We’ll All Be Grunting Soon Enough

by James Scott Bell

Unfortunate autocorrect at a Canadian pizza joint. (Click to enlarge)

It’s no secret that grammar is as endangered as the Chinese box turtle. It used to be thought, and taught, that knowing how to put sentences together into a coherent form was the foundation of education, communication, indeed civilization itself. Without it, we can’t pass on ideas or cooperate in an enterprise (as the builders of the Tower of Babel found out. “Hey Gomer, hand me a trowel!” “Eh???” “A trowel, curse you, a trowel!” “Unh???”)

Now, I’m not a “get off my lawn” kind of fellow (unless, of course, you are on my lawn), but I have to ask what in the hey-diddle we’re doing to ourselves. Seems like every day I run across sloppy language online. I’m not talking about X or that ilk, which is a lost cause due to haste, sloth, and/or indifference. I mean in (formerly) legit newspapers and serious blogs.

In the good old days when journalists were actually reporters who wanted to get a story right, they studied grammar and style. They all had Strunk & White and the AP or Chicago Manual of style on their desks. They had editors who knew their stuff and could hammer that stuff into you.

All that’s gone now. Everybody it seems is a grammar rogue, and just don’t care.

Here are 12 examples of grammar/style transgressions I’ve collected. See if you can spot the errors. Answers to follow:

  1. Brock Purdy, Iowa State alumni and current San Francisco 49ers quarterback is engaged to girlfriend Jenna Brandt.
  2. Headline: Kirby Smart Shares Heartwarming Story About Stetson Bennett And His Son.
  3. It’s been a wondrous collaboration for Bill and I. He and I have complimentary careers.
  4. Apple optioned Haberman’s book – which was an immediate bestseller – earlier this year but the project is now off the cards.
  5. Of course, non-Catholics, and even many Catholics, will find these claims incredulous.
  6. It was very, very illegal. Mirco was definitively out of play and the penalty flag was thrown as players from both sides got up in each other’s faces and exchanged pleasantries….Mirco was defenseless and it could have ended very poorly.
  7. Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan, a longtime Democratic donor and former employer of Crist, sounded glum in an interview with CNN: “I think Charlie has a very, very tough road to hoe. And I’ve pissed money away before.”
  8. Prince Philip died in 2021 aged 99, just two months before his century.
  9. The Colts were knocking on the doorstep.
  10. Trying to figure out when this will happen essentially amounts to a speculative guessing game.
  11. Which doesn’t quite jive with Sunday’s piece.
  12. I don’t know if the victory that’s already been had will get the attention commiserate with its significance.


  1. Alumni is plural. The proper word is alumnus. If you really want to get into the weeds (and be sure to bring your weed whacker for protection) these are male nouns. Alumna and alumnae are female nouns. But pointing all this out is liable to result in a plethora of exploding crania, so you know what I’d use? The colloquial alum. Problem solved! (There should also be a comma after quarterback.)
  2. Stetson Bennett doesn’t have a son. Kirby Smart does. Should have been: Story About His Son And Stetson Bennett.
  3. While the word wondrous is technically okay, the better word is wonderful. Wondrous usually connotes fantasy. In the second sentence the word should be complementary (meaning harmonious). Not complimentary (which means flattering). And in the first sentence is the ubiquitous mistake of using I where me is the right choice. Just stop doing that! It’s such a simple thing to correct if you’re confused. Just say the sentence with only you in it. It’s been a wonderful collaboration for I. Does that sound right to you? (If you said Yes, stop right here and give me twenty pushups…on my lawn.)
  4. It’s either off the table or not in the cards.
  5. Incredulous always refers to a person or persons. Incredible is the right word.
  6. While I would have chosen definitely, the word definitively is okay in this context. But not very, very illegal (as opposed to just illegal?). The word very is flabby. Using it twice does not add anything, nor even once at the end. If you thought other’s might be an error and others’ correct, the simple rule is that after the word each the word other is always singular.
  7. When speaking (or writing dialogue) a person may use very, very colloquially. But it’s very, very hard to hoe a road. Farmers prefer hoeing rows.
  8. Centenary.
  9. You have to take a knee to knock on a doorstep. Knocking on the door is much easier.
  10. Redundant. All guessing games are speculative.
  11. Unless you’re dancing, jibe is the word.
  12. Unless you’re in mourning, the word is commensurate.

And while things go wrong all the time in tweets (or Xs), and it is too easy to hop on mistakes, sometimes typos are howlers, like this self-defeating line: Your ignirance is not a good look.

