Outage

10 flagrant grammar mistakes that make you look stupid

Sending a less-than-perfect e-mail to a friend is one thing; mistakes aren't really a problem. But if you want to craft an error-free message that reflects your professionalism, be on the lookout for these common grammatical slip-ups.

These days, we tend to communicate via the keyboard as much as we do verbally. Often, we're in a hurry, quickly dashing off e-mails with typos, grammatical shortcuts (I'm being kind here), and that breezy, e.e. cummings, no-caps look. It's expected. It's no big deal. But other times, we try to invest a little care, avoiding mistakes so that there's no confusion about what we're saying and so that we look professional and reasonably bright.In general, we can slip up in a verbal conversation and get away with it. A colleague may be thinking, Did she just say "irregardless"?, but the words flow on, and our worst transgressions are carried away and with luck, forgotten.

That's not the case with written communications. When we commit a grammatical crime in e-mails, discussion posts, reports, memos, and other professional documents, there's no going back. We've just officially gone on record as being careless or clueless. And here's the worst thing. It's not necessary to be an editor or a language whiz or a spelling bee triathlete to spot such mistakes. They have a way of doing a little wiggle dance on the screen and then reaching out to grab the reader by the throat.

So here we are in the era of Word's red-underline "wrong spelling, dumb ass" feature and Outlook's Always Check Spelling Before Sending option, and still the mistakes proliferate. Catching typos is easy (although not everyone does it). It's the other stuff -- correctly spelled but incorrectly wielded -- that sneaks through and makes us look stupid. Here's a quick review of some of the big ones.

Note: This information is also available as a TechRepublic article and as a PDF download.

#1: Loose for lose

No: I always loose the product key. Yes: I always lose the product key.

#2: It's for its (or God forbid, its')

No: Download the HTA, along with it's readme file. Yes: Download the HTA, along with its readme file. No: The laptop is overheating and its making that funny noise again. Yes: The laptop is overheating and it's making that funny noise again.

#3: They're for their for there

No: The managers are in they're weekly planning meeting. Yes: The managers are in their weekly planning meeting. No: The techs have to check there cell phones at the door, and their not happy about it. Yes: The techs have to check their cell phones at the door, and they're not happy about it.

#4: i.e. for e.g.

No: Use an anti-spyware program (i.e., Ad-Aware). Yes: Use an anti-spyware program (e.g., Ad-Aware). Note: The term i.e. means "that is"; e.g. means "for example." And a comma follows both of them.

#5: Effect for affect

No: The outage shouldn't effect any users during work hours. Yes: The outage shouldn't affect any users during work hours. Yes: The outage shouldn't have any effect on users. Yes: We will effect several changes during the downtime. Note: Impact is not a verb. Purists, at least, beg you to use affect instead: No: The outage shouldn't impact any users during work hours. Yes: The outage shouldn't affect any users during work hours. Yes: The outage should have no impact on users during work hours.

#6: You're for your

No: Remember to defrag you're machine on a regular basis. Yes: Remember to defrag your machine on a regular basis. No: Your right about the changes. Yes: You're right about the changes.

#7: Different than for different from

No: This setup is different than the one at the main office. Yes: This setup is different from the one at the main office. Yes: This setup is better than the one at the main office.

#8 Lay for lie

No: I got dizzy and had to lay down. Yes: I got dizzy and had to lie down. Yes: Just lay those books over there.

#9: Then for than

No: The accounting department had more problems then we did. Yes: The accounting department had more problems than we did. Note: Here's a sub-peeve. When a sentence construction begins with If, you don't need a then. Then is implicit, so it's superfluous and wordy: No: If you can't get Windows to boot, then you'll need to call Ted. Yes: If you can't get Windows to boot, you'll need to call Ted.

#10: Could of, would of for could have, would have

No: I could of installed that app by mistake. Yes: I could have installed that app by mistake. No: I would of sent you a meeting notice, but you were out of town. Yes: I would have sent you a meeting notice, but you were out of town.

