We're all guilty of it – myself included.
It's that moment when you realize that your 9 year old son/daughter/niece/nephew/etc. may actually be smarter than you. (That's not really the case – they've just been learning this stuff much more recently than you, so they're very aware of all the rules.)
In this case, I'm talking about grammar.
Isn't it funny how sometimes it sounds perfect in your head – and then you actually write it down, and suddenly it's rubbish?
Don't feel bad. You're not alone. It has happened to me far too often.
Here's a quick tip: have someone else proofread your writing. Getting a second pair of eyes on it makes a huge difference.
And check out these eleven grammatical errors and see if you've made these mistakes. Be honest… (I'm guilty of at least three of these – this month!)
1) They're vs. Their vs. There
One's a contraction for “they are” (they're), one refers to something owned by a group (their), and one refers to a place (there). You know the difference among the three — just make sure you triple check that you're using the right ones in the right places at the right times. I find it's helpful to search through my posts (try control + F on PC or command + F on Mac) for those words and check that they're being used in the right context.
Correct Usage: They're going to love going there — I heard their food is the best!
2) Your vs. You're
The difference between these two is owning something versus actually being something:
You made it around the track in under a minute — you're fast!
How's your fast going? Are you hungry?
See the difference? “Your” is possessive and “you're” is a contraction of “you are.” Again, if you're having trouble keeping them straight, try doing another grammar check before you hit publish.
3) Its vs. It's
This one tends to confuse even the best of writers. “Its” is possessive and “it's” is a contraction of “it is.” Lots of people get tripped up because “it's” has an ‘s after it, which normally means something is possessive. But in this case, it's actually a contraction.
Do a control + F to find this mistake in your writing. It's really hard to catch on your own, but it's a mistake everyone can make.
4) Referring to a Brand or an Entity as “They”
A business ethics professor made me aware of this mistake. “A business is not plural,” he told our class. “Therefore, the business is not ‘they.' It's ‘it.'”
So, what's the problem with this sentence?
To keep up with their changing audience, Southwest Airlines rebranded in 2014.
The confusion is understandable. In English, we don't identify a brand or an entity as “he” or “she” — so “they” seems to make more sense. But as the professor pointed out, it's just not accurate. A brand or an entity is “it.”
To keep up with its changing audience, Southwest Airlines rebranded in 2014.
It might seem a little strange at first, but once you start correctly referring to a brand or entity as “it,” the phrasing will sound much more natural than “they.”
5) Affect vs. Effect
This one is another one of my pet peeves. Most people confuse them when they're talking about something changing another thing.
When you're talking about the change itself — the noun — you'll use “effect.”
That movie had a great effect on me.
When you're talking about the act of changing — the verb — you'll use “affect.”
That movie affected me greatly.
6) Peek vs. Peak vs. Pique
This mistake is another one I often see people make, even if they know what they mean.
- Peek is taking a quick look at something — like a sneak peek of a new film.
- Peak is a sharp point — like the peak of a mountain.
- And pique means to provoke or instigate — you know, like your interest.
If you're going to use one in your writing, stop and think for a second — is that the right “peek” you should be using?
7) “Alot” vs. A lot vs. Allot
I hate to break it to all of you “alot” fans out there, but “alot” is not a word. If you're trying to say that someone has a vast number of things, you'd say they have “a lot” of things. And if you're trying to say that you want to set aside a certain amount of money to buy something, you'd say you'll “allot” $20 to spend on gas.
If you're trying to remember to stay away from “alot,” check out this awesome cartoon by Hyperbole and a Half featuring the alot. That face will haunt you for the rest of your content marketing days.
8) Into vs. In to
Let's clarify the “into” versus “in to” debate.
They're often confused, but “into” indicates movement (Lindsay walked into the office) while “in to” is used in lots of situations because the individual words “to” and “in” are frequently used in other parts of a sentence. For example, “to” is often used with infinitive verbs (e.g. “to drive”). Or “in” can be used as part of a verb (e.g. “call in to a meeting”).
So if you're trying to decide which to use, first figure out if the words “in” or “to” actually modify other words in the sentence. If they don't, ask yourself if it's indicating some sort of movement — if it does, you're good to use “into.”
9) Possessive Nouns
Most possessive nouns will have an apostrophe — but where you put that apostrophe can be confusing. Here are a few general rules to follow:
- If the noun is plural, add the apostrophe after the s. For example: the dogs' bones.
- If the noun is singular and ends in s, you should also put the apostrophe after the s. For example: the dress' blue color.
- On the other hand, if the noun is singular and doesn't end in an s, you'll add the apostrophe before the s. For example: the lizard's tail.
10) i.e. vs. e.g.
Confession: I never remember this rule, so I have to Google it every single time I want to use it in my writing. I'm hoping that by writing about it here, the trend will stop.
Many people use the terms interchangeably when trying to elaborate on a point, but each one means something different: “i.e.” roughly means “that is” or “in other words,” while “e.g.” means “example given” or “for example.” The former is used to clarify something you've said, while the latter adds color to a story through an example.
11) Who vs. Whom vs. Whose vs. Who's
Whoa. This one looks like a bit of a doozy. Let's break it down, shall we?
“Who” is used to identify a living pronoun. If you asked, “Who ate all of the cookies?” the answer could be a person, like myself (“I did”), or another living being (“the dog did”).
Hey, both are realistic scenarios in my world.
“Whom” is a little trickier. It's usually used to describe someone who's receiving something, like a letter — “To whom will it be addressed?” But it can also be used to describe someone on the receiving end of an action, like in this sentence:
Whom did we hire to join the podcast team?
“Whose” is used to assign ownership to someone. See if you can spot the error in this question:
Who's sweater is that?
Because the sweater belongs to someone, it should actually be written this way:
Whose sweater is that?
“Who's,” on the other hand, is used to identify a living being. It's a contraction for “who is” — here's an example of how we might use it in a sentence here in Boston:
Who's pitching for the Red Sox tonight?
See the difference? “Whose” is used to figure out who something belongs to, whereas “who's” is used to identify someone who's doing something.