at how many times these phrases show up.
Awesome. This used to be a very powerful word, one that meant something truly jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring, rare, or magnificent. But today, it’s all but lost its original meaning and is now used instead of “excellent,” “good,” “thank you,” and even a simple “yes.” Can we please stop abusing this poor word?