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Home » The Vine

The Vine: December 4, 2007

Submitted by on December 4, 2007 – 10:37 AM274 Comments

Hi Sars,


For one of my jobs, I need to compile a list of verbal pet peeves — the “if you will”s, “Joe and myself”s, and other grammar- and style-related mistakes that the unknowing often make.As I started making my list, I realized that it is very personal — the things that drive me nuts aren’t the same as my co-worker’s chief irritants.So in an effort to cover my bases, I hoped I might ask your awesome Tomato Nation readers to help out with a couple of the things people say in
conversations or in presentations that drive them craziest.I’m particularly interested in verbal tics and misused phrases and constructions.


By the way, what’s your verdict on “there’s,” as in, “There’s a lot of cars on the road today”?(I mean, it’s wrong, but it’s rampant. Can anything be done?)



Free To Be You And Myself


Dear Free,


I don’t have a huge issue with the “there’s a lot of” construction, in colloquial speech anyway; you can treat “lot” as a collective noun, I guess, if you want to find a rules-based reason why “there’s a lot of” isn’t the worst usage crime in the world, but I treat it more like the Spanish hay.My last Spanish class was quite some time ago, but if I recall correctly (and I may not), hay handily covers both the singular and the plural of “there is” or “there exists.”I think, colloquially, we’ve come to treat “there’s” the same way in English — “there’s a lot of dust in here,” “there’s 200 people coming” — not necessarily because we don’t know it’s incorrect, but because 1) we’re using it more as a state indicator, i.e. “there exists a state of 200-people-ness”; and 2) “there’s” is easier to understand in spoken conversation than “there’re.”


Short answer: I wouldn’t use it in written correspondence, except in fiction/dialogue, but in spoken language it doesn’t bother me.


Now, to the meat of your question.”Frankly”/”honestly”/”to tell the truth” is one that’s really bugging me of late — and I’m as guilty as anyone, but I’m working on it.It’s a tic, and what comes after it usually isn’t so much honesty and frankness as it is an unpopular opinion, or a statement to the effect that someone else/the reader is wrong.What’s meant, often, is not “frankly,” but rather “I disagree,” or “You’re mistaken about X,” which is fine, but just say that then.(Note: One of my mother’s pet interjections is “Oh, honestly,” and I don’t take issue with that one.)


Also, “nevermind” (it’s two words; “nevermind” is cutesy), and the rendering of the adverb “anymore” as two words.The 11C doesn’t commit to saying that a phrasing like “I don’t eat meat any more” is incorrect, only that “anymore” is preferred, but it bugs me.”I don’t have any more meat”; “I don’t eat meat anymore.”Two different uses, two different renderings.If the purpose of usage rules is clarity, well, I rest my case.






  • JS says:

    Irregardless. Then, now, and forever.

  • Shannon says:

    “Impact” as a verb.

    “Lets” for “let’s” (when the meaning is “Let’s meet to discuss this”).

    Passive voice. (For heaven’s sake, if I edit it out of a document and replace it with an appropriate active-voice construction, don’t put the passive voice back in.)

    Overuse of “to the extent that…” Lawyers are famous for this.

    “Where are you at?” for “Where are you?”

    “Lay down” for “lie down.” Thanks to my constant drilling, my five-year-old handles this better than her grown relatives.

    “Y’uns” for the collective “you.” (Apparently a regionalism in Steeler country, whence hail the aforementioned relatives.)

    “From whence” for “whence.” Maybe not technically wrong, but if you’re having an Austenian moment of inspiration, don’t ruin it with verbal clutter.

    I’ll think of more, as I know many others will.

  • K says:

    Irregardless! This one kills me.

    Them are! Them are pretty flowers. Ugh!

    What’s more…. I’m not sure where this actually stands, but I just don’t like it.

  • Slices says:

    “Try and…” He’s going to try and make it to your party. Drives me nuts.

  • Leslie says:

    How about “I could care less”?

