Grammar AdviceGrammar, Advice
ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated
2014

Seven Grammar Mistakes Even the Pros Make


Language is, and has always been, an evolving form. It changes along with societal shifts and is a dynamic concept that is often dependent on context, formality (or the lack thereof), setting, and audience. The concept of grammar and grammar rules attempts to give form and consistency to the dynamic nature of language, but even within that set standard, there are changes that occur over time. Keeping up with those changes can be a full-time job within itself.

That being said, it is almost impossible for a person to learn every rule of grammar and the current accepted usage. Even the pros who work in the publishing industry or in academic research tend to make mistakes with some of the simplest grammar rules, which is why they always hire their own copyeditor or editor before submitting a final draft for publication.

Thankfully, technology has introduced amazing tools like spellchecker and online editing to assist professionals with all things grammar in their day-to-day communication. However, despite these advances, and despite the availability of copyeditors and editors, the pros still make mistakes sometimes and here are their most common ones.

What do to with those seasons...

Many people still assume that seasons (such as winter, spring, summer and fall) need to be capitalized in every instance as proper nouns. This is incorrect. The seasons are generic nouns and are only capitalized when forming part of a proper noun with another word. See the following examples:

The spring season is perfect for participating in outdoor sports and recreation.
If you like winter sports, Colorado is a great place to live.

However, when a season is used as a title, it then becomes a proper noun and should be capitalized. See the below examples:

The Spring 2014 semester started off well this year.
I have enjoyed watching the Sochi Winter Olympics very much.

Who and Whom

"Who" is a nominative pronoun (as is "he," "she," "it," "we," and "they"). "Whom" is an objective pronoun (as is "him," "her," "us," and "they"). Therefore, when you are choosing between "who" and "whom," always ask yourself if it is the subject or the object of the sentence. If the needed word is in the nominative (or subject's) position, use "who." If it is in the objective (or object's) position, use "whom."

Which and That

To say that "which" qualifies and "that" restricts doesn't make the choice between these two words any easier for most people who don't want to sit and think about the word's usage in the sentence. Without a lesson in restricting pronouns and relative clauses, just remember that "which" introduces a clause that isn't essential to the meaning of the sentence, whereas "that" provides information that is necessary for the sentence's meaning. Here's an example:

The concert, which is sold out, will be held in Madison Square Garden.

While it's nice to know that the concert is sold out, whether or not there are tickets left is irrelevant to the fact that it will be held in Madison Square Garden. In other words, the clause "which is sold out" contains extra information that isn't essential to the sentence. However, consider this example:

To our knowledge, the Earth is the only planet in the solar system that sustains life.

Without the clause "that sustains life," this sentence would lose its meaning and be illogical, since the Earth isn't the only planet in the solar system. In this case, "that" introduces a restrictive clause that is essential to the meaning of the sentence.

The correct use of "Moot"

How often have you heard someone say "that's a moot point," intending the expression to mean "that point is superfluous"? The widespread misuse of the word "moot" to mean "superfluous" is a mistake even made by the pros. The correct definition of a "moot point" is a point that is arguable or open to discussion. If it's a debatable point, it's moot.

Farther and Further

When you are going "farther," you are going a measurable distance. When you are going "further," that distance can't be quantified. Take the following sentences as examples:

I can run farther than she can. (This is a measurable distance.)
Don't antagonize me any further. (This is not measurable.)

The use of the word "Anxious"

Have you ever said, "I'm anxious to get away for vacation"? If so, you were saying that you're afraid of getting away, since being anxious of something is to be frightened about it or having dread about it. Instead of being "anxious," most people actually mean to say that they are "eager."

Bring and Take

While seemingly inconsequential, there is a difference between "bring" and "take," and different contexts in which each should be used. Even the pros get this one wrong often. In order to get it right, the speaker or writer needs to know which direction the object is being moved in relation to the person speaking or writing—either toward them or away from them. If the object is being moved toward them, then the action of the sentence will include "bringing," such as "Bring me a doughnut for breakfast." If the object is being moved away from the writer or speaker, then the action of the sentence will include "taking" it, such as "Take this note to Stacy and see what she says about it."

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