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By Sarah-Ann Binning
While proof reading my boyfriend’s group paper Monday night, I came across today’s topic: amongst. Whichever group member typed the case study, used “amongst” rather than “among.” I thought to myself, that can’t be right, can it? I mean, it sounds like old English. As I read “amongst” I couldn’t help picturing Bryan and his group sitting around the round table dressed in the latest medieval apparel, writing their paper by candlelight, scribbling feverishly with a quill. I chuckled to myself as I changed “amongst” to “among.”
I didn’t have my AP stylebook or my Precision Language handbook nearby as I proofread, so I made a mental note to look it up when I returned home and blog about it on Wednesday.

One’s use of amongst or among depends on one’s location. The dictionary acknowledges that the terms can be used interchangeably. Amongst and among are both preposition meaning “In the midst of; surrounded by.”  However, and other sources state that “amongst” in primarily used in Britain. (That’s probably why it sounds so ‘old English’ to me.)

I must confess I do enjoy using “Amongst” on occasion. Sometime we just need a Briticism like “amongst” to make us feel prim, proper and plain ol’ silly.

In the United States, the preference is toward “among.” As a journalist, my leaning is also toward “among” as it is the shorter choice … and in the printing business we care most about tightening and condensing our work.

Now, what about “amid?” It’s an even shorter word than “among.” Can we use these two terms interchangeably? No. lists then as synonyms, but my Precision Language handbook disagrees. While amid, and amidst, also are prepositions meaning “in the middle of; surrounded by,” their use depends on the prepositional phrase.

Take a look at the phrase. Can the items be counted? If so, use among. The eagle seemed to dance among the stars. Stars can be counted. (It just might take you awhile on a clear night in the country to count all the stars, but they can still be counted).

If the items cannot be separated, the term to use is amid (or amidst).  The orphan stood amid the ruins. I trod amidst the heartache and sorrow.  The ruins, heartache and sorrow are collective and difficult to measure. I apologize for offering such depressing examples for amid. Here’s a more upbeat one: After receiving an “A” on her exam, she felt like she was soaring among happiness and the heavens.

These rules are similar to the fewer/less rule I discuss in my “Weird Al” Grammar Lessons on May 5, 2010.

An apology to my readers

Dear readers,

My apologies for  slacking last week on the blog. I’ve had a busy week with a hospitalized roommate, apartment hunting, lease signing, car selling, trip home, bridal shower and LOST series finale.

Over my trip home I had several friends tell me how much they enjoy reading my blog, so I’m buckling down this week and getting back on track with postings. Stay tuned for more exciting grammar lessons!

By Sarah-Ann Binning

Allow me to begin my second “rainy day” blog post with a silly personal story from freshman year at Ohio University.

At pre-college orientation they made us watch a ridiculous film where past students giving advice to freshman. I remember one girl said she spent hours getting ready for class on the first day. Hair straightened, make-up applied, cutest outfit picked out. When she stepped outside, she discovered it was pouring. Ten steps outside and she had already slipped and ruined her hour of preparation. She had to quick run upstairs and change.

Now, I think the advice that she was trying to offer us was not to worry about what you wear to class. This isn’t high school and it’s not a popularity test. But what I learned was bring an umbrella and check the forecast before leaving the house.

I came to school prepared. I convinced my mom to let me bring the largest umbrella we owned to OU. This thing was a beauty and was decorated in comic strips. (Funny and entertaining to read while walking in gloomy rainy weather!) I’m not sure how my family came into possession of it, but my grandpa’s daily newspaper logo was splattered on it, so I’m assuming he had something to do with it.

The first rainy day Fall quarter, I was a giddy school girl. Time to bust out my unique umbrella. I grabbed my very distinctive umbrella, ready to make the trek up Jeff Hill. Stepping outside, I opened up the umbrella and instantaneously it broke.  It wouldn’t stay open and had rusted into a shape that only  kept half my body dry. I struggled up the hill, trying to keep at least my book bag dry. When I got to class, I threw the umbrella into the trash outside the door. My favorite umbrella had betrayed me and I was a wet soaking mess.

After class, I decided to run to Court Street and buy a new umbrella. Along the way, I noticed the comic strip-disaster of an umbrella sitting in a different dumpster. Someone must have spotted it in the trash and decided a broken umbrella was better than no umbrella. Apparently whoever picked it up had decided it was a worthless POS and tossed it when they reached a dry building.

