Online retailer Zappos has recently seen a “substantial” increase in revenue after correcting the grammar and spelling of reviews on its site. The sentiment of the reviews was not changed, but New York University research has shown that well-written reviews—even negative ones—inspire confidence. Why does that matter? Because the same principles hold true on your blog. Good grammar can do more than just help you avoid admonishment in the comments; it can also help your blog build trust and authority.
Take our grammar quiz to see whether you’re guilty of some of the most common blogging errors. Here’s how: Take a look at the sentences below about the most blogged-about stories of July (according to Regator, those stories were: Rupert Murdoch, Debt Ceiling, House Speaker John Boehner, Harry Potter, Comic-Con, Amy Winehouse, Anders Behring Breivik, Casey Anthony, World Cup, and Space Shuttle), then determine how many grammar and spelling errors are in each. Try to find them all before you peek at the answers…
As the founder of News Corp, Amanda could care less how many pies Rupert Murdoch has thrown at him.
Problem 1: “The founder of News Corp” refers to Rupert Murdoch, but because of its location, it seems to be referring to Amanda. Tip: Put modifiers next to the noun they are modifying to avoid confusion.
Problem 2: “Could care less” means that it would, in fact, be possible to care less and that the speaker does care to some degree. Tip: Use “could not care less” to indicate a total lack of concern.
Problem 3: Passive voice, while not strictly incorrect, is often less direct and concise than active voice. Tip: Use active voice whenever possible. It conveys more information about who is performing the action.
Corrected: Amanda could not care less how many pies protesters throw at Rupert Murdoch, the founder of News Corp.
The Republican’s believe the Democrat’s should of handled the debt ceiling crisis different then they did.
Problem 1: “Republican’s” and “Democrat’s” should not have apostrophes. Tip: Use apostrophes to create possessive forms, but never to create plurals. Check out the Apostrophe Abuse blog for grammar-nerd amusement.
Problem 2: “Should of” is incorrect. Tip: Use “should have” rather than “should of.” The same goes for “would have” and “could have.”
Problem 3 (?): This is murky water, but it could be argued that “debt ceiling crisis” should be hyphenated. Tip: When two or more words work together to modify another word, you have what’s called a compound modifier. Some stylebooks will tell you to hyphenate all compound modifiers, others tell you to refer to the dictionary for individual terms, and still others will tell you to use a hyphen only when it is needed to avoid confusion (for example, hyphenate “man-eating shark” to indicate that it’s a shark that eats guys as opposed to “man eating shark,” which could be interpreted as a guy who is eating a shark). Be consistent and hyphenate when not doing so would cause confusion. Oh, and there’s never a need to hyphenate when using an adverb ending in “ly” and an adjective (“extremely confused blogger,” for example).
Problem 4: “Then” should be “than.” Tip: Use “then” when you are placing something after something else in time (I wrote this post then went to a party). Use “than” when you are comparing things (in this case, how the Democrats handled the crisis compared to how they should have).
Problem 5: “Different” should be “differently.” Tip: Pay attention to whether you’re modifying a noun or verb to make sure you’re using the right modifier. In this case, we’re modifying a verb (“handled”), so we need the adverb rather than the adjective.
Corrected: The Republicans believe that Democrats should have handled the debt-ceiling crisis differently.
House Speaker John Boehner’s Budget Control Act that aimed to raise the debt ceiling was put to a vote, for all intensive purposes the vote was successful.
Problem 1: The phrase “that aimed to raise the debt ceiling” should be enclosed in commas and “that” should be “which.” Tip: The phrase is what’s called a nonrestrictive clause, meaning that it could be removed from the sentence and the sentence would still make sense. Any time you have additional, non-essential information like this, use “which” rather than “that.” In these cases, enclose the phrase with commas.
Problem 2: Instead of a comma, the two sentences should be separated by a period/full stop. Tip: When two or more sentences run together with commas in between them, the resulting monstrosity is known as a comma splice and is to be avoided at all costs. Commas are good at lots of things, but stringing sentences together isn’t one of them. (Note, in that last sentence, that the comma works with a preposition—“but”—to put two sentences together. Commas can work with their preposition pals to do this, but can’t do it on their own.)
Problem 3: “All intensive purposes” is incorrect. Tip: The correct phrase is “all intents and purposes.”
