If you've written anything on the Internet in the past 20 years or so, whether on a forum, a comment thread or the Denny's corporate blog you maintain, a short time later you've probably experienced a feeling of pure, unalloyed irritation when you observed someone correcting your grammar. Aside from the fact that everyone on the Internet is irritating all the time, this particular irritation is compounded by the fact that, dammit, they're kind of right. It's an actual mistake you made, making your hot, burning indignation unjustifiable, a terribly frustrating feeling.
"WHY ISN'T EVERYONE WRONG BUT ME?"
But what if you're not wrong? What if, in fact, it's your accuser who's wrong, or at the very least blundering through a complicated, highly debatable topic? What if your initial reaction -- whaling on them with a length of chain -- was the right one? Well, in many circumstances, you might have a case. Here are seven of the most commonly corrected grammatical mistakes that might not actually be mistakes:
7Hopefully This Sentence Doesn't Cause You to Go Fucking Bananas
This issue showed up in the news recently, when the editors of the AP Stylebook said that using the word "hopefully" as I did above is perfectly fine. This news caused strange, excitable people around the world to immediately start bawling about mankind's slow descent into chaos.
"Up with chaos! Down at grammar!"
What's the big deal? Well, originally "hopefully" was supposed to be just a regular old adverb, meaning "in a hopeful manner." Here's an example:
"The tedious pedant corrected Internet grammar mistakes hopefully, mindless of the fact that everyone hated him."
Using this definition of the word "hopefully" to start a sentence doesn't make any sense. But it turns out that "hopefully" has another definition, where it serves as a sentence adverb. In that role, it's able to modify an entire sentence, instead of just a crummy little verb. This just happens to be the definition of "hopefully" that most people use. It's definitely a younger definition, having only shown up sometime in the 20th century, but it's been widely used since then and roughly parallels other widely accepted sentence adverbs, like "frankly" or "mercifully or "dongtacularly."
6When Someone Tells You That You Used "They" Incorrectly, They Can Shut the Hell Up
As a pronoun, "they" most commonly refers to a group of more than one person. For example, in the following sentence ...
"They are pissed off about what I did to that duck."
... it's pretty clear that "they" is referring to a group of people, possibly the authorities. But "they" can also be used to refer to a single person -- where "he" or "she" would more commonly be used -- when the gender of that person is unknown. This usage is commonly called "singular they," and it goes a little like this:
"I don't know who did that to this duck, but they are surely beyond all hope for salvation."
"And to judge from all of the mayonnaise we found at the scene, they're probably pretty sticky, too."
This irritates a lot of grammar people, who will insist that this usage is incorrect and would prefer that something like "... but he or she is surely beyond all hope ..." be used in its place. Which is a fine solution, if you prefer clumsy, beastlike sentences to actual good writing.
There are a whole bunch of reasons why using "they" to refer to a singular object is acceptable. Briefly: Because it actually is perfectly logical when looked at closely, because it's been standard practice for at least 600 years and because some of the best English writers have used it. If that's not enough, it fills in a pretty big blind spot in the English language, in particular the need to refer to unknown duck aggressors when the particulars of their crime are still sketchy.