10 Grammar Mistakes that Can Keep Your Content from Spreading

image of vintage deck of cards

Ever read a blog post and think, “This writer seems to have some good ideas, but the grammatical errors are driving me crazy”?

(Pro tip: If you don’t ever think this, some of your readers probably do.)

Grammatical glitches make your writing harder to read, and they turn readers off.

Content may be king, but you’ll gain a lot more respect and credibility if your writing is just as brilliant as the ideas you convey.

And by brilliant, I mean clean.

When your writing is clean, readers understand where you’re coming from. And the more your readers understand and respect where you’re coming from, the more likely they are to share your content.

As editor of Brazen Careerist’s blog, Brazen Life, I often see the same errors in submissions for our site. If our smart contributors make these mistakes, chances are you make them sometimes, too.

So next time you write a blog post, whether it’s a guest post or for your own site, check it over for these errors:

1. Using that when you should use who

Whenever you write about people, refer to them using who, not that.

John is the guy who always forgets his shoes, not the guy that always forgets his shoes.

It’s easy to make this mistake because that has become acceptable in everyday conversations. But it’s more noticeable when it’s written down — or maybe it only jumps out to us grammar geeks?

2. Including the word currently in your bio

The word currently is virtually always redundant. (Can you tell this is one of my pet peeves?) But let’s focus on your bio, because that’s where most writers fail on this one.

Don’t write: “Tom Jones is currently a communications director.” If Tom Jones is anything, he’s that at that moment; you don’t need “currently” to clarify.

Just get rid of it.

3. Starting a sentence with There is or There are

This isn’t an actual error, but it’s often a symptom of lazy writing.

There are lots of better, more interesting ways to start sentences.

Ooops. See how easy it is to make this mistake?

Instead of starting a sentence with There is, try turning the phrase around to include a verb or start with you. For example, replace the sentence above with Start your sentences in a more interesting way.

If your copy includes a lot of phrases that begin with there is or there are, put some time into rewriting most of them.

4. Writing bullets that don’t match up

Bullet points are a popular and effective way to organize complex ideas. Just make sure your bullets correspond to one another.

For example, since this piece calls for 10 mistakes, each item needs to be something you don’t want to do. Too often, writers mix and match mistakes with what you should do or make transition to shoulds halfway through the post — which only confuses the reader.

If your piece is called 3 Career Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make, here’s a bullet point that works:

  • Forgetting to tailor your resume each time you apply for a job

Here’s one that doesn’t work (because it’s not actually a mistake — the writer inadvertedly switched to what you should do):

  • Make sure you tailor your resume

Likewise, if you’re offering “tips for writing while balancing on your head,” make sure the bullets are actually tips, ideas that start with an action verb, not “sitting on your head helps you think better.” That’s a reason to write while balancing on your head, not a tip for how to do it.

Often you can turn any idea into a tip by adding a verb. For example: “Remember that sitting on your head helps you write better.”

Make your bullet points consistent and your writing will read more smoothly.

5. Not using contractions

Which sounds more personable: I am heading to the market that is close to my house, or I’m heading to the market that’s close to my house?

Contractions make your writing sound friendlier, like you’re (not you are) a real person. And that makes it easier to connect with readers.

Contractions can also make your post easier to read and comprehend. So go out of your way to include them in your posts! Your editor will thank you.

6. Falling into the ing trap

“We were starting to …” or “She was skiing toward …” Whenever you see an ing in your copy, think twice about whether you need it — because you probably don’t.

Instead, get rid of were or was, then eliminate that ing and replace it with past tense: “We started to …” or “She skied toward …”

Pruning excessive “ings” makes your writing clearer and easier to read.

7. Adding a comma after that

When used as a descriptor, the word which takes a comma. But the word that doesn’t.

For example: “We went to the house that collapsed yesterday” or “We went to the house, which collapsed yesterday.”

Confused about when to use that vs. which? Grammar Girl offers a great explanation.

8. Using over rather than more than

Over 200 people did not like your Facebook page — More than 200 people did.

Of course, everyone will know what you mean if you use over. But using more than is one of those little details that will help your writing shine.

9. Forgetting to hyphenate modifiers

Whenever you modify a noun with more than one word, you need a hyphen. Lots of people don’t follow this rule, so it’s a great way to show you actually walk the walk.

That means you need a hyphen if you’re writing about full-time work. But you don’t need one if you’re working full time. Got it?

The exception: No need to hyphenate modifiers that end in “ly.” Those are OK on their own. So your newly hired employee doesn’t need that hyphen.

10. Writing could care less when you actually mean you couldn’t care less

Which is exactly how some people probably feel about this post.

But you? You’re a writer who writes clean copy. And following these suggestions, as picky as they may be, will help you create content that’s clearer and easier to read … and that makes it that much easier to share.

About the Author: Alexis Grant is an entrepreneurial writer and managing editor of Brazen Careerist's blog, Brazen Life. She's on Twitter at @alexisgrant.

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  1. Thanks, Alexis, for reminding us that better grammar helps to make our content more likely to be shared, by virtue of making it more easily readable.

