Having spent the majority of my life as a writer or editor, I have become a pretty big grammar snob. Sometimes I wish I had a different skill set just so I could be oblivious to the horrible grammar people use on a regular basis.
But alas, it is not to be. I don’t judge people based on race, sexual orientation or religion (unless it’s scientology), but my opinion of someone absolutely is affected by their command of the English language.
There are some things I have learned to accept, either because they are so widespread that I would go crazy if I cared about them or because they just aren’t that big of a deal. But there are others that still grate on me, and have become frustratingly commonplace.
So here they are, in descending order. The six most frustrating grammatical errors people make on a regular basis.
6) Ending sentences with “at”
I could have made this one “ending sentences with prepositions,” but in many cases I’ve grown okay with it. I understand that sometimes in conversational style it is just easier to end with a preposition. But the problem with “at” is that it is totally pointless.
To avoid ending a sentence with a preposition often would require rewriting the sentence and rearranging the words to make sense. But “at” can almost always simply be stricken from the end of a sentence without changing anything else.
For example, “Where’s the party at” or “Where are you at?” Just get rid of “at,” and the sentence makes sense and is grammatically correct. It is actually more work and requires more words to say it incorrectly.
This one is annoying because everyone learned these words in grade school, and yet they still can’t get them right. It has gotten so bad that the improper word usage may now actually be more common.
So let’s go back over the lesson again. They’re is a contraction for “they are.” Their is possessive, as in “their book.” There reflects position, as in “over there.”
For some reason, “their” seems to be the most commonly misused. It is mistaken for both of the other versions, and yet is rarely used when it should be.
4) The apparent removal of “more than” and “less than” from people’s vocabularies
Being a sports junkie has made this one particularly difficult to deal with, since almost no announcers use these words properly. They say “over” and “under” when talking about numbers, when those two words should be used when talking about position.
For example, you jump over something or duck under something. But the number 15 is not “over” the number 10, it is more than 10. Yet people almost always say “So-and-so has over 50 wins.” That’s not right.
“Under” is the same concept. Think of “over/under” as being able to say “Thing A is on top of Thing B.” If that sentence doesn’t make sense with whatever you’re talking about, then over or under should not be used. People seem to have totally forgotten that “more than,” “less than,” “greater” or “fewer” even exist.
3) “I could care less”
This is another case in which the incorrect usage is more popular. People say “I could care less” all the time, when that actually means the exact opposite of what they intend.
The proper phrase is “I couldn’t care less.” The full translation of this sentence is: “I care so little about this topic that I cannot possibly care any less.” That’s quite a statement. Not only do you not care, but you care the smallest amount that is humanly possible.
Yet when you say “I could care less,” that means you care. Think of a “caring meter” that measures your caring level like a mercury thermometer. What you’re meaning to say is that there is no red on this meter. It is totally empty, which means it’s impossible for the level to be any lower. But when you say “could care less,” that means there is at least some red on the meter. Enough to allow for a decrease.
2) Overusing “literally”
This has become a fairly recent phenomenon, and I have no idea why. People are obsessed with the word “literally,” and they almost never use it correctly.
Literally means that something actually happened, and its proper use generally comes when distinguishing something from exaggeration or a common figure of speech. It is NOT simply a way of placing emphasis on something.
And yet people keep saying “I literally exploded” or “he is literally on fire.” Just no. In those cases, someone would be dead or in the process of becoming horribly maimed.
There are several other words that can be used in place of the incorrect use of “literally.” They include “seriously,” “legitimately” or “totally.” Each of those words can be used only for emphasis.
1) “Could of,” “should of,” “would of”
This is, without a doubt, the most frustrating mistake in the known universe. I literally have ended a relationship with a girl because she constantly made these mistakes. They drive me that crazy.
**And yes, I did just intentionally use “literally” correctly. Without “literally” in the sentence, you may have wondered if I was exaggerating. Its inclusion changed that; that’s how it’s done.
The problem here is that when people use these words in speech, they say “could’ve,” “should’ve” and “would’ve.” Those are contractions, with the endings standing for “have.” But since the ending sounds like the word “of,” that’s what people use in print.
But simply stopping and thinking about it for more than a few seconds should make it pretty obvious that “could of” makes no sense. The word “have” is a common part of complex verbs. “Have done,” “have gone,” etc.
So why would you write “I could of gone”? In that sentence, “of gone” is the verb. That makes absolutely no sense. Yet texts and message boards continue to overflow with these mistakes, and every time I see one a little piece of me dies.