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So you’re thinking of writing a comment…

Thursday, 17 April 2008 rant

Then please read this before you do. English is a seriously complex language, something too many of us take for granted. While modern browsers can help us with our spelling, they do little for grammar. Read this post to boost your grammatical karma and avoid my wrath.

Before you accuse me of being some sort of Grammar Fascist, please recognise that your quality of language determines how people read and respond to you. If you cannot find the effort to form your sentences well, why should I (or others) struggle through your steaming pile-up of words?

If you’re too cool for school and type in TXT or 1337 “speak”, you’re going straight to Grammar Hell — neither this post nor I can save you from that fate — but try to remember: you write comments so people can read them, so try making them intelligible to distinguish them from the rest of the drivel out there.

If English isn’t your first language and you’re still learning, I can forgive you on the condition: you try to improve. The English language is the bastard child of nineteen others but the quality of your written prose is going to improve how people understand, even perceive you.

I realise this post is not going to be 100% grammatically correct. Some of this will be due to what I’m writing about (by design) and some will be due to my being a clumsy git. If you find something that looks like a mistake, I’d appreciate you pointing it out but there’s no need to gloat. If you have a pet-peeve you think I should address, please wang me out a comment and I’ll see about adding it.

Simple: they’re, there and their

They’re means they are. There means a specified place. Their means of them.

Their going over they’re to visit there grandmother.

They’re going over there to visit their grandmother.

Simple: it’s and its

This one trips people (myself included) all the time. English shows off its bastard breeding by giving us an exception to the rule of apostrophes.

I love my car. You should see what its got for it’s birthday.

I love my car. You should see what it’s got for its birthday.

Better: I love my car. You should see what it has for its birthday.

If you’re having issues remembering this rule, try to remember that his is not he’s or him’s.

Please note that this possessive-exception also applies to yours, theirs and most other possessive pronouns.

Simple: your and you’re

Your is possessive: of you. You’re means you are.

Your so lucky! You’re computer is really cool.

You’re so lucky! Your computer is really cool.

Simple: I and me

I is a subjective, me is objective. If the I is “doing” the verb, it needs to be subjective. If it’s on the receiving end, it needs to be objective

You and me are awesome! Give I a high-five!

You and I are awesome! Give me a high-five!

Yes, the second sentence shows a mistake nobody would ever make — just keep it in mind when you’re writing the first type.

Simple: lose and loose

Lose is a verb (e.g. He lost my chimpanzee, and: They are losing the game), while loose describes how constrictive something is. They’re easy to mix up because both words sound like they require a double-O.

Loose the shirt. It’s too lose.

Lose the shirt. It’s too loose.

Simple: could have vs could of

I wish I could of gone to the party.

This error clearly snuck its way into popular culture with have being shortened subconsciously into of. Could/would/should of is never correct. If you find yourself using it, you mean have.

I wish I could have gone to the party.

Intermediate: who, whom, who’s and whose

Who is subjective. Whom is objective. Who’s only means who is. Whose means of who — possessive like its.

Who murdered Roger Rabbit?

Whom did you accuse of killing Roger Rabbit?

Who’s that at the door?

Whose gun is this?

Intermediate: fewer and less

This really gets on my tits because people interchange these two with complete disregard for what they’re saying. Less means smaller. Fewer means a lower quantity. Here’s a cracker from a supermarket here in England:

10 items or less

Though you could argue that the quantity is the implicit subject for hours and hours, the simple fact is, they meant:

10 items or fewer

Intermediate: pluralising acronyms

One very common mistake you’ll see all around the internet: people squeezing in thoroughly unwanted apostrophes onto shortened words, accompanied by an S to pluralise them.

All my PC’s can play DVD’s

All my PCs can play DVDs

As usual, the apostrophe does one of two things: adds possessive meaning (e.g. of the PC), or makes it the subject with the verb to be (e.g. PC is).

Intermediate: comparative qualification

I think Fords are worse.

Worse than what? Strawberries? Turnips? When using a comparative, you may feel that what you’re comparing against is implicit, and it might be in some cases — but why not play safe the entire time and qualify its usage?

I think Fords are worse than Hondas.

I think Fords are worse than any other brand of car.

Advanced: effect and affect

I stumble here all too often and I’ve had to pull in the help of the OED to clarify things as best as possible:

To affect something is to change or influence it, To effect something is a rather formal way of saying ‘to make it happen’. Confusingly, either may produce an ‘effect’ or result. (‘An affect’ is a technical term in psychology.)

The stability of the wall was affected by passing lorries.

The demolition of the wall was effected by the detonation of a charge of dynamite.

The dynamite did not just ‘affect’ (influence) the demolition of the wall: it caused it.

Advanced: semicolons

The semicolon has to be one of the least understood characters in popular English, mainly because it’s misused in so many places. The semicolon has only one main use: connecting two whole sentences of related meaning.

We are supposed to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables every day; juices count towards this too.

But let me be clear. You should not use them to link in dependant or unrelated clauses. A comma or a new sentence suits this best.

We are supposed to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables every day; I like apple juice.

We are supposed to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables every day; of every week; of every month.

However, there are exceptions. You can also use a semicolon as a super-comma to link sentences that already contain their own sub-clauses or in lists where commas are used in one or more elements:

My favourite games are: Doom, a classic; Unreal Tournament for its speed; and Baldur’s Gate 2 for its epic storyline.

Newsflash: letters are not expensive

o ur wrng!

No, you’re wrong. I must read a dozen posts like this every day on blogs, IRC or text messages from idiots. This whole ethos of shorthand typing became mainstream when mobile phones did, due to the SMS character limit, so people cut things right down… Predictive-text didn’t exist either so there was an argument that writing in TXTspeak was less time consuming.

But we’re past that. Almost every phone has predictive-texting and most contracts come with a massive number of included messages. And online, you have no argument.

If it’s more effort for me to read your dribble that it was for you to type it, I’m not going to take a single thing in. You failed to communicate.

Newsflash: “colour” is not a typo

This is a message to all the people that have heckled me and other writers around the web: color is a bastardisation of colour. Colour is correct in real English — if such a thing ever existed…

And on that colourful note, I’ll bid you all farewell. Happy commenting!