Grammar Debates, Pet Peeves, and Fools’ Errands

My fellow English geeks are going to love this!

Today at work, there was an honest to goodness grammar debate going on. The grammar problem on everyone’s mind was whether it was more appropriate to say “an historic” or “a historic” in one of our press releases.Although I frequently hear “an historic” spoken on TV and radio, I am firmly in favor of the latter option. Well, that’s putting it mildly; when the subject was brought up today, I got more than a little hot under the collar. I can’t stand to see or hear the phrase “an historic”! It’s one of my grammar pet peeves, and we’ve already established that I’m a little nuts when it comes to grammar.

It wasn’t long before I started thinking about some of my other grammar pet peeves. So if you want to stay on my good side, you’ll pay attention to this short list and alter behavior accordingly.

“An Historic”
Except in cases like “hour,” “herb,” and “heiress,” the “h” consonant is always pronounced in my neck of the woods. The grammar rule is that “an” is used before words that begin with vowels or sounds like they do (like “hour” and “herb”). Therefore, if you pronounce the “h” in “historic,” then you use “a.”

What kills me about this incorrect usage is that everyone simultaneously uses the phrase “a history,” which is just plain inconsistent.

There, Their, and They’re
I never understood how a native-English speaker could mix these up: their meanings aren’t even remotely similar! I once read a paragraph where the author used the same form of “there/their/they’re” in all three contexts. One out of three isn’t bad, right?

Collective Nouns and the Wrong Verb Form
This one is a little tricky to explain, but it’s far and away the most agitating.

Collective nouns are singular entities that are composed of many pieces or individuals, such as an organization or company. Given this, these nouns should be followed by the singular form of verbs, such as “is,” “was,” and “drives.”

Google is a single entity, acting as one; it’s a “he” or “she,” rather than a “they.”

Therefore, a sentence should be written “Google is…,” NOT “Google are…”

You can’t see it, but I’m actually foaming at the mouth right now. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this construction used – by supposed journalists, no less! – or how frustrated I get trying to correct them.

It’s actually a little sad thinking about all the incorrect usage that not only exists but dominates. The linguistic landscape is full of phrases “I seen” and “where you at?” – the kind of stuff that makes any English major’s skin crawl. Is our evangelism simply a fool’s errand?