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Who vs. Whom - Grammar Errors

Updated on September 23, 2012
Read about Hubert and his adventures with WHO and WHOM.
Read about Hubert and his adventures with WHO and WHOM. | Source

When to Use Who and Whom

Grammar novices and experienced writers alike have such trouble with who vs. whom. They’re not interchangeable. Thankfully, a grammar error with who or whom is mostly overlooked in the English language, especially in the United States. Many writers and grammar-conscious people still ask how to use them, however. Read on to find out about how Hubert the Caterpillar uses who vs. whom.

© C. Calhoun 2012. All rights reserved.

Hubert thought the eyes were talking to him.
Hubert thought the eyes were talking to him. | Source

Who and the Caterpillar Hubert

Hubert the caterpillar inched along. He was quite hungry. He hadn’t eaten since he came out of his egg.

He was a small, dark caterpillar. He almost blended in with the chocolate meringue pie that he smelled in the air.

He began munching on some pie when all of a sudden, he saw two eyes staring at him. He thought those eyes looked bigger than the pie!

Who are you?” the two big eyes asked. Hubert was confused as to how eyes could talk, but then he realized a very BIG mouth was under those eyes.

Hubert gulped. “B-b-but, first I must ask you, ‘Who are you’?”

“I’m the human with the pie that you’re eating. I’m very protective of my chocolate.”

“Oops. Sorry. I was thinking that it was soo good, I couldn’t help myself. The sugar is a little much, though. It’s upsetting my stomach a bit. Would you mind putting me on a leaf?”

“You never answered my question,” said the human.

“Oh dear. I’m Hubert. I’m really hungry, too.”

“Are you the one who’s been eating my apples?”

“Um, no. Perhaps my relatives did. I must say I am eyeing your watermelon over there.”

The human lifted Hubert onto her finger. “Hubert, I’m glad to know you. Now, please, if you run into the caterpillar who has been eating holes in my fruits and vegetables, please tell him to kindly eat the leaves in the forest. Besides, I’m sure they’re better for his digestive system.”

Hubert patted his stomach with about ten of his hands. Who would put so much sugar in a meringue pie? “Well, if you put me on that leaf over there, I’ll be on my way. But, I’m sorry, to whom am I speaking?

“Oh, yes, Hubert. I’m Mallory. That’s my name. That's who I am.”

“Well, it’s a pleasure to meet someone who is so nice and willing to share such good food.”

“Um, Hubert, for starters, humans don’t generally talk to caterpillars and expect a response. Second, I didn’t share it, you came along and ate it,” Mallory smiled.

“Oops. I did, didn’t I? But, I am not the one who ate holes in your garden. I merely enjoyed some meringue pie. May I have some more?”

“Is that your stomach grumbling? Maybe you’d better stop thinking of meringue pie. Help me find those other caterpillars who are eating holes in everything.

Hubert - The Who Caterpillar
Hubert - The Who Caterpillar | Source
Hubert is on his way to find out WHO ate Mallory's fruits and vegetables.
Hubert is on his way to find out WHO ate Mallory's fruits and vegetables. | Source

Who, Whom and Butterfly Wings!

Hubert looked around. Judging by the watermelons, honeydews, tomatoes, peas, peppers and even herbs that had holes, he thought he was going to be meeting some rather plump caterpillars in his near future.

Hubert inched along. A few leaves away, he found a mound of furry caterpillar. “Excuse me, Sir, but who are you?” Hubert asked.

“What do you mean ‘who am I’?” the caterpillar replied. He was in quite a bad mood. His stomach was grumbling terribly and he was massaging it with five of his hands. “Who are YOU?”

“Sir, I will not answer unless you tell me to whom I am speaking…first!”

“Sir Eatzlotz, that’s who and I enjoy your grammar, too.”

Hubert thought it odd that Eatzlotz should talk about grammar at this most inopportune but opportune moment.

“Thank you, sir. I gather your tummy is a little upset, too, because it’s making a lot of noise.” Hubert put four hands up to his ears. “That lady-human over there has told me that caterpillars have eaten holes in her garden. Do you know whom?

Eatzlotz licked his fingers. “Nope, sure don’t,” he said, with a sudden lapse of good grammar.

