Making These 13 1/2 Writing Mistakes?

by Jason Gracia · 62 comments

2I have many loves.

Travel, history, entrepreneurship, raspberries…

But at the top of the list is grammar.

Yes, I’m a grammar nerd.

I didn’t choose this fate, but as my clients, friends, and family will tell you, I’ve certainly embraced it.

It’s more than mere grammar. I love the entire world of writing, whether fiction or non, business or personal. The fact that twists of a black line on paper can convey messages and meanings fascinates me. An unassuming gang of 26 letters…and they revolutionize the world time and again.

As an expert, the way you communicate with your audience is vital to your success. You may lean toward video or audio, but chances are that writing creeps into your process somewhere along the way.

I’m here to make it better.

With the right words, you can thrive at every step. You can engage your visitors and motivate them to join you. You can build a relationship through powerful and persuasive content. You can inspire them to invest in your solutions and earn a well-deserved income.

I know what you may be thinking.

“Don’t all the gurus say to write like you talk? ‘Proper’ writing will make things too stiff, unauthentic.”

This is a common misconception. Correcting common mistakes, using proper grammar, and following the rules of writing will actually make you more human, more relatable and connected to your audience. I want you to write in a tone that matches your personality and intention, but I also want you to avoid jolting the reader out of the text and into questioning your authority.

Few things cast doubt on your expertise as
quickly as rookie writing mistakes.

To save you from this dastardly result, we’re going to set things straight by solving some of the most common writing goofs and gaffes.

#1: There, They’re, Their…and Their Friends

You’ve most likely seen these culprits before (called homophones), so we’ll move quickly. Each word below has its place, but please do make sure it’s the right one.

There vs They’re vs Their

There is a word of many uses. It can be used to show location (e.g., put the stolen lawn mowers over there) or the existence of something (e.g., there are too many vultures in my kitchen) among others. But it’s not the troublemaker. That label belongs to his brothers, they’re and their.

They’re is simply a contraction of they are. If you asked what we’re going to do with those stolen lawn mowers, I would tell you: They’re going to be used to get rid of the vultures (obviously). Their, on the other hand, is the plural possessive form of the word. It’s used to show that something belongs to them: My friends are angry that I stole their lawn mowers to chase away their vultures.

Your vs You’re

With the ever-growing dominance of texting, this is a common area of befuddlement. Your is used to show possession, to show that something is of, belongs to, or was made by you: Your painting of your face is in your kitchen…by the vultures. As with they’re from above, you’re is a contraction, used to shorten you are. If you are doesn’t fit in your sentence, the word you’re looking for is your.

Its vs It’s

It wasn’t until college that I understood the difference between these two, causing many a teacher beforehand to silently pray for my demise. No bother. I now know the difference and escaped high school without any (permanent) damage. Its is the possessive form of the word: The crocodile hit its head on the kitchen cabinet. It’s, as you’ve probably guessed, is the contraction for it is or it has: It’s going to be unusually difficult to sleep with both vultures and crocodiles in the kitchen.

Whose vs Who’s

Wrapping things up is whose and who’s. Much like the rascally words above, the apostrophe makes all the difference. Whereas we use apostrophes to show possession with proper nouns (e.g. Benjamin Franklin’s kite), in these cases it’s the words without that show possession. Therefore whose is the possessive form (e.g., Whose lawn mower is this?), while who’s is the contraction for who is or who has.

#2. Could You Care Less?

If you don’t care about something, the proper expression is couldn’t care less. Most people, however, couldn’t care less about the rule and mistakenly say I could care less. Drives us grammar nerds batty. If you could care less, you care at least a little, which is the opposite of what you’re trying to convey.

#3. Everyday Sales Every Day

Sadly, I’m losing the battle on this one. Every day I see these two fiercely independent words forced together to form the incorrect everyday. I must admit, when looking for the adjective (describing word), everyday is correct: Stop by our lawn mower store for everyday low prices. In this case, everyday is used to mean common or normal and should be one word. When something occurs every 24 hours, be a gem and squeeze that little extra space in there and use every day.

#4. Where Do These “” Go?

“This sentence is punctuated incorrectly”. “This one too”! (Well, if you live in the US; rules differ in the UK.) More often than not, punctuation marks go inside quotation marks. We merely pull a switcheroo to fix these sentences. “This sentence is now punctuated correctly.” “This one too!” See how easy that was?

