20 Common Grammar Mistakes That (Almost) Everyone Makes


I’ve edited a monthly magazine for more than six years, and it’s a job that’s come with more frustration than reward. If there’s one thing I am grateful for — and it sure isn’t the pay — it’s that my work has allowed endless time to hone my craft to Louis Skolnick levels of grammar geekery.

As someone who slings red ink for a living, let me tell you: grammar is an ultra-micro component in the larger picture; it lies somewhere in the final steps of the editing trail; and as such it’s an overrated quasi-irrelevancy in the creative process, perpetuated into importance primarily by bitter nerds who accumulate tweed jackets and crippling inferiority complexes. But experience has also taught me that readers, for better or worse, will approach your work with a jaundiced eye and an itch to judge. While your grammar shouldn’t be a reflection of your creative powers or writing abilities, let’s face it — it usually is.

Below are 20 common grammar mistakes I see routinely, not only in editorial queries and submissions, but in print: in HR manuals, blogs, magazines, newspapers, trade journals, and even best selling novels. If it makes you feel any better, I’ve made each of these mistakes a hundred times, and I know some of the best authors in history have lived to see these very toadstools appear in print. Let's hope you can learn from some of their more famous mistakes.

Who and Whom

This one opens a big can of worms. “Who” is a subjective — or nominative — pronoun, along with "he," "she," "it," "we," and "they." It’s used when the pronoun acts as the subject of a clause. “Whom” is an objective pronoun, along with "him," "her," "it", "us," and "them." It’s used when the pronoun acts as the object of a clause. Using “who” or “whom” depends on whether you’re referring to the subject or object of a sentence. When in doubt, substitute “who” with the subjective pronouns “he” or “she,” e.g., Who loves you? cf., He loves me. Similarly, you can also substitute “whom” with the objective pronouns “him” or “her.” e.g., I consulted an attorney whom I met in New York. cf., I consulted him.

Which and That

This is one of the most common mistakes out there, and understandably so. “That” is a restrictive pronoun. It’s vital to the noun to which it’s referring.  e.g., I don’t trust fruits and vegetables that aren’t organic. Here, I’m referring to all non-organic fruits or vegetables. In other words, I only trust fruits and vegetables that are organic. “Which” introduces a relative clause. It allows qualifiers that may not be essential. e.g., I recommend you eat only organic fruits and vegetables, which are available in area grocery stores. In this case, you don’t have to go to a specific grocery store to obtain organic fruits and vegetables. “Which” qualifies, “that” restricts. “Which” is more ambiguous however, and by virtue of its meaning is flexible enough to be used in many restrictive clauses. e.g., The house, which is burning, is mine. e.g., The house that is burning is mine.

Lay and Lie

This is the crown jewel of all grammatical errors. “Lay” is a transitive verb. It requires a direct subject and one or more objects. Its present tense is “lay” (e.g., I lay the pencil on the table) and its past tense is “laid” (e.g., Yesterday I laid the pencil on the table). “Lie” is an intransitive verb. It needs no object. Its present tense is “lie” (e.g., The Andes mountains lie between Chile and Argentina) and its past tense is “lay” (e.g., The man lay waiting for an ambulance). The most common mistake occurs when the writer uses the past tense of the transitive “lay” (e.g., I laid on the bed) when he/she actually means the intransitive past tense of “lie" (e.g., I lay on the bed).


Contrary to common misuse, “moot” doesn’t imply something is superfluous. It means a subject is disputable or open to discussion. e.g., The idea that commercial zoning should be allowed in the residential neighborhood was a moot point for the council.

Continual and Continuous

They’re similar, but there’s a difference. “Continual” means something that's always occurring, with obvious lapses in time. “Continuous” means something continues without any stops or gaps in between. e.g., The continual music next door made it the worst night of studying ever. e.g., Her continuous talking prevented him from concentrating.

Envy and Jealousy

The word “envy” implies a longing for someone else’s good fortunes. “Jealousy” is far more nefarious. It’s a fear of rivalry, often present in sexual situations. “Envy” is when you covet your friend’s good looks. “Jealousy” is what happens when your significant other swoons over your good-looking friend.


