Bill Leslie's Carolina Conversations

Grammar Gripes

Posted September 9, 2009 9:37 a.m. EDT
Updated September 9, 2009 9:39 a.m. EDT

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?