The Life of Bon: 12 Common Grammar Mistakes Made by Smart Adults

Thursday, October 02, 2014

12 Common Grammar Mistakes Made by Smart Adults

I write this post not to be a pretentious jerk who gets joy out of correcting everyone's innocent grammar mistakes.  The purpose of life is NOT to make us all feel like idiots, remember?  We all goof up with grammar, and I am the last person to go around correcting people's grammar.  I do believe that most of us know the difference with most common grammar mistakes; we are often just in a hurry or don't think through it.  (Twice this week I used the wrong stalk/stock on this blog. TWICE!  The jig's up- I'm just some dummy pretending to be an English teacher!)

I do think, though, that there are a few grammar rules out there that are just confusing or maybe not widely known and because of this lots of us are often using these incorrectly.  The purpose of this post is to clear all those up tricky rules and hopefully make us all feel a bit more confident with our grammar usage.  No time to waste!


Than= a comparison
Then= everything else

I need to do my homework then take the quiz.
Fine then, I don't want to go.
Do you like the salmon better than the steak?

You can remember this because than has an A in it and so does compare

Oh, the dreaded confusing possessives!

Dogs= plural
Dog's= possessive
Dogs'= plural AND possessive

I find that people really freak out when it comes to the apostrophe coming after the s, and I rarely see it used correctly, but the fact is, it is really simple.  Plural and possessive, that's it!

I have two dogs.
I can't find my dog's leash.  (Only one dog missing a leash here.)
Both of my dogs' vaccines are scheduled for Monday.  (More than one dog!)

You can also use an apostrophe after the s if the word or name already ends in s.

Mr. Jones' car was stolen.
(Mr. Jones's car was stolen is also accepted- the grammar gods are so nice, they give us a choice on this one!)


I often see an apostrophe added to a decade or abbreviation when it doesn't need to be.  If I am talking about the 1970s then I am talking about more than one year- it is plural.  It does not need an apostrophe, as that would make it possessive.  Same goes for abbreviations.

RIGHT:  I love the music of the 1990s.
RIGHT:  I love the music of the '90s. (The apostrophe is used because of the abbreviation)
WRONG:  I love the music of the 1990's.

RIGHT:  I own many CDs.
WRONG:  I own many CD's.  (The CDs are plural, NOT possessive.)


It's and Its can be very confusing because it is one of the few times when a possessive form of a word DOES NOT have an apostrophe.

It's- contraction for IT IS
Its- possessive

I don't think it's a good idea to call. (Contraction)
Jealousy reared its ugly head. (Possessive)


This is another time when the possessive form is without an apostrophe which makes it confusing and easy to mess up.

Who's- contraction for WHO IS
Whose- possessive

Whose purse is this? (Possessive)
Who's going to pick up the tab? (Contraction)


When there is more than one person in possession, we only show the possession on the last person.  Every person's name does not need the possessive form.

RIGHT:  It is my mom and dad's anniversary
WRONG:  It is my mom's and dad's anniversary
RIGHT:  This is Emily, Sarah and Jane's apartment.
WRONG: This is Emily's, Sarah's and Jane's apartment.

An exception to this rule is when you are also talking of yourself.  In that case the first name has the apostrophe and you use my to show first person possessive.

RIGHT:  This is Brad's and my first date.
WRONG:  This is Brad and my first date.
ALSO WRONG:  This is Brad's and I's first date.  (I see I's used often because I don't think most people know what to do in this situation, but I's is never the answer.  IT IS NOT A WORD.)


I would say the majority of adults get these mixed up just because we've never learned the correct way or someone tried to teach it to us and it was very confusing so we just gave up and decided we didn't care.  Good news is there is a super easy trick:  if the answer to the question or statement  would be him or her, use whom.  If the answer would be he or she, use who.

Who/whom are you going to prom with?  (I am going with him so I should use whom)
Who/whom was just on the phone?  (She was just on the phone so I should use who)
To who/whom it may concern.  (It concerns him so I should use whom)

RIGHT:  With whom are you going to prom?
WRONG:  Who are you going to prom with?

RIGHT:  Who was just on the phone?
WRONG:  Whom was just on the phone

Also, this is easy to remember because Him ends with m just like whom ends with m.

