Design & UX
By Sarah Hawk

Talk with the Experts:
Spelling & Grammar – The Transcript

By Sarah Hawk

This morning I hosted one of the more entertaining Talk with the Experts sessions to date. The subject was a little unusual – spelling and grammar isn’t something you would immediately think of when you think of web development but perhaps you should! How often do you find a spelling mistake on a site and think ‘hmmmm, did these guys even bother to proof-read?’ Chances are, they did. I think that everyone has their own spelling or grammatical stumbling block (you only have to read the transcript below to find out that I have several).

Do you get confused about when to use ‘to’ vs ‘too’? Or ‘affect’ vs ‘effect’? Today SitePoint Forums Team Leader Thom Parkin shared some cool tips and tricks that he has picked up over the years that help to get those annoying little things under control.

If you missed the session because you didn’t know it was on, you can sign up for reminders of future sessions here.


If you’re a regular attendee, don’t get tripped up by next week’s time change. We’ll be talking ‘Marketing for nerds who hate marketing’ with SitePoint author Shayne Tilley, at 11:00am PDT on Mon 16 Sept. You can see what time it will be at your place here.

And now for the purpose of this post. Here is a full transcript of exactly what went down this morning, laughs and all:

[21:34] <HAWK> OK, well we may as well get started. Thom, did you want to give some kind of an intro?

[21:34] <ParkinT> English is a very peculiar language. By its very nature it contains many confusing and contradictory rules
[21:34] <ParkinT> Even if it is your native language it is *very* difficult to use properly.
[21:35] <ParkinT> When writing – and particularly for the web, which in many ways is permanent/eternal – it is crucial you take the care to be precise and accurate.
[21:36] <ParkinT> There are numerous very common mistakes (mostly spelling and grammar) that I have seen in my many, many years.
[21:36] <ralphm> Yeah, speling! And grammer! Like, totally awesome, dude!
[21:36] <ParkinT> At the same time I have developed a few favorite “Tricks” to help ME embarras myself less often
[21:37] <ParkinT> I wanted to share those with you here. And it will be a good place to generate some discussion.
[21:37] <ralphm> *embarrass*
[21:37] <jerry> The gold standard is to unplug the keyboard ;)
[21:37] <ParkinT> First, I must emphatically state that: although I am a native English speaker, I don’t really speak ENGLISH. I speak AMERICAN. Which is a slight perversion of English.
[21:37] <HAWK> Slight????
[21:37] <ParkinT> Good catch RALPH !!
[21:38] <ParkinT> I know, Hawk, those in Australia have [almost] a language of their own!! <grin>
[21:38] <HAWK> Ha – I’m in New Zealand
[21:39] <HAWK> But we speak the same language as the Aussies, so I’ll give you that
[21:39] <jerry> At least American’s don’t add all those extra ‘u’s to words
[21:39] <HAWK> Heh
[21:39] <ParkinT> But…there are even some interesting dialects WITHIN the United States.
[21:39] <ParkinT> For example, I grew up in the outskirts of Philadelphia where the common PLURAL for ‘you’ is ‘youse’.
[21:40] <ParkinT> But that is yet another long discussion !
[21:40] <HAWK> Are you for real? I always thought that was just a lack of education, rather than an actual established part of language
[21:40] <HAWK> wow
[21:40] <ralphm> There are some languages that have a distinct symbol for each sound, meaning they are basically spelled (spelt!) exactly as they are spoken. They are SO lucky!
[21:40] <ParkinT> So, on to some of my prepared notes. There are a few key areas I have noted on the web (and particularly on Sitepoint forums) that I wanted to address.
[21:40] <HAWK> Great
[21:41] <ralphm> Where I come from, it’s “ye”.
[21:41] <ParkinT> I have a small list of some words that are often used incorrectly for other words with the same (or similar) sounds.
[21:41] <immysl> yes like sinhala. it’s my mother tongue.
[21:41] <ParkinT> Advise versus Advice.
[21:41] <HAWK> I haven’t heard of sinhala. Where are you from?
[21:41] <jerry> I always thought of ‘youse’ as more of a NY expression than Philly
[21:41] <immysl> I am from Sri Lanka
[21:42] <ParkinT> Advise is a verb and Advice is a noun.
