Writing goofs

When I was at school (a very long time ago) I was taught how to write. I don’t mean just how to form letters; I mean how to put words together so that their meaning is clear and unambiguous. And I was taught that it is important to spell correctly, to observe certain rules of grammar and syntax, and to punctuate in a way that aids understanding.

So deeply were these rules ingrained that, to this day, I just cannot help wincing when I see them broken.

I am aware however that, in the intervening years, a more relaxed approach has come in. Younger people have been encouraged simply to express themselves, and not to worry about ‘correctness’. Indeed, the pendulum has swung so far that oldies like me are made to feel like fastidious old pedants, fussing on endlessly about things that don’t matter.

I was particularly glad, therefore, to come across Joanna Young’s blog at http://coachingwizardry.typepad.com/confident_writing/. She, it seems to me, has the right approach. She advocates the correct use of language, not for its own sake, but for what it says about you and your organisation, as well as for that clarity and precision that we all strive for.

Her ‘five common grammar mistakes’ chime precisely with those that most commonly make me wince these days. They are:

  • Confusing it’s and its
  • Confusing they’re, their and there
  • Confusing your and you’re
  • Using apostrophes to try and create a plural
  • Forgetting to use apostrophes to show possession
The first and last of these are, of course, linked. People write “the book and it’s title” because they think the apostrophe is needed to indicate possession – forgetting that “its” is a possessive pronoun in its own right, just like ‘his’ and ‘hers’, whereas “it’s” is just an abbreviation of “it is”. Yet one sees this error in the copy of major advertisers, whose (not ‘who’s’) agencies really ought to know better.
So – thanks, Joanna, for highlighting these points. I’m on your side!
Oh – and one more thing that makes me wince: the creeping use of lower-case”i” for the first person singular.

2 Responses to “Writing goofs”

  1. 1 joannayoung February 16, 2008 at 5:29 pm

    Hi John, I like the way you put this! I do try not to go on too much about grammar and rules because it does inhibit people from expressing themselves, but there are limits…

    Like you say here,

    “the correct use of language, not for its own sake, but for what it says about you and your organisation, as well as for that clarity and precision that we all strive for.”

    Best wishes


  2. 2 Joan Butler July 22, 2008 at 2:17 pm

    I couldn’t agree more. You know, English grammar is taught in France, Germany, Switzerland – I have friends who teach it rigorously in Hungary and Finland. England? No chance. I was recently in a gathering that included the Head of English in one of the top English public schools. I asked him, “You teach English – do you teach English grammar?” He drew himself up to his full height, took a deep breath and declaimed, “Of COURSE I teach English grammar”. Such a cheer went up from the company assembled! He then climbed down a little, saying, “But it’s not on the curriculum. I just make time for it.” Says much, eh?

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