#5. I is Always Right, Right?

Wrong. People want to sound smart. Over time, me has been misused so often that I now reigns supreme. The problem is that me is often right. We’re good at choosing the right word when we’re the only ones involved in the sentence (self-absorbed, much?): Johnny took me to the store to get a new lawn mower. Add in a second person and things get screwy: Johnny took Victor and…um…I? ‘Fraid not.

Solving this problem couldn’t be easier. Merely stay true to our need for attention and remove the second person. Someone may think Stew and me went wild and crazy, but if that person took the time to remove Stew from the situation, he’d realize I went wild and crazy, alone. (Bonus tip! It’s grammatically correct to say between you and me. Never even think about saying between you and I. Ever.)

#6. One, Two, 3!

When writing numbers, spell out one through nine. 10 and above can be written as numerals.

#7. Really, Very Bad

“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” — Mark Twain

Want to punch up your writing overnight? Refuse to use really and very. They weaken your writing. Instead of using the right word that alone delivers the intended message, they show laziness of craft. Don’t be lazy. Please don’t be very lazy. The same goes for most adjectives and adverbs. They’re often unnecessary. When you take time to find the right word, it already contains the meaning an unneeded adverb or adjective would add.

As William Zinsser says (more on him later), “Don’t tell us that the radio blared loudly; “blare” connotes loudness… Again and again in careless writing, strong verbs are weakened by redundant adverbs. So are adjectives and other parts of speech: “effortlessly easy,” “slightly spartan,” “totally flabbergasted.” The beauty of “flabbergasted” is that it implies an astonishment that is total; I can’t imagine someone being partly flabbergasted.”

#8. Really, Very Unique

We’ve already booted very and really, but just in case they creep back into your writing please avoid using them with unique. Unique is absolute, meaning one of a kind. Something cannot be partially or “kinda” unique. It is or it isn’t.

#9. Be Active

You have two choices: active voice or passive voice. Active voice, to simplify matters, is when someone does something; passive is when something is done unto something else. For example, I kicked over the table of peanuts is active; the subject is actively carrying out the action. The table of peanuts was kicked over by me, however, changes everything. The subject is no longer taking the action as it becomes passive.

Not only that, but the sentence is weak, harder to visualize. This is why the active voice is often, but not always, preferable to the passive voice. Caesar was killed by Gaius Cassius Longinus doesn’t pack the same punch as Gaius Cassius Longinus killed Caesar. (Either way, it’s not looking good for Caesar.)

#10. Once Upon a Spreadsheet

We are wired for story. Humans crave it, are attracted to it, endlessly need and want it. Trouble is that few experts use it. Instead, they attack their readers with an unforgettable hailstorm of facts and figures–pure information–that can’t possibly connect with them the way a story can.

Many years ago I used to listen to Zig Ziglar tapes with my dad in the car, parked outside of Kopp’s Frozen Custard eating the kind of food that would dropkick  my heart into submission these days. I’ve forgotten nearly everything he said in those tapes–except for his stories. They created vivid images in my mind. They brought the message to life. They’ll stick with me forever. From the bull chasing the boy to the pool cleaner and cookware seller and every story in between, those words remain.

Be more than a fact giver. Be a storyteller.

#11. I Hate Comma Splices

Comma splices make my blood boil. That’s a bit much. They make my blood heat up, slightly. Like everyday, it seems I’m losing this battle as well. Everywhere I look comma splices are slapping me in the face. I wish they’d stop. You’re probably wishing I’d tell you what they are (if you didn’t already know).

A comma splice is using a comma to separate two independent clauses: The Ferrari stood up and walked away, on second thought that probably wasn’t a Ferrari. These two sentences should be separated by a period or semi-colon, or connected with a conjunction (e.g., and, but, etc.). From here on out, two sentences that can stand on their own must never be connected with a comma.

#12. I Love Serial Commas

While it’s true I wish nothing but the worst for the comma splices, I love me some serial commas. (How’s that for proper?) The serial comma, often called the Oxford comma, is the final comma used in a series of three or more items: I hope I’m never attacked by ducks, rabbits, or hamsters. The final comma, after rabbits, is the serial comma. And I love it.

