OnText grammar police top ten pet peeves



A communications professional’s pet peeves

By Gail Sideman

I’m a journalist and publicist so it should come as no surprise that I’m picky about the way words are used.

Gail Sideman

Gail Sideman

The number of media outlets has grown tenfold in the last quarter century, and as a result, so have misuses of words in almost every arena. I admittedly cringe when I hear or read the simplest of English usage errors. After all, the people that deliver them are paid professionals.

Disclaimer: The above being said, I’m far from perfect. In fact, before I began to write this post I misspoke a tense and resisted the urge to correct myself in front of people. Not that I think they’d mind more than the other times they’ve rolled their eyes when I’ve edited myself in seemingly innocuous situations.

So, without further adieu, my top 10 peeves of English language usage by media and professional communications writers:

10. Lie/Lay – “Lie” means to recline. “Lay” means to place something. Confused yet? The past tense of “lie” is “lay.”
9.   Who/Whom “Who” is the subject of a clause it introduces. “Whom” is used as an object of a preposition. “Who is coming to dinner with Leon?” or “With whom are you going on vacation?”
8.  To/Too/Two – preposition/also/a number
7.   It’s/Its; / their/they’re – “It’s” is the contracted form of “it is” or “it has.” “They’re” is the contracted form of “they are.” Example – “It’s going to be a beautiful day in the neighborhood,” versus “The bird clipped its wings on the wire.” “Their car will go a long way on low fuel.” “They’re going to the baseball game and then a movie.”
6.   i.e./e.g. – “i.e.” means “that is” and “e.g.” means “for example.” Commas follow each.
5.   Above/More Than – “Above” is position related to location, and “more than” refers to a numerical comparison. Examples – “The total raised at the fund raiser is $5,000 more than the previous year.” “The temperature is above average.”
4.   Lower/Fewer– “Lower” is a position and “Fewer” describes a number of items that may be counted. “His bank account balance is lower than hers” and “She has fewer dollars in her wallet than he has in his pocket.”
3.   During/In – “During” refers to the duration of event. “In” is the opposite of out. “I’ve traveled frequently during my tenure with this company.”
2.   Its/Their – “Its” is a possessive form of “it.” For example: Louisiana State won its first College World Series in 1991. “There” is a possessive form of “they.” Example: The Tigers are playing in their 15th College World Series.
1.   First Annual – There cannot be a first annual anything. An event does not become annual until after it’s held more than one year, then consecutively. Alternative: inaugural

English is not an easy language to learn or master, but for professionals that depend upon its accuracy for communicating ideas and information, consumers appreciate its appropriate usage.

Twenty years of public relations experience, including 10 in NCAA Division I sports information during which she received national awards for her work, have helped Gail Sideman emerge as a nationally-respected publicity professional in sports, social media and publishing. She is also a veteran support staffer of sports television crews for events that include the NFL, NBA, MLB, NCAA regular and postseason and others. You may more information about Sideman’s business, Publiside, or follow her at Twitter and Facebook.

Read more about grammar:

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8 Responses to “OnText grammar police top ten pet peeves”

  1. I so agree with you. BUT – you might be interested, but annoyed to note that Miriam Webster and other dictionaries allow comparatives of “unique.” It’s one of my pet peeves, too, and I really hated seeing that. But there you have it. Go here http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/unique and look at definition #3. But I vow I will never, ever do that! I guess that makes me fairly unique. 🙂


  2. Add: “Most unique.” Unique means one of a kind. There can be no degrees of the word. What the grammar bonehead means is “most unusual.”


  3. I remembered two more that may get to me more than two on the original list:

    – Omitting the “ly” in adverbs (such as when people say, “that tool works perfect.”) Aggghhh!

    – Using “oh” instead of “zero.” Zero – 0 is a number. “oh” or o is a letter or expression.


  4. Keep goin’, Gail, we may get a top 100 here! I heard a weatherman on WGN radio say yesterday, “We’ll have more storms than we seen yesterday.” (!)

  5. Muphry’s Law (NOT Murphy’s Law) was shown true in item #2. “There” is a possessive form of “they.” I believe you meant “‘Their’ is a possessive form of ‘they.'”

  6. Chris – you caught us both – and made me laugh at the same time. I love the phrase “Muphry’s Law!”


  7. Well, there are plenty of grammatical pet peeves to go around. None of your list is on my list of 40…

    If you are grammatically challenged, or let’s face it, a grammatical snob who will catch the grammatical error in the title of this blog, you owe it to yourself to check out these grammatical pet peeves and tips at Top 40 Grammar Pet Peeves


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