For all of you grammar fans, and The Globe and Mail has many, here is a note that senior editor Martina Blaskovic sent to all editors about some common errors. Let’s see how well you would do:
Amounts and numbers
“Amount” is used for mass nouns that refer to uncountable things (eg. water), whereas “number is used for nouns that refer to things that can be counted (eg. people, years). Even more frequently, we confuse “less” with “fewer”. “Less” is for uncountable things – as in the sentence: “There is less ice in the Arctic than in years past.” – whereas “fewer” is for countable things – as in the sentence: “There are fewer people buying single-family homes now.” And the same logic applies to “over” and “more than” – although many grammarians/dictionaries make no distinction, my personal view is, when referring to countable things, “more than” is the better choice. Eg. “She has more than $100 in the bank.”
These are easy to miss because they are so similar, but the first refers to a climax and the second refers to weather.
Something is “centred on” something, never “centred around”, which is nonsensical. Similarly, something “revolves around” something and never “revolves on”.
“Farther” always refers to physical distance; “further” refers to metaphoric or figurative distance. Eg. “If you further annoy me with your questions of how much farther we have to drive, I’m going to scream.”
“Hone” means to sharpen or make effective (eg. She hones her skills as a journalist); “home” refers to moving toward a goal or being guided toward a target. Eg. “The police investigation homed in on a particular troubled neighbourhood.”
To “ravage” means to destroy or ruin; the root of “ravish” means to seize and the word has generally been a romanticized term for rape and is probably better avoided. If we are talking about a storm that has done great damage to a coastline, we want to use the word “ravage”.
Don’t say “The restaurant was located off of Bloor St.”
Don’t use this expression when you really mean “en masse”. (Here’s a recent example where we had it wrong: “If something spooks Canadians and they decide on mass to start paying off their debt, that will slow economic growth and could result in job losses.”)
Watch out, especially with wire copy, to replace “fueled” with “fuelled” or “center” with “centre” or “defense” with “defence” etc., unless they are part of a proper name.
1. An anniversary is the yearly return of a date on which an event previously took place (Latin anniversarius from annus year + versus turned) – so it’s redundant to say a 10-year anniversary when we mean “tenth anniversary”. It is therefore also incorrect to say someone is celebrating their 10-month anniversary. We really should say in such instances something like “they are celebrating the 10th month they have been together.”
2. Generally, when we say something happened “earlier this week” or is happening “later this month”, the words “earlier” and “later” are redundant and should be deleted from copy. If something occurred, it couldn’t have happened any other time than earlier; if something is going to occur, it can’t be happening any time other than later.
3. “Exactly the same” – things are either the same or they’re not. No need for the word “exactly”.
This is a common one that’s easy to miss in a fast edit, but watch out for constructions of “try and” instead of “try to”. Eg. “I’m going to try and win the race” is wrong.
If you have any comments, please leave them below. If you want to e-mail me on this or anything else please send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org. I will forward all grammar questions to Martina.