Yes, I know, it’s a controversial issue, on par with nuclear weapons and global warming. Many are against this mighty soldier of prose, but I for one am standing my ground. Without the comma, you may inadvertently show a stronger tie between the final two items of the list: I hope I’m never attacked by ducks, rabbits or hamsters. In this case, rabbits and hamsters appear to be more closely linked than ducks. In truth, I’m equally afraid of their attacks.

Even worse is the utter confusion caused by kicking out the serial comma. As the trusty Wikipedia page illustrates…

The style that always uses the serial comma may be less likely to result in ambiguity. Consider the apocryphal book dedication quoted by Teresa Nielsen Hayden: To my parents, Ayn Rand and God.

Is she dedicating her book to three entities or calling her parents Ayn Rand and God? Without that comma, it’s impossible to tell.

#13. Make Every Word Tell

Writing, as Zinsser says, is rewriting. Rarely will perfectly pruned sentences tumble onto the page at first breath. It takes time and it takes editing. I’m not talking about proofreading. I’m talking about methodically reviewing your words to ensure precision and clarity while slicing away every ounce of fat–the fillers and hedging words (obliterate kind ofsort of, etc.), the unnecessary openings and endings (I wanted to tell you that…just tell them!), the redundant sentences that merely repeat what you just said. (Get it? I was just redundant. Ha!) Cut your writing down to its core and you’ll be left with powerful prose.

William Strunk, Jr. said it best…

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that he make every word tell.

Make every one of your words tell.

#14. Not Owning On Writing Well

William Zinsser is my role model of writing. Author of the best-selling On Writing Well, he has helped shape the minds and the words of thousands of students through his books, classes, and courses. Because you may not have heard of him, I’m counting this only as half a mistake, one you can quickly correct by clicking here. You’ll thank me.

Writing well matters. The words you choose to put on paper are your image, your authority, your expertise, and, in today’s digital world, your legacy. Deliver mistake-ridden posts or awkwardly-worded pieces and you’ll be seen as lazy or inexperienced. Write strong, clear, human English and you’ll inspire the masses with your message.

Quiz Time!

Were you paying attention? It’s time to find out. Without peeking at anyone else’s answer, how many mistakes can you find in the sentence below? Tell us in the comments!

Its about time you’re friends showed up to gather there 4 lawnmowers, Rick and me were fooled by them last week when they made us wait here, there and everywhere.

Comments

Jason Gracia

Quiz Hint: More than 0, less than 20. :)

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andrew

Jason, great article to inject some fun into the seriousness of smarter communication. Now lets sea if me am paying, attention. Seven?

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Jason Gracia

Very close. There’s a tricky one in there.

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andrew

And it’s grammar?

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Jason Gracia

It’s one of the rules covered above, but not strictly a grammatical error. It’s more of an error of weak construction.

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Paul Rast-Lindsell

It’s about time your friends showed up to gather their four lawnmowers. Rick and I were fooled by them last week when they made us wait here, there and everywhere.

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Jason Gracia

So close, Paul…

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Beth

you just forgot the comma after “there” :)

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Jason Gracia

Who did? Where? What?

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Kirsty Champion

Jason,

Great post, as always!

7?

Its (It’s)
you’re (your)
there (their)
4 (four)
lawnmowers, (lawnmowers.)
Rick and me (Rick and I) Although I’m tentative on this one, based on your explanation in #5. It’s “me”, isn’t it? I’ve been “conditioned” to “I”!
here, there and everywhere (here, there, and everywhere)

Appreciate the awesome content!

Kindest,

Kirsty

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Jason Gracia

You and Paul and Andrew have all but one. It’s a tricky one though, so I won’t hold it against you guys. :)

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Kirsty Champion

When I first read the text I wondered if #9 was a culprit in the passive wording?

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Jason Gracia

You got it!!!

Passive voice is the missing mistake.

Congrats, Champ!

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Kirsty Champion

Awesome!!!

Thanks, Mr.Gracia!

:)

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Kirsty Champion

A comma after “week”, or am I now clutching at straws?!

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Kirsty Champion

Seven, not 7…d’oh! :)

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Jason Gracia

Ha!

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Estela

I think there are seven. :)

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Jason Gracia

You are missing just one–the toughest one to find.

