Please feel bad, but don’t feel badly.

I confess to loving English grammar, but I try to behave and refrain from pointing out grammatical errors, except on rare occasions when I think the recipients would be thrilled to know that they are and have been slipping up. And I make plenty of my own mistakes, so I really don’t have time to correct anyone else. Except once in a while. Like right now. So here are the top few offenders that come across my radar regularly.

1. You do not feel badly. You feel bad. Feel is a linking verb, so it requires an adjective, not an adverb. If you really do feel badly, then that means your nerve endings are not in peak form. Just feel bad. Please. Don’t feel badly.

2. Apostrophes are seldom used correctly. If you are a Smith, and you are sending out your Christmas cards, please do not sign the card from the Smith’s. Oh dear. How many Smiths do you have? Are you the only one? Then just sign it from Susie Smith. If you are sending the card on behalf of the entire Smith family, you can either sign the card from the Smith Family or from the Smiths. Period. The apostrophe indicates possession. If you are inviting your friends to the Smith home for a Christmas party, then say it is at the Smiths’ home or at the Smith home. Since you have more than one Smith, it is fine to add an s to indicate the plural. And if you are referring to your home, then put the apostrophe after the s so that we understand there is more than one Smith at the house. Please don’t say, “Come to the Smith’s.” It would be weird to refer to one Smith as the Smith, don’t you agree? If your last name already ends in an s (like Abrams) then first you must make it plural (Abramses) and then you can add an apostrophe: Please come to the Abramses’  home, etc. Because that looks (and is) so burdensome, I would opt for simplifying: Please join us for Christmas cheer at our home. Then you can sign it  Bill and Susie Abrams. Or, The Abrams family wishes you a very merry Christmas. There is more, but I must press on.

3. A particular problem in this part of the country is the use of at with where. Where are you at? Where is my wallet at? Just say, “Where are you?” “Where is my wallet?” The at is out of place,  so knock it off.

4. Me and Susie are going to the mall. Oh horrible, horrible! Susie and I are going to the mall. Why? Because me is in the objective case, and the subject of the sentence requires nominative case. Okay? He gave the prize to Susie and me. Perfect! I love it!

5. Don’t loose your passport. Huh? Do you mean lose? Maybe just tie up the dog so he doesn’t get loose. Because if he gets loose, you may lose him.

6. I’m going to go lay down on the couch. Please just lie down, okay? Lay is a transitive verb, so you could lay yourself down on the couch. I know this is confusing, but here it goes: Today I will lie down; yesterday I lay down. Lay is the past tense of lie. It’s awful, I know, but it just can’t be helped. It’s much too late. To lie is to recline. To lay is to put. So lay the book on the table and tell the chicken to lay an egg. But don’t lay down. Lie down. Okay, so I’ll lay off.

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47 thoughts on “Please feel bad, but don’t feel badly.

  1. Thank you for this post! The apostrophe thing (using one to indicate plural) drives me crazy. Nancy, you’re my grammar hero. 🙂

  2. The one I notice most often is the use of “done” instead of “finished”! Even my cell phone has a button to press when I am “done.”
    I do think I am guilty of #2. For some reason I have trouble understanding that one. Maybe I will try to read your explanation again first thing in the morning when my brain is fresh from rest!!!

  3. Oh dear, my friends know not to get me started on this! I can’t take much more of “between you and I” or “please pray for my husband and I,” etc. It makes me wince…

  4. Thank you, thank you, thank you! The apostrophes are my pet peeve. We have a sign at work on a soda machine that reads “employee’s only.” I think I’m going to take the white-out to work tomorrow.

  5. I’ve been guilty of all those, and I’ve winced plenty when noticing other people do it as well. However, 2 doesn’t really bother me. I suppose I’ve always gone with an implied possessive object in those cases. For instance, if community group is meeting at the Smith’s I’m going to assume we’re meeting on some real estate they possess (ie house). If, on the other hand, we’re going to visits the Smith’s at the hospital that would bother me. I assume they possess a home. I don’t assume they own a hospital. After, if sentences can have implied subjects…

    (I hope I haven’t made anyone twitch. I may defer to the rules of grammar, but I’m not above arguing about them.)

