Thursday Pet Peeves — and a Free Lesson

No, Thursday is not a pet peeve. Thursday is Friday here at DDA (in case you haven’t heard), so we’re all bearing down to get as much done as possible before a patented DDA Three-Day Weekend™.

These pet peeves, and the free lesson, are for grammar geeks only. People like me, and hopefully my fellow copywriters, who get some sort of sick thrill out of finding errors in other people’s writing. A comma where it shouldn’t be, a misused word, a semicolon instead of a colon, etc. You can call us losers (we are). You can call us crazy (we are). You can call us nerds (we are). But please don’t call us wordsmiths (that’s just dorky).

So I give you a few of my grammar pet peeves for the weekend. I’m sure future blog entries will follow as I come across more. This is just an initial list I could come up with:

  • LESS vs. FEWER: This is one of my biggest pet peeves, and I see and hear it every day on commercials and billboards (blame the advertising agencies…wait…um, no, don’t blame them). If you’re talking about something you can count, you always use FEWER, if you can’t count it, it’s LESS (“The hamburger had less fat, and the diet soda had fewer calories”).
  • IT’S vs. ITS: In a language with complicated grammar rules (I before E, except after C…sometimes…maybe), this one is pretty simple. Ignore the usual rule about an apostrophe being used for possessives. IT’S is always a contraction for IT IS (It’s cold outside, it’s getting hot in here), while ITS is possessive (The dog chased its tail). Get it? Got it? Good.
  • TOWARD(s):  This one is so common that when I was an editor at my college newspaper, we actually kept a tally of how many of these slipped through (I know, we’re so clever). In American English, the correct use is always TOWARD. But because of the continued use of TOWARDS, it has become an acceptable spelling both ways. TOWARDS is used more often in British English (which excuses some of my DDA colleagues from across the pond).
  • LAY vs. LIE: I still mess this one up a lot, and there are some strange exceptions. But in present tense, it’s pretty easy. You have to have an object to use LAY (“I lay the phone on the table,” or “I always lay down the law), and you don’t for LIE (“I have to go lie down”). In past tense, it gets much harder. And well, since it’s almost the weekend, I’m not going to get into it. Just do what us writers do when we don’t know the rule: Write around it.
  • SERIAL COMMA: This is the last comma in a list of items, right before the “and” or “or” (“DDA’s copywriters are Laura, Toni, Elise, Andrew, and Steve”). In DDA style, we use a serial comma on all lists like this. But in college, we always deleted what is sometimes called a “Harvard comma.” I guess some consider it snobby (hence its other nickname: the “Oxford comma”), but our school newspaper was a big rival of the Harvard paper across the river. So we had other reasons.

There are countless more where those came from (effect/affect, subject-verb agreement, than/then). And with an experienced team of copywriters around me, we make sure to scour every website, print advertisement, CD-ROM, and video script for errors before they go out to our clients. We also help edit blog entries for our programmers, graphic designers, video artists, and search engine optimization (SEO) specialists.

And if something does slip through, there are always others there to catch it — during my vacation last week, my grandfather (who barely knows how to play solitare the computer) informed me that I misspelled the word “segue” in a blog post (I wrote “segway”).

Even grammar dorks like us need editing sometimes.