Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Top Ten Grammatical Errors That Make People Look Stup--Silly....

I had been planning and scheming to be the "first" to have a guest blogger...but Lewis beat me to the punch. Yes, yes, I know, neither of us were the first to think of it.

I'm part of this the Network with Gators group on LinkedIn and one of the daily digests came through my email titled, "How many Gators are making the leap to entrepreneurship or business owners?" (I've probably done the quotation marks wrong). Anyway, I saw one of the comments by one Tiffany Morgan and decided to reply to her privately.

I liked the fact that she was creating something all her own, especially that she was so young in doing so. I was probably face down...I mean, doing something else, something non-constructive, at her age. (Seriously, it's not like I'm 70 or something, so why does early 20's sound so young?)

Anyway, I thought many of us could use some good writing tips. If you're like me, you won't necessarily go looking for them. So I'm bringing right to you.

Without further ado, Tiffany Morgan.

Words are one of the few things in this world that aren’t discovered—they are entirely manmade. Because of this, those of us who love the things fight among ourselves (and with those who hate the things) to form some semblance of consistency through them, to make the words that make the world make sense be sensical themselves, to give them empirical, scientific substance when they inherently have none. So we draft up things like dictionaries, thesauruses, and style books. Few people read them, fewer love them, but everyone needs them. A typo can be easily overlooked, but not knowing the difference between “who” and “whom” or “its” and “it’s” can make the difference between acceptance and rejection, publication and dismissal, credibility and incredibility. It’s not necessary to beat yourself up memorizing the rules, but it is helpful to know at least some of the common issues our tenth grade English teachers should have taught instead of harping on the state assessment exam.

Top Ten Grammatical Errors That Make People Look Stup—Silly... .

I just received a tongue lashing from Tiffany because I tried to give her crap about the ellipsis

10. Putting quotation marks inside periods and commas – This is never, ever right. No matter what anyone tells you, quotation marks (and yes, they are called "quotation" marks, not "quote" marks) always (times infinity squared) go outside periods and commas. This rule does not always apply to other punctuation marks, however, so just memorize it for these two for now.

Wrong: "I love Twitter", she said.
Right: "I hate Twitter," he said.

9. Using "and" when you mean "to"

Wrong: I’m going to call my dad and wish him a happy Father’s Day.
Right: I’m going to call my dad to wish him a happy Father’s Day.

8. Mixing up "then" and "than" – "Then" denotes time, sequence, or addition. "Than" is a comparative word.

I’m going to school, and then I’m going to work.
She likes cake better than ice-cream.

7. "Lose" v. "Loose" – "Lose" means something is or may no longer be possessed. "Loose" means something is slack.

I don’t want to lose my job.
My shoelace is loose.

6. There, Their, and They’re – "There" refers to a place, stage, or relation. "Their" is possessive for a group. "They’re" is the contraction form of "they are." No examples here. They are seriously self-explanatory.

5. Saying "whether or not" – The word "whether" means there is an option. To say "whether or not" is redundant.

Wrong: I don’t care whether or not you like my Hammer pants!
Right: I don’t care whether you like my Hammer pants!

4. Using "of" when you mean "have" – We might say it this way, but writing it this way is a big no-no.

Wrong: You should of listened to your boss.
Right: You should have listened to your boss.

3. "Affect" v. "Effect" – People who have never learned the difference between these words generally use "effect" for everything, but I promise you: They are different! "Affect" is a verb and means "to influence," but "effect" is a noun (except when it’s a verb, meaning "to cause," but we’ll leave that alone for now).

Having the puppy in the house positively affected her mood.
The cute puppy had no effect on her mood.

2. "You’re" v. "Your" – "You’re" is the contraction of "you are," and "your" is possessive. Once again, no examples here. We can do this, people!

And the number-one-please-never-get-this-wrong-again-or-the-world-might-implode-grammatical-error-that-makes-people-look-stupid-er-I-mean-silly error is:

1. "Its" v. "It’s" – "Its" is possessive. "It’s" is the contraction form of "it is."

It’s going to be a rainy day.
The dog wagged its tail.

There are others, and maybe we’ll get to those if Chet is gracious enough to invite me back. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and I barely even began to touch on word usage, which is actually more bothersome in some ways than misusing contractions and possessives. Until then, try remembering these rules in your day-to-day activities—when writing papers, preparing memos, e-mailing, and if you want to get really fancy, texting. When you don’t have time to get it completely right, though, just get it written, and contact a professional. I’m a professional editor, and you can contact me through my website, www.WriteWordEdit.com, for an extra set of eyes or for extensive editing of pretty much anything (personal statements, essays, research papers, resumes, fiction, non-fiction, and more).