  • Kate says:

    “Literally.” When it’s not actually literal.
    Repetition by not knowing/caring what an acronym/initialism is (HIV virus, PIN number, ATM machine, etc.)
    I think this on is a regional thing – something “needs done” instead of “needs to be done”. (The floor needs vacuumed, the editor needs shot. ;) )
    And there’s one my boss does all the time, but I can’t come up with it. She just left on vacation, so maybe I won’t have to hear it for a while. :)

  • Thomasina says:

    Here are a few of mine:

    1) Using “they” and its variants as a third person singular pronoun, as in “Someone left their book here.” or “The thief has returned, and this time they stole a laptop.” “They” should always be plural. When the gender is unknown, the correct (if somewhat awkward) way to phrase those sentences would be “Someone left his or her book here.” and “The thief has returned, and this time he or she stole a laptop.” Whenever someone is using this “they” construction because the gender of the person about whom they are speaking is unknown, it always reminds me of the circumlocution about gender that people sometimes use when they are closeted and don’t want others to know the gender of someone they are dating.

    2) Using “nother,” as in “That’s a whole nother issue.” There’s no such word as “nother;” the correct word is either “another” or “other,” as in “That’s another issue.” or “That’s a whole other issue.”

    3) People often try to describe something as “more” or “most” unique than something else, as in “That was the most unique play I ever saw.” This drives me crazy; unique is not a comparative. Something is either unique or it isn’t.

    4) It is unnecessary to say “The reason is because…” as in “The reason I was late is because my car broke down.” It is fine to use “The reason is I was late is that my car broke down,” or even better, “I was late because my car broke down.”

  • Julie says:

    My main verbal pet peeve lately is the misuse of the word literally, as in “That was LITERALLY a roller coaster ride!” It is, of course, FIGURATIVELY a roller coaster ride, with a lot of emotional ups and downs. Unless it was an actual roller coaster. It doesn’t drive me to distraction in informal conversation, but I have actually seen this usage in print a few times (and not when the authors were quoting an informal conversation, either), and that makes me mad.

  • attica says:

    “Utilize.” Use “use.” fer cryin’ in the mud!

    My mom would want me to nominate “he goes” for “he says.” She will scream at the tv whenever “he goes” is uttered. Somehow, she’s not bothered by the “he’s all” construct, which I think she recognizes as a truly slangy construct, whereas “he goes” hits her in the bad-usage wheelhouse.

  • cotterpinx says:

    One thing that used to bug the heck out of me seems to have been localized. I only encountered this when i worked in Cincinnati, OH: “your all” or more commonly “your all’s.” Ex: “I wanted to get your all’s opinion on this before i sent it out.” I think this is essentially “y’all”, except the people in Cincinnati seemed to object pretty strenuously to being thought of as Southern so they expanded it a bit to differentiate. The weird thing to me is that even though it sounds terrible, after you hear it a few times you can’t seem to think of any other way to convey the meaning. “Everybody” or “Everyone” doesn’t quite describe the sense of “all of you, specific set of people.” “All of your opinions,” i guess…

  • Shannon says:

    People who use the word “literally” for emphasis. Hands down. You don’t “literally” have 4,000 hours of schoolwork, do you? No.

  • Miss Catie says:

    Going off of your “Honestly/Frankly” peeve, my pet peeve is when people use multiple words like that in a row. I have personally heard multiple sentences that begin with some permutation of the following:

    “I really, honestly, truly, seriously have a headache.”

    Now, I’m in college where sentences like that are somewhat the norm (damn, you Grey’s Anatomy for infecting all college age females with the “seriously” virus!!), but that was a sentence I heard uttered by a 35 year old woman. The benefit is that I no longer have any doubt that she has a headache, but the the bad thing is that she is now pissed at me because I’m laughing at her.

    I also hate the overuse of the word “literally”, such as “I was literally like ‘I can’t believe you would do that!'” Or “I was so drunk I was literally puking my guts up!” I understand that people are trying to convey how serious a situation was to them, but it seems to have become just another means of hyperbole.

    I could go on for awhile…I had a high school English teacher who spent entire class periods ranting about her grammatical and structural pet peeves and so they subsequently became my own but I really, honestly, truly, actually, seriously, literally have to go.

  • Sami says:

    That is *really* subjective, clearly, because “anymore” as a construction bugs me. Every time. In my dialect/orthographic preconceptions, it’s two words, always.

    A usage tic that annoys me a lot: “At the end of the day…” It may be more Australian, mind you, but some people use it way too much.

    And people who speak in lolcat. Lolcat is to modern humour as arsenic is to the human diet. Absolutely none isn’t necessarily good, though it’s far better than too much, a tiny tiny amount is okay, and frequent doses will let you build up an immunity to it, but ultimately, it’s poison.