Throughout the day, I spotted that umbrella in no less than five trash cans. It comforted me to know I wasn’t the only baboon who made a moron of herself trying to keep dry.

The sudden surge of rainy weather makes me smile, because I get to tell this story. But the one thing that disappoints me about the rain in Athens is that it rarely thunderstorms. We’ll get an occasional clasp of thunder and maybe some streaks of heat lightning now and then, but we don’t seem to get the never-ending, eardrum deafening, lightning flashing storms.

I can remember three or four storms in the four years I’ve lived in Athens. Here’s one of them:

Students in Brown Hall caught this candid moment on video. The lightning hit the lightning rod (duh, because that’s what it’s there for!) and set off the fire alarm in the process.

I selected this video because of the lightning. Lightning is today’s grammar topic of choice.

Do not confuse this with “lightening.” Lightening is a progressive form of the verb “lighten.” We use this form when we wish to say that something is being made lighter in weight, color or harshness/severity.

Examples: Alan is lightening his backpack by removing some textbooks. Sally is lightening the image because it is  too dark. There’s no hope in lightening Greg’s punishment.

Lightning, on the other hand, can be used as a noun or an adjective. As a noun it means a flash of light that is caused by a discharge of electricity in the atmosphere. Example: The lightning struck Brown Hall.  As an adjective it indicates swift speed, such as the speed of a flash of lightning. Example: The track star runs lightning fast.

(A Editor’s note to the wise: Do not be fooled by Google images. I did a search for lightening, so see if I could find examples of incorrect uses of the word. I found so many examples of people using the incorrect spelling. When typing lighTENning, I found thousands, upon thousands of pictures of lighTNing—flashes of light!)

Pass me the gray crayon

By Sarah-Ann Binning

It’s raining. It’s pouring. The old man is snoring.

Looks like spring is arriving a tad late. The 10-day forecast on offers rain, scattered showers, thunderstorms and cloudy skies. Sun does not appear on the agenda for the next week.

Instead of becoming an Eeyore over all this gray weather we’re having, I decided now is the perfect time to use my “rainy day” blog idea.

Did you happen to notice how I spelled gray? Gray as opposed to grey.

What’s the difference? They’re spelled different, so they MUST mean different things, right?

Wrong. Although these two words have a slight vowel differentiation, they are pronounced and mean exactly the same thing: a neutral hue, a color between white and black.

The variations in these words developed in the divide between U.S. English and UK English. If you live in a region that generally speaks UK English, you’ll typically spell grey with the ‘e.’ But if you use the U.S. dialect, you’ll spell the gloomy color with an ‘a.’

However, time impacts how we use our language. We seem to be on better terms with Britain since the American Revolution. My research shows that it is generally acceptable to use either spelling in everyday use.

However, I must also remember that my AP Stylebook is my Bible. According to my 2007 Stylebook, use the U.S. form gray, never grey, in journalistic writing, unless grey is part of a proper noun. (Editor’s Note: I obviously have an outdated Stylebook. I’m waiting for the 2010 book to come out before I buy another one. If you have a later edition and find this statement to be incorrect, please correct me.)

In popular culture, there are multiple examples of both forms being used. Here are a few who choose to utilize “gray.”

In 1949, Crayola added 40 new colors to their collection. Among them was “gray.” In 1958 Crayola would invent and then later retire “blue gray.” The American based company never selected the –ey spelling of this neutral color.

Buckeye fans, I mustn’t forget you either. What are the Ohio State University’s team colors? Scarlet and gray.

And do not forget my favorite Civil War historical novel, “Shades of Gray” by Carolyn Reeder. My fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Tippin, made us read this book in school. I have never forgotten its story. I’ll spare you the sentimental flashback. Rather, allow me to introduce some references where we use “grey.”

BarlowGirl, a Christian Rock band of three sisters, names their first track on their Album Another Journal Entry “Grey.

“Grey’s my favorite color/ black and white has never been my thing.”

Why BarlowGirl selected the –ey ending is not 100 percent clear. They were born in Illinois, which is nowhere near the UK.

While you’re listening to BarlowGirl’s Grey” maybe you’d like some tea to drink? Will you drink Earl Grey? When I think tea, I immediately think of Britain. That’s how I choose to remember that the beverage is spelled grey.  It is also important to note this tea was named for Earl Charles Grey.

By Sarah Binning

While organizing my “week ahead” blog schedule, I decided to check my e-mail. Although I already checked my e-mail approximately three times before 9 a.m. (at which time I sat down to work on this blog), I suddenly remembered I stashed some ideas in my inbox.

