Monday, November 4, 2013

8 Common Grammar Mistakes You Should Never Make Again

By Gini Dietrich

  1. Affect vs. effect. The easiest way to remember the difference between the two is that "affect" means "to influence." So if you're going to influence something, you will affect it. If it's the result of something, it's an effect.
  2. Impact. Impact is a noun, not a verb. A plane can crash on impact. You can have an impact on something. But you cannot impact something. (When you are tempted to use "impact" as a verb, use "affect" instead; see #1.)
  3. Their, they're and there. You'd think everyone would have learned this rule in fourth grade, but it's a very common mistake. Use "there" when referring to a location, "their" to indicate possession, and "they're" when you mean to say "they are."
  4. Care less. The dismissive "I could care less" is incorrect. If you could care less about it, then you're saying you could care less about the topic, and you've lost the impact you meant to have. To use this phrase correctly, insert the word "not" after the word "could," as in, "I could not care less."
  5. Irregardless. This word doesn't exist. The word you should use is "regardless."
  6. Your and you're. Another mistake you'll often see in people's social media profiles or other content they create is the incorrect us of "your" and "you're." If you mean to say "you are," the correct word is "you're." Use "your" when referring to something that belongs to "you," as in "your business."
  7. Fewer vs. less. Another common mistake, "less" refers to quantity and "fewer" to a number. For instance, Facebook has fewer than 5,000 employees, but I got less sleep than you last night.
  8. Quotation marks. Among the great debates, people ask all the time whether or not punctuation belongs inside or outside of quotation marks. Let's set the record straight. The period and the comma always go inside quotation marks. The dash, the semicolon, the exclamation mark and the question mark go inside when they apply to the quoted matter (if it's not the entire sentence) but outside when they apply to the whole sentence


  1. Numbers 2, 4 and 7 make me think Gina has a bit too much time on her hands. And she didn't include "to, too and two" on her list?

  2. He is incorrect on quotation marks as used in legal documents. If you are quoting a definition or phrase in a contract, punctuation goes outside the quotes. If you are in a brief and quoting a document, then yes punctuation goes inside the quotes.

  3. Number four is not a grammar error even when used incorrectly. Correctly used, it is a sarcastic rejoinder, but even when sarcastic intent is not evident it violates no rules of English language construction. Sorry, Gini, but a fail on your part.

    1. I think "Irony" is an apt description of "could care less", so I guess "sarcastic irony"?

  4. The dictionary on OS X says she's full of shit on #2 (ironically).

    1 the force of the impact: collision, crash, smash, bump, bang, knock.
    2 the job losses will have a major impact: effect, influence, significance, meaning; consequences, repercussions, ramifications, reverberations.

    1 a comet impacted the earth sixty million years ago: crash into, smash into, collide with, hit, strike, ram, smack into, bang into, slam into.
    2 high interest rates have impacted retail spending: affect, influence, have an effect on, make an impression on; hit, touch, change, alter, modify, transform, shape.

  5. I also take issue with No. 2, it assumes a static nature to English nouns and verbs that in fact does not exist, and never has. What next, is she going to haul the old "never end a sentence with a preposition" out? (Flying in the face of all Germanic linguistics, note to 19th Century English grammarians, English syntax is not Latin-derived) "I spoke to that gentlemen off in whose van those boys were whacking." (Quote: Beavis and Butt-Head do America)

  6. I disagree with impact not being a verb. So does Merriam-Webster:

  7. I agree that number 4 isn't a grammar error, but it still makes me cringe when I hear it for the reason given.

    One thing that drives me nuts (maybe I have too much time on my hands as well) involves verb-adverb pairs that become nouns. Generally the two get hyphenated and then eventually the hyphen is dropped and one word, the noun, is formed. For example, if you "set up" something what you end up with is a "setup". Same with pay off, round up, kick off, log in, etc. No problem here, but I very often see people subsequently write a single word for the original the verb-adverb usage. As in "I'm going to setup my computer". Wrong, wrong, wrong! With this usage, it should be two words. And you know it's wrong if you try different tenses, as in "I'm setupping my computer" or "I'm loginning". What makes it worse is that fairly intelligent people seem to be the worst offenders. Anyway thanks for letting me blowoff a little steam.

  8. #4. This drives me crazy when people say this. Most do. The rest of the list, I could care less.:)

  9. It bothers me that floundering seems to have become an acceptable replacement for foundering.

  10. 1) Sure.
    2) Impact has been used as a verb for a couple centuries now (Samuel Taylor Coleridge used it!). It's universally understood by native speakers. I do not understand the peeve against it. Nouns naturally move to verbs in English (linguists have written books on the subject), and usage often moves from concrete to figurative. To "coin" for instance, which originally referred to a unit of money. It entered English around the 12th century. Later, it became a verb, "to coin", to make money. Later still, the verb began to be used in a figurative sense, as in "to coin a phrase". Thousands and thousands of English words have done this over the centuries. Why is it the only one people object to is "impact"?
    3) Spelling. Nothing to do with grammar.
    4) That's called an "idiom". It's like "head over heels" can mean upside down.
    5) You may not like it, but it's certainly a word. The mere fact that we can talk about it and understand what's meant proves its existence.
    6) Spelling. Nothing to do with grammar.
    7) A matter of formality, and mostly a very modern peeve, not grammar per se. "Less" has been used with countables for over a thousand years. In good edited prose, "less than [x] countables" and "[x] countables or less" outnumber "fewer" in the 18th and 19th century. "[X] [countable noun] or fewer" is almost non-existent in English before the early 20th century. Try searching on Google Books!
    8) A typesetting style issue, not grammar. And furthermore, only predominately true for American English. The blanket statement "punctuation always goes inside quotations" is explicitly wrong in Canadian, Australian, and British English. And, amusingly, it mostly derives from inferior typesetting and metallurgy in the American publishing industry, compared to what was available in Europe.

  11. Here's another list, developed by a hardline faction of the University of Chicago's secretive Grammar Council: "7 grammar mistakes that make others want to take a shovel to your face"