Got Grammar Pet Peeves? You’re Not Alone

annoyed_grammar_pet_peevesI invited those of you on my email list to share your grammar pet peeves, and the results are in!

First: What is grammar? Grammar encompasses the words we choose and how we punctuate them — how we string them together.

Words give our sentences meaning, and punctuation marks tell us when to pause or stop, when to raise our voice or show emotion, when we’re asking a question versus making a statement.

Here are your pet peeves: ways others speak and write that you find annoying. They’re alphabetized so you can skim and select what interests or resonates with you. I’ve commented here and there and added examples.

Many of the pet peeves cited here are covered in my blog or in my book: Grammar for People Who Hate Rules: Killer Tips from The Ruthless Editor


I wish people would not use acronyms unless they are common or familiar in that particular environment. Example: ADKAR

ADKAR is a goal-oriented change-management model representing the five outcomes an individual must achieve for change to be successful: Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, Reinforcement®.

book: chapter 27

adverb overuse
Writers use adverbs — words that often end in ly — to add color to their writing and reflect how people actually speak. Although it’s wise to minimize the use of adverbs, it’s not necessary to strip them entirely from your writing or speaking.

Can you think of a single verb to substitute for each of these adverb/verb pairs?
carefully extracted, eagerly ran, heavily walked, loudly shouted, quickly left, vehemently objected

blog on adverb use: Does A Job Pay Good Or Pay Well?

ask as a noun / task as a verb
Although the ask is used as a noun in the workplace, I still don’t like hearing it:

The ask I have of the team is …

blog on the ask: Trending ‘Ask’: Noun Or Verb?

I object to the use of the word task as a verb:

“We are are tasked to do something” as opposed to “We have been asked to do something or assigned to do something,” or “Management wants us to do something.”

bring vs. take
using bring instead of take, regardless of the direction of the action

Please bring me the mail, and then take the bills to my desk.

capitalization (multiple submissions)
My main proofreading pet peeve is capitalization for emphasis when there’s no grammatical need for a capital letter — capitalizing business titles when they don’t precede a name, for example:

John Jones, Vice President of Business Development, will speak tomorrow.
better: John Jones, vice president of business development, will speak tomorrow.

Many style guides recommend capitalizing business titles only when they precede a name:

Vice President of Business Development John Jones will speak tomorrow.

blog on job titles: When To Capitalize A Job Title

collective noun / singular verb mismatch
mismatch: The team are going to practice. The committee are meeting at 7 p.m.
better: The team is going to practice. The committee is meeting at 7 p.m.

However, the plural verb is appropriate when those who make up the team or committee (collective nouns) are acting as individuals rather than as a group.

The team ride their bicycles to practice.
The committee disagree on the adjournment time.

Because these constructions can sound odd, here’s how I generally clarify the choice of verb form when group members are acting as individuals:

Team members ride their bicycles to practice.
Committee members disagree on the adjournment time.

A single verb emphasizes group action; a plural verb emphasizes individual action.
book: chapter 16

compliment vs. complement / complimentary vs. complementary
A compliment, whether used as a verb or a noun, is a polite expression of praise or admiration.

I compliment you on your volunteer efforts.
He was kind to give me a compliment on my volunteerism.

Complimentary also can be an adjective and mean that something is free of charge:

Our meal included a complimentary bottle of wine.

Complement, both a verb and a noun, completes something or makes it better.

We want to complement our training program with hands-on activities.
The book-study group is a perfect complement to your training program.

She was complimentary about his plan, as it was complementary to her business philosophy.

eminent vs. imminent
using eminent (famous, respected) when someone means imminent (about to happen)

Hurricane Matthew’s imminent arrival delayed air travel nationwide.
Hurricane Matthew might be rated the most eminent storm of this hurricane season.

impact as a verb
using impact used as a verb (it’s a noun) instead of affect or influence

How did the hurricane impact affect coastal cities?
What impact did the hurricane have on coastal cities?
(But: What effect did the hurricane have on coastal cities?)

blog on affect vs. effect: An A-list of A-words That Can Confuse

in regards to
There should be no s; regard is singular: in regard to. (I often prefer with regard to.)

Regardless means having or showing no regard; heedless, unmindful.
The prefix ir negates what follows it, so irregardless actually means not having or showing no regard (a double negative). Although the use of irregardless has risen over the years, it is nonstandard English.

blog on irregardless: Regardless vs. Irregardless: Which Is Right?

lead vs. led
using lead instead of the past tense led

He took the lead in a scoring bonanza that had been led by another player.

legislature / legislator
Every year in my health policy class, I have several students who refer to a legislator (an individual) as a legislature (a governmental body). This happens so frequently, I even list the definitions in the class syllabus, which hasn’t seemed to help.

less vs. fewer (multiple submissions)
The use of fewer is dying because it seems that almost everyone uses less universally, even though it often is grammatically incorrect:

Use less with something that cannot be counted; use fewer with items that can be counted:

Less cookie dough yields fewer cookies.
If you use less water, you’ll get fewer cups of coffee.

