Friday, April 21, 2017

The Grammar Nazi

Maybe you’ve seen the merchandize that says, “I’m silently correctly your grammar.” (Here’s one place to start if you’d like to purchase any.) Or maybe you’re one of the types who already purchased some. Yes, I must confess. Grammar nazi is one of my vices. I’m a stickler for accuracy in anything I read. I recently heard about a man who sneaks around England at night correcting error’s errors on signs. It’s not something to which I aspire, but I understand his motivations.

Grammar. Punctuation. Spelling. Word usage. Years ago, I worked as a technical editor, and I still can’t turn off that side of me. Indeed, one thing I learned early in my writing career was to never read my work after publication, so I wouldn’t see the errors that made it into print. To this day, I silently wince when I see errors in books, on signs, in news stories, or on the projector screens at church (when I’m supposed to be concentrating on using the words of the song to praise God, and all I can think about is the punctuation error on the wall).

One of the songs that gets me every time is “Amazing Grace.”

When we've been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We've no less days to sing God's praise,
Than when we first begun.

Do you see the phrase that annoys me? A common word usage mistake many people make is to misuse fewer/less. Use fewer for things you can count: I have fewer M&Ms than you (so hand some over). Use less for things you can’t count: I put less butter on my toast this morning because I’ve decided I need to cut back. (That’s what happens when I eat too many M&Ms.)

So why would the writer say “We’ve no less days”? Days can be counted, so fewer is the grammatically correct word choice…except the topic is eternity, and in eternity, the days can’t be counted.

Is this a usage error to keep the phrase to four syllables? Or is it a brilliant use of the English language to make a point? I haven’t decided, but I must admit, it certainly focuses my mind on the meaning of the words every time.

(Oh, and if you find a typo in this post? Please don't tell me. Its all ready published, so there's nothing I can due.)


  1. I've never thought of the 'less days' problem before! I will admit that I look around in church to see if anyone else is cringing when I see the common you're/your mistakes in the lyrics, but I try to move on graciously...

    I love the idea that less is the appropriate choice. Thanks, C.J.!

  2. I had never considered this either, but in light of eternity, "less" seems correct after all.

    The mistake that makes me cringe right now, probably because it seems so ubiquitous, is using an apostrophe for a simple plural.

    "Three cat's live at my house."

    No, no, no, no!



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