You may sometimes feel like the English language is conspiring against you. Growing up, you learn the countless rules of grammar, and then one day learn that what you thought you knew is wrong, such as the fact that there is nothing wrong with beginning a sentence with a conjunction. Therefore, the following list highlights the most common misuse of words and a brief explanation of each, for your reference.
1. WHO or WHOM?
Who – If you can replace the word with “he” or “she,” use who.
Whom – If you can replace it with “him” or “her,” use whom.
2. WHETHER or IF?
Whether – conditional; used when there are two or more alternatives, after prepositions, followed directly by ‘or not’ or by an infinitive.
If – no alternatives.
3. FARTHER or FURTHER?
Farther – physical distance.
Further – metaphorical or figurative distance.
4. AFFECT or EFFECT?
Affect – to influence something; usually used as a verb.
Effect – the something that was influenced (as a result); usually used as a noun.
5. YOUR or YOU’RE?
Your – a possessive adjective, modifies nouns.
You’re – a contraction of the two words you are.
6. ITS or IT’S?
Its – the possessive of the pronoun.
It’s – a contraction of “it is” or “it has.”
7. LOSE or LOOSE?
Lose – a verb; to lose is to suffer a loss, to be deprived of, to part with, or to fail to keep possession of.
Loose – an adjective used to describe things that are not tightly fitted.
8. THEN or THAN?
Then – usually used to indicate time.
Than – used to make comparisons.
9. LAY or LIE?
Lay – transitive verb; needs a direct subject and an object.
Lie – intransitive verb; needs no object.
10. DISINTERESTED or UNINTERESTED?
Disinterested – a disinterested person is impartial, unbiased, or has no stake in the outcome.
Uninterested – an uninterested person is bored, unconcerned, or indifferent.
11. BRING or TAKE?
Bring – used when the object is being moved towards the subject.
Take – used when the object is being moved away from the subject.
12. THEY’RE or THERE or THEIR?
They’re – a contraction for "they are."
There – refers to a place.
Their – refers to something owned by a group.
13. FEWER or LESS?
Fewer – used when discussing countable objects.
Less – used for intangible concepts, like time.
14. SINCE or BECAUSE?
Since – refers to time.
Because – refers to causation.
15. I.E. or E.G.?
i.e. – means "that is" or "in other words."
e.g. – means "example given" or "for example."
16. TO or TOO?
To – typically used before a noun or verb, and describes a destination, recipient, or action.
Too – word that's used as an alternative to "also" or "as well." It's also used to describe an adjective in extremes.
17. A LOT or ALOT?
A lot – a vast number of things.
Alot – I regret to break it to all the "alot" fans out there, but "alot" is not a word.
18. COMPLIMENT or COMPLEMENT?
Compliment – refers to an expression of praise (as a noun), or to praise or express admiration for someone (as a verb).
Complement – If something "complements" something else that means it completes it, enhances it, or makes it perfect.
19. EN DASH or EM DASH?
En Dash (–): can be used to represent time spans or differentiation, such as, "That will take 10–15 minutes." The en dash is slightly wider than the hyphen (-) but narrower than the em dash (—).
Em Dash (— or --): perhaps the most versatile punctuation mark. Depending on the context, the em dash can take the place of commas, parentheses, or colons—in each case to slightly different effect.
20. TITLE CAPITALIZATION
Here is a secret weapon for you: TitleCap. The site outlines capitalization rules as follows:
Capitalize the first and the last word.
Capitalize nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, and subordinate conjunctions.
Lowercase articles ("a," "an," "the"), coordinating conjunctions, and prepositions.
Lowercase the 'to' in an infinitive ("I want to play piano").
When writing, you must learn to watch your language. English has many rules set in place that a writer must heed, especially the tricky ones. However, with practice and reference to guides such as this one, you can quickly become a more confident writer in terms of grammar usage.
This list merely highlights some of the most common grammatical mistakes I have noticed. Which ones do you find most challenging and what other words get you caught by the grammar police? Let me know in the comments section below!