Lastly, as a general disclaimer, any errors or typos found herein are the sole fault of an early a.m. dysfunctional brain. Coffee, please?

Happy writing,

Tiffany Morgan
Write Word Edit
Founder/Editor in Chief


Laurent Schneider said...

There are also lots of language specific mistake. As a native French speaker, I am often mixing Since and For :

"I am in Zurich since eleven years"

Also fun is mixing DO and MAKE.

"I've done my bed, I am doing time, I do a suggestion, ..."


Noons said...

YAY, Tiffany!

You definitely put the dot on the "i"s.
Or is that "i's"?

(shaking head in confusion...)

Boneist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Boneist said...

4. Using "of" when you mean "have" – We might say it this way, but writing it this way is a big no-no.Maybe it's because I'm in the UK, but I really don't know anyone who actually says "should of" - it's usually more like "should uv", which is quite correct for the contraction "should've".

Writing of instead of have is one of my pet hates, along with most of the rest of your (Tiffany's) list. "Whether or not" excluded there; I believe that it's valid in some circumstances!

DomBrooks said...

Even if you know the rules, it's easy to make mistakes - especially in today's world of fire and forget emails together with the false protection of automatic spelling and grammar checkers.

The older I get, the further away I get from the formal education which drummed in such rules daily, the more mistakes I find myself making.

John Scott said...

Good list.

However, just to be pedantic, I'd say number 9 is a bit borderline.

For example the other day, I had a message that I needed to call my father back. So, I had one action -

Action 1: "I need to call my dad"

also, as a separate action, I needed to wish him happy father's day (whether it was on that call or another one).

Action 2: "I need to wish my dad a happy birthday"

I can combine the two actions into one -

"I need to call my dad *and* wish him a happy birthday".

In other words, I'm not ringing him up for the sole purpose of wishing him a happy birthday (since I need to make the call anyway, but I can do it as an additional item).

Like I say, I'm being pedantic perhaps...but maybe that's because I do use it in that way ;)


Kris said...

i need a JOB...willing to be a "co-editrix"


Samantha said...

#7 drives me crazy and I see people do it ALL of the time! Come on..."loose" and "lose" are completely different words people!

In response to some of the previous comments...I think that Tiffany is basing the grammatical rules off of American based English, so they don't apply to people from the UK.

Also, I think it's very common to make these types of mistakes if you are speaking English as a second language, so hopefully Americans will show you some grace with mistakes in your oral communcation! :) I think Tiffany's point here is that for written communication, it's best to make sure these errors are fixed in order to be taken seriously in a professional setting.

Great article Tiffany! Your dry sense of humor cracks me up and makes a less than exciting topic (sorry!) more enjoyable. :)

oraclenerd said...


Many (most?) of the people I work with or who read this blog are not from the U.S. Funny, I hadn't even thought about it before.

I've worked with a number of people whose first language is not (American) English. I always try to give them little tips to help them improve. I also make fun of them constantly which shames them into getting it right. ;) I can make fun of them because I don't speak a second language and they usually speak 2 or more. Which reminds me of a funny joke a guy with 26 letters in his name told me:

Him: Do you know what tri-lingual is?
Me: Yes, someone who speaks 3 languages.

Him: Bi-lingual?
Me: Someone who speaks 2 languages.

Him: Mono-lingual?
Me: Someone who speaks one language.

Him: Nope.
Me: What then?

Him: American.


Tiffany Morgan said...

Laurent: You are absolutely right. I edit a lot of work from Asian students, and they often switch "since" and "for" and "do" and "make," as you noted.

Noons: Hmmm . . . I think it would just be i's. (even though it's not possessive, most style books say to give single letters an apostrophe when making them plural to avoid confusion.) And a big "yay" back at you for spelling "definitely" correctly (one of my biggest pet peeves)!

Boneist: You are correct! There are certain, infrequent times when "whether or not" is appropriate and a sentence might not make sense without using the whole phrase. Most of the time, it's unnecessary though, and it's something we all just say out of habit.

DomBrooks: Ain't it true? I recently sent an e-mail to some close friends when they asked me how the weather had been. I told them it was rainy, but it didn't "poor" -- talk about a brain lapse! They ragged on me for days!

