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Are You a Grammar Goddess?

Do you recognize the two grammar errors in the following two sentences (must read the post)

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Here’s what’s on Google’s home page on May 16, 2009:

Over 28,000 children drew doodles for our homepage.

Vote for the one that will appear here!

Anyone who has read this blog has already figured out that we could use a few grammar lessons. I like to think I know my grammar but am just too busy to review all of my posts to ensure correctness. I am careful about using since v. because (since requiring a time related clause to follow). I refuse to use the word irregardless. (It’s a double negative). In reviewing the sentences above, though, I didn’t have a clue about what was “wrong” with them. The answer is here.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

30 Comments

  1. Lori
    May 19, 2009 @ 11:10:02

    The poll needs a 3rd option—saw only one of the errors.

  2. jenifer
    May 19, 2009 @ 11:32:03

    I’m glad I voted no. After reading the explanation, I’d say that there are no errors in those two sentences. Not complying with the AP style guide does not make for poor grammar.

    Grammar rules exist to tell us what must be done to be grammatically correct. Even then, there is much debate among experts (and non-experts).

    Style guides tell people writing for a particular publication how to choose among stylistic issues when two or more are considered grammatically correct.

  3. Laura
    May 19, 2009 @ 11:33:39

    I only got one of the errors, and I’d argue vociferously about the other!

  4. JennaJ
    May 19, 2009 @ 11:51:53

    It’s clumsily written but I wouldn’t call it grammatically incorrect.

  5. Dianne Fox
    May 19, 2009 @ 12:10:16

    “Over” versus “more than” is a grammar mistake. The other — “that” versus “which” — I would say is simply part of the AP Style Guide, and I wouldn’t count it as a mistake. There are several other, conflicting style guides. Chicago, MLA, APA… As someone said above, style guides are used to tell people how to format a piece of writing for a particular publication. They do not dictate correct English grammar.

  6. Angela James
    May 19, 2009 @ 12:11:01

    Not complying with the AP style guide does not make for poor grammar.

    I think Jennifer makes a good point, because AP is actually only one of many style guides. Not to mention that every publisher also has a house style guide. And then there’s different styles of grammar in different countries…

  7. jenifer
    May 19, 2009 @ 12:18:34

    More on “more than” vs. “over”:

    http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/more-than-versus-over.aspx

    If you are working for a newspaper, you may want to honor tradition and carefully consider the argument of Mr. Safire and Mr. Walsh and make a distinction between “more than” and “over.”

    But if you don’t work in a newsroom, you’re free to use “more than” and “over” in front of numbers as you see fit.

  8. Silver James
    May 19, 2009 @ 12:21:34

    I recognized both. Yes. I’m a word nerd, though I seldom pay attention to my inner editor.

  9. Lorelie
    May 19, 2009 @ 12:27:34

    Heh. I only spotted one, and it was the debatable one. I wonder what that says about me.

  10. Laura Vivanco
    May 19, 2009 @ 12:29:20

    I didn’t spot either of the two mistakes identified by that blogger. As Angela says, there are different grammar rules in different countries, and I’d not even heard of the AP guide. However, I did think that the two sentences

    Over 28,000 children drew doodles for our homepage.

    Vote for the one that will appear here!

    could be interpreted as meaning that one of the 28, 000 children will appear on the Google homepage. That’s not what Google meant, of course, but I do think it’s a possible interpretation of those two sentences.

  11. MaryK
    May 19, 2009 @ 13:00:06

    I found “over” but not “that.”

    ETA: One of my pet peeves is the use of “that” in place of “who.” A person is not a “that”! Drives me nuts.

  12. Randi
    May 19, 2009 @ 13:29:18

    I didn’t find the errors either. I did, however, find it odd when they say,

    Vote for the one that will appear here!

    because if all the doodles are on the page so you can vote for one, then they already appear “here”. I know what they mean, of course, but I just thought it was funny.

  13. Randi
    May 19, 2009 @ 13:30:41

    MaryK: or the use of ‘who’ vs ‘whom’! hahaha. I happen to use ‘whom’ whenever I can, because it’s just fun to say, but I almost never hear people use it.

  14. joanne
    May 19, 2009 @ 13:54:03

    I knew that ‘over’ was incorrect — but only because of the nun who rapped my knuckles about 899 times when I was in fourth grade.

    I keep trying to replace ‘that’ with ‘which’ but it hurts my head.

    I ain’t always right, tho, ya no?

  15. theo
    May 19, 2009 @ 14:26:16

    @Laura Vivanco: That was my first thought as well. “Vote for which doodle” would clarify much better, but I doubt many people will read it other than the way it’s intended.

    I’m waiting for the headlines and blogs that preface every other word with “like.” That will be the day I toss a shoe through my monitor.

  16. Darlynne
    May 19, 2009 @ 17:10:37

    The AP Style Guide, which some believe is the arbiter of good grammar, is wrong, in my opinion. I still bear the psychic scars that life in Miss Becker’s eighth grade English class gave me as proof.

  17. Marianne McA
    May 19, 2009 @ 17:15:15

    I would have read past both of those. When told they weren’t correct, I could work out that the use of ‘Over’ wasn’t ideal, and I mentally rephrased the other ‘Vote for which…’

    But I’d bet everyone who looked at the sentences understood what Google was trying to communicate. Perhaps good grammar should be a means to an end rather than an end in itself – after all, what’s important is that we understand each other. The internet is a fairly informal medium, and if we all had to be correct all the time, I could never comment on anything.

