Grammar Pet Peeves: It’s Been a While

It has been more than a year since I’ve written about my grammar pet peeves. This is because every time I write about grammar, I make some horrendous mistake like using the wrong your or there, or spelling grammar as grammer. Nevertheless, I’m going to venture into a few points that I’ve been noticing lately.

Have vs. Have Got
If you watch a lot of Monty Python or, alternatively, are British, you frequently hear have got when it seems have would suffice. (Those of you not on government computers will see what I mean in the YouTube video above.) Certain grammar purists and other nerds insist that have got is redundant and annoying. But many people with friends and social lives feel that have got is one of those idiomatic phrases that has so permeated (or, as my horrible boss at my previous job used to say, impermanated) the language that it’s now acceptable. In fact, some, like the authors of the Grammar Girl blog, suggest that have got adds emphasis that have lacks.

Since you most often see have got used with a contracted form of have, (“I’ve got this mole I think I should get checked out”), I think that have got is acceptable in informal settings, like in a blog or at the dermatologist’s office. While I’d steer clear of have got in formal writing, it’s undeniable that without the phrase we wouldn’t have The Beatles’ “She’s Got a Ticket to Ride,” Monty Python’s French castle guard’s “He’s already got one” (above), or Shea’s landmark two-part blog series, “I’ve Got Problems.”

Awhile vs. A While
This recently came up on a friend’s Facebook page. She just put it out there: “use of ‘awhile’ versus ‘a while’. discuss.” And people did. This is what my friends are like.

Anyway, a while is a noun phrase that means “an amount of time”; awhile is an adverb that means “for an amount of time.” When you use the noun (It’s going to be a while before we regain the readers we lose because of this post), it’s two words. When you’re modifying a verb (I need to think awhile), it’s one word. So you’d be correct to say, “I need to think awhile” (modifies the verb to think) and, “I need to think for a while” (for an amount of time).

Hyphenated Adverbs
In a comment on the first Grammar Pet Peeves article, Friend of IBD Scott Rogers wrote this:

A pet peeve of mine … is the hyphenated adverb. The hyphen in “a series-deciding blown call” adds precision to a sequence of modifiers. The hyphen in “an obviously-fair line drive” adds no clarity, since the basic rules of English grammar make clear what is being modified by “obviously.” Now that people are getting better about plural apostrophes (“Fresh Egg’s”), I’m noticing many more hyphenated adverbs in signage (“Organically-Grown”).

I’d have rephrased this comment and claimed the thought as my own, but Scott used baseball-related examples and everything, so how could I improve upon it?

The Designated Hitter
Speaking of baseball, can we all agree that the designated hitter rule in American League baseball is an abomination? All it does is keep a bunch of fat, old has-beens in the league a few years longer to collect stats. (Thanks to The Baseball Stadium Connoisseur for the baseball card image of first-ever designated hitter Ron Blomberg).

is indeed a word. It’s in the dictionary, Shakespeare used it, and most importantly, it has its own entry on WikiAnswers. That said, I find it redundant and I hate it. Any time I see oftentimes in text that I’m editing, I change it to often or frequently. Then, just out of spite, I find the author’s iPhone and covertly set his alarm clock to go off at 3:00 in the morning.

April 4 vs. April 4th
This is more personal preference than grammar, but whenever I’m editing, I find myself deleting the suffixes people tack on the end of numerals in dates. What’s the difference between April 1st-4th and April 1-4? To me, the first is visually cluttered, the second clean and clear. When we’re speaking, we may say “April first through fourth,” but when you’re conveying information visually, clarity and simplicity should take precedence.

I use those -th, -rd, -st suffixes on numbers exclusively when I’m referencing that number in a sequence (for example, this is the 1,000th time you have rolled your eyes while reading this stupid blog).

Loose vs Lose
These are different words. They mean different things. I don’t know what else to say on this one.

