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The 'NPR Grammar Hall Of Shame' Opens With 'I' And 'Me'

Ilana Kohn
Getty Images/Ikon Images and NPR

We asked for nominations for "most misused word or phrase," and they came pouring in. Weekend Edition listeners and NPR.org readers have many gripes about the grammar gaffes they see and hear every day.

From nearly 450 story comments, 500 emails and more than 900 Facebook posts we received in December, we identified 275 separate nominees. Here's a top 10 countdown of the most frequently mentioned:

10. Not answering "thank you" with "you're welcome." This one's probably more about etiquette than grammar. But responses such as "no problem," "sure" or "thank you" go against what many in the NPR audience say they were taught.

9. Saying someone "graduated college" instead of "graduated from college." A college graduates a student, not the other way around. The "from" makes a big difference.

8. The chronic misuse of "lay" and "lie." Remember: You lie on a bed; you lay your book on a bedside table. Also, sing "Lie Down Sally."

7. Referring to anything as "very unique." Either it's unique or it's not.

6. Claiming something "begs the question." You almost always mean it "raises the question." Aristotle would not know what you are talking about.

5. Ongoing confusion over "who" vs. "whom." Grammar Girl's "quick and dirty trick" is this: "When you're trying to decide whether to use 'who' or 'whom,' ask yourself if the answer to the question would be 'he' or 'him.' " If it's "he," use "who." If it's "him," use "whom." Yes, that means the song's title should be "Whom Do You Love?"

4. "Literally." We are ... tired of hearing that word, especially since the thing we say is "literally" happening often isn't. Are you literally starving or just hungry?

3. Using the word "impacted" as a synonym for "affected." Some uses just shouldn't wander over from the business world into everyday life, the audience says.

2. "So." Please, please stop starting sentences with that word!

1. "I" and "me" — the most-complained-about misuse. In an "NPR Grammar Hall of Shame," those little words would be the first entrants. We received more than 30 messages just about them. How many times a day do you hear someone say "she and me" instead of "she and I"? Or, even worse, "her and me"? It's as if Peter Pan's Lost Boys have taken over. (If you don't get that reference, listen to "I Won't Grow Up" and Wendy's failed attempts to get the lads to say "not I" instead of "not me.")

The Chicago Manual of Style offers a simple way to stop yourself from making a common "I vs. me" mistake: "Read the sentence with the personal pronoun alone." For instance, as the Manual suggests, many people would mistakenly say that the test we've created is "simple for you and I." But think about it: Would you say the test is "simple for I"? No, you would say the test is "simple for me" — and you should say it would be simple for "you and me."

Patricia T. O'Conner, author of Woe Is I, The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English, notes in her book how important it can be to choose correctly. " 'Trixie loves spaghetti more than I' means more than I do," she writes. " 'Trixie loves spaghetti more than me' means more than she loves me." O'Conner and her husband, Stewart Kellerman, blog at Grammarphobia.

Sometimes, of course, it's not easy to choose correctly between "I" and "me." We've put together a five-question quiz. Leave a note in the comments thread about how you did or email us your result. The address is wordmatters@npr.org. You could also share your result on Twitter (#wordmatters) or Facebook. We'll talk about the "most misused words or phrases" in an upcoming "Word Matters" segment on Weekend Edition Saturday.

Click here to return to the top of this story.

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for standards & practices.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: December 30, 2014 at 12:00 AM EST
Yes, we initially messed up on Question 3. We tested and tested and somehow still reversed the response. Just minutes after this page was posted, we fixed the quiz. We don't want to repeat the error here because that would give everyone the answer. Just between you and us, we're red-faced.
Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.