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.
WHICH AND THAT
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.
LAY AND LIE
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.
CONTINUAL AND CONTINUOUS
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 next door made it the worst night of studying ever. e.g., Her continuous talking prevented him from concentrating.
ENVY AND JEALOUSY
The word “envy” implies a longing for someone else’s good fortunes. “Jealousy” is far more nefarious. It’s a fear of rivalry, often present in sexual situations. “Envy” is when you covet your friend’s good looks. “Jealousy” is what happens when your significant other swoons over 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 AND MIGHT
“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.
WHETHER AND IF
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.
FEWER AND LESS
“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.
FARTHER AND FURTHER
The word “farther” implies a measurable distance. “Further” should be reserved for abstract lengths you can't always measure. e.g., I threw the ball ten feet farther than Bill. e.g., The financial crisis caused further implications.
SINCE AND BECAUSE
“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.
DISINTERESTED AND UNINTERESTED
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 the performance of a popular stock, even if he's never invested in it. 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.
DIFFERENT THAN AND DIFFERENT FROM
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 adjective “different” is used to draw distinction. So, when “different” is followed by a preposition, it 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.”
BRING AND TAKE
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). "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.
AFFECT AND EFFECT
Here’s a trick to help you remember: “Affect” is almost always a verb (e.g., Facebook affects people’s attention spans), and “effect” is almost always a noun (e.g., Facebook's effects can also be positive). “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.
IRONY AND COINCIDENCE
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!
Wow, This would have made a great hub! I see many of these mistakes....I may have made a few too. The one that I usually make the most is "it's vs its".
You should make this a hub, so I can favorite it even when I'm not logged on! Let me know if you do!
I'm glad that fellow Hubbers are quite nitpicky about such trivialities. I still don't get the difference between "which" and "that," but thanks for the post.
Thank you for posting this, But, I believe that it falls upon deaf ears, most of the writers don't seem to care, and many cannot even form a proper English Sentence.
All good ones offer by the OP.
Here's one that irks me: Using "myself" when the correct thing to use would be "me". This one showed up on a grammar site I ran into recently (something like, "Grammar mistakes that make you sound like a monkey." )
People do that "myself thing" so often, I don't think a lot of people even know that's a grammar error at this point. They think something like, "Fred and myself attended the meeting," is correct. Or, they'll do something like, "She'll ride in the car with Fred and myself." This grammar error can be a particularly irksome one because the people who commit this one are often people who just think that using "myself" "sounds better" than using "me" (and therefore makes them look a little better/more important/more lofty to others). As a result, this particular grammar mistake turns out to be kind of a mini-joke on the person who gives in toward pretentious leanings, wants to "sound better", and makes this grammar mistake.
Plain, old, grammar mistakes are one thing. The kind that come from someone's wish to seem "smarter" or "more lofty" can lead to a little sadistic pleasure for those who see the desperately pretentious make them. Of course, in fairness to some who use "myself" when they should "me", sometimes it's not a matter of erring on the side of being pretentious. It's just a regular, old, grammar error that stems from the person's not knowing any better. (I've been watching one pretentious, somewhat arrogant, person make this mistake for decades now - and enjoying it every time I hear it made. )
Some grammatical errors turn out to be typographical errors - my most insidious typing error is "doe snot" instead of "does not" - I always run a word search for "doe snot" on every document before I send it anywhere because both are genuine words and spellcheck won't always catch them as being out of place. But Cardisa is correct - its and it's can be very confusing at times. Someone should design a video game based on the more obscure rules of English, its grammar and spelling traps, etc.!
You're really right about the typing errors thing. I know what I've been known to do (time and time again) is type what I'm "hearing in head", and with my Massachusetts accent, I often hear, say, "here" and "hear" as the same thing; or "they're", "their", and "there" as the same thing. Fast typist. Fingers type what "they hear" - and voila, I look like I don't know the difference between words like that. Worse, since they're not words that look "wacky" to a spell-checker they get missed. Then, human nature so often learning toward thinking other people are "just stupid", someone will inevitably think the writer doesn't know any better.
Thanks everyone for writing back! It can be annoying to those that know the truth ~ and it can also be annoying to know that others just don't care or can not be bothered with it! Sometimes I think being in the dark about such things can be a blessing in disguise in that they are not forever loosing their shit over someone's lack of knowledge!
You've pointed out many common mistakes, but I agree with SamiSwan that some of the problems we see (and some we make) are actually simply typographical errors, usually just made in haste.
Near the top of my list of pet peeves is the use of "loose" or "loosing," when the correct word would be "lose" or "losing." Often those mistakes are just typos too, and there may even be some strange instances when the word used is actually the one intended. In most cases, though, I believe it's merely a typo or a matter of unawareness.
I see those mistakes often in the term papers of my university students, and I also see them on handwritten essay tests given in class, so I think it can't all be chalked up to typos. I always require in-class written work to get a feel for how well the students write, and you can spot these type of mistakes quite easily.
Great list - thanks for sharing your expertise here! There are several great hubs (many by cclitgirl) on this topic, and they all seem to cover different issues. I love the resources we have on this site.
which and that seem to the ones with the most errors that I've noticed
1 [moot] Show IPA
1. open to discussion or debate; debatable; doubtful: a moot point.
2. of little or no practical value or meaning; purely academic.
#2 is equivalent in most circumstances to "superfluous" and is the primary I see the term being used.
" e.g., The idea that commercial zoning should be allowed in the residential neighborhood was a moot point for the council." - the topic open to discussion but there is no reason to do so as it is a moot point - discussion is of no practical value as the point is already settled for one reason or another.
Thanks for this, Tara. Am printing it out, to be placed alongside my file of Lie, Lay, Laid.
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