Friday, March 05, 2010

National Grammar Day: March 4 (March Forth)

Yesterday was National Grammar Day: "Language is something to be celebrated, and March 4 is the perfect day to do it. It's not only a date, it's an imperative: March forth on March 4 to speak well, write well, and help others do the same!"

To celebrate National Grammar Day, the Grammar Girl has prepared these Top Ten Grammar Myths.

In honor of National Grammar Day, here's my personal choice for the most abused grammar/spelling rule in the English language: the frequent misuse of "it's" (contraction for "it is") when it should be "its" (possessive).

Exhibit A: A Google search shows 72,600 results for the incorrect phrase "meet it's obligations."

Exhibit B: A Google search shows more than 9 million results for the incorrect phrase "at it's best."

What's so hard about such a simple rule and why do so many people get this wrong so frequently - I see it almost daily, and frequently in the comments on CD?

It's pretty basic: "It's" is always a contraction for "it is" and if you can't substitute "it is" for "it's" in a sentence, you know it's wrong, e.g. "the company couldn't meet it's obligation," and "boxing at it's best" are both wrong because you can't substitute "it is" in those sentences for "it's."


At 3/06/2010 12:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have two pet peeves that are equivalent to scraping one's fingernails on a chalkboard:

a) It is not a mute point - it is a moot point.

b) Pronouncing the word "forte" as "for-tay" rather than as "fort" when referring to strength other than in a musical context.

At 3/06/2010 5:37 AM, Blogger T J Sawyer said...

It's a pet peeve of mine too. With 72,200 hits for "meet it's obligations" I thought we might have to admit defeat at the hands of the uncaring.

But, then I tried "meet its obligations" and found that 6,930,000 got it right. So only a 1% error rate! Less than I would have thought.

Now, about the 680 instances of "meat its obligations".

At 3/06/2010 5:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Confusing "your" with "you're". I hate that.

At 3/06/2010 7:58 AM, Blogger James Fraasch said...

Oh man, the abuse of there, their, and they're.

Kills me.

Their coming to take me away, ha ha. There coming to take me away, ho ho.
To the funny farm where life is beautiful all the time.

They're you go. It's like fingernails on a chalkboard.


At 3/06/2010 8:17 AM, Blogger Expected Optimism said...

If two people know what is meant, and do not care if the outside world understands them, what does it matter what grammar rules they disobey? Indeed, if you know what they meant well enough to be able to correct them, then clearly their grammar "error" did not get in the way of your understanding. Since understanding is the purpose of language, it seems that such errors do not matter at all.

I would say it is one of the great strengths of the English language that we do NOT have a central language council that hands down rules and spellings and new words. English is created from the bottom up, not from the top down.

At 3/06/2010 8:32 AM, Blogger Colin said...

Speaking of grammar:

At 3/06/2010 8:42 AM, Blogger sykes.1 said...

What do you expect. The teachers themselves are illiterate.

At 3/06/2010 9:04 AM, Anonymous Alan Gunn said...

It's interesting that none of the peeves mentioned here are about grammar. They all deal with misspellings.

Let me note, preemptively, that "none ... are" is not a grammatical error, though many of us were taught that it is.

At 3/06/2010 10:03 AM, Blogger GW South said...

What do you expect when this guy is helping to run the Detroit school system,2933,588138,00.html

Good article Prof., I can at least understand getting their, they're and there mixed up. It's kind of confusing, and there are three of them (hope I used the right one :-D)

But its and it's is so easy to figure out, using that rule you described. No excuse for messing that up.

At 3/06/2010 11:21 AM, Anonymous Bill said...

P to P, while I have some sympathy for your position, I note that if readers are put off / distracted by violations of generally accepted language rules, this is disruptive to the flow of communication, and results in an inefficient use of time.

At 3/06/2010 12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht frist and lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by it slef but the wrod as a wlohe. ceehiro.

At 3/06/2010 8:05 PM, Blogger PeterK said...

My pet peeves are;

"I could care less" when the correct phrase it "I couldn't care less"

but the one that gets my teeth grinding is

"talk the talk, walk the walk" when the correct phrase is

"talk the walk, walk the talk" as in

"the Democrats talk about "pay as you go" , but they fail to walk that talk"

At 3/06/2010 9:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Almost none of my well-educated friends can get the case of a pronoun right half the time. If only I could somehow make a profit with this knowledge, or improve the world. Instead I just grind my teeth.

At 3/07/2010 4:20 PM, Blogger misterjosh said...

This is the primary reason I can not play MMORPGS like World of Warcraft.

A particular peccadillo of mine is the loose spelling of lose.

I'll endorse the posts that indicate education reform is necessary if we want better grammar.

But you know what? In the end, they're just words. I for one need to take a step back every now and again, and acknowledge that it really doesn't matter all that much.

At 3/08/2010 9:39 AM, Anonymous Le Milieu d'ĂȘtre au jus said...

correct phrase is

"talk the walk, walk the talk" as in

How interesting. But your example is merely evolution of the dead metaphor as it morphs into another undead cliché. e. g., the Franco Harris catch started life as "immaculate reception" but later became more popular as "hail mary". But don't quote me. My perspective of cettahr is ullausy tllatoy Fuqua-ed up.

At 3/09/2010 8:42 AM, Blogger VangelV said...

It's a pet peeve of mine too. With 72,200 hits for "meet it's obligations" I thought we might have to admit defeat at the hands of the uncaring.

But, then I tried "meet its obligations" and found that 6,930,000 got it right. So only a 1% error rate! Less than I would have thought.

I sometimes have trouble with the grammar police because its members often confuse a simple error with ignorance of a rule. People who know the rule can make the error when typing quickly because there is a phonic element involved in the typing process that has nothing to do with knowing the rules. It is very easy to make an error by not editing one's own work, particularly when thoughts were put down quickly in a forum where 100% accuracy is not essential.


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