My blogs this year have not focused on grammar, but my daily work naturally entails frequent corrections of people’s use of grammar in their writing. When not officially editing, I tend to gloss over errors within emails and other correspondence. It’s the end of the year, however, and time for my Top Grammatical and Spelling Errors list (see last year’s Top 10 Grammatical and Spelling Errors here). Readers report that this is one of their favorite postings of the year. So here it goes (I kept it to my absolute top 7 this year!):
7. Alright (vs. All right). Grammar Girl asserts that alright is not a word. Despite the fact that this construction seems to be making its way into the dictionary, I still agree with Grammar Girl.
I received an email from an Ivy League graduate that contained the following sentence:
“In addition, I’m going to pass your information on to another organization that may be interested in your coming in to talk; I hope that’s alright.”
I’m sticking to the spelling “all right” for at least another year. Check back in with me in 2013.
6. Effect / Affect. The only meaning of the verb “effect” is to cause, e.g., effect change. This error was highlighted in my 2010 list. The following sentence, from a client’s addendum explaining his GPA, uses “effect” incorrectly:
“These three grades have effected my gpa significantly…”
The grades at issue were in science, not English. But the correct verb would have been “affected.”
5. Complimentary vs. Complementary.
Complimentary has two meanings: 1) expressing positive sentiments about someone or something, and 2) offered free of charge or as a courtesy.
Complementary means completing a set, or making up a whole.
I have come across the following misuses and correct uses of the words. Which do you think are correct?
a. From an announcement marketing the offerings of a local networking event: “Enjoy … a complementary drink from Yahara Bay Distillers, and bid on enticing items in our Silent Auction.”
b. From a client to whom I had offered a project sheet at no cost: “When will the cover letter and the complementary project sheet included in the package be completed?”
c. From a cover letter: “The Alternative Research Institute is advocating a wide range of complementary medicine approaches.”
d. From an email containing marketing advice: “Look at the Chamber website and start there looking for complementary businesses that you could serve as a resource and also as a referral source.”
Answers: a. Incorrect; b. Incorrect; c. Correct; d. Correct
4. Then vs. Than. A colleague of mine stated to me:
“You are a much stronger person then you give yourself credit for being.”
Regardless of whether this psychoanalysis is an accurate interpretation, a grammatically correct sentence would have been, “You are a much stronger person than you give yourself credit for being.”
For more on this distinction, see Top 10 Grammar and Spelling Errors from 2010.
3. Quotation marks. I understand that the rules of quotation marks are not logical in the United States (commas and periods always go inside quotation marks). I’ve written an article to that effect: The Quandary of Quotation Marks.
What baffles me is when people put full sentences in quotations and still place the punctuation outside the quotation marks. For instance, from an essay from one of my clients:
“Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. This quote by Winston Churchill resonates with me for several reasons.
Can anyone provide a valid reason for the period to be outside the quotation marks here, when the period is part of the quotation?
2. Apostrophes. Many people seem to be confused about how to create plurals. I wrote about this issue in last year’s blog, but the main point is that plurals of nouns are created by adding an s or es. No apostrophe is needed. Here’s a recent example of an error in this department:
“All I can tell you is that the one’s I’ve attended have been awesome.”
What’s an apostrophe doing in the word “one’s”? Proper punctuation would be “ones.”
And the number one error, which outpaces all the rest and presents an ongoing struggle for me as an editor…
1. Comma Splice. These buggers are rampant! I’ve written two articles about commas and semicolons so I won’t go into detail now. Here are some examples of comma splices that have crossed my desk in 2012. Replacing the comma with a semicolon corrects the error in each sentence; other options to try are splitting the sentence into two full sentences (inserting a period in place of the comma) or inserting the word “and” after the comma:
“I have an appointment at 4pm Central, if it is not too late for you I could talk after that.”
“I will need to ask him more about the program to determine the benefit, he didn’t provide that information.”
“I still have to get 6 people Christmas presents, tonight was one of the days that I thought that I could use to do it.”
If you have other frequently-occurring grammar and punctuation issues you’ve noticed, please let me know and I’ll throw them into the pot for next year. I hope this list was useful to you or will be useful to someone you love. Here’s to great writing in 2013!