Intelligence cannot always be measured by a command of language. In fact, as the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz observed, “Some people without brains do an awful lot of talking, don’t they?”
Grammar does, however, quite often mark the difference between sounding articulate and looking ignorant to those who understand the subtleties of word choice and punctuation. The use of an online spelling, grammar, and plagiarism check can save a writer embarrassment, and may increase the chances of having work accepted for publication.
Here are 20 of the most common grammar gaffes, and how to avoid them:
This ubiquitous word is so often misused, it is not even on most people’s radar as being incorrect. Nauseous refers to the ability to produce nausea in someone else. If one is the victim of a nauseous agent, he or she is “nauseated.”
If a character is “anxious” to see someone and is referring to difficult in-laws or a schoolyard bully, the term might be applicable. When referencing a visit from a friend or lover, “excited” or “happy” are better choices.
In general, “affect” is a verb, and “effect” is a noun. Grammar is affected by an effect of education.
Apostrophes can be tricky little things, but in general, an apostrophe always replaces a missing letter. “It’s” is short for “it is.”
The only exception is the possessive—John’s bike, making “it’s” and “its” confusing. Remember the “is” in “it’s,” to avoid tripping over this odd little exception to the apostrophe rules.
“Their” is possessive, as in “Their possessions.” There is a place, as in “Their possessions are over there.” They’re is short for “they are,” as in “Their possessions are over there and they’re going to pick them up now.”
The word “your” is possessive (e.g., “your possessions”). The word “you’re” is the contraction of “you are” (e.g., “Your possessions are over there, and you’re going to need to pick them up.”).
The word “then” is used for time, but “than” is used for comparison (e.g., “John took Sally to lunch and then noticed that she was a less finicky eater than Jane.”).
The word “fewer” is used when referring to a quantifiable number, but “less” is used when referring to an undetermined amount (e.g., “We could use less furniture in the office. Could we make do with fewer desks?”).
Like fewer and less, farther and further are about measurability. The word “farther” refers to a measurable distance, but “further” is an abstract concept (e.g., “I will drive farther down the road if you will give me further directions.”).
The word “whether” is used when referring to two or more choices (e.g., “I don’t know whether I’ll go to the party, stay home and watch television, or go to bed early.” When conditions are dependent, “if” is the proper choice (e.g., “If my husband is feeling frisky, we’ll go to the party.”
11. Should of/could of
These should be stricken from any serious writer’s tablet immediately. Using the word “of” is never correct in this context. The correct words are “should’ve” and “could’ve,” which are short for “should have” and “could have.”
If someone is a disinterested party, they have no vested interest in an outcome or situation. If someone is uninterested, they find the outcome or situation boring.
13. Me, myself, I
‘Myself’ is only used if the speaker has already referred to themselves in the sentence: “I made myself a sandwich.”
‘Me and ‘I’ are most commonly confused when paired with other pronouns: “He and I went to the diner.” Remove the other pronoun for the correct usage: “I went to the diner.” “Mom made sandwiches for John and me” becomes “Mom made sandwiches for me.”
As with me, myself, and I, these two can be distinguished by replacing them with ‘s/he’ or ‘him/her’- “Who went to the diner?” He went to the diner. “The car was driven by whom?” The car was driven by him.
A person might go and “lie” down. He or she might “lay” a pencil on the table. If the pencil was placed on the table yesterday, it was “laid” there. If he or she was in bed yesterday, he or she “lay” sleeping.
“Either” pairs with “or.” “Nor” is paired with “neither.”
Is not to be used figuratively. No one “literally” dies laughing.
If your belt is too loose, you may lose your pants.
You may give someone a compliment on the way his or her outfit complements his or her hair color.
Historic denotes an event that has a status of being unprecedented. Historical refers to the era (past) in which the event took place.