Thursday, September 13, 2007

Top 10 Common English Goofs by Web Authors

In reviewing and browsing web sites over the years, I have compiled a list of the most common misuses of English by web authors. Here they are in Letterman (reverse) order.

10. Who, which or that?
"Who" (or "whom") refers to persons. "Which" refers to animals or things, never to persons. "That" can refer to either persons or things.

The girl who was hungry.
The dog that wagged its tail.
The software which I wrote.

9. Anyone vs any one
"Anyone" means "any person," not necessarily any specific person. It could refer to multiple people simultaneously.

As two words, "any one" refers to a single person.

Anyone can download my software. But the software can only be used by any one user at a time.

8. Commonly misspelled word
All right

7. Don't put punctuation at the end of a URL
While not technically an English grammatical error, don't put a period or anything immediately after a URL reference. Doing so will usually invalidate the URL. You might call this an internet grammatical rule.

Notice the lack of a period in the following sentence. My URL is

6. Software not softwares
"Software" can be singular or plural. Never use "softwares."

5. Do the quotes go after or before the period?
Put quotes after a period or comma. Put quotes before a colon. Put quotes after a question mark unless the entire sentence is a question. This is a US English standard. British English usage can differ.

He asked, "Are you hungry?"
She replied, "Yes, I am hungry."
Did she say, "Yes"?

4. There, their, or they're
"There" is used in two ways. It can specify a place. It can also be used as an expletive or empty word to start a sentence.

"Their" is used as a possessive form of "they".
"They're" is short for "they are."

I live there, not here.
There are nine planets in the solar system.
The two boys raced their bikes.
They're both tired after walking up the stairs.

3. Powerful
Too many developers describe their software as, "XXX Software is a powerful, easy-to-use, ... ." I searched and found 2149 descriptions or titles of software containing the word "powerful." Powerful has many meanings, most referring to how effectively something is performed, as in muscular. A car with 450 horsepower is clearly more powerful than one with only 200 horsepower. But what is powerful software? If you mean feature-rich (like Adobe Photoshop), then say so. If your software does only one thing, but it does it completely or thoroughly (like CounterSpy), then say so. But please, no more powerful software.

2. Site or sight
A "site" is a place.
"Sight" refers to your sense of vision.

A web site is a place on the internet that you visit with your browser.
A beautiful sunset is a marvellous sight.

And, finally, the most common English blunder by web authors is:

1. Its or It's
Use "it's" only when it means "it is." Unless you can replace "it's" with "it is," use "its." Never use "its'.

It's raining today.
The dog wagged its tail.

English is very difficult for persons whose native language is not English. It is also difficult for many English-speaking authors.

Unfortunately, most of the common grammatical errors will not be caught by a spell checker, so you have to manually check your writing for them.

An excellent reference is the short and timeless book, The Elements of Style, by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White. A free online version of this book is available at

I hope that web authors can use this article to recognize and correct some of the most common grammatical blunders that abound on the internet.

About The Author
Kempton Smith helps internet businesses promote their products or services online by ghostwriting affordable, unique, keyword-rich articles for them. Email him now at for a free article for your online business, no obligation. Or for a free report on how to use articles to promote your product or service, visit

Copyright © 2005 by Kempton Smith. This article may be freely published provided you leave it intact.