Still Learning Grammar After All These Years

A wonderful reader of this blog pointed out a grammatical mistake that I make numerous times on this site.

From the article 25 Editing Tips for Tightening Your Copy:

16. Refer to people as “who” not “that”

John is the guy who always forgets his shoes, not the guy that always forgets his shoes. It’s easy to make this mistake because that has become acceptable in everyday conversations. But it’s more noticeable when it’s written down.

I use the phrase “people that” all the time on this site. Although there is some minor debate on this point, once I started reading my own sentences with the phrase “people who”, they sounded MUCH BETTER. I’m convinced.

A quick database query told me there are 102 posts affected. So a normal blogger might decide going forward to implement the new lesson. Not me. I have started the process of fixing all those posts. This little project should go much smoother than a few years ago when I replaced every double space following punctuation with a single space.


Photo by Cody Geary

At the risk of rewriting this entire site, are there any other bad grammatical habits I have on this blog? 😀

UPDATE March 31, 2015: After starting this project I realized it was more than the phrase “people that”. Any reference to people would need to be changed. This meant searching for person, men, man, woman, women, girl(s), boy(s), someone, somebody, individual(s), customer(s), character(s), dude, guy(s), and numerous job titles. Over 300 posts have been updated and I’m sure I missed some.


Add yours

  1. Additionally:

    1. Remember to never split an infinitive.
    2. Don’t use double negatives.
    3. Do not put statements in the negative form.
    4. Verbs has to agree with their subjects.
    5. Don’t start a sentence with a conjunction.
    6. Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences, as of 10 or more words, to their antecedents.
    7. Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.
    8. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
    9. Resist hyperbole.
    10. Contractions aren’t necessary.
    11. Don’t be redundant; don’t use more words than necessary; it’s highly superfluous.
    12. One-word sentences? Eliminate.
    13. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
    14. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
    15. Who needs rhetorical questions?

  2. More semantics than grammar: “Could care less” when you really “Couldn’t care less”.

    The logician in me cringes every time I read that. There does seem to be a geographical preference for this however so I understand if you stick with it. The sarcasm explanation does not seem to apply to common usage though.

    Regardless of micro-cringes I do appreciate the great content you have shared over the years, thanks.

  3. @Laurence – Yikes. Looks like I’ve made that error 12 times. I’ll fix those tonight. Thank you.

  4. Evelyn aka Carbsane

    Mar 31, 2015 — 8:06 pm

    Man, my grad school advisor used to get me all the time for using which rather than that. To this day, which sounds better in my head every time. But dagnabit, that is the correct way to go.

    I’ll keep reading even if you’re (sic) grammars (sic) not perfect. 😉

  5. I’m just seriously impressed that you care enough about your readers (and take enough pride in your writing) to go back and fix every error! You’re a one-of-a-kind, MAS!

  6. @Rita – Thanks. My thinking is this site has been online since March 2000 and will continue to be online as long as I am around, so the sooner I can fix the errors the better!

  7. Thanks Gary for the laugh. 🙂

    MAS – Appreciate your humility in being open to input. I might add to your list spelling out numbers under 10 when used in a sentence.

    I have read your blog for a year or so, and look forward to new posts and rediscovering old posts, but have not commented until now. Thank you for your unique, thoughtful, and curious approach!  Your path seems to have paralleled mine with interest in N=1, then frustration with too much quantifying of self, as well as curiosity about the Sarno effect, metabolism slowdown after low carb, etc. (But you are about two paces ahead of me.) Just want to say thanks!

  8. @Gianna – Thank you!

    I purposely don’t spell out numbers. I know it is wrong, but I feel they are easier to read and find when we we skim. If someone reads a fitness post and they want to know how many sets of an exercise I did, it is easier for the eyes to find “2” than “two”. If I were writing a book, I would use the standard convention, but for skim readers I like the actual numbers.

  9. “Replace stuffy words with simple ones. If they need to grab a dictionary to finish a sentence, your writing has room for improvement.”

    I vehemently disagree. That might be true if you’re marketing widgets or an exotic herb from China (that will keep you hard for 8 hours) to effective idiots.

    The average slug learns 50 new words per year. I endeavor to exceed 3000. Every 10 years…30K new words.

    William F. Buckley sent me to the dictionary a zillion times. I met him at ISU when I was nineteen years old. I drove 400 miles to hear him speak for one hour. Buckley motivated me.

    Words are symbols for ideas. Allowing for economy of speech. And if someone thinks you are a sesquipedalian…so what! Discerning people (the best audience) will appreciate it.

    I do not pretend to be a good writer. Here is a tip that I think is invaluable: Analyze every sentence. Eliminate unnecessary words. Even if you have all the ‘nuts and bolts’ in place, this gambit will shorten most sentences. Short sentences keep a reader in the copy.

  10. It ought to be possible to do some sort of automated replace of all of these … ‘sed’ is the tool you’d use on a Unix system if the posts were all on your own website. It would take you less than a minute to fix all of them.

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