“Nor” expresses a negative condition. It literally means "and not." You’re obligated to use the “nor” form if your sentence expresses a negative and follows it with another negative condition. “Neither the men nor the women were drunk” is a correct sentence because “nor” expresses that the women held the same negative condition as the men. The old rule is that “nor” typically follows “neither,” and “or” follows “either.” However, if neither “either” nor “neither” is used in a sentence, you should use “nor” to express a second negative, as long as the second negative is a verb. If the second negative is a noun, adjective, or adverb, you would use “or,” because the initial negative transfers to all conditions. e.g., He won’t eat broccoli or asparagus. The negative condition expressing the first noun (broccoli) is also used for the second (asparagus).

May and Might

“May” implies a possibility. “Might” implies far more uncertainty. “You may get drunk if you have two shots in ten minutes” implies a real possibility of drunkenness. “You might get a ticket if you operate a tug boat while drunk” implies a possibility that is far more remote. Someone who says “I may have more wine” could mean he/she doesn't want more wine right now, or that he/she “might” not want any at all. Given the speaker’s indecision on the matter, “might” would be correct.

Whether and If 

Many writers seem to assume that “whether” is interchangeable with “if." It isn’t. “Whether” expresses a condition where there are two or more alternatives. “If” expresses a condition where there are no alternatives. e.g., I don’t know whether I’ll get drunk tonight. e.g., I can get drunk tonight if I have money for booze.

Fewer and Less

“Less” is reserved for hypothetical quantities. “Few” and “fewer” are for things you can quantify. e.g., The firm has fewer than ten employees. e.g., The firm is less successful now that we have only ten employees.

Farther and Further

The word “farther” implies a measurable distance. “Further” should be reserved for abstract lengths you can't always measure. e.g., I threw the ball ten feet farther than Bill. e.g., The financial crisis caused further implications.

Since and Because

“Since” refers to time. “Because” refers to causation. e.g., Since I quit drinking I’ve married and had two children. e.g., Because I quit drinking I no longer wake up in my own vomit.

Disinterested and Uninterested

Contrary to popular usage, these words aren’t synonymous. A “disinterested” person is someone who’s impartial. For example, a hedge fund manager might take interest in a headline regarding the performance of a popular stock, even if he's never invested in it. He’s “disinterested,” i.e., he doesn’t seek to gain financially from the transaction he’s witnessed. Judges and referees are supposed to be "disinterested." If the sentence you’re using implies someone who couldn't care less, chances are you’ll want to use “uninterested.”


Unless you’re frightened of them, you shouldn’t say you’re “anxious to see your friends.” You’re actually “eager,” or "excited." To be “anxious” implies a looming fear, dread or anxiety. It doesn’t mean you’re looking forward to something.

Different Than and Different From

This is a tough one. Words like “rather” and “faster” are comparative adjectives, and are used to show comparison with the preposition “than,” (e.g., greater than, less than, faster than, rather than). The adjective “different” is used to draw distinction. So, when “different” is followed by a  preposition, it should be “from,” similar to “separate from,” “distinct from,” or “away from.” e.g., My living situation in New York was different from home. There are rare cases where “different than” is appropriate, if “than” operates as a conjunction. e.g., Development is different in New York than in Los Angeles. When in doubt, use “different from.”

Bring and Take

In order to employ proper usage of “bring” or “take,” the writer must know whether the object is being moved toward or away from the subject. If it is toward, use “bring.” If it is away, use “take.” Your spouse may tell you to “take your clothes to the cleaners.” The owner of the dry cleaners would say “bring your clothes to the cleaners.”


It isn't a word. "Impact" can be used as a noun (e.g., The impact of the crash was severe) or a transitive verb (e.g., The crash impacted my ability to walk or hold a job). "Impactful" is a made-up buzzword, colligated by the modern marketing industry in their endless attempts to decode the innumerable nuances of human behavior into a string of mindless metrics. Seriously, stop saying this.

Affect and Effect

Here’s a trick to help you remember: “Affect” is almost always a verb (e.g., Facebook affects people’s attention spans), and “effect” is almost always a noun (e.g., Facebook's effects can also be positive). “Affect” means to influence or produce an impression — to cause hence, an effect. “Effect” is the thing produced by the affecting agent; it describes the result or outcome. There are some exceptions. “Effect” may be used as a transitive verb, which means to bring about or make happen. e.g., My new computer effected a much-needed transition from magazines to Web porn. There are similarly rare examples where “affect” can be a noun. e.g., His lack of affect made him seem like a shallow person.