Last week, the same day I stumbled across the “Weird Al” grammar lessons, I also discovered a new blog: Hyperbole and a Half. While Allie’s blog isn’t dedicated to grammar, she has an engaging, humorous cartoon blog, which she illustrates herself. Allie’s style reminds me of the notes my friend Michelle would doodle and pass me in school. Maybe that’s why I enjoy reading it so much.

So what does Hyperbole and a Half have to do with I Spy Grammar?  A lot. No, really. That’s today’s topic: a lot. Notice how it is actually two words as opposed to one?

Alot is not in the dictionary. Don’t believe me? Just check here.

Allot (when spelled with two L’s) is one word, but it means something totally different from a lot.

Allot means “to distribute among.” Example: The professor allotted time for students to make up the exam on Friday.

A lot, on the other hand, is more of an informal phrase, which means “many.” Example: A lot of fans are predicted to watch the season finale of LOST (Sunday, May 23). LOST leaves me with a lot of questions.

In her blog “The Alot is better than you at everything” Allie discusses how she handles people who misuse “a lot.”

Her answer: “The Alot is an imaginary creature that I made up to help me deal with my compulsive need to correct other people’s grammar.”

Here are some illustrations to further her point:

"The Alot"

The Alot from Hyperbole and a Half

Image from Hyperbole and a Half

A special thanks goes to Allie for allowing me to use her drawings. Be sure to check out Hyperbole and a Half for more entertainment.

By Sarah Ann Binning

People have been arguing over grammar since the beginning of time. I’m sure early arguments sounded something close to this:

Eve: Can I try an apple?

God: You mean may you try an apple?

Eve: Yes, may I?

God: NO! Do not eat from the beautiful tree in the center of Eden.

Everyone has his/her opinion about grammar. And of course, there are those people who HAVE to be right. All the time. No matter what.

Setting out to write a grammar blog is no easy task. To accomplish a successful, correct, informative message one must study, research, study and then research some more. Writing about proper English, means undertaking a life-long challenge to learn and perfect my own problems with grammar.

Errors and writing a grammar blog are like peanut butter and jelly. Whenever you write about  proper grammar, spelling, their uses and rules you also encounter errors. However, there is hope. I recently learned of Hartman’s Law of Prescriptivist Retaliation. In his online column, Words & Stuff, Jed Hartman first coined the phrase Hartman’s Law (or as I like to call it, the PB&J effect). “[A]ny article or statement about correct grammar, punctuation, or spelling is bound to contain at least one error.”

Hartman, isn’t the only individual who recognized this phenomenon. Erin McKean (“Verbatim” editor and Dictionary Evangelist) coined McKean’s Law: “Any correction of the speech or writing of others will contain at least one grammatical, spelling, or typographical error.”

Similarly, Skitt’s Law (originating from alt.usage.english contributor Skitt) states “spelling or grammar flames always contain spelling or grammar errors.”

[NOTE: All sources I read regarding these three PB&J effects expressed that these authors came to these conclusions independently from each other.]

Don’t you hate those people who jump at the chance to correct your grammar? It’s like they wait for you to slip so they can shove your mistakes down your throat, pin you to the ground and laugh in your face. Brutal. Trust me, I know.

Most often, my high-school self, encountered those types of people. As a 4.0 student, people always loved correcting me when I misspoke.  They had that smug look that broadcast their thought “and you’re valedictorian?!” Those people are the reason I started this blog. I’m no genius. I’m human. I make mistakes. But, (cue inspirational, heart-warming music) I want to learn. Writing this blog has challenged me to think about grammar daily. I’m conditioning myself to be a stronger writer and a solid speaker.

I just pray I don’t become one of those laugh-in-your-face-grammar-gloating bitches.

And readers, just so we’re clear, you are not included in that group of gloating female dogs.

No matter what you call it, Hartman, McKean or Skitt’s Law, I am filled with renewed hope. They remind me that no human is perfect. While I will edit with more diligence, I will not beat myself up over some minor missed mistakes. (I will however, give myself a stern talkin’ to, when I mess up big time). Please, I continue to encourage you to help me improve.  I appreciate the feedback you all are leaving. I can learn about my weaknesses from the grammatical errors readers catch.

Just always remember to practice humility. Someday you’ll slip up too and someone will correct you.

Predicate Rap and the Grammar Police

By Sarah Binning

My apologies for seriously slacking on today’s post. I’m working on some longer posts for next weeks blogs. Meanwhile, I stumbled across this video on YouTube today. Hope you enjoy watching the Grammar Police. The predicate rap half-way through the video makes this worth watching!

