A Word, Please: Issues that off-en annoy me

Dear June: It bothers me when people use such-and-such word in such-and-such way.

Dear Bothered: Actually, if you look in the dictionary, you'll see that this usage is fine.

A lot of my correspondence with readers goes pretty much exactly like this. It doesn't matter if they're annoyed with people using "who" instead of "whom" or splitting infinitives or using "literally" to mean "not literally." The bottom line, I explain, is that there's no basis for perhaps 95 out of 100 common peeves. They're fine. Copacetic. Nothing to get annoyed about.

I say this so much, in fact, that you might think that nothing anyone says or writes could ever peeve me. But just between you and me, some things do. I just don't talk about them much — mainly because my peeves aren't always supported by logic or fact. In many cases, I am in the wrong. I know it. But some language issues rub me the wrong way in spite of my own better judgment.

Here are a few.

"Between you and I." Some linguists defend this structure as an established idiom. Like "aren't I," people use it not because it follows the strict rules of grammar but simply because they prefer it, some say. The problem with this argument is that I don't believe it. Most people I hear using "between you and I" seem to do so not because they prefer it to "between you and me" but because they believe the "me" form is wrong. It's not. The word "between" is a preposition. Prepositions take objects, which are supposed to be in the objective case. "Me" is in the objective case. "I" isn't. So, grammatically speaking, "between you and me" is the way to go.

"There's" before a plural. It's very common for people to say things like "There's just so many different recipes I want to try" and "There's a lot of great movies out right now" and even "There's no joggers out tonight." I don't like it. "There's" is a contraction of "there" and "is." Grammatically, it should precede a singular noun. "There's a jogger." But in the examples above, it's introducing plurals: recipes, movies, joggers. You wouldn't be as likely to say, "there's recipes" or "there's movies" or "there's joggers." That, to me, is why the longer versions of these sentences are bad too. Yes, extra words between "there's" and the plural noun act as a buffer. But that doesn't make this construction any more logical. And even though quite a few experts say "there's" is fine before a plural in casual usage, I say that "there are" is better.

Periods and commas after quotation marks. I write about this a lot. The result is a humbling testament to my influence: About 99% of the emails I receive with a word in quotation marks puts the comma or period after the closing quote mark like this: My boss can't spell "embarrass". That's correct in British English and it appears to be the way the winds are blowing for American English too. In another couple decades it may be right. But for now, according to every American punctuation reference I know, periods and commas always go inside closing quotation marks, even though question marks and exclamation points may not. (They have different rules.)

A pronounced T in "often." OK, here I don't have a leg to stand on. Dictionaries allow the hard T pronunciation: off-ten. But they almost all prefer the silent T. Had I understood more about dictionaries earlier in life, I might not have developed this pointless peeve. But because I was once taught that "off-en" is right and "off-ten" is wrong, I can't help but cringe a little when I hear that T.

Here's hoping that someday I can find something better to get annoyed about.

JUNE CASAGRANDE is the author of "It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences." She can be reached at JuneTCN@aol.com.

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