/ Shopping

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

Loading ... Loading ...
Carol says:
8 January 2012

Oh, don’t get me started!! I am the bane of my friends’ lives as I notice, and invariably comment on, incorrect spelling and grammar. My pet hate is also ‘I was sat’, along with ‘you was’ – heard uttered recently by a teacher with an English degree. At our local gym, a well-known national brand, there is an advertisement offering free enrolment to members’ friends. It reads, ‘Join a friend for free’. The same gym was recently offering ‘Sweedish massage’. I love the English language and it pains me when I see or hear it used incorrectly. I am proud to be a pedant! Must go – I want to ‘pre-order’ some items from the internet….

I once had to correct someone in her blog as to wrong use of counsel
which term applies equally whether singular, plural or collectively… but
she herself really ought to know better as having both an Oxford English
degree AND being in the legal profession, of quite some seniority
and certainly no spring chicken.

Dear Fellow Pedant (Carol),

It is the Internet, with a capital letter. It is also incorrect to use a double exclamation mark.

Phil says:
9 January 2012

I think that the tide has already turned in education and good grammar is once again regarded as reasonably important. It will take a long time to filter through but change is coming.
After the recent TV adaptation of Great Expectations, I’ve been reading the book again. The grammar and English is faultless but horribly ponderous to modern people. We don’t either write or speak like that now.
As others have noted, if only children could understand that there is texting, with its financially necessary abbreviation; there is talking informally with friends, with slang and dialect and there is good written and spoken English which will enable you to communicate clearly, then all would be well.

I hope you are right about education, and it would help if numeracy was improved too. I completely agree about old English and this has put me off reading the classics.

What amazes me is that those with good writing skills often forget to indent or separate paragraphs. 🙂

Bob McLoughlin says:
9 January 2012

I have examples of a hotel describing their rooms as being en sweet, and I have found ‘schoolboy howlers’ in notes accompanying CDs. I know these are similar words but with incorrect spellings. rather than incorrect grammar, but they both come from the well of ignorance, incompetence and down right not bothering!

I have enjoyed ‘seasonable vegetables’ and a ‘complimentary glass of wine’ (disappointingly it made no comment).

‘Stationary Department’ (seen by me in a shop). Well, you wouldn’t expect it to go anywhere, would you? 😀

Robert says:
9 January 2012

How about the “Holly Reef’s” on sale in the local market before Christmas?

But back to Nikki’s original question – Yes I would be put off buying from a company that cannot be bothered to check its advertising copy properly. I certainly did not buy a Holly Reef!

If you want another pet hate it is radio journalists emphasising prepositions in sentences. It destroys the meaning when they say something like “The dangers OF over-indulging IN alcohol have been underestimated, according TO a committee OF eminent scientists”. I exaggerate a bit, but if you don’t believe me listen carefully to news bulletins and commentaries.

… Oh and decade pronounced as decayed!

Have you heard of the apps that allow you to buy items much cheaper on eBay? You enter a description and then they search eBay using various common misspellings. Such items will not be found by too many bidders and therefore you will have less bidding competition, allowing you to purchase exactly the same item for much less. The fact that the item was misspelt shouldn’t make any difference. Or should it?

Albert says:
9 January 2012

How about lower case i for the personal pronoun I?
Then there are mistakes in speech, such as: ‘I fought you said fursday…’ And: ‘In free mumfs time I will be…’
In some shops it used to be: Buy one get one free. Then it became: Buy two get one free. All very educational for children learning to count: One, Two, Three. Or should that be: One, Two, Free?


I’ve just remembered one of my pet peeves. People who say ‘I am the most happiest’ or ‘the most drunkest’. This mainly winds me up because it’s an unnecessary addition of words that makes no sense. Seems to be getting more common in spoken language…

Well, even Shakespeare has used the double superlative:

“This was the most unkindest cut of all.” (Julius Caesar. 3.2.184)

And “bestest” is in the Oxford English Dictionary (albeit marked “informal”).

In Shakespeare’s day there were fewer pedants. Perhaps it’s much ado about nothing.

I would, however, like support to have ‘gotten’ repatriated. I don’t wish to over-exaggerate but it is the word I like least. 🙂

On another Which? Conversation I have read about ‘ice dispensing fridge freezers’ and ‘large appliances experts’. I love ambiguities, even if the meaning is obvious.

Rob Waller says:
10 January 2012

Sorry, wavechange, but: “Come on, brave soldiers: doubt not of the day, And, that once gotten, doubt not of large pay.” Henry VI part III, 3.3.

Thanks Rob. Shakespeare has a lot to answer for. I have been trying to forget that ‘gotten’ is in the dictionary.

I am enjoying your input.

See page 28 of January 2012’s Which Computing. Halfway down the left-hand side of the page is a prominent heading:


I am shocked! How was such sloppiness allowed to slip through, particularly on a heading?

It is very common for mistakes to appear in headings and large print. I recall the first issue of a magazine accidentally gave an author’s forename as ‘Huge’ instead of ‘Hugh’ in the first issue. The editor remembered this unfortunate mistake for many years.

Being as much of an irritating pedant as the next person, might I suggest that the word “less” can be correctly used as a preposition meaning subtract or take away, e.g. “What is 4 less 2?”

So exactly what is wrong with “more weights for subtracting pounds”? Maybe it loses the intended double meaning of pounds [sterling] vs. pounds [weight], but that just makes it a poor advertising slogan, not bad grammar.

