Grammar Police: 12 Mistakes Nearly Everyone Makes

ginidietrich
Gini Dietrich Chief Executive Officer, Arment Dietrich, Inc.

Posted on September 13th 2013

Grammar Police: 12 Mistakes Nearly Everyone Makes

Grammar Police- Twelve Mistakes Nearly Everyone MakesAs 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.

ginidietrich

Gini Dietrich

Chief Executive Officer, Arment Dietrich, Inc.

Gini Dietrich is the founder and chief executive officer of Arment Dietrich, Inc., a firm that uses non-traditional marketing in a digital world. The author of Spin Sucks, the 2010 Readers Choice Blog of the Year, a Top 42 Content Marketing Blog from Junta42, a top 10 social media blog from Social Media Examiner, and an AdAge Power 150 blog, Gini has delivered numerous keynotes, panel discussions, coaching sessions, and workshops across North America on the subject of using online technology in communication, marketing, sales, and HR. One of the top rated communication professionals on the social networks, Gini was recently named the number one PR person, according to Klout and TechCrunch, on the channels, and number one on Twitter, according to TweetLevel. She also can be found writing at Crain's Chicago Business, AllBusiness, and Franchise Times.
See Full Profile >

Comments

Thank you so much for this! I'm the first to admit I still have a lot to learn with regards to grammar, but I don't think imperfect grammar should put people off writing. I've only been writing for a few months myself and I'm continually learning and hopefully improving.

Point 2 about the Oxford comma is Interesting. Whenever I read a series of 3 or more terms, my brain automatically puts a pause before the final 'and....,' so I rarely use a comma in such circumstances, but it looks like perhaps I should.

Thanks again, 3 of those tips have certainly helped to clarify things for me.

 

 

Many times I'll see too many commas because the writer isn't sure if one is necessary or not. It's kind of the nervous tic of content writing. When in doubt, throw in a comma. Great reminders overall in this article.

Nice little helpful primer! I'm a big fan of using the Oxford comma myself.

The worst is when people who don't know whether it's "I" or "me" choose "myself" instead. They think it sounds more important, but unfortunately it's wrong 100% of the time!

Nice set of tips! You may want to proofread No. 4. It says '“their” to indication possession'. I believe that should be indicate. Not to nitpick..but we are learnig here.

A nice list, but I must make two points.

First, you say, "I prefer to err on the side of having the Oxford in there." That's wrong. To "err" means to make a mistake. It doesn't mean to lean towards or prefer a particular course of action, though it is often misused in that way. Also, it's not really correct to say that one should use the Oxford comma. I agree with you that it's better, but it's not incorrect not to use it, as long as one is consistent.

Second, you assume an American readership here. No-one outside America says "I could care less," and indeed it's really jarring to hear Americans say it. More importantly, your point number 10 is correct only for American English. In standard English, most punctuation goes outside the quotation marks.

(I wouldn't normally nitpick, honest, but if you're writing an article to correct people's grammar, you'd better get it correct yourself. Also, by the way, a lot of the errors you mention aren't grammar mistakes, they're spelling mistakes or similar. Properly speaking, "grammar" refers to the structure of the language, i.e. how the words relate to each other, which is a bit different.)

I thought it was just me who noticed those things.  I find it ironic that an article about correct grammar discusses correct punctuation.

Also, please re-read #4 - I believe it should be indicate possession, not indication possession.

Thank you for sharing in my pickiness and finding the irony in an article that discusses use of correct grammar having errors.

 

#2 - as stated, it is debated.

#7 - incorrect: both meanings of Nauseous appeared in the 17th century and are quite correct.

#9 - incorrect: less has been used both way since Alfred the Great in 888AD.  The "rule" seems to have been first suggested in the 18th century.

I agree with Jonathan Hill that "I could care less" is an Americanism.  Similarly, "nauseous" is not commonly heard in the UK.

A misuse of language that drives me up the wall is "different than" (American) and "different to" (English) rather than "different from".

And, being somewhat old-fashioned perhaps, I can't bear split infinitives.  (Now you're going to tell me that I shouldn't begin a sentence with 'and'!)

I suspect, though, that a lot of errors online are not because people don't know but because they don't check through what they've written before pressing the 'submit' button.  [Quickly reads through comment before clicking . . .]

"Different than" is one that drives me nuts, too!

We all make mistakes. I make them all the time with my grammar. Writing helps me change that around.

Have you ever added something up and you got it wrong? Does that mean we should stop counting too? 