[21:42] <immysl> not in the US
[21:42] <ParkinT> You can “provide Advice” as you are in the process of “Advising” someone
[21:42] <immysl> advise is the noun in american english i suppose
[21:43] <ParkinT> Advise is the verb. It is an active word; you are doing something.
[21:43] <ralphm> “Yous” is very common in Australian slang. I consider it “you” plus and “s”, though—the plural of “you”.
[21:43] <ParkinT> Advice is a noun. It is something you can reference/point to.
[21:43] <ParkinT> Similar to Advise and Advice there is Verses and Versus.
[21:43] <jerry> I’m partial to y’all
[21:44] <ParkinT> This is quite commonly mixed up because the sound is so close.
[21:44] <HAWK> I think of y’all as an Americanism
[21:44] <ParkinT> Yes. Y’all is American slang
[21:44] <ParkinT> Supposedly a contraction for YOU ALL.
[21:44] <immysl> is y’all widely used in america?
[21:44] <ParkinT> Which is a redundancy in itself, eh?
[21:45] <Carl> In the south … yes
[21:45] <ParkinT> Mostly in the south.
[21:45] <Zac> I think ‘Should of’ is an Americanism as well
[21:45] <ParkinT> “The South” which is really the southeastern part of the country
[21:45] <Carl> Will that be all for y’all?
[21:45] <jerry> Hawk – y’all is particular to the southern and southwestern US.
[21:45] <ParkinT> Actually, “Should of” is one of my pet peeves.
[21:45] <HAWK> Same
[21:45] <Carl> And TX … which is central
[21:45] <ParkinT> There is a proper contraction for SHOULD HAVE. And that is should’ve
[21:46] <ParkinT> Its pronunciation is very close to SHOULD OF.
[21:46] <Carl> Shoudda
[21:46] <jerry> All y’all pay attention now!
[21:46] <jerry> :)
[21:46] <ParkinT> Texas is – in many ways – considered part of The South
[21:46] <ralphm> Thom, do you have a mnemonic for advice/advise? I remember being given one at school or distinguishing between “effect” and “affect”.
[21:46] <Carl> But not Eastern
[21:46] <ParkinT> Moving on…
[21:47] <ParkinT> There is a trick I use to help keep the distinction between VERSES and VERSUS clear in my mind.
[21:47] <ParkinT> Since VERSES is the plural of “verse’ and VERSUS means a competition.
[21:47] <ParkinT> A competition includes “us”
[21:47] <tparkin> ralph, I think it’s “ice” is a noun and “is” is a verb
[21:48] <ParkinT> Another very, very common mistake in writing is WEATHER versus WHETHER
[21:48] <tparkin> adv-ice, noun. adv-is-e, verb
[21:48] <HAWK> Affect and effect gets me.
[21:48] <Carl> your and your’re
[21:48] <ParkinT> Ralph. I am glad you brought that up.
[21:48] <HAWK> You affect something and something has an effect? Is that right?
[21:48] <ParkinT> Effect and Affect is yet another tough one.
[21:48] <ParkinT> And I have a trick for that too
[21:48] <ParkinT> Carl has a good one too.
[21:49] <ParkinT> YOUR is a word and YOU’RE is a contraction of YOU ARE. YOUR represents possession. I remember it this way
[21:49] <ParkinT> Possession is something I want to keep very close to me. In YOUR all the letters are very close. In You’re there is an apostrophe in the way
[21:50] <ralphm> Nice one, tparkin. For affect/effect, I was taught RAVEN—”Remember: A for Verb and E for Noun”. Dunno why that stuck in my mind, though!
[21:50] <tparkin> That’s a good one, ralph. I didn’t pay attention as much as I should’ve in school it seems
[21:50] <ParkinT> Good one, tparkin. Since Advise contains “IS” you can remember it “IS” a verb.
[21:50] <Carl> You’re paying attention now
[21:50] <HAWK> Heh
[21:51] <ParkinT> The way I remember the distinction between WEATHER and WHETHER is simple: If it has to do with snow or wind or rain I want to *get the H out of there!’
