YOU Dont Make These Mistake's, Do U?

  • NOTE: I originally wrote this piece for an audience of business professionals. Those of us who work in radio often think we have special dispensation to eschew the rules of English, since listeners don't see the commercial or news story scripts from which we read; they only hear what comes out of the speaker.  Still, for those of us in sales who correspond with advertisers (via email, proposals, sales one-sheets, perhaps even newsletters or blogs), there's something to be said for "getting it right."  With this in mind, I share my recent rant.  -Rod



    I was an English major in college, aspiring to be a teacher.  

    I ended up in radio advertising.

    Mind you, I'm not complaining.  Advertising and marketing involve a great deal of reading and writing, consulting and coaching.  So, it's not all that far removed from teaching.  It's just a different kind of classroom.

    Reason I mention the English major thing is because I'm going to climb up on my soapbox and rant a bit.

    About grammar.

    And spelling.

    And punctuation.

    Because if you're going to invest your hard-earned money on advertising, or if you're going to take the time to write a blog or send a newsletter, you most certainly don't want the things you write leaving others with a poor impression.

    I happen to live in a college town, where one might reasonably expect to find a higher level of education among its citizens, or at least a proclivity for maintaining high standards in the area of communication, especially in our mother tongue.

    One had better be prepared for disappointment.

    I see with astonishing frequency newspaper headlines, articles, and advertisements (created by the newspaper's own employees); reader board signs on businesses; posters on bulletin boards; business cards, brochures, newsletters and professional correspondence, etc., rife with errors in spelling, punctuation, grammar and syntax.

    The widespread use of texting and email has fostered a tendency toward sloppiness, the former through its use of abominable abbreviations ("Hpe UR w/me on ths, K?") and the latter its disdain for proper punctuation, e.g., the non-use of capital letters at the beginning of sentences and of periods when bringing that sentence to a full stop. (instead we like just run our thoughts together kind of like this and i hope you're following what i'm sayin OK because i havent got a lot of time to be treating this like a letter i mean after all its just email right?  hey see you later 'K?  bye)


    Should an email, particularly a business email, be accorded the same treatment as a conventional letter, typed or hand-written?


    Should a blog post be checked for spelling, grammar, and punctuation before sending it into the ether?

    Of course.

    Do you recall ever hearing a radio spot for a learning product called Verbal Advantage?  It began, "People do judge you by the words you use."  Why?  Because it's true.  They do.

    The famous direct response copywriter Maxwell Sackheim made a fortune selling the mail order Sherwin Cody English Course by means of newspaper and magazine ads that grabbed readers with the headline: "Do You Make These Mistakes in English?"  Considered one of the top campaigns of all time, the Sherwin Cody ad ran (largely unchanged) for over 40 years, because it pulled in business.  And why?  Because most people make mistakes in English!

    That doesn't mean you and I have to do so.  But we can't fix something if we don't recognize it as broken.  So, let's look at the most common errors, with a view toward eliminating them in our advertising and correspondence.

    ITS vs. IT'S

    It's is a contraction of "It is."  Whereas its is the possessive form of the neuter pronoun.  If in doubt, remember that there should be consistency with its masculine and feminine counterparts; think: "his, hers, its," or "he's, she's, it's." See how nicely they fit?


    This is a close relative of the previous problem.  I alluded to it in the title of this blog post, writing "Mistake's" instead of Mistakes.  This problem is so pervasive, there are even websites dedicated to exposing it!  This, more than any other error in punctuation, makes the offender look like...well, a hick.  There, I said it.  I'm sorry.  But it's true.  

    Misuse of Apostrophes

    Honestly, if this needs further explanation, a class in remedial English may be worth considering.     


    One's a place, one's a possessive, and one's a contraction. No reason to confuse or misuse them.


    The former means to take, the latter means to leave out.  Accept no exceptions.


    When used as verbs, the former means to influence, the latter to bring about a result.  My words may affect your next blog post, but their effect remains to be seen.  


    Principal means main, first in importance; principal is also the title given to heads of schools or business partnerships. Principle is a rule, proposition, or governing belief. 

    OF vs. HAVE

    I would have preferred not to bring this up, but whenever I see something like: "I would of come to your party if I'd known about it," it makes me want to throttle the person who wrote it, bless her heart.  Need I say more?


    This will be a bone of contention in some quarters, but I side with the purists.  Technically, one thing differs FROM another. It does not differ THAN another.  Therefore, my opinion will be different from the opinions of others who don't see the problem. 


    It's "one and the same" and not "one in the same."  

    "By and large," not "by in large" (although if you're giving somebody shopping instructions, as for clothing, "buy in large" might fly).

    "For all intents and purposes" is correct; notice the symmetry between intent and purpose.  There's no such thing as an intensive purpose.  So, please don't say "for all intensive purposes," okay?  

    "Unique" means "one of a kind."  Literally.  It is not a comparative.  It is not a superlative. It is an absolute. Therefore, it is incorrect to say that something is "more unique" or "one of the most unique..." 