    (My inability to punctuate properly always reminds me of Pratchett’s phrase: ‘wanton cruelty to the comma’.)

  18. Lorraine
    May 19, 2009 @ 18:38:03

    I’m not surprised that I didn’t catch it…my grammar sucks. All I noticed was that “home page” was spaced out in the first sentence but compounded “homepage” in the second.

    BTW, thanks for the heads up on the rules of using since v because. I never knew the distinction between them *not surprised by that either*, but I’m happy to say that I do know the difference between imply and infer.

  19. Elly Soar
    May 19, 2009 @ 19:35:17

    I really don’t find those ungrammatical — “if a native speaker would say it” and all that…

  20. SonomaLass
    May 19, 2009 @ 20:00:57

    Got ‘em both, since I spent many years as the AP Style Guide enforcer at the charitable trust where I used to work. Don’t always agree with the old book, but I still know it whether I want to or not!

    I prefer “more than” and “fewer than” or (“less than,” depending on context) to “over} and “under” with numbers.

    In this usage, I would argue that either that or which is correct, because it’s a restrictive relative clause.

    Who and whom, on the other hand, are NOT interchangeable, any more than I and me, he and him, they and them, et cetera.

    Yeah, I’m a grammar nerd.

  21. Venus Vaughn
    May 20, 2009 @ 01:39:39

    I didn’t vote because I saw one error and not the other.

    I knew it had to be “More than” but didn’t know about “which.” I thought the 2nd sentence was awkward, and didn’t know why.

  22. cecilia
    May 20, 2009 @ 07:20:05

    I saw “Over” as an error, and guessed that the “that” was going to be identified as an error, but I don’t think that it is. Generally, in a sentence like that one, “which” would follow a comma, and the clause would provide non-essential information. “That” leads to a clause that provides essential information in the sentence.

    Some grammar errors bug me because they indicate that people truly don’t think about the language they use (e.g. an amount of people as opposed to a number of people). At other times I don’t really see that it makes much difference even if I understand the rule (e.g. that vs which).

  23. K. Z. Snow
    May 20, 2009 @ 07:40:52

    I believe there’s a far more glaring error than the use of “over” rather than “more than” (yeah, got that one), and I also believe “that” was correctly used. (I was taught “which” is used when the clause that precedes it ends with a comma: e.g., I bought a new dress, which you’ll see when I come to the party.)

    My big problem was with the second sentence. “Vote for the one that will appear here” makes no sense. The phrase will appear implies certainty. First, how are voters to know which one will appear, and, second, what would be the point of voting for it?

  24. Jane O
    May 20, 2009 @ 09:12:01

    THe AP style book is a style book, not a grammar book. Its aim is consistency within acceptable limits. For example, you can use a comma before the and in a series or not -‘ either is acceptable but consistency is desirable. Neither of these sentences contains a grammatical error as such. What they illustrate is questionable usage.

    As for these two examples, I prefer more than for quantities, over for direction, but then I’m considered old-fashioned.

    As for that and which, if one feels obliged to make a distinction on some basis other than euphony, I would choose that for restrictive clauses, which for nonrestrictive clauses.

    And I agree with K.Z. Snow. The problem with the second sentence is that it makes no sense.

  25. Mary M.
    May 20, 2009 @ 11:07:41

    Didn’t notice either mistake, but then my knowledge of English comes mostly from reading novels; I learned a few rules in school but only the most basic ones. Now that I see it I remember hearing about over/more than, but I would probably have made the same mistake. As for the second sentence, I would furiously argue in favor of using “that” over “which”. “Which” actually feels wrong to me in that case, while “that” feels natural and less of a mouthful.

    Grammatical “mistakes” apart, I understood those those two sentences perfectly as they were, and I think that’s what matters the most.

  26. Sherry Thomas
    May 20, 2009 @ 12:37:56

    Nope, neither.

    The longer I’ve lived in this country, the worse my grammar gets!

  27. Keishon
    May 20, 2009 @ 13:06:06

    You don’t have to worry about me auto-correcting your grammatical mistakes because I don’t care. You’d have to write really bad for me to notice them anyway. For the topic at hand, I checked “no” in the poll because I didn’t spot them either but the second sentence did sound kind of off to me. However, if I can understand what you’re saying, then grammar doesn’t really matter to me. I think grammar has it’s place but to be a good communicator one must speak and write to be understood by everyone. That is my 2 cents on matter.

  28. votermom
    May 21, 2009 @ 08:36:37

    @K.Z. Snow – I had the same problem with the second sentence. Logical error. :)
    It should be “Guess which one will appear here.” or “Vote for the one that you want to be showcased here.” Or better: “Which one will appear here? Vote now!”

    I didn’t spot the “Over” & “that/which” thing though.

  29. Robin
    May 22, 2009 @ 15:05:42

    “More than” v. “over” is an obvious error, IMO, but I agree with those who argue against the validity of “which” over “that” in second sentence. IMO the second sentence is just weak and could have been fixed this way: “Vote for the one you want to see here,” or even simply, “Vote for one to appear here.”

  30. Grammar Snobs R Us | The Sweet Escape
    May 23, 2009 @ 06:16:46

    […] Personally, I feel like I rarely make grammar errors– but maybe after taking this quiz, I will pick up an AP stylebook and investigate myself and then take back my words. Anyhow, Jane posted the poll, and it went a little something like this: Are You a Grammar Goddess? […]

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