8 Grammar and Usage Errors that Fire Me Up

by Norrell

All those grammar faux pas that bring out the grammar nazi in me.

Okay, I admit it freely. I am an English major, and with that comes…certain obligations to society. One of those obligations is the protection of the English language and its usage. Don’t get me wrong, I could be a lot worse. And honestly, I know I have grammar aficionado friends out there who will find a million errors in this post. Okay, maybe not that many. In any case, there are several grammar errors that people make on a regular basis that I simply cannot stand. I am not a stickler about most things, but these issues will probably bring out the grammar nazi in me.

Grammar Nazis...
Grammar Nazis...
Double Negatives
Double Negatives
  1. The Oxford Comma. I know editors and grammarians alike have completely worn out this subject of discussion. Suffice it to say, I side with those who believe the Oxford comma is a necessity in most situations. A classic example of the difference in meaning is between, "We invited the strippers, JFK, and Stalin," and "We invited the strippers, JFK and Stalin." One is implying the invitation of all three entities (the one with the second comma/Oxford comma), while the other is implying that the strippers' names were JFK and Stalin. See the difference?
  2. You’re vs. Your. AAAhhh. Mixing up these two words is sure to get me simmering. It’s quite simple, REALLY. You’re is a contraction of “you” and “are”. If you intend that to be the meaning, “you’re” is for you. If not, you’re (see how I did that?) probably looking at a possessive “your”. Think it through. I know you can do it!
  3. They’re/Their/There. This one is almost as important as the previous one, but even I can screw it up sometimes. Like “you’re,” “they’re” is a contraction of “they” and “are”. If you’re saying, “They are going” that is different than “Their going” (going becomes a noun instead of a verb in this case).
  4. To/Two/Too. Hopefully you know the difference between the number and the article, but this error usually stems from laziness. For some reason, adding that extra “o” can be a real difficulty. Unfortunately, there is a real difference in meaning, so you should at least attempt to use the correct spelling.
  5. The Double Negative. This is an error that can come from speaking several different languages. Unlike Latin-based languages, the double negative doesn’t quite make sense in English. Using one negative is quite enough, unless you’re going for a different effect. For instance, a double negative might make more sense if you’re saying “She’s not unhappy.” This translates into a sort of dubious happiness, as if the subject isn’t happy, but isn’t sad either.
  6. Unnecessary Apostrophes. There are some situations where confused individuals feel necessary to use apostrophes that don’t belong in a word. A common problem is using an apostrophe in a plural noun, for instance “1990’s”, instead of “1990s”. (One exception to this rule is the use of lowercase letters, i.e. a’s.)
  7. Capitalization. I know pressing the shift key is a severe challenge for many poor souls, but capitalization can really affect the impression you give off. Using caps is the demarcation between proper and improper English, NOT between casual and dressy English.
  8. Missing Punctuation. Much like the Oxford Comma, missing punctuation can completely change the meaning of a sentence. There’s always the classic example of the two sentences: “A woman, without her man, is nothing” and “A woman: without her, man is nothing.”

How Using Incorrect Grammar Can Affect Your Work

Wall Street Journal Article
This article describes how employers view incorrect grammar and usage.

Some Ridiculous Grammar Rules

If you have read this post and now have the worst suspicions about my prescriptivist tendencies, let me reassure you that I’m still a reasonable human being.

Here are some rules that I think are just ridiculous in their application to English:

  • The Split Infinitive. This rule actually stems from when the English grammarians were obsessed with Latin. They tried to apply this rule to English, but the problem is that English is a Germanic-based language. In other words, this rule should not apply to English. Most grammarians have dropped this rule, but rabid prescriptivists still use it.
  • Never End Your Sentences with a Preposition. Sometimes, it’s actually impossible to follow this rule without completely rewording your sentence. I prefer sentences that actually sound like English. That’s just me. 

Grammar Nazi

This is the Internet

I get it. This is a place of free expression where people can say whatever they want. I’m aware that I’ve placed my expectations too high, sometimes even for my own comfort, but there’s a certain standard that we should maintain. Language is what separates from the animals, so let’s keep it that way!

Grammar Poll

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How do you feel about grammar rules?
Updated: 05/13/2013, Norrell
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katiem2 on 05/21/2013

This is great, I will be back to review and read again as I am guilty of making mindless grammar errors. I seem to be grammar blind at times over looking the obvious, no doubt the reason editors came to be needed. Great Article.

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