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Randy Benjamin

It’s about time your friends showed up to gather their four lawn mowers. Rick and me were fooled by them last week when they made us wait here, there, and everywhere.

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Jason Gracia

Randy,

Excellent work, my friend. There is one more grammar no-no in your sentence. You’re so close!

Jason

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Estela

I think there are seven. :)
It’s, your, their, four, period after lawnmowers, rick and I, serial comma after there.

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Jason Gracia

Great work! Just one more…

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Steve Kosch

Hi Jason!
I count six incorrect uses of grammar or punctuation marks! I see that others are going with seven. That’s OK because I am The Online Video Expert not the word baron. Thank God there are people like you to correct us!

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Jason Gracia

It’s not OK! LOL

Writing well is essential, no matter your medium. No getting off the hook.

Writing is merely thinking on paper. If you can’t write well, you can’t think well. That’s a problem if you want to be a six-figure expert!

There are more than seven. I bet you’ll be the one to crack the case.

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Beth

Me ain’t touchin this here thing, with a ten feet pole-its’ a trick, I tell ya… a trick!!!

That sentence (if you can call it that) should make your head explode! LOL

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Jason Gracia

Exploded.

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Beth

well you know you needed a little humor thrown in here – and the #8 is lawn mower is two words…..ta da!

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Jason Gracia

Look at you!!! So proud. :)

But the spelling can vary on that word; there’s one more clear and present error. I believe in you!

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Beth

Well, bottom line that second sentence is just bad. It would read much better this way:

Rick and I were fooled last week when we had to wait on them here, there, and everywhere.

And I know people spell lawn mower as one word, but that doesn’t make it correct :)

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Liz

This is a brilliant article, Jason!
This is how I think the quiz should be written correctly:
It’s about time your friend showed up to gather their four lawnmowers. Rick and I were fooled by them last week when they made us wait here, there, and everywhere.
However, instead of writing “Rick and I were fooled by them”, it would be better to write: They fooled Rick and me last week…

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Jason Gracia

You got it, Liz! Passive voice was the sneaky mistake. Congrats, you grammar goddess! :)

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Estevan Montoya

Thanks for sharing. Often, I fall short when it comes to my writing skill. I do my best, knowing what is proper grammar, but I am sometimes blind to my errors. I have found that having a few friends to proof read my posts helps.

I caught “6″ errors :)

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Jason Gracia

Very smart move, Estevan. I don’t want grammar or proper writing to trigger crippling worry. I want you to strive for improvement. You’re doing it. :)

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Tim Holcomb

Then there’s the mistake in the article title. Since No. 14 is only counted as a half mistake, there are only 13 1/2 writing mistakes noted, not 14 1/2.

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Jason Gracia

Yes! You just made my night, Tim. I changed the title and tip my hat. Love your attention to detail.

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Stephen Lahey

Ouch. I’m guilty of the it’s / its mistake. Thanks for the reminder, Jason. :)

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Jason Gracia

I mixed those up for years! Finally someone told me how they worked in college and my life changed forever.

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Brendan Baker

Your best article yet!

Although I did pick up mistake in #10 =P See if you can pick it up…

Quote: I’ve forgotten nearly everything he said in those tapes–expect for his stories.

Brendan

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Jason Gracia

Brendan,

Thanks for reading! I had a blast writing it. Though videos are fun, writing will always have my heart.

“except FOR his stories.” I just couldn’t remove that “for.” I liked the flow of the sentence with it.

Once you know the rules, you can break ‘em. :)

Jason

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Brendan Baker

Actually, it was the spelling of ‘except’ :)

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Jason Gracia

You caught me!!!

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Shelia

Great post Jason! 8 — It’s, your, their, four, Lawn Mower, . after mower, and a comma after there.

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Shelia

Ignore the Lawn Mower LOL

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Jason Gracia

Thanks, Shelia! I LOVED writing this post. You were very close to getting them all. Just one left. :)

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Charlie

I’m so pleased to find another defender of the oxford comma.
Bravo!

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Jason Gracia

Charlie,

Greatest. Comment. Ever.

