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Companies should make ‘less’ grammar mistakes

Grammar definition in dictionary

In a restaurant the first bite is with the eye. Well, I think that applies to other things as well. I am genuinely put off brands that use poor grammar in their adverts – but am I just being petty?

On my way into work earlier this week I spotted an advert that made me stop in my tracks. Virgin Active is proudly boasting, in a poster campaign all over tube stations, that their gyms have ‘more weights’ for ‘less pounds’.

How many pounds should a gym membership cost? Not being a gym-goer, I haven’t the foggiest idea. But being an irritating pedant, I know it’s definitely not ‘less’ than anything. It’s fewer.

Let’s have fewer mistakes

A few colleagues laughed at me in the office because I came in and had a rant about the ad. Some said it wasn’t important, others suggested it was a deliberate mistake. Which? Conversation’s Patrick thought it might be an issue of tone – they wanted to seem casual, so chose words that their audience might use in conversation.

If you’d like to see the ad, Twitter user @charlesarthur kindly tweeted a picture.

So was it a genuine mistake, or did they deliberately choose to use incorrect grammar because they thought it made a better ad? I asked Virgin Active on Twitter but I didn’t get a reply. Fair enough – it’s a pretty pedantic point.

Would bad grammar stop you buying?

Personally, I think good grammar is important if you want to show people that you’re a trusted brand. After all, I wouldn’t hire someone whose CV was littered with spelling and grammar mistakes, so why would I buy into a service that appears to be so slapdash as to not proofread its work?

I might be over exaggerating a tad. If something was a genuine, out-and-out bargain I probably wouldn’t refuse to buy it on the basis of my grammatical principles. But I don’t think it does a brand’s reputation any good to plaster their name right next to a grammatical error.

A while ago Patrick discussed poor spelling and grammar on websites. That’s something that also irritates me, but I don’t think it’s as serious. On a website you’re producing a huge amount of copy, and no matter how carefully you check it, mistakes are bound to slip through. What’s more, they can be easily and quickly corrected when you spot them.

But on a national advertising campaign which requires you to print up hundreds of posters, the least I’d expect is for companies to pay attention to their grammar. That way perhaps they’d make fewer mistakes. So what say you – am I being ridiculous? Or would bad grammar lead you to think less of a company too?

Is 'bored of' ever acceptable?

No - it should always be written 'bored with' (59%, 72 Votes)

Yes - 'bored of' is an acceptable use of English (25%, 31 Votes)

Maybe - it depends on the context (16%, 20 Votes)

Total Voters: 124

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Comments
Member

Typo: probably better w/out word ‘was’, line one of first sentence last post.

Hope the edit check facility cd be introduced before too long.

Member

It’s a long time since anyone posted to this thread, which is a shame as I feel comfortable in the company of other pedants!

However, I cannot let one comment from back in January pass without a riposte:

Nikki Whiteman said,”Oooh, yes – ‘could of’ also really frustrates me. I can see why a non-English speaker or a young child might mis-hear ‘could’ve’ and so pronounce it ‘could of’ but I think this is something that’s pretty easily corrected. I have to say, though, that I’ve rarely ever seen ‘could of’ written down.”

I wonder if you – like me – are equally irritated by “bored of”, rather than “bored with”, Nikki? If you want to see an example, just look at the bottom of this page – “Bored of typing your name and email? Why not register.”

And they’ve even left out the second question mark! Slapped wrist!

Member
Rob Waller says:
26 October 2012

Phil, perhap’s we stopped posting to this thread because we’d gotten bored of it.

Member

Hello Phil, as you may know, we’re a bit more informal on Which? Convo, even though I know it’s strictly ‘bored with’. However, the Oxford Dictionary says:

“The first two constructions, bored with and bored by, are the standard ones. The third, bored of, is more recent than the other two and it’s become extremely common. In fact, the Oxford English Corpus contains almost twice as many instances of bored of than bored by. It represents a perfectly logical development of the language, and was probably formed on the pattern of expressions such as tired of or weary of. Nevertheless, some people dislike it and it’s not fully accepted in standard English. It’s best to avoid using it in formal writing.”