[21:51] <HAWK> Love it
[21:51] <ParkinT> Right Carl.
[21:51] <jerry> Good one, ParkinT
[21:51] <ParkinT> You’re using your brain to listen and remember.
[21:51] <Carl> There is also the misuse of less and fewer
[21:52] <ParkinT> Next on my list is Their versus There
[21:52] <ParkinT> This one seems to trouble a large number of people.
[21:52] <HAWK> Carl – Oh? Can you explain?
[21:52] <ralphm> I’ve always been an awful speller. The quirks of English just don’t stick. I was delighted to discover, during teacher training, that studies have shown there’s no corelation between spelling ability and intelligence. :D
[21:52] <ParkinT> True Carl.
[21:53] <Carl> I’ve heard commercials where they mention that you’ll need less tissues
[21:53] <ParkinT> It is a subtlety and IMHO not important. But fewer is [more] correct when referring to a quantity
[21:53] <ParkinT> A count.
[21:53] <ParkinT> There are fewer cars on the road.
[21:53] <HAWK> So what does less refer to?
[21:53] <ParkinT> Less has to do with an amount. I have less in my glass than you.
[21:53] <HAWK> Got it
[21:53] <Carl> Less is for things that are not countable
[21:53] <ParkinT> Although I would argue that, I have fewer water droplets in my glass.
[21:53] <HAWK> So I always stumble over when to use ‘too’ vs ‘to’
[21:54] <ParkinT> More or less, Carl. LOL
[21:54] <ParkinT> Regarding There and Their. “I” refers to a person or look at Here and Where, they are related to There
[21:54] <jerry> Fewer is discrete; less is continuous
[21:54] <Carl> too many times people use to
[21:54] <ParkinT> I had never thought of it that way, jerry
[21:54] <ralphm> @HAWK±me too! I mean, me to … two?
[21:54] <ParkinT> LOL ralphm
[21:55] <ParkinT> Too, to, two is one I never have any difficulty remembering. So I tend to forget that many people do.
[21:55] <CaptStan> I always thought if you could use ‘also’ in its place than it was too.
[21:55] <ParkinT> You can remember that when you are ADDING (as in “Me also”) you need an extra “O”. Me, too.
[21:56] <HAWK> Me to CaptStan, although I use ‘as well’
[21:56] <ParkinT> Then versus Than is another really common one.
[21:56] <ParkinT> I remind myself that the “e” is for **E**vent (time related)
[21:57] <ParkinT> We want to complete this and THEN go to bed.
[21:57] <ralphm> Sarah uses “as well” too …
[21:57] <ParkinT> I have far fewer marbles THAN tparkin
[21:57] <Carl> Me also
[21:57] <HAWK> So in this sentence “I was wondering about that too” should I use that too?
[21:57] <HAWK> I’m not adding something am I?
[21:57] <ralphm> @Carl—you mean “I also”?
[21:57] <HAWK> But I’m using the ‘as well’ rule
[21:57] <ParkinT> Site versus Sight appears quite often on the web. Because we are referring to WEB SITES
[21:58] <ParkinT> HAWK You *are* adding something
[21:58] <Carl> Well there it is … when to use I and when to use me
[21:58] <ParkinT> YOu are adding YOURSELF to the list of people who are wondering
[21:58] <HAWK> GOt it
[21:58] <ParkinT> CARL. YOu must be reading my notes!!!!
[21:58] <ParkinT> The I am ME is one of my favorites and I was saving for last.
[21:58] <HAWK> I and me should be easy. Take out the other person and what would you say?
[21:59] <ParkinT> HAWK, you said what I have used all my life. YES.
[21:59] <ParkinT> For example…
[21:59] <ParkinT> Would you like to go to the store with Sarah and I?
[21:59] <ParkinT> Many people would find that acceptable.
[21:59] <ParkinT> But, if you remove the other person
[22:00] <ParkinT> “Would you like to go the store with I?”
[22:00] <ParkinT> It sounds completely wrong.
[22:00] <ParkinT> Sarah and I are going to the store. Would you like to join us?
[22:00] <ParkinT> I am [are] going to the store.
[22:00] <ParkinT> THat is correct.
[22:00] <ParkinT> Is that clear??
