Defending grammar one apostrophe at a time

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Between texting, instant messages, and, LOL!, the web, grammar has been under a steady onslaught in our modern times. This slow erosion of the language is too much for some and a small but active group of language watchers have formed a grammar vigilante squad to right the grammatical wrongs, one punctuation mark at a time. Joining us now is John Richards, founder and chairman of the Apostrophe Protection Society, from the other Boston in Lincolnshire, England.

Do you have a grammatical pet peeve? Tell us in the comments!
"They put it in where they think it might be, leave it out where they think it shouldn't be. And yet the rules are very, very simple."
— John Richards, of the Apostrophe Protection Society, on the widespread misuse of apostrophes

Sent in by a helpful listener, here is an episode of Steve's Grammatical Observations:


John Richards

Hosted by:

Jerome Vaughn

Comments [44]


The use of 'which' or 'that' instead of who, whom or whose to refer to people is very irritating. Also, "I find it to be..." instead of "I find it..." or, even better, "It is..." is a pain to hear, too.
I completely agree that advertising, both on television and in print, is one of the worst culprits in the misuse of language. They get millions of dollars for having innovative ideas. Can't they spend a few thousand for a good proofreader or even (gasp) an editor?

Aug. 31 2009 01:09 AM

The changes you mention in pronunciation would eventually lead to language differences as great as the ones between Old English, Middle English, and Modern English as spoken in England. Languages grow and evolve, so keeping grammar and pronunciation "standard" will help to keep our very large America speaking one language. Standardization provides a center line from which colloquialisms and regional pronunciation may deviate, yet still be understood by people outside of their geographic area. I didn't grow up a member of any privileged or powerful group; however, I did reap the benefits of a good Canadian school system. The linguistic differences you allude to as having a socioeconomic base are actually a direct failure of our American education system and the lack of parental involvement in a child's instruction. That's my soapbox and I'm stickin' to it.

Aug. 30 2009 09:59 PM

My keyboard had three single, horizontal lines on it: the tilde ~, the underscore _, and the hyphen -. Please tell us where to find the em and en dashes. Thanks

Aug. 30 2009 08:56 PM
Mark Pennington

Top 40 Grammar Pet Peeves
If you are grammatically challenged, or let’s face it, a grammatical snob who will catch the grammatical error in the title of this blog, you owe it to yourself to check out these grammatical pet peeves and tips at Top 40 Grammar Pet Peeves

Aug. 07 2009 06:56 PM

"Very sort of,""very kind of,""kind of very." As in "His directing style is very sort of hands-on."

This came into vogue in the last 5 years, confined originally to showbiz people but more recently bleeding over to the wonkish classes. I have yet to observe it in the wild, i.e. it's evidently uttered only in the presence of a camera. It's a verbal fad/tic used only to say less with more words. Absolutely any sentence that includes one of these phrases would be better and stronger without it: "Honey, I'm very sort of home!"

Mar. 03 2009 09:02 AM
Hester Hodde

My pet peeve is the use of the pronoun "I" and the end of a sentence, as in "Shelia went to the movie with Jim and I." All you have to do is take "Jim" out of the sentence to see how silly it sounds. The next pet peeve is the use of the pronoun "me" at the beginning of a sentence, as in "Me and Alex want to go to the movie." Try taking "Alex" out of the sentence.

Mar. 02 2009 03:00 PM
Hester Hodde

Amen. How about the pronunciation of the word "nuclear" by our previous president and may others in prominent positions? It's "noo kle uhr" not "noo kyoo lur".

Mar. 02 2009 02:54 PM
Elaine Coffin

Misuse of the apostrophe is my pet peeve, but I am also in anguish about the serious misuse of "lay" and "lie." Easily 75% of people I run into say "I was just laying on the couch. . ." or "lay down and you'll feel better," or any of 100 other similar statements. I have heard educators misuse the term on a regular basis. My eighth grade teacher from 1955 would have a fit!
Elaine Coffin

Feb. 28 2009 03:48 PM

Webster's II Dictionary lists that pronunciation (i.e., nooz) first, followed by what I'm assuming you would prefer (i.e., nyooz).

Feb. 27 2009 01:17 PM

So how, exactly, can language be 'incorrect?' Is there some perfect, holy 'English' that sits hovering in the sky, waiting for us to catch it? And what is it supposed to look like? British English? Do any of you honestly want to call the trunk of your car a 'boot?' 'Standard American English?' And where is that spoken, precisely? In Michigan where you don't have a cat but a 'kee-eht?' In Minnesohta, Dohntcha knohw? In the South, where it's a delahtful naht?

