A while back I wrote an article on the some of the most common grammar and punctuation mistakes people encounter in their writing. Apparently this is a hot topic, as this posting has become one of the most highly read ones on our website.
Well, when it comes to grammar, mistakes seem to abound. I went back and did a little more digging and found even more to share with you. Read on, lest you make one of these mistakes!
Irregardless versus regardless
Irregardless is a word, right? Well, it is recognized by some dictionaries as a non-standard listing, but this is a word best left unused as it is actually redundant. “Ir” is a negative prefix, so if you add it to a word that is already negative like regardless, you’re making a double-negative. In the case of “irregardless” you’re literally saying “without without regard.” Kind of silly, huh.
Sew instead of so
This is a mistake I see on a regular basis. I don’t know if we’re all in just too much of a hurry or not, but regardless (usage intended!) the only time you would use the word “sew” would be if you were making a garment or stitching a seam.
- Right: She was so mean that the other kids decided not to play with her anymore.
- Wrong: She was sew mean that the other kids decided not to play with her anymore.
On a similar note, the same rule applies to seem versus seam:
- Right: You seem to be very upset right now.
- Wrong: You seam to be very upset right now.
Could of, would of, should of
Ah slang…what a foothold it has in our society. As you may know, these words derive from “could have, would have, and should have,” which is often contracted to be “could’ve, would’ve and should’ve.” I think the failing is that in their contracted form they sound like “could of, would of or should of” but of course that’s not correct. Just remember to use the contracted form instead of the word “of” and you’ll be fine.
- Right: He could’ve (or could have) been a contender.
- Wrong: He could of been a contender.
Complement versus compliment
It can be hard to remember which one of these is the right one to use. Complement means that something goes well with something else. In contrast, a compliment is when someone makes a nice comment about you or someone else. I think of it this way – I love compliments, and since the “l” is followed by an “i,” then it means it’s all about me (er, rather someone else of course).
- Marion complimented me on my new dress and shoes.
- The red scarf was a nice complement to my outfit.
Principle versus principal
Along the same lines of compliment and complement, people often mix up these two words as well. Principle is pretty straightforward, as it can only be used as a noun and means (according to Merriam Webster) a comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption or in plain English – a rule, law or general truth.
- Joe Smith is a man of principle.
Principal, on the other hand is a little trickier. It can be used as an adjective, adverb or noun, and has a variety of meanings including your pal, the school principal, and the first in authority or of most importance. It is also used to describe the primary portion of a loan (not the interest). Here are some examples:
- Joe Smith is the new principal at Georgetown Elementary.
- Quinoa is the principal ingredient in this dish.
- The principal of the loan is $50,000; I don’t know how much the interest will add to it.
Fewer versus less
These words are even easier to mix up than principle and principal because they basically mean the same thing. The rule of thumb here is that you use “fewer” when you can actually count the number of items, and less when you can’t. Confused? Here’s an example. If I’m in my closet, I can count the number of shoes I have (don’t ask). In this case, I would use the word “fewer” to describe how many there are. But, if I’m in Nordstrom it would be pretty hard for me to count the same items, so I would use the word “less” to describe them.
- I have fewer than 75 pairs of shoes in my closet.
- Nordstrom probably has less than 300 pairs of shoes in their high-end footwear department.
Now, according to one of my favorite grammarians, GrammarGirl, there is an exception to this rule. It is customary to use the word “less” to describe time, money, and distance. So keep this in mind when you’re thinking about which word to choose.
- The train ride took less than an hour, and it cost less than I was expecting.
Toward versus towards
Now, some would say this might be just a bit on the nitpicky side and I can see their point. However, most people use these words interchangeably without understanding what they’re all about. It does make a difference which one you use, but it’s completely based on where you live or are at a certain time. “Toward” is the widely accepted version in the U.S., but “towards” has its origins in the U.K. So, when in Rome, if you happen to be in the U.K. (or Europe for that matter) then I would use “towards.” But in the good old U.S. of A. use it without the s.
Moot versus mute
So, have you ever made this mistake: “It’s a mute point.” What? Why is that wrong? Well, according to Merriam Webster, “mute” means unable to speak or lacking the power of speech, so you just said that the point cannot speak a word, which makes no sense at all.
When you’re trying to say that something that is isn’t relevant any longer, the correct word is “moot” – at least in the U.S. Keep in mind that in Europe “moot” also means a point that is debatable or arguable.
- Right: It doesn’t matter if that house has a 3-car garage – it’s a moot point because I can’t afford it.
- Wrong: It doesn’t matter if that house has a 3-car garage – it’s a mute point because I can’t afford it.
Who versus whom
As pronouns go, it can be hard to remember which one of these to use. They mean the same thing, but who is used when you are referring to the subject of a sentence, while whom is used when you are referring to the object of a sentence. Only moderately confusing, right? Here’s an easy way to remember which one to use. Substitute the word “he” or “him” in the sentence. If “he” works then use who. If “him” works, then use whom.
Consider this sentence: Who is the best person for the job? Now, substitute “he” and “him” to see which one works best:
- He is the best person for the job.
- Him is the best person for the job.
Clearly, the first sentence is right, so you would use who. The same rule applies to whoever and whomever too. Just remember he = who/whoever and him = whom/whomever and you’ll be set.
Lay versus lie
I’ve saved the best for last – this is a tricky one, even for the best of copywriters. To start with, in the present tense lay is used only for objects. Here’s a way to remember this: In the present tense you lie down (or on or in), but if it’s a thing, you lay it down.
- Right: I’m going to lie down on the bed.
- Wrong: I’m going to lay down on the bed.
- Right: I’m going to lay my Kindle on the bed.
- Wrong: I’m going to lie my Kindle on the bed.
See the difference? Now, here’s where it gets a little complicated. In the past tense, you use lay for lie and laid for lay.
- Right: I lay on the bed last night.
- Wrong: I laid on the bed last night.
- Right: I laid my Kindle on the bed last night.
- Wrong: I lay my Kindle on the bed last night.
Lastly, there is the past participle, which just indicates a past or completed action or time. You still use laid for objects, but you use lain for everything else.
- Right: I lain on the bed last week.
- Wrong: I laid on the bed last week.
- Right: I laid my Kindle on the bed last week.
- Wrong: I lain my Kindle on the bed last week.
Before your brain fries, here is a handy chart to refer to:
In conclusion, I hope this article helps you write with confidence. If you want to learn more about common grammar and punctuation mistakes, check out these two articles:
Graphic Source: https://lakesideenglish.edublogs.org/2015/03/16/20-stupid-grammar-mistakes-even-the-smartest-people-make/