16 common grammatical mistakes or problems

Certain things that come across one’s desktop, on the internet, are hard to turn away from. Train wrecks, for example. For me, this list includes commentary about grammatical errors and proper language use.

I find this sort of discussion interesting because I’m an anthropologist, and probably also because I’ve spend a lot of time 100% immersed in a language or two other than my native English. This training and this experience each make me think about how we make meaning linguistically. Also, as a parent, I have observed how a child goes through the process of first, and quickly, learning how to use language properly, then spends the next several years learning how to use it wrong by following our arcane rules. And, as a writer – well, you can imagine.

Today I was inspired to write my own version of one of those posts on grammatical errors and quirks. I came across Bill Murphey Jr’s post “17 Grammar Mistakes You Really Need to Stop Correcting, Like Now” via Stumble Upon. Bill’s main point is to cool off the conversation a bit and tell people to lighten up on the grammar correcting.

I’m not too concerned about that. Excessive grammar correcting certainly is annoying, but my main interest in this topic is not the nature of language policing so much as it is the nature of language, as well as simply knowing what is considered righter vs. wronger. As it were.

So, I took Bill’s list of grammar issues, deleted a few, and created my own commentary on them. And resorted them. And here goes:

Further versus farther

Futher is a word’s word. It works with concepts, or as a marker for where the thing you are saying is going. Farther is about physical distance. This is easy to remember. “Farther” has “far” in it. “Those who go farther have indeed gone far.” Not, “Those who have gone further have indeed gone fur.” Meanwhile, we use the word “furthermore,” derived from “further” but there is no such thing as “farthermore.” Not yet, anyway.

(Actually, “farthermore” was a word at one time, but our language has moved further along and it no longer is.)

dot dot dot vs em-dash

Don’t use “…” to break up sentences. Use a long dash (an em-dash). An ellipsis is a part of quoted text that is left out. The same word, ellipsis, is also used to refer to the three dots that we put in the ellipsis. So, if you type dot-dot-dot make sure that something is truly missing there.

Double negatives

It is not uncommon for people to use double negatives when they are trying to look like they are not uneducated. Outside of certain contexts, this is always bad. If a logic algorithm has to be applied to your sentence to understand what it means, you messed up. Don’t do that.

That is the “proper” double negative I’m recommending against. The hauty tauty classist double negative. The other kind is the kind that just makes things wrong, but in a way, it is more linguistically acceptable even if grammatically the equivalent of crushing baby kittens.

I ain’t never going to do that. Or, even, a term like “irregardless,” where afixes or words conflict with each other in a way that seems to cancel out. In language, we often add bits to a word or phrase to add emphasis or, perhaps absurdly, underscore something by negating it. Irregard, if it was a word, would be without regard. Regardless is without regard. So, if we really want to make the point that there is very little regard, we say it both ways at the same time: irregardless of grammatical proscription! This would be a sort of double negative you should avoid in proper and clear writing, and keep in your toolkit for dialog or ironic phrasing.

i.e. versus e.g.

i.e. stands for the latin id est.

e.g. stands for the latin exemplī grātiā

Id est means “that is.” Use i.e. to prefix an example of something that elaborates a term or phrase. The Doctor’s time travel machine, i.e., the Tardis.

Exemplī grātiā means “for example.” Just like it sounds.

Time machines, e.g., The Doctor’s Tardis, or Dr. Emmett Brown’s DeLorean.

See the difference? Not much of a difference. But there is a difference.

E.g. is usually followed by a comma, just as you might say, “I would like dessert, for example, ice cream” = “I would like dessert, e.g., ice cream.”

I like to think of e.g. as plural, in a sense. Examples.

I.e. can be thought of as “in other words.” So, I might say, “I don’t like desserts like flan, i.e. slimy icky stuff.”

In writing, if you find yourself saying “in other words” a lot, you should revise and perhaps use the “other words” that were your afterthought as your actual words. So, perhaps, if you find yourself using “i.e.” you should revise as well. Either way, if someone complains to you about your use of i.e. vs e.g. you could probably make a case that your word choice was correct no matter what you did.

Incomplete comparisons

Incomplete comparisons are less annoying.

Than what??? Less annoying than what????

A sentence that is an incomplete comparison may not be incomplete at all if the larger context keys the reader in to what is being compared. The Prius and the Smart Car get great gas mileage. The Chevy Volt gets better gas mileage. This is less of a grammatical problem than a marketing problem. Out of context incomplete comparisons reflect incomplete thinking.

