It’s time to declare a war on bad grammar, misuse of words and cringeworthy punctuation and capitalization.
In today’s fast-paced media environment, perfection seems to have been traded for speed, making room for these unwelcome villains on the pages of publications everywhere.
But who is enemy #1? Do all editors loathe the same mistakes, or do we each have our own list of offenders? What are the most common and egregious editorial errors?
I decided to find out by taking an informal poll of my editorial colleagues at TMG. Starting a conversation about grammar with a bunch of grammar nerds was like swinging a piece of yarn in front of a kitten. They pounced. And it turns out that while we do share some of the same pet peeves, our #1 annoyances vary.
What follows is a compilation of our nails-on-the-chalkboard moments.
1. Two spaces after a sentence is wrong.
This is an inarguable fact that I will defend loudly and at length even outside of work and with family members.
This common mistake is what started a grammar rant fest over email among our editorial team, thanks to a Slate article articulating the error. Interestingly, most editors feel strongly about this rule, even though many people outside of publishing may have no idea this argument even exists (hence the “education” of my family members).
2. Enough with the misused quotation marks.
One editor summed it up best: “I can’t even begin to describe how much this irks me. Irk might not even be a strong enough word. Quotation marks are not meant to be used for emphasis. If you tell me your eggs are ‘fresh,’ I’m definitely not buying them.”
3. Quit abusing your apostrophes.
Misusing apostrophes is so wrong and, sadly, so common, that an entire blog is devoted to it. If a word is plural, it does not require an apostrophe. You don’t pet your dog’s. You don’t eat at restaurant’s. You don’t shop for car’s. An apostrophe shows ownership. You groom your friend’s dog. You eat at your neighbor’s restaurant. You shop for your husband’s car.
Also, it’s OK—and actually correct—to put only an “s,” without an apostrophe, after a decade: I love the ’80s! I was born in the 1950s.
4. Cut back on the unnecessary capitalization.
Capitalization (for the most part) should be reserved for proper nouns. Capitalizing a word in the middle of a sentence doesn’t make the word more important. Unfortunately, some of us have to bite our tongues on this one because many associations and corporations have internal styleguides that call for capitalization on groups and events deemed important: Annual Meeting, Board of Directors, Exhibit Hall.
5. Step away from the em dash.
One editor summed up this offense: Dash addicts are people who view em dashes as panacea punctuation. An example: “Planning ahead can save you money on your summer vacation—by going online early you can find the deals.”
This editor says: I’m all for using dashes for emphasis or a true pause, but often a simple comma, set of parentheses or even a colon will do. An old professor once told me, “When in doubt the dasher dashes.”
6. “Which” and “that” aren’t interchangeable.
Grammar Girl explains it best when she says to use “which” when you could leave the phrase off the sentence and it would still make sense.
Example: “Your Christmas sweater that has the fuzzy reindeers is in your closet.”
This sentence is specifically describing the Christmas sweater with the reindeers. You may have other Christmas sweaters in your closet or elsewhere. If you removed the “that” phrase, it would change the meaning of the sentence.
“Your Christmas sweater, which has the fuzzy reindeers, is in your closet.” This is specifically talking about the one Christmas sweater you own, which just happens to have reindeers on it. Take out the reindeer clause and the sentence means the same thing.
7. Write as you would talk.
This rule can often simplify your language, keeping your blogs and articles from sounding like bad corporate brochures. Do you really say “utilize” in everyday speech? Should you use “impact” as a verb? And yes, it’s OK to split infinitives and to end sentences with a preposition.
So, those are our rants. For now. What are your top writing pet peeves?