Note: The Grammar Police should arrest whoever edited this video. Can you spot the grammatical errors in the end of the video? (Here’s a hint on one, think AP punctuation rules.)

By Sarah Binning

Today’s Internet exploring resulted in an interesting find: “Weird Al” Yankovic giving YouTube grammar lessons!

Here’s one of my favorites:

15 Items of fewer, not less. Thank you Weird Al! So why is it fewer, as opposed to less?

As Grammar Girl points out, fewer and less mean the same thing—“the opposite of more.” So how do you know which one to use, if they mean the same thing? It all depends on the noun.

We use “fewer” when dealing with nouns that can be counted. Stars can be counted. So tonight we’d say there are fewer stars in the sky. Books can be counted. The Montpelier library has fewer books than the Boston Public Library. Similarly, the items in the grocery line can be counted, so thus, 15 items or fewer.

We use “less” with nouns that can’t be counted individually. Flour, is a mass noun. We consider the flour as a whole, singular unit … rather than individual grains. Therefore, the recipe should call for less flour, not fewer flour.

Other examples: The lecture was less than satisfactory. My life is less predictable now.

But it seems that for every rule, there must be an exception. In this case, the exception arises when you’re dealing with money, time and distance. One would assume that these are things that can be counted. Well, you know what they say about assuming. In these instances, it is customary to use “less.” The trick is to think of time, currency and distance as a unit … a singular unit that (because of its solidarity and wholeness) cannot be counted. Therefore we say: I paid less than full price. Or, I ran less than three miles. Or, we have less than a minute to make it home before curfew.

I’d like to take a minute to thank Weird Al and his dedication to correcting the world’s grammar. There’s nothing like a little celebrity endorsement to help spread enthusiasm for proper English.

Take a look at this other video:

Oh those “ly” adverbs and adjectives are tricky. How do you know when to add the “-ly” and when to leave it home? Here’s one general tip: Can the sentence be reshaped into a “How” question?

Caution! Drive slow/slowly becomes the how question “how should you drive?” If you can transform the sentence into a “how” question, then ADD the -LY. The Caution sign can be turned into a  how question. Thus, we should drive slowLY.

This fish smells bad/badly … how does the fish smell? The fish smells badly. (Added Later: The fish smells badly would mean that the fish has a poor sense of smell. However, as Vance and Grammar Girl remind me: you can also say “the fish smells bad.” This would mean that the fish is producing a foul odor.)

I sing poorly. I type quickly. I hum loudly. I whisper softly.

She is a bad dancer. This sentence doesn’t make sense if transformed into a “how question” so we do not add “-ly.” (Note: if you really, really, really wanted to use “badly” you could rephrase the sentence to say she dances badly. Isn’t grammar fun!)

And speaking of bad verse badly, Donald Trump could learn a thing or two about humility: Check out Grammar Girl correcting Donald Trump’s incorrect use of the word “badly” in her latest blog post.

By Sarah Binning

Flash back to Saturday. My roommates and their moms and I are all relaxing in the living room, when the age-old dilemma rolls into the conversation: “What do we want for dinner?” The humidity and rain clouds filled us with laziness, so we settled on the classic solution: order pizza.

“What kind do we want?”


Of course, this response shifted the discussion away from actually ordering our pizza to: “What is the plural of Pepperoni?”

Oh boy, here we go. Everyone had a different answer: Pepperoni is the plural. No, pepperoni is both singular and plural. No, the plural is pepperonis. Are you serious? There’s not way the plural is pepperonis!

The room fell silent as all eyes focused on me, as if I magically knew the answer. Come on, Ms. Grammar, what is the plural of pepperoni?

My vote was that pepperoni was the plural, but I didn’t know for sure. So I did what every good writer should do, research.

Researching the plural of pepperoni was no easy task. Website after website, article after article, no one could seem to agree on the plural. This site said pepperoni is singular and plural. That site said pepperoni is plural. And so on and so forth. But we wanted some hard data. We needed an answer. So I turned to a more reliable source: my faithful friend

The answer? Well, we’re all a little correct. Pepperoni is an Americanism developed in the early to mid 1920s. The term originates from the Italian word peperoni, which is plural for a “peperone cayenne pepper plant.” Pepperoni is a plural misspelling, adapted by Americans.  However, Americans mess everything up. When we adopted the word, we of course adopted it in a SINGULAR sense. According to, the plural of pepperoni (when used in English, not Italian) is pepperonis.