(By the way, we’re not talking about semicolons here, but that would have been a great place to use one: “The Prius and the Smart Car get great gas mileage; the Chevy Volt gets better gas mileage.”)

Into versus “in to”

This one can be tricky. “Into” is a preposition. Note that the word “position” is in “preposition.” “Into” pretty much only means that something is moving from and to particular positions. The words “to” and “in” do a lot more work than the prepositional. Generally, if “in to” and “into” both seem right, you want “into.”

There are some odd exceptions. “He walked into the room” is correct. But if he is a burglar and he gets there by force, he broke in. So, you would not say “He broke into the room,” but rather, “he broke in to the room.” He did, however, burgle his way into the room.

Also, the “to” can be possessed by a verb following the term, demanding “in to” instead of “into.” He went into the room where he left his wallet. He opened the door of the room and went in to get his wallet.

Prepositions are not always about space, in the usual sense, so of course, “into” is also used for other kinds of transitions. If life gives you lemons, make them into lemonade.


Regardless of what people tell you, irregardless is a word. But, it is a word that even the dictionary says should be avoided. Instead of sneaking quietly into speech and becoming a normal word that means the same thing as “regardless” it annoyed grammar experts early on (as far back as the 1920s) and was stigmatized. So, now, “irregardless” is a signal that you don’t care about the quality of your spoken or written word. In good writing, “irregardless” should be confined to dialog spoken by characters that you want to look a little careless or poorly educated.

Leaving off the “ly” ending for adverbs

If you want to use an adverb, a word that modifies a verb, you generally need the “ly”. But if you are using a lot of adverbs in your writing, you probably want to delete some of them. A well chosen verb hardly needs such help in eloquently written verbiage. After you’ve written something, go on a ly-hunt. Search for the string “ly_” (note the space) and revise as appropriately. I mean, appropriate.

In the old days you could leave off the -ly to make more impactful text. Bill gives the example of an Apple marketing campaign that used “Think different” instead of “Think differently.”

This method of catching our attention was overused and that ship has sailed.

Me versus I

This is one of those important distinctions that is very easy in certain circumstances and very hard in other circumstances. So, the way to get it right is to restate a sentence in such a way as to make the distinction unambiguous, then revise as if necessary.

For example, you can see that “I wrote a blog post” is correct and “Me wrote a blog post” is Tarzan-talk.

The confusion comes when the simple “I/me” part of the sentence is joined with others.

Jose and I/me went to the movies.

Jose took Jasper and I/me to the movies.

Simply picking the “I” over the “me” in these sentences might sound to some to be “better” because culturally we have come to expect to be corrected more often when misusing “me.” In other words, always opting for “I” is a way to sound like you are not uneducated.

In most cases, the way to figure this out is to remove the second person, the one that is a name and not a pronoun, and see how it sounds.

“Jose and me went to the movies” does not sound a lot different than “Jose and I went to the movies” but the difference becomes clear when we ask Jose to leave the sentence. Compare “Me went to the movies” with “I went to the movies.” I am the subject of the sentence, so I get to be I, not me.

“Jose took Jasper and I to the movies” and “Jose took Jasper and me to the movies” also don’t sound all that different, but compare “Jose took I to the movies” with “Jose took me to the movies.” I am the object of the sentence, and so “me” is correct, and when we parse it out this way, “me” sounds correct.

Me can forgive Tarzan for getting this wrong.

One or two spaces after a period

In the old days, you put two pieces of lead after the period in order to make sentences look normal. This practice continued with non-proportional typefaces on typewriters and other machines.

People will tell you that modern fonts don’t require this, so you should not do it. However, there is a missing part of the story often conveniently ignored.

In the less old days, people who used computing technology to manipulate text could use a .__ (a period and two spaces) as distinct from ._ (period and one space) to tell the difference between the end of a sentence (with a full stop period) and an abbreviation.

Had we continued, as a society, to use period-space-space, this convenience could have been preserved. But we din’t. So that was ruined.

Now, of course, when you are fingering your smart device and hit the space twice, the app automatically puts in a period.


You can tell me again and again to use only one space after a period. But my thumb will ignore you.

Split infinitives

An infinitive is a form of a verb that has the “to” attached. In some languages the “to” is so attached to the word that you can’t fit any other words in there. E.g., in upcountry Swahili, “ku” is “to” and “do” is “fanya” so “to do” is kufanya. One word. I imagine that the fact that many languages have infinitives that are pre-stuck together had led to the convention that one does not split them by adding extra words between the “to” and the “verb.”

