Monday, March 21, 2011

Completely off topic: Some common grammatical mistakes that make my head hurt...

I get so frustrated and kinda sad when I see the really horrible spelling on various handmade product sites, and even sadder when I see the hard work that goes into creating a lovely label only to have a huge typo on it! I admit that I will often question the veracity of a really great article on a topic if when the writer doesn't know how to use its vs. it's. I think spell check has made us lazy because it won't pick up most of these problems because they are spelled correctly but not used correctly.

So I'm offering a few suggestions for those things that generally trip us up when it comes to spelling and grammar...

Its vs. it's - If you can break the word down into it is, it has, it was then it's the contraction and you want to write it's. If you want the possessive, as in "the dog enjoyed its bone" then you don't put the apostrophe in place. I know it's a bit confusing because the possessive generally has the apostrophe in place - Susan's purse, Raymond's gorgeous hair, 7 Sushi's awesome Las Vegas roll - but in this case, the apostrophe indicates the contraction (as we find in don't, won't, shouldn't, and so on). It takes a second to ask yourself if it's the contraction (it is, it has, it was) or the possessive (its bone) and you will make those of us who are grammar obsessed so grateful. If you're in doubt, then just write it is, it has, it was instead of the wrong its/it's!

You're vs. your - Again, think of the contraction. You're means you are or you were, whereas your is the possessive. If you are talking about someone's possession - your telephone, your great conditioner, your kettle has just boiled and is perfect for a cup of tea right about now - then we use your. If you're talking about someone being something like "you're so vain", "you're so pretty" or "you're so picky about language, Susan", then you want to use the contraction. So again, break it down and figure out if you want the contraction (you're) or the possessive (your).

If you're in doubt, double check your use of apostrophes. Using apostrophes when you see any "s" at the end of a word is called the "grocer's apostrophe" because grocers used to...well, take a look at the picture to the left. So ask yourself what the word owns. If you see something like this sign, you can see just by looking at it that the groceries, newspapers, ices, and requirements don't own a single thing and the apostrophes are put in the wrong place. (Ironically, we're not sure if it should be called the grocer's apostrophe (one grocer) or the grocers' apostrophe (many grocers).) So if you're writing about your lovely bath salts or lotions, there will be no apostrophe in either of these words before the apostrophe!

Irregardless - This is not a word. Regardless means without regard. "Ir" is a suffix we use to indicate without. So irregardless means without without regard. I think this mistake comes from words like irrelevant (not relevant), so we add to to the front because it actually does sound like a proper word. But it isn't. Please stop using it!

Myself - This is used more in speech, but the word you're looking for is me or I. I used to think people who used this in conversation were pretentious, but I'm starting to think we see it because people aren't sure where to use me or I. ("George sold a dog to Raymond and myself." See how silly it looks!)

You use me if you aren't the subject of the sentence, if you aren't combined with a verb. "I don't know what he sees in me." (The verb - sees - goes with he, not me). Use I when you are the subject of the sentence, and when you are combined with the verb. "I went to the store the other day." (The verb - went - goes with I.) "Raymond and I drove to Granville Island yesterday and bought some awesome sausages." (The verb - drove - goes with Raymond and I.) "You and I have a lot in common." (The verb - have - goes with you and I.)

Yes, I'm a grammar obsessed woman and I realize that some people will think me quite pedantic, arguing the English language needs to grow and people like me are stifling creativity and then point out that hey, wait, I make up words all the time - for instance, using the word bone-ular for pain I feel in my bones (no, this isn't muscular, it feels bone-ular) or creating my own adjectives by adding a -y at the end (lotion-y, comfort-y) - and that I use dashes and parentheses with reckless abandon and start sentences with conjunctions, so where do I get off on commenting on grammar? Well, before I mention that this was quite the run on sentence, I did spend five years of my life working on a degree in English and I used to spend far too much time reading grammar books and dictionaries before I caught the chemistry bug, so I think I might be able to make a case for being allowed to make a comment or two from time to time...but more importantly it's about presentation.

When people see these kind of typos on products or in write-ups on web sites, it might make them think twice about buying from you. I get so annoyed by poorly made signs and banners around my town ("Its the best deal in town!" - argh, I get frustrated even writing that sentence knowing it's wrong!) and I actually make a point of avoiding them as punishment. I know that might seem a little ridiculous, but when you're selling a product, you need to think about the image you're presenting, and poor spelling and grammar can undo a lot of what you are trying to accomplish.

Please note, I'm not holding myself up as the paragon of grammar and spelling, and I know I make mistakes all the time so please don't write to me to quote places where I might have made a typo so you can feel all superior to me, because this isn't written from a place of superiority. I'm not standing here saying I'm awesome and you're not. I'm trying to offer some genuine help for those of us who write blogs, tweets, or posts about our products, recipes, or businesses. I'm trying to offer a handy guide for  remembering those things that we often mess up when writing. Although, if you see some typos, let me know! 


