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20 Common Grammar Mistakes That (Almost) Everyone Makes ^ | January 31, 2012 | Jon Gingerich

Posted on 02/01/2012 12:47:25 PM PST by Daffynition

I’ve edited a monthly magazine for more than six years, and it’s a job that’s come with more frustration than reward. If there’s one thing I am grateful for — and it sure isn’t the pay — it’s that my work has allowed endless time to hone my craft to Louis Skolnick levels of grammar geekery. [snip]

Who and Whom

This one opens a big can of worms. “Who” is a subjective — or nominative — pronoun, along with "he," "she," "it," "we," and "they." It’s used when the pronoun acts as the subject of a clause. “Whom” is an objective pronoun, along with "him," "her," "it", "us," and "them." It’s used when the pronoun acts as the object of a clause. Using “who” or “whom” depends on whether you’re referring to the subject or object of a sentence. When in doubt, substitute “who” with the subjective pronouns “he” or “she,” e.g., Who loves you? cf., He loves me. Similarly, you can also substitute “whom” with the objective pronouns “him” or “her.” e.g., I consulted an attorney whom I met in New York. cf., I consulted him.

Which and That

This is one of the most common mistakes out there, and understandably so. “That” is a restrictive pronoun. It’s vital to the noun to which it’s referring.  e.g., I don’t trust fruits and vegetables that aren’t organic. Here, I’m referring to all non-organic fruits or vegetables. In other words, I only trust fruits and vegetables that are organic. “Which” introduces a relative clause. It allows qualifiers that may not be essential. e.g., I recommend you eat only organic fruits and vegetables, which are available in area grocery stores. In this case, you don’t have to go to a specific grocery store to obtain organic fruits and vegetables. “Which” qualifies, “that” restricts. “Which” is more ambiguous however, and by virtue of its meaning is flexible enough to be used in many restrictive clauses. e.g., The house, which is burning, is mine. e.g., The house that is burning is mine.

Lay and Lie

This is the crown jewel of all grammatical errors. “Lay” is a transitive verb. It requires a direct subject and one or more objects. Its present tense is “lay” (e.g., I lay the pencil on the table) and its past tense is “laid” (e.g., Yesterday I laid the pencil on the table). “Lie” is an intransitive verb. It needs no object. Its present tense is “lie” (e.g., The Andes mountains lie between Chile and Argentina) and its past tense is “lay” (e.g., The man lay waiting for an ambulance). The most common mistake occurs when the writer uses the past tense of the transitive “lay” (e.g., I laid on the bed) when he/she actually means the intransitive past tense of “lie" (e.g., I lay on the bed).


Contrary to common misuse, “moot” doesn’t imply something is superfluous. It means a subject is disputable or open to discussion. e.g., The idea that commercial zoning should be allowed in the residential neighborhood was a moot point for the council.

Continual and Continuous

They’re similar, but there’s a difference. “Continual” means something that's always occurring, with obvious lapses in time. “Continuous” means something continues without any stops or gaps in between. e.g., The continual music made it the worst night of studying ever. e.g., Her continuous talking drove him crazy.

Envy and Jealousy

The word “envy” implies a longing for someone else’s good fortunes. “Jealousy” is far more nefarious. It’s a fear of rivalry, or a suspicion that someone might want what’s yours. Jealousy is also used more often in sexual situations. “Envy” is when you covet your friend’s good looks. “Jealousy” is what happens when your significant other swoons in the presence of your good-looking friend.


“Nor” expresses a negative condition. It literally means "and not." You’re obligated to use the “nor” form if your sentence expresses a negative and follows it with another negative condition. “Neither the men nor the women were drunk” is a correct sentence because “nor” expresses that the women held the same negative condition as the men. The old rule is that “nor” typically follows “neither,” and “or” follows “either.” However, if neither “either” nor “neither” is used in a sentence, you should use “nor” to express a second negative, as long as the second negative is a verb. If the second negative is a noun, adjective, or adverb, you would use “or,” because the initial negative transfers to all conditions. e.g., He won’t eat broccoli or asparagus. The negative condition expressing the first noun (broccoli) is also used for the second (asparagus).

May and Might

“May” implies a possibility. “Might” implies far more uncertainty. “You may get drunk if you have two shots in ten minutes” implies a real possibility of drunkenness. “You might get a ticket if you operate a tug boat while drunk” implies a possibility that is far more remote. Someone who says “I may have more wine” could mean he/she doesn't want more wine right now, or that he/she “might” not want any at all. Given the speaker’s indecision on the matter, “might” would be correct.

Whether and If 

Many writers seem to assume that “whether” is interchangeable with “if." It isn’t. “Whether” expresses a condition where there are two or more alternatives. “If” expresses a condition where there are no alternatives. e.g., I don’t know whether I’ll get drunk tonight. e.g., I can get drunk tonight if I have money for booze.

