Archive for the ‘spelling’ Category

“Pokemon Go” Articles Need Copy Editor

Friday, July 15th, 2016

Pokemon GoThe Birmingham News must have been in a hurry to rush its Pokemon stories to press on Wednesday. Their copy on Page A2 is full of errors. The first Glitch is in a headline:

"Games digital popularity also warping real life"

Whoops! #1: Assuming the headline creator means the digital popularity of Pokemon Go (one game), this headline needs an apostrophe before the S in "Games." It should read this way: Game's digital popularity also warping real life."

Whoops #2: Although I am not a Pokemon expert (yet), I do know that the phrase "a Pokemon" refers to one creature and that THEM is a plural pronoun referring to more than one of something, like Pokemon (plural) in general. Consider this sentence"

"Once you catch a Pokemon, you can take them to a gym where they can battle other Pokemon."

Okay, so what pronoun is appropriate for a single captured Pokemon? I'm not sure that has been worked out yet–it? she? he? The best solution, for now, is to avoid the pronoun completely, like this: Once you catch a Pokemon, you can take your captive to a gym for battles with other Pokemon.

Whoops #3: I had to read this sentence a couple times to figure out what the reporter was trying to say. One apostrophe and the correct spelling of THAN would have solved the confusion:

"AR (augmented reality), as its known, is different that virtual reality in which a completely computer-generated world is created."

It should read this way: AR, as it's known, is different than virtual reality in which a completely computer-generated world is created.

Whoops #4: Subject/verb agreement is the crime in this sentence. PERMISSIONS is plural, but the reporter chooses the singular verb MEANS to go with it:

The permissions, according to Engadget, means Niantic has access to your Google drive docs, search history, private Google photos and other items tied to your account."

For grammatically correct agreement, the sentence should read this way: The permissions, according to Engadget, mean Niantic has access to your google drive docs,….

Whoops #5: The reporter of the side story made the correct choice with  IT'S (IT + IS) but failed to recognize that the second ITS (correctly possessive) refers to the plural word PEOPLE.

"Niantic issued a statement assuring people it's not accessing its personal information and will only have access to a person's Google user ID and password."

The problem here is that the use of ITS makes it sound as if Niantic is not accessing Niantic's personal information, but they are referring to the PEOPLE'S personal information. It should read this way: Niantic issued a statement assuring people it's not accessing their personal information and will only have access to people's user IDs and passwords.

Whew! And all those Glitches appeared on ONE page.

Reporter locates apostrophe correctly, then forgets the rule before the end of the sentence.

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015

One short article about taxes and sewage contains two Glitches.

Here is the first Glitch, which is puzzling because the reporter uses the apostrophe correctly in the first part of the sentence but then uses it incorrectly later in the same sentence:

Evans also said he met with the USDA about the agency's grant and loan programs to help with the towns old sewage system.

It is correct to show that the PROGRAMS belong to the AGENCY (agency's programs). Okay, so why would it not be correct to refer to the SEWAGE SYSTEM as belonging to the TOWN (town's old sewage system)? The sentence should read this way:

Evans also said he met with the USDA about the agency's grant and loan programs to help with the town's old sewage system.

This same reporter does not know the difference between THERE (location) and THEIR (possessive). Here is the second Glitch:

The USDA told the town in there meeting that they needed an audit to go forward.

Whoops! The meeting belongs to the town, so it should be spelled THEIR.

“…the annuls of war.” Those would be great to have!

Saturday, August 2nd, 2014

A letter to the editor in The Birmingham News last week included an odd, unintended perspective on war. The writer wanted to compare the current Israel/Palestine conflict to issues in the Korean War and made this statement:

In one of the most brilliant military strategies in the annuls of war, Gen. Douglas MacArthur landed behind enemy lines at Inchon and could have destroyed the North Korean Army and perhaps the Chinese Army. MacArthur

Whoops! Much as I'd love to see war ANNULLED as a strategy for solving problems, the word this writer wanted is ANNALS (a chronological record of events). ANNUL is a verb (to make or declare invalid).

Personally, I rather like this incorrect usage. I pray regularly for the ANNULMENT of war and would rejoice in seeing the ANNALS of war be nothing but history, never to be repeated. What an idiotic, wasteful, and destructive way to resolve conflict!

To use or not to use? (A grammar checker, that is.)

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

brain in gear

I use Grammarly's grammar checker because I don't want to misplace a comma and end up eating Gramma (as in "Let's eat Gramma!" instead of "Let's eat, Gramma!").

