Wordsmith Essay’s Pet Peeves: Part I

We here at Wordsmith Essays read dozens upon dozens of essays, correcting grammatical mistakes, adjusting spelling and phrasing, fixing punctuation, and generally giving advice as how to improve writing.

While doing so, we’ve come across the same errors made time after time.  It doesn’t seem to matter the grade level of the writer, or whether they’re a native English speaker or not—some mistakes just seem to reoccur time and again.  Here are a few of our recurring pet peeves:

This, That, These and Those

I like these those over there.

English has two types of demonstrative adjectives.  “This” and “These” are used when the object you’re referring to is close to the speaker; generally speaking, within reach.  For anything further away, use “that” or “those”.

For intangible things—these feelings, those ideas, and so forth—you have more wriggle room, but “these” or “this” is generally preferred when talking about intangible things that you’re currently feeling or experiencing, while “those” or “that” is preferred for more distant intangible ideas.  So “this feeling” would likely refer to a feeling that you are experiencing, while “that feeling” would be if you’re describing something someone else is feeling.  You can get away with either based on you want what you’re saying to sound, though; it’s less of a strict rule here.

Myself, Himself, Itself, Themselves…

The party nominated Bob and myself me.

Many people seem to assume that using reflexive pronouns like “myself” or “herself” makes them sound more intelligent or otherwise more formal in their writing, but using them improperly has precisely the opposite effect.

Reflexive pronouns are always the object of the sentence—they are the one having an action done to it.  So, you can see yourself in a mirror, because you are the object being seen.  But yourself can’t go through a door; you’re the subject of the sentence there, doing the action, and so “you” have to go through the door.

Most people get caught up when there are multiple people involved in a sentence (The party was hosted by John, Captain Ahab and me).  The quick-and-dirty tip to make sure you’re taking care of that properly is to think about how you would phrase the sentence with only the reflexive pronoun in it—“The party was hosted by myself” sounds odd to most people, and so you can figure out that you shouldn’t use the reflexive pronoun.

Slightly complicating matters is the issue of intensive pronouns.  To add extra emphasis to a sentence, you can add one of these words, as in “I painted that picture myself”.  The added word doesn’t change the meaning of the sentence; it just adds extra emphasis to your sentence.  If the sentence works grammatically even after removing the pronoun, that you’re probably safe in using it.

Split Infinitives

To boldly go, or to go boldly?

There’s a split among our editors on this one.  Some insist that splitting an infinitive—adding an adverb in the middle of a “to blank” verb—is bad, because that’s been a rule of thumb for nearly 200 years in English writing.  They feel that it makes sentences ugly and unwieldy and hard to read, and sometimes, that’s definitely true.  “To scientifically illustrate my point” or “To energetically change your mind” can look odd to some readers.

On the other hand, many great writers have used split infinitives for effect, from poets to novelists to sci-fi TV shows.  There is no grammatical reason to avoid split infinitives; no secret rule that keeps you from placing adverbs in the middle of clauses.  Splitting an infinitive is not going to unduly tax your readers, but it may annoy your professor.  The best thing to do is to check with them before submitting your essay, in case they’re a stickler for this archaic “rule”.

As always, if you want to ensure that everything in your essay is correct and flows well, stop by Wordsmith Essays’ order page today.  Our team of international editors will help you get the most out of your writing.

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