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Nuts and Bolts: Spelling, Grammar and Punctuation, Oh My!

January 14, 2014


Some of the most common errors made by artists involve simple spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes that should be avoided before a card is submitted for review. In this article, we’ll try to give you some tips and easy ways to stop wasting time with cards Returned for Edits because of avoidable issues.

Don’t be afraid! 🙂 We’ll do our best to demystify the subject. And please note these tips apply only to the English language. Foreign languages have their own rules.

By trying to fix mistakes before you submit your card, you’re saving yourself and the reviewers a lot of time, effort, and frustration.

Before we begin, let’s first understand that text talk and the informal writing you see in chats, Tumblr, e-mails, forums, and other places is not to be used on greeting cards (this is a general rule). Be correct, unless there’s a reason in your design not to be (like you’re making a joke). This may be a greeting card, but GCU still requires you to do things right. Okay? So let’s begin with…

—Possession Vs. Contraction – The Epic Battle!—

This is probably one that trips up a lot of artists. It’s understandable to confuse possession (your birthday) with a contraction (you’re birthday). What’s right and how can you remember which is which?

Your is possessive. Your bed belongs to  you. Your car belongs to you. It is your birthday today.

You’re is a contraction (kind of a language shorthand) for “you are.” See that apostrophe between the -you- and the -re-? That clue tells you the word is a contraction. You’re going to be a year older.

How Do You Tell the Difference?
 Simple! Just read aloud the contraction giving the complete verb. If you do that, you can’t fail. 

Today’s you’re birthday. “Today’s you are birthday” doesn’t make sense,does it? Therefore you’ve accidentally used a contraction instead of possession. Correct: Today’s your birthday.

Here are some more examples:

Their: Possession. Their house is much nicer than the Smiths.
They’re: Contraction “they are.” They’re the cutest things I ever did see.
There: Location. Indicates a place. Your birthday present is over there.
If you’re having trouble, just remember “HERE and THERE.”

Who’s: Contraction “who is.” Who’s turning twelve today?
Whose: Possession. Whose socks are laying on the floor?

It’s: Contraction “it is.” It’s your birthday!
Its: Possession. Put your worry in its place.

Your: Possession. It’s your birthday.
You’re: Contraction. You’re a year older.

In every one of these examples, if you read the sentence aloud and spell out the contraction – you are, they are, who is, it is – you’ll be able to know immediately whether the word is right or wrong.

—Punctuate to Make Your Point—

Exclamation Points – !
Use one exclamation point at the end of a sentence to indicate excitement, joy, strong emotion. It’s your birthday! Do not use more than one. There are no exceptions in English.

Interrobang – !? or ?!
Looks weird, doesn’t it? The interrobang is a combination of an exclamation point and a question mark. This is nonstandard punctuation that hasn’t been used much since it fell into and out of favor in the 1960s, and should be avoided since there are much better ways to indicate shocked disbelief and surprise (such as your photograph or illustration – a picture’s worth a thousand words, as they say).

Ellipses or the Dot-Dot-Dot – …
This one trips up a lot of people since grammar styles differ from company to company (for example, newspapers use one set of rules, publishing houses may use different ones, etc). Since we’ve already done an article with everything you need to know, go take a gander at Tips & Tricks: Ellipses. The rule of thumb for GCU is – a space between the word and the ellipses and use three dots only. It’s your birthday …

Apostrophe – ‘
If you’ve been reading this article from the beginning, you know an apostrophe indicates a contraction (you’re, it’s, who’s). But the apostrophe also indicates possession: Baby boy’s birth. Little girl’s birthday. But it gets a little tricky when we’re making a plural word possessive that already ends with an S (our boys’ birthdays, indicating the birthdays of more than one boy). In most cases, the apostrophe goes AFTER the S, not before. Mostly this will come into play with holiday names (Nurses’ Day, etc). Check the Wiki or the GCU  categories before you make your design permanent and submit it for review.
Also read The Oatmeal: How to Use An Apostrophe for great visual examples.

Quotation Marks – “
Punctuation always goes inside the quotation mark, like this: “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country.” Don’t put commas or periods outside the quotation marks.

—Let’s Be Careful How We Spell—

Sometimes, words sound the same, but have different meanings and are spelled differently. And since English is a crazy, mixed up language, it can also be hard to spell words correctly when you aren’t sure. So let’s run through a few of the most common errors.

Then Vs. Than
Then refers to time. Now and then, I think of you.
Than makes a comparison. I’d rather have you as a friend than anyone else.

Weird is Not Wierd
The rule of thumb is: “I before E except after C, or when sounded as A, as in neighbor and weigh.”

Lose Vs. Loose
Lose is the opposite of “win.” Did you lose the ballgame today?
Loose means “not tight.” Loosen the nut on that bolt with your wrench.

Whether Vs. Weather
Weather refers to rain, snow, clouds, temperature, etc. What’s the weather like outside today?
Whether expresses doubt or choice. Whether or not it’s your birthday, have some cake.

A Lot is always two words. Always.  I miss you a lot when you’re not here.

All right is always two words. Always. Hope you’re feeling all right.

Amirite is not a word. Don’t use it. Am I right that it’s your birthday?

There are a more words commonly misspelled and misused. Here are good resources for you to use. Just remember, when in doubt, check it out!

Top 20 Spelling Mnemonics
Little easy to remember phrases to help you keep in mind how to spell tricky words.

The Secret to Memorizing English Vocabulary and Grammar
More mnemonics + a fun video.

Commonly Misused Words and Phrases

List of Commonly Misused English Words

100 Most Commonly Misspelled Words in English

If you have other resources or tips, please leave a comment and share with your fellow artists. Or if there’s something you’d like to know, just ask! We’re happy to help.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Cathy Gangwer permalink
    January 14, 2014 3:24 pm

    Basic grammar, but good to review!

  2. Patty permalink
    January 14, 2014 6:56 pm

    All good advice, except for GCU’s rule about ellipses or dot-dot-dot. I agree that the extra space should be added before a dot-dot-dot for editorial copy, literature, blogs, documents, etc., but not necessarily for typography design used for graphics (advertising, greeting cards, t-shirts, etc.). Typography is the art and technique of selecting and arranging type (and sometimes that includes eliminating extra space so that it’s visually appealing). Tighter kerning or no space is perfectly acceptable in advertising and greeting card design (look at Hallmark cards or any successful card company). Obviously, GCU is stuck on this rule, no matter what but I still believe the arrangement of type, the selection of typefaces, point size, tracking, leading and kerning should be left to the artist’s discretion.

  3. January 15, 2014 9:34 am

    Another tripper-upper, alas: Those socks, whoever’s they may be, are lying – not laying – around.

  4. January 15, 2014 9:44 am

    The socks aren’t reclining on the floor – someone put them there. So the socks are laying on the floor. If you were on the floor, you’d be lying there.


  5. January 15, 2014 10:44 am

    I respectfully differ. While ‘lying’ can indeed be defined as ‘reclining’, it can also mean ‘resting’ or ‘staying’ when objects are involved. It’s true that this usage of ‘laying’ is heard all the time, but it is not correct.

    Please see

    When someone has been asked to lay the table, the dishes that have been placed there are then lying on the table. When I lie in bed, I lay my head on the pillow; my head is lying on the cushion while I am lying on the sofa.

  6. Robyn permalink
    January 15, 2014 9:50 pm

    As always, people (blogs) who try to correct spelling, grammar, etc. seem to make at least one error in their information.

    Here is the line:
    “There are a more words commonly misspelled and misused.”

    I think the word “lot” was omitted.

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