Cut it out! Grammar, usage, syntax are not the same

Confusion abounds when writers write about writing, right? Misspellings, typos, grammar flubs and syntax errors are not interchangeable. Here’s help for keeping them straight.

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People love to write about writing. I edit such articles frequently.

All too often, these pieces are titled “10 essential grammar tips” or the like, and the author proceeds to talk about common errors in writing that aren’t actually grammatical in nature, or he or she compares anvils and oranges.

My friend and cohort Mignon Fogarty once said to me, “I’m not really Grammar Girl; I’m more like Usage Girl.” It’s true; she devotes much of her time and energy to offering advice on word choices and meanings. The alliteration of Grammar Girl is catchy, and she’s terrific, so why argue with success?

With that in mind, let’s differentiate the various elements of writing—with the goal of preventing writing “experts” from calling a common typo or misused hyphen a “ubiquitous grammatical error.”


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