    So many things to keep in our heads when writing! Content, marketing message, clarity, SEO, hyperlinks, keywords, and grammar too!

    Sadly, I’m guilty of so many of these, and have to spend some time cleaning up! For example, I find the word “that” creeps in to my copy like an unwanted weed.

    I hope, too, that this comment is grammatically acceptable :-)

  2. I hear you Nigel!
    And one other mistake I hate seeing – and it may not have been included in Alexis’ list because it perhaps is such a gross error – using the wrong spelling: “there” for “their”, “hear” for “here”, etc.
    Thank you for the great tips – a few of them were new to me.

  3. Great advice Alexis. Every writer, blogger, et al would do well to make these their 10 Commandments. Thank you for writing . My personal favorite is more than vs. over – have been correcting this in people’s copy for eons. Looking forward to reading more of your sage advice.

  4. Denise Dougherty :

    Great post. So glad you mentioned the “that/who” usage. That is the error that makes me shout at my monitor” “Who! Who! Who!”

    Also, your tips are written in such a friendly way nobody feels lectured. Thank you.

    DD@Phila

    P.S. Perhaps all Copyblogger posts should pass your editor’s eye before they are posted.
    DD

  5. We’re all bound to make a small grammar mistake now and then, but it’s important to keep it to a minimum. You never want to give readers the opportunity to question your authority or expertise. Personally, I always have to think about using less vs. fewer

  6. I’m going to go through my writing and implement this advice. I want to see how much of a difference it will make.

    • It will make a big difference. Clear, concise writing is easier on your readers. Also: Don’t be afraid to edit. Good writing comes from careful editing.

  7. As a full-time journalist turned full-time freelance writer, the over vs. more-than kills me every time I read it. “Over” is a direction, while “more than” means what you actually want to say.

  8. thanks Alexis Grant,
    Great article i really appreciate this. Now i also think again about grammatical mistakes before posting on my site.

  9. That is awesome! As English isn’t my native language, these tips are very useful to me.

  10. Dang. I gotta go revise my bio. :/

  11. Editing is my worst nightmare. I always find more and more that can be improved. It’s hard to see your own stuff, but the extra time spent proofing a third or fourth time always seems to pay off.

    • Yes, I am big on editing. My rule: Writing needs time to marinate to be good. In other words, write it quickly, edit it as stringently as you can, then let it sit. Come back to it after a goodly amount of time and then edit it carefully. That rule helps you see it as if for the first time. If the piece is short and its deadline requires it be out in a few hours, write it quickly and then give it an hour or two in-between before editing. If it is longer and you have more time, come back to it in at least three days (if you have the time to spare) before editing. Very large pieces like a screenplay may even require a month of marination before coming back to it for its rewrites.

      2nd rule: Read everything aloud at least once. Grammatical mistakes and sloppy writing will be glaring and obvious.
      JMO
      Follow me; @inkdipped

      • So true. I’d prefer to leave copy overnight before proofing, but deadlines mean this is not always possible – the balance between quality and lead time applies to copywriting just as it does to the rest of the creative process.

  12. Good afternoon, Alexis.

    One I see a lot and which irritates, is the use of a comma before ‘and’ mid-sentence. Come to think of it, the use of commas – period!

    Kind regards,
    L

  13. Loved this post. Have you noticed how many writers don’t know when to use then vs than or vice versa? That’s one of my peeves.

    I learned a bunch of new ones from your article, some of which I’m guilty of, and thank you so much for pointing them out.

  14. Love this, Alexis!
    And, my greatest pet peeve is the use of apostrophe’s (I’m joking here!) Your post makes it easier to share with others who continually write poorly (rather than telling them directly). Thank you, thank you!!

  15. I noticed I was starting many of my sentences with “there,” but I didn’t know how to fix it (quickly, anyway). Off to delete “currently” from my bio. Thanks for the tips!

  16. Thank you so much for this post, it was extremely eye-opening. I can’t believe how many dont’s I found myself guilty of after having written for so many years. Time to grow!

  17. Thanks for the tips.

    As a new blogger I am probably guilty of all of them. It’s frustrating. At school I used to find grammar easy and never had to think about it. Now I write a blog post, proof read it a couple of times and correct errors, and hit the publish button.

    Then I read the published blog post. And immediately notice more errors! I can’t think of one blog post that I haven’t edited immediately after publishing – the act of actually publishing the post seems to create (or at the very least vividly highlight), more grammatical errors and spelling mistakes :-(

    • HA! This is so true!!! I always find new errors when I publish. One thing that helps me though, is to preview the blog post on my last edit. It’s not always foolproof, but at least you get to look at it with proper formatting before you hit publish.

  18. Excellent post with substantive tips for making the writing strong, rather than just complaining about the usual errors. (Those errors are pervasive, but there are a million blog posts about them.)

    #4 – bulleted lists. Great reminder to make the items relate to the lead-in. Another way to strengthen the list is to make sure the structure of the items – especially the first word – is in parallel. If your list items start with verbs, make sure they all do. Pretty simple.

