Better blogging: 10 grammar traps to avoid

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One of the things that can quickly turn me off a blog is reading posts which are peppered with basic grammatical errors. I don’t expect perfection but, by the time I’ve noticed the fifth error in the opening paragraph of a post, I’ll be irked enough that I’ll be flicking my mouse cursor over to the ‘close’ button.

So tap into your inner grammar pedant and ask yourself how many of the following errors you’re prone to making. They’re not difficult to correct, and eliminating them will help to make that all-important good first impression.

1. A’postrophe’s

Get your apostrophes right! They serve one of two purposes:

  • To denote a missing letter in a contraction (e.g. is not becomes isn’t).
  • To denote possession, with the position of the apostrophe indicating the name of the owner. So boy’s toys relates to a single boy, whereas boys’ toys indicates that two or more boys (or, generically, all boys in general) own the toys.

2. Possession is nine-tenths of the law

When using possessive pronouns such as yours, theirs or its, you should never use an apostrophe. So theirs is correct, their’s is not.

Therefore its’ does not exist – it is simply written its. Nor is it written it’s, which is the short form of it is. Hence it’s for its own good.

3. There, they’re, their

Therethey’re and their are not interchangeable (The same applies to your and you’re.) There is an adverb meaning ‘in that place’ or ‘the opposite to here’. They’re is the contracted form of they are. And their is the third person plural possessive pronoun (if you want to get technical about it), as in it’s their fault. Similarly …

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4. You can only have so much of a unique thing

Some terms are either black or white with no room for shades of grey, and therefore cannot be modified by words such as very, most, more or less. For instance, unique means one of a kind – either something is unique or it isn’t. You can be more capable at doing something, but you cannot do it in a more unique way.

5. Less versus fewer

Less and fewer are not interchangeable. Less is used in reference to a subject which cannot be readily quantified, fewer to multiple items that you can put a definite number on. Hence I plan to consume less caffeine by drinking fewer cups of coffee.

If you’ve ever seen express queues in supermarkets which are signposted as being for the use of customers with ‘ten items or less’, they are grammatically incorrect. The signs should read ten items or fewer.

6. One word to rule them all

Avoid overuse of ‘lazy’ words such as very which don’t add much to a description.

Is ran very quickly that different from ran quickly or, better still, sprinted? Far better to use one descriptive word than three plain ones.

7. Using ‘literally’ literally

The accepted usage of literally is now expanding to include informal expressions of emphasis (I’ve literally written ten thousand emails today) but its use to justify a metaphorical statement should still be avoided, such as I’m literally dead. You literally aren’t.

8. Mismatching subjects and verbs

Most commonly, this involves matching a singular subject with a plural verb form (or vice versa), such as these blogs is good or the car have four wheels.

It’s a surprisingly easy mistake to make, especially in sentences where the subject and verb are separated by intervening words or clauses.

9. Who versus whom

Who and whom have different and specific meanings. Who is the subject of a verb – the instigator of an action. Whom refers to the object of a verb – the recipient of an action. Who does what to whom?

10. Multiple uses, different spellings

A number of words which can serve as both a noun and a verb use the same spelling. So, a cheat (noun) is someone who tends to cheat (verb). But with some word endings, specifically words ending in -ice/-ise, there is a small but important distinction between the two forms, where the former denotes the noun and the latter is the verb.

So we say I advise you to take his advice, or I need to practise my singing as opposed to I attended choir practice today. (In the US, it’s common practice (heh) to use the -ice form as both noun and verb. I say “ick” to that.)

It’s not worth tying yourself up in knots in an attempt to achieve grammatical perfection. No matter how skilled or careful you are, you will inevitably get something wrong every now and then – I’m forever getting which and that mixed up – but it is worth putting some effort into avoiding the most common mistakes.

For instance, would you knowingly send a letter to an important customer which is full of grammatical errors? So why would you publish a blog post to your readers – for which read customers – where you haven’t checked for at least basic mistakes? Exactly.

Do grammatical errors in other people’s writing annoy you? And do you know of other common mistakes that people make? If so, leave a comment below.