Peeve Alert: Reflexive Pronouns
Posted by June on January 15, 2018


Reflexive pronouns can get you in trouble with nitpickers. Example:

I'd like to thank everyone on behalf of Robert and myself.

Here, the reflexive pronoun myself is being used in place of a regular personal pronoun: me. That's not exactly the job reflexive pronouns were born to do.

The main job of reflexives is to suggest the subject of the verb is doing something to himself.

I talked myself out of it.

She cried herself to sleep. 

He gave himself a raise.

If you want to stay in the lanes of what's considered proper reflexive pronoun use, here's a simple trick: Never use a reflexive where a regular personal pronoun would do.

Thanks for visiting Barb and myself can be Thanks for visiting Barb and me. John and myself will plan the party can be John and I will plan the party.

Language is flexible enough that you can sometimes get away with using reflexives as personal pronouns. But in formal situations, or anytime you're worried you're being judged, don't.

Spell-Check Won't Save You
Posted by June on January 8, 2018
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If you use Twitter and you're interested in real-world insights from working editors, check out the hashtags #SpellCheckCannotSaveYou #SpellCheckWontSaveYou and #SpellCheckCantSaveYou. They contain lots of real-world examples of writing mistakes that your spell-checker is powerless to prevent.

For example, if you searched Twitter today for #SpellCheckWontSaveYou, one of the recent posts you would see is from a user who goes by Mededitor, a professional medical editor whom I count among my online friends: “It is a principal that is understood by the companies.”

An extra hashtag he threw in, “#AmEditing,” tells you where he found this example sentence.

“Principal” is an error. The writer meant “principle,” which is a fundamental law, doctrine or assumption. Spell check didn’t save the writer. Mededitor did.

And there are plenty more. Here's a column I wrote about some more choice examples.

A reminder about comma splices
Posted by June on January 2, 2018
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I used to never notice comma splices. Now I see them everywhere.

It's not that I don't like cake, it's that I'm full.

It's easy to see why the writer of a sentence like that one didn't think to break it in two. It's common to put two complete ideas into a single sentence. But usually, that means inserting a conjunction.

I appreciate the offer of cake, but I'm full.

Without a conjunction to join them, two complete clauses separated by a comma create a comma splice, which is an error. But it's easy to fix. If a conjunction can play a logical role between the clauses, you can insert one.

He sings and he dances.

If not, you can break the comma-splice sentence in two.

He sings. He dances.

Or you can use a semicolon.

He sings; he dances.

8 Ways to Overcome Fear of Being Wrong About Grammar
Posted by June on December 26, 2017

“Teachers are often scared of grammar.”

That’s the unhappy verdict of an article posted on the UK-based teacher support website

“The fear of being wrong with grammar is huge — the fear of being exposed,” University of Exeter professor Debra Myhill told the site. “You don’t get that as a literature teacher, because everything is about opinion — there’s no right or wrong. You can’t wing it as a grammar teacher.”

I stay out of education debates. I don’t have kids in school. I’m not a teacher. And I’ve heard enough uninformed criticisms of hard-working teachers to know that I don’t want to add another uninformed voice to the discussion.  But there's one thing I can offer: hope.

Here's my recent column offering 8 ways to overcome fear of being wrong about grammar.