    And I’m one of those “over/more than” people – like squeaky chalk on a board!
    Thanks again.

  19. Max Griendling :

    I always love the witty humour of these grammar posts. However, it makes me feel quite nerdy at times.

  20. Great tips! I’m guilty of the who/that error.

    With 40% of my traffic coming from non-native English speaking Countries and my articles being technical/how to in nature, I figured it helped them understand the text and it without question helps with auto-translator software.

    What are your thoughts on avoiding contractions for a rather active non-English reader base?

  21. I love grammar rule lists. I always read them, even though at least 2-3 of them are always a repeat. Thanks for this.

    Iulian

  22. Good advice but some of these points relate not so much to grammar as to style.

    My pet peeve is the posh person’s use of “I” instead of “me” as in “send the document to Ed and I”.

    • I see this one all the time, and it grates on me as well.

      This is not a stylistic choice–a person trying to be posh in this way is simply wrong. Only “to Ed and me” is grammatical. “Me” is the objective case for first person singular pronouns in English. The way to tell–take “Ed” out of the phrase and see if it still sounds right.

    • Ed, this one gets me, too.

      I often hear tv newscasters say “stay tuned for the news with Sally and I” and think, “They should know better”.

      It’s all over the place. The converse misusage is pervasive, too; the “My sister and me went to the meeting”.

      However, I agree with you that those who are attempting to sound “posh” (as you put it) frequently use “I” when it should’ve been “me”.

      • It depends on the use. Using your examples….you are correct about the 1st one, but not the 2nd. A good way to check if you are using ‘me’ and ‘I’ correctly is to take out the other noun. Eg. Changing “stay tuned for the news with Sally and I” to ” stay tuned for the news with I” as you can see, using ‘I’ doesn’t make sense. Now if you were to do this with your second example, it would be changed to “Me went to the meeting” so therefore ‘I’ needs to be used. It’s not a matter of acting ‘posh’, but good grammar.

        • Evelyn, you completely missed my point.
          Evelyn,

          I was saying that the CONVERSE is also misused and gave an example of its misuse.

          In other words, rather than “I” being misused, “me” is also misused in the way I gave in the example.

          You might want to re-read my post and you’ll see I was giving examples of misuse, not examples of how the pronouns should be used.

          I still agree with the original poster that people who don’t understand proper usage but want to sound posh DO often use “I” inappropriately.

          (I just read it a few minutes ago, as a matter of fact, when I received an email asking “We’re going to dinner at 7. Do you want to join Steven and I in the lounge?”)

          That’s an attempt at poshness that all too often just becomes a bad habit by copycatting others’ bad grammar (and not caring enough to double-check your own usage).

          • My appologies…

            Now I see what you mean. Yes, I do agree that it gets misused way to often. Maybe to sound ‘posh’ but also smarter. I’m sure these are the people who use big words that they need to ‘look up’ before they use them.

    • I love English grammar. Thanks so much for this article. I’ve always used “There is/are …,” but I’ll try not to in the future, because now I know there’s a better way.

      My grammar might not be perfect, as I always say, but “walk the walk”, in my opinion, is incorrect. “Walk the talk” means doing what you say you’re going to do, whereas “walk the walk” doesn’t mean anything, yet you’ll hear it everywhere.

      Thanks again for the article. :)

  23. Good advice. I regularly offend on that/who, and occasionally forget the other rules as well.

    I have a quibble with your comma-with-which-as-a-descriptor example, however. The Grammar Girl article you cite seems right to me; according to her, your example should always use “that”, because you’re providing a restrictive clause. Restrictive clauses don’t take a comma prefix. A better example of “which” usage might be: “We went to the house, which turned out to be a bad idea.”

  24. Thanks, Alexis – we can never be reminded of good grammar/style often enough! It’s a comfort to know I am not the only one who bristles at the use of ‘that’ instead of ‘who.’

  25. Thank you!
    Great reminders! And a few rules learned.

  26. Some good points here. However, it is interesting that points 3, 5, 6, and (it could be argued) 8 are examples of point 4. Also, point 9 is only partially true and is depends on which style guide you follow.

  27. I’m a big fan of expletive bashing – #3
    In your example, There are lots of better, more interesting ways to start sentences, I have to wait until the 10th word to learn the meat of the sentence. In your second example, start your sentences in a more interesting way, I don’t have to wait at all.

  28. Gina Bisaillon :

    Thank you for confirming the rule about “that” or “who”. English is not my first language, yet I’ve been using that rule correctly, but I’ve never found it anywhere!

  29. Another one prevalent here in Canada is the phrase “in terms of”.

    This is a recent comment spoken at a news conference:

    “In terms of time, it depends on how long it takes for the office to get back to us. He let us know that in terms of the latest polls, it would be at least two weeks. That’s not that long in terms of gathering substantive evidence for the proposed rail. But in terms of the timeline, we should not expect much in terms of results until they get back to us.”

