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March 08, 2009


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Hooray for good grammar! I am now inspired to rid my fellow countrymen of the word 'stuffs' (as in, "Here are some good stuffs").


Hi Metrodad. Love your site. Anyway, what's wrong with "10 items or less?" Doesn't it mean "10 items or less than 10 items?"

Also, when do you use "if" and when do you use "whether?"



What's "less" of an irritant is that while I was rushing to type this comment, my internet connection was lost.

Help my grammar, MetroDad!

(evil snicker)

Kate (Bee In The Bonnet)

Oh, dear. I used to work as a checkout clerk at a fancy ass grocery store in Austin, prone to attracting the grammar-snob types. And while I am likely counted among the ranks of those who cannot stand egregious grammatical fouls, I tend to try my damnedest to keep them to myself when I notice them. However, you cannot count on a bunch of self-righteous Austinites to keep a noticed grammar gaffe to themselves, so my days were plagued with, "Oh, Jeffrey- Look! Their quaint little sign says 'ten or less'... Excuse me, miss. Do you know that YOUR SIGN is wrong?" Or my favorite, "Less than What??? Excuse me- less than WHAT?"

Because at that time my rent was paid out of the money earned at this job and because I really dug my apartment, I did not ever say what I wanted to say, which was that it wasn't "my" sign, and I couldn't give a shit less about the errors of the company that was presently sucking the life out of me in a dead-end position as a cashier, and (because of location in a smartly collegiate area) I've heard it before, about a million times, and yes, I've reported it to those who could make a change, and NO, they haven't yet ordered new plastic square thingers with the corrected wordage to go over the lamp under my lane number sign, because they are cheap sons of bitches, and if it comes down to it, I'd rather have a raise than have the money spent correcting some retarded sign over my head.

But, I am thrilled that Whole Foods managed to determine their error and correct it in a timely fashion. Gives me hope...


Hurrah on the Whole Foods educating, but Metrodad, there's an error in your post.

Someone might have pointed it out already, but I'm not reading 104 comments :)


I loved your column. I am a nerd, too. I try to console myself that the mark of a live language is that it is always changing. But that doesn't a whole lot. I hate making adjectives/nouns into verbs. Example: (from above) "Listed below are blogs that reference..." instead of "refer to".


I shop at Publix solely for their correct signage! I think that's called a grammar snob. I don't know if that's a step above or below a grammar nerd.


I enjoyed every bit of this post!


Here's something you might dig:


alice, uptown

Fewer, fewer, fewer. You won't get any argument from me (not from I, either, thankyouverymuch). We grammarians are the last of a breed, attempting to preserve the English language without benefit of a split infinitive.

Now, if only the people queuing in the express lane could learn to count, we might really make some progress.


Once, I got into an arguement with a waiter. The sign says "complimentary coffee, two refills" I pointed out to him that in total, I'll get to have 3 cups of coffee. First cup is the one I've paid for, second cup is the 1st refill and third cup will be the "2nd refill". He said "No". Two refills would mean that my coffee cup would be refilled, and that is considered the second cup. Blah blah blah. I was so incensed that I couldn't talk further.


But have you ever played drinking games with your Strunk and White in hand? Who's the biggest (albeit coolest) grammar geek now?

The Leftover Foodie


I feel like a monster being chased by a lynch mob reading these comments...

I, sadly, am not great at the whole "grammar" thing... I'm trying, and I attend meetings twice a week. I even went so far as to hire a friend to edit my blog posts for me because it was getting so bad.

Yet, despite these flaws I still used to like myself. That is, until I read these comments...

I'm cutting "x's" into the tops of my fingers with a razor as punishment for my "it's/its" transgressions so it will be excruciatingly painful every word I type... I can only hope that with this, and massive amounts of prayers and exorcisms that the evil "bad words devils" will leave me in peace...


Be an agent for change.

You can change American media by not whitewashing your story.


