Writing Wrongs: 10 Movie Titles with Bad Grammar

A list of films that could have used a different kind of editor

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For all the considerable resources that go into marketing Hollywood movies, it would seem that scant attention is paid to checking the grammar and punctuation of film titles. Case in point, the new Star Trek, whose title omits a punctuation mark that not-so-subtly changes the meaning of the words. TIME copy chief Danial Adkison and copy editor Douglas Watson offer their professional judgment on some other suspect movie titles.



Image: Star Trek Poster

Paramount Pictures

Star Trek Into Darkness

“The movie in which a celebrity goes on a long hike in the middle of the night.”

Suggested fix: A colon

Star Trek: Into Darkness



Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

Who Framed Roger Rabbit

“Is it really O.K. to ask a question and not put a question mark at the end.”

Suggested fix: A question mark

Who Framed Roger Rabbit?



Law Abiding Citizen

Overture Films

Law Abiding Citizen

“Some citizens the law can abide; others it cannot stand.”

Suggested fix: A hyphen

Law-Abiding Citizen




Honey I Shrunk The Kids

Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

Honey, I Shrunk the Kids

“This is not the movie you thunk it was.”

Suggested fix: Remember past participles?

Honey, I’ve Shrunk the Kids



Two Weeks NoticeWarner Bros.

Two Weeks Notice

Two weeks notice what? Can a week (or two) really notice anything?”

Suggested fix: An apostrophe

Two Weeks Notice



The 40 Year Old Virgin

Universal Pictures

The 40 Year-Old Virgin

“At first glance an “s” appears to be missing: The 40 Year-Old Virgins. But that can’t be. Who would make a movie about 1-year-olds? And in what kind of world would it need to be specified that these 1-year-olds are virgins?!”

Suggested fix: A hyphen

The 40-Year-Old Virgin



The Ladies Man

Paramount Pictures

The Ladies Man

“The apostrophe is needed to make clear that although this man may think he possesses the ladies, in fact they possess him.”

Suggested fix: An apostrophe

The LadiesMan



An Alan Smithee Film Burn Hollywood Burn

Hollywood Pictures

An Alan Smithee Film Burn Hollywood Burn

“Sometimes it really helps to use punctuation otherwise no one can tell where one thought ends and the next one begins it’s such a nice day today I think I’ll go read a modernist novel or something oh look there goes a seagull.”

Suggested fix: A colon and some commas

An Alan Smithee Film: Burn, Hollywood, Burn



My Big Fat Greek Wedding

IFC Films

My Big Fat Greek Wedding

“Without the comma, we can’t tell if it’s a wedding that’s larger than life or a ceremony of Hellenic sumo wrestlers.”

Suggested fix: A comma

My Big, Fat Greek Wedding



Eight Legged Freaks

Warner Bros.

Eight Legged Freaks

“A movie about eight freaks who have legs? Is that what makes them freaks? Don’t a lot of people have legs?”

Suggested fix: A hyphen

Eight-Legged Freaks

52 comments
grammargirl
grammargirl

Shouldn't "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" be either "Honey, I've Shrunk the kids" OR "Honey, I Shrank the Kids?" (Sorry, not sure where my question mark should go here. 


Also, shouldn't the new movie titled "Her" be called "She?"  Isn't the word "her" used only for possession, whereas "She" would be best used when referring to a person?



emeraldridao
emeraldridao

Isn't "My Big, Fat Greek Wedding" missing another comma because Greek is an adjective, too? Title case aside– like if I were just talking about a wedding I happened to have– the sentence ought to say "my big, fat, Greek Wedding."

kenneybroadway
kenneybroadway

While we're nitpicking, technically the movie DRIVE ANGRY should be DRIVE ANGRILY.  

DennisMcHenry
DennisMcHenry

While there's not much right with the movie, there's nothing wrong with the title of the Ladies Man. There's nothing possessive about it: "ladies" is attributive, like "family" in the phrase "family man."

TomLShanahan
TomLShanahan

I've only lived in the upper Midwest for a few years but I commonly hear the incorrect "seen" instead of the correct "saw". Ex: "I seen him at the store yesterday."

KSParthasarathy
KSParthasarathy

It is very pleasing to realize that in the sick hurry and excitement of the digital world, some grammarians do exist and show the merits of their deft strokes, be it errors of punctuation or grammar. Very thoughtful examples. Comments reinforce the need for care in wordcraft.

damend
damend

if you want to be fussy, all the errors cited are punctuation errors, which technically are errors of usage, not grammar. 

joestuffsda
joestuffsda

Even the Bible has such a typo with a misplaced comma that has people thinking their loved ones are already in Heaven. Luke 23:43 says “And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.”

