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Happy National Grammar Day! Lawyers’ Top Three Grammar Goof-ups

By | Mar.04.14 | Communicating, Daily Dispatch, Get to the Point, Law Practice

Get to the Point

It’s a fitting way to celebrate National Grammar Day: Today we are announcing that lawyer and author Teddy Snyder is taking over Attorney at Work’s monthly “Get to the Point” column. Teddy will be giving practical tips, picking at nits and — we’re certain — offering an occasional rant aimed at helping us all communicate more effectively and confidently. 

Yes, believe it or not, it is national Grammar Day, the day for us to celebrate the value of effective communication. A day to rejoice that lawyers especially are wordsmiths who delight in precise oral and written communication.

Okay, you’re right, I was just joking about that last part. But it’s true that it’s National Grammar Day. You can even sing along with the anthem on YouTube.

Three Irritating Grammar Gaffes

In honor of National Grammar Day, here are the top three grammar and usage missteps I see made by lawyers (and pretty much everybody else).

1. Saying “I” instead of “me” all the time doesn’t make you sound smart or cultured. I previously wrote about this for Attorney At Work in “Sloppy Writing Sucks.” The “I or me” question usually comes up when there is a prepositional phrase (did I lose you yet?) with multiple people being referenced and ending with what should be “me.” The easy way to test for this is to remove the other names and see how it looks:

Please explain it to Merrilyn and me.  (You wouldn’t say “Please explain it to I.”)

The technical explanation? “I” is the correct first-person singular pronoun (groan here) only as the subject in the sentence or clause, i.e., when “I” am doing the being or acting of the sentence:

Merrilyn and I will explain it to you.

2. There is no such word as “alot.” I had a hard time keystroking this, because spell-check automatically wanted to change it, but I still see it all the time. Once spell-check fixes it, are people going back and changing it to be wrong? “A lot” — meaning “a great many” — refers to an allotment of something. Sorry, no such word as “alot.”

3. An acronym is a special kind of abbreviation that can be pronounced as a word. The well-known organization PETA is known by its acronym. NAACP is not. If the American Bar Association were a Scandinavian singing group, it would be known by its acronym. Alas, it is called the A-B-A. I hear the term “acronym” used for all manner of abbreviations, and once as a synonym for “word.” (Though that was by a human resources person, so maybe it doesn’t count.)

Perhaps you think I am picking at nits. Yet there is a contingent of people in the world who believe the accurate use of language is indispensable to human communication, not to mention the practice of any profession relying on such a skill, like, uh, law.

Theda C. “Teddy” Snyder mediates workers’ compensation cases throughout California. An attorney since 1977, she has practiced in a variety of settings and is a frequent speaker and author on topics impacting settlement and the business of law. She is a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management. Based in Los Angeles, Teddy can be found at www.WCMediator.com.

Bonus for National Grammar Day:

Teddy’s most popular Attorney at Work post to date is a marketing classic: Feature versus Benefit.

Illustration ©ImageZoo.


16 Responses to “Happy National Grammar Day! Lawyers’ Top Three Grammar Goof-ups”

  1. Debra L Bruce
    4 March 2014 at 8:47 am #

    When you get to grammar rants, I hope you’ll include “her and I” as in “Her and I bought a new truck.” Maybe it’s excusable if you grew up in the backwoods and only got through the 8th grade. It’s not excusable for lawyers. I haven’t seen it in writing, but I’m shocked to say that I hear it!

  2. Marcia Nordmeyer
    4 March 2014 at 9:37 am #

    I agree with Debra. Another irritating grammar mistake that needs attention is using “myself” in place of “me.” For example, “instead of discussing this matter with others, please come talk directly to myself.”

  3. Pat N Lawyer
    4 March 2014 at 9:53 am #

    #3 is combing with a pretty fine tooth. I’ve never heard anyone make that distinction. If I was in front of a jury they’d have no idea what I was talking about if I referred to the term “NAACP” as an initialism, which apparently is the correct term. Further, how are we to deal with terms like MS-DOS and JPEG that are partly spelled out and partly pronounced? It’s good to know there are people like you out there, but I’m not convinced I need to change behavior on this one.

  4. Mary Beth Pratt
    4 March 2014 at 10:49 am #

    A favorite is when the subject and the verb do not use the same tense – a plural subject takes a plural verb. Another favorite is when the sentence begins with a singular noun and the following pronoun is suddenly plural. (the client…..they…..)

  5. Teddy Snyder
    4 March 2014 at 3:03 pm #

    Thanks, Pat, for the info on initialisms. I think “abbreviation” works for everyone- and doesn’t rub anyone the wrong way. If you are dealing with a kind of abbreviation, it’s still an abbreviation. It’s the pervasive incorrect use of “acronym” that seems to have penetrated corporate-speak.

  6. Bob Ambrogi
    4 March 2014 at 5:13 pm #

    Just to pick a couple more nits, I would argue that two of these are not grammar mistakes. The second item is a spelling mistake and the third is a definition mistake. But perhaps you cover yourself by describing these as “grammar and usage missteps.”

    Also, the third item is not a mistake according to at least two dictionaries. Both Merriam-Webster and Webster’s Unabridged would include an abbreviation formed from initial letters, such as FBI, within the definition of acronym.

  7. Andrew H. Gealt
    5 March 2014 at 1:15 pm #

    An item of interest not mentioned, that I see frequently is a Complaint that will run on and on without paragraphs or structured sentences. “Notwithstanding, furthermore and in addition to are some of these examples of compilation of such complaints.,

  8. Richard Pinto
    5 March 2014 at 7:16 pm #

    Robert: agree with the nits you picked in your first paragraph.

    On your second point, however, the classic definition of “acronym” was defined here. Popular usage has led to “initialism” being included in the definition.

    British print media tend to make it easier to differentiate. Acronyms, which can be pronounced as words, use initial cap: Scuba, Opec, Fifa. Initialisms are in all-caps: FBI, IFLR, NFL, EPL, EU. I think it makes it easier for the reader when they come across an initialed word they do not recognize.

  9. Tim Callins
    7 March 2014 at 10:13 am #

    The “I’ versus “me” mistake sets my teeth to grinding every time I read or hear it. I want to scream (and actually have when I’ve heard national morning news personalities use the wrong one). It is such a simple rule that I wonder if these folk have ever studied English at all.

    Debra L. Bruce suggests they haven’t made it through the 8th grade, but I believe I learned that one before the 8th grade, even down in backwoods Alabama!

  10. C. Dorsel
    10 March 2014 at 11:30 am #

    Sorry, can’t help it! “A favorite is when the subject and the verb do not use the same tense” — Oooops! Since when do nouns have a tense? Subject/verb agreement is the proper terminology here

  11. Mary Lewis
    12 March 2014 at 6:46 am #

    Love it!

  12. E. Wolf
    12 March 2014 at 11:00 am #

    I’ve found that many corporate attorneys confuse “affect” and “effect”, not to mention “adverse affect” and “adverse effect”.

  13. Tom Owings
    24 March 2014 at 12:47 pm #

    One more nit: using “your” for “you’re”. Such as “You’re going to town, aren’t you?”

  14. Sarah S
    16 July 2014 at 5:32 pm #

    One of my favorites is when I get an email signed “Thank’s”. What are you trying to say? The word “Thank” doesn’t own anything… therefore it does not need the “‘s” at the end. Thanks is correct – it’s also probably a good idea to get the name of the person you are emailing correct…

    AND “could of” instead of “could have”… and don’t get me started on “then” vs. “than”

    !!!!!


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