The 5 Most Common Grammar Errors That Aren’t…Really

Grammar-Nazi-PeanutsIf you spend anytime in PR, you are going to come across the self-proclaimed “Grammar Nazi” who wears the dreaded red Sharpie around his/her neck like a nerdy Flavor Flav. I should know, I’m one of those dweebs (most of the time).

And despite the mind-numbing changes by the AP Stylebook that really don’t need to be made, it is always nice to stay up on the reasons behind the edits because knowledge really is power.

For that reason, this week’s #5Things is important because there are actually some edits that don’t need to be made, as much as you may want to do that.

It’s okay. Breathe easy and push the Sharpie away.

off direction1. Ending a sentence with a preposition. Yes, I said it and hate it, but it’s true. Writing has changed because of advertising and the Internet. Sometimes the pre-position is best placed in the post. Imagine you’re writing a love note with the line, “You are the woman for whom I have longed.” The sentence looks incomplete, so she splits, never to be heard from again. Unless you want to sound like a stuffy professor, readers aren’t having it. And note the genius witticism by Sir Winston Churchill: “This is the sort of English up with which I will not put.” Get the idea?

conjunction2. Starting a sentence with a conjunction. If you have blogged, written copy, or even read online news lately, you have noticed something that has my eighth-grade grammar teacher rolling her wheelchair straight into the fireplace — a sentence that begins with and. Why? Because it works. And if you want to feel better about it, it’s a fact that no one has been able to find a book or authority that has ever proven the practice is wrong. Nonetheless, old-school English teachers feel this is unacceptable. Conjunctions join clauses. But…give them a chance and they may surprise you.

passive3. Passive Voice. For the scorecard, active voice makes subjects do something while passive voice permits subjects to have something done to them. Active voice shows strength and passive feels less direct. However, the English language still has a need for the passive voice, which is why you shouldn’t kick it to the curb just yet. The passive voice is an important device for promoting the object of a verb in the case when the doer (the subject) is unimportant or unknown. Besides that, it can work if you use it correctly…or even if you are just lazy.

modus operandi4. Plural Latin. Yeah, yeah. A bunch of doctors and lawyers use Latin and that’s it. Well, not so fast. PR people have the same issue to consider every day. How about the word data? If you are talking about one piece of research, isn’t that datum? Closer to home is the word media. That’s plural. How many times do you say, “Hey, my friend works at the medium.” You don’t, and it’s okay. Media is plural but treated as a singular noun. And then you get the cat trying to be correct by saying “What mediums are you considering for outreach?” None — if you are asking correctly.

keep-calm-and-boldly5. The Split Infinitive. The most notorious grammar slip in history arguably comes from Star Trek as we discuss “to boldly go where no man has gone before.” If you are Strunk and White, the answer would be putting that pesky adverb before the verb. People are offended by this sentence structure. They laugh at Captain Kirk. “Sure, he flies at warp speed but he did he even graduate 8th-grade English?”

Here’s the funny thing: No one really cares about the split infinitive any more because it has been used so much. That said, feel free to clearly ignore it.