I have to get one of these!Few things get under my skin more than the degradation of our language. As an editor, sometimes I just want to find the author whose work I’m editing and beat the bad grammar right out of him or her - particularly when that person is supposed to be in a leadership role.

No, I’m not a purist. I know that as time goes by, languages naturally shift - if that weren’t the case, we’d still all be speaking Sanskrit. And, I know that there are different discourse communities, and that language must be molded in order to fit into these different communities.

I come from Oklahoma, so believe me when I tell you I can speak Okie with the best of ‘em. But I hate, loathe and despise some of the recent shifts in our language as well as some of the grammatical mistakes that pop up all the time now. Here are just a few:

for free

Someone please tell me when it became okay to follow a preposition with an adverb? It’s one thing to say, “I got it for nothing,” or, “I got it for $1.25,” because in those cases, the preposition is followed by an object. “I got it for free” doesn’t follow that rule, and it sounds hickey, to boot. Why not “I got it free?” Its easier to say, has fewer words, is correct English, and you won’t sound stupid by saying it!

then versus than

People, people, people! The word “then” is related to time, as in “I am going to the store, then I’m going to the pet shop.” See how that denotes a passage of time? An order of things? The word “than” is related to comparisons, as in “The pet shop is much more fun than the store.” To use them interchangeably is wrong and, once again, only makes a person look stupid. Don’t do it.

conversate and agreeance

Do I really have to tell you that these two “words” are wrong? Do I?! You don’t go conversate with Ted to see if you can come to an agreeance. You have a conversation with Ted to see if you can come to an agreement. I don’t want to have to tell you this again.

your versus you’re

This one’s pretty simple, but I see it written incorrectly on a regular basis. Don’t say “Your my worst enemy.” Your is possessive - if it’s yours, it belongs to you. If you’re going to call someone out, say instead, “You’re my worst enemy.” That means You are my worst enemy. I could go into its versus it’s and their versus there, but I don’t want my head to explode. If you don’t know the difference between these two things, Google the phrases I put in bold. Being smart is as easy as that.

should of

Really? When people write this, are they serious, or is it some cosmic joke that I don’t get? This is the ultimate make-you-look-really-super-duper-stupid thing to write. Just because the contraction should’ve sounds like should of doesn’t mean you write them the same way, folks.

do’s and don’ts

This one drives me crazy, because it’s completely antithetical. In the first word, people almost always put an apostrophe before the s, even though that would indicate possession if it were used correctly. But in the second word, the only apostrophe is for the contraction of the word not. Why not another one before the s in don’ts if it’s correct to do so? Is it because even the folks that consistently get this wrong know that do’s and don’t’s would look ridiculous? Even though it makes me nuts, I can at least see why it’s so confusing to people. Dos and don’ts doesn’t look right either, even though it is technically correct. I always write DOs and DON’Ts - it’s the closest thing to looking right that I can see. Bottom line though…don’t use an apostrophe unless you are indicating possession or a contraction.

was versus were

I see these words used incorrectly more and more as time goes by, particularly when used in conditional sentences, when the condition is contrary to fact. Just remember this rule, if the word “if” is involved, you should use the verb were. “If I were you, I’d use the correct form of the verb.” I’m not you (a condition contrary to fact), and the last part of the sentence would be true only on the condition that the first part is true. “If I was you…” would never, ever be correct. Don’t use it.

single quotation marks versus double quotation marks

I don’t want to beat a dead horse, so this is the last error I’m going to point out (for now). I’m going to state this really clearly, so pay attention. The ONLY time it is correct to use single quotation marks is when you are writing a quote within a quote. THE ONLY TIME. You can write, John said, “Mary walked right up to me and said, ‘Go jump in the lake, John.’ I couldn’t believe she’d be so mean after all we’ve been to each other.” If you get the urge to use single quotation marks for any other reason, stop yourself! Do it right!

I could go on and on (and I probably will at some point in the future, so be ready for it), but there are only so many hours in a day, and besides, you’re bored. I’ve reminded you too much of your 8th grade English teacher, and you’re already thinking of ways to shoot spit wads at me over the Internet. (I’m sure one of you will figure it out before too long.)

Just remember, I’m only looking out for you, kid. I’m trying to make you sound a little bit smarter, and who knows? Maybe if you start following the correct rules mentioned above, you might even be a little smarter.

Just remember…nothing is for free.