So please, people, don’t be ignirant about your grammar.

What say you? Is good grammar a lost cause? As Jimmy Stewart puts it in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, “Sometimes lost causes are the only causes worth fighting for.” Is this one worth it?

49 thoughts on “We’ll All Be Grunting Soon Enough

  1. Please keep fighting the good grammar fight.

    Otherwise the junk like alright will be taken for granite.

    My ears and eyes hurt.

    But I only apply rules and possible corrections to professionals who, if they don’t know where to put the apostrophes on plurals (and only when said plurals are being possessive), should go learn to. It’s their job.

    Easy fix is to check everything for a couple of months: and make an effort to retain the information. We have a tendency to make the same mistakes every time. Keep a list. My general reference is The Handbook of Good English, Edward D. Johnson. He explains why and provides examples.

    It’s gotten so bad that even when I’m right, and the bit in question is incorrect, I still check to be sure. Doesn’t hurt.

      • My greatest fear is that I’ll get it’s or its WRONG on something I’ve written which is in public – and I can’t edit. The incorrect versions are so ubiquitous MY brain is starting to get overwhelmed – and the fingers type the wrong version.

        Okay, not my BIGGEST fear, but you know what I mean.

  2. Absolutely worth it. But I’m a ‘get off my lawn’ kinda gal. The spelling and use of multiple punctuation marks irk me!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. The fun thing about grammar and punctuation (and grammar and punctuation *are* fun) is that you’re always learning. In editing my current book, I noticed I used a lot of ellipsis, and I began to wonder if I was using them correctly. Turns out, I wasn’t. Apparently, this … is correct, not…this. (Sometimes Google is you friend.) So, I went back over the manuscript and took most of them out.

  4. Spill Czech and Auto Phil will be the death of us all… but there, their, they’re…

    Now, wear was eye?

    I’m a Strunk and Whiter myself, plus I still have notes from (and memories of), my high school English teacher, Mr. Smith (no relation), patiently correcting me and my fellow knuckleheads on outlining, proper punction, and word choice and order (something Georgia alum Kirby Smart and his son would appreciate).

  5. I totally missed “complimentary” in number three! Grammar does trip me up at times, but I think grammar matters if for no other reason than to know when to break the rules.

    “Whenever” used for “when” bugs me.

  6. I’m still fighting the use of alright.
    I know language evolves, but I still cringe every time I see it. Thanks, Miss Cook. And Mr. Holtby. And Mrs. Wolfe.

  7. So true, Jim! Incorrect spelling, grammar, and punctuation bug me no end. The more often sloppiness is repeated, the more acceptable it sounds. Errors become ubiquitous.

    George, thanks for mentioning Spill Czech and Auto Phil. Those combined with Chat GPT have become indispensable tools, no matter how wrong they are.

    Dictation software contributes even more errors. I shudder at AI-generated close captioning in news, interviews, lectures, etc.

    Ugh, ergh, umph.

  8. Everyone, it seems is a grammar rogue and just don’t care.

    Question: is “Everybody” a singular noun? It sounds so to me.
    My ears start to hurt when I hear TV newsreaders confuse singulars and plurals.

    • This would make for a great essay question on a grammer test, Hedley. Thanks for bringing it up. Since the worde doesn’t doesn’t work in the last clause, I wonder if it’s proper to infer a hidden they, which is what I was hearing. Or if I should have put the word in there. It is correct the “everyone” is singulage, but the set off creates a reference to the whole bunch of them. Do I get a B or a D?

  9. I’m with you 100 %. Modern technology is part of the problem. This site, like many others, changes its to it’s. You have to backspace and correct it.

  10. Number 2 is a grammatical mistake only if one knows about the families involved. As it stands, it’s simply a false statement.
    Question: Should the “A” in the headline in Number 2 be lower case like it would be in titles?
    Comment: I don’t think of many of these errors as “grammatical” errors but errors in usage (semantics) and style.
    Confession: I have to admit to not knowing the word ‘centenary,’ so I let ‘century’ go as the author’s neologism. If I’m around in twenty years I’ll be sure to use ‘centenary.”
    Thanks for the reminders and the fun exercise, though, of course, you’re [not ‘your’] preaching to the choir. Your preaching is appreciated [weak use of passive voice].

    • Yeah, Eric, I did specify these are grammer and style errors. The headline is a grammatical error because it connects the noun to the wrong name. I presume whoever (whomever!) wrote the headline read the actual story and knew who the son belonged to (or, to whom the son belonged!)