    Oh, and overextended metaphors the author is clearly far too fond of irritate me too.

  • Beth says:

    I fourth (fifth?) the exasperation with the use of “literally” to mean “the exact opposite of literally”. Kills me.

    Quick question, though – what’s wrong with “if you will”? I realize it can sound wordy or pretentious in some contexts, but is it actually grammatically incorrect in some way? (Sorry if I’m missing something obvious.)

  • Brigid says:

    Overuse of like: “He was like omg and I was like yeah I know.” Ugh.

    “You know” when clearly I don’t, because you haven’t told me yet.. “You know, it’s really annoying when people start a sentence with you know.”

    Irregardless definitely should top the list. THAT IS NOT A WORD, PEOPLE!

  • LadyCognac says:

    People who use ‘I’ all the time: Between you and I, blah blah. That gift is going to Susie and I. Ugh.

    People who say ‘myself’ when they mean ‘me.’ It was up to Doug and myself to do the presentation. Gah.

  • Diane says:

    > “Suppose to” (thank you so very much, Britney)

    > “The hell with it” (“TO hell” conveys a directive; “the hell” … doesn’t)

    > “100’s of cars on the lot!” etc.

    > “Whenever” for “when” (“Whenever we went to the store, we got us some beer.”)

  • Sars says:

    @Sami: Maybe the bugging is subjective, but in American English the preference is clear.

    “A whole nother” doesn’t bother me; it’s a colloquialism, like “a-fucking-men,” and I wouldn’t use it in formal writing, but that’s another one that I don’t think people believe is actually correct; it’s just something they say.

  • Plattie says:

    I have lots, but the one that’s top of my bug list currently is the confusion between the meaning of the words less and fewer.

  • Kermit says:

    “The dishes need washed.”

    “The car needs tuned-up.”

    Whatever happened to “to be?” Do you WANT to sound like an ignorant hick?

  • Karen says:

    This is not a grammar pet peeve as much as it is a pronunciation issue. And it may just be a Southern thing, who knows. But why do so many people feel the need to pronounce things with a (for lack of a better term) hard X sound? This drives me nuts during a presentation. Examples:

    axe instead of ask
    ex cetera instead of et cetera
    expresso instead of espresso

  • Georgia says:

    Heh. All the stuff about the misuse of the word “literally” cracks me up. In high school I once got in an argument with my English teacher over just this misusage. We had to read the essay “Dancing through the Minefield” by Annette Kolodny (who, apparently, is a very respected writer), in which Kolodny writes that feminist theorists, because they’re so marginalized/berated are “literally dancing through the minefield.” Right, Ms. Kolodny. Tell that to someone who’s had a leg blown off by a land mine.

  • Jules says:

    “At the end of the day…”

    I know that it’s used to mean, “In the end…” or, “When it’s all said and done…” but sometimes you LITERALLY mean, “at the end of the day” so when it’s used figuratively so often it loses its oomph. Grrr.

  • A^3 Amie says:

    Ooh, some good ones are already listed! (I don’t agree with all, but I accept them as valid peeves of others).

    I think people should be judicious when they use “In other words…”. I think sometimes people use it when they are over-explaining something, and that comes across as condescending to me. The subtext, sometimes, is “You probably don’t understand it the first way I explained it…” which could mean both that the speaker/writer 1) assumes the listener/reader is dumb, and 2) the speaker/writer did not do an efficient job explaining the point.
    I have no problem with “in other words…” being used in response to an actual need to offer an explanation in an alternative format. My problem with it is when it is used unprompted/unsolicited.

    I am sure I have many more pet peeves in this vein, but I try not to think of them until they come up. Another I can think of now is when people call places like Wal-Mart “Wal-mart’s”, as if Wal-Mart is a name and it is a possessive, shortened from “Mr. Walmart’s discount store”. I don’t have a problem when the origin of a store name is an actual person name, like “J.C. Penney’s”, but “Rite-Aid’s”, it is not.

  • Cathy says:

    Anyhoo/anywho for anyhow.

    What not as a place holder. “She bought plates and what not for the picnic.”

  • Kimy says:

    I second the “P.I.N. number” “A.T.M. machine” comment. That drives me up the wall, figuratively. When I talk to people about this, they seem to think that just asking for a PIN might cause confusion. My argument is that if you’re in a grocery line with debit card in hand and someone says “please enter your PIN” you’ll know what to do. It’s all about context.