My public library had a sign up a few weeks ago saying it was celebrating "it's 75th anniversary!" The LIBRARY. I ask you. So I went to the head librarian and said--politely, kindly--you know, this should really be "its." Happily she is a non-native English speaker and was glad I told her (even asked me to explain the distinction--was she just humoring me? who cares!), but I was saddened when I learned that a native English speaker had in fact created the sign.
I've learned that corrections are more palatable if you cast yourself as a nutcase for caring about errors. Like, "I'm so sorry to bug you, but I'm an editor [I am] and I noticed this little problem and I just couldn't help myself, I simply had to point it out."

grammar jesus

I'm also a grammar nerd... but sometimes "10 items or fewer" sounds soooo pompous. In those instances I actually prefer "10 items or less" because it's a bit more humble (albeit wrong).


I'm just wondering if you anticipated the change when you took the "before" picture, or if you just randomly take pictures thinking you might create a blog entry some day, or if the first one really bothered you that much, so you were just compelled to digitally encapsulate it forever.

I just love your stories so much. I wonder what goes through your mind every day.

From Rachell
Winnipeg, Manitoba

alice, uptown

This is the reason we needed our high-ticket education: to be the grammar geek patrol. I made a living at it for years before print media died.

Do you think we should have reunions, we grammarians of HM? Not necessarily up on the hill? Would we trip over our tongues given that my speech, for one, bears no resemblance to my avocation of grammar nazi.


I'm in love. :) I just found your blog and read this post and I'm utterly in love. The less/fewer thing is a huge pet peeve of mine. That they actually changed it after you commented rocks my day.


You are totally a hero.

Darcy Clay

I caught this bug myself a few years ago - although I will probably make a few mistakes myself in this post! I often wonder how book publishers can spend so much money on authors' manuscripts, proofreaders, editors, etc. only to have irritatingly glaring "typos."
I once asked my older sister - from whom I think I caught the bug! - "can you please stop correcting my English? It really annoys me." To which she replied, "Can you please stop speaking English incorrectly? I
THAT really annoys me." Touche'

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The traditional view is that less applies to matters of degree, value, or amount and modifies collective nouns, mass nouns, or nouns denoting an abstract whole while fewer applies to matters of number and modifies plural nouns. Less has been used to modify plural nouns since the days of King Alfred and the usage, though roundly decried, appears to be increasing. Less is more likely than fewer to modify plural nouns when distances, sums of money, and a few fixed phrases are involved and as likely as fewer to modify periods of time .



You know what's more annoying than bad grammar? A grammar Nazi.

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Oh, and we're working on Year 4 of our Bible cuuicrrlum, which will cover Bible doctrines. This should go really well with year 4 of history, since many of our doctrines were formulated and written down during the reformation years. It helps a lot to know the history behind our doctrines. Makes them come alive. Fun stuff


I want to learn the new Latin grammar pelefctry by the grce &blessings of The Lord.Some few years ago I studied the same,but not pelefctry.Thank you,Sir.Om.


That's a very good set of tips! They're really cosnfniug. I never knew about the 2nd tip since I always disregard the additional s after apostrophe if the word already ends with s, regardless of how many syllables. I'm not good with rules I just feel it. Thanks for joining! I hope others will, too.


My mother was a tchaeer so I know exactly what you talking about with correcting your english. And my father would also correct me. As I was young I thought it was so cool to speak slang as I got older older I noticed the people with the money and Real power spoke good enlgish. When I am speaking to the opposite race they usually compliment me on how well I speak and say thing like you should be in management, but that probably because they lower the Bar because of my appearance. lol I never had nobody tell me I talk white because I dont hang around losers my friends are from lower income neighborhoods but we are the poor people who want something out of life. I never wanted to be cool and broke. smh or wanting broker people power like having access to some O.G. who stays at home with his mommma at 30 plus or having access to girls who are on section 8 smh. I am still working on my speech I joined Toastmaster.org you should type in your zipcode and find you local club as well. I am a working progress. #teamwealth


its going Fine It has been some improvement since I streatd in january. I must admit I definately need to focus more on it. I am getting better at speaking with no note cards. The key of toastmasters is to go in participate the only way you get better is by participating you will be surprised at how many people go their and just sit their and not say word and think they will get better that way! SMH


Why do American publications have this very odd order of Nom, gen etc intased of Nom, Voc, Acc, gen, dat, abl as in Europe. It is most confusing!