Lise M Andersen said...

Teehee (embarrassed giggle). Thank you Susan. I agree with you. I am giggling because I only recently discovered I have been misspelling lavender on my own labels for years. I just happened to notice it by chance (are we just a little embarrassed??!!). I like to think I am pretty language savvy, but you have enlightened me today. I shall now go and practice my apostrophes - all of them! Thanks for sharing.

Ingrid said...

Hi Susan,

You missed my favourite one - 'losing vs. loosing'

I actually appreciated your 'rant', it's one I've been on for quite a long time.

Will said...

Here's a proofreaders tip from my generation (before spellchecking): Read your composition backwards.

That way you're focusing on the spelling of the word, rather than the grammar.

Rarely fails!


Anonymous said...

The apostrophes are getting to me as well - sometimes. I have the excuse English not being my native tongue but am actually embarrassed when I found I made a spelling mistake. I notice mistakes seem to be on the rise in news papers (over here) and find this a "disgrace".

Warm regards,


Katie said...

I love your rants and this is a very good one! I know for a fact that I leave sites that have too many spelling errors or typos because I automatically associate shoddy writing with a shoddy product. It may not be entirely fair, but I think for a lot of people there is such a subliminal connection. I am much more likely to buy products from people who provide a lot of information and spell it all correctly!

Pam said...


I am one guilty sole when it comes to spelling and grammar. With that being said, I can recall specifically when some of my errors were brought to my attention. Irregardless was one of them. I had no idea it was incorrect. I thank that gentleman to this day for letting me know; otherwise I would still be saying it.


Randi Carr said...

I, like Pam, am very guilty of spelling errors... too many. I do too many things at once and on the fly. People want a listing up NOW, so I put it up NOW. I have customers that do point out the errors a lot (another one I spell alot, too often) of the time and that is helpful. I am grateful (this word I always spell greatful, by accident). In school, I had excellent grades in English and when I have time to sit and write I am not a bad writer. Word has made us very dependant (or is it dependent?)on spell check, and it allows many it's and its to go through. The new website I promise will be better lol. I'll have more time to work out the actual listings :) If you ever see one, please point it out! I know I am a speed demon and need to just sloooowwwwwww down sometimes ;p

Jen W said...

Love this rant!

LOL there is a facebook group called 'if you can't tell the difference between you and you're you deserve to die'. Can't say that I feel this strongly about grammar but I did have a cackle.

Nancy Liedel said...

I'm a dyslexic writer. I am the worst of spellers. I write books, in part, for a living and without my editors, I'd be in a pickle. I am probably one of the people you're looking at, but I accept it, although I'm sticking my tongue out to the Northwest.

I do the same thing. If a company, and even Sephora affiliated companies, mess up spelling, I don't buy it. I feel bad, but if you can't spell. Although, I did type Litsea, Listea for months, cause that's how I read it. I have to be painstaking on my sites in my labels and everything else. Again, I have an editor I can pay. I love Jewel.

Tara said...

I can't stand all these things you refer to and more: when people spell "definately" or "seperate", or when people on television say, "something happened to her and I", because they don't know when to use "I" or "me". I've never gone beyond English 101, but I know the basics taught in junior high :)

Patrick said...

Patrick here...

LOVE the reading backwards suggestion, just tried it with a paper and it worked great.

Kathy said...

Thanks Susan. The one that really irritates me is sherbet. It's not "sherbert", which most people say. No second "r". Have a great day.

EsseBee said...

Great rant. I'm a grammar nazi. It really irks me when things are wrong, but like Lise, I'm not immune to the odd mistake. For years I thought lavender was lavendar. Have you read Lynn Truss's book, "Eats, Shoots and Leaves"?
A great book for pedants like us.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

I love Lynne Truss! When I read that book, I felt as if I had met my grammar soul mate! I feel so mean writing this piece, but it really does get to me. I hate spell check! I try not to rely upon it much, especially when you consider my iPod keeps trying to make the word "in" look like "I'n" (what does that even mean?).

I find the differences between American, Canadian, and British English fascinating. I realized recently that Americans don't tend to use the future conditional - If I were a lumberjack, I'm sure I'd be okay vs. if I was a lumberjack... - and they don't double the l before -ed or -ing - or -er, so I would work for the family counseling department. (This drives me nuts because I'm Canadian and the spell check wants to make everything American! So I have to go through and make sure I have all my -ours and -lled in place when I'm writing in Word!)

Anonymous said...

When I initially commented I clicked the "Notify me when new comments are added" checkbox andd now each time
a conment is added I get several emails with the same comment.
Is there any way you can remove me from that service?
Appreciate it!

Also visit mmy wweb blog ... diet plan for weight loss