Hubert shuddered. Even if it could be this guy, he didn’t want to associate with him too much more. He sounded like a fuzzy monster with bad grammar. “I’ll just be on my way, then,” Hubert said and inching away.

Hubert climbed onto another plant and immediately happened upon two smaller caterpillars. “Pardon me. Do you know who has been eating holes in Miss Mallory’s garden? She’s the human with all the food.”

The two caterpillars just stared. They each had ten niblets of cheese in ten different hands. They didn’t respond, either. They just kept eating and loudly smacking their lips.

Hubert kept going. He hopped to another leaf and happened upon yet another caterpillar eating something orange. It was sweet-smelling.

“Excuse me, Ma’am. Could you tell me where you got that good food?”

She looked over at Hubert. Using her head – because her mouth was full – she pointed over to the garden.

“Ooh, I see,” Hubert sighed. “Would you mind saving some for my friend Mallory? She’s the lady who has all the food. She needs some for herself, you know.”

Hubert finally solved the mystery. He found one caterpillar who had eaten some of the food. He suspected that there were others, but for now, hopefully this caterpillar would spread the word. Besides, they might fall into a food coma if they ate too much.

Suddenly, Hubert himself fell into a food coma. The meringue pie made him sleepy. He covered up with a leaf and went to sleep. Wouldn’t you know, when he woke up, he had wings!

Source

From the little story about the caterpillar and using who and whom, you can gather a few things about the uses of these words:

  • Who is used, generally, before a verb. He's the one who ate the pie. The word who comes before the verb ate.
  • Whom generally comes after the verb in a sentence. Mallory wanted to know whom Hubert talked. The word whom comes after wanted and to know.
  • When all else fails, use the he/him trick. If it's a question, answer the question and substitute he/him in for who/whom. If you would use he, then you will use who; if you use him, then you will need to use whom: Whom did she ask? She asked him. So, you substitute whom in for him.
  • When you have a statement, substitute in he/him to find out if you use who or whom: She wondered to whom she should ask her holey questions. Substitute in him: She wondered if she should ask her holey questions to him.

More on Who and Whom:

  • Who knows the answer? He knows the answer. Therefore, you use who.
  • There was only one caterpillar who ate the food? This really is a two-clause sentence. Make it simple: There was only one caterpillar. He ate the food. In this case, you will use who.
  • I need someone who is brown and fluffy. Again, this can be broken down into two sentences. Then you sub in he. I need someone. He is brown and fluffy.
  • If you look more closely at the word who, you'll find that who is the word that is doing the action. Whom receives the action.
  • Who's is the contraction of the two words who is and sometimes who has. Whenever you would use who is in a sentence, you can substitute who's.
  • Whose is when you want to show possession of an object. It's a possessive pronoun. Whose chocolate meringue pie is this?
  • The word whom always follows a preposition, usually to, by, of, about, or from. There are many other prepositions, but these are the most common. He addressed the Board of Caterpillars, "To whom it may concern..."

Find Out Your "Who" Knowledge


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    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 5 years ago from United States

      This story illustrated your point very well. I have seen then versus than also used incorrectly. The who and whom rules are quite simple and I'm glad you wrote this useful hub.

    • JGoul profile image

      JGoul 5 years ago

      Very nicely done! This is a great, light-hearted approach to a tricky problem. Respectfully, I have to disagree with Pamela; who vs. whom is one of the only grammatical rules that still troubles me. I think a lot of people find it difficult because the proper usage is gradually fading from the language. Because the distinction isn't seen in everyday conversation or in popular writing, you can't rely on your "ear" as a crutch.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 5 years ago from Dubai

      Another great grammar hub.Usage of who and whom explained very well and in an interesting way. Loved this one. Voted up. Enjoyed the video too.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 5 years ago from Western NC

      Pamela - hehe, thank you for your kind words. :) You know, I was talking to a friend about "then" and "than" - after I read your comments, I'm thinking I need to write a hub on that, too. :D Thanks again. Hubhugs!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 5 years ago from Western NC

      JGoul - you know, I had to review who/whom thoroughly before publishing this. For me, who/whom aren't as simple as they might seem. You're right, too, proper usage is actually going away and more people - especially in the US - just use "who". But, I thought I'd tackle this one in a fun way just to show that sometimes you just have to use "whom". Hehe. Thanks for stopping by. Cheers!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 5 years ago from Western NC

      Vellur - great to see you! Thank you as always for your kind words and comments. I appreciate you and your timely visits. Hubhugs!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      Nicely done! These words are ones that I struggle with. I will have to keep this lesson ongoing and come back to take the test often. Thanks for posting.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 5 years ago from Western NC

      teaches - hello, friend! Thanks so much for stopping by. :) I'm glad you enjoyed this - who and whom can be troublesome little buggers. :D Thanks again ~ hubhugs!

