There are some folks out there who truly believe writers should write perfect prose 100% of the time. That we should never make spelling errors. That we should have perfect grammar and usage at all times. Even on Facebook and Twitter. Damn fragments.
Well, that’s not the reality. Sure, most serious writers make it a point to have a good grasp of the language beyond the average person’s. However, don’t expect that we’re all members of the grammar police. I’m not. I’ve been known to break the rules of grammar on a regular basis. I usually break the rules knowingly, but not always. I do my best to correct myself and memorize the rules when I’m wrong.
However, I am not, and will never be, a grammar and usage snob. Why? Because no one is perfect. No one. I have a very poor memory. There are grammar rules I have to look up over and over again. There are grammar rules my editors have had to point out to me. Even then I might promptly forget it until it comes up again and then I might remember there was something I was supposed to remember. Usually at that point I have to look it up.
I misspell the word necessarily with some regularity and you would think eventually I’d get it. Thank the gods for spellcheck because I use it far more than I care to admit. While I rarely catch myself mixing up to and too, or their, there, they’re — I have caught myself typing isle instead of aisle and smelt instead of smelled. Hence the joke Smelt Isle for those of you who have wondered about that.
Why do I make so many mistakes? I’m human. I try to be perfect, I do, but I fail miserably at it. This is why ALL writers need editors. Admittedly I’ve hired a few questionable editors during my stint as an indie. Live and learn. My own mistakes are probably why I don’t have a lot of pet peeves when it comes to language and also the reason members of the grammar police sometimes sneer at me. (Sneer away!)
Probably the biggest grammatical pet peeve I have is when someone says, “the people that live down the street from me” as opposed to “the people who live down the street from me”. People are who, not that. On that same token I’m not going to go sideways on someone for saying, “Who are we speaking about?” instead of “Whom are we speaking of?” as some grammarians might. I once had a girlfriend who would stop an entire conversation to correct everyone’s grammatical errors; this was usually done with a smug smirk of satisfaction. I vowed early on to never become one of those people. I always found my friend’s habit of correcting everyone both obnoxious and pretentious, even though I’m sure she would have stated that good grammar was important for communication. I don’t dispute that. I simply feel there is a kinder, gentler way to correct others’ grammar without coming off as a smug, superior douchebag. Like, for example, using proper grammar to the best of our ability in hopes our good grammar will rub off on others. Or phrasing the correction as a question followed by a discussion of what you know about grammar. A smile, a shrug, and some humility would go a long way to getting your point across. Just a suggestion.
As a child I was traumatically chastised by our neighbor (who was a teacher) for saying, “Me and Connie…” instead of the correct “Connie and I.” Of course that is one of those rules you have to watch because, as I learned later in life, it’s not always so cut and dry. Sometimes “Connie and me” is correct, like if I said, “That’s something between Connie and me.” Again, I still have to look this stuff up sometimes. And I have a degree in English! Yes, I started a sentence with and, deal with it. Of course my degree is not in English Grammar. It’s in English Creative Writing and Literature. I didn’t even have to take a grammar class in college even though I probably should have. I can tell you who wrote Dr. Faustus and even discuss Chaucer with you at some length. We could even have a brilliant discussion about Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner. But if you want to talk the finer points of good grammar, you’re going to have to hold on a minute while I grab my copy of The Elements of Style.
Another consideration for you badge carrying grammar officers: When writers are writing in the first person point-of-view or writing dialogue, the prose and/or dialogue may be grammatically incorrect. Why? Because not all narrators/characters think or speak in perfect English. I hate pointing out this little caveat, but I think it has to be said. I have actually seen grammar snobs harshly critique writers for alleged grammar faux pas in a first-person novel where the narrator was clearly not an educated person. The use of the sentence “Connie and I went to the store” eludes a narrator or speaker who, because of upbringing or local dialect might say, “Me and Connie went to the store.” ::shrug:: Just sayin’…
So now you all know. Not all writers, try as we might, are grammar mavens. I have no doubt this post has at least two grammatical and/or usage errors. Any bets? 🙂