LABELS: GRAMMAR, possessives, PUNCTUATION
It's holiday greeting card season. And you know what that means: Humiliating grammar and punctuation errors. So I'm rehashing these reminders about mistakes to watch out for.
Happy holidays from the Smiths!
Notice how there's no apostrophe in that? One Smith, two Smiths. And it doesn't matter if your last name ends with S, Z or X. Happy holidays from the Williamses. Happy holidays from the Gomezes. Happy holidays from the Delacroixes. No apostrophe is needed to form the plural of a name.
Only if you were showing possession would an apostrophe apply. We're going to the Smiths' house (plural possessive). We're going to Mr. Smith's house (singular possessive). We're going to the Gomezes' house (plural possessive). We're going to Mr. Gomez's house (singular possessive).
If the opening line of your card has both a name and a greeting, separate those elements with a comma and end the sentence with a period, exclamation point, or colon.
Hi, Joe. Happy holidays, Beth! Hey, mom.
This is preferable to the more common
with comma at the end because it conforms with publishing style rules that say to set off a “direct address” like a name with a comma.
However, if you’re opening with just a name and some other word modifying it, like Dear Joe, My beloved Beth, or Dearest Mom, don’t put a comma between those. Also, a greeting like this you can end with a comma or a colon, but note that a period or exclamation point wouldn’t make as much sense because -- unlike Hey, Joe -- Dear Joe is not a complete sentence.
Christmas and New Year’s are proper nouns and are thus both capitalized. Happy and merry are not (though of course you'd capitalize them at the beginning of a sentence). Nor is holiday. New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are also proper names that should be capitalized. But dictionaries disagree on the singular new year. Webster’s New World College Dictionary lowercases new year. But Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary says to capitalize New Year. Except in the most generic of contexts, I like the capitalized New Year better.
So you could write:
Wishing you and merry Christmas and a happy New Year! or … and a happy new year!
Both are fine.
The spelling of Hanukkah can be tricky because this word is transliterated from a different alphabet, and people disagree on which English letter best represents any particular foreign sound. But if you might want to note that Hanukkah is the preferred spelling of Webster’s New World and Merriam-Webster’s and, yes, it's capitalized.
Greeting cards have a way of inviting in some of the most incriminating spelling and grammar errors (maybe we’re so worried about coming up with something to say to Grandma that we forget to police ourselves), so watch out for these common typos.
Never use of in place of have or its abbreviated form 've in the terms could’ve, would’ve, should’ve, might've, or their spelled-out forms could have, would have, should have, and might have.
Remember the difference between let’s and lets: Let’s get together in the New Year means let us get together. Whereas the one without the apostrophe is the verb to let conjugated in the third-person singular: Uncle Lou really lets his hair down during the holidays.
Remember to watch their, they’re, and there, as well as who’s and whose.
Their shows possession – We will go to their house for Christmas dinner. They’re means they are. And there is a place.
Whose shows possession – Whose turn is it to cook? Who’s is always a contraction of who is or who has: Who’s going to cook this year?
When in doubt, find out. Ask a friend, check a dictionary, or run a quick Google search.
And happy holidays!
LABELS: ADJECTIVES, GRAMMAR, IDIOMS
I was like, “No way.”
The word “like” is legend among grammar grumblers. There are several uses of "like" that they take issue with. But the one they hate most is when it's a synonym for “said.”
“I was like, ‘totally.’”
“She was like, ‘Right?’”
And so on.
This use of “like” has been annoying parents for so long now that the annoyers are becoming parents themselves. And by the time the perpetrators of X, Y or Z language atrocity enter adulthood, their language quirks usually become mainstream, accepted, correct.
No, that’s not a bad thing. That’s how pretty much every word became a word and how every correct usage today became correct usage. Everything was wrong once. So I was wondering if “like” had yet gained any respectability as a formal substitute for “said.”
I’m not finding any evidence that it has. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary does not mention the usage. And Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage, which is normally the first to defend such contested constructions, doesn’t mention it either.
So technically “I was like, ‘No way” isn’t sanctioned in formal speech yet.
Still, I kind of like it. It has a connotation that “said” does not. It suggests a reaction that may or may not have been overtly spoken. So it affords the user a freedom that “said” does not.
“I was like, ‘No way’” can mean that those were the words you spoke or that those were the words that ran silently through your head. But “I said, ‘No way’” leaves no such wiggle room. So this usage of “to be like,” which I bet will be sanctioned someday, can be a lot more fun.
LABELS: conjunctions, GRAMMAR, PRONOUNS
A friendly reminder: Don’t say “between you and I.” And don’t say “The boss wants to talk with Bob and I” or “Thanks for meeting with John and I.”
It’s me. Me, me, me. In all those sentences, “I” is a poor choice. Yes, you could argue that the “I” form is idiomatic. But why would you want to? You’re just inviting people to look down their noses at you. And because it’s just as easy to use “me,” there’s no reason to come off like you don’t know the difference between object and subject pronouns.
And if you don’t know the difference now, you will in about thirty seconds. Here goes: “I” is a subject pronoun, which means it acts as the subject of a verb. “Me” is an object pronoun, which means it works as the object of a verb or the object of a preposition. So it’s:
I am here = I is the subject of the verb am
I believe in hard work = I is the subject of the verb believe
I knocked his block off = I is the subject of the verb knocked
Kiss me = me is the object of the verb kiss
He saw me = me is the object of the verb saw
Come with me = me is the object of the preposition with
Talk to me = me is the object of the preposition to
Easy right? Yes. And contrary to popular belief, it’s just as easy when you introduce another person. Nothing changes.
She and I are here = I is a subject of the verb are
Brad and I believe in hard work = I is a subject of the verb believe
My trusty robot and I knocked his block off = I is the subject of the verb knocked
Kiss my baby and me = me is the object of the verb kiss
He saw Craig and me = me is the object of the verb saw
Come with Claire and me = me is the object of the preposition with
Talk to Steve and me = me is the object of the preposition to
When in doubt, just try the sentence without the other person. If it’s “me” when Steve, Claire and the gang are absent, it’s “me” when they’re present, too.
LABELS: WORD CHOICE
I’m a fan of the primetime comedy “Parks and Recreation.” It’s funny, endearing, smart and, as a bonus, features beauty shots of City Hall in my hometown, Pasadena, California.
The show centers around the life of Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), who in the beginning of the series was a city staffer in the parks department but who eventually gets elected to the city council. From there out, she becomes what they call a “councilor.” Not a councilmember, not a councilwoman. A councilor.
I like it.
Moons ago, I worked as a city hall reporter for a small community paper and as editor of another small community paper. In both towns, the elected local representatives called themselves “councilmembers.” If I remember right, this was also what they were called in official records and documents. But it made no difference to us. Our style was to use “councilman” or “councilwoman.”
This kind of gender specificity seems archaic, akin to terms like “lady doctor.” But after the thousand times I had to change “councilmember” to “councilwoman,” I was pretty much indoctrinated.
I don’t cover city government anymore, but I do edit stories about organizations that designate people to speak on their behalf. In their minds, one of these officials is called a “spokesperson.” But a lot like “councilmember,” “spokespersons” don’t exist in my editing universe. You’re either a spokesman or spokeswoman.
The Kool-Aid I drank must have been supersized, because “member” and “person” always sound wrong to me tacked on the end of a word like “council” or “spokes.”
A nice, generic word that sweeps all this bad blood under the rug seems just what the doctor ordered. That’s why I like “councilor.”