[22:00] <Zac> I just learned something.
[22:00] <ParkinT> It seems simple to me but many people make the mistake,
[22:01] <CaptStan> That’s a good one.
[22:01] <ParkinT> And that leads to one of my BIGGEST ANNOYANCES in English language abuse.
[22:01] <ParkinT> The use of ‘myself’.
[22:01] <ParkinT> So many times (particularly in business email correspondence) I see ‘myself’ used incorrectly.
[22:01] <Carl> Yes … me, myself and I
[22:01] <ParkinT> It should refer ONLY to something YOU ARE ACTIVELY DOING.
[22:02] <ParkinT> For example.
[22:02] <HAWK> I hate that one as well
[22:02] <ParkinT> I have seen many, many, many email messages that close with something like this:
[22:02] <ParkinT> If you have any questions contact Mark or myself.
[22:02] <ParkinT> AARRRRGGHGHHHHHHHHH!!!!!! Is what I usually scream at my computer
[22:02] <HAWK> haha
[22:02] <ParkinT> As we discussed a few minutes ago.
[22:02] <ParkinT> It should be “…contact Mark or me”
[22:03] <CaptStan> Sounds like a pirate!!!
[22:03] <ParkinT> “I will come to the party myself” is correct
[22:03] <ParkinT> Here is a neat trick I use to distinguish SITE and SIGHT.
[22:04] <ParkinT> The lowercase “g” looks like eyeglasses. So when you are referring to “looking at something”, use the one with a “g” in it.
[22:04] <ralphm> (I just soiled myself reading your comment above.)
[22:04] <HAWK> Hahahahahaha
[22:04] <ParkinT> “I think I soiled my armor” Monty Python and the Holy Grail
[22:04] <Carl> Or is it armour?
[22:04] <ParkinT> Loose versus Lose is another one on my list
[22:04] <ParkinT> Don’t go there, Carl !
[22:05] <ParkinT> That is the difference between ENGLISH and AMERICAN. LOL
[22:05] <ralphm> People who can’t get that right are total loosers!
[22:05] <ParkinT> Loose versus Lose. I simply remember the extra “O” is lost.
[22:05] <Zac> like color colour
[22:06] <ParkinT> In other words, When you “lose” something (like your pet snake) it is then “on the Loose”.
[22:06] <Carl> Monty Python I am sure would use armour
[22:06] <ParkinT> I have a screw loose.
[22:06] <ParkinT> Anyone want to tackle Its and It’s ?
[22:06] <Carl> Its fine with me
[22:07] <ParkinT> Here is an area where I am seriously upset by the English langauge.
[22:07] <CaptStan> armor, amour -harbor -harbour – color, colour – you must live near the Canadian border
[22:07] <ParkinT> “language
[22:07] <HAWK> Aren’t those contractions all the same? If it’s has an apostrophe it’s two words
[22:07] <ParkinT> It disappoints me
[22:07] <immysl> its paper may not be what it’s
[22:07] <ParkinT> HAWK, you are correct and you are wrong.
[22:07] <immysl> just a try
[22:07] <ParkinT> This one word is the EXCEPTION to that rule.
[22:07] <ralphm> It’s is an exception to the rule, because there was a conflict.
[22:07] <HAWK> ok
[22:08] <ParkinT> It’s should be possessive. But it’s not.
[22:08] <ParkinT> Its represents the contraction.
[22:08] <HAWK> ?
[22:08] <ParkinT> As I write that I am even unsure of myself.
[22:08] <HAWK> Yeah, I think you’re wrong
[22:08] <Carl> Its ok …
[22:08] <HAWK> It’s = it is
[22:08] <HAWK> That is its blanket
[22:08] <HAWK> Is the possessive
[22:09] <ParkinT> Carl has it right.
[22:09] <ralphm> Thom said it *should* be possissive … but it would conflict with the contraction (it’s = it is) so an exception had to be made.
[22:09] <Zac> Its is stating ownership right? It’s is stating “It is”
[22:09] <ParkinT> That’s what I said above !!
[22:09] <ParkinT> It’s should be the possessive. But it’s not.
[22:09] <ParkinT> That is how I remember it. And it’s still confusing to me !!!