Jason

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Julie Durnan

Jason,
AWESOME post! I will be sharing this one for sure! As a fellow grammar nerd, I just love seeing all these mistakes in one place. Thanks for your fun and hilarious approach to serious grammatical errors. Love this!! And always love your stuff. Did you like how I started a sentence with ‘and’? Julie

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Jason Gracia

Julie,

Thrilled to hear you liked this post–I loved writing it. :)

Though sticklers may still shake a stick at you, starting a sentence with a conjunction such as “and” or “but” is now widely accepted.

You’ve got nothing to worry about!

Jason

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Randy Benjamin

“Though sticklers may shake a stick at you.” That was the best ever Jason.!!!! Lol what a way to conjure up a set of words.

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Jason Gracia

I do what I can. :)

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Jennie

Grammar nerds unite! Time to start an Oxford comma fan club.

I’m a scientist, and am fascinated by the strange attachment of many of my peers to the passive voice. I think it’s a subconscious desire to emphasize the ideal of objective science by removing the scientist him- or herself from the experimentation or results. Thus passively voiced statements create (in the minds of some scientists!) an aura of greater authority or Truth. Journalism is another field with fervent adherents of the passive voice.

On a somewhat related topic, you might enjoy Daniel Oppenheimer’s paper “Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly.”

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Jason Gracia

Jennie,

I agree with each point.

We NEED to start an Oxford comma club.

The passive voice certainly lends itself to particular fields, as you smartly stated. The problem arises when experts outside of those industries take the action out of a sentence and leave us with awkward, dead constructions.

I’m going to check out Oppenheimer’s paper right now!

Jason

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Teri

How do you do it Jason? You always manage to send me exactly what I need! Here I am in the process of editing and BAM, this gem pops up.
I’ve gone back and re-edited the first few pages. What a difference! I am embarrassed to admit that I am guilty of # five, six, seven, nine (I am really struggling with this one), 10, 11, and 13.
No wonder I don’t like my own writing!
I’m heading off to read more about active voice right now because I really need help.
As for the test, I found seven right off the bat. The passive voice part was evident but I had a hard time with the rewording.
While I’m being honest, I might as well further my embarrassment by telling you that it has taken me almost 10 minutes just to edit this comment!
How did I do?
On a side note, I can’t wait to be able to jump into your Empire Group! Thank you for your patience and understanding.
Teri

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Jason Gracia

Teri,

No need to be embarrassed. You are learning and improving. People who don’t both evolving are the ones who should be embarrassed. Not you.

There are eight mistakes (nine if you maintain the original spelling of a particular word), so you’re very close! :)

Jason

PS. Your comment was superb and I can’t wait to welcome you to the Empire family.

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Pauline

Love it! I couldn’t agree more on all points! I love serial commas and always fight the good fight on those.

Extra credit: I discovered one more point of grammar that can be improved in your quiz: unclear pronoun reference. To be fair, I don’t think it’s as confusing in this sentence pairing as the same usage can be in others. The reference of the pronoun “they” is unclear. Who fooled Rick and me? Was it your friends or the four lawnmowers? Wouldn’t the sentence be better if it read like this? “It’s about time your friends showed up to gather their four lawnmowers. Your pals fooled Rick and me last week when they made us wait here, there, and everywhere.”

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Jason Gracia

Pauline,

If we’re dealing with lawn mowers that are wise enough to fool us, I agree with you wholeheartedly!

Jason

PS. I had no idea we had so many serial comma fans in the community. Love it. :)

Reply

Niki

Jason,
You ALWAYS manage to hit the perfect nail directly on the head, every time! I found everything but the passive voice. Sneaky, lol! I am in your debt as I have learned ,yet again, from your shared wisdom. Were you Benjamin Franklin in another life? No, seriously….
Thank you,
Niki

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Jason Gracia

Niki,

You are too, too kind. :)

I’m so happy that you found the content valuable and, aside from his interpersonal issues and infidelities, being compared to Franklin is beyond flattering.

I hope you have a wonderful New Year’s Eve and are looking forward to the best year yet. I’ll do my best to help you on your way!

Jason

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http://www.yelp.com/biz/orlando-taxinearme-net-orlando

OK, Lois McFadden taxi orlando of Dewey, Poteau, OK.
In circumstances where there is a tragic loss. Interment
will be Charley Covey, Dennis Smith, AR. Every funeral home for the neighbours and loved ones.

Reply

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