Grammar Pet Peeves by Lois Winston

Don't you just love the title of this book? And the cover is pretty great too. Read on about Lois Winston and her book, Death by a Killer Mop Doll.

Lois Winston is the author of the critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries published by Midnight Ink. Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in the series, received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist. The new year brings with it the release of Death By Killer Mop Doll (Jan. 8th), the second book in the series. Read an excerpt at Visit Lois at her website: and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog: You can also follow Lois and Anastasia on Twitter @anasleuth.

First, I’d like to thank Marilyn for hosting me at Marilyn’s Musings today as part of my virtual tour for the release of Death By Killer Mop Doll.

Grammar Crimes
by Lois Winston

Do you have a grammar pet peeve? I do. Actually, I have several, and it’s all the fault of an excellent junior high school English teacher who drummed the rules of grammar into me. Thanks to Peggy Riley Hughes at Burnett Jr. High, I can’t shake the good grammar habit. And because of Peggy Riley Hughes, I cringe whenever I hear or read bad grammar. I can’t help it. Those rules are ingrained in my brain. If the world had more Peggys, I’d cringe a lot less.

To boldly go where no man has gone before. Remember that opening from Star Trek? Cringe-worthy! Gene Rodenberry obviously didn’t have Peggy Riley Hughes as an English teacher. If he had, he never would have split his infinitive.

Sadly, because there are so few English teachers like Peggy Riley Hughes, the Oxford English Dictionary did the unthinkable a few years ago -- they declared it okay to split infinitives. The horror! What would Peggy say?

Writers have the license to take liberties with their writing. When I write dialogue, I don’t necessarily 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. And our characters rarely speak using perfect grammar. They, too, never took an English class taught by Peggy Riley Hughes. And that’s  okay. We want our characters to sound real, not stilted.

But there are grammar rules that should never be broken.

Anyone who wants to be a writer, needs a firm grasp of the English language. Why is this important? Won’t the editor correct whatever needs correcting? Once upon a time that may have been the case but not anymore. 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 or filling up their hard drives. No editor is interested in a high maintenance author.  A manuscript full of grammatical errors will garner a swift rejection.

The grammar error that makes me cringe the most, though, is the misuse of pronouns. For some reason, many people think substituting the nominative for the objective sounds more intelligent, no matter that it’s totally wrong. I see very well educated people making this mistake all the time. Will the OED eventually decide it’s okay to break this very basic rule of English grammar? Peggy Riley Hughes and I both hope not. So here’s a little refresher course on proper pronoun usage:

There are 3 types of pronouns:

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

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.

WRONG: He gave the papers to Mary and I.
RIGHT: He gave the papers to Mary and me.

WRONG: The choice will be between you and I.
RIGHT: The choice will be between you and me.

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.

Do you have a grammar pet peeve?
Post a comment, and you could win one of 5 signed copies of Death By Killer Mop Doll I’m giving away as part of my blog tour this month. The full tour schedule can be found at my website,, and the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog, In addition, I’m giving away 3 copies of Death By Killer Mop Doll on Goodreads,

Also, for anyone attending The American Library Association’s Mid-Winter conference January 20-24 in Dallas, Midnight Ink will be raffling off the hand-crafted mop doll shown in the photo during the opening reception Friday evening. Register for the drawing at the Midnight Ink booth #1459.

Death By Killer Mop Doll blurb: 
Overdue bills and constant mother vs. mother-in-law battles at home are bad enough. But crafts editor Anastasia Pollack's stress level is maxed out when she and her fellow American Woman editors get roped into unpaid gigs for a revamped morning TV show. Before the glue is dry on Anastasia's mop dolls, morning TV turns crime drama when the studio is trashed and a member of the production team is murdered. Former co-hosts Vince and Monica—sleazy D-list celebrities—stand out among a lengthy lineup of suspects, all furious over the show's new format. And Anastasia has no clue her snooping has landed her directly in the killer's unforgiving spotlight.

Marilyn again:
Thank you, Lois, for visiting my blog today. I totally agree with you about your grammar pet peeves.


Carol-Lynn Rossel said…
I'm with you wholeheartedly on those you posted. I go nuts when people cannot use possessives properly. Or spell properly. It just takes a moment to look it up. Those odd constructions that seem to grow exponentially online cannot ALL be typos.
Please enter me in your book drawing. And Happy New Year!
Michal Scott said…
Happy Nw Year Lois,

My latin teacher freed me from that pesky "no split infinitives rule." And your Peggy reminds me of my Mr. Curran and all those sentences he made us diagram. My pet grammar peeve is that vs which because I'm always pulled to use which, no matter what. Thank you God for Constance Hale's Sin and Syntax that gave me a handle on which one to use when. : )

