I make a living writing and editing words—so naturally, I care about grammar. Why does it matter? You want your writing to look professional, whether you’re turning in an academic paper, a resume, a legal report or an email to your boss. Grammar mistakes reflect poorly on you.
So here are five common mistakes that make me grimace, and how you can correct them.
1. I Could(n’t) Care Less.
This has to be the grammar mistake that makes me cringe the most. People get this idiom wrong all the time—I even hear it commercially on TV shows and in movies. Someone needs to set those actors straight. “I could care less.” Really? Then care less!
2. Its and It’s.
The apostrophe means that something has been taken out. “It’s” is short for “It is.” Without the apostrophe, the word is possessive. “It’s time for dinner,” means “It is time for dinner.” “Its tail is wagging,” means “The puppy’s tail is wagging.” “It’s tail is wagging,” means “It is tail is wagging.” Doesn’t make much sense, does it?
3. Gray and Grey.
I was confused about this one for a long time, so I’m more sympathetic to the perpetrator when I come across it. One is English spelling, the other is American spelling. But how do you know which one is which? There’s a simple trick to remember. Gray has an A in America; Grey has an E in England.
4. Periods Outside Quotes.
“I went for a walk today”. No! The period always always goes inside the quotation marks. The same is true for commas. Where this gets confusing is when dealing with other punctuation marks, which don’t always go inside the quotations. For example:
Have you ever heard the phrase, “That’s the cat’s meow”?
The question mark isn’t part of the phrase, so it goes outside the quotation marks. However,
“That’s the cats meow!” she said.
Here, the exclamation point is part of the phrase, so it goes inside the quotes. (I should also note that the Brits don’t agree with us on this point—for them, periods and commas are also subject to change, depending on the situation.)
5. Incorrect Em-Dash.
This is more formatting than grammar—but I’m a copy editor, so I look for those too. The em-dash is the length of an m (m—), whereas other kinds of dashes are shorter (like the en-dash, which is the length of an n). The em-dash is one long dash, not two short dashes. The problem is that on PCs, Microsoft Word automatically corrects two short dashes to become a long em-dash, so sometimes people think a proper em-dash is two short dashes, which is incorrect. Also, people like to put spaces before and after the em-dash, which is also wrong. It’s one long dash, sandwiched between two words (see the first sentence of this paragraph).
Thanks for enduring my self-righteous rant.
What grammar or spelling mistakes make you twitch? Post a comment!