  • Karen says:

    Spoken, almost always… “Supposably” and “Heighth”. Arg!

  • Jane says:

    The one that has been cropping up a lot lately is confusion between “me” and “I.” People seem to think if they use “I” as an object they sound smarter. As in, “Jen took Sue and I to the airport.” No!! “Jen took Sue and me to the airport.” Subject = I. Object of preposition = me.

  • Wendy says:

    This is a regional thing and both phrases could be incorrect, but I notice that east coast friends will say “she called off sick” when a person is ill and doesn’t go to work. When I first heard people say that I couldn’t figure out what they were talking about, called what off? I realize that in the midwest the phrase is “she called in sick” which to me makes more sense, even though I realize its also probably incorrect. The person is calling in to the office and saying they are sick. *shrug*

  • tiffanie says:

    “Liaise with.” No, do not “liaise with” that team, just talk to the team lead on behalf of our team. Also, please stop “looping back” to verify or check up on something. I would also prefer that no one tell the client that “obviously” anything is the case. If it were obvious, the client would not need to be told, so you’re wasting the client’s time. If it is not obvious, and this is why you’re pointing it out, telling the client that it IS obvious is condescending.

  • MCB says:

    “I could care less.” If you don’t care about something, it’s “I *couldn’t* care less.”

  • Melanie says:

    Someone already pegged several of mine: unique (it either is or it isn’t, but it’s not *very* unique); the overcorrection of So-and-so and I, when “me” is actually correct; their, when he or she is actually correct.

    I’d like to add:

    it’s not “a myriad of things;” it’s “myriad things”

    “that being said” just bugs me (“having said that” bugs a little less)

    and rampant apostrophe abuse, particularly when people hang those goddamned signs outside their houses that say “Welcome to the Smith’s”

  • Melanie says:

    Oh, also: quotation marks used to show emphasis instead of actual quotation (this seems to happen on signs, in particular: “We have a patio” does no one any good).

  • Christina says:

    This one isn’t quite so prevelant, but: the misuse of “begs the question.” It’s on my mind lately because I had to convince my boss (twice) not to (mis)use it in a professional paper.

    Less/fewer and “literally” are also way up at the top of my list.

    For what it’s worth, I use “a whole nother,” but it’s like Sars said. I know it’s incorrect; I just find it amusing. I sometimes use “ain’t” for the same reason, and often “y’all” or even “all y’all,” a formulation that literally made my head explode when I lived in Missouri.

    I also use they/their for gender unknown, when speaking (not writing). I know it’s not correct, but “he or she”/”his or her” is really clunky and throws off the conversation, and I really don’t like that he/his is the official gender default. They/their tends to streamline the conversation and avoid miscommunication, which is the whole point.

  • Sars says:

    @Amie: I’ll raise you a “Barnes and Nobles.” NOBLE. ONE NOBLE.

  • Jenn C. says:

    Would of / should of

    Evil nasty corruption of would’ve and should’ve that drives me nuts.

  • Lizzo says:

    The worst: “It’s a “mute” point.

  • Mary says:

    “Could of” for “could have” is fingernails on the chalkboard of my soul.

  • Caitlin says:

    I second all of the above… This site has a good collection of many of my pet peeves:

    Lately the faux pas I’ve been fixating on is written- using “phased” rather than “fazed”.

  • Susannah says:

    Confusion between advance & advanced, e.g.:

    There will be an advanced screening of the movie tonight.
    Here is your advanced copy of Sar’s new book.
    The school offers many advance math courses.

    All wrong, IMO.

  • Nikki says:

    “Drive safe” instead of “drive safely” makes me want to wrap my car around a light pole!

  • Rebecca says:

    Qualifying the word ‘unique’. Like:

    “That is the most unique car I’ve ever seen!”

    Something is unique or it is not. There are no degrees of uniqueness. Gah! I don’t know why this one bothers me so much.

    Also, as others have mentioned, the phrase “I could care less” is wrong wrong wrong and used all the time.

  • Bev says:

    it may only be me, but i get crazy over the use of “Now, what do I mean by that?”

    it is used thusly:
    one or two sentences on a topic, usually clear enough….
    “Now, what do I mean by that?”
    followed by 3 or more (spoken) paragraphs of excruciatingly unnecessary detail.

