Skip to comments.20 Common Grammar Mistakes That (Almost) Everyone Makes
Posted on 02/01/2012 12:47:25 PM PST by Daffynition
Ive edited a monthly magazine for more than six years, and its a job thats come with more frustration than reward. If theres one thing I am grateful for and it sure isnt the pay its 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.
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.
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.
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.
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” 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.
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.
“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.
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” 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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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!
“Was” and “Were”; it’s complicated but you can figure it out. I’ll give you a hint. When I was a boy I wished I were king.
“Near miss” always confuses me...as does parking in a driveway and driving on a parkway...or things sent by sea being CARgo, but things sent by truck being a SHIPment...
It’s down to me
The difference in the clothes she wears
Down to me, the change has come,
She’s under my thumb
(The Rolling Stones)
Why “down to me” not “up to me”?
I am 38. I was learned in private school that there is always two spaces after a sentence ending period.
When did it change and what are they teaching now?
That is a cute cartoon. In case (hehe) you didn’t know, small letters are called lowercase because in the early days of printing the type setting blocks were kept in cases. The large letters in the upper cases and the small letters in the lower cases.
I have to wonder about that.
In the sample sentence, "doubtful" and "debatable" can have very different meanings.
Is the council going to join in doubting or divide in debating the matter?
And if everyone uses "moot" to mean "of little or no practical value or meaning; purely academic," isn't that it's primary meaning?
“borrow” can be used both ways :
“May I borrow your pencil?” or
“Will you borrow your pencil to me?”
One word many applications. Cut your necessary vocabulary in half!
My Pet Peeves:
“I could care less” the correct line is “I couldn’t care less”
irregardless - there is no such word “regardless” is enough to suffice
People who mispell the word “necessary”
How about “partial nudity”? If you’re nude, your nude. If you have any clothes on, your not.
That’s sort of like “half dead”.
Are we down to that already?
The one that drives me to reach for my gun, is the past perfect simple confusion:
“If I would have put on my Depends in the morning, I would not wet myself now.”
I am in agreement with you. My Webster’s II New Riverside University Dictionary has the following for “moot” as transitive verb:
1.a. To bring up as a subject for debate or discussion.
b. To debate or discuss.
2. To plead or argue (a case) in a moot court.
As an adjective
1. Subject to debate : ARGUABLE (a moot point)
2.a. Law. Lacking legal significance, though having been previously decided or settled.
b. Of no practical importance : ACADEMIC.
The other consideration here is what a dictionary is supposed to do - is it supposed be desciptive or proscriptive? Is it supposed to us how words are used or is it supposed to tell us words should be used? An argument can be made for either approach. At one time the meaning of moot describe in this article may have been the proper use, but common usage has given it its present common meaning of “of no practical importance.” I think that whoever made the argument cited in this article needs to move on with his life.
Nope. I'm an egg.
Were you born?
Nope. I was laid.
Is everyone laid?
Nope. Some people are chicken.
That must be English English. It’s a different language.
I got lied last night!
Anyway, it's our GOD given right to screw up the already screwed up English language - we'll all be forced to speak espanol pretty soon if the current regime gets their way.
“One or two spaces after a period”
If it’s 1969 and you are taking a typing course on a manual typewriter, two spaces.
If you are using a modern word processor with proportional type, one space.
I think I got this from a book by Robert Parker, Looking Good in Print, but I haven’t read it for twenty years so I’m not sure I remember correctly.
mark to snag that pic
lol. thanks for the post!
OMG this is hugh!
Ahh. The Telegraph articles. How often I have have been reading along and realise I am reading news from a European source.
At least they don’t use torch for flashlight in the news print.
They do seem to be Americanizing their English for us. :o)
The correct usage is “Will you lend me your pencil.”
That is SUCH a funny site! And the writer is pretty easy on the eyes, too.
And then there are the philistines who confuse Brie with Camembert, and Burgundy with Beaujolais.
Bfl, thanks for posting.
This is a pet peeve of mine. Unfortunately even 'pros' get it wrong all the time.
Why do we drive on parkways and park on driveways?
Why do shipments come in cars and cargo comes in ships?
Why does “cleave” mean split apart and stick together?
Is there another word for synonym?
Why are they called apartments when they are all stuck together?
And my personal favorite...
If pro is the opposite of con, is progress the opposite of congress?
Sister Victoria, in 1987, had special powers. She was the typing teacher and we used "electric typewriters." Of all the typing that went on in the class, not only could she hear when someone used the "correction" key and who did it, she could actually hear when you started a new sentence without double popping the space bar.
I swear it amazed me. She would call the student by name from her desk as we did timed practice assignments for grades. "Johnny, two spaces after the sentence! Beth, no corrections! Accuracy is part of the assignment."
So she was wrong and I've been doing this wrongly for 15 years?
I heard about a study where they served wine lovers the same wine in two glasses, but identified them by two different names. One name was easily pronounced, the other difficult. Almost all of them said the wine with the difficult name tasted better.
Beats me, darlin’. I use two spaces after a period like my mamma taught me. Of course, I also write colour and honour...
I have chosen to be Politically Incorrect and use such word manipulations to draw attention to myself. Obviously it works.
I find many Journalists and Liberals misuse the word “appealing” when they mean “appalling” when referring to President Obama. I find that rather appealing.
I’ve always preferred two spaces. HTML forces a single space, no matter what you type. That is SO annoying.
The hardest thing about these threads is that it’s very difficult to tell who is kidding and who isn’t.
(And I’m triple-checking my spelling!)
You are so right or is that correct - I don’t know but I am glad you are here.
Yes, you are correct, two spaces after a period. Let’s reiterate this again for everybody.
Yeh, same with hemorroids and asteroids.
One definition of "moot" in Websters is: "deprived of practical significance : made abstract or purely academic"
I'm not sure I get the difference.
yeah and what about the “W” ?
ONE has a “W” sound but no “W”
TWO has a “W” but no “W” sound.
and how about “I before E except after C”
It’s not rocket science, and don’t be deceived, but it’s an ancient axiom and what’s weird is Einstein has it wrong twice in his name. Either this axiom works or neither work. I’ll raise a stein to that.
I believe I’ve achieved my purpose.
i’m outta here.
Not only do most people misuse “moot”, but many of them misspell/pronounce/misunderstand it as “mute”.
Now, now, Major Winchester, don’t be too hard on such cretins.
It covers grammar, punctuation, and just about everything else you'd need to write well.
It was a life-saver for many courses (this is the latest version, mine was pre-internet).
As in, "I got to carry my father to the doctor this afternoon."
I goofed. There is a newer version than in my link. Version 12 is out. Scroll down a bit on my linked page, and you’ll see the link to the latest version.
But will those who need it, read it?
Very good. Perhaps we could send some FReepers to grammar boot camp.
Actually, I can excuse people who are typing a quick response in a post, but I want to tear my hair out at what passes for journalistic writing in more than I few of the articles I see in a day. And what comes out of the mouths of the idiot pundits makes me scream at my TV quite frequently.
How about “nother” as in “That’s a whole nother thing”? Aack!
Blame it on the inter-web. Basically when writing HTML code in order to add 2 spaces after a period requires an extra character ( - non-breaking space). You can put as many spaces as you want, but HTML will show only one. I always thought the double space after the period was similar to double spacing your papers. It was so the teacher had room for notes while grading.
The same can be said about indenting a paragraph. You rarely see that any longer. It's the same scenario there as with period spacing. In code you have to put 5 characters for indention. Back in the modem and ISDN days a document full of those extraneous spaces might mean a loss of valuable download performance.