Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Thursday, February 2, 2012

"Top Ten Grammar Peeves"

This image has been hopping around Facebook today; I posted a comment about it, then saw that thousands of others had done the same.  There are all kinds of problems with the list, of course:

1. Both affect and effect can be a noun or verb, depending on context.  (What is the effect if we effect this change?  And: Her lack of affect affects my feelings for her.)
2. Some plurals are formed with apostrophes.  (He has 2's written all over his binder.  I can't distinguish between his b's and his d's.)  This is changing, though; not long ago we wrote 1920's.  Now it's 1920s.
3. Irregardless is a word--it's just a word we don't like and have labeled "nonstandard."

Some of the others are just matters of preference.  When I was a kid, I spent lots of time in school learning the difference between will and shall; I don't know too many people now who observe that difference.

The thing to remember is this: Moses did not bring usage and punctuation rules down from the mountain.  We made them up.  And we're constantly changing our minds. 

Not long ago, I reviewed a terrific book by Henry Hitchings called The Language Wars: A History of Proper English.  In it, he shows how so many things--virtually all of them--are frankly arbitrary.  Here's a link to the review, too:



  1. Hello, Daniel!

    I wasn't aware I had become "Facebook Famous." The "Top Ten Grammar Peeves" list is something I put together years ago as a design to sell on t-shirts, mugs, etc. The original can be seen here:


    As such, the list was meant to be more humorous than pedantic and I was also limited by space constrictions as to how detailed I could get.

    As for your specific list of complaints:

    1. Yes, it is true that both affect and effect can be a noun or verb, depending on context. However, the noun form of affect and the verb form of effect are both highly specialized and not what most people mean when they spell the words that way. Think of this rule as a general guideline for 99% of the cases.

    2. Some plurals are formed with apostrophes, but these are the exceptions to the general rule and there is disagreement as to whether these exceptions are even valid. Again, it's a general rule. Besides, nobody will criticize you for writing 80s instead of 80's, whereas writing "I own two truck's" is just plain wrong.

    3. Irregardless has apparently become more acceptable since I originally penned this list, but, as you say, it is still "nonstandard."

    As for the whole argument about English being a living language that changes over time as we change our minds, there is obviously truth to that argument. However, I strongly feel that the argument was much stronger back before we had mass media or any other way to quickly disseminate the language to all native speakers.

    Back when few people could read and the language was able to develop in isolated pockets, it made sense that people misunderstood what others said or meant and interpretations changed rapidly over time. In today's modern society, however, when the majority of English speakers receive an education and the language is widely disseminated via the web, television, books, newspapers, etc., there is really no excuse other than laziness to misspell common words and misunderstand common meanings.

    "Nonplussed" (one of my favorite words) is already well on its way to meaning "unaffected" instead of "perplexed," simply because people don't know what it means and persist in misusing it. Eventually, I suppose, "loose" and "lose" will become synonyms for the same reason. Basically, what I'm saying is that just because English has evolved in the past so that words change their meanings doesn't mean it has to continue happening in the future every time there is any sort of word confusion.

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful note--and for taking the time you took to frame it. I decided a general reply (a kind one, I hope, in keeping with your tone!) was better--so check out my blog from today ...