    The news conference droned on and on like this. Printed, it’s a lot more obvious. Spoken, it goes almost unnoticed.

    Such phasing makes one’s mind work harder to get to the kernel of communication. The mental calisthenics of wading through all the unnecessary words before untangling the meaning is exhausting.

    Why make the listeners’ job so hard?

  30. Hi Alexis – this is a subject close to my heart and you give some excellent advice, including one or two points that hadn’t occurred to me before.

    However, at the risk of being picky, I have to agree with Ed that the title of the post is a little misleading because these aren’t all ‘mistakes’. Some are more to do with style – as you acknowledge in your point about starting sentences with “There are” or “There is”. They’re still great tips, nevertheless.

    Like Jill, the one that really drives me round the bend is the misuse of apostrophes. I was inspired to write a whole post about it after coming across a howler on a writing forum – a message about “bringing out emotion’s in copywriting”. Ouch!

    Many thanks for a very informative and useful post – you’ve given me a few more points to bear in mind when I’m in the editing suite!

    Sue

  31. Oy! Grammar! I’ve almost abandoned complaining about the use of “less” instead of “fewer,” and the near constant use of “more,” as in “more sleepy,” instead of “sleepier.” My suspicion is that grammar isn’t taught as strictly in schools these days.

    C’est la vie. Language evolves (darn it!). In 50 years, speaking and writing in what we consider proper English will seem quaint. LOLCat will become our official language. KThxBai.

    • Ha! I was skimming comments before posting the “less and fewer” errors. It drives me crazy and I hear and read these used incorrectly, by journalists and writers, ALLthe time.

  32. It’s refreshing to see a list of grammar mistakes which isn’t just regurgitating the same points as every other one. I’ll definitely share this post. Thank you!

  33. Wonderful! Happy to see someone hit on grammar issues beyond mixing up there, their, and they’re.

    The comma before “that” (#7) in a restrictive clause definitely makes me stumble sometimes as well as overuse of -ing (#6). If you follow The Subversive Copyeditor, you might have seen the recent blog post about danglers that could have been subtitled “Get rid of -ing and start over.”

    On #9, I’m sure you were keeping things brief, but I’d add that it’s only phrasal adjectives/compound modifiers that get hyphenated. If the adjectives aren’t working together to modify one noun, they aren’t hyphenated. I’m sure you don’t want readers running off to hyphenate “large-grocery store” or “big-dog house.” Then again, an entire post or three could be written on adjectives, so it’s got to stop somewhere. And great that you point out “full-time work” vs. “working full time.”

    Enjoyed reading this. Is there a yearly convention for grammar geeks? :)

  34. Great reminders, and definitely a few ideas that I had never thought of before. Alexis has edited one of my posts for Brazen Careerist, and as I was reading this I had to open up my submission and see how many of these I was guilty of!

    It’s always nice to see how others perceive your writing, and this checklist is a great starting point!

  35. Great post. The phrase “could care less” has always been one of my biggest pet peeves.

  36. Excellent tips, and hopefully this will help your engaged readers produce better content. Another reason this is so critical – I just finished reading Daniel Kahneman’s behavioral science masterpiece “Thinking, Fast and Slow” and he specifically mentions how online typos cause us to subconsciously lose trust in the offender. Like it or not – you will lose credibility and even business if it’s not a priority to make your prose and content error-free.

  37. Great list, yes, but you *really* don’t need to put a new line after every single sentence. Not every sentence deserves a new paragraph, and it makes it quite distracting to try to read it that way, IMO.

  38. Great post! The kind that makes you realize you’re not the only one in the world who’s aware of the errors it covers. A few times over the past few decades I’ve tried to tell people that saying “I could care less” means that you do care and it’s therefore the opposite of the idea you want to express. They roll their eyes, say “Whatever!” and I drop it so I don’t get known as the office boor. And “that” vs. “who.” I never heard people have problems with that twenty years ago. Could the Internet, where we “know” people without even hearing their voices, be a partial cause?

    • Actually, Bill, I’d like to offer a bit of insight into this one (humbly so, I might add since it’s a wee mite off-topic).

      The word “that” was used profusely in the 1700s and 1800s to refer to humans who were slaves (of all types). Slaves were seen as chattel and the term “that” automatically identified them and differentiated them from “good and decent folke” (the spelling then) who were free and independent humans.

      The term “that” referring to a person has been in usage for the last couple of centuries as a sloppy use of language rather than as a distinction of slavery or free person.

      However, the dubious history of the term remains indelibly part of our heritage. This root meaning is ever in the forefront of my mind and heart when I hear a person calling another person “that”.

      I trust this is helpful.

  39. I hate grammar! :(

  40. Well, you’ve successfully hit on some of my highest-ranking grammatical errors (notice the use of the hyphen in the double-worded modifiers. LOL! I especially recoil at the use of ‘that’ instead of ‘who,’ when referring to humans. Great article!

