In celebration of America’s National Grammar Day, which took place yesterday, here is a list of some of the most irritating grammatical errors that appear in press releases.
Okay, so not strictly a grammatical problem, but far too many releases contain verbs that end in –ize rather than –ise. I know that this is not actually incorrect, but the style guides of most British publications defer to British-English as opposed to American-English.
For journalists desiring further information, many releases wrongly carry contact details under the term ‘enquires’. I may enquire about the subject matter, but I will address my enquiries to the named contact.
It’s shocking how often this one still comes up. It’s is the abbreviated form of ‘it is’ or, in informal speech, ‘it has’. Two short words brought together so succinctly, but with disastrous consequences if used incorrectly. The word ‘its’ is completely different, meaning ‘belonging to it’. I really don’t know how to make it any simpler.
My favourite howler, albeit from some years back. A release arrived liberally sprinkled with its’ – used interchangeably for both it’s and its. I challenged the PR who sent the release about this glaring error. It was, he said, what the client wanted. Yes, every client wants to look stupid. That particular PR now works in-house; I hope he has similarly diligent agencies working for him.
Within minutes of the Chancellor’s Budget speech, I will receive countless press releases explaining what his actions mean for SME’s. I am of the view that these will only impact SMEs. If only Philip Hammond could tax unnecessary apostrophes, the country’s finances would be sorted.
Year’s of experience
It is always amusing when somebody discusses his or her ‘20 year’s experience’, especially when that is in media relations.
The missing colon
As seen in a release today: ‘According to Andrew Ellis ‘You simply cannot compare...’’ Well, you simply cannot write like this. Having introduced Ellis earlier, this paragraph should have begun like this, for example. Ellis added: ‘You simply cannot compare...’ Missing colons are becoming commonplace when releases include quotes.
The missing comma
It is ‘Joe Bloggs, chief executive of ABC Group, said’. Not ‘Joe Bloggs, chief executive of ABC Group said’. Obviously, this is not the most heinous neglect of a comma. Who can forget the difference between ‘Time to eat grandma’ and ‘time to eat, grandma’? As the old joke goes, punctuation really can save lives.
Starting sentences with figures
‘44% of people’ should not start a sentence. Journalists find ways to incorporate such numbers into statements. Try ‘More than four in ten’ as the opening gambit. Readers’ eyes glaze over at figures, particularly when written as numerals.
My old professor took me to task when I submitted an essay containing this howler. The horror in his eyes lives with me today. A group may comprise ten people, but it is composed of five nationalities.
Further to the below
Many releases are sent with introductory messages from friendly PRs, which start with phrases like ‘Further to the below’. It’s a term that grates like fingers down a chalk blackboard. I much prefer the approach of this PR: ‘Please find attached and pasted below a press release about...’