The so called "Grammar Police" need to back off and see past the spelling and grammar. If the content doesn't do it for them, move on and find content or blog posts that don't have mistakes. 

You'll be looking for a long time to find an article that couldn't be disected into tiny little pieces of grammar errors.

It's getting boring. Find the good in people. Come on.

You missed a couple of big ones:

(1) The All-time biggie: its v. it's

(2) Can v. may, as in the following example from the grammatically redoubtable SMT's own registration form: "Can we send you occasional notices about relevant events and special content from this site?" The world is full of snot-noses who would respond to this by saying, "I don't know. Can you?"

Another big one:

Because of the lack of punctuation is the greeting "Dear John", is it nearly universally thought to be correct to begin a message with the salutation "Hi John".

Sorry, but nope.

Most of those in the list are not really about grammar, but about diction and style. I’d like to add that one important point to inculcate among writers is the concept of ‘consistency’ in writing.  This means that  the writers have to decide which style guide to follow,  then use the suggested style consistently in their articles.

Item number 10 in your list, for example, is a matter of style.  The use of quotation marks and even of commas depends on whether one uses US or UK English.  Some agencies or companies have their own style guides as well.  

Lastly, in teaching or correcting diction, style and grammar, this approach of giving comments while correcting errors doesn’t work, most of the time, especially if you target professionals, including marketers and writers.  We can just lay down the rules without saying that those are the errors “nearly everyone makes.” Actually, that sounds more like a sweeping generalization.  Nearly everyone in the world?  In a certain industry?  Qualifying statements is another story. 

I read this article because I hope to always improve my writing. These points are valid and I believe that people should attempt to be grammatically correct; however, there are two side to this issue.

Being grammatically correct is important because bad writing is like eating an egg and getting a piece of the shell in your mouth.It stops the enjoyment of reading and afterwards all you can focus on is the bad grammar.

However, writing and speech are forms of communication between two people, the writer (or speaker) and the reader (or listener.) Rules are great for academics, but academics should never intrude upon the personal aspect of the communication. A good writer (or speaker) knows his reader (or listener) and communicates in the appropriate manner. Applying invented standards, (grammar and spelling are inventions of an academic world,) to every communication is inappropriate.

This is not to say that "I could care less," or that "I couldn't care less," it is just to say that if you know what I mean, then the communication was successful.

My husband and I debate this all the time (as I do correct his grammar often). He asks me if I understood what he said. If I reply that I did, he says, "Then what's the big deal? The communication was successful." I say, good communication skills and attention to appropriate grammar are what separates us from the caveman and other beasts. If I can jump around and point at something, yelling "ugga bugga, ugga bugga" and you understand me, is this a good thing for civilization? What is the point of getting an education? Do we not respect people who value learning?

Great post but #6 is inaccurate.  Irregardless is a word.  It is simply the nonstandard version of regardless. Old reliable Merriam Webster says, "The most frequently repeated remark about it is that 'there is no such word.' There is such a word, however." http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/irregardless

 

I can add one. I see a lot of people combining "a lot" to make "alot."

In your article 12 Grammar Mistakes...you make a pretty sizeable one yourself by using a misplaced modifier. You said executives are afraid to "not only write" when you really mean they are "not only afraid" to write, but also to publish...

"you will have an affect" ... seriously? Please don't try to teach people by using the word incorrectly.

Also, if you follow AP style you should not be using an Oxford comma unless the meaning is unclear without it.

 

Was surprised to see lengthy explanations (and not just on SMT) for when to use affect versus effect. I've always followed the rule:

effect--used mostly as a noun to describe what something caused ("The effect of the new traffic pattern was an increase in accidents."); effective is the adjectival form

affect--used mostly as a verb to indicate something has had an effect or impact; used as a noun only when talking about feelings or emotions or in a psychological sense ("Sarah's Irish accent was something she affected every time she went to Mulligan's Pub.")

 

Regarding the serial comma, I was taught in school and college to always use it to avoid any chance of ambiguity or inadvertently changing a sentence's meaning. (In the U.K. and Ireland, however, they drop the serial comma. I lived/worked in Ireland for a year and was forever having to go back and remove that last comma. Very frustrating! LOL)

 

 

I was surprised not to see "its" and "it's" mentioned, a mistake I came across often in my years in publishing. The same with when to use "which" or "that." Most surprising to me generally, however, was the volume of grammatical errors in manuscripts from PhDs. Some rules are more fluid--like whether or not to use the serial comma. Others are not (e.g., a colon and semi-colon are not interchangeable). I have long wondered how anyone could get through graduate school, earn a PhD, and not know at least the basics. I once worked with an author, degreed, who had NOT heard of Strunk & White. Is that even possible? :) 

This post has alot affect on I, and your right.