8.  LAY/ LIE
This one I have to make a concentrated effort to remember every single time I use it.  To me it is the hardest and most confusing grammar rule EVER.

PRESENT TENSE                                                   PAST TENSE
Lay- to put something (or someone) down                Laid- to put something (or someone) down
Lie- to rest                                                             Lay- to rest

The confusion, of course, comes because the present tense of putting something down is the same as the past tense of resting.  Whoever made up this rule is just sick.

I remember the difference between the two words because you always lay tile.  You never lie tile.

Present:  When are we going to lay the carpet?
Past:  The carpet was laid yesterday.

Present:  All I want to do is lie down for a few minutes.
Past:  I lay down for three hours yesterday.  (This sounds incorrect which I think is why people mess it up all the time- it just sounds better to say laid.  But it's WRONG!)

I am going to lay myself down. (Correct because you are putting someone down, in this case yourself.)
I am going to lie down.

I laid the book on the counter when I walked in.
I lay down after I heard the terrible news.


These are some of the most commonly confused words in the English language.  My high school students mess them up constantly, and most adults aren't much better because IT IS SO CONFUSING!  Luckily, there is a pretty easy way to remember it that most people don't know.


If you are clear on the difference between a noun and a verb then that's all you need to know, but for a lot of people it can get pretty confusing once the word is in a sentence to identify if it's a verb or a noun.

A couple of tips to help you identify if it's a verb or noun:
- A verb is the only word in the English language that we conjugate.  That means we can add -ed to the end, -ing to the end of it or we can throw a have or has in front of the word and it still makes sense.  A verb will often have a to in front of it as well.
- If there is an "a" or a "the" in front of the word, it is a noun.

I couldn't believe the effect the drugs had on him.  (Here effect is a noun- it has "the" in front of it and it is a thing.)
I couldn't believe how the drugs affected him.  (In this case affected is a verb- it is an action and it can be conjugated- hence the -ed on the end.)
Just what kind of effect were you hoping to have?  (A noun- in this sentence effect is a thing.)
Just how were you hoping to affect him? (A verb- it has a "to" in front of it so that should tip you off that it's a verb.)

Let me know if you have more questions on this one- it can be really tricky but once it's clear in your head, you'll never go back!


Again, knowing the difference in these two words comes down to knowing what parts of speech they are.  Good is an adjective which means it describes a noun.  Well is an adverb which means it describes a verb. (Or sometimes an adjective or another adverb.)

In layman's terms:
Good- describes things or people
Well- describes actions

He plays basketball well.  (Describes plays- an action)
He is a good basketball player. (Describes basketball player- a thing.)
I am good. (Describes I- a person)
I am doing well. (Describes doing- an action.)

To help my students remember this I say that well describes verbs and w and v are right next to each other in the alphabet.


Defiant means boldly resistant or challenging.  Defiantly is the adverb form of it.
Definite means positive, certain or sure.  Definitely is the adverb form of it.

Definitely never ever has an a in it.  Ever.


Could of is not a phrase.  Nor is would of or should of.
Could have is a phrase.

The contraction form of could have is could've which sounds an awful lot like could of, which is why the mistake is made.  


Any that I missed?  Or any grammar questions you have always wondered but never dared ask?  Fire away in the comments and I will do my best to answer.  Also, if you are a lover of good grammar like myself, I would love it if you shared this post.  Let's educate the world and all start speaking correctly!


  1. And I am pinning this and sharing it on Twitter right now. These are such great reminders. I'm a grammar fiend and even slip up sometimes! We all do it!

  2. It boggles me that you had to clarify some of these. I will say effect/affect and who/whom are so confusing.

  3. With affect/effect I just change my sentence so I don't have to decide which is correct. Actually that's what I do with most of these.

    With whom and who I had heard that rule, but if you ask "with whom are you going to prom?" Can't you answer it "he is taking me to prom?" Maybe I overthink things. :)

    I don't understand why it's and its need to be different. Why can't the only right version be it's? Then no one would be confused because it is possessive and a contraction.