From my ipad, I emailed a reeusqt to test your new curriculum. I believe it was sent from my other email account: teaforme2@ gmail.com. I was interested in the ancient history for my daughter. I bought the Beautiful Feet guide to Ancient History but I was hoping to find something that included the Bible with the study of history. Thank you and sorry for the confusion. Jennifer Ball


Thanks, Clarissa, for the great comment. I've ceeckhd out the Language Log link and enjoyed reading about their findings. I agree that what seem to be changes in language usage may not have a direct connection with 'outsiders' English. Is someone who speaks English as a second language an 'outsider' to English? English has been widespread around the world for quite a long time. I am sure there are many factors at work affecting how 'correct' it sounds to me. Exposure to the internet has certainly allowed me to read and hear many more Englishes than I did thirty years ago. Some of these expressions or collocations may have been around for a few hundred years, for example, but I had never heard it. I'll see if I can check out a copy of 'The Fight for English.'


break a leg!' he or she means or If someone says break a leg!' s/he means This often looks uitndy when written, and feels awkward when reading it.2. If someone says break a leg!' the person means This feels awkward to me as a native English speaker.Another solution is to write examples using a pronoun with a specific gender. Often it is considered acceptable by academic institutions to alternate between using he and she in examples, whereas in the past the default was always to the masculine form (he).So you could write either:a) If a man says break a leg!' he means ; or b) If a woman says break a leg!' she means .What you choose will be determined by requirements of your writing. For a general audience, such as in an online forum, using the grammatically incorrect, but often used, they' as a singular pronoun is acceptable. For business or academic writing you will need to find out what style of writing is required and considered acceptable.Unfortunately English has some defects in certain areas. The other similar one is the lack of a plural pronoun for you ( yous being grammatically incorrect, but used by many people in everyday conversational speech).


this one was funny.Grammar Girl's 101 Misused Words You'll Never Confuse Again – Mignon Fogarty With the easiest to uanerstdnd grammar podcast out there, Mignon Fogarty is the nicest grammar


I am interested, tiryng to conquer this hurdle. I am horrible at grammar. I think the terminology got me in the 3rd grade. I cringe when I hear perfect participle, infinitive, and so on. Plus, diagramming sentences for a 8 year old was too much. SMH.


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Grammar is the basis for us to get through, the porumaant thing to build up sentences. Our conversations would be pointless without it. We might speak like the Indians but if we donb4t want a native english speaker to look us with a straight face while web4re speaking and unless somebody invent some magic pills to learn lenguages automatically, sorry guys, there is no other way.P.S.: I want that beer, but with lemon please, you know, hahaha!


For understandig bteetr the (black) english humor and their great jokes In this spirt :One day an English grammar teacher was looking ill.A student asked, What's the matter? Tense, answered the teacher, describing how he felt.The student paused, then continued, What was the matter? What has been the matter? What might have been the matter ?


Okay, you've got me questioning mylesf. I know what you say to be true, but I find mylesf wondering if I have done this without realizing it. AND, I end my sentences in prepositions A LOT so let me just go ahead and aplogize for that right now! So sorry. I know that drives people nuts! Um, I'm sooo gonna love this series! When you get around to it, I've never been able to get lying, laying and sitting and setting down. I feel like such a goober trying to make a sentence with those words. It took me to the age of 25 to get who/whom down. HELP! and thank you for the lesson!

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