Corrected: The House of Representatives voted on House Speaker John Boehner’s Budget Control Act, which aimed to raise the debt ceiling. For all intents and purposes, the vote was successful.
Its hard to except that they’re will be no more Harry Potter movies. Fans literally cried their eyes out when they found out this film would be the last.
Problem 1: “Its” should be “It’s.” Tip: Remember that apostrophes stand for letters that are missing, so “it’s” means “it is” or “it has.” See the letters the apostrophe is replacing? Without the apostrophe, “its” is possessive and means “belonging to it.”
Problem 2: “Except” should be “accept.” Tip: “Accept” is a verb that generally means to “to willingly receive, agree to, or hold something as true.” “Except” is usually a preposition and means “excluding.” Imagine that the “A” in “accept” stands for “agree” and the “x” in “except” draws a big “X” over something that is not included.
Problem 3: “They’re” should be “there.” Tip: Go back to the tip about apostrophes standing in for missing letters. “They’re” actually means “they are” or “they were.” You can see the letters that the apostrophe is replacing. “There” refers to a location. It has the word “here” inside of it, which might help you remember the difference between it and “their,” which is a possessive pronoun meaning “something that belongs to them.” “Their” also contains a word holds is a clue to its meaning: “heir,” which implies ownership.
Problem 4: Fans did not literally cry their eyes out (I hope). Tip: Don’t say “literally” unless you actually truly mean exactly what you are saying. There is an entire blog devoted to the misuse of this word.
Corrected: It’s hard to accept that there will be no more Harry Potter movies. Fans cried when they found out this film would be the last.
Comic-con is a place where a fan can get autographs from their favorite stars. The autograph sessions feature stars like the Green Lantern cast, including Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, and Ryan Reynolds, the Terra Nova cast, including Stephen Lang and Alex Graves, and the Immortals cast.
Problem 1: There’s a noun/pronoun agreement problem. “A fan” is singular but the pronoun “their” is plural. Tip: Things can get awkward when a writer is trying to use “their” rather than “his or her” to avoid gender bias. It does manage to avoid gender-specific language such as, “a place where a fan can get autographs from his favorite stars,” but it also makes a grammatical mess. In many cases, the best choice is to make the noun plural to match the plural pronoun. You could also eliminate the pronoun (“…a fan can get autographs from stars…”).
Problem 2: “Like” should be “such as.” Tip: This is a nitpicky one, and few would be bothered if you used “like” in this situation. But technically, “like” means that there will be stars similar to the stars listed, whereas “such as” means that those exact stars will be in attendance.
Problem 3: The commas after “Reynolds” and “Graves” should be semicolons. Tip: When you have a list of items with commas, separate those items with a semicolon for clarity. The Oatmeal calls this use the “super-comma.”
Problem 4: The titles of movies and television shows should be italicized. Tip: Use italics for longer works such as novels, television series, albums, blogs, etc. Use quotation marks around the smaller works that make up those longer works, so things such as chapter titles, episode titles, song titles, blog posts, etc.
Corrected: Comic-con is a place where fans can get autographs from their favorite stars. The autograph sessions feature stars such as the Green Lantern cast, including Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, and Ryan Reynolds; the Terra Nova cast, including Stephen Lang and Alex Graves; and the Immortals cast.
Irregardless of your opinion of her music we can all agree that Amy Winehouse, 27, died far to young.
Problem 1: “Irregardless” should be “regardless.” Tip: “Irregardless” is not a word—or at least not a standard word that is widely accepted and doesn’t make you sound silly.
Problem 2: A comma is needed after “music.” Tip: Introductory phrases or words that come before the main clause, are separated from the main clause by commas. That’s a bit of an oversimplification. Purdue OWL has a fantastic and extensive page on comma rules if you want to geek out.
Problem 3: “To” should be “too.” Tip: “Two” is the number after three. It’s the only one of the three homophones with a W, which, when flipped onto its side, looks a bit like a 3. “Too” means “also” or “excessively.” Let the extra O remind you that you’re adding onto something. “To” is the correct spelling for all other uses.
Corrected: Regardless of your opinion of her music, we can all agree that Amy Winehouse, 27, died far too young.
Anders Behring Breivik says he will identify the terror cells he was working with if his “demands” are met. His demands include getting cigarettes, wearing civilian clothing, and the resignation of the entire Norwegian government.
