Miscellaneous Little Things That Annoy Me

Oh, so many of these – but I’ll mention just a few (for now).

Can not
No. It’s one word in modern English: cannot. And when you say it, the emphasis is generally on the first syllable.

Spell-check thinks this always has to be one word. It doesn’t. As a single word, it means ‘former’: Bob Sharpe, sometime dean of law at U. of T., is now on the Ontario Court of Appeal. But Let’s have coffee some time and At some time in the future, we’ll see … (I acknowledge, however, that current usage may be against me on this.)

Outside of
Drop the of! It’s unnecessary and incorrect. So just this: outside the house, outside Canada, outside the realm of possibility etc. Same goes for inside.

The reason is because …
No! The reason is that… Always, always, always.

A couple things
Wrong! It must be A couple of things (even though you would correctly say a few things—who said English was regular?)

As in, Should we meet prior?  A construction I’m hearing a lot, and one that is irritating me. Prior here needs to be followed by to and something more (prior to doing XYZ). If you’re tempted to use prior on its own, substitute earlier, before or previously.

As an adjective, prior is fine (prior testimony), but remember that good old rule of thumb that a word with Anglo-Saxon roots (like earlier or before) is more forceful and direct than one that comes to us through Latin or French (like prior or previous). To give you an example, compare the fancy, Latinate words copulate and defecate with their one-syllable Anglo-Saxon equivalents. The latter certainly pack more of a punch.

Consider it to be X/find it to be X
This isn’t actually wrong, but it’s inelegant. Better just to find something X.  I find him boring has a better ring than I find him to be boring, no?

Take off the final L. And it’s fulfilment. Only two Ls in wilful too.

Did you want milk or cream with that?
I did want milk, and I still do. Or maybe I’ve changed my mind.

Or maybe you should use the conditional (Would you like milk or cream?) or the present tense (Do you want …) instead of this weird, incorrect use of the past tense.

Don’t even get me started on its annoying use as meaningless filler in speech, particularly by those under 30.

What I hate in a written context is like in the past, like in the movies, like in the recent decision, like I said. What you mean is as not like. Reserve like for like me, like a virgin and the like (like plus noun or pronoun without a verb attached, or an adverb like so).

Next time: beginnings and endings

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


  1. Peggie Fitzpatrick

    Finally someone addressed the annoying and incorrect use of the word ‘like’ mostly by millennials. It is showing up in professional correspondence and speech at an alarming rate. The English language deserves to be taught and practised using correct speech and written syntax. We need to put greater emphasis on formal grammar lessons in schools at all levels. It is annoying to see and hear words such as ‘like’ continue to be abused without correction.

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