Tag Archive | letters to Santa

Santa’s Communications Consultant, Day 3: Strive, strive again

Santa read me an excerpt from a letter that he received from Billy from Buffalo, and the error in the excerpt was all too familiar:

“Dear Santa,

I really hope that you’ll bring me a Samsung Galaxy S5 for Christmas. I’ve been very good this year. If you bring me this phone I will make a great strive to eat all of my broccoli next year.”

Can you spot the error?

Strive: it’s a verb. Always. No exceptions. But Billy is using it as a noun.

Billy’s heart is in the right place; however, he is mixing up his parts of speech. To express this idea more effectively, he could say: “I will strive to eat all of my broccoli next year” or “I will make a strong attempt to eat all of my broccoli next year.” However, if he can make a strive, he’s a better man than I!broccoli wreath


Santa’s Communications Consultant, Day 2: Based ON

When Santa first approached me about my new temporary job as Honorary Elf on communications consulting detail, he expressed his perplexity at a neologism that he has noticed in letters of late. “For some reason,” he told me, “people seem to have given up on”—and here, I was afraid that he would say “me.” But no—he said “on saying ‘based on.’” Phew! An idiomatic idiosyncrasy is much easier to resolve than a lack of belief in Santa Claus.

I let Santa know that he is not alone: this year, I have seen and heard an alarming spike in incidences of “based off of” and “based off.” I’m not sure why this is. The correct idiomatic expression in English remains “based on,” regardless of our collective choice to ignore this expression.” “Based off/off of” might seem attractive because it makes the basis seem like a starting point (which it is), rather than the conclusion—but “based on” gives the point the writer/speaker will make much firmer grounding.

Perhaps this will help: Consider a gingerbread house. When building a gingerbread house, we use a base. Let’s say that our base is cardboard, decorated with white royal icing and sprinkles. If we build the house on the base, it will rest on the base, like this:

gingerbread house

When we move the gingerbread house, it will remain intact, as we have built it ON its base; it is BASED ON something.
Now, let’s consider a gingerbread house that is based off of its cardboard base. Sure, it might look fine when we put it together on our dining room table. However, what happens when it’s dinner time, and we need to move the gingerbread house to the hutch to make room for food and place settings? This is what happens:

gingerbread house -- BROKEN

This gingerbread house was BASED OFF OF its base. Tragedy ensued.

So, as you see, Santa has every right to be concerned about this particular grammatical construction. In 99.9% of cases, when you might be tempted to say “based off of,” you really mean “based on.”
And if you forget this simple rule while building your gingerbread house, you know what will happen.

crying gingerbread man

Santa’s Communications Consultant

bitstrips santa

Even Santa Claus has Christmas wishes. Last year, he noticed quite a few errors in the letters he received from both children and adults. This year, Santa wishes to receive error-free letters. So, he has given the Graceful Grammarian the esteemed title of “Honorary Elf.” My assignment is to help all believers to learn proper usage of English in order to avoid some common mistakes in their letters.


From now through December 23, you’ll see my chronicle of how Santa and I are working together to bring the gift of clear expression to English speakers all over the world. I’ll post about some of the errors that I frequently encounter and how to avoid them. This way, by the time we arrive at Christmas Eve, you’ll be able to edit your letters according to Santa’s specifications.


Let’s work together to make this the merriest Christmas for Santa!