Fewer and Less

“Less” is reserved for hypothetical quantities. “Few” and “fewer” are for things you can quantify. e.g., The firm has fewer than ten employees. e.g., The firm is less successful now that we have only ten employees.

Farther and Further

The word “farther” implies a measurable distance. “Further” should be reserved for abstract or hypothetical lengths. e.g., I threw the ball ten feet farther than Bill. e.g., The executive climbed further up the ladder of success.

Since and Because

“Since” refers to time. “Because” refers to causation. e.g., Since I quit drinking I’ve married and had two children. e.g., Because I quit drinking I no longer wake up in my own vomit.

Disinterested and Uninterested

Contrary to popular usage, these words aren’t synonymous. A “disinterested” person is someone who’s impartial. For example, a hedge fund manager might take interest in a headline regarding stock performance with which he has no money invested. He’s “disinterested,” i.e., he doesn’t seek to gain financially from the transaction he’s witnessed. Judges and referees are supposed to be "disinterested." If the sentence you’re using implies someone who couldn't care less, chances are you’ll want to use “uninterested.”


Unless you’re frightened of them, you shouldn’t say you’re “anxious to see your friends.” You’re actually “eager,” or "excited." To be “anxious” implies a looming fear, dread or anxiety. It doesn’t mean you’re looking forward to something.

Different Than and Different From

This is a tough one. Words like “rather” and “faster” are comparative adjectives, and are used to show comparison with the preposition “than,” (e.g., greater than, less than, faster than, rather than). The word “different” is not a comparative adjective; it's used to draw distinction. When “different” is followed by a prepositional phrase, the preposition should be “from,” similar to “separate from,” “distinct from,” or “away from.” e.g., My living situation in New York was different from home. There are rare cases where “different than” is appropriate, if “than” operates as a conjunction. e.g., Development is different in New York than in Los Angeles. When in doubt, use “different from.”

Bring and Take

In order to employ proper usage of “bring” or “take,” the writer must know whether the object is being moved toward or away from the subject. If it is toward, use “bring.” If it is away, use “take.” Your spouse may tell you to “take your clothes to the cleaners.” The owner of the dry cleaners would say “bring your clothes to the cleaners.”


It isn't a word. "Impact" can be used as a noun (e.g., The impact of the crash was severe) or a transitive verb (e.g., The crash impacted my ability to walk or hold a job). In no way should this word be assembled into a modifier. "Impactful" is a made-up buzzword, colligated by the modern marketing industry in their endless attempts to decode the innumerable nuances of human behavior into a string of mindless metrics. Seriously, stop saying this.

Affect and Effect

Here’s a trick to help you remember: “Affect” is almost always a verb, and “effect” is almost always a noun. e.g., Facebook affects people’s attention spans, and the effect is usually negative. “Affect” means to influence or produce an impression — to cause hence, an effect. “Effect” is the thing produced by the affecting agent; it describes the result or outcome. There are some exceptions. “Effect” may be used as a transitive verb, which means to bring about or make happen. e.g., My new computer effected a much-needed transition from magazines to Web porn. There are similarly rare examples where “affect” can be a noun. e.g., His lack of affect made him seem like a shallow person.

Irony and Coincidence

Too many people claim something is the former when they actually mean the latter. For example, it’s not “ironic” that “Barbara moved from California to New York, where she ended up meeting and falling in love with a fellow Californian.” The fact that they’re both from California is a "coincidence." "Irony" is the incongruity in a series of events between the expected results and the actual results. "Coincidence" is a series of events that appear planned when they’re actually accidental. So, it would be "ironic" if “Barbara moved from California to New York to escape California men, but the first man she ended up meeting and falling in love with was a fellow Californian.”


Undoubtedly the most common mistake I encounter. Contrary to almost ubiquitous misuse, to be “nauseous” doesn’t mean you’ve been sickened: it actually means you possess the ability to produce nausea in others. e.g., That week-old hot dog is nauseous. When you find yourself disgusted or made ill by a nauseating agent, you are actually “nauseated.” e.g., I was nauseated after falling into that dumpster behind the Planned Parenthood. Stop embarrassing yourself.

If you’re looking for a practical, quick guide to proper grammar, I suggest the tried-and-true classic The Elements of Style, by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White. A few of these examples are listed in the book, and there are plenty more. Good luck!

TOPICS: Books/Literature; Computers/Internet; Education; Reference
KEYWORDS: edwinnewman; grammar
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To: Daffynition

Just saw this on a FB status re: work...”I’m in school Rite now”

81 posted on 02/01/2012 1:33:13 PM PST by JouleZ (You are the company you keep.)
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To: Daffynition

APPALLING and APPEALING. Common mistake made by American voters.

82 posted on 02/01/2012 1:33:48 PM PST by Revolting cat! (Let us prey!)
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To: Responsibility2nd
I'll go to my grave, never having mastered this one...