If you register and upload an avatar you’ll never have to see it again 🙂

Member

I think Rob is provoking us but as long as he swears not to ‘deliberately provoke’ us I think we’ll be fine 😉

Member

“If you register and upload an avatar you’ll never have to see it again :)”

Done!

And I’m disappointed to see that the OED considers it a “perfectly logical development of the language”. “I wanna go”, “I could of gone” and many other modern usages are “perfectly logical”, but surely we should be seeking to maintain the ‘rules’ as far as possible, or we might as well just give up and all talk ‘txt spk’!

Member

Welcome! I hate text speak as much as the next guy, but you can see what I think about all that in this Conversation from me: https://conversation.which.co.uk/money/bad-spelling-online-shopping-scam-websites/

Member
Rob Waller says:
29 October 2012

Patrick, I don’t agree that ‘bored of’ is in the same category as ‘could of’. English is a bit uncertain about several constructions like this (‘different from/than’ comes to mind). Thinking back to school, I think it was the ablative case in Latin that translates as ‘by, with or from’… That is, it depends on the context. Consider: ‘I was bored by the man who kept showing me his holiday photos’ vs ‘once we had bored of watching films’ vs ‘once we have become bored with the game’. The words ‘by’, ‘of’ and ‘with’ do slightly different jobs.

Member

Yes, you’re right Rob, it does depend on context and isn’t suitable in all instances. In our case, we think it’s perfectly acceptable to say ‘bored of typing’, but neither of you will have to see that if you disagree since you’re logged in!

Member

‘once we had bored of watching films’

Sorry Rob, but that’s a HORRIBLE construction! Yes, one can TIRE of something but one cannot BORE of something! It’s like saying “Once we had exhausted of running…” – it’s just wrong! 🙁

And yes, I accept that ‘different from’ and ‘different to’ are both acceptable, but ‘different than’ is another horrible Americanism!

Going back to where this thread started, I am certainly put off by web pages with spelling and grammatical errors. As others have commented, if they can’t be bothered to get that right, then why should I trust them to get my order right?

As I often point out to clients (whose web sites I check for style, grammar and spelling) half your potential customers won’t notice, so they won’t care, but you could be alienating the other half and losing many sales that you might otherwise have had!

Member
Rob Waller says:
29 October 2012

I agree that ‘had bored of’ isn’t very elegant, but I didn’t make it up. If you google it, there are numerous examples which seem natural in context.

Spookily enough, there is an identical discussion entitled ‘The alleged decline of English’ going on at LinkedIn.com – the Plain Language Group’s page.

Member

I do agree with previous posters, I am so put off by ‘bored of’ – and then to get someone from the Which? establishment standing up for their use of it is quite shocking. They might as well sprinkle their sentences with ‘like’ every phrase or two, and really slip into the vernacular of poorly educated children who now seem to be the target of their message.

‘I’m so bored of, like, this post is different to what I thought, like, it could of been so much different, to like, you know what I mean…’ Really clear???

Member

Alright, we’ll put it to the vote. I’ve added a new poll to this post (and it’ll also be shown on the homepage intermittently with the other polls) – if after a week the majority feels it should be ‘bored with’ we’ll make the change, either to ‘bored with’ or to ‘tired of’. Thanks! 🙂

Member

ALL RIGHT!!!!!

Member

For fear of starting another debate – alright is an acceptable informal merging of all right. Here’s the Oxford English Dictionary on the matter:

‘Similar ‘merged’ words such as altogether and already have been accepted in standard English for a very long time, so there is no logical reason to object to the one-word form alright. Nevertheless, many people dislike it and regard it as incorrect, so it’s best to avoid using alright in formal writing.’ http://oxforddictionaries.com/words/all-right-or-alright

We’re having a chat here on Which? Convo, and so in most cases using informal phrases and words will win over their formal, original brothers.

Member

I think, in this instance, bizgen was using the term in Kinnock-mode! 😉

Member
Rob Waller says:
29 October 2012

Brave comment, Phil. I drafted precisely the same one, but backed off for fear of setting something off. Yes, Bizgen’s upper case and exclamation marks are stage directions.

