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Which Mistakes Do You Make on Purpose?

If you can write a catchy sentence using I when the wording really demands me, do you choose or me?

If fewer fits your meaning but less sounds breezier, do you go with the correct fewer or the rhythmic less

I wondered about these questions the other day when I read an article about REI's in-store trunk show called "Less Labels, More Sizes." Of course, less is incorrect. Because you can count labels, the correct word is fewer: "Fewer Labels, More Sizes." (Read more about fewer and less in my post "A Lesson on Fewer and Less.")

REI is a sophisticated company that cares about writing. I know that because I taught business writing there for many years. Why did they choose less rather than fewer

REI's Tessa Bondi answered my inquiry this way: "The lyrical flow of "Less Labels" was compelling to many of us. There is something about alliteration that has the power to bring a concept together." 

I see REI's point. "Less labels" sounds better than "fewer labels." It's alliterative (two sequential Ls), and it communicates in three quick syllables rather than four.

I agree with REI, but as a writing teacher, I could not use "less labels." I would worry about confusing people who trust me to model correct writing. REI is not in the business of teaching writing, so it can choose catchy–if incorrect–language. 

Do you make intentional mistakes because the error communicates better than correct language would? 

I do in one case. I say "It's me." Although "It's I" is correct, my use of that language would distract people because we don't use it anymore. People would wonder why I was talking or writing so strangely. 

In other areas, I follow traditional rules. I use "different from," not "different than." I'm careful when I choose among or between. I choose eager–not anxious–when I mean "looking forward." I still use "each other" for two people and "one another" for more than two. 

I can't listen to songs that use "you and I" for a rhyme when "you and me" is correct in the context. Plenty of words rhyme with me. Why don't those lyricists keep trying?  

Which mistakes do you make on purpose? Which do you tolerate because they sound good? Which drive you nuts? I look forward to reading your preferences. 

Syntax Training

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

13 comments on “Which Mistakes Do You Make on Purpose?”

  • I would NEVER intentionally use incorrect grammar. Why? I cannot fathom that a company would deliberately choose to ignore grammar rules, either. I think this is just a weak excuse by REI. Someone messed up. It grates when I hear “you and I” in songs where “you and me” would be correct. However, this I can cope with – just like the eternal “s/he don’t”. However, for a professional company to use such language? No way. I think less of them. McDonald’s is already on my hate list for misusing the verb “to love”, not to mention their food. But at least they know what they’re doing: trying to be hip or cool. End of rant šŸ™‚

  • Companies often choose incorrect grammar on purpose, and sometimes the choice is beneficial for the bottom line. Consider the McDonald’s “I`m lovin it” slogan. That was very successful in attracting attention, which was the goal of their writers.

  • One I do all the time is “Hi Lynn” at the start of an email. Not using the comma between the “hi” and the name is so standard that using it just looks odd. I have to say, “Less labels” makes me cringe. I think it’s important to know your audience.

  • Hello Kathryn, Shalom, Greg, and Laura. Thanks for commenting!

    Kathryn, great rant! So you NEVER choose to use incorrect grammar? Not even “It’s me”? As I mentioned above, I do use that one. I suppose I might use others if I thought my correctness could get in the way of the message. It always depends on the audience.

    Shalom, thanks for the “anxious” vs. “eager” information. As I mentioned, I’m a traditionalist, which means I reserve “anxious” for times of anxiety.

    Greg, I don’t yet see how “I’m lovin’ it” is incorrect grammar. Informal yes, but incorrect? I agree that it’s catchy.

    Laura, it took me awhile to get used to omitting the comma. It’s easier for me if I think of “Hi Lynn” as the same as “Dear Lynn.” Like you, “less labels” doesn’t work for me–but it certainly got my attention and led to this blog post.


  • It is becoming harder and harder to teach students when so many in the public sphere ignore correct grammar. We can all be bidialectal, choosing when to be less formal among friends and family, but I expect those who purport to speak to a wide audience to be mindful of the example they are setting. The nature of language is ever evolving, yet current standards still hold in the professional and academic worlds.

  • Like you and those who have commented, I tend to choose traditionally correct language. However, I stopped worrying about It’s me when I decided that it is colloquial. That phrase must be used almost entirely in conversation, not formal writing. There’s also C’est moi, if the French version offers comfort. I do say This is she, though. I also agree with you about Hi Lynn. Just looks better with only the final comma.

  • I do use “it’s me”! One would be regarded as a serious weirdo if one didn’t. Just as it is barely acceptable today in informal spoken English to use “one”.
    Something that makes speaking grammatically correct English easier is knowing how to speak German. Germans actually say “I am it”, which of course has a totally different meaning in English :D. But I have to say knowing German means I don’t usually have to think twice about English grammar.
    I take issue with your not taking issue with McDonald’s, Lynn. I also alluded to McDonald’s in my original rant and meant precisely the “I’m loving it”. According to rules of English – as taught to foreign students for eons – verbs denoting emotion such as love, like, etc. should only be used in the simple present tense and not in the present continuous/progressive. See here:
    Of course, there are the odd exceptions to the rule. And I will allow that McDonald’s has done well with their – in my view – misuse. As someone wrote above: Know your audience.
    On the other hand, as Pam writes above, I believe people and companies should be mindful of the example they set.
    I do enjoy your blog very much, Lynn. Keep up the good and interesting work.

  • Hi Olivia,

    Like you, I use “This is she.” I could NEVER say “This is her.” Thanks for sharing.


  • Hi Kathryn,

    Thank you so much for telling me about the verb rule with emotions. Having never taught English as a second language, I had not come across it. Now I understand your objection to the ad campaign.

    Thank you for the continuing conversation.


  • I’m glad that other users of French and German also subscribe to Lynn’s blog. One frustration is what I would call European English, an unofficial variant that differs from British and US English. In European English, it’s correct if it sounds correct to most non-native English speakers on the Continent. For example, in European English, you can talk about “controlling” your bank statement, whereas in the US and Britain you “control” your spending and then “check” or “verify” your bank statement.

  • Hi George,

    How interesting! I had never thought about European English. If I heard someone talking about controlling a bank statement, I would not know what to think. Thanks for the tipoff.


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