Anna T.S.
Jim Overturf said…
Happy New Year Lois and Marilyn,

Unfortunately my grade school was a one-room building with nine to twelve kids and a teen-age teacher with only one year of college. So I have had to learn grammar on my own, as I go. People like you help me every day with your blogs and post. Thank you for that. I printed a copy of your post and will keep it close to my computer in my Writer's Reference file folder.
Thanks again,
Sandy Tilley said…
Great lesson on my biggest pet peeve--pronouns! You need to post it on billboards in cyberspace! I just read an indie pubbed book, and the author used "I" instead of "ME" incorrectly EVERY time. I was so annoyed, I couldn't enjoy the story.
Thanks for the chance to vent. And Happy New Year, too!
Lois Winston said…
Thank you all for your comments. And Jim, wow! Where did you go to school? I knew that there were still one-room schools in rural areas even now, but a teenage teacher with only one year of college? I've never heard of that.
Grace said…
I wholeheartedly agree with all your points and am delighted to add one of my own. When referring to humans, use "who." When referring to animals or inanimate objects, use "that." Example: A young woman who had never harmed a soul. WRONG: A young woman that had never harmed a soul.
Emma said…
Some mistakes I understand but "could of" instead of "could've"--for some reason that drives me nuts. How could that possibly make sense? Even in our crazy language where, let's face it, almost anything is possible????
Shannon Baker said…
I'm like Jim, never been trained up right. My grandmother was a grammar diva, however, and always spoke perfectly. My ears have been trained. What really sends me off the deep end is using "like" for "such as." BTW-Lois's award winning "Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun" is FREE on Kindle. (Or it was last night when I downloaded it!)
Mary Marvella said…
I'm with you on the issue of correct grammar.

Some folks don't understand antecedents and number.

The boys got their coat. How many coats? The boys share one coat?

Everyone in my family love peas. Hmmm. Everyone loves peas. Better.

I have more. I am the grammar pain in the ass.
Lois Winston said…
Yes, some mistakes people make are beyond belief, aren't they? It's depressing, though, that grammar is rarely taught any more in schools. So how would people know they're not using proper grammar?

Shannon, thanks for mentioning that Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun is available as a free download on Amazon. I don't know how long the promo will last, but as of now, it's still up.
Jane R said…
Unfortunately, it seems as though the public schools no longer teach much in the way of grammar. I know my own children didn't receive as much grammar education as I did.... and sometimes it shows! One of my biggest pet peeves is the use of the word 'your' and 'you're'. These two words are becoming interchangeable for many people (including billboards, advertisements and newscasts).
Georgina Lee said…
My grammar pet peeve is it's and its. It's a simple rule, yet its rule is often broken.
Does that make sense?
jeff7salter said…
I agree with you about the pronouns.
But I've been splitting infinitives for so many years that it seems/sounds odd to hear/read them when oh-so-properly formed.
Therefore, I'm glad 'they' relaxed the rules on that. [Even though I didn't get the memo].
Please enter me in the drawing.
Liz said…
So agree with you and with Grace.

Best wishes for success of Death By Killer Mop Doll.
Lois Winston said…
Jane, I know what you mean. My kids didn't have much in the way of formal grammar education. I spent years correcting them with little results to show for all my nagging.

Georgina, most grammar rules are pretty simple and make total sense, but that doesn't keep people from ignoring them, unfortunately. I think those of us fighting the good fight will eventually lose the war.

Jeff, I do sometimes find myself splitting an infinitive, thanks to Gene Roddenberry, but I catch and correct them in revisions.

Liz, thanks for the good wishes!
Patricia said…
I was taught everything I know today by Sister Adrian Marie at St. Joseph's Grammar School in Alameda, California. We were drilled on a daily basis and although we all hated her, what I learned from her stayed with me. My pet peeve is using "I" after the word "to", as in, "Mr. Harris was talking to Lydia and I about..." I want to scream and sooo many intelligent and educated people talk this way, I am appalled.
Thanks for the post.What a great way to start the new year, learning to use proper grammar. Yes, "I" versus "me" is on the top of my pet peeve list, but close behind are: "could of," "try and" instead of "try to," and putting apostrophes in plurals, like "apple's."

Please enter me in your competetion.
Lois Winston said…
Patti, those nuns really made you learn. I suspect Peggy was taught by nuns. She certainly taught us like a nun would, but Peggy looked like Marilyn Monroe!

Phyllis, "try and" is another one of my biggie pet peeves. It makes absolutely no sense. Yet I hear it and read it all the time.
Anonymous said…
Grace wrote: "When referring to humans, use 'who.' When referring to animals or inanimate objects, use 'that.' Example: A young woman who had never harmed a soul. WRONG: A young woman that had never harmed a soul."

I don't wish to embarrass you, but I believe that you are mistaken. Yes, the relative pronoun "who" refers to people and "that" refers to inanimate objects or animals, but in the example you gave, the "who" refers to the "young woman," not to the "soul."

The correct usage of "who" and "that" could be exemplified like this: "A young woman who had never harmed an elephant. An elephant that had never harmed a young woman."

By the way, I have no idea whether someone's soul would count as human, but classifying it as an inanimate object or animal seems wrong somehow.

