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Gini Dietrich

Grammar Police: Twelve Mistakes Nearly Everyone Makes

By: Gini Dietrich | September 12, 2013 | 
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Grammar Police- Twelve Mistakes Nearly Everyone Makes

By Gini Dietrich

As more and more organizations join the owned media way of marketing, the grammar police seem to be in greater force.

Poor Sam Fiorella. Every time he writes something, he asks three or four of us to make sure he isn’t going to be crucified by the grammar police. It’s become quite comical and we enjoy giving him a hard time about it.

But he’s not alone. Many business leaders stress about writing anything at all, for fear of having incorrect grammar that will be made fun of across the web.

Between not knowing correct grammar and the text lexicon, it’s no wonder people are fearful of not just writing, but publishing, their work.

While I am certainly no Grammar Girl, I have found there are mistakes nearly everyone makes, particularly when writing for the web.

All Hail the Grammar Police!

  1. Affect vs. effect. The easiest way to remember the difference between the two is affect means “to influence.” So if you’re going to influence something, you will have an affect. If it’s the result of something, it’s an effect.
  2. The Oxford comma. In a series of three or more terms, you should use what’s referred to as the Oxford comma. This means you should have a comma before the word “and” in a list. For instance: The American flag is red, white, and blue. Many people debate this, but I’m a believer in it because there are times when you don’t have the extra comma and the sentence doesn’t make sense. I prefer to err on the side of having the Oxford in there.
  3. Commas, in general. And speaking of commas, slow down when you’re writing and read your copy out loud. You don’t want to make this mistake: Let’s eat grandma vs. let’s eat, grandma. Poor grandma will be eaten if you forget the comma.
  4. Their, they’re, and there. You’d think everyone learned this rule in fourth grade, but it’s a very common mistake. Use “there” when referring to a location, “their” to indication possession, and “they’re” when you mean to say “they are.”
  5. Care less. The dismissive “I could care less” you hear all the time is incorrect. If you could care less, that means there is more you could care less about the topic. Most people omit the “not” in that phrase. It should be, “I couldn’t care less.”
  6. Irregardless. This word doesn’t exist. It should be regardless.
  7. Nauseous. How many times have you said you felt nauseous? This is incorrect. You feel nauseated. Nauseous means something is sickening to contemplate.
  8. Your and you’re. Another mistake you see in people’s social media profiles and in the content they create is not correctly using “your” and “you’re.” If you’re meaning to say “you are,” the correct word is “you’re” (like at the beginning of this sentence). Otherwise the word is “your.”
  9. Fewer vs. less. Another common mistake, “less” refers to quantity and “fewer” to a number. For instance, Facebook has fewer than 5,000 employees.
  10. Quotation marks. Among great debate, people ask all the time whether or not punctuation belongs inside or outside quotation marks. It belongs inside.
  11. More than vs. over. I’m pretty sure the advertising agency created this grammatical error. Instead of saying, “We had more than 50 percent growth” in ad copy, “over” allows for more space. So they say, “We had over 50 percent growth.” Drives. Me. Crazy.
  12. Me vs. I. I was reading something by a big muckety muck the other day and the copy read, “This year has brought a big personal development for my wife and I…” No, no, no! If you were going to say that without the mention of your wife, you wouldn’t say, “This year has brought a big personal development for I.” You would say “me.” So this year has brought a big personal development for my wife and me.

There are so many grammar mistakes made today, The Elements of Style is on its fourth edition. Also check out the AP Stylebook. While most business writers don’t abide by those rules, most PR professionals do.

Having a copy of both (and referring to them) and asking an editor for help (even if it’s informal like Sam does), you’ll never have to worry about the grammar police.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

189 comments
EdwardDB
EdwardDB

1, 5 and 7 are incorrect to varying degrees.

WilliamBoyd1
WilliamBoyd1

Not a single one of these is a "mistake". These are just some preferences you have, and your ignorance and arrogance lead you to assume that they are "rules".

Mark Mueller
Mark Mueller

If "irregardless" isn't a word, then why is it in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary? Granted, it refers to the word "regardless" but still it's in the dictionary. If it's not a word then it wouldn't be there. Just wanted to point that out.

dbvickery
dbvickery

Just had the discussion about #2 and #3 with one of my technical bloggers. He does NOT like my editing because I also believe in the 5Cs. Quick...can anyone name them off the top of their head (my senior English teacher repeatedly nailed me on Concise).

