The Sunday Salon: Madame Grammarian

When I was a wee lass, I wrote extremely pretentious poetry on Microsoft Word. (This is before we got Macs, which is essentially B.C. in my household.) It was even typed in Papyrus, the most pretentious of all fonts, which should only be used to write the word Serenity and nothing else. One day, I showed my mother a poem. She approved of it, as mothers do, but pointed out that I used the possessive of “it” (its) where I had meant to use the contraction of “it is” (it’s). I shrugged it off, but my mother pressed on. “Clare, that means you’re illiterate.”

As an avid reader, I was offended to my core, and have never made that mistake again. (My mother is brilliant.) Reared as I was on the wilds of the Internet, a great deal of incorrect grammar was beaten out of me by the time I entered high school. With spell check on Firefox and everything in between, if you’re a native English speaker, you really don’t have an excuse.

I occasionally see them–the grammar mistakes that make my very skin crawl, made mostly by native English speakers who should know better. In the interests of public safety, here are my three worst grammar pet peeves that make me bail on something immediately.

Obviously, seeing “its” where it should be “it’s” has stopped me in my tracks since that particular incident, but it has gotten worse for me over the years. When I’m reading something, I tend to read it out in my head, and when I edit something, I tend to read it out loud. “It’s” often translates out into “it is” in my head, and “its”, obviously, doesn’t–so it often throws me for a mental loop when I encounter it. This will serve me well as an editor, but it just annoys me when I encounter it on forums and the like.

The next is seeing “their” or any words with an “ei” in the middle misspelled. This isn’t so much because of the ubiquity of spell check, but rather because of your own personal spell check–your eyes! “Thier” just looks wrong. I can’t trust my eyes for a lot of spelling–there’s a scene in How I Met Your Mother where Ted, teaching his first class, can’t remember how to spell professor and gives it two “f”s, which is exactly how I feel. But with “their” and other words like that, it’s fairly easy to keep them straight.

The last is less of a specific grammar rule than a stylistic choice that I thought was universal until last year–the rules of ellipses. While there are no hard and fast rules about ellipses, seeing more than three in a row drives me up a wall, and there needs to be a space after it–like any piece of punctuation that’s not an apostrophe.

Luckily, these are mostly absent in the book blogging community, which almost makes it worse when I do run into them–they’re more painful than they would be if I encountered them everyday.

On a much sweeter note, Alayne of The Crowded Leaf awarded me for being a loyal commenter with the Dragon’s Loyalty Award! Oh, shiny.

Like everyone awarded with this lovely award, I’ve been asked to pass it on, so here is my very own Weyr of loyal commenters–TJ of Book Love Affair, Teresa of Shelf Love, Trisha of eclectic / eccentric,  Christy of A Good Stopping Point, Jenny of Jenny’s Books, and Amy of Just Book Reading. This certainly isn’t to say that I don’t love everyone who stops by and comments–every comment makes my day brighter, as corny as that sounds. If I’ve tagged you, pick out your very own Weyr of three to seven loyal commenters!

In other news, I’ve got a bit of a posting buffer going on, which makes me quite happy. I’ve gotten through I’d Rather We Got Casinos, which was hilarious, and I’m currently reading Leviathan, which I’m enjoying thoroughly. I’m getting through a stack of library books at a pretty nice clip. I’m reading Melville’s “Benito Cereno” for class, and I have a few plays for theater. I think I might review most of them, except for Waiting for Godot, which would only turn into a long rant about why I hate Samuel Beckett. I’m also thoroughly looking forward to the kick-off of my portion of The Lord of the Rings readalong, which starts tomorrow!

What are your major grammar pet peeves?

17 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: Madame Grammarian

  1. I HATE excessive ellipses too! And I actually know some people who, wonderful though they may otherwise be, live under the delusion that the ellipsis is the only form of punctuation in existence. They use it instead of commas, they use it instead of semicolons, and they use it instead of full stops. I have to take a deep breath after reading anything they write.

  2. Thanks for the award! I always fret that I don’t comment on my favorite blogs as much as I’d like, so it’s nice to know that I’m keeping up on at least one of my faves 🙂

    I’m totally with you on its and it’s. I read it’s a “it is” too, so when it’s wrong, it’s jarring. “Your” and “you’re” is the same way for me. Nails on a chalkboard and so easy to keep straight, but people seem to find it impossible.

    I have to laugh at myself on the “ei” combo. I’m convinced that everyone has a couple of spelling mental blocks, and “ei” vs. “ie” is one of mine; having a co-worker with “ie” in the middle of her name seems to have kept me confused. But at least I know about my mental block, so I’m careful to double check.

    On ellipsis, I’m a “three dot” user in my personal writing, but at my editing job we use the “three or four dot” method. I find it unnecessarily complicated, but I’ve gotten used to it.

      • The four-dot ellipsis is actually a period followed by a regular ellipsis. The Chicago Manual refers to the system that requires it as a “four-dot” system. Basically, you only use it if the elided section includes the end of a sentence. I find it unnecessarily complicated because when I’m editing someone else’s work, I have no way of knowing what exactly they’ve elided.

  3. The worst example I have is a colleague who used commas instead of dots in any ellipsis,,,,,,,,if you can imagine that,,,,,,, Reading those e-mails was pure torture!

    Lately I’m noticing that people can’t tell the difference between “less” and “fewer.” Sigh.

  4. I am a grammar snob too, I must admit. There are so many individuals at work who writing emails just FILLED with the silliest of errors. Do people really not know when to use “their”, “there”, and “they’re”? Or the difference between your and you’re? It seems to be the case, unfortunately. Although I know I myself make grammar mistakes every now and then – and I know that grammar was never really taught to me in school. Basic grammar, yes, but not like actual hard rules. Isn’t that sad?

  5. It drives me batty when people misuse “less” and “fewer”. I worked out the rule for these words rather late in life, which I suppose accounts for my fanaticism about it now.

    I rarely use ellipses but I am terrible about using dashes – like that! I do it all the time. I’m aware of it but I can’t stop. They’re worse than semicolons!

  6. Ditto on the cringe-factor of misused ‘it’s’ and ‘its’, ‘you’re’ and ‘your’. I worked as a graduate assistant in an admissions office and I saw quite a few applicants write about “pouring over books in the library.” I keep picturing them turning into liquid and ruining the books. (What they mean to use is “poring over books.”)

    And thanks for the Weyr award! Our blogs are about the same ‘age’, if I remember right. So commenting on your blog and you commenting on mine – it’s like our blogs have playdates. 🙂

  7. Have you read Eats, Shoots & Leaves? I have to admit, I’m not an overly picky grammarian. I definitely appreciate proper grammar, spelling, and mechanics, but for the most part, I chalk up an error or two to typos and move on happily. Consistent mistakes on the other hand drive me bonkos. Your and you’re are probably the most annoying to me, followed quite closely by the horrendous ‘u’ instead of ‘you’. It’s only three letters; do we really have to shorten it????

    And thanks so much for the award. I love reading your blog and you make it very easy to comment!

    • Yes, I have, actually- even reviewed it for here.

      I feel your pain on text speak- Good Lord, do we really need to involve letters and shorten things? It just makes you sound eleven. At best.

      Aw, you’re very welcome!

  8. Thanks for the award! 🙂 That’s so kind of you.

    My pet peeve is the wanton use of apostrophes. We got a Christmas card this year with this mistake — Merry Christmas from the Smith’s. WHAT! NO! Every time I saw it I wanted to correct it, with a red pen.

    Looking forward to continuing the read-along! I need to get my book out today.

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