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Feel Superior By Avoiding These 4 Common Grammar Mistakes

Updated on January 3, 2016
Bernadette Harris profile image

Bernadette is a proofreader, online blogger, and freelance writer. She graduated from Franciscan University with a B.A. in Literature.

Words are so conformist
Words are so conformist

Want to make others feel inferior? Long to crush your neighbors with your pretentious assery? Great! Just avoid the grammatical mistakes listed below and you'll accomplish this goal before you know it.

Parenthesis vs. Dash

Parentheses and dashes are designed to set off information. They are not, however, interchangeable. They provide different tones to a sentence and influence the way people read it.

Dashes are for one thing only—dramatic emphasis! They set off information with a flourish, breaking the temporary flow of the sentence and creating a forceful halt. Parentheses (see what I did there?) are more of an afterthought. They provide explanatory information that isn’t crucial to the meaning of your sentence.

Of course, it isn’t exactly incorrect to use parentheses if you want to convey dramatic information in the middle of your sentence (my nephew turned into a mutant monkey this week), but just know that if you do, your sentence may not read the way you want it to.

LOL! Sincerely, your shitty desktop
LOL! Sincerely, your shitty desktop

En vs. Em

Because the English language exists solely to be a huge pain in the butt crack, it has actually conceived of not one, not two, but three different types of dashes. And unfortunately, some of you may be doomed to perpetual grammatical incorrectness when it comes to making these dashes, because the ability to create them depends on the capabilities of your word processor.

An “en” dash (which can also be written with two hyphens, like this --) is used in a number range. For example, you would say: “The cat that I strangled with my bare hands was 10--12 years old.” You can also use en dashes in month ranges. As long as you’re using it in a range, you’re on the right track.

An em dash, on the other hand, is the dash that you see most often —for dramatic emphasis! If your processor doesn’t create the em dash automatically for you, you can create one manually by typing a hyphen sign four times (----).

Next we have the hyphen, which is such a pain in the ass that it gets its own category:

The Hyphen

A hyphen is used to combine two different words that are being used to modify a single noun. For instance, I might say: “This cost-effective account saved me crap loads of dough last year.” But I wouldn’t use the hyphen if these two words were not being used as a compound modifier: “This account that saved me crap loads of dough last year was cost effective.”

Many people mix up hyphens with em and en dashes. I don’t know if this is because they have soda cans for brains, or if their word processor simply sucks hard eggs. Just remember: hyphens combine into a single description words that are single words in and of themselves. Get it? Of course. Why wouldn't you? It's so easy to understand, after all.

Said no one ever.
Said no one ever.
You fickle son of a BITCH!
You fickle son of a BITCH!

Commas

Commas love you, cheat on you with the metaphor down the street, and then leave you with shreds of incomprehensible sentences. But don’t worry: once we understand them, we can gain dominance and show them who wears the pants in this relationship.

Contrary to popular opinion, you actually don’t always put a comma where there is a natural “pause” in the sentence. A comma separates non-essential phrases or provides extra or explanatory information that could be removed without changing the meaning of a sentence.

For example, I would say: “Mrs. Bob, the huge fat woman next door, makes marvelously delicious oatmeal cookies.” I’ve set off the unflattering description of Mrs. Bob with commas because I can remove it without changing the meaning of my sentence, which is to convey that Mrs. Bob makes bitchin’ oatmeal cookies. Sometimes this general rule can get confusing, especially when you have a longer sentence, but just try breaking it up before deciding whether or not the commas are inserted correctly.

Fun tip: “which” is usually always before non-essential clauses, while “that” is before essential. I.e., “Mrs. Bob set the box on fire, which was very unpleasant,” could use a comma, whereas “Mrs. Bob set the box that contained my drug stash on fire” could get away without one.

Go forth and make grammarians of all nations

I now release you into the world! Equipped with these little tidbits, you can now navigate the sticky mires of grammatical construction and make your friends feel bad about themselves. Go get ‘em, tiger.

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    • BruceDPrice profile image

      Bruce Deitrick Price 22 months ago from Virginia Beach, Va.

      Okay, this is sarcastic and so on but the information is important and should be given to every person before they get out of high school.

      However, there is more rudimentary information that should be given in earlier years. You cannot claim to be educated if you can't spell the three different words that sound like your, the three different words that sound like site, and the two word that sound like its. With just a little memorization, you will soar above the great mass of people because our schools are doing such a lousy job.

      I guess my quibble would be that there is no reason to distinguish an en – from a hyphen. On most people's keyboard they are the same thing and that's all you need to know. I wrote an article years ago called "A hyphen is not a dash-darn it all!"

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 22 months ago from Queensland Australia

      I enjoyed this well written hub Bernadette. It was both helpful and humorous. I had no idea about "en" and "me" dashes at all. Thanks for sharing this.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan Robert Lancaster 22 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      The flippancy, used for comic effect, hides the serious nature of this - very useful - article. Some folk put dashes between words when they needn't, house-holders especially.

      Reading this made getting up worthwhile, Bernadette.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 22 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Don't you love predictive text..not?

    • mgt28 profile image

      mgt28 22 months ago

      Well written article. The lighter language makes it easier to read, otherwise reading about correct usage of language is always a pain in the 'you-know-where'.

    • Bernadette Harris profile image
      Author

      Book Bug 22 months ago

      Thanks for the kind words, guys! Glad to amuse ;)

    • Twilight Lawns profile image

      Twilight Lawns 22 months ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

      Brilliant!

      I have no idea what an en dash or an em dash might mean, but I must admit that I love the hyphen, and the Oxford Comma is very dear to my heart. However, returning to dashes, maybe they’re some form of punctuation from across The Pond, as in the use of brackets.

      The Video was great; where did you find it?

      Thanks again for brightening up my morning.

      Ian

      AKA Hilda Plantagenet-Featheringstonehaugh (So why wouldn't I like a hyphen?)

    • sandeep15r profile image

      Sandeep Rathore 22 months ago from New Delhi

      Great tips!

    • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

      Susan Haze 22 months ago from Sunny Florida

      I enjoyed your presentation of these important tips. I love the way you used humor to get idea across.

    • Bernadette Harris profile image
      Author

      Book Bug 22 months ago

      TwilightLawns: the vid was from Weird Al's latest album. You can find him on youtube. He's a great parody artist who's been around for ages...I figured this particular song was very appropriate for my purposes!

    • anusha15 profile image

      Anusha Jain 22 months ago from Delhi, India

      Alright, this one goes to my bookmarks :) This is an Awesome hub. Off course the A in Awesome is not a 'capital' grammar mistake. I think I've been the mistake with hyphens since always. And I'm not sure my commas are perfect either.

      BTW, I loved the title, and the opening line of en vs em. As I said, Awesome. :)

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 21 months ago from California

      Love your articles!

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