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Top 10 Grammatical and Spelling Errors of 2011


Red Oops ButtonIn December 2010 I posted the “Top 10 Grammar and Spelling Errors of 2010″ and got a record number of hits on my blog and “likes” on Facebook.

In the past year as The Essay Expert, I’ve collected a new batch of errors. I did repeat a couple of things from 2010 that were so persistent I just had to repeat myself!

I write these lists in the hope people will implement what they learn and produce better essays, better resumes, and overall better written collateral. Improved writing gets results when it comes to obtaining jobs, getting into school, landing new clients and keeping the customers you’ve got. So read up!

10. Advice vs. Advise

Here’s a note from one of my loyal readers, Christine, who requested that I mention this common mix-up:

“Advice is a noun. An example would be: ‘Brenda provided very useful advice regarding spelling errors.’

Advise is a verb. An example would be: ‘Brenda can you please advise your readers about similarly misused words?’”

Thank you, Christine, for your contribution to my yearly list!

9. Your vs. You’re

You’re is a contraction for “you are.” If you’re using the word to mean “you are” (two words), write it as a contraction. E.g., Do you know that you’re about to miss the 5:00 train?

Your is a possessive pronoun. E.g., Your train is leaving in two minutes.

8. Tenet vs. Tenant

Even our president messed this one up. A tenet is a belief or ideal of faith. Tenants rent from landlords.

7. Sign up vs. Sign-up

I see this one on the web all the time and it drives me a bit batty. Sign up is a verb. Sign-up is an adjective that modifies a noun like “form” or “sheet.” Correct: “Sign up here for news and updates” or “Go to our sign-up page to register.” Incorrect: “Sign-up here for news and updates” or “Go to our sign up page to register.”

6. Everyday vs. Every day

Everyday is an adjective meaning “common” or “day-to-day.” As I’m sure you know, people make everyday grammatical errors every day.

5. “This” without a referent

Make sure that if you use the word This to start a sentence, you help your reader understand what you’re referring to! The best practice is to use a referent after the word This. Incorrect: This will ensure your sentences are understood. Correct: This practice will ensure your sentences are understood.

4. Verbage

Verbage does NOT mean “words!” Although the OED does have an entry for “verbage” as a “rare alternate spelling of verbiage,” Merriam-Webster does not even acknowledge the existence of the word.Verbiage, often misused as well, means excess language. The jury is out as to whether the phrase “excess verbiage” is redundant—but I’m sticking to it.

3. Apostrophes (that’s not apostrophe’s!) to make plural nouns

With some exceptions which I won’t go into here, plural nouns are formed by adding an sor es to the singular form of the noun–NOT by adding an apostrophe! The plural of parent is parents; the plural of computer is computers;and the plural of Wednesday is Wednesdays. No apostrophe needed! Conversely, possessives ARE formed by adding anapostrophe s. To speak about an author’s intent, for instance, use the apostrophe s.

2. Myself

Think for a few seconds before you use the word myself in place of me at the end of a sentence. A sentence like “George was speaking to my friend Lucy and myself” is grammatically incorrect.  Replacing me withmyself has become common, perhaps as an attempt to avoid using the word me.  Think about it.  You would say, “George was speaking to me,” so just say, “George was speaking to my friend Lucy and me,” — NOT,  “George was speaking to my friend Lucy and myself.” The parts of speech don’t change just because another person was added to the sentence!

1. Comma splice

I can’t tell you how often my clients string two full, complete sentences together with a comma. This error is called a comma splice. Here’s an example: “Simply observing my surroundings was not enough for me, I needed to know how things worked and why they worked in that specific way.” The correct way to punctuate this sentence is “Simply observing my surroundings was not enough for me; I needed to know how things worked and why they worked in that specific way.” Two full sentences may get separated by a semicolon or a dash—NOT by a comma.

I look forward to your comments and “likes.” Best wishes for a grammatically correct 2012!

Brenda Bernstein, founder and senior editor of The Essay Expert LLC, has been coaching professionals and students on their writing projects for over 12 years. She works closely with clients to create effective written expressions of who they are and what they have accomplished.

