Before I begin, don’t get me wrong; I am not a Grammar Nazi to the point of having to correct literally everyone all the time (in fact, I try my utmost to keep it to myself), but it irks me when I see someone make an oh-so-obvious grammar error. I can completely understand those whose mother tongue is not English, and I can somewhat understand people who talk in an online chat client or an informal conversation where quick delivery is more necessary than grammar (especially those on a mobile device). Also, I will admit: my grammar is not always 100% perfect either. There may be trivialities like punctuation, prepositions, and words that I use in the wrong context; after all, it’s only human to be wrong. All I’m saying is: if you have time to think over your post, take a moment to check for obvious errors and make sure they don’t stick out like sore thumbs. That is all. On with the list.
3. Less vs. Fewer, Little vs. Few, Much vs. Many (plus Amount vs. Number)
In a grocery store, you might see something like “12 items or less”. Someone might respond to this, “Man, I have too much items.” Someone else might say, “I have too little items. Did I forget something?” Their standards of grammar are not high. You see, the correct way to write those sentences is:
- 12 items or fewer
- Man, I have too many items.
- I have too few items. Did I forget something?
Why? Items are quantifiable; in other words, they can be counted. That’s the gist of it: if it can be counted, use “few”, “fewer”, and/or “many”. If they cannot be counted, use “little”, “less”, “much”. Wait, something seems out of line. “Little” is to “less” as “much” is to what? That’s right, “more”. This is the one word that stays unchanged whether the modified noun is quantifiable or not—which, if nothing else, is what makes errors involving the other words slip under the radar. If you get more bottles of beer, you will have too many, and if you get more beer, you will have too much. See the difference (or, in the case of “more”, lack thereof)? This is also the difference between “amount” and “number” (you would use “number” if it can be counted and “amount” otherwise).
2. Lie vs. Lay, Rise vs. Raise, Sit vs. Set (plus Who vs. Whom)
First off, I do not mean “lie” as in not telling the truth; that is in a whole different ballpark. I mean “lie” as in assuming a recumbent position. With that out of the way, “lie” vs. “lay” is the most common of the trio; someone in an informal setting would tell another person to “lay down”, which, from a formal standpoint, would raise the question, “Lay what down?” In other words, you would only use “lay”, “raise”, and “set” if there is an object to lay, raise, or set. Otherwise, you would use “lie”, “rise”, or “sit”. I can somewhat understand the confusion between “lie” and “lay” just because the past tense of “lie” is “lay”. For instance, “I lay in my bed as I typed this document” is a grammatically correct sentence. The Lazy Song lyric (by Bruno Mars), “I just wanna lay in my bed”, is not. “Rise” vs. “raise” and “sit” vs. “set” are not nearly as common confusions, but they are worth noting since the rule behind the usage is the same.
“Who” vs. “whom” is not 100% the same as the other confusions here, but in today’s informal language, the word “whom” is pretty much dead; it is, by societal standards, an archaic word. Just using the word “whom” in the right context is proof that you really know your grammar, and kudos to you if you do. If you don’t, here’s the deal: use “who” as a subject and “whom” as an object—be it a direct object or an object of a preposition. In other words, consider the word’s role in the sentence before deciding which of “who” or “whom” to use. For instance, in the sentence, “Who is the guy to whom I owe respect?” you should notice that the difference between “who” and “whom” is that “whom” receives a verb (“owe [to]”), while “who” executes a verb (“is”).
In layman’s terms, “he” is to “him” as “she” is to “her” as “who” is to “whom”.
1. Misuse of homophones
This I see way too often. Here are some commonly misused homophones:
- “your” and “you’re”
- “its” and “it’s”
- “their”, “there”, and “they’re”
- “to” and “too”
- “affect” and “effect”
The reason to use “your” over “you’re”, “its” over “it’s”, and “their” over “they’re” is the same for each case. “Your”, “its”, and “their” are all possessive adjectives. To use these in a sentence, “Your foot reached its limit after you walked to their house.” On the flip side, think about “you’re”, “it’s”, and “they’re”. They all have apostrophes, which shorten a duo of words into one word. Without the apostrophes, the words are “you are”, “it is”, and “they are”. Think about what the contracted words mean, and voilà! their meanings are pretty much self-explanatory. The outlier, “there”, is mainly used in three contexts: as a shorthand interjection equivalent to “There we go”, as a pointer to a place, or in the phrase “there is” / “there are”.
“To” and “too” are really only confused by people who are too impetuous to hit “o” twice in a context that is more appropriate for “too”. For the record, “to” can be used as a preposition or in an infinitive, while “too” can be used to mean “also” or as an adverb. To use these in a sentence, “I don’t want to take too much to the party, and you too should lighten your load.” Yes, there is another homophone, “two”, but that one is not as misused because it is a number that can be simply written “2”. (It is also used in informal context to abbreviate any one of the other two homophones.)
The last duo, “affect” and “effect”, mostly refers to using “effect” in a context where “affect” is more appropriate (because “effect” is the more well-known of the two words). Similarly to “to” and “too”, the difference between “affect” and “effect” is their roles in context—”affect” is a verb and “effect” is a noun. Think about this: the result of affecting is an effect; this can be a helpful mnemonic because “affect” comes before “effect” in the alphabet and in that context.
I realize that these are all usage-related errors, but those are the most distinguishable errors to me. Also, these are only three of the grammar errors that stick out to me. A few others include using “there is” with a plural noun (like the Silversun Pickups’ title “There’s No Secrets This Year”), using “ironic” in the wrong context (it means unexpected, not coincidental), “good” vs. “well”, saying “I could care less” to express a lack of concern, and using a comma when a semicolon should be used (i.e. before the beginning of a new sentence; for instance, “I just got back from the store, here is some chocolate” is grammatically incorrect). Heck, there may even be others I have not mentioned.