(There is actually quite a bit of ink spilt over the history of this rule.)

In my view, the ability to split infinitives is really cool feature of English and there should be no rule against it. However, since we often split our infinitives with adverbs, and adverbs are overly used, hunt for split infinitives not so much to unsplit them but to identify adverb overuse.

That versus which

After you’ve written your text, go on a which hunt and change the whiches to thats. But, you can leave the whiches that start independant clauses. In other words, if the part of the sentence that stats with which could more or less be a separate sentence, and/or if you can remove it from the sentence and still have a sentence, it is probably OK.

I think that for a time the word “that” sounded more pedestrian than the word “which,” which is a guess on my part, I’m not sure, so people who wanted to write good seeded their sentences with random whiches. Never trust a random which.

The Oxford comma

Also known as the Harvard comma or, perhaps most correctly, the serial comma. In fact, I’m rather shocked that which of these terms to use is not itself a major battle among language mavens.

The Oxford comma is the last comma in a list, before the last item and before the “and” that separates out the last item. Always use this comma. Often, it is not necessary, but when it is necessary, it is sometimes really necessary. So just use it all the time and avoid certain embarrassing, though often hilarious, mistakes.

From here:

I love my parents, Lady Gaga, and Humpty Dumpty.


I love my parents, Lady Gaga and Humpty Dumpty.

They or Their as a gender neutral term, instead of the singular Him, her, his, hers.

English lacks a gender-neutral singular possessive term. Also, English lacks (in common use) a term that is not so strictly gender binary.

Using the plural as a gender neutral is natural, since there is a kind of plurality (his’s, hers’s, or neithers’s).

New terms and new uses tend to grate, but a new term is less likely to be accepted and more likely to bother people than a re-use of an existing term. What needs to happen here, probably, is that the purveyors of proper language (elementary school teachers and the like) need to not correct students who use the plural form as a gender non-specific one.

Who versus that

This is simple. “Who” is about people, “That” is about things. More obviously incorrect and underscoring the point that who is people is the substitution of “The people who do that” with “The people what do that.”

So when it comes to referring to people as that or what, who would do that?

Less versus fewer

Less and more refer to changing amounts of something you don’t count in whole numbers. More or less rain, love, or apple cider. Fewer and more refer to things counted in whole numbers.

The fact that “more” is in both of these sets may be the cause of confusion between “Fewer” and “Less.”

Fewer trains pass by my house these days, so we have less noise around here. Not, less trains pass by my house these days, so we have fewer noise around here. But, we do have less train traffic these days, so we have fewer instances of annoying noise events.


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In French it would be correct to say, il n'a rien – he doesn't have nothing.
In Czech the sentence, he doesn't get any letters from anybody, would be, he doesn't get no letters from nobody. However, one could argue that the English and Czech sentences are essentially the same. In English one would say, I have some money, but I don't have any money, so any has a negative function. And, to get back to the French, the English translation wouldn't be, he doesn't have something.

Here are some of the mistakes I've noticed.

There, their, they're.
Its, it's.
Whose, who's.
Which – referring to a person, instead of who or that.
Lie, lay.
Rise, raise.
Between you and I.
A greater tendency to leave out prepositions, which in some cases can make the intended meaning unclear.
A tendency to replace verb + ing with the infinitive. In some cases you can choose. In most you can't.

There are a few more, but these are the ones I can think of now.

By cosmicomics (not verified) on 22 Jun 2016 #permalink

In French it would be correct to say, "He don't need no consonants', while in Czech, one would say, "He don't need no vowels". In English, one would say, "Howzat even pronounced?"

By Brainstorms (not verified) on 22 Jun 2016 #permalink

If they can change words like theory=WAG
or I cannot be gay anymore cuz I like girls,
queer = insulting gays, and on and on.....I don't let small things like i.e. slow me down all that much.

Race to the bottom? "Double-plus ungood."

Poor George Orwell didn't also foresee reducing wds 2 their TXT abbrvs typ of ppl 2day...


By Brainstorms (not verified) on 22 Jun 2016 #permalink

What about then vs. than? Like when you wrote: "This is less of a grammatical problem then a marketing problem."

Ziusudra, excellent example!

