Writers, editors offer pet peeves to mark National Grammar Day

The holiday has communicators airing their linguistic grievances. Do adverb abuses, misplaced punctuation marks or misused homonyms great—that is, grate—on you the most?

Editors wish people would think about their grammar every day—and those professional nitpickers are using an upcoming holiday to sound off about what drives them nuts.

March 4 is National Grammar Day, and to mark the occasion, we solicited writers’ and editors’ biggest gripes when it comes to linguistic lapses.

Whether it’s in the form of improper punctuation, misapplied homonyms or a lack of care when speaking off the cuff, word nerds can all agree: Bad grammar is like nails on a chalkboard.

Here we go, so brace yourself …

A solicitation on Facebook has yielded this bouquet of nettles:

Pam Turlow, author of “The Cotton Candy Roadtrip,” bemoans “the apparent disappearance of the humble adverb. If I hear one more person say something like, ‘You did that excellent!’ I’ll pull my ears off.” Ditto: “They played the game perfect!”

Veteran journalist Peter Grad offers a “longtime peeve: Even the NY Times has long failed to distinguish between ‘ensuring’ a good time and ‘insuring’ one’s valuables; they opt for “insure” in virtually all instances.”

Another seasoned newspaper editor, Rich Whitby, decries the use of “‘damages’ instead of ‘damage’ applied to injury or destruction.” The former is better suited to civil lawsuits.

Misplaced reflexive pronouns pique many finicky linguists.

Russell Schiavone, community manager at AARP, takes issue with “misusing ‘myself’ instead of ‘me.’ As in, ‘If you can’t attend the meeting, please contact Jill or myself.'”

Say what?

Ire often arises when people write words the way they think they have heard them.

Playwright and TV comedy writer Billy Van Zandt all too often sees “‘would of’ instead of ‘would’ve.’ It’s in many mainstream books now.”

Fellow comedy writer Craig Gustafson bemoans “the inability to spell ‘lose.’ Those people are real loosers,” he quips.

Turlow chimes in, “Here’s a good one: ‘I pulled the rope taunt.'”

Grad cites another common nuisance: “‘for all intensive purposes’ in place of the correct ‘for all intents and purposes.'”

Unspeakable, yet still spoken

Some find the use of “first annual” loathsome:

The complaints aren’t limited to print, either, as Michael Lyon readily skewers TV journalists who use improper construction on air:

Improper use of possessives can be frightful:

Pass the ibuprofen

On Twitter, writers share mistakes that have caused them physical pain:

On LinkedIn, communicators are more specific with their gripes, arguing that poor grammar suggests a lack of professionalism.

Lara Kohl Burhenn, a marketing communications pro with Texas A&M, wrote: “I try to stress to employees that the way we present ourselves in writing is no different than the way we present ourselves in person. If you wouldn’t walk around in wrinkled, stained clothes, then don’t put out wrinkled, stained writing.”

Pronoun preferences, comma complaints, vexing vernacular

Some bristle at changes that have been made to standard grammar, such as the use of the singular “they.”

Kathleen Becker Blease, a freelance copywriter, wrote:

I’m adjusting to the contemporary and accepted use of the plural pronoun “their” for the singular in writing. The “grammatical he” is no longer used, and that bothers me. As a woman, I’m totally comfortable with “mankind” and “history” and “human”…and the grammatical he…because I know that these words refer to all of us. I also think the use of “their” as singular also stems from a lack of confidence, not knowing if the pronoun should be singular or plural, so it has become the default. That’s kind of lazy. To make “their” an editorial standard is lowering the bar.

Others have a bone to pick about the serial comma.

Although the day salutes grammar, some communicators would rather talk about style, with certain folks carrying out vendettas against colloquialisms such as “y’all” instead of “you all.”

Blasting circumlocution, Jody Wilkins wrote :

Emails (especially from senior leaders or the people who write for them) that begin or include how they “wanted” (past tense) to let me know something really important. I keep expecting the next sentence to be, “but then I changed my mind!” (Please stop writing that you “wanted” to do something. Just do it […]

Continuing education

For writers and editors looking to brush up on their skills, there are plenty of resources out there, including infographics, blog posts, writing apps and Twitter feeds.

You can follow the AP Stylebook on Twitter to get regular tips and warnings about common (and usually timely) writing errors.

Ragan.com, of course, is a never-ending fountain of guidance for all communicators.

Just know that if you make a mistake, someone is probably going to notice—and publish your error for all the world to see.

For grammar laughs on Twitter, you can follow this account:

How will you be spending your National Grammar Day, PR Daily readers?

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