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Why doesn’t anyone right write?

When it comes to talk the talk and walk the walk, writer Donna Lynn Rhodes puts her money where her mouth is and gives us all a lesson or two.

Me and my friends are going to the movies.

If that sentence doesn’t make you cringe then you definitely need to keep reading.

I know our schools are facing huge budget cuts and it was adios art, music and P.E. – but did they eliminate English class, too?  I don’t mean English as a second language, I mean English as a first language.  And if they did take English out of the curriculum, I dare say at least your kids and their friends have an excuse. What’s yours?

A few months ago, two friends asked me if I would teach them some simple grammar rules — probably because they are sick of me correcting them – and I said, sure. When another friend asked me last week, I realized that this would make a great column.

So, do you know when to use the following words correctly?


Me and I
Done and Finished
To and Too
Further and Farther
Compliment and Complement
Lie and Lay
Effect and Affect
Into and In to

Even I get confused sometime and I have to look them up. But I promise if you follow along you are going to be smarter than you were three minutes ago.

Ready?

Me is.  See? It doesn’t sound right.  You would never say “Me is.” So why would you start a sentence with Me? I’m sure there are exceptions to every rule, but we’re not talking about exceptions here, we’re talking the norm.

OK, with I so far?  Doesn’t sound right, does it?  So why would you write under a picture you post on Facebook "Rick, Ben and I"? It should say Rick, Ben and me.  Why?  Let’s say that you were sitting next to me and showing me photos. You would say, “This is Rick before we were married.” Or “Here’s a picture of Ben when he was a baby.” And when you got to one of you, you wouldn’t say, “Here’s a picture of I with long hair.” Therefore, the picture of the three of you should be tagged Rick, Ben and me.  If you’re not sure, just take everyone else before you away and you’ll know if it’s right.  Same thing with starting with ‘me.’  It’s not “me and my friends are hungry,” because you would never say “me is hungry” unless of course you’re a caveman.  I am hungry.  My friends and I are hungry.  

Told you it was easy — but wait.  We’re not done yet.

Wrong.  We’re not finished yet.  

What’s the difference between done and finished?

Cakes get done, people get finished.  I’ll say it again.  Cakes get done, people get finished.  So, we’re not finished yet.

To, too and two. I only threw this one in because if you’re reading this and don’t know the difference then English really is your second language. I think everyone knows two is a number but what about to and too?  I bought two apples today but they are too mushy to eat. I have two pairs of black shoes but they are too tight to wear.  Too means also or more than enough. And how can you remember that? Too has more ‘o’s’ than to.

Shall we move further along?  Or is it farther along?  Just remember this sentence: Let’s walk a little farther before we discuss it any further.  Far is a physical distance. You wouldn’t say how fur is Chicago from here; you’d say how far is Chicago from here.  If you can substitute the word furthermore in a sentence, then using the word further probably is correct. You wouldn’t say how much furthermore do we have to drive to get there. So you know that further isn’t correct and it should be farther. Remember, let’s walk a little farther before we discuss it any further.

There is actually a word for these little rhymes and silly ways of remembering things. They are called mnemonic (the m is silent) phrases: I before e except after c. Or, 30 days hath September, April, June and November.

Well, now you know two more. Cakes get done, people get finished. And, let’s walk a little farther before we discuss it any further. How fun is this? Wish I learned this in school the first time around but I was too busy passing notes and doodling to pay attention.  

People will start to compliment you on your good grammar. Or is it complement? You may not have been aware there is a difference. There is, and here’s a way to remember it: I complimented him on his tie because it complemented his shirt.  A compliment (with an i) is when you admire something. Complement (with an e) is when something enhances something else. The way to remember it is that “I” give you a compliment and it has an ‘i’ in it.  Complement with an e is when it enhances something. By the way, if something is free of charge, it’s complimentary not complementary.  Just thought I’d throw that one in for free. With my compliments.

Are you exhausted from all this learning?  Maybe you should lay down. Or is it lie down? 