Personally I think standard Engish has it's limitations, so it's ok to speak outside the box.

E.g. there's Bislama for ease of use (mi traem Inglis long hem).

And many find Singlish reassuring (Dun worry, he can one lah).

It's also well established that everything is superior from a kitteh perspective( http://www.lolcatbible.com/index.php?title=Genesis_1& ).

I tend to prefer OE (Obstreperous English):
Check out http://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2016-06-22/environmental-outlook-how-… dammit. (Follows the expletive rule--every sentence gets one).

Regardless, the older I get, the more I must rely on ellipsis, because you know... thingamie... dammit.

Here's me awa...

By Obstreperous A… (not verified) on 22 Jun 2016 #permalink

"Personally I think standard Engish has it’s limitations, so it’s ok to speak outside the box."

That is a good way to put it.

The rest of what you said may need even more ellipsis.

Nice article.

As far as ellipsis(es /i? plural form =?) go, I've taken to using .. (snip) .. especially when in quotes where its not uncommon (er ..oops?) to have an ellipsis or few present already.

Two dots because maybe I'm just lazy economical and the (snip) for clarity.

I also have a grammatical dilemma here for y'all with quoting newspaper titles e.g. The Washington Post; is it right to use just one "the" or to capitalise the "The" despite it being mid-sentence or alter the name of the paper by dropping the article when quoting the article. (Yes, English is odd. Erm, "the' is an article as well isn't it?)

So, which of these is better / more correct?

1) Of course, there's also cultural institutional reasons why swimming ability has been less prevalent for many African-Americans as the The Washington Post article titled 'America’s swimming pools have a long, sad, racist history' explains.

2) Of course, there's also cultural institutional reasons why swimming ability has been less prevalent for many African-Americans as The Washington Post article titled "America’s swimming pools have a long, sad, racist history" explains.

3) Of course, there's also cultural institutional reasons why swimming ability has been less prevalent for many African-Americans as the Washington Post article titled 'America’s swimming pools have a long, sad, racist history' explains.

I'm sure there's probably other issues with my grammar there too, sorry.

How about the abhorrent modern confusion between loose and lose.

By Douglas C Alder (not verified) on 22 Jun 2016 #permalink

# 10

The correct form is The Washington Post, but, The New York Times, and The New York Daily News, Foreign Affairs, Time Newsweek, The New York World -- which is why it ought to be The World "Series" of Baseball.

By proximity1 (not verified) on 22 Jun 2016 #permalink

Singular "they" isn't a new invention, it has a long history (going back to the 14th century according to wikipedia); I guess it's just that transpeople have made a point of using it, and so conservative pedants mix their bigotry with their imagined grammatical superiority and whine

By Ketil Tveiten (not verified) on 22 Jun 2016 #permalink

Lest, less.
There is/there's, here is/here's instead of there are, here are with a plural subject.

Finally, I think English has gone overboard with political correctness. I don't like the singular their. It's illogical. Trying to avoid the word chairman by replacing it with chair is grotesque. But if differentiation is needed, here are some suggestions:

Manhandle, womanhandle
Manipulate, womanipulate
Histrionics, herstrionics
Hysteria, hersteria
And, of course, no man has ever gotten a hysterectomy, so hersterectomy.

English is already – without grammatical mistakes – the freest language I know of. No other language absorbs foreign words so easily. No other language I know of can make a verb out of almost anything. You can eye. You can out. You could say that Lewandowski was Ivankaed out of his job. The creative possibilities are infinite. It's a wonderful toy.

By cosmicomics (not verified) on 22 Jun 2016 #permalink

SteveR The The is usually part of the name, always the case if it is the masthead.

However, three is correct because the other two are abominations.

Doug, it all depends on how lose one chooses to be with one's language!

Ketil, the singular "they" is ancient, but not in all contexts. The current trend is to add contexts in which it would not have typically ban used, and the singular "he" or "she" (etc) would always be used.

cosmicomics, a lot is what you get used to.

"Chair" for example is easily adopted, and has no features that require anything other than simple getting used. to .

Histrionics and Hysteria are already feminine!

Yeah, I could have put it together better discursively, or maybe just used a bullet list.

- Your / you're
- Its / it's
- Composed / comprised
- Suit / suite

By Obstreperous A… (not verified) on 23 Jun 2016 #permalink

An old joke which I like - source unknown:
A college professor was lecturing his class about comparative linguistics.
"There are many languages world-wide which use the double negative for to imply a positive. But no known language uses a double positive to imply a negative."
From the back of the room comes a voice, "Yeah, right!"