83 posted on 02/01/2012 1:34:51 PM PST by Daffynition (Our forefathers would be shooting by now.)
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To: Personal Responsibility

Bump for later study

84 posted on 02/01/2012 1:35:23 PM PST by Man from Oz
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To: MrShoop

If you were less impatient, you’d have fewer duplicate posts. ;-)

85 posted on 02/01/2012 1:35:37 PM PST by andy58-in-nh (America does not need to be organized: it needs to be liberated.)
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That Allanis Morrisett song “Isn’t it Ironic, Don’t ya Think”
song always annoyed the hell out of me because not one thing in it is actually ironic.

I always thought she was just trying to show how intellectual she was by using a “big” word, but the irony was she didn’t understand the definition of the word.

86 posted on 02/01/2012 1:36:32 PM PST by dsrtsage (One half of all people have below average IQ...In the US the number is 54%)
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To: Daffynition

Ok, one that I started noticing about 10 years ago and gave up, as bosses, friends, family, strangers got ornery:
(Even hear Rush and other ‘professional’ broadcasters make the mistake...)

The use of “It’s” or “There’s” or “There is” when referring to more than one of something - instead of “There ARE...”

“There’s a lot of conservatives that don’t trust Mitt Romney, for good reason - he’s an optical illusion”
(just thought I’d mix grammer and politics ...)

Start listening - you’ll hear it many times in a day.

87 posted on 02/01/2012 1:36:53 PM PST by time4good
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To: society-by-contract

There should be two spaces after a period.

One of my pet peeves is the em dash vs the en dash.

Johnny wants the red car — fire-engine-red if he can find it — instead of the blue car.

Of course, this is made much harder by the lack of a true em dash key on modern keyboards.

88 posted on 02/01/2012 1:37:01 PM PST by brothers4thID (Death had to take him sleeping, else he would have put up a fight.)
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To: society-by-contract

Your take on superlatives is very very unique...

89 posted on 02/01/2012 1:37:05 PM PST by Flycatcher (God speaks to us, through the supernal lightness of birds, in a special type of poetry.)
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To: Tenacious 1; Daffynition

Also a lot of space if she misses one!

90 posted on 02/01/2012 1:38:45 PM PST by GOYAKLA (Recall/ Impeachment Day, November 6, 2012. FUBO)
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To: Daffynition

What about “ur”?

91 posted on 02/01/2012 1:40:21 PM PST by Fresh Wind ('People have got to know whether or not their president is a crook.' Richard M. Nixon)
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To: time4good

This one is quote controversial and the accepted use is ungrammatical, I think.

“There is a lot” is correct, because the verb “is” refers to a single lot, even if that lot contains many things.

“There are many conservatives” is correct.

92 posted on 02/01/2012 1:40:28 PM PST by Revolting cat! (Let us prey!)
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To: JouleZ

I used to have a kitchen range, and the range hood attached above it had a button that read: *Nite Lite*.

I ended up putting a piece of tape over it...b/c seeing it made me grind my teeth.:)

93 posted on 02/01/2012 1:40:52 PM PST by Daffynition (Our forefathers would be shooting by now.)
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To: firebrand


94 posted on 02/01/2012 1:40:52 PM PST by firebrand
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To: Daffynition

Whom among us can compose a paragraph that contains every one of these errors? I say we all should write like we laid pencil on paper. It is a moot fact that not everyone can write a continual paragraph. It makes me envy those who can nor does it display my might. I wonder whether to use weather, whether, or if, fewer verbs or less pronouns. The more I type the farther I get from my uninterested state; because I might be anxious.

How is it different than my take on the impactful affect? Oh the irony! It sometimes makes me nauseous.

95 posted on 02/01/2012 1:42:09 PM PST by msrngtp2002 (Just my opinion.)
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To: Drawsing

Fascinating. My copy-editor insisted there be 2 spaces after a period for every sentence. Perhaps copy-editors have not caught up to the digital age?

96 posted on 02/01/2012 1:42:27 PM PST by brothers4thID (Death had to take him sleeping, else he would have put up a fight.)
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To: Daffynition

I remember a “preposition” is a word not to end a sentence with.

97 posted on 02/01/2012 1:42:42 PM PST by TNoldman (AN AMERICAN FOR A MUSLIM/BHO FREE AMERICA.)
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To: Daffynition
This lesson brought to by the

98 posted on 02/01/2012 1:43:05 PM PST by McGruff (46 States To Go)
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To: Daffynition

How come “newer” is less new than “new” in some situations?

How come “slow up” and “slow down” mean the same thing?

Why do we say “speed up” but never “speed down”?

99 posted on 02/01/2012 1:43:48 PM PST by Fresh Wind ('People have got to know whether or not their president is a crook.' Richard M. Nixon)
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To: Daffynition

“Musta notta gotta lotta” - Joe Ely.

100 posted on 02/01/2012 1:45:40 PM PST by Revolting cat! (Let us prey!)
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