The Grammar Snob in Me

When someone would ask me , “Who was the teacher who influenced you the most,” I would always say Mrs. Gilpin who taught eighth grade English. I especially loved diagramming sentences. You probably hated it. Most kids did, but I really bought into it. It made so much sense to me to draw those horizontal and vertical lines to make each word of the sentence fit into its own rightful place with its own label. and then there were those diagonal lines for modifiers, such as adverbs, and then those complicated lines with prepositional phrases that were connected to other prepositional phrases. Are you going “Arg.” Well, to each his own, but those lines and names for words such as subject and object have served me well. They have also turned me into a grammar snob. And I’m not talking about the old example of “Winstons taste good like a cigarette should.” “As a cigarette should” just doesn’t appeal to people who smoke. No, I’m talking about the grammatical errors not only in everyday speech, but in books I’ve read and on TV advertisements. Here are some examples in order of disgust.

I once made a whole speech in Toastmasters called “It’s all about me.” People seem to be afraid to use the word “me,” so they use “I” or “myself” incorrectly, all the time, and it gets on my last nerve. Example: If you have any questions, just ask Mark or I.” No. It’s “just ask Mark or me.” I is always the subject and never the object of a sentence. Another example: She gave a beautiful plant to Alan and I.” “I” should never be the object of a preposition, such as “to” in that sentence. In other words, try taking the other person out of the picture, and see how it sounds. “She gave a beautiful plant to I” I don’t think so. ? One more example: “It’s exciting for people like myself.” “Myself” is a reflexive pronoun. Only use it when you are saying something like “I embarrassed myself.” OK. Enough of that.

Next, even a Toastmaster friend of mine has trouble with the difference between “lay” and “lie.” “Lay” takes an object, such as “I am going to lay this book on the table.” Remember how chickens “lay eggs.” They don’t “lie” eggs.” On the other hand, it’s correct to say, “I’m going to lie down,” not “lay down.” If you “lay,” you must have an object, such as a book, or if you insis on saying “lay,” say “I’m going to lay my body down.” Sound a little stilted? Just say “I’m going to lie down.” I even try not to tell my dog to “Lay down.” It’s not that I’m teaching her good grammar, but to keep in practice myself. See? There’s the right use of “myself.”

Here’s a funny one. People don’t like to say the words “dragged” or “hanged.” Examples: I have to drag out the garbage to the curb, and I have dragged out old carpets too, not drug. And “I hung the pictures on the wall,” but “he was hanged for his crime, not hung.” Isn’t this fun? People think that drunk only describes one who has had too much to drink, but it is actually the past participle of drink, as in “I have drunk all my water,” not “drank all my water.” And how about this one? Ever heard somebody say I have ran all day.” Oh please. Spare me. Maybe you can think of some that set your teeth on edge too.

When I was in Toastmasters, I was often the Grammarian, a real role in the meeting’s agenda. When it was announced that I would be the Grammarian that night, everyone would groan. Now you know why.

Mary Hiland

Author of “The Bumpy Road to Assisted Living A Daughter’s Memoir”

Available at


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