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, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

  • The quotation marks isn’t quite as clear cut. While generally the punctuation will be inside, if you’re quoting as part of a bigger sentence then they’re on their own, or as a question.
    http://www.grammarbook.com/punctuation/quotes.asp

    • decillis1

      Danny Brown And I’m pretty sure that whenever it’s a title, punctuation goes on the outside. I’m traveling today, ginidietrich. WHY DID YOU DO THIS TO ME???

      • decillis1 I did it because I knew you were traveling, Betsy.

        • decillis1

          ginidietrich I had an English professor in college that subscribed to a superior form of grammar based on logic. That has screwed me for life, especially when posts like this just suck me in…

    • Danny Brown Thank you.

  • In my case, you can blame the AP Stylebook for that Oxford comma issue. It’s the journalist in me… hard to break away.
    –Tony Gnau

    • T60Productions I was just about to say the same thing. I’ve been coming over to the Oxford comma side of things, but I don’t consider that a grammatical error inasmuch as it’s a style issue.

      • AmyVernon T60Productions +1.

      • AmyVernon T60Productions I remember when the big memo at FH came out – you WILL use the Oxford comma. OK, OK.

  • Ha, only 12? I usually can fit at least 12 in one paragraph. Sometimes I struggle with ‘is’ and ‘are’. I’ll write it and read it and put it to the ‘redneck’ test and if it sounds like some hick was writing it then I might change it, but sometimes I think it was probably right in the first place. 
    That’s why I struggled with English, I can talk it but once you want me to dissect and identify it you lost me; in fact, it made me nauseous….:).

  • One space after end punctuation, not two. That one drives ME crazy. 😀

    • jasonkonopinski Good one! That drives me crazy, too.

      • ginidietrich jasonkonopinski SO CRAZY. Especially when I have to edit and take them all out.

      • ginidietrich Hah, how very presumptuous of yourself to think you aren’t already crazy.  Look who you associate with here.

    • jasonkonopinski Two spaces!  2, Mr. K. We cannot pick and choose which rules we wish to follow, lest there be no rules at all. 
      As for the grammar police, good luck to them. Most of their criticism doesn’t come late at night after working a full-day and setting aside 90 or 120 minutes to blog!

      • Frank_Strong jasonkonopinski Two spaces comes from the days of typewriters and hot type. No longer necessary.

        • AmyVernon Frank_Strong ginidietrich Yep! It’s archaic usage that never completely died out. WordPress (and HTML) doesn’t even render the two spaces. It’ll format two spaces into a single.

        • You are right. Typography 101.

      • Frank_Strong jasonkonopinski This article calls the PR industry ignorant for always having two spaces after a period: 

        • ginidietrich  jasonkonopinski First world arguments. There’s always someone yelling about PR pros. Besides, Jason, Word defaults to two spaces, the power of such an argument alone should settle this once and for all! 
          🙂

        • MS-Word is not our friend

        • Randy Milanovic Truer words… heh.

      • Frank_Strong jasonkonopinski I’m with Frank- 2 Spaces forever.

    • jasonkonopinski There is nothing wrong with two spaces.  I shall fight to the death and beyond for my two spaces.  No man, woman, or child shall deprive me of my god given right to two spaces.

  • There’s also a conversation to be had about clarity vs. correctness. Strict and unwavering adherence to the rules of grammar can render the most well-crafted prose unreadable. See: the grade school rule that one should never end a sentence with a preposition.

    • jasonkonopinski I hate prepositions.

    • jasonkonopinski I’ve been joking mostly, because the reaction about one or two spaces says something about the human psyche (I mean, really, does it matter?  When we’re on our death beds will we proud or regretful of one or two spaces?).  However, I completely buy into wavering from adherence.  In fact, there was a business writing proff I once had that actively pushed us to do just that for the purposes of clarity.  He had a profound influence on my own thinking and writing.

