9 grammatical mistakes you need to stop making before I throw live scorpions at you


giant-scorpion-1076314_960_720Hi everyone. I was writing a post on the new federal overtime law and how it will affect our sector, when I realized that I needed more time to think about it. Plus, we’ve had a string of posts on serious topics these past few weeks, and I need to give my brain a rest. So that post will appear next Monday. Today, I want to rant about grammar/punctuation/diction.

All of us are highly intelligent, charming, and attractive people (#OxfordCommaForever!) Still, we are not immune to making errors in our speech and writing. Errors such as “I was literally on fire during that evaluation presentation.” Or saying things like, “Between you and I, our equity plan sucks.” (Both are wrong. See “This literally makes my head explode” and “8 grammatical mistakes even smart and sexy people like you are making.”)

Now, as someone for whom English is a second language, I make mistakes all the time. Sometimes on purpose, such as using multiple exclamation points for extra emphasis, like this!!! And I appreciate it when readers email me to help me correct errors, just like I appreciate it when people point out that I have bits of spinach hummus stuck in my incisors. I also know English is a living, evolving entity, kind of like kombucha tea. For instance, the singular they—“Someone left their copy of the strategic plan behind”—is now gaining rapid acceptance, especially in light of our growing awareness of gender identity.

Still, these grammar, punctuation, and word usage mistakes below are irritating the crap out of colleagues and me on the NWB Facebook community, so please cut them out lest I throw live scorpions at you:

Affect/Effect: My organization’s mission includes supporting leaders of color and helping diverse communities work together to “effect systemic change.” People keep changing it to “affect systemic change.” Arrrgh!!! Look, to effect is to bring about something. To affect is to change something that is already in existence. Even smart people get this one wrong all the time. If you ever change “effect” to “affect” in my bio when I am keynoting at your conference, I will turn into the Grammar Hulk and trash your exhibition tables.

Myself. “My treasurer and myself agree with you completely about general operating funds.” Oh no, you did not just say that. You want to fight, don’t you? “Myself” is not a subject, or usually an object (“That timeline works for myself and my team.”) It just sounds weird and pretentious, like “Lady Grantham and myself kindly invite you to our chateau for cucumber sandwiches.” Knock it off. Unless, you are Lord Grantham; in which case, carry on.

Apostrophes. “I forgot my flask, so Janice let me drink from her’s.” Or, “There are leftover donut’s in the conference room, y’all!” Please stop putting random apostrophes everywhere! Apostrophes are like containers of Activia yogurt: They help things go smoothly, but use them excessively and there will be consequences.

Its/It’s. I was generous in the last grammar rant, thinking most people are just lazy when it comes to its and it’s. But I’ve seen enough of this mistake to recognize that it is a serious problem. “It’s” is a contraction for “it is,” and “its” is a possessive. So please don’t write, “The board has reversed it’s stance on allowing live wombats at the office.”

I resonate with. I’ve been seeing this one more often lately. Instead of saying, “Your post on dating in the nonprofit sector resonates with me,” a colleague says, “I resonate with your post…” That’s weird. And it conjures up images of someone resonating, which I envision as someone vibrating. If you’re resonating, please see a doctor.

Utilize. Please stop using “utilize,” such as “Let’s utilize binder clips as door prizes at our gala.” It is one of those words that people utilize to sound important, especially when talking about missions. It usually backfires, making you look like you’re using a big word to sound important. Just use “use.” Remember, “Unless good taste you despise, never ever use utilize.” (It’s midnight; that’s the best rhyme I can create.)

Based off of. “Based off of” is kind of fun to say, which is probably why there’s been an increase in its usage: “Based off of last year’s gala, we should have a signature drink this year, and I think it should be called Equity Juice.” (This is not just an example; I’m creating the recipe for this cocktail, and it involves coconut water). “Based on.” It’s “based on,” all right?

Irregardless. Like “sustainability,” “irregardless” is not a thing. Stop saying it. In fact, carry fruit in your laptop bag, so that you may pummel with aforementioned fruit the people who do say it. Irregardless is redundant. Just say “regardless,” like “Regardless of cultural diversity and dietary needs, beet hummus is an abomination of nature.”  

Service. OK, this, like “utilize,” is not a grammar mistake. It’s more about word choice. But please pay careful attention, because we in the nonprofit sector use this word a lot. And when it is used as a noun, it’s fine. When it’s used as a verb, though, it opens a hole in the fabric of space and time, and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse unleash themselves upon the earth. Watch: “We service low-income individuals through our employment programs.” NoooOOOooOOOooo!!! If you don’t know why that is wrong, please ask a friend.

All right, please get those down so that you don’t have to worry about being attacked by live scorpions. Meanwhile, here are a few bonuses. These are debated by grammarians and the general public, and the tides seem to be shifting on them, meaning they can go either way. However, if you are going to be interacting with people who are sticklers for grammar, especially if they are also donors, you can quickly impress them if you get these right:

Comprised of. “The board is comprised of seven people.” Nope, it should be “The board comprises seven people.” Comprises is closer to “include” than “compose.” Composed of seven people is fine. But included of seven people is weird. As I said, things are a-changing, and grammarians are not as obsessed with this one. Still, I’m in favor of “comprises seven people.”

Momentarily. It traditionally means “for a short period of time,” but it’s started to mean “in a short period of time.” So “We hired a juggler, who will be here momentarily” could mean the juggler will be there for about five minutes and then he’s gone, in which case, why did you even hire him? Just say, “In a moment” to avoid confusion.

Myriad. “We have a myriad of options for venues for next year’s gala.” Myriad is more like an adjective, kind of like “countless,” but it’s started to be treated more like a noun. You don’t say, “We have countless of options.” So, you can win major sexy grammar points by dropping the “of,” like this: “The myriad services we provide are a testament to our awesomeness.”

Related post: “21 irritating jargon phrases, and new cliches we should replace them with.”

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