Tuesday, May 31, 2011


When I was in junior high school (which my kids will tell you was around the time the dinosaurs roamed the earth,) I learned grammar. Boy, did I learn grammar! You had no choice if you had Peggy Riley Hughes for your English teacher. I’ve since come to realize that the world could use a few more Peggys.

As writers, we have the license to take liberties in our writing. When we’re writing dialogue, no one expects us to write in perfectly formed sentences. People don’t always speak in perfectly formed sentences. We speak in sentence fragments. Style often dictates that sentence fragments also be used in narrative. But there are grammar rules that should never be broken.

If you want to be a writer, you need a firm grasp of the English language. You may ask why this is important. Won’t the editor correct whatever needs correcting? Once upon a time that may have been the case but not any more. Editors don’t have the luxury of time to mollycoddle an author who refuses to learn how to write well, no matter how good a storyteller that author is. There are plenty of other well-written manuscripts sitting in piles on editors’ desks. No editor is interested in a high maintenance author. Submit a manuscript full of grammatical errors to an editor/agent and you’ll receive a swift rejection.

As I said above, thanks to Peggy Riley Hughes, I know grammar. However, thanks to Peggy Riley Hughes, when I read books where grammar rules are ignored, I’m pulled right out of a story. The grammar error that grates my nerves the most is the one people deliberately make because they think it sounds more intelligent and educated. Because this is such a pervasive error, I often find it on every other page of many books.

Are you ready to learn that error?

Drumroll, please…

My grammar pet peeve is the misuse of pronouns.

A little background on pronouns. There are 3 types:

Nominative: I, you, he, she, it, we, they, and who

Possessive: my, your, yours, his, her, hers, its, our, ours, their, theirs, and whose

Objective: me, you, him, her, it, us, them, and whom

Too many people substitute the nominative form for the objective form. The nominative form is used when the pronoun is the subject of a sentence. The objective form is used when the pronoun is the direct object of the sentence or is part of a prepositional phrase.

WRONG: He likes Mary and I.

RIGHT: He likes Mary and me.

He gave the papers to Mary and I.

RIGHT: He gave the papers to Mary and me.

You wouldn’t say, He likes I, so why would you say, He likes Mary and I? Nor would you say, He gave the papers to I, so why would you say, He gave the papers to Mary and I?

The use of the nominative in direct objects and prepositional phrases are the worst pronoun rule offenders, but here are a few more pronoun rules to keep in mind:

If a pronoun follows than or as, mentally insert the missing words to determine the correct case.

WRONG: I am as tall as him.

RIGHT: I am as tall as he (is).

WRONG: The coach picks John more often than I.

RIGHT: The coach picks John more often than (he picks) me.

Avoid reflexive pronouns -- pronouns ending in self or selves. Reflexive pronouns are used only when they refer back to the subject: He injured himself.

WRONG: The award was shared by my partner and myself.

RIGHT: The award was shared by my partner and me.

So there you have it. A few simple grammar rules governing pronouns that will make you stand out from the grammar-challenged masses.

Do you have a grammar pet peeve?

Lois Winston is currently hard at work on the third book in her Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries series. The first book,
Assault With A Deadly Glue Gun, was a January 2011 release and received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Death by Killer Mop Doll will be a January 2012 release. Visit Lois at
http://www.loiswinston.com and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog, http://anastasiapollack.blogspot.com.


Jessie Chandler said...

Oh my God, Lois! Great post! I have to cop to the plea...I am one of the people who will pull you right out of the story. For the life of me I can't get any of that I/me stuff right. Then I look at words like nominative, possessive, objective, and I feel the back of my head separating from the front. Then we get to direct objects and prepositional phrases, and I nearly have a brain seizure. I consider myself pretty well schooled... I did graduate summa cum laude from a university, but I did change my major at the last minute so i wouldn't have to take math--BAD Jess! So I guess math and grammar are my problem children, as it were. I now know if I have questions about the I/me thing...I'm coming straight for you! :-)

Lois Winston said...

Jessie, math was my bugaboo, too. I spent the first 7 years of school in the city. We moved to the suburbs right before I started junior high. That first day I was hit with "new math." Say what? Everyone else understood it because they'd had it throughout elementary school, but it made no sense to me, and it still doesn't.

Kaye said...

This is one of my biggest peeves also. It particularly grates on my nerves when I hear broadcasters using I instead of me. To me, they should know better! Another one that irks me is "your" welcome. "Your" welcome . . . what? mat? Don't even get me started on there, their and they're. Please learn the difference. Okay, stepping off the soap box now.

Yetta said...