      • Frank_Strong jasonkonopinski I found it very hard to read your comment Frank. LOL #ONEspace!!

        • belllindsay Well.  Then.  I’ll just have to appeal to my niche. 🙂

        • Frank_Strong HA!

  • The use of dashes really gets to me. The timing, look, and spacing is so inconsistent.

    • Matt_Cerms You – mean – like – this?

      • ginidietrich Is it this–or that — but what about– hfdkfhdlkgj. Joke is over.

    • dash, n-dash and m-dash (referring to their relative widths.) There’s no such tuing as a double dasg. Shall we add inch marks versus quotation marks? The web has been harsh.

      • Randy Milanovic couldn’t have said it better myself. Auto-correct on mobiles should force punctuation.

      • Randy Milanovic I love the em-dash but was using the double hyphen for the longest time until I discovered SHIFT+OPTION (at least on the Mac). Now I’m getting used to the idea of removing the spaces on either side of the dash—something a recent editor insisted on and was news to me.

        • Removing the space I believe is correct, but wow, what a word wrap killer. I highly prefer the n-dash.

      • Correction: hyphen, n-dash, m-dash

  • Leave, me, and, alone.

  • The Chicago Manual of Style has been a preferred reference.

    • Randy Milanovic Funny, I had never been asked to use the Chicago Manual of Style until I wrote Marketing in the Round. Then my AP style background kept fighting me.

      • I’ve heard it referred to as, “the style manual for business communications.”

  • LONG LIVE THE OXFORD COMMA!!!

    • RebeccaTodd YEAH!!

    • RebeccaTodd ginidietrich 
      Noooooooooooooooo, nooooooooooooooo and nooooooooooooooo.  😉

      • ClayMorgan RebeccaTodd ginidietrich When the topic is the Oxford comma, you can count on dissent, including people who embrace it fervently, those who oppose it just as fervently, and those who remain neutral but want so badly to be in the company of great people that they will look the other way.

        • biggreenpen ClayMorgan RebeccaTodd ginidietrich Ha-ha! So which are the cool kids?
          I’ve gone back and forth over the years and these days I only add the Oxford comma when it clarifies things. So I suppose I’m in the squishy middle.

      • ClayMorgan RebeccaTodd ginidietrich AP all the way. Rah, rah, rah.

      • ClayMorgan RebeccaTodd ginidietrich Wrong!

    • RebeccaTodd One day we are going to hold a public execution for the Oxford Comma. It will be a day of laughter and rejoicing and the people will cry out with relief at the death of the tyrant.

      • Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes You’re a tyrant!

  • The more than vs. over drives me crazy too. Whoever decided that using a preposition in place of an adjective to describe a numerical value is insane. INSANE I tell you!

  • NancyDavis

    The one i hate is the mistake of “your” instead of “you are” or “you’re.” If I had a dollar for every idiot on dating sites who sent me the message “your sexy” I would have a lot of dollars. I was always tempted to answer back, “my what is sexy?” I figured they would not get the joke though.
    The other mistake I hate is alot. That is incorrect. It is two words not one. A LOT of stupid people think it is one word!
    Rant over. 🙂

    PS – Will there be cake?

  • XanPearson

    Yes! These drive me crazy. I always want to say “well at least you still care” when someone says “could care less”. The constant misuse of me and I is the worst though. “Me and ____ went to the concert” just makes me cringe.

  • Lara Wellman

    I learned to use the oxford comma in school and people argue with me all the time.  I may have even given it up a bit because of that…
    So few people know about nauseous/nauseated but it seems a bit rude to inform someone they’re saying it wrong when they’re nauseated 🙂

  • Can we add “it’s versus its” to the list? That one drives me crazy. I see this only becoming more of a problem in the future. They don’t teach good old-fashioned English class to our children (at least not in our schools). Remember diagramming sentences and all that fun (or am I showing my age)? Thanks for the post!

    • sokieny Agreed. Confusing “its and it’s” really bothers me.

