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December 18, 2009


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Sadly, I've also seen "it's" and "its" misused by several law professors in recent blog posts. Clearly it's time for all of us - students and profs alike - to step away from Microsoft Word and autocorrect functions and reread our Strunk & White over the break!


Reading Strunk & White over the break is an excellent idea, but I'm afraid it's not going to help clean up your exams.

I am a law student, a bit of a grammar snark, and a guy who misused "it's" on his Intellectual Property exam last week. I did not screw up the contraction because I confused a "rule that should have been mastered long before entering law school." I misused the contraction because the scope of the exam compared to the time allotted required me to hurry right along, and there just wasn't any time to correct errors.

I suspect your exams were full of words like "hte", a basic spelling "rule that should have been mastered long before entering law school," and yet I'll wager that one doesn't bug you.

My guess is you are (justly) ticked off by misuse of "it's" where there is no excuse — places like blog posts, emails, flyers, and the like. That's fine. I'm behind you one hundred percent.

But exams are different. Give your students a break. They're doing the best they can.


Patrick is surely right that at least a large number of these mistakes are best thought of as typos (or write-os, if people were hand-writing.) But I still like the cure used by one of my undergraduate professors. If a student flubbed the its/it's distinction he or she would have to wear a cheap green plastic leprechaun hat that had "its/it's" written on the front during the next class after papers were handed back. This was highly conducive to taking care.

Eric Fink

Based on the title, I was hoping this post would be an homage to the real San Francisco treat (no, not Rice-a-Roni): the wonderful It's It ice cream sandwich (


It is worse when these errors show up in essays. The reason being is that I've been marking alot of essays and to all intensive purposes I'm seeing students write how they talk. I wouldn't of said anything about this, but irregardless, its happening more then it used to on account of people using spell check to do there proofreading and it is diving me mad!

grammar nazi

praymont, you must mean regardless or irrespective - but not irregardless. And by its, I'm also assuming you mean "it's." (which ironically is the subject of this post!) Then again, I'm now realizing perhaps your entire comment is meant to be tongue-in-cheek. I certainly hope so ...

Steven Lubet

Judge Kressel's guidelines are mostly petty and inconsequential. He complains about such things as over capitalization and the omission of articles, none of which actually create confusion or obscure meaning. Sure, it is better to omit superfluous verbiage -- "it shall be and is hereby ordered" -- but that is not really very important.

I am all in favor of eliminating needless legalese, but I don't see any need to be overbearing about it. The real question is whether he will enforce his guidelines. Will he reject orders that do not meet his stylistic standards? Will he reprimand lawyers who fall short? Or will he have the good sense to let minor failings pass.

Kelly Anders

Yes, this is frustrating, to say the least. Lately, I have noticed the incorrect uses of "and I" (i.e., "Him and I went to the store," or "She gave the gift to him and I."). I am concerned about these basic mistakes. If our bright law students are doing this, these practices must be more widespread than we may think.


Praymont, you made me crack up for the first time all day. Thank you for the levity!

(PS: I counted seven. Did I miss any?)


I admit I am being a little defensive, probably because I am a student, but Kelly Anders, you screwed up "i.e."

You should have used "e.g." If you are going to be concerned about these 'basic mistakes' please hold yourself to the same standard.

Kelly Anders

Touché! However, in my defense, Maya may wish to visit, which explains the reasons for using "i.e." and "e.g." Although the latter is typically used in place of "for example," the use of "i.e." can also be used to illistrate a point. Regardless, I am delighted that Maya took the time to respond to my comment, and I do agree that "e.g." would have been preferable in this instance. Kelly

Kelly Anders

Oops! I meant "illustrate." My eyes are weary from reading papers. ;-)

Matthew Reid Krell

Also, too, Kelly, you didn't screw up the use of "and I" in your first example; you screwed up the use of "he." Also.


It's such common misuse! But grammar and punctuation are things that we were taught as children. Once we reach adulthood, I feel that we start to forget some things while others are so ingrained in us that we can't even explain why we do them anymore.


GN: Indeed, my tongue was firmly in cheek when I wrote that comment.

Patrick: There were eight errors that I know of (or 'of which I know' -- I don't claim to be a saint when it comes to grammar). I would like to have added 'one in the same' but it slipped my mind.

Kelly Anders

Yes, the "him and I" was an example of two misuses, which I wwas aware of when I used it as an example. I am beginning to regret chiming in at all.

Kelly Anders

Yes, I know that "was" has one "w."

Thesis Writing

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