Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Spelling and grammar pet peeves

A post not about the baby!

I've been reading a lot lately, specifically blogs and forums. (Baby blogs and forums ... because that's what I'm into right now.) But they're driving me crazy with the spelling and grammar errors. I don't mean the people who don't even care about spelling and grammar. I don't read those blogs at all. I mean the ones who care, who clearly spell check and make an effort with their grammar, but who make the same mistakes so often and with such regularity that I fear the incorrect version will become standard. I hate it when that happens.

1. breath vs. breathe: The first is a noun. The second is a verb. Do not say "I can't breath." Of course you can't because there is no such action as "to breath."

2. prophecy vs. prophesy: Same thing. Also -- no such word as "prophesize." To give a prophecy is to prophesy, pronounced "prophe-SIGH."

3. done: This may be a Philadelphia thing; all my students did it. It's an odd construction with the word "done." Instead of "I am done with my homework" or "I have done my homework," they say, "I am done my homework." Sounds so wrong to me!

4. needs: Another odd construction which I suspect is regional, but since I've only seen it online, I'm not sure what region that would be. This is when they say "My oven needs fixed" or "The baby needs fed." Shouldn't that be "My oven needs TO BE fixed"?

5. voila: Can no one spell this word? Ever? Spellings I have seen include "wa la" and "whoa-la." Come on, people! If you've only heard a word said and never seen it spelled ... look it up! Or (when you fail to find it in the w's) ask someone!

6. its and it's: Do I really need to go into this? Yet it's probably the most common punctuation mistake out there; its proper use seems to baffle everyone.

7. bath vs. bathe: See breath vs. breathe. I know not everyone knows about that nice Old English rule whereby a vowel after "th" turns it into a hard sound. But you can always just memorize the words where this happens, right?

8. per se: not persay. This is not an English word; it is two Latin words.

9. myself: Not "Sydney and myself went out to lunch," but "Sydney and I went out to lunch." "Myself" isn't meant to be stuck in just because you don't know if it's supposed to be "me" or "I." It's only meant to be reflexive or intensive -- that's it! "I like myself" or "I myself enjoy spaghetti" are correct uses. "She was interested in talking to Louis or myself" is not.

10. lay and lie: No one seems to remember the difference! I lie down. Yesterday, I lay down. I have lain here for an hour. Let's lay it to rest. Yesterday, we laid it to rest. I have laid the topic to rest. There is a song that goes, "If I lie here, if I just lay here ..." Well, which is it? Lie or lay? Only one can be right! I know it is so common to say, "I'm going to lay down for a bit," or, "I laid on the couch all day," but -- it's wrong.

And a baby picture ... because I can't help myself.


some guy on the street said...

Voilà "behold"; shortening of "Vois l&agrage," "seest thou there!"
Sometimes they might actually mean voici: "look, here they are!" as in Les voici sur le quadrille!, "here now are [the bull-fighters] entering the arena!" from Carmen, the Meilhac+Halévy libretto. Not to be confused with Wallawalla, halva, or Guadelejara.

s.g.o.t.s... said...

eep! messed up my second &-escape! "Vois là"

Heather said...

Re. #3 and 4, that's not regional; that's just flat-out wrong. Ugh, I hate grammar tainted by the swiftness of instant messaging.

On another note, I think you'd love listening to Grammar Girl.
It might make for good respite from all the TV watching. =)

Anonymous said...

I'm from the east coast and I can verify 3 and 4 are regional constructs, though they go beyond Philly. Specifically NJ/NY/PA/DE/MD. Not sure about further north or south. Looking at 'I'm done my homework', it doesn't seem odd at all. Also 'I'm done with dinner' etc.
4 I've heard before, but where I'm from it's more commonly 'My oven needs fixing' or 'the dog wants feeding', not simple past tense.
Everything else is, as you have said, irritating and very prevalent.

Enbrethiliel said...


I hardly dare commiserate, because the last time I did on a similar post by another blogger, I myself used a wrong construction that someone else gleefully pointed out to me! (I actually deserved it, too; it wasn't just a typo!)

But yes, these little errors can be very annoying, aye?

Sheila said...

"I'm done with dinner" and "The oven needs fixing" are perfectly correct. It's the other constructions I mentioned that aren't.

I did my bit to try and cure Philadelphia of #3, by correcting my students every time they did it, but they really didn't get what I was talking about. And they were completely clueless why they couldn't say "Him and me went to the park." Oh well -- hopefully their future teachers will continue the effort.

Thomas D said...

I think the lie/lay confusion arises from that prayer "Now I lay me down to sleep," with the "me" being an example of the reflexive! "Now I place myself down to sleep." Also, I think people associate "lie" with mendacity. (I routinely made the lie/lay mistake until the age of fourteen, when I was gently but firmly upbraided by a revered English teacher.)

And since it's been a while since I've left a comment on one of your blogs -- heartfelt congratulations on the birth of your son!

Libellule said...

It's actually voilà. You were close enough, though!

Sheila said...

Yes, I know about the accent, but I don't know how to make one on my keyboard. And then when I try to include accents, sometimes they show up wrong on other people's computers, so I usually leave them out. A case of internet degrading language, I suppose! But as a person with an accent in my name, I've just become resigned to writing it without one rather than mucking around with special characters or apostrophes.

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