  4. I'm an editor, so I love posts like this that just try to educate people. I think some people just don't really care to learn though, which just boggles my mind because--credibility, people! Haha :) But even as an editor, I don't always follow the lay/lie and who/whom rules, just because so few people use them correctly, so they still sound kinda foreign to me. But one thing that people do wrong all the time that kinda drives me nuts is this:

    Right: Russ and I are going with them.
    Wrong: Russ and me are going with them.
    Right: They're coming with Russ and me.
    Wrong: They're coming with Russ and I.

    I recently explained this rule to my parents (both smart and educated people) and they said it was the first time they understood the rule. If it's the subject, it's "friend and I," but if it's the object, it's "friend and me." If you were to take your friend out of it, whichever one sounds correct alone is also correct with your friend. But people get it nailed into their heads in elementary school that "friend and I" is correct without getting much exposure to "friend and me."

    Okay, done with my addition now ;)

  5. What do you think about "try and" vs "try to"? I feel like everyone says try and like, "I will try and get there" when I think "I will try TO get there" makes so much more sense!! Am I crazy?? Help!!

  6. This is incredibly helpful even for someone who is a grammar nerd! I'm going to have to pin this so I can come back to it and use it with my freshman English students!

  7. THIS! This bugs me a lot too!

  8. Thank you Whitney! I really appreciate that!

  9. Yes, some are definitely simpler than others. You'd be surprised how long it took me to write this post- just to try to get everything as easily explained as possible!

  10. Great question Aubrey! With the who/whom you can't rephrase the sentence for it to work- with your example the second sentence was changed significantly which would explain why it would change which for you use (The question form would be WHO is taking you to prom? HE is taking me to prom.) You are restating the sentence, but can't change it... Let me know if that doesn't make any sense!

  11. Yes! I see this a lot! I was going to add that on there and then forgot, so I'm glad you included it here in the comments. Thanks Ashley!

  12. I have never in my entire life noticed this and now it is going to drive me bonkers until the day I die. So thanks for that! :) But yes, you are right, the correct form would be I will try to get there.

  13. Thank you! I appreciate that!

  14. YES. To all of this. I'm no English major but I do appreciate good grammar especially since it seems to be a bit rare these days. #4 reminded me of one of my college English classes where the instructor asked us to use "its" in possessive form in a sentence. The class went dead silent and no one had any clue (I was too shy so I didn't even bother to think of a sentence even though I can proudly say I know how to use "its" in a sentence) until one girl bravely spoke up and gave a sentence. She said: "Where are its glasses?" Everyone burst out laughing because yes, she used it correctly but what in the world was the "its" she was referring to? a dog? a robot? Still, nobody was able to offer any better sentences! :)

    P.S. I didn't bother to check my grammar in this comment- got lazy!

  15. Love this, Bonnie! Thank you! The most common errors I see are your/you're and there/their/they're and the me/I confusion drives me mad; easy way I remember is if I could remove the names and use 'we' then it's 'John and I', if I can remove the names and use 'us' then it's 'John and me' 😃

  16. This is actually really helpful. I'm pretty decent at grammar but I know I need a refresher sometimes! Also, Chicagoans are notorious for doing the whole "who are you going to pro, with?" thing, so I mess that up in my writing all of the time! I also feel like this is a good time to share that I hate the word "whom." Idk why, I just do. It bugs me.

  17. So much yes. Grammar FOREVER. Without even thinking twice about it, I once corrected my boyfriend's grammar in front of his mother... the first time I met her. I was mortified! I just knew she was going to think I was being rude. Luckily, she just laughed about it. :P

    The one I admit to struggling with is lay/lie. I KNOW the rule, but I always second guess myself.

  18. Great post!!! I was just explaining this to my sister and mom and few weeks ago...I think I'll have them read this---you explain it much better than I do!! :)

  19. I agree with one of the other commenters, I don't really care so much about lie/lay or who/whom because it's rarely used correctly so it feels/sounds foreign. Although, knowing whom/who is part of the fourth grade CCSS so, maybe it will become a priority again. A mistake that I frequently see people make is using the word apart when they mean a part. Example: I am so grateful to be apart of this community.

