Sunday, April 22, 2012

From the Grammar Gurus

As both a writer and a user of the English language, grammar, spelling and word usage are important to me. It's fun to play with (when it's deliberate) and lots of humorous posters circulate online (my favorite being from The Oatmeal) that concentrate on common errors people make.

As I was correcting my own issues in my book, I thought I'd share some of the games/tricks I've learned as well as just correcting a few of the most commonly abused words and phrases in the English language. If you love your 'quirky' mistakes, feel free to ignore all that follows, which is a list of writing tips that have helped me.

courtesy stockxchng


Personally, to remember whether I'm supposed to use who or whom in a sentence, I follow it with very specific pronouns: he and him. I ask myself which is the answer to the question. For instance.

"Who did the dishes?" Since he did the dishes, 'who' is proper.

"With whom am I speaking?" I am speaking with him, so whom is proper. I honestly just match up him-whom. The two ms are my mnemonic device.

When referencing the Doctor, however, it is always 'Who.'


Now this one is just tricky. We're taught to signify possession with an apostrophe followed by 's' with subjects. Well, this time, when it possesses something, it has no apostrophe--that is only present in the contraction it's, which is for 'it is.' Contractions always have apostrophes, which must be what screws Commander Data up. How he ever speaks Klingon is beyond me.


That special effect really had an affect on me. You affect something. Something can be an effect. Effect is the noun, affect is the verb. Simple and yet, so confusing.

Lie and Lay

"You'll lay an egg if you don't lie down." I hate this one. Not for misuse, but for trying to remember which is correct! Frankly, I stubbornly abuse them just because it doesn't sound right half the time. However, the correct usage is not that hard. You lay something down while you lie down in bed. Apparently the confusion comes because the past tense of lie is lay. Well, I like to lay down in bed, but I'm just doing it wrong. Just remember that you usually lie down to get laid and you should be fine.

Would/Could/Should/Must Have

Ah, now this is just irritating. When you say, "I would've gotten that," it comes out sounding like 'would of.' As a result, many people have taken to writing, "I would of gotten that." It's a audio trick, but it makes absolutely no sense when deconstructing the sentence. You are saying, "would have," but are using a contraction. Using 'would of' is like writing, 'Would int.' Now, this is unlikely because 'int' is not a proper word, so it's not as confusing. But I promise, 'would of' means absolutely nothing and 'would've' means that you would have done what you are talking about.


They're walking over there to get their prize. I don't know a game for this one--you really just have to slow down and think about what you're saying. 'Their' is possessive, meaning it belongs to 'them.' They're is a contraction meaning 'they are.' And 'there' is a destination. Really, it's not that hard.

Related note: Your responsibility is to know when you're misspelling something. Your is possessive--you own it. You're is a contraction meaning 'you are.'


If I say that I am better than you, then you can punch me. 'Then' indicates a time, while 'than' is a comparison.

A Lot

A lot is two separate words. You can allot items if you have a lot of them. Alot is an imaginary word, which is why when you write it in anything with spell check, it puts a squiggly red line under it.


You lose if your rope is too loose. You lose an item, a game or a contest. Loose is the opposite of tight. Think of it this way: When rubber is stretched out, it eventually becomes loose. So, loose is longer than lose. It follows, then, that being looser with language is for losers.

There are dozens more, of course, but these are the absolute most common. Hell, reading up for this post just depressed me over how many I didn't know (click here to feel stupid... or superior--you ass). Hopefully, this guide helped you figure out some of the more confusing word distinctions and grammar rules. If not, there are grammar lawyers everywhere happy to give you long, verbose lessons in why you're stupid. If someone who tested the second highest in Language Arts in the history of her college can still learn things and admit to it, so can you.

Are there particularly common grammar, spelling or word usage mistakes that bother you that I didn't include here? Feel free to share them and easy tricks for remembering them!

1 comment:

Please keep it civil and remember that my blog is not for debate. I have friends in all walks of life, so don't assume anything from individual posts! I do enjoy hearing from you, though :)