Grammar Blip: Who that?

Question markOkay, so in my day-job life I’m an instructional designer/copy editor/proofreader. I pretty much BS my way through more than I should admit to, BUT I do know grammar. I think it has something to do with the Grammar Nazi From Hell I had as my junior year English teacher (whom I adored in a masochistic kind of way). At one point, she put her lesson plan on hold for several weeks until we as a class could compose the perfect, grammatically correct paragraph. She even made us diagram sentences, which I had never before done (and haven’t done since, except to show someone what I meant by “diagram a sentence”).

In any case, I thought it would be mutually beneficial for me to pluck out issues I commonly find in my copy-editing and proofreading wanderings and share them with you.

Why is grammar important to you, you may ask? Easy. One of the first things an agent looks for is a professional-level grasp on writing skills. Grammar separates professional writers from the wannabes. Thankfully, just a bit of buff on your grammar sets you head and shoulders above the competition. My goal with these weekly grammar tips is to help you put that polish on your writing and get an edge on the rest of the slush pile.

Caveat #1: I have been and will continue to make loads of grammatical errors in my own blog, as it is a conversational forum and not a formal one. Which is a good note for fiction, too, actually, as it is (and should be) conversational in tone as well. Take all my grammar ramblings with a grain of salt when it comes to fiction, especially dialogue.

Caveat #2: Grammar has a few nebulous rules that apply in one case and not another, or that apply with certain manuals of style and not others. I mostly deal with the Chicago manual of style, which is more business oriented and less journalism oriented. For the most part, I’ll stay away from these nebulous areas, but every once in a while, *cough* serial comma *cough*, I will offer up an opinion that will pose some controversy. Never fear, I’ll let you know if there’s some question or exception.

Caveat #3: I’m only human, and despite my internment with the Grammar Nazi, I make mistakes the same as everyone else (see Caveat #1 above). The only difference is that I fear the whip when I mess up. Feel free to add your two cents in the comments!

Without further ado, here is our first blip.

Who/That

I encounter the following error so often in my line of work that I’m starting to make it in my own writing. *facepalms*

Guaranteed-to-get-your-hand-slapped version: “The Grammar Nazi that made me diagram all those damn sentences is breathing down my neck again.”

In this case, the Grammar Nazi is a person, not a thing. So despite her annoying the heck out of you, she gets a “who,” not a “that.”

Grammar Nazi-approved version: “The Grammar Nazi who made me diagram all those damn sentences is breathing down my neck again.”

More Grammar Resources on the ‘Net

Grammar Girl
GrammarBook.com
Grammar Bytes

Also, feel free to ask me any questions in the comments. If I don’t know the answer, I will find it for you!

What are the grammar dings that itch at your brain?

About Mary Elizabeth Summer

Mary Elizabeth Summer is an instructional designer, a mom, a champion of the serial comma, and a pie junkie. Oh, and she sometimes writes books about teenage delinquents saving the day. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her daughter, her partner, her two neurotic dogs, and her precious prince--er, cat.
Posted in grammar blip Tagged

7 Responses to Grammar Blip: Who that?

  1. Pingback: Grammar Blip: The Serial Comma | Sticking to the story

  2. Pingback: Grammar Blip: Hyphen-Nation | Sticking to the story

  3. Pingback: Avoiding Apostro-tastrophe: The Possessive Apostrophe | Sticking to the Story

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