    When used as the subjects of a sentence, the correct personal pronouns are "he," "she," "I," "we," and "they." When used as objects, direct or indirect, they are "him,", "her," "me," "us," and "them." Be careful when combining pronouns in a sentence to keep the cases consistent.  For example, you might be inclined to say, "They're going to meet Sheila and I after work."  It should be "Sheila and me."  

    An easy technique one can use to avoid making this mistake is, in this example, to leave Sheila out of it.  You wouldn't say, "They're going to meet I after work." It sounds stupid.  Adding "Sheila and" to the sentence won't make it any less so.  "They're going to meet me after work" is the way you'd really say it, right?  Well, you can insert "Sheila and" and it will still be right.  Got it?  Good.  Let's move on. 

    * * * * *

    I keep quite a few reference works at hand when I sit down to write.  Some, like my thirty-year-old "Songwriter's Rhyming Dictionary" (which, having survived the 1987 fire that gutted the radio station, I had rebound, though it still smells faintly of smoke), might not be useful to you unless you are writing poetry or radio commercials.  However, I can recommend without hesitation two excellent and accessible volumes:

    Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss is both an engaging read and valuable guide to proper punctuation.

    COMMON ERRORS IN ENGLISH USAGE by Paul Brians, a former Pullman resident and Professor of English at Washington State University, is a gem!  It will enable you to avoid the most common pitfalls in spelling, grammar, pronunciation, and usage of our native language.

    Words, whether spoken or written, are the currency of communication. Invest them wisely; spend them well.


    P.S.  I've received some interesting responses privately:


    John in NC, writing tongue-in-cheek, said: "Thats en awsum post.  I doesnt under stand y moor ppl dont yooz spell chek.  This hole texting thing iz ownlee incurajing ppl. (LOL)!   TTYL :)"

    Alan from Evanston IL wrote:  How about the abuse of the term "literally"?  (It's so hot out, I'm melting... literally!)


    And Kim from MA commented:  A couple of my little pet peeves are the words lose and loose being used interchangeably and irregardless.  Hello, it's "regardless" people. There is no such thing as irregardless...


    Have a pet English peeve of your own?  I'd love to hear from you.  

    Please use the Comment field below.


  • Warren Byrne
    Warren Byrne How about the popular misuse of a pronoun as the subject of a sentence--"Me and him went to the movies." Aargh!
    August 5, 2011
  • Rod Schwartz
    Rod Schwartz Warren:  Yup!  Mixed cases are for wine, not pronouns.
    Chris:  That pesky comma can mean the difference between a panda and a gunman, as in Lynne Truss' "EATS SHOOTS & LEAVES," mentioned above.
    August 5, 2011
  • Roger Burke
    Roger Burke Good stuff Rod. I am not able at the moment to recall a common English/grammar mistake that drives me crazy, (although there are many, and I really appreciate Alan giving some time to the all too often misuse of "literally"). But, I am one who enjoys, (albeit without showy pretention)  vocabulary which enhances the beauty and economy of written or verbal communication. I recently read a statistic that I wrote down because it struck me as loathsomely true. It said, the average person uses the same 400 words over and over again everday. The quote went on to say how little that is in lieu of the English language containing a million words. Among those million are some obscure words that do few of us any good to use in spoken language, e.g. Quisling. No one knows this is a noun, referring to a traitor who serves as the puppet of the enemy occupying his or her country. But, the teacher in me makes me want to use the word, (if appropriate) in written form-believing that in the process someone will look it up and we will possibly become one word more literate as a result. However, from the same page in my American Heritage College Dictionary I happen upon one of my favorite words, though one I have yet to use in spoken form to anyone aside from my wife, (and then it truly was to impress) quixotic. What a gem of a word, great sounding, packed with meaning, and not all that obscure, I've even heard this one in a movie. Quixotic-Caught up in the pursuit of unreachable goals, idealistic. without regard to practicality.
    The problem with such a word, or the less common jewels of language is that in spoken form they create a divergence from their intended purpose. Vocabulary is like clothes in a wardrobe. Show up to a casual party in a tuxedo and your presence at the front door is reduced to drama, Similarly, when reaching for greater heights verbally, it is all too often met with, "oh, there he goes again, wow,..."expeditious" do you mind telling us what that one means?"  What do you do? Do you purposely dress your language in sweats and t-shirt for the sake of claritty? It is clarity I seek. But there is a teacher within me that wants to have that conversation that defines "expeditious". Perhaps it is all too quixotic of me. Thank you for your post on grammar, and spelling, Good stuff. Roger 
    August 8, 2011
  • Rod Schwartz
    Rod Schwartz @Roger - 
    Thanks, my friend.  Enjoyed your post in reply, as well.
    I'm fortunate that my daughters enjoy reading Austen and the Bronte sisters; it exposes me to the richness of a vocabulary that reaches well beyond the "400."  We've lost something valuable here, as our ability as human beings to think is governed in part by our vocabulary.
    Incidentally, one of my favorite obscure words is "squiffy," a synonym for inebriated.  I was able to use it successfully in a radio spot a couple years back, for the 21st annual National Lentil Festival.  
    Thanks again for the post, Roger.
    August 8, 2011