  41. I’m (contraction, yeah!) very happy to have found this article; I’m (two contractions, ah, ah, ah!) a grammar Nazi to the core! I really feel that the acceptance for grammar & punctuation mistakes has grown leaps and bounds over the last few years. People using their cellphones to create content also has contributed to the proliferation of bad grammar; you’re more apt to make a mistake using your thumbs than your nine fingers on a full keyboard. Regardless, as your post says, if we want people to read our content, we should ensure we create it with quality assurance and quality control!

  42. God BLESS you, Alexis! You have saved me from HOURS of wasted time trying to explain to others why I make the editing corrections I do to their text. Granted, most folks are just happy (grateful!) to have their writing cleaned up. But, occasionally, you run into someone who insists that he or she is the perfect writer who needs no help.

    I am bookmarking your list so that I can refer others to it who ask for help in improving their writing. You have done a generous service to writers and editors everywhere! Love it!

    • Glad to help, Gina! I do the same thing occasionally — refer to a post I’ve written that explains a rule so I don’t have to re-explain each time :)

  43. Thanks, I always appreciate the little reminders about our craft.

  44. Agree with this wholeheartedly. I’m a grammar geek myself and yet I still make a lot of mistakes in my posts. I do try to catch them by proofreading again and again at different times. Unfortunately, too many bloggers think that grammar doesn’t matter. They even get defensive if you give constructive criticism!

  45. Grammar conscious though I am, I haven’t really thought about strengthening my sentences that start with “there is” or “there are”. I will now though. Thanks for the tip! :)

  46. Thanks for a great post, Alexis! Loved it. I’m a grammar geek, too, and have to admit that I’ve been falling into the -ing trap recently (No. 6 on your list). But thanks to you, no more :)

  47. Great post. There are lots of reasons my posts fall short. Oops. My posts fall sort for many of the reasons listed. Thanks. Always room to improve.

  48. You are almost right about that/which. The reality is “that” is for essential clauses and “which” is for non-essential clauses. You cannot just substitute one for the other whenever you feel like it and just add a comma. The example you give contains an essential clause and can only have “that” to be grammatically correct.

  49. G’Day Alexis,
    The temptation to start my reply with “There are” is almost irresistible……but I’ll be a good little Aussie! Thanks so much for this post. The purpose of communication is to convey meaning. Words are the tools we use to do that. We use grammar to oil the wheels.

    Have you read “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” by Lyn Truss? It’s full of useful advice about punctuation, syntax and related matters, And it’s a real hoot to read.

    Way back in about 1971, I was a young Training Officer. My boss gave me a copy of Robert Gunning’s “The Technique of Clear Writing.” I still have it. I still refer to it. And I ‘m perfectly happy to start sentences with ‘and” and “but.” “Prefer the active to the passive” is one of RGs 10 “principles.”

    Presenting one’s writing is an associated issue, especially in blog posts. I wrote a post about “writing to be read” on my blog earlier this tear http://staffperformancesecrets.com/

    Thanks again. Make sure you have fun.

    Regards
    Leon

  50. I loved this, so many excellent points and suggestions. I tend to write without using contractions, which I really need to watch.

    Also, did anyone else catch the “inadvertedly” under #4?

  51. Great stuff! Don’t forget the counter intuitive “it’s” vs. “its.”

    • Yes and you can test this by replacing it’s/its with ‘it is’, if it doesn’t make sense as ‘it is’ then you know which one to use!

  52. I consider myself an English nerd, but goodness knows I’m not perfect! All of us can use a refresher course like this once in a while.

    For the record, I started to write “there is” in this comment, cringed, and then corrected it. You’re right, lazy sentences tend to spew out of us before we realize it. Who knows how many cringe-inducing sentences I’ve written in the past 24 hours alone! Yowza.

  53. As a freelance editor, I can vouch for these. They’re all solid. Number 3 was my favorite. Too many “There is”/”There are” sentences really weaken a piece.

  54. Great post and really helpful.

    I have a question about the contractions though. Years ago when I was in school our English teacher taught us that contractions should never be used in serious writing. It is many, many years ago, so I wonder if that has changed now and it’s now commonly accepted even for novels?

  55. I’d like your opinion on using contractions..
    I’ve used contractions in my blogs and newsletters because it’s more personable.
    That habit is still with me as I write my first book. My editor is telling me that using them is too personable for a book, but quite OK for blogs and newsletters.
    What do you think?

    • That sounds like an unreasonably rigid rule to me. I’d say it depends on the type of book and the effect you’re after. What’s wrong with making a book ‘personable’? That could be just what your readers want. Writing without contractions can sound very formal and stilted. I like to read stuff that flows and sounds natural – whether it’s a blog post or a book.

      Maybe your editor needs to loosen up a bit?

      Sue

      • I agree with Sue. It depends on the type of book you’re writing and what voice you’re going for, but I’d say writing conversationally often improves a manuscript!