  • ericswain

    Yeah, but my modern linguist friends would say that as long as your meaning is comprehensible, grammatical mistakes are inconsequential.

  • What’s been getting my grammar/usage goat for quite a while now is the use of “everyday” instead of “every day.” They are two different concepts. Everyday means a commonly occurring or ordinary event; every day mean each and every day. “Every day I see this everyday mistake.”
    It’s been going on for a long time, at least since Morrissey incorrectly sang, “Everyday is like Sunday.” But it seems to be getting worse.
    One more: the past tense of the verb “lead” is spelled “led,” not “lead.” This is one that is not only wrong but creates actual confusion, which is the mark of a true grammar foul.

  • My AP Style Guide is always right by my side.

    • susancellura

      yvettepistorio Those that I work with do not understand what the AP Style Guide is nor why I use it. Blerg.

      • susancellura yvettepistorio Gah!!! Whenever they make a grammar mistake you should photo copy the page from AP that tells them how to do it right!

        • susancellura

          yvettepistorio THAT is a good idea!

  • Communic8nHowe

    Good reminders Gini! Though I intentionally never use the Oxford comma and advocate against it. My personal challenge is “its” vs. “it’s”. No matter how many times I look it up I need to look it up again to make sure I’ve used it correctly!

  • susancellura

    Another post I should print out and tape to the walls outside offices!! Just this morning, my boss sent an email that said he was going to be offsight today. I literally had to sit on my hands so as not to respond to him. Agh!!  🙂

  • My colleague calls me the Comma Queen. (I’ve been called worse.) 
    In school, we used Oxford; in journalism, we didn’t; at my current job, I use Oxford; in my freelance, I don’t. What, ever.

  • I read an incredible quote awhile back from some famous writer – can’t remember who said it but it described me to a TEE!! “I don’t know all the rules of grammar, but I know when I read something if it’s right or wrong.”

    • EricPudalov

      belllindsay I know exactly what you mean, Lindsay!  Sometimes something just doesn’t *sound* right…right?

    • belllindsay I’m always in edit mode when listening. I can’t help it!

  • Almost every day, I start to share a blog post by someone, get to the second sentence, and see a glaring grammatical error. Unless it’s the greatest content ever written, I don’t share it. It’s the curse of starting my career as a technical writer. (And may God have mercy on your soul if I see you use “it’s” incorrectly.)

  • AmyEricsonBuhrow

    I was expecting to see a rant against that!  It’s been twelve years since I wrote for you and I still try to edit them out of my writing!

    • AmyEricsonBuhrow HAHAHAHAHA! I totally still rant against it here! I forgot to add it. Good one!

  • duongsheahan

    These are great tips Gini, I just downloaded the Element of Style on Kindle for .99 on Amazon. 🙂

  • Sarah Ranck Layton

    This one didn’t make the list, but maybe it’s a local thing…Even our PA state slogan uses it… “You’ve got a friend in Pennsylvania.” No, no, no!! “You HAVE a friend…”!

  • Here’s my take: If you’re an educated communicator who tries to improve himself or herself and stays on top of a variety of blogs, and you’re still making these mistakes, I have to wonder about your professionalism. It seems that I read these same tips once a month on one blog or email newsletter or another.

  • Great tips as unlike lucky (not poor) Sam Fiorella I don’t have 3-4 people to ask. I am always staring at those commas wondering if I have messed up or got them right.
    And ‘nauseous’ – Nauseating how many times I have made that mistake. Not anymore. Thanks Gini.

  • dharrison

    A fun read: Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss

    • dharrison I should have seen this before I commented!

    • dharrison Yes, I love that book! I also have it on my desk.

  • EricPudalov

    Excellent tips, Gini!  Many of these grammar mistakes that I see *constantly* on the web drive me up a wall.  The “you’re” vs. “your” and “they’re, their, and there” mix-ups are my personal pet peeves.  I think it generally pays to re-read what you’ve just written, or have someone look it over for you if it’s important…right?