[22:09] <HAWK> Yeah. So its is possessive
[22:09] <HAWK> and it’s is the contraction
[22:10] <ParkinT> Right HAWK
[22:10] <ParkinT> In my mind that is contradictory.
[22:10] <jerry> No, Carl was wrong. “Its OK” == It is OK” so it should be “It’s”
[22:10] <ParkinT> I know ALL words that are possessive to use the apostrophe and ‘s’
[22:10] <HAWK> So now I’m confused about why I was wrong before when I said “Aren’t those contractions all the same? If it’s has an apostrophe it’s two words”
[22:10] <ParkinT> It’s too confusing !!
[22:10] <HAWK> Heh
[22:11] <ParkinT> You are correct about contractions. But, as I said, the apostrophe also refers to possessive.
[22:11] <ParkinT> And then we can get into the possessive of names that end in ‘s’
[22:11] <jerry> Contractions all use the apostrophe; possessives generally do, but there is at least the one exception
[22:11] <ParkinT> Jesus’ child.
[22:11] <ParkinT> Well stated, jerry
[22:11] <jerry> Actually two == whose (instead of who’s)
[22:12] <ralphm> It’s funny that people regularly leave off the apostrophe for possession, but then throw it in for it’s when it’s not needed!
[22:12] <ParkinT> I caught that irony too, ralphm !!
[22:12] <ParkinT> How many of you have used (or heard used) “Irregardless” ?
[22:13] <HAWK> Instead of regardless?
[22:13] <ParkinT> This one makes me want to shout also (too).
[22:13] <Zac> never
[22:13] <ralphm> That’s horribly common here. :(
[22:13] <ralphm> *in Australia*
[22:13] <ParkinT> I believe this came from a misunderstanding of irrelevant and regardless
[22:13] <ParkinT> It is like a bad mating of those two words.
[22:13] <Carl> I don’t think I could get orientated to that
[22:13] <Zac> interesting
[22:13] <ParkinT> LOL Carl
[22:14] <ParkinT> Another one t
[22:14] <ralphm> It’s a mistaken mixture of “irrespective” and “regardless”.
[22:14] <ParkinT> that is like “nails on a chalkboard” for me
[22:14] <ParkinT> YOu may be more accurate than me, ralphm?
[22:14] <ralphm> I’m pretty sure that’s it.
[22:14] <ParkinT> Another, similar one, is Safety Deposit Box.
[22:14] <ParkinT> I have a real problem with this.
[22:15] <ParkinT> Let me explain in more detail.
[22:15] <ParkinT> Safety Deposit Box is a misnomer. A **Box** for storing (depositing) valuables that is kept in a **Safe** is a **Safe** **Deposit** **Box**
[22:15] <ParkinT> Due to the sound of “Safe Deposit” it has been misinterpreted to be “Safety posit”
[22:15] <ralphm> @Carl—you just touched on one of my biggest peeves!
[22:16] <Carl> Orient me further … or is it farther?
[22:16] <ParkinT> Further and Farther is one of those that – in my observation – has been evolving.
[22:17] <ParkinT> If I am correct – and I am a bit unsure here – FARTHER refers explicitly to distance.
[22:17] <jerry> re: SDB — I guess it’s all in how you interpret ti. I always too it to mean you were depositing things safely, not that you were depositing them in a safe
[22:17] <ParkinT> This is one very much like fewer and less.
[22:18] <ralphm> British English mistakenly turns “orientated” into the verb “orientate”. As far as I’m concerned, that’s impossible to justificate.
[22:18] <ParkinT> Good point, jerry. But then it would be SAFELY DEPOSIT.
[22:18] <ParkinT> Justificate. LOL.
[22:18] <Zac> “cause” being used instead of “because”
[22:18] <ParkinT> That is similar to till as a replacement for Until
[22:19] <HAWK> Nauseous and nauseated
[22:19] <ParkinT> Now THERE I think a difference exists
[22:19] <HAWK> I’m nauseous means that you make other people sick. But people seem to say it a lot.
[22:19] <ParkinT> You can become nauseous.
[22:19] <HAWK> I don’t think you can.
[22:19] <ParkinT> I can (and sometimes too, perhaps) nauseate you.
