Grammar: Things I can’t abide

As a professional proofreader, I look for everything that’s wrong with a piece of text. Sometimes even when not proofreading, I struggle to raise myself above the grammar.

But there are certain things that I really can’t abide. Fortunately for you, my services will get rid of such things for you—as well as countless others. Below is a short list (as opposed to a shortlist) of the ones that drive me nuts:

  • Inconsistent spacing between sentences. Sometimes one; sometimes two.
  • Faux ellipses. Three full stops/periods (…) instead of the ellipsis symbol (…).
  • Hyperlinks that underline a trailing space or punctuation mark as well as the words that form the link. (Note that if an entire sentence is being hyperlinked, the full stop/period at the end should be underlined.)
  • Italicised words or phrases that also have the leading or trailing space italicised. It’s not obvious to a lay-reader, but it kills me.
  • Inconsistent punctuation at the end of bullets.
  • Redundant spaces at the end of paragraphs. Yes, I know they’re not harming anyone, but they are doing untold damage to my sanity.

Above are some of the reasons I’m a proofreader, and why arguably I’m no fun to be around.

Posted by Dan, 16 July, 2011 under Grammar

Carrying over a who

I paused on reading the following sentence in a BBC News article recently.

Inquiries also continue over the disappearance of Susan Rushworth, 43, who also worked as a prostitute and was last seen near her home in the Manningham area of Bradford on 22 June last year.

In the latter half of the sentence, the carry-over of the who is unacceptable.  The two constructs—”worked” and “was last seen”—are sufficiently different from one another to necessitate a second “who”.  I’m not sure whether the issue lies in the verbs being different in nature, or whether it’s because their context is so very different, but a second “who” is needed before the “was”.  If it had instead read:

[…who also worked as a prostitute and attended Bradford University

…then that would have been perfectly fine.

The two instances of the word “also” also grate.  Faux pas most definitely intended.

Posted by Dan, 30 May, 2010 under Grammar

Curry and Rice with FREE Popdomas £6

Such was the title of a recent marketing email to a friend. Now it’s either part of a Latin declension (popdoma, popdomas, popdomat, popdomamus, popdomatis, popdomant) or a heinous typo. I favour the latter, as the Mediterraneans weren’t big curry fans back then.

On a related note, I genuinely believe there’s money to be made in the proofreading of takeaway and restaurant menus. High volume, low margin—but there’s certainly a market there to be tapped.

Posted by Dan, 29 March, 2010 under Uncategorized

The Natural History Museum’s em dash faux pas

The Natural History Museum has followed Expedia’s bad example in their use of the dash to indicate date ranges.  Remember, kids: en dash for ranges, unless the latter date is not yet fixed (e.g. for living people), in which case use an em dash.

Decode: 8 December 2009 — 11 April 2010

Posted by Dan, 10 March, 2010 under Grammar | Rules and the errant em dash

When you search for flights on and click search, you are presented with a holding screen, informing you that: is searching for
flights on selected travel dates:
Mon 23/11/2009 — Fri 27/11/2009

(Obviously the dates in question are those pertinent to your requested jaunt rather than mine.)

The em dash (—) between the dates should be an en dash (–), and there shouldn’t be any spaces.

It’s only a tiny point, but on a screen that all flight-bookers will see, they should really get it right.

Posted by Dan, under Grammar

I Gotta Feeling. So very wrong

I embrace the evolution of the English language.  But I think that its rules and regulations differ from one medium to another.  Certain contractions (e.g. OMG, FTW, WTF, gotta) are acceptable in instant messenger conversations and text messages, but shouldn’t be used in more formal forms of communication.

But if you’re going to use such contractions, use them properly.  Gotta is a contraction of got to; it’s not a contraction of got a.  And so it should be used.

“I gotta go to the toilet” is fine.

“I Gotta Feeling” is not, Black Eyed Peas.

That said, it didn’t seem to bother Joe Public, as it was the biggest selling track out of the first one billion downloaded from iTunes.  And I bought it, in spite of my grammatical disappointment.

Posted by Dan, 7 March, 2010 under Rules

Time separators

I use colons, as opposed to periods, to separate time units. Periods are the same as decimal points, which can cause confusion. Periods should be used after the number of seconds to indicate the decimals thereafter.