  56. I agree with all of the points except for over vs. more than. Insisting on this is nothing but an exercise in pedanticalness. Since you seem ot be a fan of Grammar Girl,

    http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/more-than-versus-over.aspx

    • Interesting — Thanks for sharing that link! Like she says, I’ve worked in a newsroom, so that’s probably why I’m so careful about this one :)

    • I agree with all of your items, except one. I would respectfully disagree with “over” versus “more than.” Over is a perfectly acceptable usage regarding numbers, especially for certain references, such as age (“She was over 40 when that happened” is a much better usage than “She was more than 40 when that happened.”)

      This mini controversy is convoluted and silly, and there’s no real basis in fact for it. I would suggest weighing the meaning of any sentence, however, when determining the best word choice when it comes to these two basic synonyms.

      Thanks!

  57. This was a great and helpful post, thanks! Another pet peeve I have about people writing lists or bullet points is a lack of parallelism. If you have a list, they should all be the same parts of speech whenever possible or show a similar structure.

  58. Great post, since English is not my first language there are some little things I tend to forget or possibly never knew about to begin with. Thanks!

  59. Nice tips. But I think the title is not fully descriptive of the content. A lot of the items are not necessarily a fault in grammar but of style and usage, I would say. A matter of making your article pleasurable to read or a pain in the neck.

  60. As is common with prescriptivists, many of the ‘mistakes’ you point out are actually nothing more than your personal stylistic preferences, in my view. I think the biggest give-away of this is when native speakers respond with “I wasn’t even aware that was a mistake!” What is acceptable in a language is decided by its users and how they understand the language, not by authority.

    I do agree about the bullet-pointing issue, though, and “could care less”. I think those do actually introduce confusion, rather than just being differences of style.

  61. Hi Alex! Excellent post and I agree with on the point to use simple and short sentences, this will create a great authority with in you readers because they can easily understand your words and message and than they could react as apropriate.

  62. Oh, I feel so guilty about “currently”, so thanks for pointing that one out. It’s just one of those ‘islands of reliability’, which slips into most news-related articles without adding any real value or information.

    Like some of the other commentators, I work in a multi-lingual environment with English as the source language, and I think most of these tips can be transferred to other languages as well. The cleaner the source, the better the target copy, I think.

  63. Grammar goofs get my attention, every time.

    I’ve to disagree with your point on ‘You Are’ contracted to You’re. I’d mistake it for YOUR.

  64. All good points – but only a minority are grammar. The others are style.

    Very lazy use of language.

  65. Yahoo! I already do all this stuff!
    “I feel good, na-na-na-na-na-na-na…”
    Thanks for the reinforcement, Alexis!

  66. Thanks! Great reminders

  67. Good advice. My pet peeves include some of yours, as well as the overuse of exclamation points. A crutch for lazy writers. Could we remove that key from all computers? In the words for F. Scott Fitzgerald.

    “Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.”

    • That’s a really excellent point – I often catch myself doing that. I’m trying to wean myself off the exclamation mark key and your comment is a helpful reminder of my addiction.

      Thank you (nearly added one there, but have resisted the temptation……)

      Sue

  68. I agree with the general “gist” of the post but you have to keep in mind, they always say write for an 8th grader, right? Well I’ve got sad news for you, most 8th graders suck at grammar. Have you ever read the comments on Facebook, YouTube, etc.? Most adults can barely spell let alone have proper grammar. It’s so sad. By all means we should strive for “perfect” grammar but at the end of the day, as long as you don’t have spelling errors and your content is somewhat interesting, that’s all that matters. 95% of the people aren’t going to notice you used “over 200 people” instead of “More than 200″ people – or that you used “that” instead of “who.”

    Travis Van Slooten

  69. So, is it ok to use dangling participles now? Is that an old school concept?

  70. I’ve dedicated the next 3 months to learning grammar. 30 min a day, 5 days a week.
    Before I used to depend on my assistant to read my copy (she’s an English major :)
    Thanks for giving me the final push…

  71. I like these and agree with them, although in my books and classes I do tell people to avoid contractions in formal writing. I especially like that you include the “there is” construction, which I try to get my students to stay away from! Then, there is always “your” and “you’re”!

  72. I can’t tell you how many times a client will change “you’re” to “you are.” Therefore, I appreciate point #5 about contractions. I’ll show this to a client next time they want to make a change.
    #8 is also another good one. I often use “more than” and 9 times out of 10 a client changes it to “over.”
    Thanks for the clear outline!
    ~Debra
    The Write Direction

  73. Great advice. I expected I might see one of my pet peeves: “less then” used when “fewer” is correct. It’s bad enough to hear this in conversation and see it in print, but I’ve heard this error made in NPR stories and news reports on more than one occasion. You’d think the editors would be more careful.

  74. Seriously great post. I’ve found myself sticking to a few of these rules, and really self-editing as I write based on them. It’s made me challenge myself a lot more, and I think my writing has definitely improved as a result. Good on you, Copyblogger. Carry that torch.

  75. Another grammatical/logical issue that needs exposition is the phrase, “That begs the question”. I have never
    heard it used appropriately.

  76. Regarding #5, though: won’t that also depend on your audience? I read somewhere (Oxford I think) that British audiences aren’t exactly keen on contractions.