Oh, and my pet peeve? People who mis-correct the grammar of others.
Alice Duncan said…
I loved your post! I thought I was the only one who cared about this stuff. Whenever I'd say something like, "Me and Dena," my mom would say, "MEAN DENA!" Taught me :-)
Susan said…
Where to begin. If your English teacher is still teaching, she's being driven crazy by such writing blunders as could of and U think U know everything (the new pronoun!).
I think the talking heads on TV should learn the difference between using less and fewer in addition to proper pronoun usage, and -LY would be nice on the end of adverbs.
Holli said…
I am in no way a grammar Nazi, but in New Orleans, "conversate" has become a word. Even public figures use the word in the place of converse, talk, or speak.

I almost went nuts the other day when my 4th-grader used the word in a sentence and when I tried to explain to her it is not an actual word, she quoted a prominent official as well as a newscaster who had used the word on t.v.

Don't even get me started on "irregardless."

Holli Castillo
Lois Winston said…
Holli brings up a good point. Maybe there should be a grammar test for anyone who wants to become a talking head, politician, spokesperson, or newscaster. Fail the test, and you can't have a mic and a platform.
lil Gluckstern said…
I love this post. I don't always know the rule, but my ears often tell me what's wrong. My pet peeve-misusing amount and number. As in there are a large amount of dollar bills in that suitcase. It should be number as in there were a large number of snowflakes in the huge amount of snow that fell. Happy New Year everybody.
Peg Herring said…
Oh, Lois, great job!!
As a recovering English teacher, I'm at work on a novel that addresses the trials of being a "grammar geek." One of the protags has her own interesting way of maintaining proper English usage, and I think it adds a little fun to the mystery mix.
Lois Winston said…
Peg, that sounds like a fascinating premise for a mystery series. Good luck with it.
Ellis Vidler said…
I worked for an editor who refused to split infinitives--it led to some awkward constructions or a lot of rephrasing. I had the same rule early but moved on. However, I'm with you on the pronouns and plural/possessive problems. That apostrophe s for plural makes my hair stand up!
Beth Anderson said…
But sometimes even publishers use incorrect grammar on their covers, to wit: "The Cat Who" books. To my mind, using who instead of that in that case sounds better to my ear, probably because the cats in those books take on the characteristics of humans. It's no wonder American English is so hard to learn.

Pitfalls everywhere. Sigh... ;-)
Lois Winston said…
Yes, sometimes using proper grammar does sound odd, but often there's a way to rephrase the sentence so that it doesn't. Also, keep in mind that it's perfectly OK to use poor grammar when writing dialogue or internalization of a character who wouldn't know to use proper grammar. You have to be true to the character you're writing.
Anonymous said…
My biggest pet peeve is that schools don't teach grammar anymore. My college students can barely speak English.
Sara Weiss
Jinx Schwartz said…
When I was child in Haiti, I had a Japanese-American tutor from California who took on the task of educating a bunch of Texas kids. It was a knock-down/drag-out fight to the finish, but Momo won in the end. However, when I read dialogue that is always grammatically correct, it sometimes sounds stilted, so I say: Know the rules, then, if necessary to the story, break them. One recurring error I see that drives me nuts (and I don't have far to go) is you're for your.
KathyW said…
I'm afraid I agree with the OED. I've never understood the prohibition against split infinitives, nor the one against ending a sentence with a preposition. Even Winston Churchill thought that was ridiculous.

Less vs. fewer drives me up the wall, along with a lot of the others mentioned.

However, in my world animals have definite personalities that rate a who rather than a that. My horses are definite who's.
Lois Winston said…
Sara, a lot of colleges are now requiring students to take remedial English classes their freshman year.
Alan Cook said…
One of my grammar pet peeves is lie and lay, because my own descendants get it wrong in spite of being corrected. My mother, who was an English teacher (among other things) said, "Chickens lay eggs." Although this isn't necessarly helpful, it does make the point that lay requires an object.
Lois Winston said…
That's a great way for people to remember which to use, Alan.
cyn209 said…
grammar pet peeves??? there are TOO many to name, but my main one is the non-word, 'supposibly'.....there is NO such word!! it's either supposedly or possibly!!! do not MASH-UP these 2 words & use them in an intelligent conversation!!!

thank you for the giveaway!!!

cyn209 at juno dot com
It is a nice post.thank you.
Lois Winston said…
Cyn209, unfortunately, "supposibly" will probably make it into the dictionary at some point. It's amazing how many new words over the years have been mash-ups of two words.
Anonymous said…
The one that drives me crazy is "had went."
I had went to the store. We had went to see a movie. It's everywhere in conversation around me. :(
Anonymous said…
"He likes Mary and I."

"He gave the papers to Mary and I."

"The choice will be between you and I."

These are all "hypercorrections", probably originally caused by speakers being vaguely aware of "rules" against using "me".

However, the "and I" object seems well on its way to becoming a widespread common usage these days. Remember, in language, habits become preferences and preferences become rules.

"I am as tall as him."

There is nothing "wrong" with the above. It has been a feature of English for quite some time.

"The award was shared by my partner and myself."

There's nothing "wrong" with this usage either. The reflexive is simply a means to convey emphasis here.


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