  • Great post, Gini. This needs to be shared, oh, every three months. 
    For more than vs. over, I always think of how a plane flies over the ground, and that helps me remember to use “more than” in most cases. It’s simple but, hey, it works.

  • GINI! You are my favorite person right now. 🙂 Aside from making me burst into uncontrollable cackles, yes cackles, that rattled office-wide when I read # 3 (poor, poor grandma) this list is great. It’s always good to have reminders. And yes, #11, I blame ad folks trying to get some more white space into their copy for replacing ‘more than’ with over. I see it and I can feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I think my cat taught me that trick.  Thanks for the great post!

  • I make the “over” instead of “more than” quite often, I’m afraid, because at my first “real” job, that was in the style guide!! and I still have trouble getting rid of the habit. I also make the “less/fewer” mistake, but I care less (hee!) about that.
    But now that everyone’s “allowed” to use “literally” to mean “figuratively”… 
    Your poor grandma reminded me of “Eats, shoots and leaves.” Have you read that?
    By the way, for punctuation, you use question marks and colons outside the quotes, correct? (And the British sometimes put punctuation marks outside the quotes, I think, depending on the context.)

  • JefferyBialek

    Another fabulous post…and grandma will now be safe for awhile. But did you have to go picking on Katy Perry with the chosen image? I wonder how Robin Thicke’s grammar would stand up to some scrutiny. 🙂

  • So I’m 0/12. What does that mean ginidietrich? Did I win something? #perfectscore

  • KevinVandever

    These are good Gini, but I am shocked that “nearly everyone” still makes these mistakes (except the nauseous/nauseated one) since they seem to be posted on FB a couple times a day. I found a list of less (not fewer) published examples and where the Grammar Police should spend more time crackin’ skulls.
    http://litreactor.com/columns/20-common-grammar-mistakes-that-almost-everyone-gets-wrong
    Although, don’t let the name of the above URL fool you. These aren’t mistakes that almost everyone gets wrong, that would mean that almost everyone avoids these grammar mistakes, wouldn’t it? The actual title of the article is 20 Common Grammar Mistakes That Almost Everyone Makes.
    Oh, and next time you visit a grocery store, take a look at the sign above the express checkout lane(s). You can probably makes a citizen’s arrest.

  • I agree with everything (especially #11 – drives me nuts, too!) but I’m not convinced in the Oxford comma assessment. Because I was trained using the AP Stylebook, I learned to omit it and still do it today. There is a continued debate. 

    Another I’d add to this list – adding a comma before “too.” As in: I would like to go, too! Many billboards and ads omit this!
    I’m fascinated by the ways we evolve. Language is an evolving thing, and we will continue to use it in awesomely varied ways.  Nice reminders, good lessons and excellent comments. (See what I did there??)

    • jeanniecw I’m with you on this one. I always tend to omit it and my husband, who is my editor, always adds it.

    • jeanniecwDie, Oxford comma, die! I too am a slave to the AP Stylebook and routinely got scolded by my English professors because I used journalism-style writing. We will not lose the fight, Jeannie! 🙂

  • The one I love is what you hear on the reality TV shows.  “John and I’s plans are to…” I’s???? Drives. Me. Crazy.

    • I forgot one… Please call myself or Mr. Jones with questions. I see and hear this error often.

  • BTRIPP

    Yay … Oxford Comma!

  • Here is another one I notice ginidietrich, spacing after punctuation. I have been told that according to the AP stylebook, etc. it is 1 space _ not 2 _ _. (I notice 2 spaces from people A LOT)

    • ryancox ginidietrich The two spaces is how I was taught in typing class, but you are correct, one is now the only correct method.

    • mike_ebert

      ryancox ginidietrich The 2 space rule was introduced so that people using typewriters would have nicely formatted text. Because computers automatically handle the formatting around punctuation, it should now be only 1 space.

