You never know when you're passing one on the street. There may be one standing behind you in line at the grocery store or lurking at the next table when you're out for dinner. You may be exchanging text messages with one, and you don't even know it. Heck, you might even sleep next to one every night (though in that case, you probably would know it).
English grammar geeks—or, as I like to call them, EGGs—are everywhere. Some of my friends are EGGs. Most of my coworkers are EGGs. And I most certainly am an EGG myself. While most EGGs are harmless nerds who simply take pleasure in proper grammar and syntax, there are also those bad EGGs that give the rest of us a bad name. You know the type. These people relish the opportunity to correct others for making common grammar mistakes. They love this activity so much, in fact, that they listen to the words a person uses to tell a story much more closely than they listen to the story itself. Bad EGGs aren't bad people, but they can be incredibly irritating party guests, and they tend to get worse after a few glasses of wine. (Naturally, they drink only the finest.)
The most frustrating thing about an overly pedantic EGG is that they think they know everything, and they can't help but to bring your attention to this fact. For example, a bad EGG might have read that previous sentence and snorted at my use of they as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun. However, I happen to know that there is no hard-and-fast rule about this usage, and if it was good enough for Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, and Jane Austen—which, evidently, it was—it's good enough for me, darn it!
As my exclamatory remark above may have indicated, the singular they example is a bit of a hot topic in the grammar world. There really is no right answer, so it's kind of expected that most grammar nerds will take sides here. Sometimes, however, bad EGGs go even further than being extremely opinionated about questions with no real answers (a fault, I might add, common to nerds of all varieties). Sometimes, they go so far as to correct common grammar mistakes that aren't actually mistakes. And when this happens, my friend, you have the opportunity to make yourself an omelet, because your grammar knowledge is sure to crack the composure of that bad EGG once and for all. With the information from this post, you'll finally be able to put the most irritating kind of EGG—the kind who think they know everything, but, in fact, do not—back in the carton where they belong.
"Mistake" #1: It's pretty much never correct to say me.
You: Would you like to come out with Sheila and me?
Bad EGG: Don't you mean Sheila and I?
You: No, in fact, I do not mean Sheila and I. Also, you're no longer invited.
Somewhere down the line, people started hypercorrecting others for using the word "me," and the world has been a darker place ever since. Me is an object pronoun. This means that when the person speaking is the object of the sentence, the use of me is required. When the person speaking is the subject of the sentence, the word I must be used. Because people are usually the subjects of their own sentences about themselves (I know, people are so self-absorbed), grammar snobs are used to correcting people for incorrectly using the object pronoun me, which is a rather common grammar mistake. However, that doesn't mean it's never necessary to use the word me! If you're ever unsure about whether you are serving as the subject or the object of your own sentence, just remove the other noun or pronoun that's getting you confused. In the above example, this would mean removing Sheila. You would never say, "Would you like to come out with I?" which is how you know that me is the correct word choice.
"Mistake" #2: A preposition is something with which a sentence should never end.
Okay, so the example in the heading is a bit extreme, but I'm trying to make a point here. Anyone who says that a sentence cannot end in a preposition needs to get the heck out.
Ending a sentence with a preposition is a common grammar mistake, but only if you're speaking Latin. In English, the only time it is really advisable to watch your preposition placement is when the preposition itself is unnecessary. For example, if you ask, "Where are you going to?" to is not necessary, and in this case, it can be cut. As you can see, this actually has nothing to do with where the preposition is in the sentence.
A similar question that requires the preposition, such as "Who are you talking to?" can be structured this way in casual situations, rather than the overformal-sounding "To whom were you talking?" Contrary to popular EGG belief, there is no need to contort sentences simply to avoid a prepositional caboose.
"Mistake" #3: Using who instead of whom.
Learning the difference between who and whom is tricky, and using the wrong pronoun is a common grammar mistake made by even the most well-read speakers. Whom is arguably on its way out; even though it is, in some sentences, the only grammatically correct word choice, people still avoid its usage because it sounds "too formal."
Bad EGGS love correcting people when they don't use whom. Sometimes, however, they overcorrect, advising the use of whom even when who is necessary. Remember the info above about using I and me depending on the role played by the speaker in the sentence? Well, whom should only be used when you are referring to the object of a sentence. It's not a way to make yourself sound fancier, people; it's a pronoun with a very specific use, and using it unnecessarily is arguably worse than not using it when it is required.
"Mistake" #4: To split an infinitive is to barbarically defile the English language.
Many bad EGGs believe that splitting infinitives—that is, separating the to from the infinitive verb, as to has been separated from the verb defile in the heading—is a common grammar mistake that they must dedicate their lives to correcting. Some of them may even give some convoluted answer for why this is a mistake; their explanation will probably have something to do with Latin. (Bad EGGs love their Latin—especially those who don't actually read or speak it).
The truth is, although infinitives can't be split in Latin (because infinitives are always joined to their roots), English is a different kind of language that depends on word orders instead of endings to form infinitives. Because of this, it's perfectly all right to split infinitives. In fact, sometimes it's actually necessary. Saying you shouldn't split infinitives is kind of like saying you can't wear white after Labor Day: it's a made-up rule.
There is nothing wrong with being a perfectionist or with following rules. I've managed to make a career out of having an anal-retentive personality, and so have many others. But being an English grammar geek who helps others when they need it is one thing; being a know-it-all who does not, in fact, know it all is quite another. So, the next time the bad EGG in your life gives you grief about rules that aren't rules, make sure you lay down the grammatical smackdown with the info you learned from this post.