      BTW, I copied the headline as it appeared. You’re quite right that it was not in proper title case.

  11. Is this one worth it?

    I vote yes! The death of good grammar spells the death of the art of communication, and heaven knows we need to communicate with each other these days.

    Maybe that’s really what Gandalf was talking about when he planted his sword and yelled at the monster, YOU SHALL NOT PASS!

    Happy Sunday!

  12. I laughed out loud at the image, Jim. What a way to start the day!

    I’ve also noticed simple mistakes in news reporting that would have made my fifth grade teacher pull her hair out. (Or maybe pull out the hair of the reporter.)

    You mention a couple of errors that make me cringe when I hear them. One of them is using “alumni” in place of the singular “alumnus” or “alumna.” But I can understand that since it is a Latin term. However, using “I” in place of “me” in the objective case seems to be more and more common. And on the flip side, how about “Me and Jake went to the store.”? I seem to be in a constant state of cringiness.

  13. What an amusing post, Jim. Thanks for the giggles! Grammar *is* important, even in texts, IMO, which I also punctuate. I drive my family nuts when I text back the correct spelling of their misspelled word. 😉

  14. Grammar is not a lost cause, though it does seem like it times. Take my first, second and third drafts for instance. Thanks, I’ll be here all week.

    Joking aside, I benefit from not only reading my own work aloud, but having beta readers and a copy editor go over my manuscript. A lot of the issues raised above might have been avoided if someone else had helped proof the writing. That said, even a team can miss things.

    In the end, grammar is an ongoing work in progress.

    • I know I make mistrakes in blog posts and the like, even when I run a piece through Grammarly. Wish I had a dedicated editor who used to work for the New York Herald-Tribuen. He’d be around 120 by now, but would definitiely know his stuff.

  15. Proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation are very, very, VERY important!!!!!!! 😉

    It used to be that one could read a published piece and know these things were correct. Now, errors jump out at me from everything I read, including in the flood of political flyers we were receiving before the Iowa caucuses.

    One error that bugs me is the qualifier ‘only’ used in the improper place.
    I only like catsup on my hotdogs.
    I like only catsup on my hotdogs.
    The first one means I don’t like anything else in my life except hotdogs with catsup. Which I don’t like. I like only mustard on mine. 🙂

    I blame this on the school systems. (The lack of decent teachers, not my preference for mustard.) I have four grandchildren in public school, and they ask me to check things they’ve written. The other day I was checking a paper that was so full of errors, I could barely get through it. I started making corrections and my grandson, who is fifteen and taking honors classes, said, “Oh, my teacher doesn’t count those things as errors.” I tried not to faint. My daughter homeschools her children, and they are practically experts on grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

    Anyway, keep up the good work. Someone has to.

  16. This will sound extreme to some, but the fact we live in a culture where words like “good” and “evil” and “man” and “woman” have no fixed meaning trickles down to everyday grammar and speech.

    • Or an acid drip (as opposed to acid trip, if you remember the 60s. But you know what they say: If you can remember the 60s you weren’t there. I do remember, but I was just a kid. I only tripped out on Good & Plenty.

  17. Even as a former English and writing teacher, I’ve gone numb to what is laughably called human communication. What really gets me are the giant blocks of text with no pronunciation or capitals. FINNEGAN’S WAKE’s stream of consciousness was easier to read.

  18. Great post, Jim. “Its” and “it’s” will be the death of me. My brain absolutely knows the difference. But when I’m writing or editing the little buggers, my fingers and eyes disconnect from my brain.

    Hope you’re staying safe and dry out in So Cal today.

  19. I’m teaching personal pronouns to a group of High School students today and coincidentally, I have that no. 3 part already written down in my lesson plan.

    It states that ‘When unsure of which pronoun to use (such as ‘It’s been a wonderful collaboration for him and me’), read the sentence with a pronoun,’ just as Mr Bell did here.

    It’s been a wonderful collaboration for him (not he).

    It’s been a wonderful collaboration for me (not I).

    Also, I’ve always believed that for the sake of politeness, when using two or three pronouns (or nouns) that include the 1st, 2nd and 3rd persons, the 2nd person should come first and the 1st person last, for the sake of politeness.

    You, Jake and I went to the store. √
    Jake and I went to the store. √
    I and Jake went to the store. ×

    Just wondering… Has that rule changed?

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