#11 How about the abhorrent modern confusion between loose and lose.

Lose (obsolete): In ye olden days, the verb 'to loose', which as you know means 'to mislay', was spelled with one 'o'. Legend also speaks of a separate verb, spelled the same as our modern 'loose', meaning 'to release'. However, the Yahoos! Of! Yahoo! and the /ers of /. have long since put paid to this scheme, and there is no point in struggling against the status quo. You might as well cut off your noose to spite your face.

--- Verity Stob, The Register, 7 Jun 2006

Effect/affect is an especially tricky one. Most of the time "effect" is a noun and "affect" is a verb, e.g., "Is this side effect likely to affect me?" But occasionally "effect" can be a verb (one can effect a change) and "affect" can be a noun (something to do with an emotion one appears to display).

Stevo@10: The plural of "ellipsis" is "ellipses". Blame the Greeks for that one: it's a regular pattern in Greek.

Cosmicomics@14: Also blame the Greeks for "hysteria" and "hysterectomy". Both are derived from the Greek word for "womb". Yes, the ancient Greeks were sexist; guys can suffer from hysteria as well. But you cannot perform a hysterectomy on a man.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 23 Jun 2016 #permalink

I took a grammar book upstairs to read to my daughter... She didn't really like hearing about things like not ending sentences with prepositions... When she saw the book, she said,

"Why'd you bring that book I don't like to be read to out of up for?"

By Brainstorms (not verified) on 23 Jun 2016 #permalink

But you cannot perform a hysterectomy on a man.

...except when filing fraudulent Medicare claims in the U.S.

By Brainstorms (not verified) on 23 Jun 2016 #permalink


But it's perfectly normal to end an English sentence with a preposition.
Turn it off! Put your shoes on! What do you base that on? The belief that you can't comes from pedants who saw Latin as a model that could be applied to English, but languages don't work that way.

As I'm sure you know.

By cosmicomics (not verified) on 23 Jun 2016 #permalink


You can if he's Greek. See #22.

By cosmicomics (not verified) on 23 Jun 2016 #permalink

"Yes, the ancient Greeks were sexist..."
I think you mean bisexist, or something like that. At least they weren't Romans:
"Their lust knew bounds of neither sex nor species."
Edward Gibbon

(See what grammatical mistakes can lead to. Avoid them!)

By cosmicomics (not verified) on 23 Jun 2016 #permalink

SteveR, I am sorry, but I could not make it past "Of course, there’s also cultural institutional reasons." Maybe you could get away with in a casual conversation, but I'd say never in writing.

By CherryBombSim (not verified) on 24 Jun 2016 #permalink

Yes – but not even in casual conversation. It's one of the worst.
See #14.

By cosmicomics (not verified) on 25 Jun 2016 #permalink

Personally, I'm fairly tolerant of imperfect English particularly on the Internet as a point of netiquette regarding nonnative speakers. But also there's a whole globe full of English speakers evolving a language that seems otherwise to be rather flat when it comes to accepting registers. By all means respect the standard, but to all the Grammar Gestapo out there I say chill your sorry asses: wabi sabi.

Having said that, there's one trend I'm hearing that gives me fits, and apparently I'm the only person on the planet bothered by it. That's when people use 'to' as an all purpose preposition especially when making comparisons and distinctions.

Using 'to' instead of 'compared to' is just sloppy, but using 'to' instead of 'from' to distinguish one thing from another evokes intense misanthropic feelings from the darker regions of my soul.

It speaks to a general acceptance, IMO, of misleading rhetoric based on inappropriate thinking by analogy and disrespect for categorization generally. I'm thinking of the noise over climategate, but you see it everywhere...


By Obstreperous A… (not verified) on 25 Jun 2016 #permalink

I'm going to go take deep breaths in a paper bag now.

By Obstreperous A… (not verified) on 25 Jun 2016 #permalink

OA, don't forget that it's pronounced "tuh".

(Just another example to wabi-sabi? ::doh!:: I mean, "of wabi-sabi?"...)

By Brainstorms (not verified) on 25 Jun 2016 #permalink


By Obstreperous A… (not verified) on 25 Jun 2016 #permalink

In general, I don't correct mistakes in blog posts or comments. It's easy to make mistakes, and I certainly make my share. I have a tendency to transpose letters (e.g. "cetrainly maek my sahre.") Fortunately, spell checkers built into the software catch most of those.

