The Elegance of Good Grammar

IMG_1699In Muriel Barbery’s novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog, a precocious 12-year-old named Paloma says, “Grammar is a way to attain beauty.” As one who taught language arts to middle schoolers for nearly thirty years, I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I would say proper grammar is elegant and poor grammar may ruin any chance of being so.

We all make grammatical mistakes sometimes. Regional and cultural dialects can be deeply ingrained, and those learning English as a second language have my full respect. If you saw me do algebra or bake a cake, you would likely be able to help me in areas that are not my strong suit. So let me offer some explanation for ten common spoken grammar mistakes.

  1. Linda and me went to the show. This is incorrect because me can’t be the subject of a sentence. You wouldn’t say, “Me went to the show.” Corrected Example: Linda and I went to the show.
  2. Dad is taking Bob and I. This is incorrect because I can’t be used as the object of a sentence. You wouldn’t say, “Dad is taking I.” Corrected Example: Dad is taking Bob and me.
  3. Sue is my friend that loves ice cream. This is incorrect because Sue is a person, not a thing. Use who to refer to people. Use that to refer to things. Corrected Example: Sue is my friend who loves ice cream.
  4. I should of done my homework last night. This is incorrect and probably stems from lazily saying shoulda, coulda, woulda. Corrected Example: I should have done my homework last night.
  5. I seen him at the store today. This is incorrect because the past tense of see is saw. Seen is a past participle and must be used with a helping verb. Corrected Example: I saw him at the store today.
  6. These cookies is good. This is incorrect because there is not subject-verb agreement. The subject of the sentence, cookies, is plural and requires the plural form of the verb. Corrected Example: These cookies are good.
  7. Irregardless of his credentials, he didn’t get the job. This is incorrect because irregardless is not a word. The word is regardless. Corrected Example: Regardless of his credentials, he didn’t get the job.
  8. The company honed in on its objective. This is incorrect because hone means to sharpen. To home in on something means to move towards a goal. Corrected Example: The company homed in on its objective.
  9. I’m going to lay down for a nap. This is incorrect because lay is a transitive verb and needs to have an object. For example: I’m going to lay this sweater on the chair. Lie is an intransitive verb which means it doesn’t have an object. Corrected Example: I’m going to lie down for a nap.
  10. I could care less. This is likely incorrect because it suggests that you actually do care a little bit. You are probably trying to express that you do not care at all. Corrected Example: I couldn’t care less.

    If you’re reading this, something tells me you do care about using proper grammar and agree with Paloma about it being beautiful. Using correct grammar is something that takes practice. Striving to use good grammar elevates our communication, enhances the spread of ideas, makes a positive impression, and adds elegance to our world. §

“Your grammar is a reflection of your image. Good or bad, you have made an impression. And like all impressions, you are in total control.”
~ Jeffery Gitomer

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