Native Speaker Mistakes in Advertising

For this native English speaker mistakes lesson, we’re going to look at two errors I have seen on advertising and signage at businesses around the English Island campus in Atlanta. To be clear, our purpose is not to shame businesses that have such errors in their signs. Rather, we want to show that even prominently-displayed examples of English grammar can sometimes contain errors.

Using quotation marks for emphasis

Quotation marks have a variety of uses in English. In addition to signaling quoted text, quotation marks can indicate that a word is a translation from another language or that a word or phrase is a specialized term.

One thing quotation marks cannot be used for is to add emphasis to a word. This is because quotation marks can also be used to hint that a word does not actually mean what it would normally mean. Consider the following example:

Try our all-natural “organic” smoothie!

The person who wrote this probably intended to emphasize the organic nature of the smoothie. However, the use of quotation marks could be interpreted as meaning that the smoothie is not truly organic. To avoid this potential misunderstanding, the writer should have used underlined or bold text instead:

Try our all-natural organic smoothie!


            Try our all-natural organic smoothie!


“Less” as a count noun

English has both count and non-count nouns. Count nouns are used when you can list the quantity of a person, place, or thing. For example, you can say that you own two cars. Non-count nouns are used for nouns you can’t express a quantity of, including abstract concepts and whole groups. For instance, you can say that there is more traffic on Atlanta roads than there was ten years ago. In other words, count nouns express quantity and non-count nouns express degree.

Many and fewer are count nouns. More and less are non-count nouns. In spite of this, most American supermarkets label their express checkout lanes as being for customers with “10 items or less” or “15 items or less.” The express lane sign is an example of a grammatical error that is so widespread that it has become a fixed phrase. The phrase is considered correct, but only in this specific context. So don’t use “less” with a number unless are talking about the express lane at your local supermarket.