Problem 1: The quotation marks around “demand” are not needed. Tip: Putting something that is not a title or direct quote in quotation marks implies that the term is false. With that in mind, check out the well-maintained Unnecessary Quotes blog for a laugh.
Problem 2: The list’s structure is not parallel. Tip: When you make a list of items, they should all be the same part of speech.
Corrected: Anders Behring Breivik says he will identify the terror cells he was working with if his demands are met. His demands include cigarettes, civilian clothing, and the resignation of the entire Norwegian government. (Second sentence could also be corrected as: “His demands include getting cigarettes, wearing civilian clothing, and seeing the resignation of the entire Norwegian government.” Either option fixes the parallel structure problem.)
The jurors in the Casey Anthony trial use to be frightened for their safety but the judge decided not allow the juror’s names to be released. Some are nervous anyways.
Problem 1: “Use to” should be “used to.” Tip: “Use to” is never correct. When said aloud, “used to” can sound a bit like “use to,” but remember that when you use this phrase, you’re talking about something in the past tense, which is why it ends in “ed.”
Problem 2: There should be a comma after “safety.” Tip: As mentioned earlier, commas can’t put two sentences together on their own, but they can work with prepositions such as “but,” “and,” and “or” to join two sentences.
Problem 3: The apostrophe in “juror’s” should come after the S rather than before it. Tip: If a word is both plural and possessive, put the apostrophe after the S unless the word is plural without an S (“children” for example).
Problem 4: “Anyways” should be “anyway.” Tip: Banish “anyways” from your blog. It’s not a word.
Corrected: The jurors in the Casey Anthony trial used to be frightened for their safety, but the judge decided not to allow jurors’ names to be released. Some are nervous anyway.
I wish I was better at betting on soccer. I layed money on the U.S. womens’ team, so I had to go to the ATM machine.
Problem 1: “Was” should be “were.” Tip: The term for this grammatical mood is the subjunctive, and it’s like the fairy-tale of grammar. You’ll find it where you’re talking about something wishful that has not yet happened, and in those cases, you’ll use “were” rather than “was.” Another example would be something like “If I were in charge, I’d do away with all these rules.” Though the second example doesn’t explicitly convey a wish, it is wishful thinking in action.
Problem 2: “Layed” should be “laid.” Tip: “Layed” is not a word, so that makes this particular instance easy, but let’s not lie: The “lay” vs. “lie” thing isn’t simple. It’s a bit more problematic than some of the other easily confused words because the past tense of one is actually the same word as the present tense of the other. Confused? Me too. It’s my grammatical Achilles’ heel. The always-brilliant Grammar Girl wrote nearly 600 words on the topic, and her charts and examples will do a far better job of explaining than I can do in a brief space.
Problem 3: The apostrophe in “women’s’” should go before the S rather than after it. Tip: We said above that if a word is both plural and possessive, the apostrophe goes after the S unless the world is plural without the S. In this case, the word “women” is plural without an S, so the apostrophe goes before the S.
Problem 4: “ATM machine” should be “ATM.” Tip: The M in “ATM” stands for “machine,” so “ATM machine” is redundant. The same goes for “PIN number,” “HIV virus,” and “please RSVP.”
Corrected: I wish I were better at betting on soccer. I laid money on the U.S. women’s team, so I had to go to the ATM.
The fumes, which were left from the Kennedy Center’s 135 space shuttle launches, will take thirty years and $96 million dollars to clean.
Problem 1: “Which” should be “that” and the commas should be removed from the first sentence. Tip: Without the clause explaining that the fumes were left over from the shuttle launches, we don’t know which fumes the sentence refers to; that means it is a necessary or restrictive clause. As you might recall from above, if you cannot remove the clause without losing the meaning of the sentence, the clause should be introduced with “that” rather than “which” and does not need to be set off by commas.
Problem 2: The word “dollars” is unnecessary. Tip: Like “ATM machine” above, “$96 million dollars” is redundant because “dollars” is represented by the dollar sign.
Corrected: The fumes that were left from the Kennedy Center’s 135 space shuttle launches will take thirty years and $96 million to clean.
Well, how’d you do? Were you able to find all 34 errors? Are there other common grammar errors that plague you? Share them in the comments!
Kimberly Turner is a cofounder of Regator.com, Regator for iPhone and the brand-new Regator Breaking News service for journalists and bloggers. She is also an award-winning print journalist. You can find her on Twitter @kimber_regator.