  6. I try to refrain from correcting people’s bad grammar, but I find they just hate me when I do that. I even corrected yours once, remember? But then you corrected my correction. So now I just don’t say anything unless it’s my 11-year-old daughter who says “Me and ___ want to go…” And that’s at least twice a day.

  7. How about dress? Do we say, “Dress warm! It’s cold outside!” or “Dress warmly!”? It means we are putting on warm clothes, not that our manner of putting them on is ‘warm’. This is one I have puzzled over. Which is correct?

    Thanks for the post. My son and I are loving your grammar text.

  8. Is it okay to say that I laughed while reading this post? 🙂

    With English as my third language I still have many grammar problems, but the girls are quick to correct me, which I’m thankful for. I’m starting your grammar book with Morgan next semester, she’s pretty excited about it.

  9. Hurray! I see these mistakes all the time . . . and occasionally make them, especially getting “lay” and “lie” confused. I know the difference, but when I’m speaking there isn’t always as much time to think as I need. I agree about not correcting others’ mistakes~~they don’t usually take it well, and it just makes me look like a nitpicker.

    “Between you and I” and “for she and I” and things like that really bug me. I think people usually are over-correcting for “Him and me went . . .”

    I find it slightly amusing when people go to the trouble to say “one” instead of “you” and then immediately fall into using “they” and “their” instead of “he” and “his.”

    I made your pumpkin cake recipe the other day, Nancy, and it is yummmy! Thank you!

  10. Gotta disagree with your last point under #2. The plural of Abrams is Abramses, and the possessive is Abramses’. Here’s what the Chicago Manual of Style’s hot-off-the-presses 16th edition has to say:

    [begin quote]
    7.8 Plurals of proper nouns

    Names of persons and other capitalized nouns normally form the plural by adding s or es. Rare exceptions, including the last example, are generally listed in Webster’s.

    Tom, Dick, and Harry; pl. Toms, Dicks, and Harrys
    the Jones family, pl. the Joneses
    the Martinez family, pl. the Martinezes
    the Bruno family, pl. the Brunos
    Sunday, pl. Sundays
    Germany, pl. Germanys
    Pakistani, pl. Pakistanis


    Romany, pl. Romanies

    An apostrophe is never used to form the plural of a family name: “The Jeffersons live here” (not “Jefferson’s”). For the apostrophe in the possessive form of proper nouns, see 7.16.
    [end quote]

    And 7.16 provides this list of proper plural possessive examples:

    the Lincolns’ marriage
    the Williamses’ new house
    the Martinezes’ daughter
    dinner at the Browns’ (that is, at the Browns’ place)

    There may be some other style guide that allows for plural possessive of proper nouns ending in s to be formed with just the addition of the apostrophe, but I’ll stick with Chicago on this one.

  11. The “there/their/they’re” bit really makes me nuts with students. It is what comes of hearing things but never reading them. They’re going to put their books over there. Done.

  12. Great post! I hate it when people use grammar incorrectly (not that I’m above that!). I thought it was hilarious when my 3-year-old came home from preschool the other day — after a little pause with a frown on her face she said, “Mum, at pweschool today the teacher said lay down not lie down.” Classic.

  13. Sarah, what is the problem with “done?”

    Here is the entry:

    At the bottom, there is this note:

    —Usage note
    4. In the adjectival sense “completed, finished, through,” done dates from the 14th century and is entirely standard: Is your portrait done yet?


    Apparently there is a tradition of objecting to this usage, but it’s been around for 700 years and is deemed “entirely standard.” The thesaurus entry on the same site uses “finished” as both a synonym and a definition.

  14. It’s so hard to notice the errors but to feel like you can never say anything. I feel that I learned everything I know about grammar from a teacher I had in high school for all 4 years (for Journalism, English, and French).

    The only person I ever even attempt to correct is my husband, and that’s only because he accepts it well. As a pastor, he wants to speak well, and he’s actually using your book to teach in our homeschool group this year, so we’re always on the lookout for one another’s mistakes.

  15. The “lay”/”lie” thing is pretty rough, especially given that the past simple for “lie” is “lay” – I think it’s worth defending, though, the use of “lay” with reference to reclining: I’d consider that a holdover from an earlier reflexive use (hence “Now I lay me down to sleep…”), so those who use it have at least a little tradition on their side.

