While recently editing a client’s work, I came across the following blunder:
“Diana has a huge heart. She’s a very kind and genital person.”
Oh boy…A mistake like that is why you should not EVER trust the a computer spell checker to effectively edit your work. Spell check won’t catch an error like that, because genital is in fact a word, just not the correct word for that sentence (funny aside: when I showed that error to Toni she said, “does that mean she’s ballsy?”).
The same goes for grammar. While most word processors have some sort of built-in grammar checker (that annoying green squiggly line that pops up under words), it’s not something you can effectively rely on to catch all of your grammar slip-ups and misunderstandings.
But fear not! We’re going to address a few of the common grammar mistakes and give you a few resources where you can get help and advice on avoiding a few more.
5 Common Grammar Mistakes
- When someone says to you, “Hey, did you see the latest story about Spencer and Heidi?” you probably respond by rolling your eyes and stating some version of the following phrase: “Puh-lease. I could care LESS about those half-wits.” Now, I will admit, it is misleading for me to put this blunder on a list of grammatical travesties because technically, that phrase is not grammatically incorrect, but it is offensive to logic and I will not allow it to continue. Think about it–if you COULD care LESS about something, then that means you care about something. It may not be much, but you have to care a little if it means you could in fact care less. The expression should be “I COULD NOT CARE LESS!” Practice with me: “I could NOT care less!” That means that I care so very little that it is literally impossible to care LESS.
- Okay, moving on to the real grammatical travesties, let’s bring up another sore subject for the grammar gestapo, the word “irregardless.” Or should I say, the non-word “irregardless.” Yeah, that’s right, irregardless is NOT A WORD. Regardless is a word. Regardless means what people think that “irregardless” means–without regard. So think of it like this, irregardless is a unicorn, regardless is a horse. One of them is real, the other is not.
- Let’s take a moment here to reflect on the grammatical gem that is very near and dear to my heart–the apostrophe. I have an almost familial relationship with apostrophes because I’ve grown up with one in my last name. But many people struggle with apostrophes in words like it’s, you’re, they’re, and then of course there is the age-old plural apostrophe debacle. Let’s break down very quickly:
- Contractions: If you are combining two words into one word, you use an apostrophe. If you are turning “can not” into “can’t” there’s an apostrophe. “They are” is “they’re” with an apostrophe. “You are” is “you’re” with an apostrophe. The apostrophe is like the glue that bonds the two words together into one. If you’re still confused, watch School House Rock.
- Plural Possession: In almost ALL cases, when talking about something (a noun) that belongs to someone (also a noun) there is an apostrophe involved. That is Joe’s book, Mrs. Smith’s apple, Karen’s hemorrhoid ointment. When the object belongs to multiple people (or an individual whose name ends in “s”) then the apostrophe comes after the name. That is the Jones’ backyard, the Calhouns’ pet dinosaur, or Gus’ favorite cologne.
- When contractions and plural possession collide: When the two rules above collide, it turns into a catastrophe known as the it’s/its conundrum. Here’s what you need to know: it’s is a contraction. Always. When you see “it’s” written on something it stands for “it is.” ALWAYS. In every other case, when you are referring to something belonging to “it” there is NO apostrophe. That is its key to the hotel room, its nest in the tree, its way of telling you to go away.
- Moving along, our fourth grammar travesty is the ever popular mistake of ending a sentence in a preposition. If you want to look extra word nerdy at your next social function, when someone asks you “Where are you at?” respond: “Right behind that preposition!” (HA!) While that’s the most common way this blunder is committed, other popular sentence ending prepositions include: with, of, and to. So next time you’re writing, instead of saying “That’s the person I need to talk to” –say– “I need to talk to that person.” Reword the sentence and you won’t be the punch line of a bad grammar joke.
- Finally, we end with my biggest grammatical pet peeve: the difference between good and well. If you take one thing away from this blog, it should be this. Good is an adjective used to describe nouns. Well is an adverb used to describe verbs. Therefore, things are good–ice cream is good, people are good, Casey James is the only person on this season of American Idol who is good. But what we do, we do well–I slept well, you performed well, this blog is written well (or well written). There are of course exceptions to this rule, particularly when it comes to describing how you feel. Technically proper grammar dictates that when someone asks “How are you?” your response should be, “Very well, thanks!” But it’s become common slang to use “good” instead to describe how we feel (thank you, James Brown).
If you still have some questions about common grammar mishaps, here are a few resources for you to bookmark for future reference:
You can also e-mail or tweet your grammar questions to @duolit and we’ll either answer them ourselves or point you in the direction of a more qualified source of grammar knowledge!
P.S. – IT’S COULD *NOT* CARE LESS! COULD *NOT* CARE LESS! COULD *NOT* CARE LESS!