Grammar Tip #12: A Girl Like I

Easing back into grammar tips now that the thesis is well done…

“A girl like I never gets to meet really interesting men. One’s brain gets to be starved.”

I’ve just been watching Marilyn Monroe as Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Could she be more excellent? So dumb and smart at the same time! And HOT. Like when she’s dancing with Piggy and they show her in that clingy dress from the back with her tiny waist and…

Oops–I’m heading in the wrong direction. What I wanted to write about was how Marilyn uses “I” instead of “me” to sound smarter. If most people heard the quotation above, they would know it was wrong–which is why it works so well in the film. But if Marilyn had said “girls like Dorothy and I,” many people, at least nowadays, wouldn’t even notice the error. This is why it works well to check your sentence with the other person taken out to figure out whether it should be I or me.

E.g. Come visit Georgie and I whenever you want.

Would you say “Come visit I whenever you want”? No. So say, “Come visit Georgie and me whenever you want.” That is the correct way.

See also Grammar Tip #2. I had to post this continuation of Tip #2 because I hadn’t been able to find any actual lines that Lorelei said when I posted the original tip.

No Time to Blog!

Oy vey, it has been so long since I posted anything. I am hard at work getting my graphic novel in shape to send out to publishers by August 2007. So there may not be much new over the summer. Though you never know–I am getting a Graphire tablet soon… Thanks for checking in.



Grammar Tip #11: Spit? Spat? Spitted?

The other day I walked by a mom who was saying to her kid, “It’s ‘spit,’ not ‘spitted’!” She seemed quite angry.

I don’t know why this bothers me so much, but I cannot stand it when people use “spit” as the past tense of “spit,” instead of using “spat.” I looked it up in the Oxford Canadian, and they say you can use either. But I think “spat” sounds more intelligent. Plus that’s what I learned when I was young.

So I would say to any kids or adults who want to talk about spitting in the past tense, “It’s not ‘spit’ and it’s not ‘spitted.’ It’s ‘spat’!”

They would probably tell me to get a life.

Grammar Tip #10: Theirs More To This Tip Than There Saying

It has been so long since I wrote a grammar tip! What with surgery in November and a profound depression brought on by rampant spelling and grammar errors in award-winning books (latest is The History of Love by Nicole Krauss), I have just not been up to the task.

Here is a tiny kvetch.

People everywhere need to stop confusing “there,” “they’re” and “their.”

The most common use of “there” means “in, at or to that place or position.”
“They’re” is the contraction of “they are.”
“Their” is the possessive form of “they.”

So here is some creative dialogue to illustrate the tip.

“Where are Jack and Fred?”
“They’re out back in their tree fort playing with their Barbies.”
“Because the Barbies like it there.”

Grammar Tip #9: Not Your Everyday Tip

Another hot tip from Sarah’s Dad:

Do not confuse everyday and every day.

In spelling two-word phrases there is a trend toward uniting the two words into a single word. Often there is an intermediate stage in which the two words are joined by a hyphen (flower pot, flower-pot, flowerpot). In many cases, however, it is important to distinguish between the one-word form and the two-word form of a compound.

This is usually obvious in the case of compound verbs. The verb carry over means to continue or postpone, while the noun carryover is what has been continued or postponed. Other words seem trickier because the meanings of the different forms are close.

The single word everyday means “ordinary, usual, unremarkable.” In the sense of a routine or recurring event, it can also mean “happening daily.” Here are some everyday examples.

An everyday occurrence. An everyday experience.

Everyday prices.

I look forward to my everyday yoga session.

She quit her everyday job.

In contrast, the two-word phrase every day means “on each day.” It is just like the phrases “every minute,” “every hour,” “every week,” “every time,” etc., all of which are also spelled as two separate words.

I have this experience every day.

Low prices every day.

I look forward to my yoga session every day.

The two-word phrase every day can also mean “all days”: She loved every day of her job.

Other pairs that have distinct meanings include altogether and all together, already and all ready, and compounds using the word any.

I’ve already done that. — I’m all ready for the dance.

She’s altogether too polite. — She gathered them all together in the kitchen.

Anyone would know that. — Any one of you would know that.

Anyway, I certainly knew it. — Any way you look at it, they deserved it.

In all these cases, stop and consider the actual meaning of the compound in the sentence you are writing. All right, folks, that’s enough for today, and maybe every day.

Grammar Tip #8: Spend A While With My Dad

It was taking me so long to get another grammar tip posted, I knew I needed help. So I emailed my dad and asked if he would be a Guest Grammar Tipper. And he said, “Oy! I can’t do it right now. Maybe tomorrow.” But within an hour I received the following. He is obsessed. That is why I am so weird.

Rob teaches Zev some grammar
(this is Dad explaining the following rule to my nephew Zev)

A While and Awhile
By Robert Leavitt
Do not confuse a while and awhile. The noun a while means “a relatively short period of time.” The adverb awhile means “for a short time”; in other words, awhile is equivalent to “for a while.” The following examples illustrate the differences.

She spent a while on the telephone.

She was playing cards awhile this afternoon.

Wait for a while before you go out. Wait awhile before you go out.

It’s not always easy to tell which term is correct. A good rule of thumb is that if you can substitute “for a short time” then you can use awhile. See how this works in the next two sentences (and try it in the other sentences here, too).