The translators put the comma the wrong place as it should read: “And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee today, thou shalt be with me in paradise.”

He told Mary Sunday morning not to touch him as he hadn’t gone there yet. In John 20:17 it reads “Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father”

jeffricks
jeffricks

The title that has always driven me crazy is "Can't Hardly Wait."

RichardSRussell
RichardSRussell

Punctuation is important. Consider: "Women are pretty, generally speaking." vs. "Women are pretty generally speaking." Or the gay guy who wrote that he'd love to join you but didn't want to leave his friend's behind? Sometimes it's gender-specific, too. For example, punctuate this sentence: "Woman without her man is nothing" - Males: “Woman, without her man, is nothing.” - Females: “Woman: without her, man is nothing.”

RichardSRussell
RichardSRussell

How about "Honey, I SHRANK the Kids"? Whatever became of shrank, sank, slank, stank, etc. — all perfectly good past tenses that seem to have been replaced by their past participles, for no discernible reason?

hathaway47
hathaway47

"The Kids Are Alright."  It's officially "The Kids Are All Right" but I saw it misspelled alot.  Heh heh.  A lot.

frankbritton246
frankbritton246

Maybe "Star Trek Into Darkness" was intentional, just like one of the best movie titles ever, "Die Hard With A Vengeance".....

Rhomega
Rhomega

It's my understanding that Who Framed Roger Rabbit doesn't have a question mark because the producers noticed that movies with question marks gross less.  Yes, it's stupid, I know.

buckybone
buckybone

Pursuit of Happyness? Anybody?

milesrind
milesrind

How about "Crazy, Stupid, Love" (why the comma between "stupid" and "love"?) and  "Gone Baby Gone"? Dennis Lehane's novel was originally published as "Gone, Baby, Gone," but apparently the makers or the distributors of the movie judged that the American public would be put off by correct punctuation. I was disappointed to find that the novel was republished after the release of the movie with the commas removed from the title.

lukobe
lukobe

Only one of these actually has to do with grammar. The rest, punctuation.

CalebS
CalebS

Some of these "corrections" are incorrect. "My new beautiful red car" (just like my big fat Greek wedding) does not require any commas because each adjective describes a different quality of the same object. "Do you like red, yellow, or green cars?" does require commas because adjectives here refer to different objects. "This article is incorrect, misleading, and misguided" also requires commas because these adjectives describe the same general quality in different ways.

"Who framed Roger Rabbit" doesn't need to be a question from the grammatical point of view, and, clearly, it isn't, since there's no question mark.
"Honey, I shrunk the kids" doesn't need to be corrected either. Many people would say it that way and this is a direct quote.

sixtymile
sixtymile

Titles have a quality of art similar to poetry that exceeds the limits of formal grammar. So, disagreeing: "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" is the story of the reveal, and can be understood as a declarative that promises the reveal in this way. The title is more faithful to the film than the proposed "fix." Nice try though.

KarrahElizabeth
KarrahElizabeth

If we are getting really technical, there needs to be some type of sentence ending punctuation at the end of every title, such as a period.

Denesius
Denesius

I can't decide which is funnier: the article, or the trivial comments from people who obviously need more in life.

squelchuk
squelchuk

1. Two weeks' notice?  I think not.  The apostrophe denotes possession and the word notice in this instance is incapable of owning or having possession of anything. As such, the title of the movie is correct as it is.

2. 'Shrunk' is the past particple of 'shrink'.  While convention suggests "I have shrunk..." is more normal, using the verb 'shrunk', in this case, is perfectly correct:

Shrunk, verb
  1. Become or make smaller in size or amount; contract or cause to contract.
  2. (of clothes or material) Become smaller as a result of being immersed in water.


RachidaDjebel
RachidaDjebel

Aren't we being a tad bit pedantic here?  Some of us more often hear the titles than see them, and in any case, this is Hollywood where everuything is hardlly what it seems and where history portrayed on screen is rarely even close to being accurate. 

And since you want to be  pedantic, would you care to expalin this little Times' gem ?

  • 352 people listening

nsr019
nsr019

I believe the Star Trek folks explicitly said in interviews that "Trek" was supposed to be a verb in that title, hence the lack of a colon. They wanted a title that grammatically worked without a colon, so as not to make the movie come off to casual viewers as "Star Trek: The Next Chapter."

sarahgator
sarahgator

Excuse me, but shouldn't it be My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding if we're really getting technical?

