AJR  Drop Cap
From AJR,   July/August 2000


AJR asks copy editors: What are your grammar pet peeves?

By Bridget Gutierrez
Bridget Gutierrez is a reporter for the San Antonio Express-News.     

Marc Bailes, copy editor, Martha Stewart Living

"One of my top grammatical pet peeves would be people not being able to discern between 'that,' 'which' and 'who.' I would say 'whom' also, but most people don't even know that word exists. The first three, people think are interchangeable...and don't realize that it can change the meaning of what the sentence is saying.... A spelling error, I see it so frequently getting into print and raw copy it really bothers me. The spelling of the word 'forgo' should not have an 'e' in it when it means 'without.' They're two totally different words when you take the 'e' out or leave the 'e' in. That's got to be the most annoying spelling error. 'Forego' means 'to go before.' 'Forgo' means 'to do without.'... I don't know if there's anyone left who knows what the word 'ironic' means. It's often used to mean the opposite of what it really does mean. I hate when people use 'ironic' to mean, 'Oh, what a coincidence.' But it doesn't mean that at all. It's when the opposite happens of what is intended or what you expect, not when two things happen by coincidence or happenstance. I see that all the time."

Christopher Bonanos, associate editor, New York magazine

"There's a problem that we often see wherein a corporation or a group is referred to as a plural. I'll give you an example: 'Ford is introducing a new car, and they offer it in three colors.' The problem is that the 'they' refers to 'Ford,' but you're not saying 'Ford are.' 'Ford' is not a plural. The trouble is if you say 'it,' when you get to that 'it' you think it means the car, not the company. So you often have to rearrange the sentence.... But then, if you can't write around it...you have to use that 'it,' which sort of hangs in the air. You think it's kind of arcane but it comes up a lot.... And I'm a stickler on the 'hopefully' point. You're not supposed to say, 'Hopefully everyone will show up.' Because 'hopefully' is an adverb. What that means literally is, 'Everyone will show up and everyone will be filled with hope.' When what you mean is, 'It is hoped everyone will show up.'... A lot of copy editors have sighed and given up on that one...but at least in my own writing I still hold the fort."

Kelly Murphy, features copy editor and former copy desk chief, San Diego Union-Tribune

"One is the present tense caption with a time element in it: 'Jane Doe plays at the park yesterday.' It's pretty common--not here, anymore--but I see it a lot in other papers. And in headlines the construction, 'said to be' shortened to 'said.' An example, 'Tony Blair's Wife Said Pregnant.' And those are my pet peeves.... Those are them, uh, those are they. [Laughs.] Those are the two."

David Steinberg, business copy desk chief and style book editor, San Francisco Chronicle

"Things that always raise flags for me are mixing up 'further' and 'farther,' 'compared with' and 'compared to.' Some of them aren't grammar things, more your basic mixing plurals and tenses.... I guess they are my pet peeves, things that set me off, that stop me, that cause the reader's eyes to stop and get hung up on something. I guess that's my basic test: If it hangs the reader up, then it's something that needs to be changed."

Pat Tuohy, copy desk chief, Washington Times

"The first one is 'millennium.' First, with people spelling it incorrectly and secondly, with people referring to it now as the 21st century and it's the new millennium. And that won't actually take place until January 1, 2001.... It's nice that [2000 has] all those zeros in it, but it's not the 21st century! Another one is the use of the word 'late' as in: 'The late John F. Kennedy played football with his brothers.' Well, he wasn't late when he was playing football with his brothers!... Another one is holidays like April Fools' Day, Father's Day and Mother's Day. They come in with the apostrophe in the wrong place. They're all in the style book and they're easy to look up.... I could probably do this all day, but I'd drive myself crazy."