"Grumpy Martha's Guide to Grammar and Usage"
You may think, "Grammar, schmammar. Usage, schmusage," but when you use words incorrectly, you sound as funny as someone wearing underwear for a hat looks.
I'd like to spare you from this fate. You can sound smarter in just ten minutes with "Grumpy Martha's Guide to Grammar and Usage." This list isn't comprehensive, but it covers most of the frequent mistakes I hear. Plus, I give you a fat list of links you can use to get more information and have a little more fun.
Me, myself, and I
A million well-meaning parents are to blame for the rampant abuse of the letter I.
"It's Adam and I, not Adam and me." How many times have you heard that?
The thing is, sometimes "Adam and me" is correct. It depends on whether you are the subject or object of the sentence.
Are you glazing over yet? I understand and sympathize. But don't worry. There's an easier way to remember whether you should say I or me: Leave Adam out of the equation.
If you're asking yourself, Hmmm, is it "Adam and I went to the store," or "Adam and me went to the store," just try thinking of the problem without Adam. You wouldn't say "Me went to the store," would you? So "Adam and I" it is. Nor would you say "Lucy gave I the ball." Which is why "Lucy gave Adam and me the ball" is correct.
(By the way, when you want to get fancy and use the word myself, use it only for emphasis. It's not a substitute for me. "I love grammar, myself," you might say, when discussing language with your friends. But don't say, "Give myself a potato chip, please." Or "Talk to myself about your problems.")
Avoid "X-rated" expressions
They're not actually X-rated, but if you think about them that way you can remember that there is no x in etcetera. Nor is there one in espresso.
Etcetera is Latin. It means "and the rest." Espresso is Italian, and it describes how coffee is "pressed out." It doesn't have anything to do with speed and therefore is not related to the word express. Although it can certainly speed you up if you drink it.
Be effective, not affected
Affect is a verb. Look at the a in affect and think "action." The movie affected her greatly.
Effect is a verb or a noun. It's most commonly used as a noun. The movie had an effect on her.
As a verb, effect means to bring something about, especially a change. Encarta World English Dictionary offers this example: They effected their escape through a rear window.
But there's no difference between saying that and saying "They escaped through a rear window," so you should always think twice before using effect as a verb.
Isn't it ironic?
A few years ago, Alanis Morissette wrote a very popular song about irony.
The irony of it was, many of the things she singled out as ironic weren't actually ironic. They were merely unfortunate--like having a black fly in your Chardonnay. Irony only happens when the result is not what was intended, especially if it's absurd or funny.
And that's why it's ironic when people misuse this word.
Let's get literal
When people say things such as, "His breath literally knocked me dead," I wonder for a minute how they managed to come back to life without looking, you know--rotten. And then I realize that they're using literally when they mean figuratively.
If something literally happens, it means that it actually happens. It's ridiculous to say "literally" when you mean the opposite.
The best way to avoid this language mangling is to keep the word literal out of your sentences unless you really mean it, and you want your listener to know the cat really did jump three feet in the air when she saw the dog.
Disregard for the dictionary
Irregardless is not a word, regardless of the fact that people sometimes use it as one.
Be accurate, more or less
There's a difference between less and fewer--and if you use these words correctly, you will really sound like you've got a high-powered brain sitting atop your shoulders.
Use fewer when you're talking about things that can be counted, such as individual hairs and snowflakes. Use less when you're talking about things that refer to general quantities, such as hair and snow.
Use your head
Use and utilize generally mean the same thing. Why use those extra letters if you don't need to? Most words ending in
-ize should be euthanized.
A unique kind of error
Unique means "one of a kind." Therefore, despite what the salesman tells you, something can't be "completely unique." It either is unique, or it isn't. Just like it's unanimous, or it's not. Or there is consensus, or there isn't. (General Consensus should only be mentioned if you're talking about a gladiator by that name.)
Once your ears get sensitive to this mistake, you'll hear it and related mistakes everywhere. What's up with NBC promoting "all new" episodes of their TV shows? Does this mean that some shows are only partially new? (Trust me, they feel only partially new.)
Could you care less?
Is sounding smarter something you still could care less about?
If that's the case, then I've done my job. If you couldn't care less, I would be worried. Unless, of course, you cared so little that you didn't care enough to care less. Gulp.
So there you have it. Ten ways to sound smarter--and I'll bet it took you fewer than ten minutes.
Have more time?
4 bonus tips for the truly repentant
1. Using more words doesn't make you sound smarter. Just more nervous. This means you can permanently abandon "as to whether" and "at what point in time" for "whether" and "when."
Also, next time you're recording an answering machine message, you don't have to say, "I'm unable to answer the phone at this time."
"I can't talk now. Please leave a message," will do just fine.
2. Don't say decimate if you mean obliterate. Decimate means to destroy 10 percent of something. Obliterate means to destroy something completely.
3. If something happened at 6 AM, you need not mention that it was 6 AM in the morning (since AM means "before noon") unless you are, in fact, an alien whose world runs on a different time schedule altogether.
4. Wonder when to use i.e. and when to use e.g.? When you're listing examples, use e.g. It's short for exempli
gratia, which means "for the sake of example" in Latin.
When you're explaining something, use i.e., which is short for id est, or "that is." I can never remember the Latin, so I cheat here. "In essence" starts with the same letters. If you can use "in essence" and still have your sentence make sense, use i.e. Otherwise, use e.g.
I like big dogs, e.g. St. Bernards, Golden Retrievers, and Bernese Mountain Dogs. I like Golden Retrievers and St.
Bernards, i.e. big dogs.