She waited (for a short time). — Therefore, She waited awhile is correct.

She waited quite (for a short time). — This doesn’t make sense; therefore, you must write She waited quite a while.

If you remember that prepositions (in, after, for, etc.) are followed by nouns, then you can avoid spelling errors in the following situations.

Lunch will be ready in a while.

He got the hang of it after a while.

At the beginning of a sentence, a while is almost always a noun.

A while later, he returned from the store.

A while ago, I received a cheque for $500.

So, stop awhile! Take a while to decide on the correct spelling!

Grammar Tip #7: Avoid “excessive” and “inappropriate” use of “quotation marks”

Quotation marks can be used for a number of purposes. They can indicate dialogue, a word used as a word (see Tip #6), slang, epithets or nicknames, titles, or, my favourite, irony. Like so:

Amy said, “Please come with me to the coronation, dearest.”

Remember when “depilation” was a dirty word in our crowd of lesbian feminists?

Where I come from, we call notebooks “scribblers.” (See Geist Magazine’s Canadian Phrasebook for more sentences about Canadian slang.)

Many people know me as Sarah “the Pathetic Grammar Weirdo With Nothing Else to Do on the Weekend” Leavitt.

I have always loved “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” by John Donne.

Word is that Anchal on America’s Next Top Model is “fat.”

There are other uses, too. But all too often, quotation marks are misused. As on this sign I saw in Prince Rupert, BC last summer:


Here, quotation marks are used incorrectly for emphasis. But we read it as irony. So it’s as if the sign is saying we shouldn’t really drive slowly. Or the people who made the sign didn’t mean us to understand the common definition of “slow” but maybe some other meaning that only locals know.

Here is another example, from BC Ferries:


See what I mean? Do not use quotation marks willy-nilly. It makes people laugh at messages that are supposed to be taken seriously.

PS The quotation marks in the title of this post are excessive and inappropriate and undermine the serious nature of what I am trying to say.

Grammar Tip #6: Plurals and Apostrophes

I have a job marking students’ papers this fall, and one of the most common errors I see is the misuse of apostrophes in plurals. More often than not, students will insert unneccessary apostrophes. I imagine them saying to themselves, “Does this take an apostrophe? I’m not sure, because no one ever taught me. Oh well, I’ll throw one in. Better safe than sorry.”

In most cases, a simple “s” forms a plural. No apostrophe needed. So we write:

4 arms
27 cash registers
18 boys
5 trucks

(I am not sure what this adds up to, but the point is that there are no apostrophes.)

And, contrary to popular belief, we do not use an apostrophe in the plural forms of proper names. So the cute carved and painted wooden signs outside houses that say, “The Smith’s” or “The Cohen’s” are WRONG. Even if the signs were intended to indicate the possessive–i.e. “The Smiths’ House” or “The Cohens’ Cottage”–the apostrophe is still in the wrong place. But that is another topic.

These are the only rare cases where an apostrophe is required along with the “s”:

1. Words used as words:
When you are talking about a certain word, and put it in quotations, the plural is formed with an apostrophe. For example:

Sarah loves to use the word “wrong.” How many “wrong’s” do you think there are on this whole website?


His letter to his lover was full of meaningless “I love you’s.”

If you use italics to indicate a word as a word, you just use a roman (non-italicized) “s” to form the plural:

i love you

2. Abbreviations with more than one period:

Bob just has one B.A., but Shelly was in school for decades and ended up with two B.A.’s and an M.A. too.

Abbreviations with just one period, like “ed.” for “editor” just have an “s” added before the period, like so: “eds.”

3. Letters used as letters:
An example of a letter used as a letter would be:

The plural is usually formed by adding an “s.”

According to the Chicago Manual of Style, letters used as letters should be written in italics, and the plural is then formed by adding a roman “s.”

But when you use roman type or quotation marks, the plural is formed with an apostrophe, just as in #1 above. This is especially true if there would be confusion without the apostrophe. For example:

There are a lot of “I’s” in your story; it would read more smoothly if you took yourself out of it.

Without the apostrophe, “I” and “s” would spell “is.”

Grammar Tip #5: Some Words That Are Not Really Words At All

Just a short tip (and a late one) for this week:

Here are two words that people use that are not actually words at all. Please do send along more. What a fun rainy day activity!

Preventative and exploitive are not words. The real words are preventive and exploitative. How do we know? Because we say, “prevention,” not “preventation.” Similarly, we say “exploitative” because the noun form is “exploitation.”

Grammar Tip #4: Less or Fewer

A lot of cyclists have a sticker on their bikes that says “One Less Car.” I fully support the sentiment, but the grammar sucks. It should say “One Fewer Car” or “One Car Fewer.” Why?

You use “fewer” when talking about things you can count, like bicycles or people or cars or traffic accidents.

You use “less” when talking about a quantity of something that cannot be counted, like sugar or happiness or guilt or rain.

“Less” is more commonly misused than “fewer.” These are incorrect:
More bicycles means less cars.
There have been a lot less accidents since they put in speed bumps.
There’s been a lot less people coming by the store today.

You can sometimes use “less” with countable items if those items together form a unit, like “less than ten feet”– the ten feet are not ten separate countable items, but one unit. Similarly, you would say something cost “less than five dollars.”

If you see someone hovering around a bike rack with a Sharpie, that’s me.