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20 Common Grammar Mistakes That (Almost) Everyone Makes ^ | January 31, 2012 | Jon Gingerich

Posted on 02/01/2012 12:47:25 PM PST by Daffynition

I’ve edited a monthly magazine for more than six years, and it’s a job that’s come with more frustration than reward. If there’s one thing I am grateful for — and it sure isn’t the pay — it’s that my work has allowed endless time to hone my craft to Louis Skolnick levels of grammar geekery. [snip]

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 made it the worst night of studying ever. e.g., Her continuous talking drove him crazy.

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, or a suspicion that someone might want what’s yours. Jealousy is also used more often in sexual situations. “Envy” is when you covet your friend’s good looks. “Jealousy” is what happens when your significant other swoons in the presence of 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 or hypothetical lengths. e.g., I threw the ball ten feet farther than Bill. e.g., The executive climbed further up the ladder of success.

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 stock performance with which he has no money invested. 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 word “different” is not a comparative adjective; it's used to draw distinction. When “different” is followed by a prepositional phrase, the preposition 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). In no way should this word be assembled into a modifier. "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, and “effect” is almost always a noun. e.g., Facebook affects people’s attention spans, and the effect is usually negative. “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!

TOPICS: Books/Literature; Computers/Internet; Education; Reference
KEYWORDS: edwinnewman; grammar
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To: IrishPennant

yeah and what about the “W” ?

ONE has a “W” sound but no “W”
TWO has a “W” but no “W” sound.

and how about “I before E except after C”
It’s not rocket science, and don’t be deceived, but it’s an ancient axiom and what’s weird is Einstein has it wrong twice in his name. Either this axiom works or neither work. I’ll raise a stein to that.

I believe I’ve achieved my purpose.

i’m outta here.

141 posted on 02/01/2012 2:22:31 PM PST by stylin19a (time to Obamanos)
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To: Daffynition

Not only do most people misuse “moot”, but many of them misspell/pronounce/misunderstand it as “mute”.

142 posted on 02/01/2012 2:26:19 PM PST by Paradox (I want Obama defeated. Period.)
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To: Revolting cat!

Now, now, Major Winchester, don’t be too hard on such cretins.

143 posted on 02/01/2012 2:28:27 PM PST by SgtHooper (The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it's still on the list.)
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To: Irenic
Does the book help teach punctuation at all? I really need help there, too. If not, do you know a good one for punctuation?

Try this:

It covers grammar, punctuation, and just about everything else you'd need to write well.

It was a life-saver for many courses (this is the latest version, mine was pre-internet).

144 posted on 02/01/2012 2:28:33 PM PST by IYAS9YAS (Rose, there's a Messerschmitt in the kitchen. Clean it up, will ya?)
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To: Daffynition
Obviously written by a non-Southerner. The "Bring and Take" entry shows that. What about "carry"?

As in, "I got to carry my father to the doctor this afternoon."

145 posted on 02/01/2012 2:31:24 PM PST by Verginius Rufus
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To: nodumbblonde


146 posted on 02/01/2012 2:32:04 PM PST by numberonepal (First they came for Sarah, then they came for Herman.....)
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To: IYAS9YAS; Irenic

I goofed. There is a newer version than in my link. Version 12 is out. Scroll down a bit on my linked page, and you’ll see the link to the latest version.

147 posted on 02/01/2012 2:34:05 PM PST by IYAS9YAS (Rose, there's a Messerschmitt in the kitchen. Clean it up, will ya?)
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To: Daffynition


But will those who need it, read it?

148 posted on 02/01/2012 2:41:21 PM PST by b9 (NEWT all the way)
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To: Daffynition

Very good. Perhaps we could send some FReepers to grammar boot camp.

Actually, I can excuse people who are typing a quick response in a post, but I want to tear my hair out at what passes for journalistic writing in more than I few of the articles I see in a day. And what comes out of the mouths of the idiot pundits makes me scream at my TV quite frequently.

How about “nother” as in “That’s a whole nother thing”? Aack!

149 posted on 02/01/2012 2:44:08 PM PST by Bigg Red (Pray for our republic.)
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To: Tenacious 1
When did it change and what are they teaching now?

Blame it on the inter-web. Basically when writing HTML code in order to add 2 spaces after a period requires an extra character (  - non-breaking space). You can put as many spaces as you want, but HTML will show only one. I always thought the double space after the period was similar to double spacing your papers. It was so the teacher had room for notes while grading.

The same can be said about indenting a paragraph. You rarely see that any longer. It's the same scenario there as with period spacing. In code you have to put 5   characters for indention. Back in the modem and ISDN days a document full of those extraneous spaces might mean a loss of valuable download performance.

150 posted on 02/01/2012 2:47:02 PM PST by numberonepal (First they came for Sarah, then they came for Herman.....)
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To: b9
But will those who need it, read it?

Prolly not.

151 posted on 02/01/2012 2:47:14 PM PST by Fresh Wind ('People have got to know whether or not their president is a crook.' Richard M. Nixon)
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To: Daffynition


152 posted on 02/01/2012 2:50:35 PM PST by Oshkalaboomboom
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To: Daffynition

I’d have gotten further in life if I knew these simple rules :-)

153 posted on 02/01/2012 2:51:11 PM PST by rabidralph
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To: society-by-contract

How about “most unique”? “A myriad of”?

As to your question regarding on or two spaces after a period. I am pretty sure that I learned in my high school typing class in the 1960s to make two spaces after a period, after a colon and after a semicolon.

As a matter of fact, I usually still do that — I just did it above! — but Microsoft Word usually flags it as an error.

154 posted on 02/01/2012 2:55:55 PM PST by Bigg Red (Pray for our republic.)
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To: b9

>>>But will those who need it, read it?<<<

Slim chant’s of that.

155 posted on 02/01/2012 2:57:22 PM PST by Fightin Whitey
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To: SkyDancer

Oh! OH!! I can’t believe someone else brought it up!

Every morning during our daily meeting, “those ones” is constantly being used. It drives me absolutely bonkers! A work buddy is going to hit me one of these days because I’m trying to break her of that habit. ugh!

156 posted on 02/01/2012 2:57:39 PM PST by Ladysmith (The evil that's happening in this country is the cancer of socialism...It kills the human spirit.)
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To: Daffynition

I two try too abide by these rules. Also the issue between these to words - their and they’re. There important.

157 posted on 02/01/2012 3:01:13 PM PST by tang-soo (Prophecy of the Seventy Weeks - Read Daniel Chapter 9)
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To: Revolting cat!
And than there is ‘when’ and ‘whence’!
And, of course, ‘where’ and ‘whither!’
158 posted on 02/01/2012 3:01:27 PM PST by cartan
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To: tang-soo

Irregardless, its the messege that counts.

159 posted on 02/01/2012 3:06:55 PM PST by trisham (Zen is not easy. It takes effort to attain nothingness. And then what do you have? Bupkis.)
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To: Ladysmith

And another that drives me crazy is “way this” or “way that” as in “way better” as an example. It’s “these ones” and “those ones” that are examples of the great grammar they don’t teach in school now. I’ve heard teachers talk that way. Thank G-d I was home schooled. I won’t go into “free gift” I always hear in commercials.

160 posted on 02/01/2012 3:11:03 PM PST by SkyDancer ("Never Have Regrets Because At The Time It Was Exactly What You Wanted")
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