Pancakes and Grammar—both worth celebrating.
Today is a good day for me because the county is celebrating two of my favorite things: grammar and pancakes. Grammar is important for lawyers. Unfortunately, however, precise legal writing is rare—most lawyers are sloppy with their grammar and thus sloppy with their writing. Many people are sloppy with their pancakes, too, but that’s less of an issue for me.
So to celebrate this hallowed day, I’d like to focus on several of the common grammatical mistake that I encounter in my own work—illustrated (and conflated) with pancakes. Let’s celebrate National Pancake-Grammar Day.
1. Everybody should eat their pancakes.
It shouldn’t be any surprise to the reader that the subject of sentence should agree with the verb. This is normally not a problem, but words like “everybody” tend to confuse people—including me if I’m in a hurry. “Everybody” seems like it would be plural, but it is singular and should therefore be accompanied by a singular verb. In this sentence, you could correct the problem with “Everybody should eat his or her pancakes.” Because (not since, which we’ll get to in a second) that is a little awkward, I think the preferred usage should just be “Eat your pancakes.”
2. Since you have been eating pancakes, you should drink some milk.
This sentence is ambiguous. Does “since” refer to time (referring to the period of time when you started eating pancakes) or to causation? I’ll admit that most of the ambiguity is resolved by the end of the sentence, but we can do better than this. The better usage is “Because you have been eating pancakes, you should drink some milk.”
3. I literally just ate a ton of pancakes.
No, no you didn’t. You just figuratively ate a ton of pancakes.
4. The pancakes which you just ate were laced with cyanide.
That vs. which. Use “which” when you’re introducing a non-restrictive clause—basically, when the information is “extra.” In this sentence, a non-restrictive clause might look something like “The pancakes, which were made from organic, gluten-free flour, are now ready.” The clause is not needed to identify the particular pancakes; it’s just extra information. In this sentence, the fact that you just ate the particular pancakes laced with cyanide is almost certainly not extra information.
5. These carefully-crafted pancakes are the best I’ve ever tasted.
“Carefully-crafted” is an adverb, so you don’t need to hyphenate it.