When I teach business writing workshops, I often remind participants to use grammar checkers with “brain in gear.” A grammar checker can point out possible problems in your writing, but if you choose to use one, you must have enough self confidence to recognize when the grammar checker has misinterpreted your meaning. After all, grammar checkers are NOT human, and they don’t catch all the nuances of what we humans write.

That said, I recently reviewed, which bills itself as “the world’s most accurate online grammar checker.” I tried it out on several pieces of my own writing as well as a newspaper article. It spotted one overlooked typo and offered good suggestions for two overly wordy sentences. It also detected an incorrect indefinite article (A vs. AN). However, it declared EVERY proper noun I used (e.g. TALLASSEE, TUKABAHCHI, and WOODALL) to be a misspelling. Using the scoring system to rate myself, I ended up with a horrible score, based mostly on properly spelled proper nouns that were declared incorrect. failed to spot a missing apostrophe in this sentence from an article about new education standards in Alabama:

“The change is intended to more closely align students education with the ACT, improving high school seniors’ scores….”

SENIORS’ SCORES is correct, with the apostrophe after the S, but STUDENTS EDUCATION should also be possessive (STUDENTS’ EDUCATION). As I write this, I see that the Word grammar checker put a green squiggly line under that one, but overall, I don't think Word's grammar checker is as effective as this one. also missed the incorrect plural form in this sentence:

“However, the director of student academic support at Auburn University said low ACT scores tend to be a better indicators of which students won’t perform well in college than high ACT scores are of which students will do well.”

A BETTER INDICATORS (plural) should be simply BETTER INDICATORS without A in front.

I do think does an excellent job of explaining the errors it spots, and the examples it offers for correction are clear and easy to understand. As someone who writes virtually every day, I would say Grammarly could be a useful tool IF you keep your own brain in gear and view Grammarly as a helper rather than a quick cure for all errors. 

PRINCIPLE or PRINCIPAL? An Easy Tip for Remembering Which is Which.

Friday, May 31st, 2013

Because both PRINCIPLE and PRINCIPAL are legitimate words, a spell checker will not pinpoint your error if you use the wrong one. The good news is that, like CAPITOL and CAPITAL, there is any easy way to remember when to use which one.

PRINCIPLE  is a noun that has only one meaning–a basic rule or standard, as of good behavior. Here are some examples of using it correctly:

The judge will not compromise his principles.

She based her decision on principle rather than greed.

Our country operates according to the principles of democracy.


PRINCIPAL has several usual meanings–the head of an elementary or high school (noun), highest in rank or worth (adjective), the main participant (noun), describing the person having a starring role in a production (adjective), the capital or main portion of a financial holding (noun). Here are some examples of using it correctly:

Melissa Jones is the principal  at Valley Elementary. 

Paul is the principal partner in that firm.

The briefing included all of the principals involved in the transaction.

Smetlana is the principal ballerina with that company.

Our invested principal  is no longer earning seven percent interest. 


Just remember: PRINCIPLE has only one meaning. Everything else will be PRINCIPAL.



CAPITOL or CAPITAL? Easy tip for choosing correctly.

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

Driving back up I-65 from beautiful Gulf Shores on Monday, I spotted a billboard that read simply, "85 Years of Bringing Capital to the Capitol." We passed by so quickly I didn't see whose ad it was, but it makes a great usage point. CAPITAL is money poured into an investment. CAPITOL is the building where a legislature meets–NOT the city that is the seat of government. (A spell checker will not catch it if you confuse these two.)

Here is an easy way to remember the difference and never confuse these two words again:

capitol buildingCAPITOL (with an O) has only one meaning: the building (state or national) where a legislature meets.

Everything else is CAPITAL (with an A):

  • money poured into an investment
  • an upper case letter (A or B as opposed to a or b)
  • calling for the death penalty (capital crime, capital punishment)
  • a town or city that is the official location of government for a state or a nation
  • excellent or first-rate, usually British (a capital fellow, a capital good time)

If you simply remember that CAPITOL has only one   meaning, you will never confuse these two again! 


NOTE: The next post will offer an easy tip for choosing PRINCIPLE or PRINCIPAL correctly.

Three errors in one sentence. Too many?

Saturday, February 16th, 2013

crack the whipAs newspapers evolve in these fast-changing times, it appears to me that they are placing less and less emphasis on careful copyediting. Frequent errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, and usage not only detract from the quality of the journalism, they also distract the reader. Too often lately, I read a sentence and then ask myself, "What was that? What is this reporter trying to say?"