Example: I pick pepperonis off my pizza.

Of course, it is impossible to discuss the plural of pepperoni without allowing the conversation to switch to other English quirky plurals.

What is the plural of Octopus? The answer might surprise you. The original, correct Anglicized plural form is Octopuses. However, the incorrect term Octopi is so commonly used, the dictionary adopts and accepts both plural forms. The same is true for hippopotamus (hippopotami and hippopotamuses).

To wrap up this entry: I thought I might include some other interesting singular to plural transformations that trip up most Americans: (singular/plural)

Crisis/Crises … curriculum/curricula … medium/media …

And because I’m in the middle of job hunting, I think it’s also interesting to touch upon plural courtesy titles. These courtesy titles can become difficult to spell, because they are in fact French words. (Yeah for French!)

Mister/Messieurs …. Misses/Mesdames … Miss/Misses

To see the abbreviations for these titles, I recommend this site.

By Sarah-Ann Binning

Upon my move to Boston, summer 2009, I wasted no time in getting a library card, because “having fun isn’t hard, when you’ve got a library card.”

The block-long building on Copley Square became my home away from home. Never-ending rows of bookshelves and the smell of well-loved and worn book pages soothed my fears of moving to a new and unfamiliar city. Among a city of strangers, the Boston Public Library offered me the comforts I most longed for: friends, adventures.

Growing up, I never had many friends. I went through an awkward transition from elementary school and middle school. From first to fourth grade, I had a best-friend move away each year. I hid myself in books. These fictional characters would never abandon me. Page after page the characters let me into their lives and it built a wonderful love for reading.

It comes as no surprise then (seeing as though this is my last entry for spelling week on ‘ispy’) that reading is another way to improve your spelling. (Editor’s note: I meant to post this on Friday, but I got carried away with a writing test for a job application.)

Reading causes you to focus on words that you might not come across during everyday conversation. This helps you increase your vocabulary. Yet at the same time, while you’re reading these words, you’re seeing them in their correct form/spelling. If you’re consistently seeing the word, you can pick up how to spell the word too.

Part of the challenge is to step outside your normal comfort zone and to expand your basis of reading. Rather than reading Joe Schmoe’s personal blog every day, why not also read a few articles on or Reading meticulously edited and revised publications will help you see/read correct grammar and spelling in action.

That being said, I don’t want you to read something that makes you want to stab your eyes with pencils, either. You need to read something you ENJOY. I promise reading can be (and IS) enjoyable.

We all advance through various stages of literary appreciation at our own pace. Being forced to read something you dislike only slows the process of literary appreciation.

While taking a “Young Adult Literature” course last quarter, my professor had us read Chapter One from a Nilson & Donelson textbook. Nilson and Donelson described the stages of literary appreciation as thus (39):

1. Understand that Pleasure and Profit can come from literature. What N &D illustrate is that small children learn to read “signs.” Take the McDonald’s arch, for example. Children learn to read the sign as a symbol for food and/or happy meal. This association is pleasurable and they profit from enjoying the food.

2. Learning to Read. This is the elementary stage of learning how to sound out words and spell.

3. Losing oneself in a story. Here the reader forgets all else and allows him/herself to be consumed by the story. We lose track of time and get carried away with the adventure. I would say this is my natural state of reading, especially when I’m reading Harry Potter.

4. Finding oneself in a story. Here we begin to shape our values and morals based on what we’re reading and what characteristics we value in the text’s heroes.

5. Venturing beyond themselves. This stage typically involves asking our friends for reading suggestions. We’ve read everything we like and love and now we crave new authors and new story plots.

6/7. Develop Aesthetic and analytical appreciation. For me, this didn’t really occur until college. I never understood that each WORD is chosen for a specific reason in every book. Form has meaning. The author chooses to write the book this way intentionally.

My 2010 new year’s resolution is to read for at least 15 minutes everyday. With the exception of 7 days this year, I’ve kept my resolution. While I’m still a chronic misspeller, I seem to be more aware of what words I struggle with and I’m working on improving.

I also created a book “bucket-list” of 200 classic books I want to read before I die. I figure I should branch out and see what all the fuss is about. These books are famous for a reason, right?

Side Note: Upon researching this topic, I stumbled upon a blog posted June 1, 2009 by glen. “8 ways reading makes you better at life” speaks right to my heart. It helps that the author is cleaver and witty writer too.