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11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media

When good people make bad language choices on social media, it's not pretty.

How 6 Tech Execs Set Social Example
How 6 Tech Execs Set Social Example
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Its great too be able to communicate with all you're friends on social media.

Do you see anything wrong with the first sentence of this story? If not, I'm talking to you.

Grammar has been the subject of several news stories and blog posts lately. Kyle Wiens, the CEO of iFixit, said in a Harvard Business Review blog that he won't hire people who use bad grammar. A recent study found that young people who text are more likely to fall short on grammar tests. The Wall Street Journal reported on the "epidemic" of grammar gaffes in today's workplace. Jon Stewart recently did a whole riff on how Republicans hung an attack on what was essentially a mistake in grammar that President Obama made.

It's been very gratifying to see these stories because bad grammar, especially among people who should know better, makes me cringe. I see it every day on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks, where people either don't realize that they're making mistakes or don't care. I also see it in published and supposedly edited work.

I'm not a nut about language, and I enjoy purposeful wordplay. I am certainly not perfect--I'm guessing that the copy editor who reads this column before it is published will correct at least one mistake. But I do try. And I guess that's what bothers me when I see professional, educated people make the same mistakes over and over again. I don't buy that it's OK when it's "just" on social media. (Indeed, I drive my daughters crazy because I use complete sentences and proper punctuation when I text them. "It takes you too long to text!" they say.)

[ Is grammar-phobia a reason why Fortune 500 CEOs Shy Away From Social? ]

I've been an editor for a long time, so it's been my job to correct mistakes in grammar, spelling, punctuation, usage, and syntax, among other things. It's not my place to correct friends and colleagues on social media, but I would like to offer up a list of the mistakes that I see most. I truly believe that respecting the language earns you respect in return.

1. It's and Its: I see people mix up its and it's a lot. People often use it's to convey possession. That would seem to make sense because an apostrophe usually indicates possession, but it's is a contraction for it is. Its is a possessive pronoun. So, "It's time to eat the doughnuts" is correct. "Its fleece was white as snow" is also correct.

2. Your and You're: This one seems to cause people a lot of problems, too (more on "too" later). Your is a possessive pronoun. You're is a contraction for you are. "My mother is smarter than your mother" is correct. "You're the best mother in the world" is also correct.

3. To, Two, and Too: To is a preposition. ("It's a long way to Tipperary.") Two is a number. ("Two roads diverged in the woods.") Too is a synonym for also. ("I, too, am excited about the start of the Olympics.")

4. There, Their, and They're: Homonyms certainly seem to give people a lot of trouble, don't they? There means in or at a place. ("There are miles to go before we sleep.") Their is a plural possessive pronoun. ("They ate their fair share.") They're is a contraction for they are. ("They're shipping up to Boston.")

5. Sentence Starters and Endings: Every sentence must start with a capital letter and end with a period, a question mark, or an exclamation point. Period.

6. Punctuation in General: As author Lynne Truss taught us, "eats, shoots, and leaves" is very different than "eats shoots and leaves." In addition, "Apples iPhone" is wrong; "Apple's iPhone" is right. "Facebook, which recently went public released its first earnings report" is wrong; "Facebook, which recently went public, released its first earnings report" is right. You get the idea.

7. Lose and Loose: This one really drives me nuts. You "lose" your keys. The dog gets "loose."

8. Then and Than: If you drink too much coffee, "then" you will likely be jittery. I like the original Parent Trap better "than" the remake with Lindsey Lohan.

9. Using Apostrophes to Make Words Plural: This is a mistake I have seen on signs all across the country. For some reason, people seem to think that you should use an apostrophe to make a word plural. You don't! You may say "tomato's" and I may say "tomatoes," but unless the tomato owns something, I would be right.

10. I and Me: "I" is the subject pronoun and "me" is the object pronoun. If that means nothing to you (and I wouldn't blame you if it didn't), just use this simple trick to determine which pronoun is correct: Try the sentence with just the pronoun. So, if you have the sentence "Sally and [I/me] went to the store," which sounds right? "I went to the store" or "Me went to the store"? (Hopefully, the former sounds right to you.)