    To Valerie: agreed; I think the Manual (or maybe this is just Turabian?) does, though, admit the exception of SINGULAR possessive forms without an additional “s” – so while “the Jameses’ house” would be preferable for a family with that surname, either “James’s house” or “James’ house” is acceptable (and my Firefox spell-checker only accepts the latter, actually).

  16. Number 3 made me smile!

    In my part of the country (Minnesota), its with, I am often guilty of this as well. One will say to another, “You want to go with?” or “May I go with?”.

  17. Valerie, you are absolutely right. I have even used the example Lucas, Lucases, Lucases’ to explain this point. So, I’m going back up into my little tirade and correcting it! Thanks for keeping me on my tippy toes!

  18. Ben — CMOS16, 7:21:

    [begin quote]
    7.21An alternative practice for words ending in “s”

    Some writers and publishers prefer the system, formerly more common, of simply omitting the possessive s on all words ending in s—hence “Dylan Thomas’ poetry,” “Etta James’ singing,” and “that business’ main concern.” Though easy to apply and economical, such usage disregards pronunciation and is therefore not recommended by Chicago.
    [end quote]

    AP style is one that omits the possessive s. I prefer Chicago, but have worked with AP, as well. For formal writing, having a style guide and sticking with it consistently is the key.

    Nancy — Just returning the favor, since you are so good at keeping me on my toes! Thanks for being a good sport.

  19. Yeah, I was taught “James’ sister” or “the Jones’ horse,” etc.

    And you didn’t even get into “lain” and “laid.” Those just add to the confusion. 🙂

  20. #4: If you tell most people that they shouldn’t say “Susie and me went to the mall,” because it is the objective case you lose (not loose) them. The way I have found to communicate the concept is to tell them that if you remove Susie you would never say “Me went to the mall.” The people who have been corrected on using ‘me’ like this are afraid to use it at all, hence ‘between you and I.’
    Because I was never taught grammatical terms outside of noun, verb,pronoun and adjective, it took me learning a foreign language to get the grammatical explanation. The folks used to say “It’s the object of the preposition so you must say ‘me.'” I didn’t have a clue what that meant.

  21. The most shocking example of poor grammar I’ve ever witnessed was when the store American Eagle was selling shirts that had “love the one your with” printed on them. Is the contraction “you’re” now extinct?

  22. I second Barbara! People, people–you would NEVER say, “He told I a great story,” so WHY oh WHY do you say “He told my husband and I a great story”??? “Me” is the correct pronoun to use when you need a direct or indirect object, or the object of a preposition. Don’t fear “me.”

  23. Heather, I’m with you. I seldom know the technical explanations of grammar. I generally get by without knowing until someone challenges something I’ve edited, and I have to defend myself. Then I have a moment of panic as I scramble for a good explanation in the CMOS!

  24. Our poor children have two parents who are teachers. They now reply to the question, “How was your day?” with “It was well.” Hmmmm…I guess there’s a ditch on both sides of every road.

  25. Oh, yea (not to be confused with “yeah”)! I love this post, and it looks like I’m not alone. While we’re sharing grammatical pet peeves, let me add one of mine to the list: using quotation marks for emphasis. Talk about confusing! When I see a sign hanging over the pineapples at Safeway that says, “Buy 1, get 1 ‘FREE,'” should I assume am I getting a great deal, or should I start looking for the fine print demanding my firstborn in exchange for the second pineapple?

  26. Very fun post. I am in Minnesota too and often here the “You coming with?” mistake. It makes me laugh to myself every time.

  27. Pentamom

    Hmmmm. My mother always made a big deal about done being a cooking term vs. finished as a synonym for completion of a task. I was also taught the same principle in school.

    I suppose I will have to let that one go!

  28. Yes, Sarah, I think that’s a common mistake people make — to insist that because a word has one meaning, than any other use of it is incorrect, especially if one meaning is generally associated with non-human matters and the supposedly “incorrect” one applies to humans. (Like, “you raise crops and chickens, but you REAR children.” Why? Just because there “has” to be a different word, or it’s demeaning? But why would that be? You dress both chickens and babies, after all! ;-)) But English is full of words with perfectly appropriate multiple meanings. I suspected it was something like that in this case. 🙂

  29. Once, after being corrected for the nteenth time, I looked up ‘can.’ You know how your teachers would say, “Yes, you can go to the bathroom, but you may not.” Well, down in the list of definitions for ‘can’ was ‘permission to do something.’

