There are plenty of other topics we didn’t get to last time around, including the wide world of commas. We’ll work our way up to that. Let’s start with some easier ones.
Me, Myself, and I
Aside from being a quirky little catchphrase, these three words are meant to be used differently. “I” is used when you are the subject of a sentence. “I am playing a lot of games for the IGMC.”
“Me” is for when you are the object of a sentence. “My employers gave me money for playing games.”
“Myself” is a little trickier – it’s when you are the subject of the sentence and then you are referring back to yourself in the same sentence. “I bought myself an XBox One so I could play the new Rock Band.”
A common issue with this is when two people are involved. Lots of people say “My buddy and me played Smash Brothers,” but that’s actually wrong. It should be “My buddy and I.” A good way to check this is to take out the other person and see how the sentence sounds. “Me played Smash Brothers” sounds like Cookie Monster, a known enemy of grammar nitpickers everywhere.
I Could(n’t) Care Less
“I could care less” is not the sick burn you think it is. This sentence is saying that you are capable of caring less, which is an admission that you actually do care. If you really want to dismiss something, say “I couldn’t care less.” That means you care as little as possible. I find myself using this phrase a lot during football season.
Less and Fewer
This is one that not many people know and seems to have left the realm of common usage.However, traditional grammar says that “fewer” is supposed to refer to an amount that you can actually count. “Despite the massive difference in size, Alaska has fewer congressmen than Connecticut because hardly anyone lives there.”
“Less” is meant for amounts that aren’t as tangible. “The movie theater is less than 50 miles away.” How much less? He doesn’t know, or else it would be fewer. It’s weird. Again, it’s not commonly used anymore, but it might be useful for a game set in the middle ages.
Principle and Principal
Like “populace” and “populous,” these are two words that sound the same but have totally different meanings. Principal has two uses – the first is a noun that refers to a top administrator, usually at a school but it’s also used at other organizations like law firms. It can also be an adjective used to imply prominence, i.e. “My principal objection to Kingdom Hearts is that the dialogue is awful.”
Meanwhile, principle is a fundamental belief or truth that serves as the foundation for anything from scientific theory to moral philosophy. In science, Bernoulli’s Principle refers to fluid dynamics. The idea that you should “love thy neighbor” is a moral principle. If you hear someone they can’t do something “on principal,” they’re doing it wrong.
Farther vs. Further
Another pair of words people use interchangeably without much consequence, but they do originally have different meanings. Farther is meant for specific distances, i.e. “China is farther from the United States than Canada.”
Further is typically used to discuss degree or an extent, i.e. “I wanted to discuss it further, but there wasn’t enough time.” It can also be used as a synonym for “additionally,” as in “Further, you hurt my feelings.” Most people use the word furthermore instead, but further still works.
This is not really a grammar problem, but it is a major word usage problem that’s very common. I constantly see people using the word “literally” in exactly the opposite way as it is meant to be used. When you describe something “literally,” that means it happened just like it sounds. “I will literally play over 100 games while judging the IGMC.” This is an accurate statement so it’s an accurate use of the word.
The other day I heard someone say “When I got in my car after work, I had literally no gas.” Well…that’s not true. If you had literally NO gas in your car, you wouldn’t have gotten home or even to a gas station. It gets ridiculous when you hear people say something like “I was so hungry that I ate literally a million pancakes.”
This kind of stuff is hyperbole, which is humorous exaggeration used for emphasis. I love hyperbole, it’s fun to say how something feels rather than how it is. But the word “literally” has no place here because it’s role is solely within the realm of what is. Spread the word.
Believe it or not, not everyone agrees on how to use commas. This is especially true when it comes to the “Oxford comma,” which is used for items in a list. Some people don’t like the idea of using it before the “and” at the end of a list. But as the above example illustrates, it’s an important tool to avoid confusion. “My heroes are my parents, Superman, and Wonder Woman” reads much clearer. Let’s run though the many other uses of the mighty comma.
- It’s used with a conjunction, which is a word that links two otherwise separate statements. Words like “but,” “yet,” and “nor” are conjunctions. Example – “He wanted to play the full game, but it crashed during the first battle.”
- It’s used to separate introductory phrases in a sentence. Example “Running toward the road, he tripped over a stone and fell.”
- It’s used for a parenthetical clause, which is information that doesn’t need to be there but adds some detail. Example – “The Founders Bridge, which spans the Connecticut River, is in bad shape.”
- It’s used when something or someone is addressed directly. Example – “Iggy, you should probably wash that dragon costume after wearing it for a month straight.”
- It’s used to set off a quote. Example – “Sorry,” said the IGMC judge, “but I can’t play these games anymore. I need sleep.”
- There are various typographical reasons to use them as well. Dates like “September 14, 2015.” Locations like “Seattle, Washington.” Big numbers like “1,000,000.” Names like “Martin Luther King, Jr.”
There are other situations, but these are the most common. Hope this helps everyone out with their commas. There’s more grammar out there to explore, any suggestions for next time?