Bonus peeve

I'll just throw one more thing out here: My current burning pet peeve. At some point, who knows when, it became common practice to say that something is "hit and miss." Nuh-UH. It can't be both, right? It either hits or it misses.... "Hit OR miss." Granted, it's a small thing, a Boolean-obsessive sort of thing. But it's nonetheless vexing because it's so illogical. Okay, that's mine. If you've got a peeve of your own, share it in the discussion (or post a comment and tell me to get over it).

You might also want to check out this long-running discussion to see what grammar gaffes have driven your peers around the bend.

About

Jody Gilbert has been writing and editing technical articles for the past 25 years. She was part of the team that launched TechRepublic and is now senior editor for Tech Pro Research.

210 comments
LLL3
LLL3

I don't know why this subject gets to me so much, especially since I too probably commit all kinds of grammatical errors to which I am completely oblivious. Two you mentioned that have been making me INSANE these past few years are: loose vs. lose - you did NOT "loose" the game. Arrrgggg. then vs. than - How can anyone who can read get these mixed up? Another one I see repeatedly is: are vs. our we are not going to ARE house. @#&%T~~! I understand there are typos, I've noticed my fingers have learned certain patterns that they insist on completing despite my knowing the correct spelling/word (like when I start to type "though" but end up with "thought"), but people are so consistent in their improper use of these very simple words that I am left staring at their email wondering how "a trained professional" can be so ignorant. My best guess is that they haven't read much and therefore heard words but never saw them. It bugs me too that people SAY "are" instead of "our." They are not homonyms. They sound different. Our sounds like hour. At least it used to... "Could care less" bugs me too because of the obviousness of it. How can you say that phrase and not notice that you're saying the opposite of what you mean? OK, I feel better. For now. Oh, HA HA I just remembered, a relative of mine once made her own wedding invitations. After reading mine I asked if they'd all been sent out. They had. I was too late. I didn't see any point in informing her that she had put "Absolutely no gifts!" on the invitation, but then started the body of it with: "We request your presents..."

Tumbleweed_Biff
Tumbleweed_Biff

What is illogical about "hit and miss"? It means the results are unpredictable. Given your interest in language I find it difficult to understand why that is unclear. Do you also object to someone saying that (the result) is a coin toss?

NerveBag
NerveBag

In addition to the ones in the initial post (some spoken, some written): If and when. (ugh) Orientated. Try and do. nucular (not grammatical, per se, but mind-blowingly ignorant) I feel badly. "Myself" instead of "me" "literally" instead of "figuratively" "number" versus "amount" (Can you have a smaller "number" of water? No. Can you have a smaller "amount" of people? No.) "less" versus "fewer" (Can you have "fewer" water? No. Can you have "less" people? No.) Saying "like" every third word (distracting and unnecessary, at the least) "Proactive" instead of "active" "Tunafish" (do you say "chickenbird"?) "Set'lers" instead of "settle-ers" "Etcetra" instead of "et-cet-er-a" "50's" instead of "'50s" "Realator" instead "Real-tor" "Anxious" instead of "eager" "Could care less" instead of "couldn't care less" "Obtuse" instead of "abstruse" "Have got" instead of "have" I could go on for years. I'm all for the evolution of language, and I'm fine with a certain amount of difference between colloquial language and formal language. I use terms and grammar colloquially that I would NEVER use formally. It can lend a "flavor" to language that absolute proper usage sometimes can't. I'll fully admit that. But language has a certain mathematical construct to it, and if you want to get your thought across to the largest number of people with the most comprehension as quickly and efficiently as possible, you have to follow those rules. Two + two equals four. Your message can change dramatically, depending on how you construct your sentence and where you put your punctuation. For example (e.g., not i.e., by the way): You will be required to work twenty four-hour shifts. You will be required to work twenty-four hour shifts. You will be required to work twenty-four-hour shifts. Those are three COMPLETELY different meanings, and writing the wrong sentence for what you actually mean could be catastrophic to your message. Don't underestimate the power of proper, "mathematical" language. There is a logic to it, and not recognizing that can -- at the least -- make you look like a moron. At the most, it could start a world war. ;-)

gbrannan
gbrannan

This is the one that gets me and I never realized it until someone else pointed it out.

