#4 – Word Police: More Adventures in Correct Word Usage

OK, so now I’m on a role with my word policing.  More incorrect word usages that piss me off include:

Over vs. More Than

When you are talking in amounts, it’s not correct to use “over” – for example, to say “there were over 100 people at the event” or “for over a decade.”  It should actually be “there were more than 100 people at the event.”  Unless you are talking about height, in which case something is literally over something else: “I am over 5 ft tall.1

Less Than vs. Fewer Than

Similarly, when you are talking in numbers you should use “fewer” and not “less” – “Less” is used when you are talking in amounts that aren’t in actual numbers.  For example, you’d say “there were fewer than 100 zombies in the alley,” not “there were less than 100 zombies.”2 You could say “I want less mashed potatoes,” because mashed potatoes aren’t countable.  But who wouldn’t want more mashed potatoes? Mashed potatoes are delicious!

It’s vs. Its

Now, usually when you want to make a word possessive, you use an apostrophe before the “s” (e.g., “Beth’s hockey stick” [i.e., the hockey stick that belongs to Beth]) and when you want to make a plural you don’t use an apostrophe (e.g., “There were two Beths at the hockey game” [i.e., more than one Beth]3).  The exception to this, however, is the word “its” – which is actually the possessive form (e.g., “the dog chased its tail” [i.e., the tail that belongs to the dog). “It’s” isn’t the possessive – it is short for “it is” (e.g., “It’s time for the hockey game”).  I see these two words used wrong all the time and it drives me batty!  In short, if I see you make this error, I may stab you in the eye with a fork.

Quotation vs. Quote

I may be alone on this one, but it drives me crazy when people use the word “quote” as a noun.  The noun is “quotation.”  “My favourite quotation is…” not “my favourite quote…”  “Quote” is the verb. “I quoted the president…”

OK, I think I’m done with ranting about word usage.  For now.

1Uh, this statement is totally not true of me.
2The most famous example of this, used by grammar Nazis everywhere is the checkouts in grocery stores that have signs that say “10 items or less.” FAIL! They should say “10 items or fewer.”
3Notice how I managed to work in the correct usage of “e.g.,” and “i.e.” and “more” (rather than over)? That sort of skill is why they pay me the big bucks here on this blog.4
4Disclaimer: they actually pay me no bucks.

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5 Replies to “#4 – Word Police: More Adventures in Correct Word Usage”

  1. Whoops! I am guilty of the 'over' and 'more than' mistake when I speak about time. Must.cease.and.desist.

    As a child, the only contraction I had trouble with was its. It just LOOKS wrong, and my logical little heart didn't like breaking the 'apostrophe s for possession' rule. Also – English might just be the only language to use punctuation to denote possession. It confounds romance language speakers; these languages use word strings (the government of Canada) or adjectives (Canadian Government) to denote possession.

  2. Or to put it more succinctly, “less” is for indefinite quantities and “fewer” is for definite ones.

    It's/its drives me BONKERS too, mainly because it bleeds into the fact that people seem to think that forming the possessive (with apostrophe-s) is how you form the plural. GAAAAAAHHHHH!

    By the way, your examples are awesome… because I would definitely like to know if there are fewer than 100 zombies in the alley.

  3. Perhaps your role in word police blogging might be on quite a roll despite it being early in the blogathon?

    I'm late, I know, but hope it went well & that you're getting lots of rest, now. Cheers, Cee

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