A Visit from the Grammar Police
By Grant Ainsley | Tips | [comments] | Posted [date]
I was on Twitter last Thursday and noticed that it was National Grammar Day. It made me think about the number of times I hear poor grammar being used in the news media.
I don't want to sound like an old man yelling "Get off my lawn" about cases of bad grammar in the media today, but I can't avoid it. I can understand people in normal conversations using poor grammar, but people in the media should know better.
Here are the five biggest grammatical mistakes I hear being made today.
Number vs. Amount
It's like fingers on a chalkboard to me when somebody on TV says “The amount of goals this team allows is awful”, or “The amount of days between vaccinations is too long.”
Let me help everyone out, especially people in the media who should know better. You use number for anything that can be counted or easily measured. You use amount for anything that can’t be counted or measured. Examples of that would be water or air. We talk about the amount of water in a pool, or the amount of air in a room. We never use number. Goals and vaccinations can be counted.
For people in the media, do better. This is really simple and something I learned as a journalist many years ago. For some reason though, I am hearing more and more media people use number and amount incorrectly. Far too often I’m hearing reporters and others use the word amount when they should be using number. Stop it.
It or They?
Another thing that drives me crazy is when I hear a sports announcer say something like “Canada’s defence have played a very solid game tonight. They’ve been great.”
No, a defence is a singular unit, so a defence is an it, not a they. If the announcer would have said “The players on Canada’s defence have played a very solid game tonight. They’ve been great” that would be fine. However, groups or units should be referred to as it and not they.
City Council is an it, not a they. Members of City Council should be referred to as they.
I know it doesn’t sound as natural, but I would rather be correct. You can fight me on this.
Whether or Not
I still remember doing an aircheck session with CHQT News Director Ed Mason, not long after I started at the radio station. During these sessions, you would listen to a recorded newscast or two with your boss to get some feedback. They were normally as awkward as hell because you didn’t know where to look as you listened to yourself and hoped the boss wouldn’t point out too many mistakes.
I remember Ed reaching over and stopping the cassette machine after he heard me use the words whether or not. He said something along the lines of “When you use word whether, you never need to use the words or not after it. Another word for whether is if. Think of it that way.”
That was brilliant. So simple, but so effective. It was 40 years ago I learned that lesson, but obviously many others didn’t get the benefit of Ed Mason’s knowledge like I did, including many people in the media today.
There, Their and They're
I still see this mistake being made occasionally in newspapers, but far more often by people in social media.
There is a place or location. Their means possession, or ownership of something. They’re is a contraction for the words they are.
The same issues exist with your and you’re. When somebody tries to slam you on Twitter by writing “Your a joke” just chuckle and move on.
People need to constantly examine the words they use and ask whether they make sense. Did you notice I didn’t say whether or not they make sense?
I offer virtual communication training sessions for groups. Learn how to be a better communicator in the workplace and how to plan for, and hold difficult discussions. Get more info here.