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My first Grammar Pet Peeves post was quite some time ago, and I’m feeling especially irritated today, so I will direct my ire at people who can’t manage to correctly speak English.

If you, too, enjoy proper English and grammar, you may wish to subscribe to Bryan Garner’s email newsletter, LawProse Lessons. As the name indicates, it’s aimed at lawyers (Garner is a famous legal writer), but ordinary folks will find topics of interest as well.

Its vs. It’s

This is basic English, and it is truly appalling how often people misuse these two words. Even major retailers screw this up, which boggles the mind. A tag on a recent Banana Republic purchase informed me that the garment would retain “it’s” shape if I did such-and-such. NO. A THOUSAND TIMES NO!

There is such an easy way to determine if you are using the correct version of this word that there’s really no excuse for ever misusing it. “It’s” is a contraction. The apostrophe replaces the letter that is removed to form the contraction. “It’s” is short for “it is.” If you have ANY doubt about which form to use, put “it is” in the sentence and see if it makes sense.

Does it make sense to say that a garment will retain “it is shape”? No, of course not. So clearly, you should be using “its” in that case. Unless you’re typing a text message and autocorrect puts in the wrong form (which you should obviously correct, but whatever), there is absolutely no reason on earth why anyone should ever make this mistake.

Hanged vs. Hung

I swear, if I see one more movie or television show that refers to a person being hung, I’m going to petition the Writer’s Guild to have that writer’s membership revoked. When you are referring to a person being killed by hanging, the proper past tense is “hanged.” As in, “The posse hanged three members of the horse thief ring.” Never, ever use “hung” to refer to a person being killed.

“Hung” is used for all other situations. As in, “I hung the painting over there, but it looked terrible, so I moved it.” Or, “We hung on her every word.”

Sneaked vs. Snuck

This is another one that drives me crazy in movies and TV shows. “Snuck” is not proper English. The correct past tense of “sneak” is “sneaked.” As in, “I sneaked out last weekend to go to that party.” It might sound weird to hear “sneaked,” but that’s primarily because almost no one uses the correct past tense. Some dictionaries are starting to allow “snuck,” but only because the prevalence of idiots is wearing them down. Use “sneaked” and you will sound like an intelligent human being.

Anxious vs. Eager

This one is a bit more of a gray area, but people often use “anxious” when they really should be using “eager.” If you are anxious about something, you are apprehensive or worried about it. When you are eager about something, you look forward to it with delight or even impatience.

Don’t say, “I’m anxious to meet her” unless you are worried for some reason about meeting her. Instead, say that you are eager to meet her. Or if you’re beginning a new job, say, “I’m eager to get started,” which indicates positivity. “Anxious” has more negative connotations.

Complicating matters somewhat, “anxious” can be defined to mean “full of eagerness; earnestly desirous.” An example would be, “He is anxious to please her parents.” But again, his eagerness borders on worry and anxiety, which is why “anxious” can be correctly used in this manner.

Yin and Yang

Yin-YangYou have undoubtedly seen the symbol for yin and yang at some point in your life. It’s a concept from Chinese philosophy and religion. Yin is the negative, dark, feminine energy; Yang is the positive, bright, masculine energy. (Draw your own conclusions about the misogyny of this.)

Please note that there is only one letter “g” in the phrase “yin and yang.” It is not “ying and yang.” (In fact, my computer doesn’t even recognize “ying” as a word and keeps trying to change it to “ting” instead.)

Even when speaking colloquially, as in “We have extra bottles coming out the yin-yang,” there is no “g” on “yin.”