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  • 07/30/2012
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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.)


Comments

re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media

I agree with your points...100%. Thank you!

re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media

Thank you, Jim. I appreciate your comment.

Deb Donston-Miller
Contributing Editor, The BrainYard

re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media

Get a life!

re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media

Hi Domain Admin,

Thanks for your comment, but do you mean that the topic of this story isn't worth writing about?

Deb Donston-Miller
Contributing Editor, The BrainYard

re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media

As an engineer/programmer, I want to ensure that I say what I mean and not be sloppy about how I say it. It looks like you don't much care whether you want others to understand what you say. Frankly, I wouldn't want someone who cannot communicate well as a domain administrator.

re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media

These are also the most common gaffes in junior high English class.

re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media

Hi Andrew,

I think that's the point. It's a problem when a seasoned professional is making the same mistakes (in a public forum) that he or she made in 8th grade.

Deb Donston-Miller
Contributing Editor, The BrainYard

re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media

The newest one is breath/breathe, as in "Now you can breath again."

re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media

That's a good one, and it made me think of "choose" and "chose." Those get mixed up a lot, too.

Deb Donston-Miller
Contributing Editor, The BrainYard

re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media

No one seems to know how to spell "yeah". It really bothers me that they spell it "y-e-a".

re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media

Along with the errors mentioned above, I will add two more. Affect and Effect and Farther and Further (yes, you may count them as four words), but error in use would be two...

re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media

As an editor, I share you pain and have many others I could contribute. As a middle-aged end-user, I sometimes struggle with getting the devices and touchscreens to cooperate when typing, especially when it comes to apostrophes. So I have to plead guilty -- I will often allow "it's" to substitute for "it's" and forgo capitals out of simple frustration.

re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media

Re #10: a technique I have taught my children. It works well, but the number of people who will start a sentence with "Me and Soandso..." is just frightening.

I would add "me vs. myself" as #12: How often have you heard something like, "If you have a question, just contact myself or my partner." Sorry, but no, you can't contact myself (only I can do that), but you can contact ME if you like.

And yes, I too still use complete sentences and punctuation when I text. Yes, it takes more time, but who says I have to be in such a hurry?

re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media

I find that people have more trouble using "me" in the object because putting "I" last in the subject is emphasized so much. People mistakenly transfer that lesson to the object without understanding why it's wrong.

Also, completely agree with the reflexive pronouns. That is my wife's biggest peeve. I actually think she errs in the opposite direction, but most people definitely do not.

re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media

An excellent article. Annoying as heck when people misuse those types of words. Thanks for giving me something to which I can provide a link when they transgress too/two/to much (circle the first one!).

re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media

The sad thing is that in a few years the people in positions that should care about grammar will be comprised of the generation that does not care. Rome is burning, folks.

re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media

Two of my pet peeves:

-- Intelligent people whom I love dearly often mangle the past participle of "go," as in: "I should have went." (Or worse: "I should of went.")

-- When using two objects of the preposition, they use the nominative case when they need the objective, as in: "I bought dinner for John and I."

Monica Roland, former copy editor and teacher

re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media

Regarding Sentence Starters and Endings...
What if the first word in the sentence is a trademarked word that starts with a lower case letter? If such a noun is written with an initial upper-case letter, then it is spelled wrong. In one case I have, it is written in initial lower-case everywhere, even in their (not "they're" :-) ) own written documentation as well as on their web site.

I wholeheartedly agree with you that sentences should end with ".", "?" and "!".
So why do so many people end sentences with quotation marks?
For example:
He asked "What happened?" Inappropriate
He asked "What happened?". Appropriate
Did you say "Hello." Inappropriate
Did you say "Hello."? Appropriate

Are we on the same wavelength?

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.

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.

re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media

You have a mistake in your mistake "released its first earnings report", so that it isn't a mistake. Probably you meant to write the first occurrence as "released it's first earnings report".

re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media

The mistake is the missing comma.

re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media

In #6, different from, not different than.

re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media

Two observations:
(1) When you're not sure whether to write "its" or "it's", reread the sentence, substituting "it is". You will realize at once whether you need an apostrophe or not. HOWEVER, it would be a lot better if we always spelled the word without an apostrophe. Why? Because any decent reader can always tell whether "its" was spelled wrong. Since the correct usage is obvious, the apostrophe hardly adds any value; so drop it. (Here's a rare sentence in which it's not clear whether you need the apostrophe: We sell no wine before its time.)

(2) It is so common for people to say "me" when "I" is correct that grammarians ought to accept the "me." This so-called incorrect usage obviously stems from a deep sense of innate grammar. It's time for the grammar police to back off. (Disclosure: my own college-educated son makes this "mistake.")
- The Precision Blogger.

re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media

Lose/loose, two/to/too, etc., are SPELLING errors, not GRAMMAR errors.

re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media

Thank's so much! Mistakes like that always annoy my wife and I... You did good!

re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media

Actually, that should be "Mistakes like that always annoy my wife and ME." (See point number 10 in the article for the explanation. When unsure, I always use the simple trick mentioned.) Or were you just jesting?

re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media

Honestly, I don't think it's social medias fault.
I think it has always been prevalent. Just not "in your face" as it is with social media. I'd love to hear from a teacher on how they have seen it change the children.
I must admit it's actual helped my dyslexia because I get practice and there are LOTS of people who are happy to correct me.

My pet hates are shortening words by 1 letter and making them wrong!
Like "come" becoming "cum".

re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media

And the tweet that arrived shortly after Deb's on this article said, "Okay everyone. Me and Sarah are heading out. Let's keep the week going. Team will be back tomorrow @ 8 a.m. EST Good night"

(Company name left out but it is their official customer interaction Twitter account.)

re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media

In this instance, not only is it wrong to use "Me" instead of "I" but I've always heard that the other person should precede the speaker: "Sarah and I ...". But languages are in constant flux and nowadays it may well be acceptable to put either person first.

re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media

Two things that drive me crazy: People who use "premise" instead of "premises" (as in location--"on-premise software"), and (this one seems to be picking up steam) those who think "series" is plural and "serie" is singular. Ugh.

re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media

Just like "series", many people assume that my country Barbados, unlike the Bahamas, consists of multiple islands. Announcers at the Olympics often refer to "The Barbados" when referring to our contingent, to our amusement (chagrin, for some). Listen out for it this year!

re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media

I just noticed what ANON1245417961680 wrote, so I'm acknowledging it now via this edit.

Here's a mistake that's becoming increasingly common: When discussing Cloud computing, marketing professionals are incorrectly using the term "on-premise" instead of the correct term "on-premises" as a synonym of in-house computing.

re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media

The grammatically challenged have a bit of trouble explaining the quote, "Do well so you may do good."

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.

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?

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?

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 ...)

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.

re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media

Finally! I thought I was the only one annoyed by this.

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.

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."

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 :-)

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.

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.

re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media

its because of there teacher's Or may be their just care less

re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media

You're absolutely correct!

re: 11 Most Common Grammar Gaffes On Social Media

What about the constant misuse of "myself"

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.

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.

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