Hens lay eggs. But if you were walking by the henhouse and decided you wanted to watch, then you would lie next to the hens and watch them lay their eggs. Still don’t get it? Try this: I’m going to lay this bear skin rug on the floor and lie naked on top of it.

A lot of people – oh, by the way, there is not such word as alot – are affected by bad grammar.  Oh wait. Are they effected or affected? 

Affect means to influence and effect means to cause. Think of it this way: The game will affect the standings, which will effect changes in the team. If you’re not sure, use effect and you’ll be right 90 percent of the time.

So how much have you learned? Just wait until you watch the weather report on TV tonight and they say it’s going to get colder the further east you go. You’re going to put a cocky grin on your face and say, "Don’t they know it’s the farther east you go?"

You’re getting in to it aren’t you?  Or is it into it?  OK, one more. Into is when there is physical movement involved: Please put the ice cream into the freezer. As opposed to, I don’t have any ice cream because my mom wouldn’t give in to my demands.

So you went and read this article – no! I’ll cover sentence structure in another column. And if you want, I can help you with Good and Well, Fewer and Less, More Than and Over, Then and Than, Him and Her and He and She, Who and Whom and many others.

I’m done.  I mean my work here is finished.  

Katie Fries March 03, 2011 at 05:59 PM
"But common usage (i.e. street vernacular) trumps grammar books every time." For me, it depends on how and why it (street vernacular) is used. If I am editing (or writing) dialogue I leave street vernacular as-is because it sounds more natural. If I am editing a non-fiction book, a newsletter or a press release I make sure proper grammar trumps common usage. (Unless the common usage is *very* specific to the industry or audience--but this goes back to the "rule" of being able to break the rules if you know the rules.)
Wayne Rhodes March 03, 2011 at 06:39 PM
Katie: I totally agree: non-fiction, technical, scientific, etc. writing should always use correct (book) grammar. But casual conversation (which nowadays includes email and texting / Twitter), which is probably what 99% of us do 99% of the time, is certainly the dominant form of communication. So sloppiness, slang, and "creative" grammar thrive!
Sherry Wolcott March 03, 2011 at 06:47 PM
Great article! I appreciate the tips. It does seem really easy now! Can't wait to see a follow up article
Vicki March 03, 2011 at 08:24 PM
Thank you for the great article!
Rena Segovia March 03, 2011 at 08:53 PM
I always use the correct version of "I" becuase to this day I can still hear you correcting me...I guess I have to still work on the "BRUNG MY LUNCH" part.... I can see you cringing now....
Roz Willens March 03, 2011 at 08:56 PM
Really enjoyed reading this article.It was easy to understand and written with a sense of humor. I am going to print this for future reference and a reminder to avoid common mistakes. Teachers do not stress the importance of grammar or handwriting since the computer came into the picture. Donna,thanks for comming to the rescue of the semi-literate. Roz W.
Deborah Burstyn March 03, 2011 at 09:52 PM
Love this, Donna. Great article. I always chuckle when I see people putting signs on their home that say The Smith's or The Johnson's - as if only one person lived there who referred to himself or herself in the third person and claimed exclusive ownership to the house.
Rob K. March 03, 2011 at 10:31 PM
Excellent article except for one thing: You failed to address the answer to your own question. Understanding that 99.9% of Patch readers are parents with school-age kids, I can fully understand this, but here comes the reality, folks: America is an ignorant nation relative to the rest of the developed world; Our test scores in reading, math and science are down in the 20 to 30th place range and the "wonder of technology" has dumbed down this generation beyond hope. When was the last time your kid chose to read a book instead of texting their BFF? I have been noticing this for years and now, I even see articles in the financial world make past the editors with typos and horrible grammar. Want an example in pop culture? How about Home Depot's slogan: "More saving. More doing". What moron wrote that? Survey most executives about the business and social skills of today's college graduates; They have none because their lives are a fantasy world of social networking, texting and instant gratification. Although we may have the best universities in the world, take a look at the statistics of who chooses to attend these schools, garner the education and then return home to make South Korea, India and China more economically powerful. OK, I know Walnut Creek is better than many other communities but the fact remains. Most Americans, kids and adults, posses about a third grade grammar level and nobody even notices or cares anymore.
