The Opinionated Grammarist 2
by Monica Santi
Grammar and usage errors damage our credibility when we write. My speaking and writing skills are nowhere near perfect—my mother still corrects my grammar, and Ian recently called me on the carpet when I talked about “flushing out” an idea instead of “fleshing it out.” That said, I have been writing for a number of years and decided it was time to share my writing pet peeves with everyone.
From a marketing perspective, there are times when it makes sense to break rules to keep copy conversational and engaging; however, there are many conventions that should never be broken in the name of style. In the words of my children, here are five of my “worst favorite” grammar and punctuation mistakes:
1. I and Me are not interchangeable
One of biggest pet peeves is the misuse of “I.” Too often people use “I” when they should use “me.” I think people assume that using “I” sounds formal and professional, and hence must be correct. If you are unsure of whether to use “me” or “I” in a sentence, the way to figure it out is to remove the person from the sentence.
Incorrect: Give Joey and I a call.
You would never say “Give I a call,” so you also wouldn’t say “Give Joey and I a call.”
Correct: Give Joey and me a call.
Incorrect: Dave and me are going to the NTCA meeting.”
If you remove Dave from the sentence, it would be “Me am going to the NTCA meeting.”
Correct: Dave and I are going to the NTCA meeting.
2. Don’t abuse apostrophes.
An apostrophe is never used to form a plural.
Wrong: I love music from the 1980’s.
Right: I love music from the 1980s.
3. Always place periods and commas inside of closing quotation marks.
It seems wrong to do this, but it is the convention in the United States.
Incorrect: Proper sampling work ensures that the study truly represents the larger base, also known as the “population”.
Correct: Proper sampling work ensures that the study truly represents the larger base, also known as the “population.”
4. The serial comma is your friend.
The serial comma is the last comma before a conjunction in a series. Whether to use the serial comma or not is of debate, but if the goal of writing is to be understood, then the serial comma should always be used because omitting it may cause ambiguities, whereas including it never will.
Example: She took a photograph of her parents, the president, and the vice president.
This example from the Chicago Manual of Style shows how the comma is necessary for clarity. Without it, she is taking a picture of two people, her mother and father, who are the president and vice president. With it, she is taking a picture of four people.
5. Leave one space after any punctuation mark that ends a sentence.
For those of us who are old enough to have used a typewriter, we learned to leave two spaces after the end of a sentence. Each key on a typewriter allows the same amount of space for a letter regardless of the width of that letter. Two spaces were required so that the reader could easily distinguish the end of a sentence and the start of the next one. Computer word processing programs all use proportionally spaced typefaces, so two spaces are no longer needed for readability.
Need help improving your writing? The best and most comprehensive style guide is The Chicago Manual of Style. If 900 pages is too daunting, check out the Franklin Covey Style Guide for Business and Technical Communication.