Yep - #12 catches several people.

scottbrowning
scottbrowning

how about further vs. farther? and a lot of people mess up plurals/possessives. But be careful about commas, it is so easy to add a few in because is "sounds like how you'd say it" when in actuality it will be a comma splice. Another thing to consider is hyphen usage. And using contractions makes a piece seem unprofessional. If you are trying to to achieve a more conversational tone, using contractions is fine. But for something like a professional business article or a case study, contractions really have no place.

CommProSuzi
CommProSuzi

Another one: i.e. v e.g.

I worked with a great guy, and this error was like nails on a chalkboard for him. I even remember his examples.

i.e. = id est or that is. It's precise. Example: Paint the wall a light color, i.e., white. (The wall should be painted white.)

e.g. = exempli gratia or for example. Example: Paint the wall a light color, e.g., yellow, white, blue, pink. (The wall may be painted any light color.)

Another mistake is see is the comma needed between two independent clauses joined by a conjunction. Of course, check your style books.

Happy writing!

CommProSuzi
CommProSuzi

Great job, Gini. I would add:

Over using exclamation points. Reserve them for power.

Using quotation marks around an idiom like Dr. Evil's air quotations. It was a gag. Using them makes what you're writing a gag, too.

nynaiv
nynaiv

Is it it’s, or is it its? It is it’s if you can replace it with it is or it has, otherwise it is its. And that is it.

Metz Miranda
Metz Miranda

 Thank you for sharing this with us Gini. 

It helps me. You motivate me to improve my grammar and make sure that it is correct. I have to admit it takes effort and willingness to improve it. Reading and tutorial are two of the most important things to lessen the wrong usage of words.

I found this post shared on Kingged.com, the Internet marketing social site, and I "kingged" it and left this comment.

HeatherKnodelMelson
HeatherKnodelMelson

In example 3, the word "grandma" should be capitalized because in that case, it's a proper noun. If you were to say "my grandma", then lower case is fine.

jdrobertson
jdrobertson

A curse on the Oxford comma - may the fleas of a thousand camels infest its armpits! The last book (only book) I wrote consists of 70,709 words. Of the 70,709 words; "and" appeared 2060 times;  "that" 512 times; "more" 213 times. With a little imagination I was able eliminate all except a few. Next time you're (impersonal pronoun) working a new manuscript - pick a paragraph with a view toward removing those words even if you have to restructure the sentence. It is surprising how much smoother the read will be. Then if you have time call Oxford and suggest some new and novel idea as to the disposition of it's comma. 

]

alliteespring
alliteespring

12! The one I most often make.  I think it's all those 5th grade teachers who really push the  "My sister and I" in english lessons.  It's either that or my carelessness...but sure is easier to blame on mean ol' Mrs. Greene.

Also - a lot, not alot.  Do that constantly.

DavidPaulAppell
DavidPaulAppell

Good list/observations, but you left out "its" vs. "it's." Also, how do you feel about the irritating and by now nearly universal habit of using the word "their" as a gender-neutral singular?  

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

Blame the Twitter and SMS text @ginidietrich I am being very serious here. You wait the English Dictionary will be changed in many ways from this. I read a great article on 7 myths with Grammar and how they started. It seems there is no authority. You can end a sentence with a preposition for example. Just because some irked English Professor in the 1800's decided it was wrong doesn't conform to Latin doesn't mean it is wrong. I must find the article! 

With that said if something becomes fully adopted widely the language officially changes. That is why new words get added and others like Ain't become accepted. But the 140/160 character limits to me is why things like They're get butchered. So I recommended to Oxford to remove all three and replace with Thar because that saves 1 to 2 Character spots. It is under review I heard it might get the go ahead. So how about them thar apples!

PaulKelly
PaulKelly

The Oxford comma defies AP Style. Considering most journalists -- especially at newspapers -- still adhere to AP Style, I don't use the Oxford comma.


