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  • Writer's picture Hannah De Giorgis

The difference between knowing you're shit and knowing your shit

Let me begin by apologising for the tone of this blog entry; it may come across as a bit of a rant. My husband frequently calls me a “Grammar Nazi” – which, although an embarrassing label, has (like most nicknames) an element of truth in it. Having taught English as a foreign language, and as a former student of literature, my awareness of grammatical errors is unforgiving-ly heightened. And there are a few frequent blunders that do drive me a bit crazy – more often than not committed by those whose mother tongue is English.

Here are a few of the most serious. So if you’re a culprit please, please, please, read and retain the points in this blog (at the same time excusing its blustering nature...).

Before I get pedantic, though, I have a confession: I did not coin this title. I saw it as a title for a similarly themed article years ago and it was too apt not to reuse.

Coulda Shoulda Woulda

All too often people write I “should of” done this or I “could of” done that. It is a very common written error among native English speakers, who don't realise that linguistically it makes no sense whatsoever. They have adopted a structure that, quite simply, does not exist.

The correct structure is, for learners of English, called a past modal. It consists of the modal verb (should, would, could, might etc.) plus the verb to have and past the participle. As an equation, it looks something like this:

subject + modal + have + past participle.

E.g. I should have said that

He could have written this.

And the root cause for this error (should of) is pretty obvious. In spoken English – as with so many other things – we contract these past modals. Just as “I am” becomes “I’m”, “should have” becomes “should’ve”. And, when this is spoken, you can understand how the irritatingly frequent error arose: people heard “should’ve” as ‘should of” and so the corrupt wave spread. The amount of times I see ‘would of” or something similar written…. which perhaps irritates me more than it should. However, if you’re reading this, and you occasionally make such an error, now you know: you should’ve been writing it differently all this time…

You’re wrong or right

As reflected in the title, this is another frequent mistake with written English. And yet, it’s so simple to fix. They are two different words, for two very different things. One is a possessive – as in, it is yours; it belongs to you – and the other is a shortened version of the verb to be, you are – for example, you’re a student. It really is the difference between knowing your shit (here, correct), and knowing you’re shit (here, incorrect).

There, they’re, their

Similar to the above difference, these three words are homophones. They sound the same, but are spelled differently; and meaning-wise, they are definitely not the same. “There” is an adverb. It indicates where something happened: it was over there. Or there is used as an expression: “there you are!”. “They're”, on the other hand, is the contraction of the third-person plural of the verb to be: “they are going this way” becomes “they’re going this way”. And, finally, “their” is possessive: the clothes belong to them, therefore the clothes are theirs. And there you have it: the difference between the oft-confused there, they're and their. Simple.

The ME or I conundrum

The use of me and I are frequently confused. And yet one of the irritating things is when people overcorrect to I. The rule is simple: if the person is the subject of the sentence (doing the verb), it should be I, but if he/she is the object, it should be me. An easy method of figuring it out is to remove the other subject/object in the sentence you're using and see if it still makes sense. For example, if you say: “Meg and me went to the shops”, you can see it's wrong because if you remove Meg, it becomes “me went to the shops”, and it is obvious it should be I. However, this is a mistake that has been so often corrected that now I frequently hear people using “I” when they should actually be using “me”. For example, someone might say, “He took my friend and I to the park”; yet, if we remove the “my friend”, it becomes, “he took I to the park”, which again you can see is wrong (which is even more frustrating if someone corrects the other person to use I!). It is a case of seeing if it still makes sense if you remove who/whatever is accompanying the me/I in the sentence.

Overuse of the word like... it’s like so annoying

The first few errors were written; this one is spoken. But, unfortunately, it is even more common. I once had a student, who was a beginner in English, raise her hand and ask me, “What is ‘Got like’?” To which I replied, “Got like?” That doesn’t mean anything”. “No I hear it all the time,” she answered: “I hear got like.” I was wracking my brain for some English construction which includes the phrase “got like” that I had missed but came up with nothing. After a few confusing moments, it dawned on me where she might’ve heard this; it was probably from some tourist saying “I got like five euros left” or something. And when you listen for it, people use “like” ALL the time. It has replaced um, and who needs to say “said” anymore? When instead you can say: “He was like ‘I know’”...

I hold my hands up and say that I have also been guilty of this one. After all, it's contagious and if you're spending time with people who use it a lot, so will you. But it's something I really do try to stop doing if I catch myself. After all, it detracts from the real meaning of the word “like” as well as from what you're saying.

So there you have a few of my pet peeves when it comes to spoken and written inaccuracies. I have a feeling this might resonate with a few readers... I know (or at, least I hope) I'm not the only “Grammar Nazi” out there.


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