Written by Brian Clark
It’s time once again to review those nasty errors that damage our credibility when we write. Not normally a fun task, but absolutely necessary. I promise to keep you amused to diminish the pain (or at least I’ll give it a shot).
As with the last time we explored grammatical errors, I feel compelled to mention that copywriting and blogging should be conversational and engaging, and breaking formal grammatical and spelling conventions can often be a good thing. Every time I see a comment complaining about something like, oh, I don’t know? the improper use of an ellipsis or one-sentence paragraphs, I shake my head with sadness.
They just don’t get it.
Outside of specific professional or academic contexts, writing with a personal style that makes it easier on the reader is more important than pleasing Strunk and White. That said, I also believe you have to know the rules in order to break them. Plus, there are some errors that you’ll never convince anyone that you did intentionally in the name of style (outside of a joke), and even then some people will still assume you’re dumb.
So, let’s take a look at some more of those types of glaring errors that you never want to make. Thanks to reader suggestions and the aforementioned Messrs. Strunk and White, here are seven more common mistakes that can diminish the shine and credibility of your writing.
1. Loose vs. Lose
This one drives a lot of people crazy, including me. In fact, it’s so prevalent among bloggers that I once feared I was missing something, and somehow “loose” was a proper substitute for “lose” in some other English-speaking countries. Here’s a hint: it’s not.
If your pants are too loose, you might lose your pants.
2. Me, Myself, and I
One of the most common causes of grammatical pain is the choice between “me” and “I.” Too often people use “I” when they should use “me,” because since “I” sounds stilted and proper, it must be right, right? Nope.
The easy way to get this one right is to simply remove the other person from the sentence and then do what sounds correct. You would never say “Give I a call,” so you also wouldn’t say “Give Chris and I a call.” Don’t be afraid of me.
And whatever you do, don’t punt and say “myself” because you’re not sure whether “me” or “I” is the correct choice. “Myself” is only proper in two contexts, both of which are demonstrated below.
Many consider Chris a punk, but I myself tolerate him. Which brings me to ask myself, why?
3. Different than vs. Different from
This one slips under the radar a lot, and I’ll bet I’ve screwed it up countless times. It boils down to the fact that things are logically different from one another, and using the word “than” after different is a grammatical blunder.
This vase is different from the one I have, but I think mine is better than this one.
4. Improper Use of the Apostrophe
Basically, you use an apostrophe in two cases:
- For contractions (don’t for do not)
- To show possession (Frank’s blog means the blog belongs to Frank)
If still in doubt, leave the apostrophe out. It causes more reader confusion to insert an apostrophe where it doesn’t belong than it does to omit one. Plus, you can always plead the typo defense if you leave an apostrophe out, but you look unavoidably dumb when you stick one where it doesn’t belong.
Back when I talked about bullet points, one of the tips involved keeping each bullet item in parallel by beginning with the same part of speech. For example, each item might similarly begin with a verb like so:
When writing a list of items in paragraph form, this is even more crucial, and failing to stay in parallel can result in confusion for readers and scorn from English majors. Check out this non-parallel list in a sentence:
Over the weekend, Kevin bought a new MacBook Pro online, two software programs, and arranged for free shipping.
Do you see the problem? If not, break the list into bullet points and it becomes clear:
Over the weekend, Kevin:
- Bought a new MacBook Pro online
- Two software programs
- Arranged for free shipping
Stick the word “ordered” in front of “two software programs” and you’re in parallel. Your readers will subconsciously thank you, and the Grammar Nazis won’t slam you.
6. i.e. vs. e.g.
Ah, Latin? you’ve just gotta love it. As antiquated as they might seem, these two little Latin abbreviations are pretty handy in modern writing, but only if you use them correctly.
The Latin phrase id est means “that is,” so i.e. is a way of saying “in other words.” It’s designed to make something clearer by providing a definition or saying it in a more common way.
Copyblogger has jumped the shark, i.e., gone downhill in quality, because Brian has broken most of his New Year’s resolutions.
The Latin phrase exempli gratia means “for example”, so e.g. is used before giving specific examples that support your assertion.
7. Could of, Would of, Should of
Please don’t do this:
I should of gone to the baseball game, and I could of, if Billy would of done his job.
This is correct:
I should have gone to the baseball game, and could have, if Billy would have done his job.
Why do people make this mistake?
They could’ve, should’ve, would’ve been correct, except that the ending of those contractions is slurred when spoken. This creates something similar to a homophone, i.e., a word that is pronounced the same as another word but differs in meaning, e.g., of, which results in the common grammatical mistake of substituting of for have.
Ain’t this been fun?