    OTOH, I personally like contracting also. Conversational English and all that.

    Thanks also for writing about this. Just some of those little nuances that can make a big difference.

    • Dave, I was born in the UK (my father was a journalist and we traveled a lot). I’ve a feel for the British sensibilities and, indeed, the Oxford Uni crew look down their oversized noses at those of us who prefer to sound friendly and approachable in our missives.

      However, nearly all British readers and writers are quite amenable to contractions and abbreviations of all kinds (they call: cigarettes, cigs; university, uni; football, the footie; etc.).

      If you’re writing a term paper or doctorate thesis, I understand if there is a formal requirement that bans contractions.

      In more conversational situations, only the stuffed shirts of the old guard academia would prefer icy phrasing to the warmth of familiar words.

  77. After reading this post, I’ve realized that I make lots of makes while writing a post. Thanks for the clarification. This will definitely help me to improve my writing skills.

  78. I have a question for the author, Alexis. First of all, I really enjoyed reading your article and thought that you included some great points. These writing tips will surely add value to my own blogging experience. My only concern is point #5 regarding the use of contractions. My personal experience reflects that for contexts like academia, professional discourse and technical subjects, contractions are not appropriate.

    For blogging, if I am trying to communicate credibility and expertise, I would use my contractions very sparingly in order to keep it formal.

    Alexis, I would love to hear your thoughts on my comment. Cheers.

  79. I’m so happy to see that you recommended contractions. Nearly all the style guides agree, but we do need to use caution using contractions when writing to an international audience: http://www.instructionalsolutions.com/blog/bid/82807/Contractions-in-Business-Writing

  80. Peter Lebensold :

    Something I’m seeing more and more frequently – and it sets my teeth on edge every time – is the elimination of the “of” after words that have always (to my mind, at least) required it:

    As in “I paid him a couple hundred dollars”.

    I have a feeling that someone, somewhere, has decided this is acceptable.

  81. Great post. Thanks for clearing up the that/who usage and I was glad to see that use of contractions are acceptable. I use them because, as you say, it is more personable but I wasn’t sure if it was grammatically OK. I feel better now.

  82. Great grammar tips here, but I dispute #8, “over” rather than “more than.” When I edit, I always prefer over, as it’s more concise and says the same thing. Why is “more than” better?

    • Carrie, it’s simply a clearer way to present information. “Over” is a direction and not an amount. (Yes, slang misuse connotes “over” as an amount but, again, that a misuse.)

      “More than” is an amount so if we want crystal clear communication and we’re speaking of an amount, we use “more than”.

      Actually, the same applies to your use of the term “as” (which could have been either “since” or “because”).

      Indeed, it is misused pretty much everywhere and even the more recent grammar “directives” say it’s okay (although not preferable).

      “As” really means “while” (i.e., I stirred the pudding as I held the pan; she watched the show as she ate popcorn).

      The misuse occurs when people use the term “as” to mean “because” or “since”. Yes, I know latter-day manuals allow this misusage but it’s a misusage all the same.

      Here are two examples how most people misuse the word:

      “As I didn’t have experience, I lost the job”. The word “as” should have been “since”.
      “I didn’t write the letter as I didn’t have time.” The word “as” should have been “because”.

      I’m not being picky, Carrie … I just want to be helpful and supportive. ;-)

  83. “Whoops … I left out the word “of” in “of how” in my “Here are two examples” sentence. Didn’t see that until it was posted.

    • Okay, I just realized that I didn’t include the usage of “as” as a comparative (“harmless as a dove”) and its usage indicating a relation (the way “as” is used in the beginning of this sentence: “as a comparative”).

      My intention wasn’t to define all the ways “as” can be correctly used but rather to point out one of its profuse misuses.

      I trust this clarifies my previous supportive post. ;-)

  84. My pet peeve is that no one knows how to use the word “only.” Whether in writing or speaking, I cringe when I see or hear someone say “I’m only going to the store.” Really? Are you “only going” there? You’re never coming back? What you mean is that you are “going only to the store,” not to the gym or your mother’s house or anywhere else. “Only” usually modifies a noun or object or prepositional phrase, not a verb.

  85. Great post! Number one on your list is my #1 pet peeve. I see that one all the time and I cringe.

  86. This is very useful, thank you! I’m always struggling with my grammar, so I have to keep learning to improve. And O have to invest additional time to ensure my blog post is free of grammar mistakes.

  87. Thanks for the grammar mistakes reminder. :)

  88. I love this post! I’m not a blogger, but I do have to write a lot for various reasons. Am always interested in writing better, more effectively.

  89. I was dreaming, is it possible for me to not repeat the grammatical errors in my writing ?

  90. Since I am quite the grammar geek myself, I know that these types of mistakes drive me crazy but I’m probably not completely immune. Thanks for the reminder. A few other things that drive me crazy are using your for you’re or there and their in the wrong places. These words are not interchangeable!

  91. correction needed to Bullet 7 – you meant to say “adding a comma before that” (a comma precedes which, not that)

  92. The misuse of “less” in place of “fewer” drives me to distraction. (As in, there were less people there than last time.) I’m particularly irritated when I see it in advertising copy, because copywriters should know better.