Lorraine March 03, 2011 at 10:53 PM
Thanks DL this was very helpful, now if we can do something to make me remember it all that would be great! affect and effect are a big issue for me and when I say DL and I instead of DL and me...that is a tough one for me to change....me just doesn't sound correct even though it is... Can you teach old dog new tricks? I'll keep you posted...
Lorri March 03, 2011 at 11:37 PM
What scares me is that so many people now say, "Me and my friend are going to the movie." I fear that it is going to become accepted. Last week I wrote on my Facebook wall the sad news about Matt and Gavin. A teacher from MDUSD responded, "Know life should end that way." A teacher!
wendo March 04, 2011 at 12:40 AM
great article. don't forget it's and its!!!
Rob K. March 04, 2011 at 12:55 AM
Does that really surprise you? What can you expect from a nation that underpays educators? What is the incentive to teach today? Work for a non living wage and then have legislators take away your union's collective bargaining rights so they can balance the budget?
Rob K. March 04, 2011 at 01:01 AM
I hate to shamelessly plug a commercial venture, but since everyone seems fascinated with the topic, the book "The Graet Typo Hunt" is an absolute must read. You will be astonished and sadly entertained. That is, if you actually have the patience to read something besides Facebook posts. Here is the plug from the website: ============================================================ The Great Typo Hunt: Two Friends Changing the World, One Correction at a Time, by Jeff Deck and Benjamin D. Herson, tells the story of an epic journey across the U.S. to fix typos in public signage. Besides detailing the comical adventures of typo correcting, the book shows how the pursuit of typos led us to broader social issues, such as cultural homogenization, race relations, workplace repression, and education. There have been books about spelling and grammatical errors, and there have been books about quixotic road trips, but ours is the first to combine the two—not to mention the first book about fixing typos rather than complaining about them. Anyone who’s ever been annoyed or frustrated by a typo will enjoy this book. Editors, teachers, educational administrators, librarians, and writers will especially relate to the tale; the many amateur grammarians from other walks of life will also gravitate to The Great Typo Hunt (we heard from plenty during the trip!). If you enjoy adventurous exploits with plenty of grammatical swashbuckling, our book is for you
Linda Ehrich March 04, 2011 at 02:38 AM
Very clever article, Donna Lynn! When my children were young, they used to call my mother Grammy Grammar whenever she corrected them! We should also mention fewer and less. Fewer is used for a number of items: "I have fewer apples than you". Less is used for amount: "There is less rain expected today". Then there's "You have fewer apples than me". No! "You have fewer apples than I (have)". How about, "Where is it at?". That drives me crazy! You have opened a Pandora's box! Don't get me started on mispronunciations of words! Re-al-tor, not real-a-tor. Theater, not thearter or thee-A-ter. Asterix, not asteric. Supposedly, not supposably. The list goes on. Well, DL, I have to, like, get back to work, but this was, like, a really fun article.
Steve Kilner March 04, 2011 at 03:04 AM
I work with a British company and talk on the phone with them every day. The other day we were preparing a presentation and I pointed out an error in their grammar. They both burst out laughing, "imagine that, an American correcting us on our grammar!" It's encouraging, though, that so many people have commented on this article!
DakotaSoul March 04, 2011 at 04:54 AM
Thank you! Your article makes me think of my dear Grandma, who taught in a one room school house on the plains of the Dakotas for 50 years. She taught me the correct usage of many things including the cream separator in the basement, and proper grammar. One item I recall was fewer/less. I can still hear her say, "If you can count whatever it is you are referring to, then use fewer”. For example, "Our separator can separate fewer cups of cream than the one at the dairy, or, "Our separator can separate less cream than the one at the dairy". One counts the cups of cream, but there is nothing to count when we say less. Thanks Donna Lynn, and thanks to you, too, Grandma! Dakota Soul
