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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
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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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Tom Nally
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Tom Nally,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/3/2012 | 12:35:45 PM
re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media
A friend of mine used this example to illustrate a common grammatical mistake: "A presposition is the worst thing to end a sentence with."
Tom Nally
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Tom Nally,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/3/2012 | 12:33:01 PM
re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media
I'm not sure "Period." is a sentence, unless it is a one-word answer to an interrogation. Period.
KinderBenzer
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KinderBenzer,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/2/2012 | 11:01:59 PM
re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media
Finally! I thought I was the only one annoyed by this.
msteinl
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msteinl,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/2/2012 | 8:10:51 PM
re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media
Goes along with the common misuse of "over" versus "more than." The car drove across the bridge over the water. Sales increased by more than 10 percent.
DataBass
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DataBass,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/2/2012 | 7:21:37 PM
re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media
Consider this if you please...
The quoted item is mearly an "object" within a sentence with the general form noun-verb-object. As such, regardless of the form of the object, word, phrase or quote, the sentence itself should have a proper termination regardless of the possible termination of the quote.
For example:
---- He said "Are you talking to me?".
is a declarative sentence and as such, logically should be terminated with a period.
Likewise
---- He asked "Are you well?"?
is an interrogatory (sp?) sentence and, ahem, logically should terminate with a question mark regardless of what the Object of the sentence happens to be. Perhaps it looks odd, but the Object is a quoted question and the sentence itself is a question as well. Thus, 2 question marks separated with a quote.

Forgive my own diatribe, but as someone who is a programmer, proper termination of program lines, especially those with text, is very important.
We were taught as youngsters that periods, exclamation points and question marks ended sentences and that still seems like a proper thing to do.
ChrisDixon2012
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ChrisDixon2012,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/2/2012 | 2:04:54 AM
re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media
Not a mistake exactly, but I would certainly not use the "Oxford comma" (another Lynn Truss obsession) after "Twitter" in the sentence, "I see it every day on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks..." (But I see you use the Oxford comma later as well, so maybe it's a house rule.)

A bigger problem is "grammar-phobia". This term is intended as a standalone noun rather than an attributive noun, so should be
"grammar phobia" or "grammarphobia" (cf., "one ton" but "a one-ton beam"). Nowadays standalone words generally don't contain hyphens. "To-day" is antiquated and I think it's a just a matter of time before "e-mail" has been completely replaced by "email". This one was serious enough to force me back for another parsing on my first read.

Directly after that, "reason why" is considered redundant by schoolmarms who change it to "reason that".

Another schoolmarm one--"mistakes that I see most". Since "most" is an adjective not an adverb, I'm sure schoolmarms would want to add "often" at the end.

A consistency problem in the list of mistakes--Items 1 through 4 omit the double quotations around the problem words in question, while the rest of the items use the double quotations.

(Well, you did ask ...)
rosstherrien
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rosstherrien,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/1/2012 | 11:03:28 PM
re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media
It's funny how you can read it and not really see the errors.
However, when typing it you're more a where.
My grammar , okay?
rosstherrien
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rosstherrien,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/1/2012 | 11:02:43 PM
re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media
It's funny how you can read it and not really see the errors.
However, when typing it you're more a where.
My grammar , okay?
msteinl
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msteinl,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/1/2012 | 9:59:29 PM
re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media
Thank you for a good done---oops, I mean well done---article. Avoiding word usage and grammatical errors is important to me, not just for the sake of being correct, but for clarity and ease of understanding. I always appreciate it when someone takes the time to write well. I'd like to note that there are instances where it makes sense for someone to intentionally break grammar rules to make a point, to adjust the rhythm and cadence of a paragraph or to give narrative a conversational feel. Your use of the single word, "period" as a sentence is an example of this.

I'd recommend reading a satirical piece written in the 1970s, "How to Write Good," by former Saturday Night Live writer Michael O'Donoghue. If you search for it you can find it online.
msteinl
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msteinl,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/1/2012 | 8:31:31 PM
re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media
Good comments. In fact, sentences can end in quotation marks. Periods and commas always go inside the endquote. A question mark goes inside the endquote if it applies to the content of the quote and outside the endquote if it applies to the context of the quote. For example: He asked, "should we have pizza for dinner?" is correct. Also: Did they arrange to see each other late at night for the "meeting"? is also correct.
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