11. Good and Well: Watching Toddlers and Tiaras the other night (yes, I admit it), I was dismayed that every parent said to his or her child after a performance, "You did really good!" Good is an adjective; well is an adverb. The creepily made-up youngsters all did well, not good.

So, did you find any mistakes in my story? Do you think that accuracy and specificity of language matter on social media sites? What are the worst assaults on language you have seen on social media? We welcome your comments below.

Follow Deb Donston-Miller on Twitter at @debdonston.

Every company needs a social networking policy, but don't stifle creativity and productivity with too much formality. Also in the debut, all-digital Social Media For Grownups issue of The BrainYard: The proper tools help in setting social networking policy for your company and ensure that you'll be able to follow through. (Free with registration.)

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Whitney Thurman
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Whitney Thurman,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/17/2013 | 7:28:08 PM
re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media
I often cringe when I see people using "everyday" in the place of "every day", or using non-existent words such as "everytime" or "bestfriends". It is especially troubling to see these sorts of errors being circulated and popularized in the form of memes.
the_freq
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the_freq,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/2/2012 | 1:25:15 PM
re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media
The worst thing is when people, when saying "try to", omit the word "to" altogether! As in, "I'm going to try do this thing." It just really fiddles my biscuits. And yes, people DO do that.
the_freq
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the_freq,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/2/2012 | 1:24:01 PM
re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media
Oh, please. Your getting two worked up about people doing they're grammar good.
okgray
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okgray,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/20/2012 | 7:43:07 PM
re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media
All of the above plus: Try and vs. try to. I try and teach good grammar vs. I try to teach good grammar. I think the latter is correct, but I see and hear the former so much, I wonder if it is also correct.

I remember when I was a teenager. We had a language of our own so that we could talk without parents knowing what we were saying. So, I am thinking that this is a good thing that teens text in text. Teenagers are genetically programmed to separate from parents so that they can make more just like themselves. But, they should learn to communicate in the language expected by those who will be hiring them and buying from them and voting for them.

BTW: This is the first large group of comments I have seen that is virtually error free! This took me 30 days to write. I didn't want to be the only one to mess up.
elsabelle
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elsabelle,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/12/2012 | 8:54:07 PM
re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media
What about the constant misuse of "myself"
ANON1250267029419
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ANON1250267029419,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/10/2012 | 8:09:13 PM
re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media
You're absolutely correct!
ANON1250267029419
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ANON1250267029419,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/10/2012 | 8:08:16 PM
re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media
its because of there teacher's Or may be their just care less
ladyliteracy
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ladyliteracy,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/7/2012 | 7:17:06 PM
re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media
Belated thanks.
Have just read all the comments and embarrassed I missed two glaring ones.
Of course your is a possessive (second-person pronoun) adjective.
Also, homophone was meant in the article (think of phone as sound, they sound the same -- pear/pair), not homonyms (nyms as in names for the same thing -- auto/car).
Another mistake sneaking into the language is to add an S when saying with/in regard to.
It's as in with respect to or with/in reference to.
Regards is something we say at the end of a letter -- sending regards -- or when referring to a look (his covert regard).
I had noticed the incorrect use of hopefully but decided not to embark on that fight as well. I means full of hope, not that one hopes something will happen.
Think of:
She was sitting by the phone hopefully.
He looked at her hopefully.
While I'm at it, momentarily indicates 'for a moment', not 'IN a moment'.
Belief was suspended momentarily.
How frightening to be told the plane wd be airborne momentarily -- it will fall out of the sky after 20 seconds?
btw, ending a sentence with a preposition is perfectly correct (as is splitting an infinitive). Apparently some don't realize there are phrasal verbs too: to put, to put up, to put up with.
Such false pedantry is difficult to put up with.
Gives grammarians a bad name.