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  1. I enjoyed this article. As a writer and editor, I once had a writer on my team who complained and refused to accept my edits removing the word ‘got.’ Usually, ‘got’ is replacing another word. “If youve got the part in your hand….” is better worded as “If you have the part in your hand….” (‘Got’ being entirely unnecessary.) I got one.” is often better replaced with “I received one.” or “I took one.” or other options. I realize that it has slipped in to everyday language, however ‘got’ is certainly not intended for professional or corporate language.

    Which brings me to ‘but’ versus ‘however.’ ‘But’ is a negative. “I would eat the chocolate but it is not mine.” For ‘however,’ see the last sentence in the paragraph above.

    #3 on your list above, has several dropped spaces that detract from your explanation, for example “….adding an sor es….” should read “….adding an ‘s’ or ‘es….” In fact, using the single quotes makes it visibly distinct, and an item on it’s own and not just a lost s. (It would have also made the lost space obvious.)

    Finally, I don’t think the comment above denigrating a person’s intelligence for using ‘an’ before a word starting with an ‘h.’ Consider that English is an amalgam that includes French, Spanish, and German in which the ‘h’ is silent. (As it is in Brougham Cadillac, graham cracker, Durham, NC and my last name!) I think the person that orders hors d’oeuvres is sounds best because the ‘hors’ is pronounced ‘awr’ which sounds best preceded by ‘an’ as opposed to ‘a.’

    Again, thank you for the article and I’ll be looking for the 2012 list.

  2. There are three grammatical errors that really drive me nuts:

    1. Alot and a lot. Please, people, ALOT is NOT a word. ALLOT, however, is a verb meaning to parcel out as in: “I will allot one pencil per person.” and it is spelled with 2 Ls. A LOT is 2 words meaning many as in: “I have a lot of pencils.” Please don’t confuse the two.

    2. Ending a sentence with an objective form of the pronoun when the subjective form is correct in comparative sentence as in: “He is older than I.” A check for using “I” at the end of the sentence is this. If you can add the words “am” or “is” after I and it sounds right, then use I. For instance, in the sample sentence, I can add “am” and it is correct. “He is older than I am.” You would not say, “He is older than me am.” If you invert the sentence, you can also tell which to use. You would not say, “Me am younger than he.” You would say, “I am younger than he (is.)”

    3. The lack of the use of adverbs. Adverbs generally end in “ly” and answer the questions “how,” “where,” “where,” and “how much” and modify verbs and adjectives.

    Example 1: “Come home quickly.” The adverb “quickly” modifies to the verb “come” and answers the question “how.” How should you come home? Quickly.

    Example 2: “He answered in a softly spoken whisper.” The adverb “softly” modifies the adjective “spoken” and answers the question “how.” How was the whisper spoken? Softly.

  3. It’s an old British thing to say “an” before an “h” word because so many Brits did not SAY the h on the front of words. The less educated Brits still don’t. A horse is a ‘orse and a house is a ‘ouse. And historical is ‘istorical. So, of course, they added the “an” to the front just as we add “an” to any word starting with a vowel. Even the educated Brits have taken to saying “an historical” even if they DO sound the “h.” So naturally, we Americans, trying to sound like the cultured Brits, say “an historical” as well.

    I must also give three (or 30!) cheers for the comment above about the overuse of “myself” and “yourself” when we really mean “me” or “you.” I think that is done in the mistaken idea that if a word is longer, it must sound more erudite. Wrong! Even presidents and CEOs constantly use those words ungrammatically!

  4. Charles J. Schaefer

    Very good information!

    I would like to also add another one. The news media constantly refers to a past event as”an historical event.” When I was in school we learned that the word “an” precedes a word starting with a vowel & “a” percedes a consonant. You don’t live in an house: you live in a house. You don’t ride an horse; you ride a horse, so “an historical event ” should be gramatically incorrect.


    • Charles J. Schaefer

      Thanks, Lorie.

      I guess that answers the question where that came from. I still think it sounds pretty awkward, but it has become mainstream so I guess it will continue to be used in that context.


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