As a writer, bad grammar, spelling and punctuation (GSP) always makes me cringe. It happens to the best of us, and it can be not only embarrassing but possibly also harmful to our credibility (when it occurs in excess). If you care about correct, error-free writing then diligent and thorough proofreading should be a part of your writing process.
Some of the most common writing errors I see involve people using one word when they meant something else. Homophones are words with the same pronunciation but different meanings and they are the reason why you shouldn’t depend solely on the spell check function. Word processors don’t detect incorrect homophone usage, so it’s best to commit to memory the differences between the most commonly misused words.
The rules of grammar can be confusing and difficult to remember, so writing errors can happen to the best of us and stems either from negligence or ignorance. Inspired by the number of aggravated grammar-related tweets that my public relations professor sends out while grading, I compiled a list of common writing errors with tips for remembering the correct word choice.
Possessive words vs. contractions:
Its vs. it’s – Its shows possession while it’sis a contraction of it is.
- Tip: If you can replace the word in question with it is and the sentence still makes sense then use it’s, otherwise use its. This tip is relevant to the following homophones below as well.
- Example: It’s (It is) a good thing the dog found its way home.
Their vs. there vs. they’re – Their is a possessive pronoun, there can be used as an adverb or noun
- Example: Their alma mater is UNT. They’re (they are) attending the commencement ceremony. There will be hundreds of students graduating this semester.
Your vs. you’re – Your is a possessive pronoun while you’re is a contraction of you are.
- Example: Once you finish your finals, you’re officially done with school.
Whose vs. who’s – Whose is the possessive form of who or which while who’s is a contraction of who is.
- Example: The artist, whose paintings were showcased in the gallery, also lives in the area. Who’s bringing the wine?
Commonly Misused Homophones:
Complimentary vs. complementary – Things that complimentary are either free or flattering; things that are complementary complete a set or matches a pair.
- Tip: Complimentary contains the word compliment, and compliments are free. “Complement” and the descriptive word “enhance” both contain the letter “e”.
- Example: My complimentary latte and this wood fire are very complementary with the chilly morning.
Affect vs. effect – Affect is a verb while effect is a noun.
- Tip: Affect is a verb that shows ACTION; and both “affect” and “action” contain the letter “a”.
- Example: Pet dander severely affects my allergies. The effect usually includes sneezing and scratchy eyes.
Accept vs. except – Accept is a verb that means “to receive or admit” while except is a preposition that means “excluding”.
- Tip: Try replacing the word with “exclude”. If the sentence still makes sense then use except, otherwise use accept.
- Example: I always accept your movie invitations, except when I have to study.
Assure vs. ensure vs. insure – Assure is something you do to things that are alive (like people and animals). Ensure means to guarantee something.
- Tip: Use “assure” for things that are alive (both contain “a”). “Ensure” and its meaning “guarantee” both contain “e”. Insure is reserved for financial liability.
- Example: I assured my supervisor that our team would ensure that the safety of the customers, so we insured the bounce house.
Stationery vs. stationary – Stationery is a noun while stationary is an adjective.
- Tip: I remember that write on stationery, and both “write” and “stationery” have the letter “e”. “Stationary” and “adjective” both contain the letter “a”.
- Example: Writers use stationery. A stationary object isn’t moving.
Lay vs. lie – Lay requires a direct object while lie does not.
- Tip: Remember the phrase “lay it on me.” In the sentence, lay has an object: it.
- Example: I lay down the blanket and we lie in the sunshine (blanket is the direct object of lay).
Who vs. whom – Both are pronouns, but who refers to the subject of the sentence while whom refers to its object.
- Tip: Remember that him equal whom. Try rearranging the sentence and replacing the word with him. If the sentence still makes sense then the correct word to use is whom.
- Example: Whom did you call? I called the person who manages the business.
To wrap up this post, I have a funny comic that bluntly addresses English and writing. After reading this, you should when it’s acceptable to use certain words like “irregardless” and “definately” (the correct answer to both is NEVER!).