However, I'm almost always annoyed by common errors, such as the misuse of homonyms mentioned above — e.g. two/to/too. Errors of number also annoy me. I still grimace when I see "the media is..." even though it has become extremely common.

And errors can impede clear communication. I think such errors should either be corrected or questioned: "Did you really mean to say X?" Some good illustrations of why this is important have circulated on Facebook. One I like (here paraphrased) is "Did you help your Uncle Jack off a horse, or help your uncle jack off a horse?"

By Christopher Winter (not verified) on 25 Jun 2016 #permalink

Now I'd just like to say a few words about Bill Murphy's column. For a writer, he seems awfully tolerant of mistakes. He lists 17 of them, and doesn't feel any should be corrected. Why list them, therefore? He could just write 14 words: "Don't ever bother to correct others' mistakes. It makes you look like a jerk."

Also, he makes an error in his very first example. "We don't have a gender-neutral singular possessive word in English, so many of us use "they" or "their" when technically "him or her" or "his or her" is correct." I've bolded it for clarity; it should be "his or hers."

By Christopher Winter (not verified) on 25 Jun 2016 #permalink

If changing chairman to chair is makes sense, what about changing human to hu?
If the victim is a woman, can the perpetrator be charged with manslaughter?

Where does it end?

(I agree that language not only works on the basis of shared rules, but also on the basis of shared perception. That's probably why we take our own idioms for granted, and often at first find the idioms of other languages incomprehensible. But I think Danes are somewhat less uptight about gendered language. That may be because Danish women gained more equal status earlier, and that wasn't because different words were used. The female head of the largest Danish labor union, LO, is the formand, and a male nurse is a sygeplejerske, which is a feminine form, and I think our male nurses see this as a continuation of historical usage rather than an instance of discrimination.)

By cosmicomics (not verified) on 26 Jun 2016 #permalink

I've always wondered if cops, trying to sound really smart and precise, originated "rate of speed." I also figured "at this point in time" came after Einstein and relativity, until I came across the phrase in 18th or 19th century literature.

If talcum powder is made from talc...
...is baby powder made from babies?

The only languages that make sense are computer languages!

By Brainstorms (not verified) on 26 Jun 2016 #permalink

I've noticed that in some TV shows, police women of superior rank are addressed as 'sir'. Apparently this occurs in Star Trek as well.

It is said that in the military, individual women choose whether they are to be addressed as 'sir' or 'ma'am'.

Note qunctuation inside double quotes but outside single quotes in the US.

By Obstreperous A… (not verified) on 26 Jun 2016 #permalink

The problem with the punctuation rules of old, regarding quotation marks, is that it makes it complicated to parse text electronically. Certainly an unexpected reason for how language/grammar/etc would be pressured to evolve.

By Brainstorms (not verified) on 26 Jun 2016 #permalink

#36: That depends on context. "Her" is correct if a noun immediately follows. Thus: This X is hers, but that is not her Y. Since the construction "his or her" normally precedes a noun, that is the correct form (I have never seen it used in a situation where "hers" would be the correct form).

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 27 Jun 2016 #permalink

#41: That would account for the people who, in situations where superscripts and punctuation coexist, put the superscript before the punctuation mark. I learned to put the punctuation mark first, because it generally looks better, especially if there is more than one superscript character.

Wrong: I. M. First[1], U. R. Second[2], and H. S. Third[3]
Right: I. M. First,[1] U. R. Second,[2] and H. S. Third[3]
(Imagine the bracketed numbers as superscripts.)

The reason why the latter form is correct becomes bleeding obvious when you have authors with multiple affiliations. You get a gaping hole between the word and the comma/period, whereas if you put the punctuation mark first there would only be a thin space between the word and the superscript.

Of course this only applies in text. If you are working with mathematics or chemical symbols, then of course the punctuation goes at the end.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 27 Jun 2016 #permalink

If talcum powder is made from talc…
…is baby powder made from babies?

Don't forget the
"Why do we drive on parkways and park on driveways" item.

@ #42: You are certainly correct that if the phrase "his or her" (or either possessive alone) precedes a noun, using "hers" would be ungrammatical.

However,, Murphy's example provided no context. Therefore I argue that my interpretation can't be ruled out.

By Christopher Winter (not verified) on 27 Jun 2016 #permalink

@#39: The canonical example comes from "Does your Chewing Gum Lose its Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight?"