Cision NA
Cision NA

I'm scared to comment on this post. I, too, am a grammar nerd (which is ironic because I always want to spell grammar grammer - baha) but I'm afraid the pressure will get to me and I'll type alot or your fabulous or I love grammar to! This is me prefacing my comment by saying: if I make a grammar mistake, it's the pressure, not me :)

EITHER WAY, you will love, love, love this post by Hyperbole and a Half. It's whimsical and hilarious and snarky all rolled up in one! http://bit.ly/17ZPawg

And in case you're wondering, the Oxford comma is a much-contested debate in our office. I don't think I've ever seen someone explain it in such a calm manner. For some reason, people get really hyped and defensive and passionate about the Oxford comma (myself included). I will say that while I would like to see the Oxford comma die off, you get a +1 for explaining it well.

Did I make any mistakes? Oh, the horror!  

cubanalaf
cubanalaf

However (unless someone mentioned it) it is customary to use the word less to describe time, money, and distance, ie. I hope they paid less than 400 dollars for that. So it's a number. :)

The best way to discern between few and less is to look for mass nouns when using less - ie, I have clutter on my desk, but there would be less clutter if I cleaned it. Mass noun = you can't count it. 

PeterJ42
PeterJ42

I wonder why they call it the Oxford comma. I live in Oxford and over here the rule is never put a comma before the word and.

write4unj
write4unj

Gini -- this is great! It's good to know someone besides me uses the Oxford comma. I'm going to share your blog with my students (I teach Technical Communications to engineering, technology, and math students) to show that I don't just make up what I tell them -- other people believe in it too.

RebeccaTodd
RebeccaTodd

How about ellipses... 

"First shalt thou type the holy dots, then shalt thou count to three, no more, no less. Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, neither count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out.”

MaureenMonarch
MaureenMonarch

@DwayneAlicie   Um, perhaps you neglected to take your own advice?  "... have someone look at your work every so briefly."  Just saying...

PeterJ42
PeterJ42

I have one to add to your collection. The false plural. 

Companies and organizations are single entities. So they should be followed by is - not are.

Examples: Ford are introducing a new car. The Boston Red Sox are playing tonight.

Both should be is.

Sometimes this sounds odd - so change the sentence around. A new version of the Focus is being introduced by Ford. Or add the word team - The Boston Red Sox team is playing...

volitionx
volitionx

Really? I dare you to explain how number 8, for example, is untrue. Go ahead, utter genius.

CommProSuzi
CommProSuzi

May I suggest that even if a word is in the dictionary, it may not be appropriate, proper, or recognized by a particular style guide, e.g. "Ain't?"

Alas, language evolves but not always for the better. "Selfie" wasn't in the dictionary last year. And outside of certain groups, who knew the word "twerk" last Christmas?

photo chris
photo chris

@CommProSuzi ah, now this I didn't know; thank you! Of course, i.e. in my humble opinion should just then be eliminated. Why bother with it when you can directly say what you want; "Paint the wall white."

mike_ebert
mike_ebert

@DavidPaulAppell The English language is missing a construct for dealing with gender-neutral singulars that isn't cumbersome (his/her over and over? Alternating? Both aren't good IMO). "Their" is probably going to stick unless someone comes up with a good idea for gender-neutral singular pronouns.

EricPudalov
EricPudalov

@DavidPaulAppell I hate to say it, but I am guilty of using "their" as a gender-neutral singular.  The problem was that I didn't know whether to say "his/her" or to alternate gender pronouns.  I guess the latter is the preferred method??

KateNolan
KateNolan

@Howie Goldfarb @ginidietrich So, grammarians should be stocking up on current dictionaries to throw at the next generation? "You call that a word? I'll show you a real dictionary!" *Thunk*

CommProSuzi
CommProSuzi

Imagine how Kelsey Grammer must feel!

Cision NA
Cision NA

I don't know why all that text is hyperlinked? I tried to fix but it's a #fail. Apparently you REALLY need to read the Hyperbole and a Half post!

TCMuffin
TCMuffin

"...then shalt thou count to three, no more, no less" should this not be "...then shalt thou count to three, no more, no fewer"?

write4unj
write4unj

@RebeccaTodd The grammar book I teach from says four dots if at the end of the sentence (the fourth dot is the period), three dots if you are mid-sentence.

CommProSuzi
CommProSuzi

Hear, hear, Rob. The dreaded "Wrong Word" error.