See this text below:

I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno't mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!

The grammar mistake I wish was corrected is sentences such as, "Where are you at?" This drives me crazy. Unfortunately, I think it's becoming more and more accepted. I think schools need to start to really focus on English grammar; even going back to paper and pencil. People are relying too much on spell check. Spell check doesn't recognize when "you're, your" or "to, two, too" (which should have been on the above list) etc. are used incorrectly. I'm worried about the future of grammar and spelling. I was a teacher and I had to tread very carefully when it came to grammar because I actually had parents who didn't like that I corrected their child. My job was to correct and teach correct grammar. People are becoming increasingly lazy when it comes to grammar and it isn't "PC" to correct people.  It's very sad. I'm not saying my grammar is perfect all the time: I may make subtle mistakes, but the sentence, "Where are you at?" (and variations of that questions, "Where you at?" etc) will never come out of my mouth.

Jen, I completely agree! It's like nails on a chalkboard when people end a sentence with "at." It's redundant, and it just sounds terrible. I hear it multiple times every day and I'll never get used to it. Ugh. Thanks for making my day.

I'm sure I'm not perfect in grammar, but I'm nevertheless pretty demanding of myself and other people when it comes to consistently correct grammar and spelling.

This list of 12 makes interesting reading. However, I notice one point on which I clearly differ with the author.


1. The author's explanation of the affect/effect duo is misleading, i.e. when you 'influence' something you don't "have" an 'affect', but simply affect that thing, e.g. Crowds 'affect' me adversely. Or alternately, 'Crowds have an adverse 'effect' on me.' Also, 'effect' is often used as a transitive verb, e.g. 'To effect (bring about) change in society, we must be patient'. The affect/effect confusion somewhat reminds me of the common avenge/revenge mistakes people routinely make, to arguably more hilarious effect.

I recognise and readily agree with all the remaining pervasive grammatical mistakes cited on the list. I continue to encounter these in print---even among otherwise very literate, 'successful' people. It is disappointing, to put it mildly.

I'd like to add another extremely common, extremely annoying mistake I see all the time, everywhere. It is the one concerning sentences starting with 'None'.


E.g. None of the council members were ready to compromise.

       None of us are going to the party


I maintain that in the first sentence 'were' should be 'was', and in the second, 'are' should be 'is', owing to 'none' being a singular.

 

     Frequently, when reading a new book, I have discovered that writers now use this : A couple books will be read by all the students.  WHY???? In spoken English, I do not believe I have ever heard anyone say  the above sentence in any way  but this : A couple OF books will be read by all the students. Is there a trend  writers to use  "couple" , instead of "couple of" ?  I know that this is a very small thing, but this absolutly drives me crazy!!!  It sounds so stilted, but, after looking the word usage up in the dictionary, both usages are concidered "proper" grammer.

 

 

I omit the "of" all the time. Wasted air :) Gonna go have a couple beers. I might make it to a couple Bulls games this year. 

While your overall grammar, spelling and punctuation are better than most folks', I couldn't help but notice a few no-nos...

It's "absolutely," not "absolutly."

It's "considered," not "concidered."

And, unless you're speaking of Kelsey, it's "grammar," not "grammer."

No. 10 in the list states punctuation should be INSIDE quotation marks. Check your post and you'll see where that didn't occur.

No hard feelings, just some constructive criticism. Feel free to do the same if I've made any errors myself.

Peace

I interviewed the writer Michael Perry a couple of years ago. He talked about following grammar rules, but said he often tosses them aside because, "sometimes words, even if they're wrong, just taste good." I love that. 

#3 Let's eat grandma vs. let's eat, Grandma.  Correct capitalization is also important. 

The common mistake that drives me crazy is people saying they feel badly about something. Unless their ability to feel is poor, what they feel is bad, not badly.

Actually, to my knowledge, you are incorrect. If I say, "I feel bad," that is incorrect. Why? I am describing how I feel. "Feel" is a verb. Therefore, if I am describing a verb, I must use the appropriate adverb. In this case, the proper adverb is "badly." Therefore, the subject of the sentence should feel badly. "I feel badly." That is my opinion based on research and background knowledge. Why do you disagree?

http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/bad-versus-badly

"Feel" is a linking verb when used as you are describing. If you say "I feel badly," you are saying that you are not very good at feeling things. If you say "I feel bad," you are describing the state you are in (the state of feeling bad about something).