"If tin whistles are made of tin, what do they make steam shovels out of?"

By Christopher Winter (not verified) on 27 Jun 2016 #permalink


Those are excellent questions. I agree that efforts at gender fairness or neutrality often get out of bounds. Such words as "journeyman" or "longshoreman" have been stricken fro school texts as sexist language, despite being names of specific jobs or job ranks.

Perhaps the worst offense was the call to replace "history" with "herstory." Fortunately, it soon faded. Etymology suggests that "history" could be derived from the old word "hist", which meant "listen up."

By Christopher Winter (not verified) on 27 Jun 2016 #permalink

@15. Greg Laden & #12. proximity1 : Thanks.

@10. Eric Lund : Ah! Ellipses! Of course! Thanks. Always think of that in a different context rtaher than teh grammatical sense.

@29. CherryBombSim :

StevoR, I am sorry, but I could not make it past “Of course, there’s also cultural institutional reasons.” Maybe you could get away with in a casual conversation, but I’d say never in writing.

Really? Why not? FWIW, I generally type comments in a conversational style i.e. as I'd say something. Generally, not always.

There is reasons...
There are reasons...

By Obstreperous A… (not verified) on 28 Jun 2016 #permalink

The split infinitives rule is english grammar-school snobbery. Back in the day, the better classes learned Latin, in which infinitives are never split. In English, it's a normal part of the language. I did it just a couple of sentences ago, and you didn't even notice. If I had written "infinitives never are split", it would have sounded odd, and would have been.

By Paul Murray (not verified) on 30 Jun 2016 #permalink

Indeed, Paul Murray. Where would Star Trek have been without split infinitives? Their starship's five-year mission would have been "To go where no one has gone before, and do it boldly."

By Christopher Winter (not verified) on 01 Jul 2016 #permalink

@49. Obstreperous Applesauce : So there's the rub .. ?

Hmm.. I guess I see where you're coming from but colloquial use of contractions; is that really such a big thing?

@44. dean :

Don’t forget the
“Why do we drive on parkways and park on driveways” item.

Or why if flying is so safe the airport is called a terminal; why is a person who is supposed to make a lot of money called a broker and why is abbreviation such a long word?

"...there’s also cultural institutional reasons..."

Verb agreement. "There are reasons" not "there is reasons," except on speak like a pirate day when it's "thar be reasons, aarr."

By Obstreperous A… (not verified) on 03 Jul 2016 #permalink

@53. Speaking of airport terminals: if security is such a big deal why is c4 still a gate?

English DOES have a third-person gender-neutral singular pronoun.
It has centuries of usage.
You cannot say that English does not have a third-person gender-neutral singular pronoun and be factually correct. It is also worth noting that there used to be a distinction similar for you/thou (plural term doubling for singular usage); backwards prescriptivist types threw hissyfits at that too.
Get with the times and stop acting as though it's somehow ungrammatical despite the historic usage.

By Gender Not-tha… (not verified) on 30 Sep 2016 #permalink

Gender, your comment is both correct and incorrect. Usage and rules are not the same. Human language is more comlex and well adapted to the proposes it serves than the rule books ever allow.It is in the rule books that the gender-neutral singular pronoun does not exist, and we can demonstrate this by knowing the rules of grammar, which specific "his/hers" etc in English, and also, by comparing these rules in other languages (many languages simply lack gender specificity. In fact, I'd bet the majority of languages don't have gender specificity in pronouns, though I'm not sure of that.)

So, no, sorry, the rules are restrictive. But yes, people, as I say in this comment and have noted in dozens of other blog posts and comments of which you are blissfully unaware, language does not follow "the rules" human societies lay out for it to follow.

If you knew whom you are addressing, with respect to understanding of and opinions about language, you would be deeply chagrined with your offensive remark. Fortunately for you, you have commented anonymously and can therefore slink back under some rock without consequence.

I see this is an old post but I just read it today.
I also try not to be too critical because I do not have full command of the English language. There was one thing though that lept off the page at me and which I am surprised no one mentioned. The author wrote "... people who wanted to write good seeded their sentences with random whiches." This is by far one of my biggest pet-peeves. Good vs. Well. Good writers write well.
For #40: I believe a period belongs inside double quotation marks only if the sentence ends within the quotation marks. Otherwise it does not.

By Stephanie (not verified) on 30 Sep 2017 #permalink