HollyLouise
HollyLouise

I thoroughly enjoyed reading through some of the comments about grammar, and noting different people's sensitivities. Before correcting others, it is probably a good idea to recognize one's own motivation for doing so. When receiving correction, it's probably a good idea to drop the defensive cloak and have a look to see what one may learn. In this day and age of "high-speed" everything, I hope not to see the purity of our language thrown out the proverbial window. Cheers, all!

aspir8or
aspir8or

I know that virii may look correct, but 'viruses' is the correct plural for virus. For 'virii' to be correct (wandering into Latin land with this), the singular would have to be 'virius' . In fact, the plurals for words ending in 'us' is a bit of a morass. Octopus/octopi, radius/radii, campus/campuses, anus/anuses, (campi? ani?), and one to throw a spanner into the works, genus/genera.

chris.pratt
chris.pratt

This comment is from the UK side of the pond. Many of the so called grammatical errors are not so much errors as the styles of the two different usages of the English language. Here in the UK I do not recall the word "you're", if that is how one spells it, ever being used. Note also my use of "that is" which gives the expression much more emphasis. Other examples are the use of "can't" instead of "cannot" and "won't" instead of "will not" I am not an English scholar, I just like elegant language. As Winston Churchill once said in the House of Commons:- "It is the kind of language up with which we will not put ".

LSWVN
LSWVN

If you think grammer is bad now, wait until the generation growing up on texting muddles the language.

jmc_26120
jmc_26120

Let us make no mistake. English is not spoken in America. I am English and have lived around the world including the US. The American language is fine if understood; whether it would be understood outside of America is another thing. The use of 'momentarily' for example is particularly hideous to the English ear. It means 'for a moment' and not 'in a moment'. But let us not sneer too much; a language evolves and the only valid test is easy and clear comprehension of the message. Elegance is, of course, another matter.

daniel_antony
daniel_antony

No: I will revert back... Yes: I will revert

CodeCurmudgeon
CodeCurmudgeon

My biggest grammatical peeve these days is, "One of the only." Ugh. Only is SINGULAR it derives from the same root as ONE. People need to learn to say, "One of the few." It's almost as common (and annoying) as "orientated" was back in the 80s. The word is "oriented." You go to orientation to get oriented, not orientated. (Even if it IS in the dictionary nowadays. . .)

bobpeg
bobpeg

1. It can be hit AND miss if there are multiple occurrences. The point is that it is random. For a single occurrence agree with you. It has to be hit OR miss. 2. Stating the rule(s) for each set of examples would have been helpful. The reader trying to improve his or her writing is left trying to figure out why each example is true. 3. Using it's / its as an example without an explanation is particularly bad since it is an exception to a standard rule of possessive nouns. Normally an apostrophe is used for possessive nouns. Using "its" (without an apostrophe) for possession is proper, but atypical. An exception is made to avoid confusing it with the contraction for "it is": it's.

Marshwiggle
Marshwiggle

... (modernized): Reading makes one broad; converse makes one ready; and writing makes one precise. After reading all four pages of comments to this article I can only conclude that he was wrong. My pet peeve? Not introducing all but the shortest of objective clauses with "that." (And yes, unfortunately, journalists are actually taught to write that way, sacrificing clarity for brevity.) I can't tell how many times I've gotten midway (or farther) into a sentence only to realize that I'm reading (or hearing, which is even worse) an objective clause, and be forced to backtrack in order to understand what the writer (or speaker) was trying to say. Examples: Correct: He said that he was going to the store. OK: He said he was going to the store. Not OK: He said because he was going to the store did not necessarily mean ... Did he say something because he was going to the store? Or did he say that just because he was going to the store it did not necessarily mean ...?