I absolutely loved your post. I was raised by the grammar police. Whenever someone committed one of the 'sins' in your post my mother would roll her eyes in mock pity, directing them at me, and I got the message. It's surprising how many people misuse these things, especially "myself." Makes me doubt the user's intelligence. I know, it's snarky, but I feel my mother's attitude on the back of my neck each time it happens.

Lois Winston said...

Kaye, I don't know whether grammar is no longer being taught, if people just didn't pay attention in class, or if they forgot what they were taught. Seems to me, though, that writers should know these things, and if they don't, there are plenty of good grammar books available to teach them.

Yetta, I had the complete opposite experience. My mother constantly used "I" when she should have been using "me." And she didn't take kindly to being corrected. (Yeah, I was one of "those" kids!)

Patricia said...

GREAT post. I have a personal pet peeve about all the people around me saying, "He gave it to Jack and I". i want to scream. Thank you for the valuable grammar lesson.

Terri Bischoff said...

Lois, this is great!

Reminds me of when I was in college - I was in an honor french class. The professor exploded daily about the fact that he had to teach us English before he could teach us French. I seem to remember a long tirade about who and whom!!

So the answer is - proper grammer is not taught to begin with and what we do learn is promptly lost upon graduation...

Gerrie Ferris Finger said...

You should live in the South (if you don't) where you hear such beauties as "Me and him went to the Seven-Eleven." And, "We was fixin' to go over to the store, but then Mama, she says..."
Love grammar lessons. From someone who roamed with the dinosaurs, too.

Beth Groundwater said...

My peeve is the overuse of 's, when people use it mistakenly for the plural form of a noun versus just the possessive.

My retired engineer/science fair judge hubby's pet peeve is mixing up the use of affect and effect. If a science fair kid mixes those words up on their documentation about their experiment, they're sure to get a lecture from my hubby judge. :)

Lois Winston said...

Terri, my first French teacher was the business teacher who was pressed into service when the French teacher left suddenly, and the school couldn't find a replacement. She'd taken French in college but never taught it. My second French teacher spoke French with an Italian accent. By the time I got to my third French teacher, the situation was hopeless -- as became evident when I went to France and no one could understand me!

Darrell James said...

Growing up in rural Kentucky most of what you learned (mis-learned) about grammar was through phonics. I've since educated myself on grammar rules but, when writing, what's been stuffed in my ear still sometimes slips out.

Lois Winston said...

Gerrie, not that I mean to disparage anyone, but I've been to the south and have felt like there was a language barrier between the Southerners and me.

Beth, I cringe every time I see a house sign that reads "The Taylor's" or whatever the last name. I want to ask, "The Taylor's what?"

Elizabeth said...

Ha, ha, the red ink even reminded me of the dreaded red pen that was used to correct papers. Aargh that was so frustrating.

Marlyn said...

Lois, I have so many grammar "pet peeves" it would take pages to list them. But the main one right now, because it's so visible, is the blatant misuse of apostrophes.

Robin Allen said...

I am so their w/you Lois--Im a english major and cant stand when people cant write right, it brings myself to tears. For reals!!!!!!

Lois Winston said...

Darrell, I think phonics sometimes gets a bad rap. I learned to read phonetically but still learned grammar. I think the bigger problem is that too many people never had a Peggy Riley Hughes in their lives. No way you got out of her class without learning grammar and since I had her for English two years in a row, I received a double dose.

LOL, Robin!

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Years ago I learned to say the sentence without the first person mentioned and see if it should be me or I. Because that was pounded into my head I always do that.

Mary and me are going.
Me are going. No.

He's going to take Carol and I.
He's going to take I. No


Rita Elizabeth said...

Thank goodness for this post! I see these errors so often, and yes, even in published novels, that I was beginning to doubt the grammar education I'd received (like you) in the Dinosaur Age. I was actually worrying that "she is taller than he" was wrong and that "she is taller than him" was correct. Now I can relax and breathe a sigh of relief. :-)

Rita Elizabeth said...

Thank goodness for this post! I see these errors so often, and yes, even in published novels, that I was beginning to doubt the grammar education I'd received (like you) in the Dinosaur Age. I was actually worrying that "she is taller than he" was wrong and that "she is taller than him" was correct. Now I can relax and breathe a sigh of relief. :-)

Lois Winston said...

Thanks for stopping by and commenting, everyone!

Coco said...

Lois, I'm so glad I'm not the only one who has a problem with improper grammer usage. My pet peeve is when so many people use THAT instead of WHO. For example: People THAT make mistakes...should be people WHO make mistakes.
When I was in college and I sent letters home to my mom, she sent them back to me corrected in red pencil. I really learned a lot from my teacher/mom.


I think grammar was sent to try us. I can never remember the rules. Who and whom particularly. Do you have a Berman cat? Mine, Princess Mitzie has now sadly passed but she was a lovely pet. And those violet eyes!