John Scott: You also make a good point here, and your explanation for when it's okay to use "and" instead of "to" is absolutely right! Most of us tend to not separate the two meanings though, and "to" often gets tossed to the wind.

Samantha: You're right, Samantha --most of these issues don't even apply to spoken language and the ones that do are generally easy to overlook. Written communication is a whole 'nother thing, though ;)

Chet: GREAT joke :)

Jake said...

I've given up on lie vs. lay, but the split infinitive still bugs me.

oraclenerd said...

lie vs. lay huh? I think of that in much different terms now. ;)

The worst part about this "partnership" with Tiffany? I can't even write a flipping sentence now without thinking of whether I am doing it right. Don't get me wrong, I want to get it right, but I am not questioning each and word I write and wonder if Tiffany will yell at me.

Jake said...

Don't worry. You can always blame it on the 'tubes and LOLspeak.

oraclenerd said...

Wait, I just remembered how the joke really goes.

SS: What do you call someone who speaks 3 languages?
Me: Trilingual?

SS: What do you call someone who speaks 2 languages?
Me: Bilingual?

SS: What do you call someone who speaks one language?
Me: Lingual? ;)

SS: American.

Vincetastic said...

Hey Tiffany, this top ten list is fantastic. I think it's a great reference for anybody who want to correct the simple mistakes that you see so often. I guess if you are one of those people who makes those mistakes these things don't really bother you. But I definitely notice and it totally bugs me. You can post this to our site http://www.toptentopten.com/ and link back to your site. We are trying to create a directory for top ten lists where people can find your site. The coolest feature is you can let other people vote on the rankings of your list.

Tiffany Morgan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tiffany Morgan said...

Jake: I came so close to putting "lie" v. "lay" on this list (because it surely deserves a spot), but like you, I've decided the world refuses to learn it. My favorite memory trick for that one is: "Chickens lay eggs. People lie down." I'm still torn on how I feel about split infinitives. I guess it's a matter of wanting to be perfectly grammatically correct or wanting to maintain some style.

Vincetastic: Thanks for the link! I've never heard of this site, but I just added this list.

BH said...

A question about quotation marks: I'm a lawyer and we use a lot of defined words (hereinafter referred to as "Defined Words") in our documents. If you have a defined word in quotation marks at the end of the sentence or before a comma, does the period or comma still go inside the quotation marks?

Ex: The Seller and Buyer shall hereinafter be referred to as the "Parties."

Or should it be: The Seller and Buyer shall hereinafter be referred to as the "Parties".

I see it both ways but mostly with the period outside of the quotation marks.

Unknown said...

Good stuff.
I've always wondered about that whole quotation-and-punctuation thing. Who woulda thought (woulda?!!) it'd be so simple and black and white. I'm interested to see how you respond to BH, though. Yeah, maybe it's not so black and white (I've to find anything that is ... much to the chagrin of the keepers of my fundamentalist upbringing!) "Upbringing"...hmmm, you've got me all nervous now. "...got me..."? Ahhhh....I think I might be too nervous to post this :-) Let me go flex my biceps in the mirror to work up my courage ... ok, yeah, that might not work very well, biceps not that ripped. I'll get my son to click it. He's right here.

Tiffany Morgan said...

BH: Good question. The quotation marks go outside the period in your example and always (the same is true for commas). I actually work for attorneys, so I get to see the way legal minds work. The senior partner and I go back and forth with "which" and "that" all the time, too! He just doesn't like the word "that," and so he uses "which" ALL the time, even when things are essential phrases (in which case, "that" should be used).

Mike (and Chet): You guys are making me feel mean! Haha. Don't be scared! It's better to write with tons of mistakes than to not write at all. And with the whole quotation mark/punctuation thing, don't forget that black-and-white rule only applies to periods and commas -- it depends on the usage for other punctuation marks.

Unknown said...

Wow...Tiffany I am surprised by your answer to BH. I was with BH on that one.
Thank you, by the way (and I'm going to check our your website now).
So let me put this one by you: The object of a preposition when the object is plural (how am I doing so far?). Example: You are talking to Chet and me. Now I think that's right (ahem...correct). But I hear everywhere, "You are talking to Chet and I."
What think?

Jake said...

@Mike: You are right. Easy test for this case is to remove the other person, e.g. Chet is talking to me and not Chet is talking to I.

Joel Garry said...

select '...then there''s the "It''s" man from Monty Python ( wiki link ). ' from dual