Tag Archives: Common Grammar Mistakes

Stop! In the Name of Grammar!

half man half womanIt’s hard to decide which common grammar mistake is the most irritating, but the ubiquitous practice of referring to a single person as “they” is a strong contender.

Professional writers who should know better make this mistake all the time, though I doubt it is always a mistake. That is, in some misguided attempt to be politically correct and avoid gender specificity, some writers would rather sound foolish than offend some indescribable, shadowy entity that objects to differentiating between men and women.

Examples:

“If an employee misses work more than twice in one calendar year without notifying management, they will be terminated”

“Each participant in the study will be injected with radioactive cockroach blood, after which they will be expected to keep notes of any changes in behavior or number of limbs.”

“If you love someone, set them free.”

“Who is your favorite blogger? I suggest you mail them a check for $100.”

Sure, you can rewrite the first clause in some instances so that the second clause becomes acceptable. For example, the first item above becomes, “Employees who miss work more than twice in one calendar year without notifying management will be terminated.”

But what to do in the case of examples 3 and 4? Simple: Choose a gender! Really. It’s ok. If a writer does not choose a gender in these scenarios, they sound foolish, don’t they?

Seriously, if you love someone, give him a bottle of Johnny Walker Black. After the participant in the radioactive-cockroach study develops an exoskeleton and feelers, keep her away from bug spray. Every writer who reads this post should double check his work for gender-avoidance errors, if he hasn’t already. Everyone who buys a gourmet cupcake today should remember her old pal Eric and get a second one for him. He prefers mint chocolate chip, but anything chocolaty will do.

Three rules in love and life:

  1. Don’t take people you care about for granted.
  2. Don’t drive on the sidewalk.
  3. Stop writing “they” and “their” when you are talking about one person.

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I am aware that this is a photograph of The Marvelettes, not their Motown label mates The Supremes, from whom I paraphrased today’s post title. You see, I‘ve long been irked that the following image does not appear in online searches, as it’s one of my favorites. So, in a fit of exasperation and declaring, “If you don’t do it yourself, it won’t get done,” I took apart the CD case, removed the rear insert, scanned it, and loaded the image here. That’s right. For the first time anywhere on the internet, I present this photograph of The Marvelettes, my favorite Motown act. Get on it, Google Image Search:

The Marvelettes (from top): Katherine Anderson, Gladys Horton, and Wanda Young

The Marvelettes (from top): Katherine Anderson, Gladys Horton, and Wanda Young