Member

Without wishing to be contentious, looking at Patrick’s youthful countenance, it’s possible he may not know what the hell we’re talking about!

Member

Chambers says ‘alright’ is a less acceptable spelling of ‘all right’. Personally, I think that if someone is in charge of what goes on a website of a company like Which? that person should have been properly educated and have some sense of correct spelling and grammar.

Member

I probably wouldn’t have put it quite as baldly as that, but I’m afraid I have to agree with the general sentiment.

It behoves every one of us in a position to do so, to uphold standards as best we can. If we don’t, who will?

Member
Rob Waller says:
29 October 2012

I think we need to make a distinction between error and educated choice. Dictionaries do not all agree, and when they say one version is more acceptable, they are not saying the other is unacceptable – just that you will risk criticism by using it. But actually if you enter ‘alright’ and ‘all right’ into the British National Corpus (http://www.natcorp.ox.ac.uk/) you get 8328 examples of ‘alright’ and 6384 examples of ‘all right’. That’s close to a draw, and there’s no evidence that the 8328 alrighters are less educated that the others. In fact it could mean you risk more criticism for using ‘all right’ than the other way around.

Interesting, the ‘differents’ come out rather differently… ‘different from’ 3275; ‘different to’ 484; ‘different than’ 51. That’s a strong vote for ‘from’.

Health warning: the British National Corpus sampled language in use in the early 90s and I don’t think it has been updated since 1994.

Member

Hi both, I’m as much concerned about grammar, spelling and sentence structure as both of you. Alright is not only acceptable, it’s often preferred. In fact, the Kinnock reference Phil and Rob refer to (which was made in 1992) is referenced as him saying ‘Alright’ and not ‘All right’ – in fact if you Google ‘Kinnock all right’ it will auto-correct you to say ‘Kinnock alright’.

Again, our standards are high at Which? but within context: this is an informal website concerned with having a Conversation. If a phrase makes something sound too formal, as if it were an article in the Financial Times for example, we shall re-edit it to sound informal. It will always, however, be acceptable/correct as per an official dictionary, such as the Oxford English Dictionary.

Member

Phil, I could kiss you!!!

Member

I do hope bizgen is female! Or am I in danger of appearing homophobic? 🙁

Member

It’s fascinating how replies to the various comments seem to kick off other topics. For example, that last comment by Patrick raises another of my pet dislikes – the little-lamented passing of the subjunctive mood in English.

“If a phrase makes something sound too formal, as if it was an article on the Financial Times…” – am I alone in wanting this to read “…as if it WERE an article…”? Surely nobody would wish to say “If I was you…”, yet even broadsheet journalists these days seem increasingly reluctant to use this construction.

Member

In this case Phil, I’d agree with you. Yet, writing a comment in a fast moving online debate is dissimilar to the publishing of an article.

Member

I am afraid Patrick would not have got his job, had I been interviewing him. He makes too many really bad grammatical errors.

Alright, if it was an article in the Financial Times, like, we would would be bored of him. Lovely!

Member

I suggest that we focus on the subject that Nikki has invited us to debate.

Member

Nikki is quite right. If I see something like that it springs out with a physical force and I look at it with horror and take nothing that site has to offer with any confidence. If they get the basics wrong, then they are a sloppy company with ill-educated riff-raff working for them. I can be sure that nothing else they do will be professional and choose another website that appears to be offering the gravitas and respect I seek.

Member

Companies that use eBay provide many examples of grammatical and other errors.

Member

I would argue that the general level of English used by everybody, article writers and commenters alike, in Which Conversation reflects on the company, which.co.uk. I would say therefore that to mention it is relevant to Nikki’s subject.

Generally the level is high, so it reflects on Which in a good way. In truth, if the level were lesser, I wouldn’t bother with Which Conversation at all.

Another thing I appreciate about Which Conversation is that articles and comments are generally very reflective or fun or both. Again, I wouldn’t bother with it otherwise.

Let’s keep the standards high, everybody! We’ve shown it can be done.

Member

Good morning everyone. The majority has spoken – we have now made the change to say ‘tired of’ rather than ‘bored of’. Thank you.

Member

Yay! Grammer rools!