  20. This is wonderful! I come from a small farm town where we literally make up our own language and its sick. No one knows how to speak correctly, and I've recently been trying to better myself. Thanks for this post! There are simple mistakes that people make that do bother me (then, than mostly!) I need to refer this to my whole hometown!

  21. Thank you for this. There's nothing that irks me more than a grammatical error, especially in a blog post. I agree with you--yes, it happens, but when you're publishing content you should be taking the time to ensure that your post is error-free.

  22. I minored in English and I still can't quite nail down effect/affect, lol! Also, I just don't think I could ever bring myself to use "lay" instead of "laid" if I was saying "Yesterday I laid down and took a nap". It might be more proper, but I just can't do it! And I am a total grammar nerd, so that says a lot. :)

  23. Love this post! Every adult needs at least a cursory understanding of grammar. It gives your words credibility!

  24. It's because it sounds hoity-toity. haha

  25. Love this post (and your new commenting system too) :)

  26. I see you're/your/you are used incorrectly all across social media and it drives me up the wall. Truly, I don't get why it's so hard to keep them straight. (I'm so mean, haha.)

  27. OH MY GOODNESS I have been seeing this EVERYWHERE lately and it drives me nuts! Also the rare occasions where people use onto and into when the words should actually be broken up, which, of course, I can't think of an example of that at this time because that is so rare.

  28. As a person who probably gets a few of these wrong on the reg, I thank you. Affect/Effect will be the death of me.

  29. This was incredibly helpful! I def forgot a few of these since high school! Now if only I could commit them all to memory :)

  30. When I taught high school business I did lessons every week on "confusing words." The students would complain because it was so "elementary" and yet they were all constantly using the wrong their, there, they're, your, you're, etc. Drove me insane! Still does! The worst though was getting an email from the assistant principal using the wrong "there." Great post :)

  31. Typos are ok, they happen all the time. But the clinician at the place I work has no grasp of the English language. Here are some mistakes that got sent out in e-mails in the past WEEK:

    "texes" (plural of 'text'), "tram" (past tense of 'trim'), "when" (used in place of 'went', as in "when to the store"), "stake" (on a dinner menu), "make an effect" (instead of 'effort'), "use the internet to order items offline," "eras" (instead of 'areas'), "apart" (instead of 'a part', like "thanks for being apart of the team"), and my personal favorite, using ('s) to pluralize nouns (the dog's are hungry, the pillow's need to be washed).

    It's so embarrassing. Plus she's sending these out to doctors, judges, social workers, state representatives. How do you pass school and get a degree???!

  32. This is so fantastic, relevant, & useful. I learned these in journalism & them re-learned them when I started tutoring English. Some are simple mistakes but others can be little more difficult to remember. :] // ☼ ☯

  33. My English teacher way back when taught us a great rule for affect/effect: you should never have three Es in the word. So if you are writing, "He was effected by it," you have three Es and that's incorrect. It should read, "He was affected by it." Whenever I'm not sure, I imagine using the word in the past tense and that helps me figure out which word I should use.

    I'm a bit of a grammar fanatic - I make mistakes but it drives me crazy when people use grammar incorrectly! Another pet peeve of mine is when people write numbers. I was always taught that it should be spelled out if it's zero through nine, but anything over nine, you can use the numbers (although 0-9 would also be correct, because of the hyphen.) Unless you are starting a sentence with a number over ten; then it should also be spelled out (thirty people replied). Unless you are starting a sentence with a year, then the actual number is okay (1945 was a pivotal year for the Allied troops).

    Don't even get my started on punctuation and parentheses. I could write a book about my grammar pet peeves! Thanks for the great post, Bon. :)

  34. This is great! I teach English as a foreign language and will share this with my students. :-)

  35. I have a college degree and this was SO helpful, haha!

    xx Kelly
    Sparkles and Shoes

  36. This one makes me SOOOOOO upset. I don't know why :( I guess I'm a grammar snob!

  37. effect can actually be used as a verb, such as "That death effected a change in him".

  38. I know this may sound silly but why is basketball player a thing? Is it because he is the noun in the sentence or the subject? Please consider doing a blog on subject-verb agreement. I feel like I need to take a refresher course now. ugh... I am sharing this with others!

