Four Grammar Mistakes You’re Probably Making

It’s no secret that technology is accelerating changes in the English language. Abbreviations like “ur” and acronyms like “lol” and “bbs” may have begun as text message or internet lingo, but they’ve slowly started to infiltrate many other aspects of our lives, from work emails to face-to-face conversations.

There are certain places, however, where improper English is inappropriate and could potentially have a negative impact on your reputation. Your professional blog or website is one such place. How are your customers, clients, or readers supposed to take you and your content seriously when they are distracted by poor grammar?

Whereas every writer knows they should avoid confusing “your” and “you’re” or using “then” when they should really choose “than,” there are some mistakes that are easier to overlook.  Below you will find the top four silly grammar mistakes that you probably didn’t even realize you were making:

1. Misplaced apostrophes

This rule is simple, yet it’s hard to believe just how often it’s broken. If you are pluralizing nouns with apostrophes, then there’s a very good chance that you’re doing it wrong. In fact, except in very rare instances when you need to pluralize a lowercase letter, there is absolutely no need to use an apostrophe for pluralization. (Of course, apostrophes are still used to show possession and to indicate contractions.)

Correct example: The Russian word she wrote on the board had no less than four h’s!

Incorrect example: Deep fried Oreo’s are her favorite snack.

Incorrect example: The shelf was stacked full of CD’s and DVD’s.

Incorrect example: The 1960’s were a time of political change in America.

Note: Unlike lowercase letters, capital letters are not pluralized with an apostrophe.

It doesn’t matter how strange the word looks with just an s or es at the end, unless it’s a lowercase letter, you do not need an apostrophe to make it plural.

2. Poorly structured lists

When making a list of items, make sure that the items relate to each other properly. Too often, writers make lists carelessly, and the result is a list that is difficult to follow or even downright confusing. If you start off your list with a noun, the other items in the list must also be nouns; similarly, verbs must be followed by more verbs. If your list consists of phrases, make sure those phrases are consistent throughout the list.

Incorrect example: We bought a cake, went to the movies, and then to the mall.

Correct example: We bought a cake, went to the movies, and then went to the mall.

Incorrect example: She bought oranges, apples, and then baked a cake.

Correct example: She bought oranges and apples and then baked a cake.

Note: The Oxford comma- the comma preceding the conjunction (the “and” or “or”)- is sometimes omitted, but it is this writer’s opinion that the comma should always be included. Otherwise, you run the risk of confusing your readers.

Example including comma: We had lunch with my daughters, Rex, and Uncle Barion.

Example without comma: We had lunch with my daughters, Rex and Uncle Barion.

The sentence without the comma makes it seem as if the speaker’s daughters have some pretty strange names. The Oxford comma also helps clear up the confusion that could accompany longer or more detailed lists.

3. Missing semicolons

This is another simple rule, yet it is one that is often violated. A comma standing alone cannot join two complete sentences. If you have two complete sentences (two sentences that could stand on their own) and you want to join them together, you need to add either a semicolon or a combination of a comma and a conjunction.

Incorrect example: She looks great, she’s definitely lost weight.

Correct example: She looks great; she’s definitely lost weight.

Correct example: She looks great, and she’s definitely lost weight.

A comma alone will never do the trick.

4. Fewer vs. Less

Despite the poor example set by many of the nation’s supermarkets, “fewer” and “less” technically aren’t interchangeable. Because of widespread misuse, debate has begun over whether a distinction is still necessary between the two words, but just to be on the safe side (and to avoid those instances where using one in place of the other destroys the integrity of your sentence), it is helpful to understand the difference between the two.

“Fewer” tends to be used in instances where the things in question can be counted, where the items are tangible.

Correct example: She had fewer cookies than I did, so I decided to share.

Incorrect example: She had less cookies than I did, so I decided to share.

Note: Yes, this means that grocery stores across the country are making a mistake. Signs labeled “10 items or less” should actually read “10 items or fewer.”

“Less,” on the other hand, tends to apply to intangible items, things that can’t be counted.

Correct example: I have far less willpower than Susan, so I ate ice cream instead of carrots.

Incorrect example: I have far fewer willpower than Susan, so I ate ice cream instead of carrots.

Note: Sometimes it can be tricky to determine whether a noun is tangible or intangible. A helpful trick in these situations is to try putting a number in front of the word. If the number makes it sound silly, then you’ll probably want to use “less.”  If the number sounds natural, then “fewer” is usually the right way to go.  (For example, you can tell that “fewer mistakes” is correct because saying something like “13 mistakes” doesn’t sound strange.  Therefore, it’s not “less mistakes.”)

Although you may be more concerned about generating good content for your website or blog than about following strict grammar rules, proper grammar can be extremely important. Some readers could be very distracted by poor grammar, and many people are less likely to take you seriously if you consistently make silly mistakes. By proofreading carefully and following the rules above, you help to make your blog seem more sophisticated and more reliable.

Comments

  1. “and could potentially have a negative impact ”

    On a grammar article?

    :-)

    • I’m not completely sure where you are going with this, Trinity. If you are addressing the use of the word “impact,” while initially “impact” was held under strict grammatical usage, popular use of the word “impact” over the past twenty years has broadened how it can be used. The contemporary usage of the word “impact” is seen in any recent published dictionary.

  2. Matt Bramanti says:

    I think Trinity was pointing out that “could potentially” is redundant.

Leave a Comment

*

7 − two =