Typically, these mistakes are made by folks who learned by hearing rather than reading. One that still makes me smile is "touch basis" when the writer intended the baseball analogy "touch bases."

DavidPaulAppell
DavidPaulAppell

@mike_ebert @ericpudalov Yes, there's no perfect fit - it's a matter of convenience, and I don't expect it to change 

photo chris
photo chris

@ginidietrich @PeterJ42 Oh, I haven't heard this before. Having fmaily from the "south-side"  I hear a lot of improper plurals, "I'm going to the Jewels, Dominicks, etc."

CommProSuzi
CommProSuzi

You're right, Gini! My mom is from South Chicago and uses the "Cub fan" construct. Curious!

PeterJ42
PeterJ42

@ginidietrich @PeterJ42  We hit one which is the opposite. Tesco is the name of our largest supermarket chain (think Walmart) but a lot of people call it Tesco's - I'm going down to Tesco's. J Sainsbury - another supermarket - hit the same problem and gave in - they renamed it Sainsbury's. And Morrisons - a 3rd supermarket - can't decide if it is Morrisons or Morrison's.

PeterJ42
PeterJ42

@mike_ebert @PeterJ42 I think people have a conflict in their mind as they see a big organisation as lots of people. The Olympics is the worst - "The United States are up to play next, Germany are after them".

Of course the United States doesn't help by being plural in itself. Though no one would consider saying "by being plural in ourselves".

ChristaClips
ChristaClips

@mike_ebert @PeterJ42 i'm on the fence about the team example and thought I had it figured out because many team names are plural (the "Socks", "the Leafs", etc. and ARE just sounds better to me.  But then there's "the Heat" and ARE still sounds better.  Thankfully, I supsect the grammar police is/are less diligent about this one!

Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes
Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes

@Frank_Strong@PeterJ42The rules are never as important as the end result. Were you able to communicate your message or not.  Two spaces might affect the effect you so desired but ultimately it doesn't mean a freaking thing if your reader doesn't understand your point.

Writing is a subjective medium.

"I haven't any right to criticise books, and I don't do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticise Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can't conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Everytime I read 'Pride and Prejudice' I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.'
Mark Twain- Letter to Joseph Twichell, 13 September 1898

Cision NA
Cision NA

@RebeccaTodd @write4unj Ellipses drive me mad! Mostly because people use them like a comma, but I would like to completely cut them from writing :)

ShellsyBee
ShellsyBee

Actually, Sainsbury's is correct for two reasons. The first is that J Sainsbury plc is the holding company of Sainsbury's Supermarkets Ltd. The company didn't 'give in', it simply branched out into other areas and expanded its business activities, therefore the whole operation was re-branded.

The second is that any company named after the founding member (or some other key person) can correctly be branded as X's, a few examples being Sainsbury's, Thornton's, McDonald's, Waterstone's, etc., although Waterstones [sic] subsequently dropped the apostrophe, goodness knows why. You're right about Morrisons though, it should have an apostrophe before the s, as should Greggs, Selfridges, Dunnes Stores, and countless others.

There are some which choose not to use the 's, such as WHSmith, known colloquially as Smith's. This isn't actually incorrect, given that the company was named after William Henry Smith.

However, Tesco, Asda, Boots, Next (to name just a few) were not named after Mr Tesco, Mrs Asda, Ms Boots, or Dr Next, therefore they should never have an 's on the end. It makes me cringe when people say Boots's. In fact, I would like to throttle them!!!

As is customary in the English language, there will always be exceptions to the rule. In most cases I imagine it's simply a matter of choice. I think only the most common of celebs would say Chanel's or Dior's, but then I have heard "Aren't my new Jimmy Choos/Choo's simply divine?". Lol :D

PeterJ42
PeterJ42

@ChristaClips @mike_ebert @PeterJ42 "Sounds better to me" is the thin end of a nasty wedge - anarchy.

What is the point in having grammar rules if we all choose "what sounds better to me". Indeed what is the point of a language - just say "what sounds better to me".

The point of language is not what sounds good to me, but to others. It is about making your communication clear, succinct and persuasive to others. It is also about creating an impression that you are an educated person who knows what you are talking about - something undermined by poor wording, punctuation and grammar.

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