  39. Sorry, I can't help myself. "Effected" actually is a word. And as for the rule of never having three E's in a word, besides effected, how about deeded?

  40. If I see one more person write everyday when they should be writing every day, I am going to lose it! That is my contribution haha.

  41. The rule only applied to effected vs. affected, not other words with three Es. I know effected is a word as in "effected change" but that's not how people were using it in my sixth grade English class. They were writing, "I was deeply effected by my grandmother's death." Which is why she shared that rule. But I'll look my English teacher up on Facebook and let her know someone on the internet pointed out that she was wrong. Or not.

  42. affect= cause
    effect= results...

    Think about it like that ;)

  43. wrong....affected..

  44. "Definitely never ever has an a in it. Ever." THANK YOU! Biggest pet peeve!

    Great tips for remembering some of the others! Thanks!

  45. Thank you for sharing! I hate seeing you're/your mistakes as well as people ending sentences in prepositions! Drives me bonkers lol

  46. Bahaha on the "its" comment- I totally agree with you that it's hard to think of a use for it on the spot!

  47. The your/you're and there/their are EVERYWHERE, but when I wrote this I assumed that most people actually do know the difference, are just lazy when they write and don't bother to think about it. I hope that is the case, at least.

  48. I totally see your point, but I LOVE using whom! It's one of my favorite words in the English language- so weird and eccentric!

  49. BAHAHA on the correcting your bf's grammar in front of his mom. Reminds me of when Greg asked me if I liked his new haircut in front of his mom and I said right out, "Well why's it so short?" I felt like the biggest brat after that!

  50. Thank you Brianna!

  51. Wow! Who/whom is part of the 4th grade core now?! Maybe by the time I get them as juniors they'll actually be using it correctly?

  52. I do too! It's so funny because I asked on my fb page for some common grammar mistakes and all my peeps from my hometown said stuff like "I got them papers." Ha!

  53. I totally agree. That being said, it is sometimes so hard to see your own errors. I wish all blogs had an editor. The other day someone told me I had used the wrong stalk/stock and I went back to the post and read it THREE TIMES before I finally had to ctrl + find to even see where I had written the word stock. I think it's because we know what we were thinking when we wrote it, so we naturally read much faster and skip a lot of words. Who knows?

  54. Try it out once and see! I have found that it doesn't sound as weird as I think I does!

  55. Thank you! I am hoping the new commenting system is a win over all- still figuring out some kinks, but I do think it makes things easier over all. It definitely makes it easier for me to reply!

  56. Yes, the your/you're is probably used incorrectly the most. I didn't include it on this list because 1) it felt condescending to tell a bunch of adults what that means and 2) I do think 95% of the population KNOWS the rule, just doesn't think through it when writing or doesn't care.

  57. I know! Affect and effect are tricky for everyone!

  58. Yes that's definitely the tricky part!

  59. Yes, some students mix those up. It's because they don't read enough and they sound enough alike that they just think they're the same word? Who's to say!

  60. YES I am totally an office fan and I absolutely love that scene! So funny about Becks name... I agree that if I were to name a child with a name that ends in s that would be a major concern of mine too. I also always kind of wanted a last name that ends in s.

  61. I hear you. My students act like I'm insulting them when I go over your/you're. Then stop using it incorrectly!

  62. Haha! Oh geez, that sounds awful!

  63. I agree- the lay/lie one is the toughest for me!

  64. Great way to remember it for effected! And you are totally right about the numbers thing! I am thinking about doing another post on punctuation, but gosh, that's a whole different beast!

  65. I have never seen the word effected used. Not saying it isn't, but do you know when it's correct to use? I would love to know the share with my students.

  66. thank you! Glad it was helpful!

  67. I have never seen effect used as a verb. Do you know when it is? I'm not saying you're wrong- I would just love to know when and how it's used as a verb. Thanks!

  68. So glad to hear it!

  69. Sure, effect is generally a noun but can also be a verb. It means to cause or to bring about. Effected is most often heard in a sentence about effecting, or bringing about, change. Example: Many of the rules in our school were effected by the bad choices of students. You can see how "affected" would completely change the intent of that sentence.

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