[22:19] <HAWK> I think you can become nauseated.
[22:20] <ParkinT> In that case you HAVE BECOME nauseated.
[22:20] <jerry> justificate should be a linguistic felony
[22:20] <ParkinT> “ACTIVE” versus PASSIVE.
[22:20] <HAWK> maybe, yeah
[22:20] <ParkinT> You are Nauseous but have become nauseated
[22:20] <HAWK> Surely if I am nauseous that means i’m making OTHER people sick
[22:20] <ParkinT> It is a subtley
[22:20] <ParkinT> True.
[22:21] <HAWK> too hard
[22:21] <ParkinT> You are nauseating
[22:21] <HAWK> or to hard
[22:21] <HAWK> which?
[22:21] <Carl> Subtlety
[22:21] <HAWK> I’m not adding something
[22:21] <ParkinT> You are making other people sick, eh?
[22:21] <ronpat> I think Hawk has nauseous vs nauseated nailed.
[22:21] <ParkinT> Too hard. Definitely.
[22:21] <HAWK> Even though I’m not adding something?
[22:21] <ralphm> Yes, HAWK, you are nauseous.
[22:21] <ParkinT> You *are* adding MORE hardness / difficulty
[22:21] <HAWK> Ralph, you’re fired
[22:21] <HAWK> ok
[22:22] <jerry> Better nauseous than nauseating
[22:22] <Carl> True
[22:22] <ralphm> All fired up, defiantly. :D
[22:22] <HAWK> Defiantly?
[22:22] <HAWK> Was that deliberate?
[22:22] <ParkinT> This has *really* been fun. I enjoyed taking us from here to there. It’s too difficult to be correct with English.
[22:23] <ParkinT> Defiantly is one I see often
[22:23] <HAWK> Yup, I’ve had a few good laughs
[22:23] <ralphm> Defiantly yes!
[22:23] <ParkinT> An error in spelling that (ironically) changes the meaning
[22:23] <HAWK> heh
[22:23] <jerry> being defiant
[22:23] <Carl> Thanks for taking us their … there … they’re …
[22:23] <HAWK> 5 mins left, my friends. Any last questions?
[22:23] <ParkinT> LOL, Carl.
[22:23] <jerry> better yet, in a defiant manner
[22:24] <ParkinT> Their on the loose and it’s a crime.
[22:24] <Carl> Yes they’re
[22:24] <jerry> final questions…… LOL
[22:24] <ParkinT> If I ask myself.
[22:24] <HAWK> Is ‘last questions’ wrong?
[22:25] <HAWK> Jay-sus. I thought I was ok at this stuff!
[22:25] <Carl> what are you trying to single out?
[22:25] <HAWK> How do you mean?
[22:25] <jerry> There is one last question but possibly several final questions
[22:25] <ParkinT> If you enjoy this stuff I recommend reading “English is a crazy language”, a diatribe by Richard Lederer.
[22:25] <HAWK> Got it
[22:26] <ralphm> I’d say it’s an alternative, Sarah.
[22:26] <HAWK> Maybe it’s become one through common use
[22:26] <ParkinT> Here is a link I was able to find quickly:
[22:27] <HAWK> Did we bore your son, Thom?
[22:27] <ParkinT> I think so. He dropped off.
[22:27] <CaptStan> English – there’re, their, too, to many exceptions, exception’s???? :-D
[22:27] <ParkinT> He is *very* busy. In high demand.
[22:27] <ralphm> One reason that English spelling is so crazy is that the lettering system came before the language had found its current form.
[22:27] <HAWK> Oh well. It was cool that he joined.
[22:27] <ParkinT> Well put, CaptStan
[22:27] <ralphm> No, Thom’s wife bore their son.
[22:27] <ParkinT> English has borrowed (I say stolen) from so many other languages.
[22:28] <ParkinT> That is the reason it is so messy.
[22:28] <ParkinT> GOOD ONE, ralphm!!
[22:28] <ParkinT> Here is a better link to “English is a crazy language”
[22:29] <ParkinT> Thank you all. Be careful when writing. Make sure you dot your Tees and cross your eyes.
[22:29] <HAWK> Thanks so much for your time this morning Thom.

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