Words. I love words. I love almost all words. I love language, actually. But the words must be spelled correctly. And the syntax must be coherent. Grammar needs to be right. I have difficulty with sloppy or unclear writing. If I have to read a sentence or paragraph more than once to understand what the writer intended, I get frustrated until I work out what they meant and fix the writing for them. I worked as a secretary for nearly 20 years. This was my job – to get it right. My “gift” to the world is finding typos, misspellings, and other such errors – after it’s too late to fix!
On to words, misspelled words or the wrong word used in a particular case. These drive me nuts. (I’ll tell you, though, that’s a short distance for me!) And they’re getting more and more common. I guess they’re getting more common because the writers don’t care about the subtle differences or have never learned to spell or use a dictionary or even pay attention to the little red squiggly lines under misspelled words used in many programs, such as Word.
There, they’re, and their.
“There” is related to “here”. But it’s over “there”. See how “here” and “there” are related? “There” is “here” with an added “t”. Remember that. By the way, “where” is in that family, too. “Where” is “here” with an added “w”.
“They’re” is a contraction for “they are”. Read it out loud in your sentence when you proofread. (Proofread? What’s that?) If the sentence makes sense when you say “they are” instead of “there” or “their”, then you’ve got the right word. If not, you don’t.
“Their” is the possessive for “they”. Notice the relationship between “their” and “they”. You don’t? Let’s try this. “You live in that house, so that’s your house.” Notice how “you” became “your”? That’s what’s happening with “they” and “their”. The sentence would read, “They live in that house, so that’s their house.” “You” added an “r” to make “your”. “They” needs to add any “r” to make “theyr”. Oh wait, that doesn’t work quite right. Oh, yeah. Change the “y” to an “i”, then add the “r”. “They” then becomes “their”. Do you see that relationship now? Does that make sense? I hope so.
It’s and Its.
“It’s” is a contraction for “it is”. Just like “they’re”, read your sentence out loud and say “it is” in place of the contraction. If it works, you’ve got the right word. If it doesn’t, you don’t. “The dog was licking it’s paw.” Read that out loud. It will say, “The dog was licking it is paw.” That doesn’t make sense. So the word that is needed is “its” – without the apostrophe. “The dog was licking its paw.” I’ve noticed that most “smart” phones correct “its” to “it’s”. Those phones aren’t that smart. Be smarter than your phone.
Whoa and “woah”
“Whoa” means to stop. Horses are often trained to stop when the rider says, “whoa”. This word became part of the language in general usage. Then a few years ago (okay, many years ago), we stared saying things like, “Whoa! You don’t really mean that, do you?” This has been in the language for several years. I know. I grew up in it. Yes, I’m that old. Now, for some inexplicable reason, people are using “woah”. “Woah” isn’t a word. It’s a bastardized spelling of “whoa”. People are now saying (and writing), “Woah! You don’t really mean that, do you?” Don’t go there. The word you want is “whoa”. Thank you.
Voila! and viola
“Viola” is a stringed instrument slightly larger than a violin. You hold it under your chin and drag a bow across it to make sounds. When done right, it’s beautiful. When done inexpertly, it hurts my ears. “Viola” can also be a woman’s name. Don’t use this word unless your talking about a large violin or Viola Davis.
“Voila!”, however, is another word entirely. It’s a French word that means: “see there!” It’s usually used with an exclamation point to make a point. The word is often connected to the magician who produces the rabbit out of the hat and says, “Voila!” Presto, changeo. Do you get the point, now?
I’m one that has difficulty proofreading my own writing. I know what I wanted it to say, so it says that. One way to proofread your own stuff, is to read it backwards. Start at the bottom and read it backwards, word for word, back to the beginning. It’s a learned skill to proofread your own writing, so maybe you need to get someone else (who’s good at it) to proofread your stuff. I have a friend and a husband that I borrow occasionally for this purpose. Oh, and pay attention to those little red squiggly lines under the words! Preferably before going to print.
Do you have pet peeves about misspelled words or language and its uses or misuses?
Can you pass this test from 1895?
1. Give nine rules for the use of Capital Letters.
2. Name the parts of speech and define those that have no modifications.
3. Define Verse, Stanza, and Paragraph.
4. What are the principal parts of a verb? Give principal parts of do, lie, lay, and run.
5. Define Case. Illustrate each Case.
6. What is Punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of punctuation.
7 – 10. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.