You’re Better Than That: a Quick PSA on the use of Language Conventions in Social Media

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By Dr. Allison Belger

I haven’t written a blog post in a few months, and I’ve always vowed only to write when a topic organically drives me to the keyboard. I’m driven there now, but not for an article typical of what I write on this blog, having to do with sports or psychology, or both.

This is more of a quick PSA regarding use of language conventions in our posts on social media. In short: it’s important to pay attention to the simple rules of grammar and punctuation when writing posts to accompany even the cutest of pictures documenting the most wonderful moments of our lives.  Like the execution of personal hygiene, attention to the rules of grammar and other conventions of the English language is a must. You might have something super smart to say, but if you say it poorly, your message is diminished. I promise. Actually, one could look at this as a sort of self-help topic, after all.

I have many super smart, creative, generous, knowledgeable friends—the real-life kind and the social-media kind. Because they are so great, it makes me uncomfortable when their writing is filled with mistakes so easily corrected with a little attention to detail, or, perhaps, a brief little reminder of how certain rules work. A former Learning Specialist, I know that it can often help to make explicit rules of grammar that are assumed to have been picked up implicitly.

In that vein, below are the top 5 mistakes I see ALL THE TIME in my social media feeds, with corrections and explanations.

  1. Your versus You’re. This is by the far the most common error I see on a daily basis.

Rule: If you can sub the words “you are,” then you must write “you’re.”

Trick: Something’s missing. The apostrophe stands for a missing letter or letters. In this case, the missing letter is “a” at the beginning of “are.”

Example: “You’re better than your mistakes make you appear.”

  1. Than versus then. A simple one, but so many mistakes are made.

Rule: When comparing, use “than.” When denoting sequence, use “then.”

Trick: Then has an “e” in it like “when,” which also denotes time or sequence.

Example:  “First, you should put on sunscreen. Then you should go out in the sun. This is better than waiting to put on your sunscreen till you’re outside.”

  1. Her versus She and Me versus I.  This one’s a tiny bit more complicated, but fixing it will make a HUGE difference in how you present, in both spoken and written language. It’s mindblowing to me how many fully functioning and intelligent adults don’t do this correctly:

Rule: Her and Me are OBJECTS.  She and I are subjects.  That means that when the other person is the one doing the action, use “She.” When the other person is the one being acted upon, use “her.”

Example: “She went to the store. The store manager helped her.” Easy, right? But what about this:

She and I went to the store.” Correct.

Her and I went to the store.” Wrong, and yet so many people say this!

Trick: “Take out the other guy.” In other words, you would never say: “Her went to the store,” so why would you say: “Her and I went to the store.” Don’t do it. It’s “She and I.”  If you take out the “other guy,” in this case the I, the sentence is clearly:

“She went to the store,” so stick with she. Make sense?

Example: “The teacher told her and me that we did a great job today.”  Seems clear to me. But even my smartest friends say or write things like: “The teacher told her and I that we did a good job, or “He helped my team and I succeed.”

Remember the trick: Take out the other guy. You would never say, “He helped I succeed,” so don’t say “He helped my team and I succeed.” If something is being done TO you (object), use ME.  If you are doing the something (subject), use I.

So…”He helped my team and me succeed” is correct.

  1. Who versus That.

Rule: People are who, things are that. When you are talking about people, refer to them using “who.” When you are talking about things, refer to them using “that.”

Example:  “The person who helped me through a difficult time was my mom.”   “The jacket that was left on the floor belonged to me.” Those are correct.

But saying: The person that helped me the most was my mom” is not correct.  Your mom is a person. She is thus a who. A jacket is a thing. It is thus a that.

  1. To versus too.

Too is for an excess of something: Too much, too loud, too funny.

Too is also for also.  “I like broccoli, too.”

To is a preposition. “I went to the store.” “He talked to me.”  Most people know the difference between these two, but often don’t take the time to correct their social media work.

And of course, two is a number, but that one isn’t typically a source of error.

  1. (I lied about the top 5 thing) One more:  Use a comma to separate the name of the person you are addressing.  So, it’s “That’s a great post, Michael.” Versus: “That’s a great post Michael.”  Pet peeve.

Those are my top six right now. I’ll do another installment soon, addressing other ones, including they’re/their/there and other such offenses.

The thing is, our writing is a reflection of us, whether we like it or not. In my opinion, racing through a social media post is no excuse to throw grammar and attention to detail out the window. Mistakes and typos happen, and believe me, I proofread this post more than once in hopes of not missing any of my own. I think it behooves us all to make these errors fewer and further between.  Which reminds me of the elusive fewer  versus less rule (think: fewer cups of coffee versus less coffee.) I’ll save the details of that one for next time!

 

 

 

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