“How are you?”

“I’m good.”

“No, you’re not!” my mother used to tell me. “It’s for others to decide whether you’re good or not. You should reply, ‘I’m well or I’m fine, thank you.'”

I think this is an American import, and it’s time we sent it back with some of the other goods they’ve sent us.

Robert says:
14 January 2012

I believe it was George Bernard Shaw whose reply to “I’m good” was “I was enquiring about your health, not your morals!”

Not a grammatical mistake, but there used to be companies claiming to sell vacuum filled bulbs.

FREE GIFT! shouts out the marketing slogan. Aren’t all gifts supposed to be free?

Very common in my part of the UK:

“Will you borrow me ten pounds?”
“You robbed my sweets.”
Use of ‘dinner’ for lunch.
“I haven’t got none.”
“I don’t know nobody.”

Two good books for pedants are ‘Lost for Words’ by John Humphrys and ‘Eats Shoots and Leaves’ by Lynn Truss.

‘Can I get …’ instead of ‘Please can I have ….’ when it is perfectly obvious that what is wanted is available.

Incidentally, it’s Lynne Truss 🙂

Not a grammatical mistake, but one made by many companies:

Your statutory rights are not effected.

On a notice outside a pub:

For hygiene reasons, dogs are not allowed in the restaurant. Guide dogs accepted.

I like this because the meaning is not changed by using the wrong word.

“‘Stationary Department’ (seen by me in a shop). Well, you
wouldn’t expect it to go anywhere, would you?”

Think of e as in ‘pencil’ and you can’t get spelling wrong likewise
think of ‘ties’ if unsure tapering structures hanging from roof of
a cave are stalactites or stalagmites (tips teacher of very long
ago gave).

BTW don’t think teachers teach their charges how to spell
correctly anymore. Even Oxford finalists get theirs wrong,
reported just days ago in the Telegraph.

I live in hope of finding a sign indicating that ‘The Stationary Department has moved’.

A very common mistake (e.g. at tills) is ‘Mistakes cannot be corrected ….’ when the intended meaning is that mistakes will not be corrected.

Rob Waller says:
23 January 2012

“Free gift” is a valid rhetorical strategy to add emphasis – as is a double negative – and few of us are confused by any of those statements. We’re not computers, applying each negative in turn, thus cancelling the one before.

Chaucer in The Knight’s Tale: “He nevere yet no vileynye ne sayde
In al his lyf unto no maner wight.”

Two good antidotes to Lynne Truss’s famous book are: various writings by the linguist David Crystal, including his book ‘The Fight for English: how language pundits ate, shot, and left’ (OUP); Omid Djalili’s brilliant sketch ‘apostrophes for Africa’ (probably on YouTube), a nicely judged comment on what’s really important in life.

…and use of the split infinitive is
really not quite permissible
or grammatically correct.

The double negative in English is sloppy and usually indicates to me that the speaker is uncultured. However, in Italian (and maybe in other languages), the double negative is grammatically correct and results in a positive and unambiguous statement.

By the way, the possessive of a name ending in ‘s’ does not take an extra one: “… Lynne Truss’ famous book …”

Thank you for the antidotes; I will look them up.

Double negatives might be sloppy but they are not infrequent.

Seem to recall when was last in Leeds, the famous
departmental store there was styled Lewis’s.

Probably wd say Mr Lewis’ house.

Selfridges in London always styled as such,
c f Miss Selfridge.

Have no problem using the double negative, sometimes
wilfully by way of emphasis in an oblique way or to
draw attention to use of the word.

Louis: “The double negative in English is sloppy and usually indicates to me that the speaker is uncultured.”

Sorry Louis, but I disagree. It simply means that the speaker is using a local dialect, and that does not necessarily indicate sloppiness or lack of culture. After all, in some parts of the world, what were once local dialects have now become official languages in their own right. Furthermore, English is an evolving language, and indeed the double negative was correct in Old and Middle English. Does that mean it was sloppiness that changed the language to make modern Standard English devoid of the use of the double negative?

“However, in Italian (and maybe in other languages), the double negative is grammatically correct and results in a positive and unambiguous statement.”

Errm, I’m a bit confused by your use of “positive” there. Do you mean positive as in “more positively negative”? As with many languages, the double negative serves to strengthen the negativity. Also, in many languages, the double negative is the only correct way to say certain things (e.g. Greek “den xero tipota” == literally “I don’t know nothing” but properly translates to “I don’t know anything”). It’s interesting to see how French uses the double negative (“je ne regrette rien”) but colloquial (sloppy?) French shortens the syllables so much that the double negative is removed (“j’regrette rien”).

Lastly, I thought adding an extra ” ‘s” at the end of a noun to turn it into a possessive was allowed but optional, i.e. I thought both Lynne Truss’ and Lynne Truss’s were correct.


Thank you for the interesting comments.

I was unaware that Old English had double negatives.

When I said “positive”, I had a lapsus. I meant that in Italian, the double negative is correct and remains negative: “Non conosco nessuno” = “I don’t know nobody (= anybody in proper translation)”, as in your Greek example (I don’t know no Greek – LOL). Similarly, the double negative French example that you quote is grammatically correct (“I don’t regret nothing” = translated literally).

Perhaps I should worry about more important things than the vagaries of the way in which people say things…

Louis – It’s not uncultured to employ a little litotes from time to time.