Not everyone is a writer or editor, but we all have to string a few sentences together from time to time—whether for work or in our personal lives. So, we asked our Content and Copy team members for grammar boo-boos that make them want to scream, and how to avoid them. Think of these tips as our Halloween treat to you.
1. Referring to a Company or Entity as “They”
Simply put, “they” is a plural pronoun, but a company is not a plural entity. In other words, the company is “it,” not “they.” For example:
Incorrect: Company XYZ announced they are launching a new product.
Correct: Company XYZ announced it is launching a new product.
2. They’re / Their / There
These three words each serve a purpose:
“They’re” is a contraction of the words “they are.”
“Their” is possessive, indicating that something belongs to them.
“There” is a location.
3. You’re / Your
Likewise, make it a point to use these two correctly:
“You’re” is a contraction of the words “you are.”
“Your” is possessive, indicating that something belongs to you.
4. It’s / Its
And here’s another similar one:
“It’s” is a contraction of the words “it is.”
“Its” is possessive, indicating that something belongs to it.
5. i.e. / e.g
Many people tend to use “i.e.” and “e.g.” interchangeably, but in reality, they have very different meanings: “i.e.” means “that is” and is used to clarify or elaborate on something, while “e.g.” means “for example” and is used to state an example.
6. Two Spaces After a Period
While this one might not be truly grammatical, it’s definitely a pet peeve of many editors. In school, you may have been taught to use two spaces after a period—something that stems from the days of typewriters—but don’t do it! It’s an outdated practice and just plain doesn’t look good.
7. Need + Passive Participle
This one seems to be painfully common in Pennsylvania, although I’m sure it’s found in other parts of the country as well. Please don’t leave out “to be.”
Incorrect: “My car needs washed.”
Correct: “My car needs to be washed.”
8. On Accident
Just for the record, something never happens “on accident,” but rather, “by accident.”
9. Incorrect Use of Common Phrases
To maintain the utmost respect, make sure your popular sayings are correct. Here are some commons ones that are often misused:
Incorrect: “Nip it in the butt” / Correct: “Nip it in the bud”
Incorrect: “I could care less” / Correct: “I couldn’t care less”
Incorrect: “For all intensive purposes” / Correct: “For all intents and purposes”
10. Misusing Ellipses
Ellipses—those three little dots—are intended to indicate omissions in a quote or text. That’s it. They’re not supposed to double as commas, periods, question marks, or any other punctuation.
11. Affect / Effect
Both of these deal with one thing changing something else. However, keep this in mind:
“Affect” is a verb, which shows the act of changing.
“Effect” is a noun, which can be used to talk about the actual change.