Originally posted July 12, 2006
First off, let me acknowledge that my English ain’t perfect. (Get it?) That said, it’s pretty damn good. And when I make grammatical errors, it’s usually on purpose and I’m aware that I’m using something incorrectly. In those cases, I’m only doing it because I don’t really care and it’s not something I’d label as an egregious mistake. (I don’t make spelling errors, period! Well, OK… maybe once.) I will also acknowledge that English is not a fixed language, and that the rules of its use are arbitrary and subject to permutation. (And, of course, I’m sure anyone outside the U.S. who’s reading this will find the title itself to be unacceptable. Too bad! I’m an American! I get to be an arrogant jerk at least once in a while!)
With all of those qualifiers and disclaimers out of the way, let’s get down to business. There’s a difference between novel usage (and I’ll even let 1337 pass in that context) and just plain boneheaded errors though, and the latter is what I’m dealing with here. This page will be updated periodically as I encounter (or remember) errors of speech or (more commonly) writing that I simply find intolerable. (Split infinitives and dangling participles are OK. And so is beginning a sentence with a conjunction.)
These errors fall into three distinct categories: spelling, word usage and grammar. (We’ll skip the matter of whether to use a comma before “and” in a list, as I’m at a point of transition on this matter personally.) OK, maybe they’re not really so distinct. But that’s how I’m slicin’ ’em up anyway.
I will not bother to offer the correct spellings of these words. Look ’em up!
This is a bit of a nebulous category, as sometimes it’s hard to tell whether what you’re dealing with is a spelling error or a grammatical error. In fact it’s a mixture of both, because often it involves spelling a word incorrectly, but in a way that happens to be another legitimate word; it’s just one that’s incorrect for the context.
- Apostrophes in plurals
- Granted, I am a super-genius, but I got this rule back when I first learned it in elementary school. Is it really that hard to tell the difference between a plural and a possessive? Apparently so. Of course, we also have the confounding situation of “its”/”it’s,” where the posessive does not contain an apostrophe. But then again, the one with the apostrophe is a contraction, not a plural.
- “Alot” vs. “a lot”
- Have too many things to count? That sounds like “a lot” to me. You’d better “alot” plenty of time for the task.
- “Everyday” vs. “every day”
- This is an “everyday” mistake. In fact, I encounter it almost “every day.” Since that one’s still a bit opaque, I’ll suspend the witticisms. “Everyday” is an adjective. You can’t do something “everyday,” unless “everyday” is describing the something and not when you’re doing it.
- “Formally” vs. “formerly”
- Both are legitimate and useful words. However, despite similar (or, depending on your accent, identical) pronunciation, they mean two completely different things. Yet I am amazed at how often I see “formally” used in cases where the intended meaning is clearly “formerly.” I have yet to see the reverse mistake.
- “Of” in place of “have”
- I know you generally don’t really get into dissecting parts of speech until junior high school, long after most Americans have completely tuned out, but just think for a minute. “Have” is a verb. “Of” is a preposition. You can “think of” something, but you can’t “must of” or “could of” something!
- “To” instead of “too”
- *Sigh* Do we really even need to get into this? I’ll admit this is an easy one to slip into, as I often do it myself if I’m not paying enough attention. (Therefore, if even I am susceptible to the error, it must be more excusable.) Just remember, there are “too” many o’s in “too.” (Yes, there also happen to be “two” o’s in “too” whereas there is only one in “two.” But… ah, forget it.)
I don’t have any for this section yet, but I’m sure I’ll think of some any minute now…
More to come! Be sure to use the comment form to suggest any I’ve forgotten!