A few grammatical pet peeves

First, let me put in a disclaimer, because I know some people are going to criticize me about this post. I have been involved with the Internet long enough to both remember the spelling nazis and dislike them immensely. If you were involved with Usenet discussion boards, you’ll know what I’m talking about. You still occasionally see a discussion collapse into pointless flames about spelling and grammar, and perhaps what I’m writing falls into that category too. If so, move along, nothing to see here. 🙂
Even in light of that disclaimer, however, when I was reading my morning allotment of RSS feeds I couldn’t help cringe when someone who should know better posted that
    “WordPress today announced that it’s just released it’s newest version: WordPress 2.6.”
Upon reflection I realized that this particular blogger frequently mistakes “its” for “it’s” and while it could be a stylistic thing or an affectation, odds were better that the author simply doesn’t know a simple rule to differentiate the two.
Here it is, Dave’s rule for differentiating usage: “it’s” is short for “it is”.
That’s it. Now, consider the same sentence with each occurrence of the contraction “it’s” rewritten:
    “WordPress today announced that it is just released it is newest version: WordPress 2.6.”
Doesn’t make much sense. In fact, the first occurrence should be “it has”, which can ostensibly be shortened to “it’s” too, but the second is just wrong and should be “its”.
My rewrite of this sentence, improving it a little bit:
    “WordPress today announced that it has just released its newest version: WordPress 2.6.”
Actually, if I were going to blog about the new WordPress release, I would rephrase it to sidestep this issue entirely:
    “WordPress today announced the release of WordPress 2.6, the latest version of the popular blogging utility.”
My point isn’t to edit this sentence to death (or is it too late? 🙂 but to point out that while the blogosphere tends to be characterized by informal prose, basic spelling and grammatical errors still reflect poorly on the author.
And while I’m on this particular soapbox, I encourage you to learn the difference between ensure and insure. This is a nuance that most ad copy writers seem to miss entirely and not a week goes by that I don’t see “insure” misused in print marketing collateral.
One more, since I’m on a roll! Your versus you’re. Again, every time you see an apostrophe — a contraction — spell it out to ensure [not “insure”!] that you’re [not “your”!] using it correctly. “You’re” is “you are”.
A good writing tip is to always read your prose out loud to see if it “sounds wrong”. If you think there’s something odd about the voice or tense, there probably is!
Finally, I’m not alone in my grammatical rant. Check out these five mistakes that make you look dumb from CopyBlogger, ten flagrant grammar errors from Jody Gilbert at CNet and how poor spelling and grammar can cost you from Elizabeth Charles.
Interestingly, I also asked the Twitter community how they would rewrite that particular sentence to make it grammatically correct and only one person, 11_15_Media, actually suggested something that was correct: “Today, WordPress announces the release of its newest version, WordPress 2.6.” Nicely done.

7 comments on “A few grammatical pet peeves

  1. Just a note… if you’re going to complain about grammar mistakes, you might want to proof-read your article.
    “If so, move long…” should be “If so, move along…”
    “Upon reflect…” should be “Upon reflection…”
    That’s as far as I got, so I don’t know if there’s more. Just thought it was ironic, and you might want to know. 😉

  2. Funny: I read this sentence yesterday and it looked very wrong to me at first sight – without going into deep analyzing it my gut just told me that something is wrong.
    My English is far from being perfect since it is my second language (My German is falling apart at the same time my English doesn’t get any better).
    I guess having an understanding of “proper English” becomes important at a time of miscommunication. If people don’t understand each other any longer because we can’t agree on the meaning of words any more we have issues. Anyone with a teenage child knows what I am talking about.
    I enjoyed this little English class. And I think the author of the WordPress announcement will get your point as well.
    PS: I hope I won’t get tarred and feathered for the errors in this comment;-)

  3. Keeps those rants coming, Dave. I also cringe when I see such mistakes, especially when they are done by supposedly professional writers! I’ve seen some press releases that were just shocking. Bad, bad, bad.

  4. You’re comma should be a semicolon. I hate those grammer nazis that don’t use correctness grammar while correcting others grammer. If you know what I mean.

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