Caps Lock
We all know that writing in all caps is bad form. When I stumble across anything other than an acronym in all caps, even a single word, I change it to lower-case italics, which achieves the same emphasis without looking disruptive. According to a story on ABC News, Google broke new ground when it released a netbook computer that made it difficult to activate caps lock.

While I applaud Google for trying to stop people from being jerks by writing in all caps, I don’t think there’s any feature in the netbook’s Chrome operating system that prevents people from writing blogs, so clearly there’s work to be done.

Also in this Series


More Grammar Pet Peeves

As you know by now, the first two installments of Grammar Pet Peeves (Part 1 of Literally Millions and Part 2 is Comprised of Five Points) went viral. That is not to say that they got a lot of hits, but they did make a lot of people sick. In an effort to redeem myself, I give you more pet peeves and the first-ever installment of “Two That I Had Wrong.”

Friend (or possibly Nemesis) of IBD Phil Broder asks:

What’s the proper usage of that/who? Is it “I am the person who edits a magazine” or “I am the person that edits a magazine”? And does it make a difference if the subject is human or not? “I have a dog that likes to sleep by the fireplace” or “I have a dog who likes to sleep by the fireplace”?

1232732_65680757I like that we’re taking requests on “Grammar Pet Peeves.”

The commonly accepted rule here is to use who when you’re talking about people and that when you’re talking about things or stuff, though there is some wiggle room (see the “Grammar Girl” link below). I’ve never heard a discussion on this rule as it relates to animals, so I’d say if you like animals and think they have personalities and feelings, use who; if you dislike animals except when you’re eating them, use that. (I have a dog who licks my face when I get home. I have a chicken that will be great breaded and fried.)

There’s a good post on this topic on the website Grammar Girl: Quick and Dirty Tips.

AlotAlot/A Lot
Unless you are talking about Alot, a town in India that is home to a temple of the Hindu deity Shiva, a lot should be two words. For instance, one could say, “You must have a lot of time on your hands if you’re reading this blog.” Just as you have a dog instead of adog, you have a lot of something instead of alot of something.

Very Unique
There are no degrees of uniqueness. Something cannot be kind of unique or very unique. Being unique is like being pregnant. You might be two-weeks pregnant or nine-months pregnant, but either you’re pregnant or you’re not. This explanation from Washington State University puts it better than I can:

“Unique” singles out one of a kind. That “un” at the beginning is a form of “one.” A thing is unique (the only one of its kind) or it is not. Something may be almost unique (there are very few like it), but nothing is “very unique.”

So Fun / So Much Fun
In this instance, so is an adverb that modifies the adjective much, which modifies the noun fun. An adverb cannot modify a noun, so when you say, “Reading about grammar is so fun,” what you mean is “Reading about grammar is so much fun.”

Two That I Had Wrong

None Is / None Are
Frequently, we get notes wrapped around bricks and thrown through our windows that say, “Dear Shea and Paul, none of your posts are funny.” For a long time, I thought, the joke’s on you, Mr. Angry Blog Reader, because what you mean is “None of your posts is funny.” Well, it turns out that Mr. Angry Blog Reader is also correct, because both forms are acceptable. Also, we’re not funny.

I was one of those folks who thought that because the word none derives from not one, it is necessarily singular. Turns out that both structures are accepted and have been used since the days of Old English. There’s a good post on this on The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation. (There are still some sources that insist on none being singular, but they are in the minority.)

Again, for a long time, whenever I heard people use loan as a verb (“I loaned Shea $4 in 2003 and still haven’t seen a penny of it”), I’d smile smugly and correct them in my head. (I’d think, “They meant lend. I should write a blog about this!”) Well, unless those folks were British, I owe them an apology, because in American English, loan is a verb as well as a noun and has been for a long time.

British grammar and many American nerds hold to the rule that loan is a noun only (“I took out a loan at the bank”) and that lend is a verb only. So if you’re writing for an international audience or for whatever reason trying to impress nerds, use that rule, but common usage in American English allows loan to be used as a verb.