Deb wainscott March 04, 2011 at 05:08 AM
Donna Lynn you need to run with this! This could be a daily write. I love it & did have to stop & think, then say aloud, each one of these. I must confess, I have boo-booed more than once in my life :-)
Rob K. March 04, 2011 at 03:55 PM
Graphic on KTVU during the 5:10 AM weathercast today: "BERKLEY" - high of 60 One might assume that a local news station might strive to spell the names of the towns in their viewing area correctly. This happens all the time. Is it carelessness or ignorance? PS - Today is apparently "National Grammar Day"
meh March 04, 2011 at 04:36 PM
I completely agree, Toni. I love technology and the ability to communicate via texting and email, but I feel like text language will be the downfall of proper English (or any other language). I admit I am not one for old fashioned paper correspondence, but I firmly believe that there is really no reason to be using shortcuts on an email when a full keyboard is at your disposal. I've already made the decision that when my kids are old enough to have their own cell phone, I will insist that they omit text language (at least in their texts to me). Really, the difference in typing the numeral "2" instead of the word "to" is just plain laziness.
Paige Yannone March 04, 2011 at 06:24 PM
love it...: ) .....have you read Woe is I? also...what about i.e. and e.g....?
Kerry Zickert March 06, 2011 at 10:50 PM
Loved this Donna! Thanks for the grammar lesson. It's easy to get lazy and forget proper grammar. I echo Linda...I cringe whenever someone says "where is it at"? Not grammar related but equally annoying to me is the ubiquitous two words "you know" that so many people have trouble not including when they speak.
Melissa March 08, 2011 at 02:40 AM
Love the article as an Reading and LA teacher! I teach middle school and am constantly struggling to get the students to write correctly. You may need to come into my classroom, next time you are in Chicago, and give a special guest lecture. :)
Donna Lynn Rhodes March 08, 2011 at 05:31 PM
Thank you Melissa, and Kerry and everyone who has commented on this story! In addition to your comments a lot of people emailed me giving me their pet peeve grammar errors and asking me to write another column. I am happy to do another column and as they say, "Watch this Space" in the next few weeks. As I said before, I never know which of my Off the Beaten Patch columns are going to elicit a big response and was surprised that this one on grammar did! Who knew. Thank you all for reading Patch and for forwarding my columns on to others who you think may like them, or posting them on your Facebook page or Twitter account. Have a groovy day! :) dl
Lorri March 09, 2011 at 07:57 PM
This morning on the radio, I heard an audio clip from the Ohio State University President speaking about the OSU football coach. The first words were this, "Him and I had a talk..........". Good grief!
Donna Lynn Rhodes March 10, 2011 at 03:56 AM
Good grief is right!
Molly March 10, 2011 at 05:46 AM
DL, I would like to compliment you on a well written article! :) Bad grammar drives me crazy! Here's my question: Is it true that you are only supposed to put one space at the end of a sentence?
Donna Lynn Rhodes March 10, 2011 at 05:35 PM
Thanks Molly. I put two spaces after a sentence, but I think I may be wrong. It is a matter of style and it seems that the correct way is to only have one. Never-the-less, I use two. I'm sure we'll hear from someone about it -- it's a matter of style. All publications have their own style and you have my permission to do what ever you want. I'm too spaced out with all the grammar to worry about spacing! Thanks for reading and commenting and forwarding it/posting it. :) dl
Valerie Siino March 14, 2011 at 07:54 PM
Great article, Donna Lynn. These are some of my pet peeves! Thanks - they're all good reminders.
HARS March 15, 2011 at 03:51 PM
FANTASTIC DL! Your writing is right by me!
Monica April 22, 2011 at 04:14 AM
English is my 2nd language and my grammar is better than most. One of my pet peeves is your/you're and their/they're. I found this written on a bulletin board in my daughter's 2nd grade class: "Many people think they [whales] are fish, but their not." Scary!

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