  93. I printed this out because I’m an offender of a few! Valuable information, thank you!

  94. I know a lot of people are praising this article (although they’re probably fake) but this is one of the most ill informed blog posts I’ve ever read. Only a couple of the things you mention are actual grammatical errors. The rest may constitute unimaginative copywriting but are perfectly acceptable in British and American English.

    • Your problem is with the headline, which lumps all of these issues under an easily “tweeted” umbrella. “How to Avoid a Few Grammatical Mistakes and Some Lazy Writing Which is Annoying, but Acceptable in British and English Colloquial Slang” is a mouthful.

      “10 Ways to Avoid Lazy Writing” is indeed more accurate. But I found the post informative as a stand-alone, so frankly, I couldn’t care less about the initial draw. (Hypocritical? Likely!)

  95. Mark Littleton :

    Great post for grammarians as well!
    Thanks!

    P.S.: I came across your post through Jenny’s write up from yesterday: http://www.grammarcheck.net/grammar-rules-the-10-most-embarrassing-mistakes-to-avoid/ ,(which is a good read as well.)

  96. Great tips, Alexis.

    About #9:

    Since 2007, when the sixth edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary removed the hyphens from 16 000 entries, we should use two words or just one instead or many formerly hyphenated words. You can blame the Internet and technology for that :)

    Here is an article about it:
    http://www.reuters.com/article/2007/09/21/us-britain-hyphen-idUSHAR15384620070921

    and another one – read the comments, they give more insights and some funny examples of using hyphen incorrectly, like this one:

    “One of my recent favourites here in Canada was a television advertisement for a compact stereo sound system that had a voice-over saying “…enjoy life like sound…”. They eventually changed it (presumably by re-writing it with the correct punctuation and getting another actor to read the script) to say …enjoy life-like sound. ”

    here is a link to the article
    http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2011/10/hyphens-in-the-headlines/

    and more information on how to use hyphen in American English
    http://oxforddictionaries.com/us/words/hyphen-american

  97. Kim Watkins :

    I always get a kick out of reading these types of articles. First, it’s fun to see that others are bothered by the same errors that annoy me. Second, I learn a thing or two. I am in no way a professional writer, but I have my pet peeves. One of my pet peeves is so commonly seen that I gave up hope. You did not mention it, but you correctly used it throughout the article. The pet peeve is saying “a lot” rather than “lots” when the subject is plural. I had an English professor who told me that it was grammatically correct to say, “There are a lot of apples to harvest this year,” but I maintain that the correct way to say it is either, “There IS a lot of apples…,” or “There are lots of apples…” His final words were, “Don’t be illiterate!” I still believe I am correct. It’s like saying, “There are a bucket of apples…” No one would say that. “Lot,” like “bucket” is a singular word, so it should be proceeded by “There IS a…,” or it needs to be pluralized and the article removed. Am I wrong?

    • Would you say “A number of people has arrived early.”? I shouldn’t think so.

      • No, but I would say, “Several persons have arrived early.” I would do it for two reasons:

        1. “A number of” makes no sense to me. It is meaningless. I don’t understand why it seems to be such a popular phrase. It can refer to 1, or 25, or 1,000,000, or any other random number.

        2. “People” is technically a singular noun, but is increasingly used as a synonym for persons and treated as a plural.

  98. Great post! I am a bit of a grammatical nerd when it comes to posts and bad grammar will usually make me click on to the next post pretty quickly.
    I am, however, guilty of the who/that error sometimes.

    The only point I don’t agree with is #7.

    “We went to the house, which collapsed yesterday.”

    I would not add a comma after house because it’s not needed unless you were following it up with another point as such:

    “We went to the house, which collapsed yesterday, to see what could be salvaged.”

    Maybe that’s just me. Either way I am glad to find your post as I was searching for affirmation on the use of “thats/that’s”.

    Getting old stinks. ;)

    – Claire

    • I agree. Since the only part of the sentence that describes which house it is is the last half, I think it should be treated as restrictive.

      Now, if it had been written as:

      “We went to Bob’s house, which collapsed yesterday.”

      that would be a different story.

      Also, if the sentence was meant to refer to a single house, off by itself, then I guess the non-restrictive clause could work.

  99. I always learn something from this site that I didn’t know. I’m going to bookmark it and make my daughter (a text-speak and Twitter pundit) read some of your posts!

  100. That would be “we” grammar geeks as opposed to “us” grammar geeks under #1. Otherwise, well done!

    • John,

      No, it is correct as Copyblogger has it.

      How you can tell is when the sentence sounds right with “grammar geeks” removed from the sentence …

      Incorrect:
      ” … or maybe it only jumps out to we …”

      Correct:
      ” … or maybe it only jumps out to us …”

      This is another pronoun that confuses a lot of folks.

      It’s easy if you just remove a part of the phrase to see what sounds right.

      So, “us” in this sentence IS correct.