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
2. GENERAL POSSESSIVES.
Oh, the dreaded confusing possessives!
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!)
3. POSSESSIVES- DECADES AND ABBREVIATIONS
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.)
4. POSSESSIVES- ITS/ IT'S
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
I don't think it's a good idea to call. (Contraction)
Jealousy reared its ugly head. (Possessive)
5. POSSESSIVES- WHO'S/ WHOSE
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 purse is this? (Possessive)
Who's going to pick up the tab? (Contraction)
6. COMPOUND OR JOINT POSSESSIVES
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.)
7. WHO/ WHOM
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.
9. AFFECT/ EFFECT
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!
10. GOOD/ WELL
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.
11. DEFIANTLY/ DEFINITELY
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.
12. COULD OF/ COULD HAVE
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.
Just to clear this up- COULD OF, WOULD OF, SHOULD OF ARE NEVER RIGHT.
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!