  • I just received an email from someone who complained because I said I don’t care about the two space versus one space after a period “rule.” Kind of funny because the headline is “Tell Your Mom To Shut Up.”
    Anyhoo, I want to see the Oxford comma tarred, feathered and dumped into the harbor, call it a tribute to the Boston Tea Party.

  • While we’re piling on, there is one mistake you will see at least 100 times on your birthday. Can anybody guess what it is?

    • RobBiesenbach Yes! It’s the mistake people make by sharing my age!

      • jolynndeal LOL!!!!

        • ginidietrich jolynndeal “Happy Birthday Rob!” “Congrats Rob!” “Hey Rob!”
          All of those are missing the essential comma in front of my name. Almost NOBODY on Facebook gets this right. 
          I once had to copyedit a birthday cake because of this.

        • RobBiesenbach jolynndeal That drives me crazy, too! Did you add a comma with that tube icing you can buy in the grocery store?

        • ginidietrich RobBiesenbach jolynndeal I asked them to fix it! (I had specifically requested it in my order.)

        • RobBiesenbach That sounds like something I would do too. “No comma? There should be a comma! Why isn’t there a comma?!” So if my husband was around, he’d say, “It’s okay, calm down. We’ll add a comma, it’s not a big deal.” ginidietrich jolynndeal 
          And when they wish me like that on Facebook, I read it breathlessly “happybirthdayUnmana” and get a bit stressed out.

        • Unmana ginidietrich jolynndeal Yes, it’s tough—I bite my tongue on Facebook at birthday time. But I do make special note of those who get it right!

    • RobBiesenbach Not getting me the right gift.

  • Jack is a dear friend and I agree with him regarding the Oxford comma and double spaces.
    Aside from trying to ensure the Oxford Comma is executed I have no disagreement with the rest of the list. Number 11 makes me want to bang my head against the wall.
    FWIW, my favorite editors haven’t been the “grammar police” but those who understood the difference between egregious mistakes and intentional errors.
    Style and voice have a place in writing and sometimes in the name of “proper” writing we kill the voice and turn something colorful into a cold and lifeless carcass that could have been something special.

    • Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes Agreed- sometimes voice comes before “rules”.

    • Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes Great point about voice being lost to rules, mate. It’s why I feel a lot of PR pros struggle to adapt to content marketing, etc., since they adhere to their AP guide, and lose the impact just being natural would give them if they just loosened up a bit.

  • And when in doubt, simply find another way to say it!  
    People complain about relentless ridiculousness from the grammar police, but I like to think of it another way.
    If you routinely allow silly grammar mistakes to come through in your writing, say, 3% of your potential customers will think you’re an idiot, errr, I mean, leave you out of their consideration set because grammar is important to them, for whatever reason. You’ve alienated them right out of the gate.
    If you take the time to learn simple fourth grade grammar or have someone look at your work every so briefly, you still have the chance to make friends with that 3% before your competitors. 
    This, in my opinion, is the business case for listening to the grammar police — they’re part of your audience.
    Now I’m scared to type “that” in a status …

    • DwayneAlicie So appropriate with your efforts today!

  • Susan Hart

    The people who need Grammar Police the most are copywriters, particularly in advertising and web content. Their mistakes can’t be blamed on creative license.

  • KateNolan

    101 comments? You knew this would get everyone in a tizzy, didn’t you?

    • KateNolan I added a couple of tips in here JUST to get people riled up! You should see the sides people are taking on Facebook. 🙂

  • rdopping
  • rdopping

    Didn’t know about the nauseous one. That’s nauseating.

    • rdopping That’s actually a mistake I make. I never will again.

  • Irregardless of you’re opinion, it doesn’t affect me at all. I completely disagree with this list and that might bring up a disagreement between you and I. Either way, I could care less. K? JEEZ!

    • Says the guy poking the bear.

    • EricPudalov

      jonmikelbailey Well they’re you go again.  I think this post has made me make less mistakes!