Try it with "smell": If you say "I smell badly," you are saying that you are not good at the action of smelling; if you say "I smell bad," you are describing the state you are in (a state of not smelling very good).

Hope that helps!

 

 

I suppose that makes sense. But I think it could go both ways. Eh, I guess I can admit to being wrong. (Also, I'm only 13 so it is not a huge deal that I mixed up a small piece of grammar.) Another thing that surprised me that I thought I knew is that "right," "quick," and "fast" are adverbs. I was so surprised! I always thought that instead of "right" in a lot of cases it should be "correctly," but  suppose I was also wrong there. And "quickly" instead of "fast" or "quick." Other than these things, I pretty much get on everybody's case about speaking correctly. One thing that really irritates me is mixing up "good" and "well."

Wow, you're only 13? I never would have guessed! Good for you for being so on top of grammar already :)

One of my least favorite things is when people use "I" instead of "me" -- like when they say things like, "Can you take a picture of my sister and I?"

It doesn't bother me that much when people mix it up the other way ("Me and my sister are going to the movies"), but for some reason it really irks me when it's "I" instead of "me."

In item number 3 you refer to the misplaced comma. I'm not sure if you refer to the upper case punctuation mark as such in US English, but in UK English it is an apostrophe. An example of an apostrophe in this posting is in the abbreviation "I'm". An example of a comma can be found before the word "but".

I see I'm a few months late in my comment, but I just came across this post, and I disagree with #10.  I can't speak to the etiquette of English outside the US, but in the US, punction does NOT always go inside the quotation marks.  Periods and commas do.  Semicolons, colons, and dashes always go outside the quotation marks.  As for exclamation points and question marks, it depends on context - "Are you going inside?" vs. What did the author mean by "Joe was always curious"?


This is what I have always used in my writing, and every grammar website I've checked (quite a few) agrees.

Since nobody has mentioned it yet, I will:

Regarding number 10, placing of punctuations inside or outside quotation marks depends on the context. In a nutshell, it belongs inside if blonged to the original phrase that is being quoted. I think Mary Triplett's use of punctuation below was all right:

Is there a trend for writers to use "couple" instead of "couple of"? 

More on this here.

I also think you are using double structures in your description of rule #10. Even if it is grammatically okay, it sounds a bit redundant:

Instead of:

"People ask all the time whether or not punctuation belongs inside or outside quotation marks."

You could say either:
"People ask all the time whether punctuation belongs inside or outside quotation marks."

or:
"People ask all the time whether or not punctuation belongs inside quotation marks."

Now, where do I pick up my official Grammar Deputy Sheriff badge and serivce pistol?


Edit: Somehow I managed to skip Rachel's comment below the first time I posted -- sorry.

Good thing I read the comments.

My tab that this article is in says, "12 Grammar Mistakes Near..." which is actually incorrect. That's quite funny to me. It should be "12 Grammatical Mistakes," if I am correct. Because you are describing what type of mistakes people make. I may be incorrect. But if I am right, that is very funny as this is talking about grammatical mistakes and has one in its title.

Then there is another mistake of using "with regards to" when referring to something, as when you say "with regards to grammar".  I think it is better to convey the same idea by using the word "about", "concerning" or "regarding".

I have also listed below some of the instances where we should be cautious when using the word "regard" or "regards":

1. As regards you expansion plan...

2. With regard to our topic...

3. In this regard (singular)...

4. In these regards (plural)...

5. Best regards,

 

Thank you very much.  I learned a lot from this thread.

Regards,

Michael

 

 

 

 

 

Actually, AP had recently removed the difference between 'over' and 'more than', when it comes to reporting quantity. 

Just in case the link gets removed due to formatting issues: http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/mediawire/244240/ap-removes-distincti...


Regarding the picture, there's nothing wrong with what Ketty Perry said in her song, "the one that got away".

WHO and sometimes THAT refer to people. THAT and WHICH refer to groups or things.

Examples:
• Anya is the one who rescued the bird.
• "The Man That Got Away" is a great song with a grammatical title.

• Lokua is on the team that won first place.
• She belongs to a great organization, which specializes in saving endangered species.

THAT introduces what is called an "essential clause". Essential clauses add information that is vital to the point of the sentence.

Example:

• I do not trust products that claim "all natural ingredients" because this phrase can mean almost anything.

• We would not know the type of products being discussed without the that clause.