“Okay, now here’s the deal, I’ll try to educate ya
Gonna familiarize you with the nomenclature
You’ll learn the definitions of nouns and prepositions
Literacy’s your mission
And that’s why I think it’s a good time
To learn some grammar”
These are just a few of the lyrics from Weird Al Yankovic’s latest song, “Word Crimes,” a parody of Robin Thicke’s hit “Blurred Lines.” While Weird Al may have chosen the words to fit the tune, because of its subject matter the song made the email circuit recently at our office, as I’m sure it did at many other PR agencies and newsrooms across the country.
Is the parody funny? Yes, definitely – and it’s near impossible to get the familiar tune out of my head. But it also shares the reminder that at one point or another, we’re all guilty of some word crimes.
Whether you’re writing a simple email, a business proposal or a blog post, your writing represents you – your knowledge and abilities, your diligence and your attention to detail.
Here are a few easy tips for tackling some of Weird Al’s grammar word crimes.
1. Less vs. fewer – Often used interchangeably, fewer actually refers to individual items or people that can be counted or in plural, while less is used when referring to bulk items or items that do not have a plural. For example, we have had fewer hot days this summer, but also less rain.
2. It’s vs. its – One of the most common grammatical errors, it’s vs. its, is also one of the easiest to conquer. “It’s” is simply a contraction of the words “it” and “is”, whereas “its” is a possessive pronoun reflecting a specific quality or ownership. An easy way to determine the correct form is actually to substitute the words it is and see if they work in the sentence.
3. Pronoun agreement – Understanding that pronouns such as I, he, she, we and they are subjective, or acting on the verb in the sentence, and me, him, her, us and they are objective pronouns, or receiving the action of the verb, is the first step in ensuring correct pronoun usage. The second, and often overlooked step, is pronoun agreement. People often use their when they actually should use a singular pronoun such as his, hers or its. For example, instead of saying “Each team member at SPM works on their accounts,” the sentence should read “Each team member at SPM works on his or her accounts.”
4. Who or whom – One of the most confusing rules of grammar, determining whether to use who or whom actually has an easy trick. If an objective pronoun, such as her or him, can be substituted into the sentence, then whom should be used. If a subjective pronoun such as he or she can be substituted, the correct usage is who. For example, she could be put in place of who in the sentence “Who wrote the book.”
5. Literally vs. figuratively – Often used for emphasis, the word literally should only be used when something actually happens not when it’s figuratively, or metaphorically, true . For example, you didn’t literally fall off your chair from laughing ….unless you did of course.
These are just a few example of grammar word crimes. For more information, check out these resources.