I suppose it was inevitable. I’m an editor by preferred trade, stemming from a natural capacity for grammatical snobbery. This evening as I surfed EntreCards, I happened upon a post on grammatical pet peeves, rekindling my own irritation toward a number of written mistakes. Bluntly put, certain errors of written expression can make a person look like an idiot and leave a reader with a negative impression. After six years of online journaling and 10 of forum interaction, I have seen more ridiculous mangles of the English language than I ever dreamed possible. The grammar Nazi in me rarely lets a consistent mistake go without eventually commenting on it, and it has always made me wonder just what sort of twisted pride is involved in a person’s stubborn refusal to take any steps toward correcting the errors that leave others wincing each time they read the offending posts. How much effort does it take to look up a correction to see if it’s accurate, and make adjustments accordingly?
In the spirit of pissing everybody off, I’m going to provide a list of things that irk the hell out of me. If you write anything on the Web, even email, I strongly suggest making note of any personal mistakes. You wouldn’t want to look stupid.
In no particular order, then (but starting off with a few punctuation-specific issues):
- Put a space after a comma, and a space after a period. Put a space between parentheses and any words outside them.
- One question mark or exclamation point is sufficient. There’s no need to put three or four to emphasize your point.
- Sentences end in periods, not ellipses. One ellipse is fine, but a paragraph of statements separated by “. . .” is enough to exhaust the reader. The mind seeks a resting point.
- Commonplace, and bugs everyone: they’re for there for their; you’re for your, etc.
- Ditto who’s versus whose and it’s versus its. It’s is a contraction for it is, while its is possessive, as in, “The dog emptied its bowl.”
- You lose your car keys. Loose is the opposite of tight.
- Then is something that happened or will happen, as in, “We went out to dinner, then to a movie.” Than is a comparison term. “I am older than my brother.” Get it right. This one is particularly idiotic.
- Also horrible: “I should of called before I came over.” This, would of, and could of make me want to smack a bitch. It';s should have or should’ve. With the previous item, you could end up with something like, “He could of done better then that on his SATs.” Uh, yeah, but not with you teaching him. This begs a prison sentence for stupidity.
- I could care less what you think! Really? Awesome. Me, I couldn’t care less about your opinion. Think about it.
- “He literally bit my head off!” I’d have paid to see that one. Literally means “actually,” as in word for word description of what really, truly happened.
- Infer means to draw a conclusion from. It’s an action done by the listener or recipient of information. The speaker does not infer anything to the listener. The speaker implies. The word infer is not a classier or more intellectual way of saying imply.
- To insure is to procure an insurance policy. To ensure is to make sure of, as in, “I want to ensure that my position in this discussion is respected.”
- When you need to know whether to use I or me in a sentence, remove all other subjects of reference. Example: “He took photos of John and I.” Incorrect! Remove John from the statement and it becomes, “He took photos of I.” I’m sure the error is much more apparent in the simplified statement.
- Another punctuation issue: A period or comma goes inside the quote marks, always. A question mark, semi-colon, or exclamation point only goes inside the quotes if it is part of the quote itself. To my knowledge, the single exception to the period/quotes rule is when citing a reference in APA style, in which case the quote is closed, the parenthetical citation is made, and then the period follows. My boss disagrees with me on this, based on his personal usage, but I’ve verified it at length, including within the APA style guide.
- Don’t add apostrophes to plural words. I will personally hunt you down and slap sense into you. I can’t believe how rampant this has become. It’s routine anymore to see this error in professional signage, including logos and other printed material. What kind of printer lets a mistake like that go by unremarked? I see far too many websites with this error in them, and my respect for the professionalism of the company plummets instantly.
- Know when to use less and when to use fewer.
- I need to lie down. I am lying on the bed. I lay in bed all day. Lay is past tense. I know this one is troublesome, since when spoken orally, “I lay down,” sounds like “I laid down.”
There are many, many more. Everyone who isn’t sure of usage should use the dictionary. If you run Firefox, get the Open Search toolbar and add Dictionary.com to it, making consultation very convenient. There are a lot (a lot is never one word, by the way) of issues with spoken phrases coming out in text as parodies of themselves. For instance, one in the same for one and the same, for all intensive purposes in place of for all intents and purposes, etc. Google is, as ever, your friend. Always consult your friend before making yourself look stupid.