Grammar & Usage

This part of my site is for people who think proper use of English is worthwhile. Curmudgeons and mavens and old fogies from around the world are welcome here.

Some battles have been lost in recent years. I’m not going to fight any more about hopefully, at this point in time and in terms of. I’m not far from giving up on at the end of the day and going forward.

I am pleased to pay tribute to brevity with a few admirable examples.

I am ready to admit that language changes, and rules change. I’m prepared to live with some of them. Having said that, here are some that I’m not accepting yet:

  • between .. to: Please don’t say things like “between 12 to 15.” We have established “from a to b” and “between a and b” and I don’t see the need to mix them.
  • step foot: As in “I’ll never step foot there.” The established idiom is “set foot.” I know “step foot” has been in use a long time. So has “ain’t.”
  • brakes/breaks: Slow the car with the brakes. Lucky breaks. Learn the difference.
  • rein/reign: reins are for horses, reigns are for monarchs. If you let your horse decide where to go, you give it free rein – and that’s the one we took into the language to mean letting people decide freely.
  • There is/there are: “Is there any questions?” or “There is three ways to do this.” Maybe they don’t teach this in school. See the plural nouns there? They need plural verbs. It aren’t difficult, is they? So: “Are there any questions?” and “There are three ways …”
  • gone/went: OK, irregular verbs are hard, but they are also commonly used so you might as well learn them. Now, we go to the mall. Yesterday, we went there. Previously, we had gone to another mall. So far this year, we have gone to six malls.
  • cut-off verb forms: My team got beat. I got bit. Whip cream. Maybe this is one I’ll have to give up on. But I still think my team was beaten, I was bitten, and the cream was whipped.
  • the death of the adverb: She played good. He described it excellent. Nope. She played well, he described it excellently.
  • mucus/mucous – Simple. Mucus comes from your mucous membranes. Noun doesn’t have an o, adjective does. Same with phosporus, the element.
  • hyphenation in numbers: Speaking of adjectives … A plan that costs $6 million is a $6-million plan. A man six feet tall is a six-foot-tall man. A girl who is three years old is a three-year-old girl. What’s the rule? Easy: use the hyphens ONLY when necessary to tie words together, usually before a noun.
  • odiferous: You mean odoriferous. But why not avoid confusion and use “stinky”?
  • Me and my friend: Listen up. You’d say “I did it,” and you’d never say “Me did it.” You’d say “Give it to me” and never “give it to I” (unless you’re a Rastaman). I/he/she are for the doer of the action; me/him/her are for the receiver, and are almost always preceded by a preposition: to, from, about, for, …
  • fulsome: No, that’s not an impressive way to say “full.” It means complimentary or flattering to an excessive degree. And don’t even get me started on “more fulsome” — just use “fuller.” Yes, I know “fulsome” has a secondary meaning of “of large size or quantity; generous or abundant” but that’s generally for things like harvests.
  • singular “they”: Use it if you want; I won’t. But please don’t use it when you clearly know the gender of the person. Sure, write “Anyone can bring their book,” but please not “every boy should bring their jockstrap.” Be specific if you can, and general when you can’t.

I also summarize a few feeble excuses for bad English, and how to refute them.


About your host and why HE gets to sound off on writing.

Acknowledgements: This site owes a debt to William Safire, Strunk & White, Richard Lederer, and many more. I was also inspired years ago by the Unicorn Hunters at Lake Superior State College in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. LSS still produces an annual list of words that should be banished.

Other places:

Visit Jim Wegryn’s “A Barrel Full of Words” here

Just for fun: If you are looking for my wordplay pages – puns, taglines, anagrams, mangled movie titles, fun with Latin and more, please head over here.

Last updated [last-modified datef=”D., j M. Y”]

Last Reviewed: 3 years