Grammar Giggles – Towards Better Grammar (Or Not)

This is a common error that I see (and hear) a lot. Towards is used in British English, while in the U.S., we use toward.  Toward means moving in the direction of or in relation to. So when I received this notification from an American company, it caught my attention. I have previously written a blog post about this topic at


Grammar Giggle – Spainish 

I have not shared Grammar Giggles from my European vacation because English is not their primary language so I was generous with any small errors I saw. However, on the Big Bus tour, I found this error. Since they are a large company with offices worldwide (including the US), I’m not so ready to cut them as much slack. So when I saw this one, the phone camera came out. 

Why Proofread?


So by now, you may be wondering why I spend so much time talking about, writing about, and actually proofreading. Here are just a few of the reasons I think proofreading helps you:

  • You Learn Stuff. When you work on developing proofreading skills, not only do you continually learn grammar rules, but if you start reading more for recreation, you learn about people, places, and things outside of your small circle.
  • You Enhance Your Grammar Skills. Once you start paying attention to what you’re reading and figure out why something is wrong (or why it is right when you didn’t think it was), you are developing your grammar skills. And then you can help others develop their grammar skills. Particularly if you do it nicely as a teaching/learning moment, you can share what you know with others. Just don’t be a jerk about it. Everyone makes mistakes and if you use it to teach them, they will likely pay attention.  If they think they are being attacked or you treat them like they’re stupid, they will not learn and will continue in the way they know (and they’ll think you’re a jerk and won’t listen to you the next time either).
  • You See The Big Picture. Whether you work in a law office, a bank, or any other industry, if you pay attention to the documents you are proofreading, you can learn more about the industry, about your cases, about legal strategy, and about your career. It’s important to see the big picture in everything you do rather than working in a vacuum of just your specific tasks. Find out WHY you do things a certain way. Discover what happens after you’ve done your part. Figure out what others have done before it reached you. Find the place that you fit in the flow from beginning to end.
  • You Could Become More Valuable. With text speak and teachers being forced to teach skills to pass standardized exams and not skills that people actually need, a person with a good grasp of grammar and the ability to correct other work will become even more valuable. People judge and I’m pretty sure that no one in your firm wants to be looked upon as having bad grammar.
  • You Make Your Firm Look Good. My motto has always been that everything that leaves my office is a reflection of me–whether I’ve touched it or not. Anyone who knows you and knows where you work associates you with that firm. If the things that your firm files or sends to opposing counsel have glaring errors, people (including the judge) may have a very different perception of your firm and all the people in it. That perception goes both ways and I want my firm’s reputation to be that we do quality work.
  • You Feel Good. I love that people whom I worked with 10 years ago still email me for proofreading advice. I’ve developed a reputation for quality work product and for actually caring about every document that I touch. That has consistently shown up in reviews, raises, and the respect I receive from others.

 Proofreading is a skill that can be learned and should be practiced. It is something that may well change your life (or perhaps only if you’re a nerd like me). So keep learning, keep practicing, and keep honing that skill.

Grammar Giggle – It Couldn’t Have Been More Clear

This I found on Twitter. The correct phrase should be “couldn’t have gotten.” I think the error happens because when you are actually saying the phrase out loud, it sounds like “couldn’t uv gotten” so people assume it is “of” instead of “have.” That is incorrect.

Attorney’s Fees or Attorneys’ Fees?

So is it “attorney’s fees” or “attorneys’ fees”? I see it both ways in all kinds of documents. According to Bryan Garner, it seems that “attorney’s fees” is used most frequently, but that “attorneys’ fees” is acceptable in cases where more than one attorney is charging fees for services. Some people use “attorney fees” to avoid making decision altogether.

Other sources I found say:

  • The U.S. Department of Justice U.S. Attorneys’ Manual, Civil Resource Manual has a section on “Attorney’s Fees.”
  • A 2016 U.S. Supreme Court case (Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., No. 15–375) talks about “attorney’s fees.”
  • The American Bar Association published an article in 2016 about “attorney fees.”
  • Black’s Law Dictionary uses “attorney fees.”

No wonder people are confused. While it isn’t really a big deal, your firm should decide which form they want to use and then everyone should use that form. My biggest fear is always that different briefs from the same firm will have it different ways. Remember my mantra–consistency is good.


Here is my take: If there is ONLY one attorney charging fees, I think “attorney’s fees” is correct. They are the fees of that attorney. However, if there are multiple attorneys charging fees even in one firm, it should be “attorneys’ fees.” They are fees charged by multiple attorneys.

Do you agree?

Grammar “Used To Be” More Important

This is a pretty common error that I saw on a TV ad recently. The phrase “use to be” is incorrect. When you’re talking about something that happened in the past but doesn’t happen anymore, the correct phrase is “used to be.” In this sentence it means that in the past, surgery was the only option, but it is not the only option anymore, so “used to be” would be correct.

Grammar Giggle – Dutchess

My local news had a little bit of trouble spelling “Duchess.” A Duchess is the female equivalent if a Duke. Dutchess could possibly be a woman from the Netherlands, but is not a word that appears in a dictionary. The Duchess of Cambridge is a well-known figure and the headline is obviously incorrect.


Grammar Giggle – Untied

Here is an example of how spell check doesn’t always help. “Untied” is spelled correctly. Unfortunately, “untied” isn’t the correct word in this instance. #proofthatblog #proofreading #untiedvsunited


Are Job Titles Capitalized?

Bailiff or bailiff-A reader recently emailed asking about the word “bailiff” and whether it was capitalized when transcribing a legal court hearing.  She asked “I understand that when it is used as a title, for example: Bailiff Jones will now take the jury to the jury room. But, during the course of conversation by the Judge – for example: If you (jury) has a question, please write out the question and hand it to our bailiff.  Is the word bailiff capitalized then – or is it capitalized throughout the document just as you would for Mr. or Mrs.?”

Based on my review of the Gregg Reference Manual, it would be capitalized when used with the last name as  in Bailiff Jones, but I do not think in the Judge’s conversation it would be capitalized. However, in reading Paragraph 313(c), it could be capitalized just because it is a court transcription and the bailiff might be considered an “official of high rank” in that courtroom by the persons reading the transcript.

  • Paragraph 313(c) – Titles of local governmental officials and those of lesser federal and state officials are not usually capitalized when they follow or replace a personal name. However, these titles are sometimes capitalized in writing intended for a limited readership when the intended reader would consider the official to be of high rank (emphasis added).

Paragraph 312(e) says not to capitalize occupational titles preceding names. The way to distinguish occupational titles from official titles is that only official titles can be used with last names alone. for instance, you wouldn’t address a person as “Author Collins,” “Lawyer Jones,” or “Director of Public Marketing Smith,” so they are occupational titles and shouldn’t be capitalized. As a general rule, the Gregg Reference Manual says not to put a title before a person’s name unless it is short and you would actually use the title when you are addressing them aloud.

Other sources say if the title precedes the name, it should be capitalized and if it does not, it should not be. But what about “bailiff”? As above, you would address them as “Bailiff Jones” but in this case the title is not preceding the name–you are just using “bailiff.” According to Gregg Reference Manual:

  • Paragraph 313(e) – In general, do not capitalize job titles when they stand alone. However, in procedures manuals and in organization memos and announcements, job titles are sometimes capitalized for special emphasis.

My gut says not to capitalize it because it is a job title in that courtroom and you are not capitalizing other job titles like court reporter, judicial assistant, etc. when they are used in place of a name.

Do you agree or disagree? Comment below.