And a sign at the grocery store: This line for carts with 10 items or less fewer

me vs. I (multiple submissions)
So many people say “me and my friends, me and my mother, me and my dog,” when it should be “my friends and I, my mother and I, my dog and I.”

To give this usage some context, I is a subject, a doer of action; me is an object, a receiver of action:

My friend and I went to a movie. I bought popcorn for my friend and me.
My mother and I ordered dessert. The server brought dessert to my mother and me.
My dog and I took and walk. It rained on my dog and me.

blog on me and I: The Dilemma of Me, Myself and I

moot / mute point
A moot point is something debatable, an issue open to argument; an irrelevant question or a matter of no importance.

After the tree blew down, deciding which arborist to hire was a moot point.

Mute means silent, refraining from speech or utterance. Using mute point is either a misspelling, misuse — or a bad joke.

of instead of have

I should of had the meatloaf. (I should have had the meatloaf.)
I would of had it yesterday. (I would have had it yesterday.)

future plan, exact same, educational seminar, past experience

Ending a sentence with right, either as a verbal tic or an unending search for affirmation:

We’re going to win the game, right?
We need to work more as a team, right?
She looks tired, right?

snuck vs. sneaked
Despite common use of snuck, sneaked is correct.

I snuck sneaked out of the performance.
Consider: creak/creaked, leak/leaked, streak/streaked, squeak/squeaked

book: chapter 9

Starting a sentence with so. Many would avoid starting a sentence with so in formal writing, but it’s not uncommon in informal writing.

book: chapter 2

that vs. who
using that instead of who when referring to a human being

A person that who plays the piano is always popular at parties.

book: chapter 22

the (thuh) vs. the (thee)
I learned to use the long e sound when the precedes a word starting with a vowel (a, e, i, o, u). Many people today don’t seem to make the distinction in sounds.
In these examples, the should be pronounced thee, not thuh:

the apple, the allowance, the animal
the exit, the environment, the end
the incident, the illusion, the iPod
the opposite, the owner, the Oval Office
the underscore, the usher, the ultimate

Note: When a word that starts with a vowel does not keep that vowel sound, there can be exceptions. We use thuh with the United States, the ukulele, the URL, as they all begin with a you sound.

their / there and your / you’re misuse (multiple submissions)

There jackets are over there. (Their jackets are over there.)
Your welcome. (You’re welcome.)

to be honest with you
To the person uttering this commonly used phrase, I am often tempted to reply, “So, what you’re saying is that you aren’t always honest with me, which is why you have to qualify what you’re now saying.”

too-casual use of language in a professional / academic setting

thru instead of through
Ok in writing assignments
kind’ve instead of kind of

blog on kind of, sort of: Qualifiers Can Disqualify You As Effective Communicator

I dislike the word utilize. To use and to utilize mean the same thing. Do people inflate language to make themselves sound more impressive? I consider it pretentious.

verse vs. versus
Many sports announcers now say verse instead of versus. I yell at my television, and I am not even a sports fan!


apostrophe misuse
Grocer apostrophes:

Carrot’s on Sale | Fresh Bagel’s Today

Using an apostrophe s to make a noun plural:

How many crayon’s are in a box? Did you see the huge wave’s pounding the shore?

My 5-year-old son’s kindergarten teacher (the woman who’s teaching him to read) constantly skips the comma in a compound sentence in her weekly newsletters:

We will be taking a field trip on Tuesday and we request that all parents sign and return this permission slip.
We will be taking a field trip on Tuesday, and we request that all parents sign and return this permission slip.

book: chapter 41

exclamation point
The exclamation point is overused to the point it has lost its intent in the communication I read. (I know what you mean!!!!! —K)

book: chapter 46

That wraps it up! I hope I didn’t miss any. Thanks to everyone who took time to share what annoys you.

Are we judged by the way we write and speak? Indeed we are.

If you have friends or colleagues who like their grammar clear and concise, please encourage them to sign up for my twice-monthly Killer Tips from The Ruthless Editor.

And check out my book’s table of contents for topics you’d like to know more about.

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Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)

2 thoughts on “Got Grammar Pet Peeves? You’re Not Alone

  1. AvatarCharles Myhill

    Good stuff, Kathy, and all relevant for people who write for an audience—whether they be school teachers or PR professionals.

    1. Kathy WatsonKathy Watson Post author

      Thanks, Charles. I have special interest in the way words such as ‘task’ as a verb and ‘the ask’ as a noun are met with resistance. I suspect some of it is generational and some of it is a desire for precision. Language evolves, whether we like it or not, but the evolution can be discomforting.

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