hippiekarl
hippiekarl

"Remotely close"...say it to yourself a few times. See? I can't keep a straight face when someone tells me that "[x] isn't even 'remotely close' to what they meant" or a version of that. It's the oxymoron that morons fail to realize they're using. (Original copy; strictly genteel; jumbo shrimp; remotely close) ;)

mightyjak
mightyjak

True, using "then" in a sentence that begins with "if" is superflous, but in no way incorrect. If we insert a comma, the "then" is implied (see what I did there?). However, I cannot stop myself from making "then" statements immediatly following "if" statements, and it seems many of the previous commentors have the same issue. I suspect I developed this habit due to my early experience with BASIC programming. (Every IF must be followed by a THEN, or ELSE the whole thing falls apart) ;-p

sissy sue
sissy sue

As many of you have suggested, it is very difficult to write and speak well 100% of the time. Even a grammar Nazi has his/her bad days, and even English professors can be caught in a goof-up. Since we can't be perfect 100% of the time, we can at least attempt to do our best, no matter what we do. Anyone who does anything with the notion that standards don't matter is apt to look foolish, careless, and sloppy. One can rarely achieve excellence with the attitude that doing one's best is too much effort. A writer who doesn't care that his grammar is terrible disrespects himself and his readers. I was an English major in college, but spelling was never a strong point. Did I deserve to be downgraded by the professor when I made spelling errors in a paper? Of course! I don't think that it was too unreasonable to expect me to crack open a dictionary. (Thank God for spell-check.) The point is that I was being sloppy, which can only lead to mediocrity at best. One of the faults of my generation is that we instilled ourselves and our children with the notion that we should accept people for who they are (bad writers, bad coders, bad teachers, bad mechanics, bad engineers, etc.) and make no demands of them.

john
john

What are we going to do? Look under the pie and custard? It should be: The proof of the pudding is in the tasting (or eating if you prefer).

sparent
sparent

I was an employee of EDS when the company was bought by Hewlett-Packard. Imagine my consternation when they decided that we worked for "EDS, an HP company." The correct form would be "EDS, a HP company." The rule is easy; use the same article you would use for the fully extended acronym. You would say "EDS, a Hewlett-Packard company," not "EDS, an Hewlett-Packard company."

rocketmouse
rocketmouse

@blazing-biz I hope (or, I am hopeful) that what follows is constructive and respectful: Spectical, reering, and eagar are not English words. Spectacle, rearing, and eager are. There seems to be some controversy over the spelling of the word 'rearing.' I suggest using 'upbringing' if one is not sure how to spell it. It helps to know that it's, they're, and the like are contractions of it is, they are, and anything one can substitute the long form for (see, a preposition!) Then (temporal, i.e. time related) and than (comparative) are made understandable by context. Who, which, and that are problematic, and if one makes the distinction between animate (who) and inanimate (which, that) some pets (and/or their owners) may be offended. Besides, we are all confusing English and American usage! By the way, I learned English as a second language.

hamiltro_caz
hamiltro_caz

Whenever I hear someone say "preventative" instead of "preventive" I cringe.

jrhalli89
jrhalli89

This is probably rife with mistakes, but what the heck! 1. Hip-hop lingo (e.g., "you know what I'm sayin?", "yo", "you feelin me?") 2. Expecially 3. Excusing and/or labeling improper grammar as dialect 4. Excessive use of "you know" (I start counting after the second or third "you know") 5. The recent phenomenon of responding to a statement with "right?" Jack: "That sure was a good hamburger." Jill: "I know! Right?"

jmarkconnor
jmarkconnor

No: Be sure and look for me at the concert. Yes: Be sure to look for me at the concert.

ScottTaylorMCPD
ScottTaylorMCPD

Another common grammar error is spelling the past tense of "to lead" as "lead". Although it sounds the same, "lead" is an element, whereas the correct past tense is "led". For example: "Led team of five developers to create great software."

wuboyblue
wuboyblue

Admiral Rickover commented on the American educational system would be the downfall of this country. Standardizing on English as our national language may help, hiring teachers who speak English may help, if a teacher can actually pass the SWET (Standard Written English Test) we as a country would be half way there. In my job I spend much of my time speaking a mixture of English, Russian and French and I'm just a coach. English has always been a mutant language and it is constantly changing in both lexicon and vocabulary. The rules of grammar should remain a constant of some sort. Occasionally I use a Russian verb or expression to elicit a response, so I guess I'm guilty of mutilating our language as well. Let us try not to look too stupid. I'm just a dumb, retired MCPO turned coach so when I wince at blatant errors or shifts in vocabulary or usage that come from random usage the infraction must be heinous, when did "baby momma" become acceptable usage, the first time I saw this phrase in print was in "People" magazine, while waiting for my Doctor. I'm glad he had tranquilizers on hand.

