When we ran an article titled 10 flagrant grammar mistakes that make you look stupid, we were hoping to lend a little help to IT types who are often (wrongly in our view) stereotyped as being poor communicators. The fact that it was deluged with Talkbacks pointing out your own pet peeves shows how close this subject is to your hearts — and perhaps how much you desire to get it right.
Some of you took issue with the title of the piece, suggesting that it should have been "10 flagrant grammatical mistakes", or that your worst pet peeve is lists of pet peeves "that the author calls 'grammatical' but that have nothing to do with grammar — rather, that have to do with spelling". A real grammatical error, you pointed out, is on the order of subject-verb agreement, or mistaking a fragment for a sentence, or mistaking a transitive verb for an intransitive one, and so on. "These aren't grammatical errors," wrote one of you. "With the exception of number 9, all of the supposed grammar mistakes are actually spelling or word selection mistakes," wrote Ed T.
Well, perhaps so, but headlines tend to have grammatical rules all of their own.
Quibbles about the headline did not stop many of you suggesting your own pet peeves when it comes to grammar mistakes (sic). Here is the top 20 list, according to your feedback on our top 10. And yes, like our original list, it veers less towards grammatical mistakes and more towards errors in word selection. Even so, get them wrong, and you risk making yourself look stupid.
20. Plurals: "You left out my #1 pet peeve of all time, plurals. CD's, PC's, even car's. OK, sometimes people get confused when dealing with acronyms, but seriously, car's?!?!" One anonymous reader got it right when they wrote: "When will people remember that apostrophes are for contractions and ownership?"
19. Pleural/Plural: <cough> Let's at least get that one out of the way.
18. Whose/Who's: No: Who's owl is biggest? Yes: Whose owl is biggest?
17. Unique: Like "pregnant", you wrote, "there is no such thing as very, really, or most unique... just unique".
16. Inferring/Implying: Robert Morley correctly wrote: "No: What are you inferring? Yes: What are you implying? Yes: Am I to infer that you don't know English?"
15. Brought/Bought: This one caused a minor transatlantic spat, with Alawishus McAllibur making excuses based on the Bostonian accent, knocked back by Nina who correctly points out that "brought" is the past tense of bring, whereas "bought" is the past tense of to buy, regardless of accent.
14. Verbal/Oral: As Jenny Cant points out, this is a common error of the HR department: "I would love to know what the non-verbal warning was — a fire alarm?"
13. Insure/Ensure: This one was bound to ensure more conflict. Luckily, we're insured.
12. I/Me: We had several different takes on this, with one correspondent nailing it thus: "The correct choice can be seen when you finish the truncated sentence: He's bigger than I am. 'He's bigger than me am' actually sounds ridiculous and obviates the mistake."
11. Further/Farther: Some authorities say these terms can be used interchangeably, although pedants will favour "farther" for the instances where a concept of distance is involved. Furthermore, the former can also be used in specialised circumstances, such as at the beginning of this sentence.
10. Could care less: This one is a pet peeve of B Durham, who writes: "'Could care less' — if that is the case, then make a decision!!! If you are indifferent, you 'could NOT care less.' I hear this misspoken or written incorrectly 99.9 percent of the time, and it drives me batty."
9. To/Too: This a common error noticed by Michael Westbrook. Yes: Take me to the river. Yes: Me too.
8. Gender: It may come as a surprise to some to hear from David Denny that "people do not have a gender (masculine, feminine, neuter) but a sex (male, female)". Although David comes so close, pointing out that gender deals with grammar, not physical characteristics, he falls at the last by misspelling grammar. Don't worry, David, we do plan to add a spell checker to our Talkback form (see number 1).
7. Do/Have: David B Wildgoose nails it thus: "There used to be a Head & Shoulders advert in which 'I didn't know you had dandruff' is said to a girl — and she replies 'I don't'. Aaaargh! You don't 'do' dandruff, you HAVE it. The correct reply is 'I haven't'". 'Nuff said.
6. Breath/Breathe: Joe Meredith breathes a breath of fresh air here.
5. Try and/Try to: We all hear this mistake a lot, and should try to get it right.
4. Fewer/Less: Repeat after me. Fewer than lots, less than one. If you can't count it, you can't have fewer of it; there's just less to worry about. Less grammatical nonsense means fewer irate Talkbacks
3. Adverbs: Geoff is mighty vexed by the adverb in slow decline. Did he type fast? No, he typed quickly.
2. Set up/setup: If you're setting up a setup, you shouldn't setup but set up. The verb's two words; the noun, just one.
1. Use your spell checker. So many mistakes could be avoided if we remembered to check our spelling, says Paul Buchman. Or, as Open Office would like to call him, Bushman.