EamonToPlease
EamonToPlease

@emeraldridaoThe adjectives in the title My Big Fat Greek Wedding are cumulative (e.g., "a witty old Irish guy")not coordinate (e.g., "a munificent, charming, sophisticated woman")and in the right order, so the title is correct and the article wrong.

hathaway47
hathaway47

@buckybone I can let that one go since the misspelling of "happyness" was a plot point in the movie.


tinnic
tinnic

@buckybone That was explained in the movie. Will Smith's character's son went to a day care centre where happiness was misspelt.

MindTheRant
MindTheRant

@lukobe Exactimundo!  And most of the corrections are excruciatingly hyperfastidious.  The litmus test is whether anyone looking at a movie poster (or seeing the title appearing on a movie screen, as when watching a trailer) would be confused, even momentarily. More to the point, graphic designers often use layout to do the job punctuation would otherwise be stuck with, hence

BURN

HOLLYWOOD

BURN

has been stacked on three lines to eliminate the need for commas.

On the other hand, I *have* always been curious about why Who Framed Roger Rabbit doesn't end with a question mark.  But I'm more than willing to accept Rhomega's explanation that the producers believed adding the question mark would cause box office to suffer.  Maybe that's why the movie version of the stage play Whose Life Is It Anyway? (a title I've always felt needed a comma after "It") didn't do well.

DannyLipsitz
DannyLipsitz

@GlebSavich The difference for "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" is that Greek can be both an adjective and a noun. If it is perceived as a noun, then "Big" and "Fat" could technically be modifying the word "Greek" and not the word "Wedding".

grammargirl
grammargirl

@sixtymile 

I was just wondering if "He Who Framed Roger Rabbit" might work also. Of course it wouldn't sound quite the same, would it?  :-)

MindTheRant
MindTheRant

@KarrahElizabeth Actually, if you look at newspapers dating back to the early 20th century and before you'll find that the title of the paper typically ends with a period.  So, for instance, The New York Times. and not The New York Times would grace the masthead.

DannyLipsitz
DannyLipsitz

@KarrahElizabeth These titles are almost exclusively clauses, not sentences, and therefore do not require end punctuation.

notLostInSpace
notLostInSpace

@RachidaDjebel   Have wondered too about the peep's listening.  Who are they, how do they do that, does anyone know?  I figured it might have something to do with twitter or some other social networking as I am not involved in any of those and don't know how they work.

(Is expalin what Mrs. Palin's will be after her divorce?  I don't know that they are getting divorced, but who knows if they never will......how good rumors start.)

notLostInSpace
notLostInSpace

@sarahgator Yes!  My pet peeve for many years, proof reading my younger co-workers writing for brochures, is that they just don't get the comma sometimes.     If you read a menu that said "salads come with your choice of Russian, French, and Italian"  you would clearly understand you have three choices.  Now I know this is stupid, but if it says "Russian, French and Italian" you might very well think there are two choices, Russian, and the exotic mix of French and Italian.  Most of us would know by experience that they are not usually mixed, but it gives a good example of how one comma makes the difference.  Where I worked was a summer camp that offered "gymnastics, horseback riding and rock climbing".  The riding and climbing were most definitely not together, but I had argument after argument with people that were highly educated who told me my comma usage was old fashioned.

rharris50
rharris50

@JennySmith1 @RichardSRussell He knows the movie is on the list.  His complaint is that the fix involved the contraction for "I have", rather than simply using past tense.

EamonToPlease
EamonToPlease

@notLostInSpace @sarahgator The adjectives in the title My Big Fat Greek Wedding are cumulative (e.g., "a witty old Irish guy")not coordinate (e.g., "a munificent, charming, sophisticated woman")and in the right order, so the title is correct and the article wrong.

FurryCanary
FurryCanary

@notLostInSpace @sarahgator But it is not your choice of 'Russian, French and Italian'. It is your choice of Russian, French OR Italian. Second comma unnecessary.

RoccoJohnson
RoccoJohnson

@notLostInSpace @sarahgator 

Strunk and White's "The Elements of Style" teaches that the correct usage of commas in a list would be: I like peas, corn and carrots. However, what I'm seeing in this comment section is the addition of a second comma, as in, I like peas, corn, and carrots. I'm puzzled as to which is correct, and why. Has there been an evolution in style over the years, or is there some other reason why Strunk and White's nomenclature is now considered incorrect?

franksimoespereira
franksimoespereira

@RoccoJohnson @notLostInSpace @sarahgator Lance Morrow was one of the most amazing writers for Time Magazine, at the time when Time featured an article on the last page called Time Essay (I haven't seen it lately). In one of those Essays (that was years ago) Mr. Morrow presented an amazing, funny and highly informative discussion on the topic. It was a kind of "performative explanation" since he explained the use of commas as he wrote. Has any of you ever seen it?