awgiedawgie
awgiedawgie

E. E. Cummings rarely signed his own name in lowercase, and said he actually preferred the capitalized version.

ltfannin-watts
ltfannin-watts

1) Using the term "Irregardless". I'm not sure how to spell that. 2) Using 360 degrees to indicate a reversal (e.g.,"She made a 360 degree change in her opinion.") Wouldn't she have the same opinion as before since she ended where she started? 3) Using "literally" out of context (e.g., "It was literally raining cats and dogs."). Were cats and dogs really falling out of the sky?

AHUFFTB11108
AHUFFTB11108

JODY GILBERT: Thank goodness someone cares. 10 or 15 years ago Neil Cavuto burst out with "You split an infinitive! In fact you split two infinitives!" I can not remember what an infinitive is let alone what a split infinitive is. But I am perfectly willing to extend poetic latitude to someone when I have reason to believe that he cares. When Neil makes a mistake it is ok with me. English sometimes is difficult to get right. I am disturbed when people get wrong what is easy to get right. Something that is easy to find is in a current advertisement: "We've got a 15-year-old and we never saved for their retirement." I know who the 15-year-old is. But the speaker introduced them into the converstion without telling me who they are. This is not rocket science; it is grammar science. I have known Clark Howard chronically to carry a related error further: "The beneficiary are the children." Well gee. "children" is plural. "are" is plural. What can possibly be wrong? We have in our country several courses with the title similar to "English as a second language". If we were to have a course teaching English as a first language what would we call it? When is it time for talking heads to return to their grammer schools and say to the principal "May I please have my money back?" I want to further explore the rumored existence of journalist's "style books". Do these allow, even advise, the treatment of a clause as a sentence? If so do they suggest such treatment be occasional or do they suggest such treatment be routine? Thank you for your attention. Terry Huff.

thomas
thomas

If you look at the definition of Anxious in the dictionary, the second definition is "eager" however, historically it was not so. The first definition (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/anxious) shows that you're actually afraid or concerned over something. This word has been so over used wrongly for so many years that they added the second definition to appease the colloquial usage of it but originally it was not so.

traffordgazsik
traffordgazsik

There is nothing wrong with the phrase 'hit and miss' The expression is a reference to inconsistent results. Therefore some of them hit and others missed. Hence, the results were 'hit and miss'. Saying 'hit or miss' is illogical, because that doesn't impart any useful information. -"How did the tests go?" -"Oh you know, it was hit or miss." So did they hit or miss, or did they 'hit and miss'? You're a victim of your own warped bollean logic here, I'm afraid to say.

rodym
rodym

Great thanks a lot for this i often do such mistakes and i think they are pretty common and most of the people do such mistakes and even they don't know they are doing wrongly because many of us even don't know what is right and wrong in English,so thanks to some Grammar Checker tools now at least people will not do such mistakes while using pc for writing.

Bill Berry
Bill Berry

Here's a common error: NO: "This data shows ..." YES: "These data show ..." YES: "The data analysis shows ..." When used as a noun, the word "data" is actually a plural! You have one datum, two data. The plural word, "data", has been broadly corrupted by American society, but that doesn't make it right. The same goes for "medium" versus "media", and "criterion" versus "criteria." EXCEPTION: You can have two mediums if they are both fortune tellers.

AHUFFTB11108
AHUFFTB11108

I love it !! But how is it possible that you missed "That's a whole nuther issue"? Currently one of the most difficult for me to listen to on tv is "An inventory of cars and homes ARE available...". The voice sounds like that of an identifiable actor and does indeed make both he and the writer sound like idiots. Keep up the good work.

