Style lesson #456: Earrings that dangle are good. Sentences with modifiers that do? Umm… Not so much. Considering the volume of writing we do every day, from Facebook posts, tweets, texts, emails, to, heaven forbid, old fashioned handwritten notes, do you ever stop and think about the way you write, or what your use of words might say about you?

(Unless otherwise noted, all images today are from Grammarly.)


Riddle me this, friends. If you were to compare your writing style to the fashion world, which category would you fall into?

A) The grammar skank: Your writing is the equivalent of a woman who wears her skirts too short and her heels too high. In other words, you play your punctuation fast and loose, and you’re gratuitous in your overuse of exclamation points. Occasionally, even, your errors border on the salacious.

B) The grammar sophisticate: Your words are pearls, smooth and polished, uniform and consistent. The statement they make is clear. They vex not with abrupt stops, run-on collisions or ankle-twisting gaps in thought. They are the linguistic equivalent to Carolina Herrera making a demure bow at the end of her runway show last week during Fashion Week. In other words, easy on the eyes and never out of style.

Please, humor me. Even if you’re waffling, tell me you’re choosing option B! LOL all you want, BFFs. At the end of the day, it matters what you say. And just to prove my point, here’s an example illustrating why B is the category you want to embrace:

A friend* hurriedly wrote an email to her sister about their parents’ upcoming golden wedding anniversary: “OMG!!!!!! I cant believe its mom and dads fiftieth!!!!! Im going to by them these fabulous matching shits with there names monogrammed on the pockets!!!!! They’re bowling teammates will be so jealous!!!!”

Aside from the obvious, egregious error – the missing r in shirts – which stops the reader in her tracks, how many usage errors did you spot?

*Note: All names withheld to protect the innocent. 

Another example of why it’s important to pay attention to what you say and how you say it. This is almost as bad as the recurring nightmare I have of appearing naked in public. Poor woman and her great presentation gone awry!

So why this particular soapbox today? I read a compelling article recently in the Harvard Business Review that preaches to the choir for me, but bears repeating: good writing is for everyone, not just professionals. Just like your mama told you, you never get a second chance to make that first impression, and sometimes, your words are the only way people know anything about you. Here it is in a nutshell from HBR:

“Good grammar is credibility, especially on the internet. In blog posts, on Facebook statuses, in e-mails, and on company websites, your words are all you have. They are a projection of you in your physical absence. And, for better or worse, people judge you if you can’t tell the difference between their, there, and they’re.” — Kyle Wiens, “I Won’t Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. Here’s Why.”


So maybe that’s why friends are quick to correct our mistakes on Facebook…they don’t want to be embarrassed to be associated with someone who doesn’t know when to use your or you’re?

But the fact remains, judgment or no, there’s LOTS of incorrect usage going on out there, folks. And my mission today is to refresh your memory on some common errors that are easy to avoid and direct you to some great resources so you can keep putting your best foot – or should I say word – forward.

One of my favorite blogs, Grammarly, dedicates pages and pages of funny cartoons to precisely this topic; and if you like them on Facebook, you’ll be treated daily to the most humorous of reminders to keep your writing in check.

I’m also very fond of Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips and find answers here to all sorts of questions when it comes to grammar and punctuation. (Check out her post on “Top Ten Language Myths.” You might be surprised by what you thought was true.) Sometimes, with my day job, I still have to dig out my dusty Chicago Manual of Style, or AP Stylebook, but for general purposes, these online resources are not only quick, you’ll laugh so much reading the answers, you’ll forget to hold your nose while you look up a grammar rule.
Here are some of the most common usage errors I see on Facebook, in texts and tweets, and in emails:
ALOT, instead of A LOT:


Confusing They’re, Their and There:

“There” is an adverb, which answers the question where. “They’re” is a contraction. They + are. “Their” is a pronoun. Easy peasy, right?

You’re Versus Your:

It’s Versus Its:

It’s is a contraction. It + is. Its is a possessive pronoun. (e. g. The dog and its master. Not the dog and it’s master.)

Lie Versus Lay:

People (especially politicians) lie. Objects lay.

Could’ve, Not Could Of:


Pronouns That Clash:

“Him and I went to that new restaurant for dinner Saturday night.”

“He and I went to that new restaurant for dinner Saturday night.”

Here’s Grammar Girl’s succinct explanation of this frequent flyer error:


Missing or Misplaced Commas:




And finally, remember to proofread. It’s important to pique peak peek at whatever you write before you hit send. (SB made this goof once, and we’re still gun shy using these words!)


Commit to becoming your own best editor and practice the art of proofreading. Borrow a friend’s eyes when it’s important, or read it aloud to yourself when it’s ordinary. You’ll be glad you did.



And P.S. Don’t rely on autocorrect to keep you out of hot water.



What are your grammar pet peeves? Let us know!