The War on Error

Archive for the ‘grammar’ Category


You wouldn’t expect a hospital to be overly concerned with the health of grammar and good spelling – after all, they’ve got far more important things to think about. But then again, while I’m happy to overlook the weird random capitalisation/pluralisation so beloved of official letter writers, when a there/their mix-up changes the sense of the sentence it’s more than just irksome. These letters are on TEMPLATE, so really, there’s no excuse.

Posh fish supper? Maybe not tonight. The Saucy Fish Co are all at sea with their hyphens and apostrophes. Remember, SFC, there’s nothing less upmarket than packaging that has only been given a cursory glance over.

“Who is wife is a..?” Ouch. Red faces all round on the Daily Mail subs’ desk. The difference between who’s and whose is kids’ stuff.

That old grammatical tussle between ‘less’ and ‘fewer’ rumbles on, played out in the public forum of Britain’s supermarkets. About a year ago, Tesco took the decision to ditch ’10 items or less’ (above, right) in favour of ‘up to 10 items’. Sainsbury’s, however, sticks resolutely to ‘5 items or less’ (above, left), while Asda flaunts the rule entirely and extends the misuse of ‘less’ across all of its instore material (below).

Here’s how it works. You can have less of something if it is a single thing: less milk, less cheese. You can only have fewer items of a plural something: fewer onions, fewer eggs. SO: less means ‘not as much’, whereas fewer means ‘not as many’.

Memo to the Flight Centre’s copywriters: apostrophes may appear to highlight plurals, but using them actually just makes your signs look a bit crap. The rules are easy peasy – whether written out or in numerical form – unless the figure is possessive then leave the punctuation out of it.

Tesco may be the world’s third largest retailer, boasting an annual turnover of over £37 billion, but it still hasn’t bothered paying for someone with half a brain to check the blurb on the back of its juice cartons. While the first sentence doesn’t make sense without punctuation the ‘it’s’ in the final line really lets the side down.


The Copy Editor

Making your words work