    • jonmikelbailey JEEZ!!!!

  • 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…

    • PeterJ42 That is interesting; especially the Red Sox example.  However, in a post about “grammar police”  I fear the term “is being introduced” will alarm the “active voice mafia.”

      • Frank_StrongPeterJ42The 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

    • mike_ebert

      PeterJ42 This is trickier than a blanket rule. You use the plural form for groups treated as a collection of individuals (the Boston Red Sox are playing tonight) and the singular for groups treated as single entities (Ford is introducing a new version of the Focus).
      See 

      • 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!

        • 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.

      • 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.

    • PeterJ42 You know what else drives me nuts? When people say they are a Cub or Bear fan. You are a Cubs fan or a Bears fan. The teams are not the Chicago Cub and the Chicago Bear. They are plural. That seems to be a Midwest thing.

      • 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.

        • 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 😀

        • photo chris

          PeterJ42 ginidietrich ah, perhaps not just a “south-side” thing after all!

      • CommProSuzi

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

      • 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.”

  • MaureenMonarch

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

    • MaureenMonarch DwayneAlicie Now, now. Let’s be nice. It’s possibly too much to ask to have someone edit comments.

  • 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.”

    • 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.

      • write4unj RebeccaTodd Ok, fair enough!

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

    • 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”?

  • 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.

  • 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.

    • PeterJ42 LOL! I don’t know the answer to that.

  • 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.

  • 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! 

    Did I make any mistakes? Oh, the horror!

    • 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!

    • Cision NA Love Hyperbole and a Half! Also, you get an “A” on your comment. 🙂

    • CommProSuzi

      Imagine how Kelsey Grammer must feel!

  • 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.

  • 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!

    • Howie Goldfarb ginidietrich That thar is the best grammar advice I’ve ever heard!

      • Word Ninja  ginidietrich KateNolan jdrobertson I think it comes down to is English a living language. Sometimes I can not believe the words they add each year, not because I say ‘that thar ain’t no word’ but because I think ‘Wow we have been using that for years’. But to be fair years to me is a blink vs years to the language.

        • Howie Goldfarb Word Ninja ginidietrich KateNolan jdrobertson My issue isn’t with new words in a living language. It’s the change in grammar, such as when people conjugate singular verbs as plural because a prepositional phrase is plural: “One of the teams are going to win.”

    • 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*

    • Howie Goldfarb ginidietrich Ending a sentence with a preparation is one thing up with which I will not put!

  • 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?

    • photo chris

      DavidPaulAppell LOVE it.

    • 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??

      • DavidPaulAppell

        EricPudalov DavidPaulAppell No worries, Eric – I think it’s too convenient, so not going anwhere soon!

    • 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.

      • DavidPaulAppell

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

  • CCCJenn

    This article was in the Globe recently; I think you’ll be amused. It also speaks to one of the other common misuses of apostrophes… people who are proud to put their surnames outside their homes on fancy signs such as the Wilson’s live here. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/facts-and-arguments/years-as-an-english-teacher-have-left-me-with-anti-social-nitpicking-disorder/article14113606/

  • 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.

  • 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. 
    ]

    • CommProSuzi

      Thank you, Carnac!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

    • photo chris

      CommProSuzi oh, yes; I do love those exclamation points!

  • 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!

    • 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.”

  • 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.

  • 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.

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  • SamuelStone

    Here’s a great resource too: “Avoid these 5 grammar mistakes that make others want to take a shovel to your face.” It’s from The Dandy Goat, so take it with a grain of salt. http://dandygoat.com/avoid-these-5-grammar-mistakes-that-make-others-want-to-take-a-shovel-to-your-face

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  • Mark Mueller

    If “irregardless” isn’t a word, then why is it in the Merriam-Webster dictionary?

  • 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?

  • 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”.

  • WilliamBoyd1 Really? Confusing their/there, your/you’re, me/I aren’t mistakes?

    Good luck with that.