    To me the use of this phrase indicates either that the speaker thinks the listener is a bit dim, or that the speaker likes the sound of his own voice far too much. It would be okay if the listener ASKED “What do you mean by that?” But for the speaker to say it is just strange.

  • Katy says:

    Haha, well, mine have changed since I started working in an office full of non-native English speakers. So now my pet peeves are weird things like using nouns for verbs (“I’ll response to your email”) and utter confusion about verb tense.

    But I still agree that misuse of “literally” and using quotation marks for emphasis are REALLY grating, because they are antithetical to the true meaning. I can live with “the reason is because” and pretentious use of “myself” for “me” because those aren’t confusing. But using “literally” to mean its opposite (“figuratively”) and using quotation marks to emphasize (rather than to call into question) — completely illogical!

    (And Christina, I agree with you about “their” and hope it will be accepted as correct soon!)

  • Missy says:

    I’m an executive assistant at a Fortune 200 company and at least once a day I get an e-mail from either an executive or another assistant with an itteration of the phrase “we are needing to” when what they mean is “we need to” or “we want to” or “we would like to.” That’s my number one pet peeve.

    Others include the near constant confusion between homonyms (then and than; your and you’re; there, they’re and their; to, too and two); people who don’t use apostrophes when they should (“Brad and Kenny’s schedules” should be “Brad’s and Kenny’s schedules”); and “going forward” or “moving forward” when what you mean is “henceforth.” I think people do that because henceforth sounds a bit old-timey but they could certianly substitute “from now on” if that’s an issue for them.

  • Erin says:

    My current pet peeve is “I’m not gonna lie…” I know it’s used for humorous effect, but every time I hear it I wonder, “So the last thing you said was a lie? And the thing before that?” It’s incredibly nit-picky, but it drives me nuts.

    My other peeve is “I know, right?” I don’t know what you know, so don’t ask. I have been known to scream when I hear this. Literally. Usually only at friends who know it’s a pet peeve though. Usually.

    Another one, which is one I’ve noticed since moving to Louisiana, is misused deictics. I hear people at work calling others and saying “that’s” instead of “this is.” For example, Sue calls a customer, “Hi, Bob. That’s Sue.” Another, which is similar, but not the same thing is when someone uses “they” to refer to him/herself. I’m pretty sure in that case, the person is trying to direct the action from him/herself, like a passive, but it’s still really odd to me.

    But Louisiana colloquialisms are actually kind of fun. My favorite: “He got the red ass” for he was angry.

  • Jane says:

    “Anyways…” That s on the end is so grating to me, and it seems to be more common pronunciation now. Argh.

    We used to have a list on the whiteboard at work that came almost exclusively from my boss’s mangling of the language to sound more pretentious. Items included using myself instead of me, overuse of the word utilize, the phrase “at the end of the day,” and using impact as a verb. He never realized they were all ticks of his.

  • It'sJessMe says:

    Oh so many. How did I know that this string of comments would be so long??

    “Whether or not…or not”. (“I don’t know whether or not we’re going to have rain or not”) Neither “or not” is necessary, but certainly not the second.

    “is is” – (“The point is, is that…”) My husband does this and it drives me nuts.

    As someone else mentioned, “I” and “me” confusion. Folks, it’s ok to use “me” when it’s appropriate! I hate when I hear “Can you give Susie and I a ride to school?”. Or a mistaken “I’s” for “my” – “Susie and I’s teacher…” And as my 4 year old said today “can me and my brother watch TV?”. Half asleep, my husband rolled over and gave him a lesson on “I” vs. “me”. He’s 4 – I doubt it took. But it warmed my heart to hear it.

    There are also some random ones – my husband says “politicts” for “politics” and my dad pronounces the city “Los AngelEEEEZ”.

  • smmoe1997 says:

    The one that drives me crazy:

    your for you’re

    I see this one A LOT in email at work, and it drives me nuts. In that same general idea:

    their/there for they’re

    They’re contractions! You need the apostrophe, and you can’t just substitute any “similar” word when composing an email. They all mean different things.

  • Meg says:

    Our “Barnes and Nobles” is right next to our “Lord and Taylor’s.” Keeping with the fashion theme, I hate when people Frenchify Ralph Lauren’s name.

    I really shouldn’t talk, though, as I’m guilty of most the offenses listed.

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