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Monday, November 09, 2015

Tools to Tackle Grammar Gaffes

The following blog post is shared by permission from the Steve Laube Agency blog 

Tools to Tackle Grammar Gaffes
by Karen Ball @KarenBall1

Oh my. We all have our peccadillos when it comes to English, don’t we? If I addressed them all, we’d be here til next year. So I’ll just give you the cheats…uh, tips I use most often.

Don’t be afraid of me.
Poor ol’ me has been sorely maligned, as it should be when used incorrectly. Usage such as “Jim n’ me will be happy to talk with you” stirs images of uneducated, backward folk who wouldn’t know a first-person, singular pronoun if it bit them on their knobby noses. But the answer is not to eschew me in favor of what some consider the more intelligent sounding I—not unless the usage is correct. So how do you know? Well, I could wax eloquent on subjects and objects in a sentence, but I’ve learned that there are many out there—yes, even writers– who can’t identify such in a sentence. As one such writer pointed out to me recently, grammar school was a looooong time ago. So here’s a simple test. Ask yourself, “If I took the other person out of the sentence, would the proper pronoun be I or me?” Let’s use the Jim sentence from last week: “Just give Jim and I a call” would become “Just give I a call.” Nope. Doesn’t work. So this should be, “Just give Jim and me a call…” Now let’s take Jim out of today’s me sentence: “Me will be happy to talk with you.” Unless you’re two years old, that just doesn’t work. So bring on the I! “Jim and I will be happy to talk with you.”

Myself reflects me or I.
Words like myself, himself, herself, themselves are…wait for it…reflexive pronouns. They can only refer back to the subject of a sentence—oops. Sorry. Hmmm…how about this: Don’t worry about the why of it, just remember Myself reflects me or I. Think about it. What do you need to have a reflection? Someone looking in the window, mirror, etc. So you can’t use a self pronoun unless you’ve already used I or me  or him (and so on) in the sentence. For example, last week’s line from the commercial–“This product was tested by myself”–doesn’t work, because there’s no I or me that comes before the reflection. Now, it could say “I myself tested this product.” That’s fine, because you’ve got I to create the reflection. Should be, “This product has been tested by me and others in the medical field…” (I’m not even going to address the passive voice used in the commercial…sheesh!)

Fewer counts, less doesn’t.
If you can count the individual items you’re referring to one by one, use fewer. So in the grocery line, it’s “10 items or fewer” because you can count the individual items. Or “There are fewer steps than you imagine to getting this right,” because you can count the steps. But it’s “There’s less water in my glass than in Steve’s” because you can’t get in there and count each bit of H2O individually. Go ahead. Try it. I dare ya.

Which doesn’t matter.
Which phrases are parenthetical, meaning they’re plopped into sentences to give information you may want to know but they don’t alter the meaning of the sentence. For example, “The phrase ‘Which doesn’t matter,’ which Karen shared with us in her blog, helps you know when to use which or that.” If you pull “which Karen shared with us in her blog” out of the sentence, it still has the same overall meaning (that the phrase helps you know what to do): “The phrase ‘Which doesn’t matter’ helps you know when to use which or that.” However, consider: “The key phrase that Karen uses to know when to use which or that is ‘Which doesn’t matter.’” This sentence isn’t so much about the phrase itself, but about the fact that it’s the phrase I use. If you pull “that Karen uses” from the sentence, the overall meaning is changed and the sentence is again about
the phrase, not my use of the phrase.

Karen Ball has been blessed to use her love of words and story during over 30 years in publishing. Karen built  and led successful fiction lines for Tyndale, Multnomah, Zondervan, and, most recently, the B&H Publishing Group. As a literary agent at The Steve LaubeAgency, she’s had the honor of discovering several best-selling novelists, including Francine Rivers, Karen Kingsbury, Sharon Ewell Foster, Liz Curtis Higgs, and, most recently, Ginny Yttrup, whose debut novel Publisher’s Weekly declared “a masterpiece!” Karen has also worked with numerous top authors, including Angela Hunt, Robin Jones Gunn, Robin Lee Hatcher, Brandilyn Collins, and many others. In addition, Karen is a best-selling, award-winning novelist and a popular speaker. She lives in Oregon with her husband, father, and two four-legged, furry “kids.”


  1. Karen, I am always in awe of those who have terrific grammar. I have to work at this skill. Thanks for the tips.

    BTW: Love your books, but still my favorite of all is "Wilderness". That and the town with a 1/2 in the population for the dog.


  2. Interesting article. I am constantly noticing people in high places using "I" incorrectly. I recognize that we all make mistakes but using "I" when it is clearly the object and not the subject of the sentence multiple times in a conversation, meeting, or sermon is simply unacceptable. I know someone who always uses the word "rather" even though most of the time, he should be using "whether". I discussed it with him once and the response was that it was too much trouble to remember the correct usage. Poor grammar detracts from the message the person is trying to convey.


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