The most common grammar, usage, and style errors in print today.
Below are errors that probably 95 percent of the English-speaking population makes every single day, without even knowing it. The good news is that, once you know what to look for, these errors are easy to avoid in your daily writing.
|Incorrectly hyphenating two words that jointly modify another word||
one year period; the lady is high-class; aptly-named dog
one-year period; the lady is high class; aptly named dog
|These are known as compound modifiers. Use a hyphen when preceding a noun, but not following, and, to further confuse the issue, never after an adverb ending in -ly.|
|Hyphenating prefixes||semi-colon; pre-approved; re-phrase; co-worker; selfmotivated||semicolon; preapproved; rephrase; coworker; self-motivated||In general, hyphenate only when you would get a double a or i, e.g., ultra-active, anti-inflammatory, or if the original word is capitalized, e.g., anti-Semitic. An exception is self-, which is always hyphenated when used as a prefix.|
|Using inch/foot marks and quotes/apostrophes interchangeably||10 x 2
|10" x 2'
|Computers are the culprit here, but you can generally use the correct character if you can figure out the command and/or character map. Most software (e.g., QuarkXpress, Word, Illustrator) lets you default to one or the other, but doesn’t know when to use which. A few programs (e.g., WordPerfect, as one of its few redeeming qualities) are smart enough to automatically insert the proper form.|
|Using two spaces after periods and colons||
...the door. The result: trouble.
...the door. The result: trouble.
|Old typewriter convention generally appropriate only for monospaced type (e.g., Courier).|
|Using a possessive apostrophe for nonpossessive words||1800s; CPUs; these photos||1800s; CPUs; these photos||The first two examples are a fairly recent development, and still the source of some debate. The third is just plain weirdness.|
|Misusing its/its||its own way; its fitting and proper||its own way; its fitting and proper||The first example is the major exception to the above rule for possessives. The second example is the contraction for it is.|
|Transposing that and which||...career which interests you.; ...a note, that is overdue, to explain...||...career that interests you.; a note, which is overdue, to explain...||Essential, limiting information uses that and no commas; nonessential, descriptive information uses which, with commas, and functions as if by the way were inserted after it.|
|Using an ampersand instead of and||sticks & stones may||sticks and stones may||The ampersand is popularly, although not necessarily correctly, used in logos and headlines for its design element, but should never be used in text.|
|Incorrect or inconsistent use of serial commas||red, white and blue||red, white, and blue||A subject still under debate by those who debate such things, but at least be consistent. Most style guides prescribe the comma before the and.|
|Overusing upon||based upon facts||based on facts||Not incorrect, but overly formal for most communications.|
|Jumping from singular to plural||A customer often is concerned about how it will affect their cash flow.||A customer often is concerned about how it will affect his or her cash flow.||The singular customer replicates into a plural reference to their in a just few short words. Unfortunately a bit wordier, his or her is correct, both grammatically and politically.|
|Lazily misusing hyphens and spaces when an en or em dash is needed||1961-1965; He could--or should--have known; He could - or should - have known.||19611965; He couldor shouldhave known.||The en dash (Alt-0150 Windows, Opt-hyphen Mac) is noticeably wider than a hyphen and is most frequently used between continuous numbers such as years or pages. The em dash (Alt-0151 Windows, Sh-Opt-hyphen Mac) is twice as wide as the en dash, and is most frequently used to punctuate an abrupt change in thought for emphasis. Most style guides do not use spaces on either side of the dashes.|
|Redundancies||Reason why; close proximity||One or the other, not both.||Check out this amusing list.|
|Using the passive voice||The use of the passive voice is generally to be avoided.||In general, dont use the passive voice.||English prefers the more direct and forceful active voice over the passive except in situations where it is intended to soften rather than to amplify the message, such as a rejection letter. (Did you notice the demonstration, right in this paragraph?)|
|Transposing and mispunctuating e.g. and i.e.||...a small gift, i.e. a plant or flower; He did not respond: eg: he declined.||...a small gift (e.g., a plant or flower); He did not respond, i.e., he declined.||Both come from Latin: e.g., exemplia gratia, means for example; i.e., id est, means that is to say, and references words synonymous with the preceding statement. Both are always punctuated as shown, sometimes in parentheses.|
|Misusing reflexive pronouns||He went with Bob and yourself; Pat, Mike, and myself will attend.||He went with Bob and you; Pat, Mike, and I will attend.||Reflexive pronouns such as yourself, myself, ourselves, etc. are used for emphasis, i.e., to reflect back to the subject or object, not replace the subject or object.|
|Not italicizing periods||Give it to me.||Give it to me.||Just kidding.|
|Nonwords and nonphrases||orientate; irregardless; in regards to||orient; regardless or irrespective; in regard to or regarding||Wish I were just kidding. It should be conceded that orientate is, according to Webster, a valid word, but it is interpreted to be less preferential to “orient,” and also means “referring to the Orient, or the east.” A visitor has also pointed out that British English favors (or should I say “favours?”) the use of “orientate.” But, heck, this is an American company, so I’ll stick to my guns and still cringe when I hear it in the USA.|
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