The couple met at 9:30am.
He went to bed at 11:45pm.
Schumacher’s 1:34.236 was the best lap time of the practice session.
He ran the marathon in 3:25:23.

As well as avoiding confusion, the above style is somewhat quaint.
Update: when working in business, the 24-hour clock should be used exclusively, with no separator between the hours and the minutes. (Thanks to Paul Clarke for highlighting this clarification.)

The meeting will take place at 1330 GMT (0830 EST).

Posted by Dan, 1 March, 2010 under Rules

Proofreading: pedantry is everything

I advertise this site through the likes of Google AdWords. Most of the interest generated is for the services that we offer. But occasionally, someone will email me out of the blue asking whether we’re recruiting, either on a permanent or freelance basis, and offering their own services.

Given the services we offer, I expect these latter emails to be flawless—if you can’t get your own, short emails right, then what confidence do I have that you can do the same for one of our clients?

I recently received such a request, consisting of six lines of content, together with a salutation and valediction.  Below were the errors I picked up:

  • The Dear Sir/Madam did not come with a corresponding Yours faithfully.  Harsh in today’s less formal world, but a tradition that should be upheld, for the time being, at least.
  • Proofreader was sometimes hyphenated, sometimes not.
  • The Oxford comma was used in one instance, but not in another.
  • The lady used quotation marks around words not warranting them, much like an annoying person might sign visually in a bar conversation.  E.g. “[you] would, naturally, take a ‘cut'”.
  • A spaced, single hyphen had been used instead of an em dash before a separated clause.

I politely pointed out some of these issues to the lady, that she might be more successful in looking for other work.  She refuted many of them, the worst defence being that her keyboard didn’t do em dashes.  (Yes it does: ALT+0151.)

Now some of the issues I raised may sound pedantic.  But given the subject matter, pedantry is essential.  Our reputation is founded on attention to detail, picking up issues that our clients don’t spot but which their clients may smart at.

Posted by Dan, 6 February, 2010 under Life

A single version of English

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was an internationally-recognised standard for written English? If people saw the word color (or indeed colour) and didn’t recoil. If there was a widely acknowledged view as to whether The meeting Thursday or The meeting on Thursday was acceptable.

I’m not asking us to can our respective versions of English—British, American, Australian, Canadian etc. I’m instead suggesting that a new version of English is created that would, over time, supersede our respective versions, taking the loveliness from each and consolidating it into a single set of rules that people can abide by in certain media, predominantly the web at first.

And I’m not suggesting that any one of our beautiful set of idiosyncrasies overrules those of the other countries’. There are some beautiful American constructs; and some equally beautiful British ones. I’m sure the same is true of the other variants, although I’m less familiar with these.

To achieve the goal, I’m proposing we first brainstorm the inconsistencies. And then we bring together five leading literary luminaries representing each of the English variants to agree on which version is preferable, leaving aside their local bias.

The whole process would strengthen the language and bring closer the English-speaking world.


Posted by Dan, 21 November, 2009 under Grammar | Thoughts

Should of vs. should have

I have a couple of well-educated ex-colleagues who shall remain nameless who, in the written form, have started using the phrase should of, in the following context:

Mum should of gone to Iceland.

I must stress that this is not the actual phrase they used.  They used more business-like phrases.  But you get the picture.

Speech has always influenced the development of written language.  But the world we now live in is made up of people whose English education is often, at best, questionable—people who, even if educated appropriately to suspect a mistake, have neither the time nor the inclination to search for the truth.  This means that mistakes like that above will become increasingly prevalent with time, which is a shame.

The correct construct is:

Mum should have gone to Iceland.

Or indeed:

Mum really shouldn’t have gone to Iceland.  Especially now that they’ve fired Kerry Katona.

Posted by Dan, 4 November, 2009 under Grammar | Life

Tenet, tennent and tenor

Yesterday I heard three different words used to mean the same thing—two of them wrongly.

The word that everyone was reaching for was tenet.  And although one person correctly used the word, his colleagues used tennent and tenor.

And their repeated use of the incorrect variants was such that I was forced to question my own confidence that tenet was indeed the correct variant.  It is.

Posted by Dan, 22 September, 2009 under Grammar | Life

And vs. but

I love Elon Schoenholz’s use of the word and in his review of the Chrome Metropolis bag on the Cool Tools website.  (Lovely website, btw.)