But a standard is necessary, you say! How will people know who to oppress based on conformity to an arbitrary set of language standards put in place by those in power? Oh wait, that didn't sound right...

There is no perfect English. Everyone has an accent. Everyone is marked. No two people speak the same English, and it would be impossible for them to.

Deal with it.

Feb. 27 2009 12:55 PM

Especially. NOT "ecspecially."

Feb. 27 2009 10:01 AM
Dot Carter

I am so excited to use your soap box. I have so many pet peeves, some addressed already. Lots of newscasters make this mistake: one in a millionare are, one is still the subject and is single, thus one in a million is. I hear this one a lot that crosses generations: I seen. Seen is not the past tense of saw. Then there is 'had went' and 'had came.' I think we have the blind leading the blind. Our teachers used to correct us when we busted verbs. We learned verb conjugation to the sixth tense. You mention second person plural and they look at you with the big question mark 'huh?". My latest one is 'went missing.' To me it should be just missing. I don't understand why 'went' has been added. Wow, I've been wanting to say these things for years!

Feb. 27 2009 09:56 AM
Susan Goldhill

The word "height" has a "t" sound at the end, doesn't it? Why do some people add an "h" and say "heighth"? And why is this so annoying to me?

Feb. 27 2009 09:12 AM
David Kelly

I always get a chuckle when going to the 'Mens' room in a restaurant. Do signmakers charge more for an apostrophe? Or is mens really the plural of men :-)

Feb. 27 2009 08:41 AM

"have got" to stop saying "have got"

Correct is have to stop saying......

Feb. 27 2009 08:08 AM
Jay MacIntyre

oops, that should be "there" not "threre"!

Feb. 27 2009 07:21 AM
Jay MacIntyre

"hone" instead of "home": As in "he honed in on the problem"

I just heard another person say "threre are three criterion for this job". The plural is criteria, singular: criterion.

Why does no one say "mother" or "father" anymore? It's always "mom" and "dad". Even in serious announcements, people speak of the "mom". Everyone sounds like a child now.

And what about "cool"? Is there no other positive adjective that people can use nowadays? Must everything be "cool"

Another annoyance: announcers who say "ah" over and over. On NPR it's especially distracting. I thought professional announcers were trained not to say "ah" between words in a sentence.

Or should that be "thank's"? :)

Feb. 27 2009 07:16 AM
Joan McCandlish

One of my bigges't pet peeve's is (not about apostrophes actually): what happened to MIGHT?

"If I hadn't attended the party I may never have met him."

Hello? MIGHT never have met him! Is it that much harder to say? Please, people! Media in particular.

Feb. 27 2009 07:16 AM
Michael Madigan (in Detroit)

One particularly pesky peeve is with the frequent, almost inevitable misuse of the “carrot-and-stick” metaphor, even by NPR and PRI commentators who ought to know better. The expression recalls a practice from the days of horse-drawn vehicles, in which the driver would use a long stick and string to dangle a carrot a few inches ahead of the horse’s nose. The horse would step towards the morsel, moving everything forward – including the carrot, which would remain just out of reach. Thus a “carrot-and-stick” approach to negotiations, for example, is supposed to mean one in which a desired response is obtained by offering and repeatedly delaying a perceived reward – not by establishing alternatives of reward (carrot) and punishment (stick).

Feb. 26 2009 06:15 PM

My pet peeve is the misuse of "your" when it should be the contraction. My eight-year-old knows when to use "you're" and "your" appropriately, so why is it that most adults cannot comprehend the difference? Going along with that is the constant confusion between there, they're and their. Yikes!

: ) P

Feb. 26 2009 04:01 PM

"same difference!" :)

Feb. 26 2009 01:41 PM

I am thrilled to see Steve's piece about the annoying use of "is-is". Worse yet is the pointless addition of "the thing of it is", so you end up with a totally pointless introductory "the thing of it is is that..." Get on with it already!

Feb. 26 2009 01:39 PM

Years ago, SAGE (Society for the Advancement of Good English) issued an annual list of grammatical errors in print, radio, and television. Members had a form "Fire Your Ad Agency" which could be sent to CEOs of offending companies. Last week I stopped counting the number of ads with Presidents' Day spelled incorrectly.

Feb. 26 2009 01:11 PM

Now that you mention it, I have been silently struggling to accept the use of "hate" as a noun in place of "hatred" and to come to terms with the replacement of the noun "comfort" by the inelegant "comfortability."