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 5 years ago from Long Island, NY

      This has been one of those grammar rules I mess up sometimes. But after reading your Hub I scored 100% on your quiz. You had a great way of explaining it so that I'd get it right each time now. Who is a great teacher? You are, Cyndi. Thanks for writing this Hub. Voted up.

    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 5 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Well done as always, Cyndi!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 5 years ago from Western NC

      Aw, shucks. Thanks Glen. I think you're the smart student. :D Thanks so much for stopping by and I'm so glad you were able to grasp it despite my crazy stories. hehehe. Cheers!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 5 years ago from Western NC

      Rose - aw, you are simply amazing and I love seeing you 'round the Hub. :D You're an amazing writer, too. Thanks so much for stopping by. Always great to see you. :)

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 5 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Another excellent grammar article to explain a perplexing word. I sidestep the problem by never using "whom," which, as you say, is common here in the U.S. Voting this Up and Useful.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 5 years ago from Western NC

      alocsin - hey there! Thanks as always for stopping by - I definitely look forward to your input, Aurelio. :) Yeah, I admit that I don't use "whom" as much - I'll either use another word or restructure the sentence to use "who" because it is beginning to fall out of use here in the US. Hubhugs!

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 5 years ago from Nepal

      English is my second language and most of the time who and whom confuse me. Thanks for this wonderful lesson.

    • Ardie profile image

      Sondra 5 years ago from Neverland

      Who and whom always trip me up. My old trusty standby was to go with who more often than not...and it worked! After reading your Hub and story I feel more confident in my who/whom use. I even scored an 86 on the quiz - not too bad!!! :)

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 5 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      Very well taught, Ma'am. I enjoyed the lesson. Loved the way you wove it into a story.

    • Natashalh profile image

      Natasha 5 years ago from Hawaii

      This is fantastic! Thank you for the clear grammar explication. Voted up and useful.

    • anusujith profile image

      Anoop Aravind A 5 years ago from Nilambur, Kerala, India

      Do you know i got 93 % in your quiz. I have done 1 mistake. It's so interesting. Informative. Thanks for the share.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 5 years ago from Western NC

      Vinaya - you speak and write English beautifully. Keep up the good work! Don't let these two meddlesome words foul you up - just keep writing. :)

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 5 years ago from Western NC

      Hi, Ardie! It's so great to see you!! You know, a great mama like you I'm sure has great instincts. Hehe, those instincts will carry over to grammar, too. XD You're amazing!! Hubhugs!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 5 years ago from Western NC

      Rajan - hello, friend! Great to see you! I am so glad you liked this. :) Hubhugs!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 5 years ago from Western NC

      Natashalh - thank you so much for stopping by!! I appreciate the votes and feedback. It's always great to see you. :) Hubhugs!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 5 years ago from Western NC

      anusujith - Wow! Nice job on the quiz! I'm glad you enjoyed this and I appreciate your stopping by. Great student. :) Cheers!

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 5 years ago from Orlando, FL

      Guess who! Yep, it's me!

      Very useful hub for those whom are confused as to which word to use. I wonder who that could be? :)

    • Stephanie Henkel profile image

      Stephanie Henkel 5 years ago from USA

      I enjoyed your very useful explanations of "who" and "whom" usage. Just when I thought I had it down pat, I took the quiz and missed two questions... guess I have to study some more! :)

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 5 years ago from Western NC

      Who are you? OH YES! A RAY OF SUNSHINE! Helloooo, Sunshine! Good to see you! Thanks so much for stopping by. :D Let the caterpillars bask in the sunshine!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 5 years ago from Western NC

      Stephanie - hello, great to see you! I'm so glad you stopped by. Who and whom aren't the easiest of words to grasp, but if you err on the side of who, and use "whom" after a preposition, you'll probably get it right. :) Hubhugs!