  • 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.”

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  • EdwardDB

    1, 5 and 7 are incorrect to varying degrees.

  • GuillermoRodriguez2

    WilliamBoyd1  Ewe are sew write.  Disirregardless of there “rules”, knot a shingle won of these is a miss steak.

  • Hey man – This whole thing is absolutely invenereal!!!!

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  • gcgausman

    The ones I hate are not properly using I, me and myself. My kids will often say, “Tommy and me are going to the store.” Ouch….or execs at my work will say, “Call Jane or myself if you have any questions.”
    I also am truly beginning to miss the word “whom.” I hate seeing “Who to Contact” or “Who to Call”….drives me up a wall, especially when I see “who” when it should be “whom” in a newspaper article (yep!!). Just remember to use whom when you could use him…and to use who when you could use he….

  • GuillermoRodriguez2

    EdwardDB Really?  Would you care to elaborate?

  • gahern

    Please include something on the recent widespread use of the word t”here’s”.
    It seems that EVERYONE is using this word as “theres” as opposed to there’s( there is) .
    EX: Theres a lot of people who think that saying this is correct.
    “There’s (as in ” there is” ) one something…OR
    There’re (as in “there are” ) several things….
    EX. of Correcet Uses:
    There ARE a lot of people….( more than one)
    There IS a group that believes…..( one group)
    There IS a school of thought that…..( one school)
    There ARE many who want to…..( many people)
    THANK YOU. This has been driving me nuts!!! It is used incorrectly on the news, in ads, in writing, EVERYWHERE!!! Aaaaaaaggghhhh!!!

  • gahern LOL!! Very, very good addition. Thank you!

  • nancyjohn2010

    The tips that you give are all good. It can help a certain student to improve their writing skills in English. Also, in that way, it may lead them in to a good writer who can write well in English language.

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  • LoboSolo

    GuillermoRodriguez2 EdwardDB I don’t know what Edward would say about 1 and 5 but according the North American Oxford Dictionary on my laptop, does indeed mean “affected with nausea”:

    nauseous |ˈnôSHəs, -ZHəs, -ēəs|adjective
    1 affected with nausea; inclined to vomit: a rancid, cloying odor that made him nauseous.
    2 causing nausea; offensive to the taste or smell: the smell was nauseous.• disgusting, repellent, or offensive: this nauseousaccount of a court case.

    ORIGIN early 17th cent.: from Latin nauseosus(from nausea ‘seasickness’).

  • EdwardDB

    LoboSolo GuillermoRodriguez2 
    1.
    Both affect and effect can be verbs and nouns. she has only outlined
    the most common uses (affect as a verb, effect as a noun.)
    5. whatever the root of this mutant phrase may be, it still makes logical sense,
    implying that however much someone does or doesn’t care about
    something, there is room in their heart to care even less about it. it
    is logically the same as saying “I could hate it more.”
    as lobo points out, nauseated can either be the past tense of the verb nauseate, or an adjective synonymous with nauseous.

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  • nancyjohn2010

    actually english is spoken throughout the world because it is one of the most important languages and alot of countries make thier students learn it. i dont know why english is that hard to learn(probably because there are a lot of different meanings for one word) but as a native english speaker it seems easy.

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  • WesleyMarshall

    Using nauseous to describe having a queasy feeling in the stomach is correct. Both uses of the word arrived in 17th century English at the same time

  • gahern

    A young woman was asked by her employer to please stop saying she was “conversatin’ with someone” because “conversate” is not a word. The young employee replied, “Well, it’s a word in Oklahoma.” True story! Ha ha ha! Still makes me laugh.

  • gahern That makes me laugh, too!

  • Medrock

    I always get annoyed with bad grammar because it symbolizes a decline in the education level of our workforce. Another blogger I follow has pointed out a few common mistakes that I know I have seen: http://www.blaqandwite.com/learn-to-speak-english.html
    I am always looking for new ways to speak better.

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