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Bill Leslie's Carolina Conversations

Grammar Gripes

Posted September 9, 2009

What are your grammar gripes? What lapses in language really make you cringe? Call me the grammar grump but I keep hearing things that would drive my favorite English teacher Marilyn Gordon of Morganton up the wall.

Where do I begin? Let's lie down on the comfortable grammar sofa and start our lesson. Or is that lay down?  The answer is "lie."  To use "lay" correctly in present tense there must be a direct object such as a book. You lay a book on a table or a pen on the desk but you lie down on the bed or couch. If it helps just remember Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan were great musicians but lousy grammarians. Their songs "Lay Down Sally" and "Lay Lady Lay" are both off the mark. It should be "Lie Down Sally" and "Lie Lady Lie."

Another concern is the "less" versus "fewer" problem. It seems we have given up on using "fewer" anymore and just toss out "less" when something more appropriate is in order. Here is the basic rule:  use "fewer" when it is something you can count and "less" when it's something you can't count. After reading a book for an hour I have fewer pages left. After a midnight snack I have fewer M&Ms in my candy jar. Following a series of budget cuts the auto industry has fewer dealers nationwide. You can count all of those things.

After cleaning up I have less clutter on my desk. You can't really count clutter. Your spouse may tell you to make less coffee this morning. That's fine. You can't really count coffee. But you would say I made fewer cups of coffee this morning because you can count the cups. And the next time to go to the grocery store check out the sign in the express lane. If it reads "Less Than 12 Items" tell the manager to fix it so it reads "Fewer Than 12 Items."

Okay, it is your turn. What are your grammar gripes?

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  • bleslie Sep 10, 2009

    I'm right here behind the "at."

  • beehnon Sep 10, 2009

    Real-a-tor and jewe-lery....ugh!!!

  • pwpoe Sep 10, 2009

    "Impacted" as an adjective, as in, "All the residents were impacted."
    Maybe they need a laxative?

  • news4u Sep 10, 2009

    Bill! Where you at?

  • speedy Sep 10, 2009

    "Those who live in glass houses...."

  • Shadow213 Sep 10, 2009

    since v sense (and cents). It's so clear-cut to me, I'm shocked when I see these misused. Also, ending a sentence with a preposition...people do that ALL the time now. Grrr.

  • daMoFo Sep 10, 2009

    People using advise when they mean advice. "I need your advise."

  • speedy Sep 10, 2009

    My biggest grammar gripe is:

    When professional journalists, who have presumably gone to school for a degree that would no doubt include some course material on the subject, cannot use proper grammar. Lately, the errors seems to include spelling and punctuation as well. Sad to say, this includes many on WRAL.com as well.

    Now, I'm far from perfect when it comes to these things, but then, I'm not trying' to make a living at it.

  • The Librarian Sep 10, 2009

    Don't even get me started; I was an English major. Of course this means there will be mistake(s) in this post that helpful folks will point out to me.

    Grammar errors really only bother me when written. Spoken language is individual, so I try to appreciate it as part of the identity of the person. I am especially fond of hearing the Southernism that are disappearing rapidly.

  • Whatweretheythinking Sep 10, 2009

    The biggest grammar error has got to be "I had went by there".....that drives me insane! My skin crawls when I hear "I had went"........can't stand it.......

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