Feb. 26 2009 12:25 PM

Eses. Not s's. That British guy would be pretty upset to see your comment. Watch yo'self.

Feb. 26 2009 11:55 AM

Enjoyed very much the conversation this morning and would like to add a few of my own pet language peeves.

When did "going to" turn into "gunna?"
"For" is now "fer."

When did the "L" become silent in words like "calm," "palm," "balm?"

When did we start becoming lazy with our speech? Apparently it no longer matters whether the subject agrees with the verb. (ie: There is many cars on the road.) Indeed, are people even able to identify the subject and verb??

Also, hearing a sentence end in a preposition is irritating. (ie: "What are you thinking of?"

Surely our educators can to a better job than this. Surely advertising agencies can employ people who are better familiar with the English language and its grammatical rules.

Thanks for the forum.

Feb. 26 2009 11:28 AM
Suzanne Forman

I'm glad you asked.
I'm surprised about the lack of knowhow
in re: an apostrophe.Frequently, I see this error in The NY Times:
When a noun is plural, just add an s.
The NYT uses ( 's ) (apostrophe s).

Suzanne Forman

Feb. 26 2009 11:08 AM
R.G. Schmitt

Yeah!!!! You're right!!!! And I could care a whole lot less!!!!

Feb. 26 2009 10:43 AM

One of my favorite books is "Eats Shoots and Leaves: Why Commas Really Do Make a Difference!" by Lynn Truss. She says punctuation "directs you how to read in the way musical notation directs a musician how to play." So true.

Feb. 26 2009 10:18 AM

My pet peeve is supposed professional broadcasters (including those on NPR and WNYC) who pronounce "news" as if it rhymed with booze.

Feb. 26 2009 10:14 AM

Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of the City of New York adds s's to words. He says anyways and everywheres.

Feb. 26 2009 10:10 AM

My pet peeve is the use of the word "verse" as a verb by my children and their friends. As in: "My team versed Mike's team yesterday."

Feb. 26 2009 10:06 AM

It bothers me that no one seems to know how to properly use the hyphen, en-, and em- dashes. You're supposed to use the en- dash (a dash the length of an "n") for date and page ranges! Why does everyone use the hyphen!

Feb. 26 2009 10:03 AM
Alison Dague

My grammar pet peeve is people who talk in the third person. I find it incredibly annoying.

Feb. 26 2009 10:03 AM

My grammar pet peeve involves a word just mispronounced by Femi Oke. This mistake is incredibly common. It is oranguTAN, not oranguTANG.

Feb. 26 2009 09:52 AM

I think the New York Times is a major culprit in the proliferation of "'s" used to form plurals; it seems to be their policy for making plurals of abbreviated items, like "recently released DVD's."
There is no need, especially as they use all caps for the abbreviation, so it's easy to tell where the abbreviation ends and the plural "s" begins.

Feb. 26 2009 09:38 AM

Hey now, we warned you the web was the downfall of grammar.

Feb. 26 2009 09:22 AM

My pet peeve is "I could care less". If you could care less, it means you do care SOME. The phrase you want is, "I couldn't care less."

Feb. 26 2009 09:17 AM
Paul Aldighieri

My pet peeve is the use of "myself" as a self-aggrandizing alternative to the use of "me." For example, "This report was prepared by John and myself."

Feb. 26 2009 09:15 AM
Molly O'Meara

My pet peeve is "Michigander", thank you Jerome, Michiganian is correct.

Feb. 26 2009 09:13 AM
Diane Taylor

When did the "t" in "often" become not silent? Arghhh. It's often epidemic!

Feb. 26 2009 09:03 AM

Please correct the following sentence in the top paragraph of the above announcement of this segment.
"Joining us now is John Richards, founder and chairman of the Apostrophe Protection Society, joins us now from the other Boston in Lincolnshire, England. "
A tad awkward when it's about the decline of grammar. Sorry for nitpicking, but really!


Feb. 26 2009 08:41 AM
jeremy vaughn-jones

is there a pill available that could
be slipped into teenagers' food that
would instantly and permanently eliminate the use of "like" in their
"i like told her like to back off like
that was gonna do it like, you know?"

Feb. 26 2009 08:31 AM
Sarah Douglas

My pet peeve is when professional speakers mispronounce words.Throughout the wonderful time immediately preceding, during and following Barrack Obama's innauguration many media reporters(including yours!) said "innaw-ger-ation" instead of "innau-ggyer-ation". It made me wince every time and sounded almost disrespectful. You're on report Takeaway-in 4 years I expect you to clean it up!

Feb. 26 2009 08:20 AM

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