Grammar Geeks Wage War Against Grammar Gremlins

Its flattering that your reading this post because their so many other things you could be doing right now.  Did you see what I did there?  If so, your eyes should be burning, and you should be yelling at the top of your lungs and shaking your fists at the computer screen.  I just hit you with three of my top pet peeves when it comes to grammatical errors.  I have deemed them grammar gremlins, and they are creeping into, articles, scripts, and in graphics in broadcast, print, and web-based media organizations across the world.  It’s going to be up to us grammar geeks (gurus) to take on the gremlins and win the war.  In this article, I will show you the top five grammatical pitfalls I see when I’m copy-editing scripts every day and give you simple tips to avoid the grammar gremlins in your copy.

I guarantee you have noticed grammar gremlins creeping their way into your favorite news programming, sitcoms, magazines, newspapers, and other publications.  It seems people have forgotten the rules of grammar, or perhaps there is something else in play.


What’s causing the rise of the gremlins?  We used to be so meticulous about these things.  Well, text message lingo and social media don’t have the same rules.  In fact, maybe the only rule when communicating in those venues is that there are no rules.  The more savvy we become with that form of communication and the more we practice it, we can experience erosion in our knowledge of the proper ways of doing things.   Consider this.  How many of you stop in the middle of a text and type the apostrophe for anything?  When was the last time you put a quotation mark or even spelled out the words properly?  I can’t tell you how many times I have found myself typing a business e-mail to a colleague or a superior and I have had to stop myself from using “bc” for “because” or “u” instead of “you.”  Do this experiment for me.  Go back through some of your old e-mails and see if you have any “LOLs.”  I bet you do.  My point is, this jargon isn’t staying within its own social and text boundaries.  It’s permeating our business communication.  So here are a few of the grammar gremlins and my strategy for fighting them.

  1. “Its” versus “it’s”: Ask yourself what you are trying to accomplish.  Read your sentence.  Are you trying to say “it is” or show possession?  This confuses people because these words violate other English language rules.  “Its” is the possessive.  Normally, we make words possessive by adding apostrophe “s,” but not in this case.  “It’s” actually follows the rule about using the apostrophe when a letter is missing.  For example:
    • are not = aren’t
    • is not = isn’t
    • has not = hasn’t.
    • it is = it’s


  1. Possessive vs. plural: So many people are making words plural by adding apostrophe “s.”  I can’t tell you how many times I have seen “The attorney’s argue their client is innocent because…”  The plural form does not use apostrophes.  That is just that.


  1. Noun/pronoun disagreement and noun/verb disagreement: So what’s wrong with the following sentences?
    • The toddler shared its toy with the baby.
    • The organization used the donated money to pay the lease for their new building.
    • A group of volunteers are making a lot of progress on their service project.

If you guessed that the sentences all exhibit noun/pronoun disagreement, you would be absolutely correct.  Let’s dissect the sentences.

The toddler shared its toy with the baby.  In this sentence, the word “toddler” is the subject of the sentence.  A toddler is a person, not an inanimate object.  We use “his” or “her” when referring to people.  “Its” is for things.

The organization used the donated money to pay the lease for their new building.  I see this all the time.  A single entity is not a “their.”  Yes, there are usually multiple people who contribute to that organization, but that does not change the fact that you are only talking about a single unit.

A group of volunteers are making a lot of progress on their service project.  This is a tough one usually for people.  This sentence looks correct, but it’s not because the subject of this sentence is actually “group” which is singular.  The prepositional phrase “of volunteers” throws people off and makes them think the subject is plural, so they use the pronoun “their” instead of the correct one “its.”

What else did you catch?  Look at it one more time. A group of volunteers are making a lot of progress on their service project.  The verb is all wrong too.  It goes along with the word “volunteers” instead of group.  This is a very common mistake I see as well.  Again, it should match the subject of this sentence, which is “group” – a single group, so the verb should be “is making.”


  1. Improper past tense especially the word “drag”—No really. If I hear one more person say “I drug it outside,” I’m going to lose my mind!  There is no easy fix for this one.  You just have to go back to conjugating verbs.  Remember that?  For the record: drag; dragging; dragged; (has, have, or had) dragged. 


  1. There, they’re, their and you’re, your: This one I am hoping is simply an error people make when they are in a rush.  Just pay more attention when you are proofreading your work.  Your eye and your brain can sometimes trick you, and you could miss this particular mistake.  Basically, your eye sees what you meant to write, not what you actually wrote.  I always encourage my writers to look away from it for a minute and come back to it.  I also tell them to read out loud or to read backwards.  That’s just enough of a disruption to break that eye/brain phenomenon and allow you to find the mistake.  Happy writing everyone!

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