ThreeLittleBirds
ThreeLittleBirds

No: You need to speak more legibly. Yes: You need to speak more articulately. Yes: You need to speak more clearly. I have a co-worker who frequently says "OK, I'll speak more LEGIBLY." And this person is in management!

Teapotty
Teapotty

A number of commentators question the importance of grammar and seemingly accuse the questioners of snobbishness and elitism. The point is that it doesn't matter what you think about your communication, what matters is what the person to whom the communication is addressed thinks. You can destroy your professional status, in their opinion, with a misspelled and ungrammatical report. Does this matter to you?

peyton.lewis
peyton.lewis

It is good to see/read that there are other people who believe that 'Technology is no excuse for poor grammar."

HLSatHaven
HLSatHaven

My peeve - You and I, or You and me? Actually, it's the fact that so many people in the media - who should know better - get it wrong so often! I think there's a snob attitude (in the U.K. at least) where many people will ALWAYs use You and I, in any situation. It's SO simple to make the correct choice - just mentally eliminate the subject "You" and see if the sentence sounds right e.g. "This house belongs to you and I". (Wrong!) Try "This house belongs to I" Obviously wrong. The correct answer is "This house belongs to you and me". Conversely, "You and me could go to the movies tonight" (Wrong!) Try "Me could go to the movies tonight". Obviously wrong. Correctly "You and I could go to the movies tonight". Simple, 'innit? (Isn't it?)

jrhalli89
jrhalli89

The problem is not isolated to the U.S. For example, the term "cockney" comes to mind.

Marshwiggle
Marshwiggle

Perhaps. Off the top of my head, I'm not sure. How about, "There only four in the US"? or, "One of only four in the US"?

Marshwiggle
Marshwiggle

"Its" is not a possessive noun. It is a possessive pronoun, like "his," "hers" and "yours"; thus it is both proper and typical. But you are correct in saying that adding why this or that is correct/incorrect would have been helpful.

bobpeg
bobpeg

Spell-check is what witches and warlocks use. Spelling-check is what is in a word processor. Whoever invented the term, "spell-check" ought to be put in a cauldron.

Marshwiggle
Marshwiggle

... HP is not an acronym; it is a mere abbreviation. An acronym is an abbreviation that can be pronounced as a word, such as EDS or ACORN. And While we're at it, some of these things are a matter of style, not grammar. AP style, for example, calls for using "a" or "an" according to the way the abbreviation (or acronym) is pronounced, not spelled. "H," "M," "N" and "S," for example, are all consonants, but their pronunciations begin with a vowel or dipthong. Therefore an HP company would be correct ... if you're writing for the Associated Press anyway.

santeewelding
santeewelding

Is what you get for holding the rule so close to your breast -- asp-like.

bobpeg
bobpeg

In high school English I had a teacher who, during the weeks we studied poetry, would inject all sorts of meanings into the poems that absolutely were not there. At the end of that section of the semester, the girl behind me raised her hand and stated she had taken especially detailed and careful notes when we studied E.E. Cummings. She said she had gone down the street and knocked on his door at the end of the block and showed him her notes. She said Cummings laughed and laughed at the meanings invented by the teacher. Needless to say, the girl probably didn't get a good grade, but I complimented her on pointing out the lunacy of the teacher to the rest of the class. :-)

hamiltro_caz
hamiltro_caz

The only thing worse than raining cats and dogs is haliling taxicabs. ;

santeewelding
santeewelding

A victim of your own severely logical turn of mind.

mynah
mynah

No: Him and the writer sound like idiots. Yes: The voice makes both him and the writer sound like idiots.

sparent
sparent

According to wikipedia, an acronym is an abbreviation made of the initial components of a phrase or sentence. "Components" can be individual letters or groups of letters. CEO is the suggested example for the former and Benelux, for the latter. I double-checked the use of articles in front of acronyms and it does appear that there are two schools of thought.

Marshwiggle
Marshwiggle

... that's Wikipedia for you. According to The Sage, a free dictionary download that is not editable by everybody, an acronym is "a word formed from the initial letters of the several words in the name."