    • John Sarkis profile image

      John Sarkis 5 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Hi cclitgirl, you did it! Thanks! Great read.

      By the way, sometimes I like to use whom when I should have used who and vice versa just for the kick of it. ...not sure if you've done one on "I" vs. "me," I'll have to check it out.

      Take care and great hub

      John

    • thesingernurse profile image

      thesingernurse 5 years ago from Rizal, Philippines

      This hub shows a better way to understand the PROPER use of who, whom, whoever, and whomever. The test at the end of the hub also helped a lot in gauging every readers learning experience from the fun passage. Good job!

      Voting up and sharing. This would help a lot of fellow hubbers!

    • mythicalstorm273 profile image

      mythicalstorm273 5 years ago

      For some reason although my grammar is one of my major weaknesses I have never had that much of an issue with who and whom. I do mess up once in a while, but generally that is one of the easier ones for me. It may just be because it made sense in my head. I'm not really sure, but clearly you did an amazing job with this hub! Thank you for spreading the knowledge!

    • Made profile image

      Madeleine Salin 5 years ago from Finland

      Grammar is interesting. This hub was both useful and entertaining. Thank you! :)

    • cclitgirl profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Calhoun 5 years ago from Western NC

      John - hi, friend! Great to see you! Hehe, I DO have one on "I" and "me" - for some reason the misuse of "I" and "me" drives me far more crazy than does "who" and "whom" - those are tricky. "I" and "me" just are two tiny little words. Hehe. Thanks so much for coming by. :) Cheers!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 5 years ago from Western NC

      thesingernurse - thank you so much for stopping by. I'm so thrilled that you enjoyed this. Thank you for the votes, kudos and shares. I appreciate you! Have a wonderful day! Hubhugs!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 5 years ago from Western NC

      mysthicalstorm273 - thanks so much for stopping by. Like you, I've never minded who and whom too much - and I'm definitely not perfect at it, either. Hehe. But, that tells me that you are not only brilliant, but I need to get over to your hubs - I'm thinking a brilliant writer, too! Hubhugs!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 5 years ago from Western NC

      Made - great to see you, friend! I'm so glad you found this useful and interesting. Thanks so much for stopping by. :)

    • Ruchira profile image

      Ruchira 5 years ago from United States

      Awesome story and I sure learnt quite a few things, Cyndi.

      took your interesting quiz and scored a 93%...lol

      you are a great teacher and I adore you :)

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 5 years ago from Western NC

      Ruchira - hello, awesome friend! Hehe, you are incredible with grammar! Thank you so much for coming by and commenting. :)

    • Darkproxy profile image

      Darkproxy 5 years ago from Ohio

      Well in short, of what I know “Who” is always the subject, and whom is for objects.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 5 years ago from Western NC

      Darkproxy - you are correct. :) Thanks for stopping by! Cheers.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      How the hell did I miss this one? You even mentioned you were writing it and I missed it. Great hub my friend and funny as always. I love these little grammar lessons even though they leave me feeling quite illiterate.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 5 years ago from Western NC

      Bill! Hey there, friend! Hehe, you're so funny. Thank you so much for stopping by. :) You - iliterate? Oh, my goodness. You are/were a legendary teacher for goodness sake! Your hubs are incredible and inspirational. I always look forward to reading. :D

    • Beata Stasak profile image

      Beata Stasak 5 years ago from Western Australia

      Very useful, thank you, I needed to check my English grammar, ha,ha:)

    • LoryRich profile image

      LoryRich 5 years ago

      Thanks for your very instructive hub. I find it to be very useful and the story is also interesting. More power!

    • profile image

      Kieran Gracie 5 years ago

      I waded into your quiz, fully expecting to cruise through it - and got 2 wrong! Thank you for bringing me down to Earth, cclitgirl, I needed it.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 5 years ago from Western NC

      Beata - hehe, thanks for stopping by! It's always fun to do a little grammar...with crazy stories, of course! ;)

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 5 years ago from Western NC

      LoryRich - thank you so much for your feedback. I'm thrilled you found the story interesting. Yes!! Thanks again. Hubhugs!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 5 years ago from Western NC

      Kieran - hehe, who and whom are two words that you can easy get tripped up with, and they are falling out of use, so it's harder to hear when exactly you should use them. But, thanks for stopping by and for your input - I appreciate you. :) Cheers!

