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Find the Errors and Win the Prize

Warm up by finding one concisely spelled error in this sign. When you find it, go on to the next challenge. Proofread_this_sign2


This dumpster sign has three punctuation errors, along with some funny commentary. Don’t quit until you find everything.


Thank you to Eric W., who finds wonderfully flawed signs in his travels around Washington State.

What’s the prize, you wonder, for finding the errors? It’s the opportunity to feel smart and pleased with yourself!

Comments? Questions? Please share them.

Here’s where to look if you need a class in proofreading or punctuation.


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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.

8 comments on “Find the Errors and Win the Prize”

  • Great sign for editing!

    I would suggest adding a colon after “CONTAINER” to introduce the list and changing capitalization, punctuation, and word choice within the list:

    *Asbestos-containing materials
    *TVs, computers, or monitors
    *Oils, solvents, or paints
    *Fluorescent tubes
    *Household garbage
    *Treated wood
    *Car batteries

    The “…punishment could include…” sign would be clearer and perhaps more effective if the cost of the fine was included. If reworded as follows, it would also have parallel construction (changed “caring” and “forced listening” to “caring” and “being forced to listen”):

    “Further punishment could include days of caring for screaming toddlers and being forced to listen to endless hours of bagpipe and accordion music.”

    Separately, I think the list would be easier to follow if the items were alphabetized and clarified:

    *Asbestos-containing materials (drywall, flooring, flues, etc.)
    *Batteries (button, car, A/AA/AAA/C/D, lithium, NiCad, etc.)
    *Electronics (computers, monitors, TVs, etc.)
    *Fluorescent tubes
    *Household garbage
    *Oils, solvents, or paints
    *Treated wood

    The sign would also be more effective if a website or 800 number were included for people with questions.

    Thank you for an interesting exercise. It will be fun to see what others think.

  • First sign:
    I would love a pet refrigator. They are cooler than alligators (get it? ha!). I’m guessing “refrigerator” was too long, so I would probably just use “fridges” instead.

    Second sign:
    * Asbestos-containing materials
    * TVs, Computer and Monitors
    Please, oblige!


  • Hi Jane,

    Thanks for your thorough review of the dumpster sign. I’m glad you had a good time with it.

    Of course, you caught all the items I intended: the missing colon, the missing hyphen, and the extra apostrophe.

    I was surprised that you recommended changing “and” to “or” in the bullet point “TVs, computers and monitors” and the one after it. “And” seems more inclusive and therefore appropriate. I would like to know what motivated your change.

    I found your examples of asbestos-containing materials helpful. And the phone number is a great idea. I also like your suggestion about including the specific dollar amount of the fine. For the “further punishment,” I think the sign painter was having fun–and they got my attention.

    Thanks again for participating. You win the prize!


  • Hi Patty,

    I like your changes, and I’m so glad you asked “Get it?” You made me look twice and enjoy your cool idea!

    I’d put a colon after “The following items are not allowed in this container.” That’s a perfect introduction for a colon.

    You win the prize too!


  • Hi Jane,

    Thanks for the explanation. Isn’t it interesting how long those early life lessons stick?


  • Hi, Lynn,

    Thanks for your feedback–and Patty made me laugh as well!

    Now you can also laugh at me as I suspect childhood memories are the most likely reason I suggested “or” rather than “and.”

    If fun activities were planned, “and” was used. For example, we could “play for an hour, watch TV for an hour, AND read for an hour.”

    However, if restrictions were necessary (which they too often were), “or” was used. For example, we could NOT “stay over at Susie’s, watch TV tomorrow night, OR get more books from the library.” The “or” gave additional emphasis to each desirable activity being denied and increased the misery.

    Not a concept based on grammatical rules, but definitely etched into my brain! However, I agree with you that “and” could be used effectively as well.

    Have a great weekend ahead!


  • Olivia, good point. The “and” rendering makes “ham and eggs” one dish. The “or” indicates two dishes. It depends what one is trying to convey.


  • Lynn,

    I agree with you that “and” works better with the wording and list format of the sign. However, Jane’s thought of changing to “or” has merit. Consider these examples:

    I like ham and eggs. I don’t like ham and eggs.
    I like chicken and fish. I don’t like chicken or fish.

    Sometimes the negative seems to require using “or.”

    Always fun to think through these usage issues with you and your readers.


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