    That probably came from years of misuse, but it also shows multiple meanings.

    Does anybody out there hear “I should’ve went.” Argh! Then I have seen it written, “I should of went.” Double argh!

  30. Aaaa! I married one of those last names ending in “s”. I can’t take it anymore! It’s so confusing.


    When I married in, hubby taught me this plan – “the Higgins’ belongings”. I’m not sure I can bring myself to write “Higginses'”. I don’t think we even say the “es” when pluralizing. Most of the time, however, I just avoid possession and come up with some other phrasing like Nancy mentioned, but it’s so much neater and less silly sounding to leave off the “es”.

    I embrace the Higgins’ wrongness. I’m following my head. 🙂

  31. “That probably came from years of misuse, but it also shows multiple meanings.”

    There’s an interesting tension in that kind of thing. On the one hand, language is not, and never has been, static. Do we talk like Chaucer? No, his speech would have been phonetically incomprehensible and semantically pretty close to incomprehensible to us. And, we even have significant usage differences from the ordinary speech of Jane Austen’s day. (Ain’t for “Am not” used to be a perfectly good word. And in one sense, why not? There actually isn’t a useful contraction for “am not,” after all. The usual substitute of “Aren’t I” makes no grammatical sense at all!) It’s only with widespread literacy (a good thing, of course!) that the concept of “right” and “wrong” in usage could even arise.

    But on the other hand, maintaining a certain conservatism in usage is necessary to good communication and literacy. I’d suggest that resisting new usages that clearly reflect a poor grasp of grammar or meaning is right, but after 50-100 years of a particular usage being common, it’s time to concede that linguistic evolution has occurred, as it always does.

  32. Pentamom,

    I think you are probably right – but does that mean I have to accept the creeping American habit of double prepositions? ‘Off of’,
    ‘outside of’, etc. nearly drive me crazy and I think sound really clunky, but such usage is now so common in Australia and Britain, although never used when I was young.

  33. Loved all of this, Nancy. I was so happy to see that you hammered home, correctly, the solutions to these errors to and reasons behind those solutions.

    On point two, about those frustrating people with names that, in the singular, end in s….
    (I feel I can say they are frustrating, because I have given 66. 67 % of my children first names that do, in fact, end in s)

    I see that Valerie commented on what must have been a previous version of the post. I’ve been discussing this issue a lot lately with fellow grammar nerds. It is far from settled, apparently, but I side with Valerie, Chicago, The Economist, and all others who tow the traditionalist line. It is an interesting concept. I wrote about it recently, in good fun, here:

  34. Psst…Ann…since we’re on a grammar topic, I can’t resist pointing out that it’s toe the line not tow the line. 😉

    Here’s one I had to correct recently: I learned that ’til is incorrect. I always thought it was a contraction of until, but it turns out that till is correct. I think I’m still stunned by that one!

  35. Ellen, the nice thing is, you can talk as “conservatively” as you want to. Trying to get other people to speak differently is a losing proposition in any case, unless you’re their mother or their editor. 😉 That’s not meant to decry the point of this post, though — sharing “helpful hints” is another legitimate means, I suppose.

  36. Just yesterday I saw a printed sign on a self-check machine at Walmart: “The self-check machine does not except coins. Sorry for the inconvenience.”

    And some lovely soul had crossed out “except” and written, quite neatly, “accept.”

  37. For some reason, there are places here in Michigan where it is common for folks to use seen instead of saw, such as, “I seen him yesterday” and it is like nails on a chalkboard for me.

    Another peeve is using of instead of have. “I should of had that slice of bread.”

  38. Alison, I think that last one comes from a misunderstanding of the more or less legitimate “should’ve.” That sounds exactly like “should of,” so people think that’s what it is.

    Seen for saw is pretty common throughout the US among the uneducated or don’t care if they sound uneducated types, I think.

  39. I think we get all sorts of funny mistakes down here in the south…
    “I’m fixin to go to the store.”
    My biggest peeve is the contraction for you all…it is not ya’ll but y’all.
    I’m the last person to correct too many mistakes though. I feel like I’m trying to break bad grammar habits all the time. Sometimes something as simple as just putting the end sound on words can be work for me 🙂

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