Can't wait to see if anyone can spot something else.
ladyliteracy
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ladyliteracy,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/7/2012 | 11:28:41 AM
re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media
Glad to see another in the campaign for grammar.
Texting can be grammatically correct -- abbreviations don't affect the grammar.
Your copy editor, you say, probably found a mistake before this was published. This copy editor has found more quibbles/peeves.
No. 5 = Right! but you demonstrate the mistake in No. 7 (see below).
No. 6 = Yes, great to see the serial comma being promoted but it shd be: different from.
No. 7 = This shd read ["loose".], but that's another problem (see No. 5).
No. 10 = Good explanation; I tell ppl just to throw out the others and you won't make a mistake.
No. 11 = No doubt one of the biggest bugbears. Differentiating between good and well occurs in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and Romanian. (So it drives me crazy when French- or Spanish-speaking ppl make this mistake that they wd not in their own language.)
GOOD: morals, ethics, ability, ie saintliness and expertise
WELL: health, general state
They do understand when asked if they can tell the difference between a person who is good and a person who is well or a little boy who is good and one who is well.
A good athlete and an athlete who is well, not sick or injured.
The Olympics provides a great opportunity for ppl to hear the difference however I've heard the mistakes and even in published reports, alas.
Nos. 5 and 7
Please, US, start doing the accurate and rational. No. 5 is right; No. 7 is an aberration.
Don't put punctuation in something you're quoting unless it's part of the quotation!
We're in the digital age.
Typesetters started putting the comma and the period inside the quotation marks even though it did not make sense b/c those little marks broke off at the end of a line. We don't have that problem so we can keep the accuracy of only putting inside quotation marks what actually is being quoted.
["loose."] is nonsense, and not true.
Read The Economist or the Guardian to see the proper positions. In Canada, as in many things, it's done both ways but I'm fighting on the side of accuracy.
That it's illogical and inconsistent is obvious when reading an American publication that has, for instance:
The plays omitted were well-known ("Macbeth", "Hamlet", and "Romeo and Juliet").
but without parentheses:
They did not perform "Macbeth", "Hamlet", and "Romeo and Juliet."
Someone mentioned that some university students in California are rebelling and insisting on the rational/correct placement of commas and periods wrt quotation marks.
Overthrow typesetters' rules/needs/wishes!
It's difficult to understand why the US is so determined not to fix an unreasonable practice. Very easy, no?
Anyway, though perhaps Sisyphean, the climb is worth it -- to ease the mind with fewer nonsensical or irrational words or combinations (or punctuation). Actually I was surprised you didn't include countable and uncountable nouns to point out when to use fewer and less.
Please allow me to add an optimistic note.
Instead of correcting, I always give the explanation of why something is right and the other wrong. Most ppl are grateful b/c it had never been explained to them. Once understood, they can go on b/c the principle/grammar makes sense and they don't make the mistake again. They are disabused of the feeling it's arbitrary with no rational basis so it matters little wch is used.
Alas, the teaching of grammar has fallen below the acceptable level (in UK, US, and Canada) and now often only is given any time in the teaching of foreign languages since necessary for functions and relationships in constructing a sentence.
A group that frequently appreciates an explanation is those who say "with you and I". (And yes, Obama once said "with Michelle and I" and that made it into the letters to the editor in The Economist.) The mistake is called hypercorrection. (See No. 10.) These ppl are often trying to be correct and they think I is correct although they wd never say that normally. They are trying to be correct but go so far that they advertise the fact they don't know grammar -- the opposite of their intention.
Yes, apostrophes are impossible to understand for someone just looking at signs. Some writers, I swear, use them like sprinkles on the icing on cupcakes. Possessive or contractions! not plurals!
Correct is Phelps's medals. That possessive S at the end is only left off it the word ends in S and is PLURAL. Many apparently forget the second requirement.
Think of the movie "Bridget Jones's Diary" and the fact that Bridget is the Joneses' daughter.
Well, sorry to ramble on but the article was sent to me and the temptation to comment, compliment, and encourage was irresistible.
Thank you for shining a light on an essential element of clear and precise communication generally understood.
Richard Corso
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Richard Corso,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/3/2012 | 9:45:51 PM
re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media
Who cares when you have the likes of Twitter speak - OMG etc As long as you're understood who cares about correct grammar - to the Americans Grammar is Mothers mother :-)
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