Apparently, I am not alone in my frustration with this. My friend Mark, an excellent copyeditor in New York, sent me an email string recently that contained the following dialogue, which occurred after his friend Stephen came across the following sentence in a New York Times article:

More than 2200 flights for Friday had been cancelled, according to the Web site FlightAware, the majority originiting or departing from the areas affected by the storm.

Stephen sent this email to the Executive Editor of The New York Times:

Doesn't the copy desk edit copy anymore? The number 2,200 requires a comma; the American spelling of "canceled" has only one l; and "originiting" requires no comment.

The Executive Editor replied:

Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We all make errors, but you're absolutely right–three in one sentence is far too many. We'll get this fixed soon.

Stephen then emailed Mark:

In my opinion, three errors in the entire newspaper is far too many.

Mark responded with this:

Well dun, Steven. (Just kidding.) At least he didn't reply, "Your absolutely write…" On "cancelled," it is acceptable, not an outright error, but not the spelling preferred by Merriam-Webster. You and I as copyeditors would strike that second ell.

Keep on 'em. Keep crackin' the whip.

 I wonder what Mark and Stephen would think about a recent article (not an isolated example) in The Birmingham News that contained no fewer than SEVEN errors–in one article! In my next post, I will share those errors and their corrections.

In the meantime, I'd like to hear from any readers who have also noticed an increase in copy errors in local newspapers. Examples are always welcome, along with your comments, at Grammar Glitch Central. Mark asked me to encourage you to write to the editor(s) of your newspaper if you see examples of particularly careless writing or editing. He also said (and I agree) that it's good to write in and compliment the writers and editors when you see especially well-written pieces.

If your paper does not make it easy for readers to give feedback (say, with an email address at the end of an article or on the editorial page), contact the paper and ask them to open up for reader comments.

Like Mark, I would like to say, "Keep on 'em. Keep crackin' the whip." crack the whip

AP headline grammar does not “add” up.

Monday, September 24th, 2012

Here is a headline that appeared in an online list of headlines this week.  It also appeared this way at the top of the actual story:


Whoops! The word AD is short for advertisement. It is a noun, not a verb, and cannot refer to Ashland putting an ADDITIONAL person on its board.  The word needed here is the verb ADD, as in "Her company plans to ADD ten additional employees next month."

This Associated Press headline should read as follows:


Ashland adds former Avon exec Janice Teal to board

Customer Service response drowns in Usage Glitches!

Friday, December 30th, 2011


Yesterday's email contained a response from the customer service department of a national health insurance company. I appreciated the quick and courteous response, but I was appalled at the poor usage and casual slang.  Please note that a spell checker would not have caught any of the four errors in the two sentences below:

Please allow a couple days and then send me another email to check the statue.

We apology for the delay and any inconvenient you may have had.

 Whoops #1: A COUPLE DAYS is too slang and casual for a professional business response.  ONE OR TWO DAYS (or A FEW DAYS) would be a better choice.

 Whoops #2:  I cannot imagine why this insurance company would want me to check a STATUE. Perhaps if it was Washington Mutual, and George was outside the front door? The word needed in this sentence is STATUS, meaning the current situation with my inquiry, not STATUE.

Whoops #3: APOLOGY is a noun, as in, "We owe you AN APOLOGY." The word needed here is the verb APOLOGIZE to go with the subject WE.

Whoops #4: INCONVENIENT is an adjective and can only be used where it would describe a noun, as in the title of Al Gore's movie, "An INCONVENIENT Truth." (INCONVENIENT describes TRUTH.) In this sentence, a noun (INCONVENIENCE) is needed so that the noun DELAY and the noun INCONVENIENCE are both objects of the preposition FOR.

These two sentences should read as follows:

 Please allow one or two days and then send me another email to check the status.

We apologize for the delay and any inconvenience you may have had.

Wish me luck on the STATUS of my inquiry. I sincerely hope the actions of this company are more professional than its words!

What do you have to “loose”?

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

This is a usage Glitch that echoes down the generations no matter how many times it is corrected. While surfing through the responses on a Linked In discussion about the virtues of self publishing, I came across this profound comment:

You have nothing to loose and everything to gain. If you are good, of course.

Self publishing (not Vanity presses) certainly works for some people, but I hope the writer of this comment hires an editor if he plans to go that route. LOOSE is an adjective, meaning "out of confinement." On rare, archaic occasions, it is still used as a verb, as in LOOSE the hounds or LOOSE the dogs of war.

This writer needed the word LOSE, which is a verb and means the opposite of WIN. The sentence should read this way:

 You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. If you are good, of course .

 Keep in mind that your trusty spell checker would not catch this Glitch because both LOSE and LOOSE are words.