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 5 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      Hurray,I got 100% on the quiz! Up, Useful, Interesting, and delightful.

    • Inspired 4 U profile image

      Jo Anne Meekins 5 years ago from Queens, NY

      Voted up, useful and interesting! Thanks for sharing and teaching in such a creative way. Great delivery of a well made point! I bookmarked this hub and posted it to my fb fan page @ http://on.fb.me/gEJAwm.

    • Faceless39 profile image

      Faceless39 5 years ago from The North Woods, USA

      I adore your way of teaching grammar. Voted way up, interesting, awesome, and useful!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 5 years ago from Western NC

      B. Leekley - Yes!! That's awesome. You MUST be a good student. ;)

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 5 years ago from Western NC

      Inspired 4 U - Wow! Thank you so much for all the kudos!! I'm so glad you enjoyed this. When I get a chance, I'll have a look at your fan page. :) Hubhugs!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 5 years ago from Western NC

      Faceless39 - thank you so much for stopping by. :) I appreciate your feedback and thank you for the votes. Hubhugs!

    • Inspired 4 U profile image

      Jo Anne Meekins 5 years ago from Queens, NY

      You're welcome cclitgirl! I forgot about my twitter account. About to add it there also. It is a great read that I am pleased to recommend to my fans and followers. :-)

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 5 years ago from Western NC

      Inspired 4 U - you are sweet to tweet. :D Thanks again for coming by!!

    • Docmo profile image

      Mohan Kumar 5 years ago from UK

      Superb. If only my English teacher had taught Grammar this way! I really love the use of this brilliant story to illustrate the rules concerning who and whom. Very well illustrated and told. I am glad I found this hub! voted up up and away.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 5 years ago from Western NC

      Docmo - hehehe, I love teaching English using wacky, quirky stories. I'll continue to do so. :) Thanks for the feedback.

    • profile image

      DoItForHer 5 years ago

      Great Hub. I am still having trouble with some clauses and the split prepositions. Looks like I could use some more practice.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 5 years ago from Western NC

      DoltForHer - hmm, the fact that you mention clauses and split prepositions tells me you have a great grasp of the technicalities of English. :D Bravo!

    • profile image

      DoItForHer 5 years ago

      I'm writing a book and am serious about having it published- if I ever get it done! Publishers don't expect perfect grammar, but submissions need to meet a certain standard. I'm hoping above average grammar will make it stand out more.

    • Angela Brummer profile image

      Angela Brummer 5 years ago from Lincoln, Nebraska

      Loved this!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 5 years ago from Western NC

      DFH - that's great!! I agree - you've got to put your best foot forward when presenting to a publisher. :) Good luck!! Hubhugs!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 5 years ago from Western NC

      Angela - thanks for stopping by! Hubhugs!

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      KDuBarry03 5 years ago

      One of the many rules writers overlook...I tend to overlook this from time to time in my rough sketches. Good to know! I thought this was a very fun way to show how these words are used!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 5 years ago from Western NC

      Keith - yep, if we're writers, we've definitely got to put our best foot forward. :) Thanks for coming by! Cheers~

    • sarahbeth006 profile image

      sarahbeth006 4 years ago from Maryland

      I love the story and the lesson! Fantastic. Thank you so much for such a great example that can be shared with others.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

      Sarah - hehe, thanks for stopping by. :) I'm glad you enjoyed this. Hubhugs!

    • vespawoolf profile image

      vespawoolf 4 years ago from Peru, South America

      I love your grammar error hubs. The characters you use to teach are cute and drive home the point. Have you ever thought of doing addictive vs. addicting? I've noticed it's misused a lot. Just an idea!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

      vespawoolf - you know, I've thought about doing meddlesome words like that and you just gave me another hub idea! Thanks!! I appreciate it, hehe. Thanks for stopping by and for your feedback. :)

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 4 years ago from America

      I'm getting to old to keep all this information in my head. I will close this hub and completely forget what you have said. It's very good information for those who/whom have a memory. Voted up on your excellent hub.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

      moonlake - you're so funny. :D I agree, there is a lot to remember and I actually have to refer back to my hub here from time to time to keep things straight. Haha.

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