Chrome’s Metropolis is expensive, and well worth the price if you live car-light and don’t use a rack and panniers or Xtracycle.

Most people would use the word but after the comma, signifying the high price as a weakness.  But, like the positioning of Stella Artois, the and positions the product’s high price in a positive light, alongside well worth the price.

A lovely little device.

Posted by Dan, 28 August, 2009 under Grammar

Out of orifice emails

The Outlook interface for creating and editing your out-of-office email response is dreadful. In Outlook 2007, it constitutes a text-box four lines high, maybe 350 pixels wide for entering raw, unformatted text. Keep typing and you’ll get a vertical scrollbar.

And the interface does not allow for spell-checking.

The dreadfully constrained interface and the lack of a spell-checker make for out-of-office emails littered with typos and grammatical heathenry, an email that is sent to way more people than any other.  I would estimate that over half of those I receive contain at least one error.

Today’s examples:

  • I am out of the office until Friday 22nd May and will limited access my emails during this time
  • I am out of the office at a and will be back at work on the 26th May 2009

Please.  Copy your email into Word.  Read it, check it and double-check it before turning your out of office on.  Thank you.

Posted by Dan, 21 May, 2009 under Grammar | Life

Too high for Nate

Lots of sites, both professional and otherwise, seem to be using a double-hyphen when they mean to use an em dash.  It’s as if they know that they need a long dash, but can’t be arsed to insert one.

The double-hyphen looks hideous, but it’s as if I should give them credit for trying.  How about trying a bit harder and typing ALT+0151 (on the number keypad, not the top row).  Or if you’re in WordPress (I am, don’t you know), hit the Insert Custom Character button sporting a Ω symbol, having hit the Show/Hide Kitchen Sink button).  The em dash can be found on the second row, fifth symbol from the right.

Here you’ll find more on the correct use of hyphens, en dashes and em dashes.

Posted by Dan, 11 April, 2009 under Grammar

Grammar: supply and demand

As grammar and spelling standards continue to slide and txt-speak continues to gain prevalence, will demand for skills in grammatical correctness (e.g. proofreading) increase because of the shortage of skilled resources, or decrease owing to the reduced demand?

Posted by Dan, 23 February, 2009 under Thoughts

The space line continuum

The space immediately after a link should never form part of the link itself. And the space after a portion of a sentence emphasised via a different fount should never share that of the emphasised portion.

Laziness through double-click and “intelligent” drag selecting gives an outcome that jars. With me at least.

Posted by Dan, 7 February, 2009 under Grammar | Rules

Carriage return, line feed

I read with interest and some amusement today’s news of Luc Costermans breaking the world blind road speed record.

My favourite part of the article was the paragraph-hungry BBC’s decision to separate these two sentences into two paragraphs.

Two years ago Mr Costermans completed a tour of France piloting a light aeroplane.

He was accompanied by an instructor and a navigator.

Surely the second sentence is a sufficient qualification of the first to negate the need for the carriage return, line feed.

Posted by Dan, 11 October, 2008 under Grammar | Life

The difference a letter can make

There are a couple of word pairings that differ by a single letter but whose meanings are completely different.

Encourage: inspire with confidence; give hope or courage to
Entourage: support group

Homophone: one of two or more words with different origins and meanings but sounding the same
Homophobe: one who hates or fears homosexual people

Any other non-trivial examples?

Posted by Dan, 13 September, 2008 under Thoughts


It would be lovely if the plural of apex was apices and if that of annex was annices.

Posted by Dan, under Thoughts

Ben Dirs: crimes against the apostrophe

During the BBC’s online Olympic coverage this morning, there was the following update at 10.45:

1045: And we’re off – Sarah Stevenson versus Maria del Rosario Espinoza of Mexico. Can the Doncaster lass keep her head while all around her are losing theres’? The 20-year-old Mexican is the current world middleweight champion, a title she won in Beijing last year.

Fortunately, they “corrected” it quickly to:

1045: And we’re off – Sarah Stevenson versus Maria del Rosario Espinoza of Mexico. Can the Doncaster lass keep her head while all around her are losing theirs’? The 20-year-old Mexican is the current world middleweight champion, a title she won in Beijing last year.

A couple of heinous errors from Ben Dirs, whose name is itself a stroke of genius.

Posted by Dan, 23 August, 2008 under Grammar | Life