Irony and Coincidence

Too many people claim something is the former when they actually mean the latter. For example, it’s not “ironic” that “Barbara moved from California to New York, where she ended up meeting and falling in love with a fellow Californian.” The fact that they’re both from California is a "coincidence." "Irony" is the incongruity in a series of events between the expected results and the actual results. "Coincidence" is a series of events that appear planned when they’re actually accidental. So, it would be "ironic" if “Barbara moved from California to New York to escape California men, but the first man she ended up meeting and falling in love with was a fellow Californian.”


Undoubtedly the most common mistake I encounter. Contrary to almost ubiquitous misuse, to be “nauseous” doesn’t mean you’ve been sickened: it actually means you possess the ability to produce nausea in others. e.g., That week-old hot dog is nauseous. When you find yourself disgusted or made ill by a nauseating agent, you are actually “nauseated.” e.g., I was nauseated after falling into that dumpster behind the Planned Parenthood. Stop embarrassing yourself.

If you’re looking for a practical, quick guide to proper grammar, I suggest the tried-and-true classic The Elements of Style, by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White. A few of these examples are listed in the book, and there are plenty more. Good luck!

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Jon Gingerich

Column by Jon Gingerich

Jon Gingerich is editor of O'Dwyer's magazine in New York. His fiction has been published in literary journals such as The Oyez Review, Pleiades, Helix Magazine, as well as The New York Press, London’s Litro magazine, and many others. He currently writes about politics and media trends at www.odwyerpr.com. Jon holds an MFA in creative writing from The New School. Some of his published fiction can be found at www.jongingerich.com.

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Brendan Frost's picture
Brendan Frost October 23, 2013 - 5:26am

If you're going to get on a prescriptivist high horse and write an article about grammar mistakes, at least try looking up each claim before you make it.

Nauseous does, and has for hundreds of years, mean "affected with nausea." In fact, while you say it's one of the most common mistakes you encounter, I say it's one of the most common soapboxes stood upon by they who fancy themselves grammarians.

Trishe's picture
Trishe October 29, 2013 - 12:47pm

Comment for Common English errors - What about their, there & they're?  I love this article and will keep it in my important to know file.  Wait til all the texting abbreviations infiltrate our books, magazines and newspapers!  Heaven forbid when those texters get employed in offices!  Trishe

Pierdae's picture
Pierdae November 11, 2013 - 6:42am

I absolutely love this article, very useful!!! This was very helpful. I will be showing this to my students and my classmates. I have been using "moot" wrong. My teacher would always use "moot" and I picked it up from her. 

rhymetraveler's picture
rhymetraveler November 20, 2013 - 10:00pm



As a huge grammar geek I need to point out several flaws in the article.


1) Nauseous has been in use to describe one who is sick or prone to sickness longer than it has been in use to describe an object that causes sickness - the first definition's earliest uses predate the second's by around 10 years.

2) Your example of Irony in Irony vs Coincidince is an example of coincidince, not irony :) Irony would involve Striessand's intent in moving to New York being to meet Californian men, while she says she is moving to escape Californian men.

3) Impactful - I'm not sure how you feel about law of common usage but this term has been in use for more than 40 years, significantly longer than several words which have been officially added to the English lexicon.

4) Your section on "Anxious" is rather odd. Anxiety as both medically and conventionally defined is a feeling of eager or agitated desire, uneasiness, nervousness, restlesness, or irritability. Fear is not a part of the anxiety spectrum.

5) Farther vs Further: You're correct here but the explanation is rather convoluted. Further is not so much used for "abstracts" that you cannot measure, but rather relative measurements, "X went further than Y" - relative distances instead of measured distances.

6) May vs Might couldn't be further from the truth, might is the past-tense form of may. "Might you have moved the candlestick?" as opposed to "May you move the candlestick [in the future]?"

7) You're correct that envy and jealousy are separate entities, but you're not correct about what they are :) Envy is a feeling, jealousy is the state of being envious. There is an important distinction to make between their uses, but it is not made correctly in the article.

StevieG's picture
StevieG November 21, 2013 - 11:56am

I have to disagree with you about nauseous.

According to my Collins Dictionary nauseous is an adjective meaning: "as if about to be sick."

According to the latest Chambers Dictionary (12th edition), one of the meanings of nauseous is "affected by nausea."

Please stop propagating the myth that this usage is incorrect. (You might want to get down from your high horse about it, too.) And, by the way, this meaning has been around for a century or so....


RSWallace's picture
RSWallace November 21, 2013 - 8:37pm

Disappointing diatribe on "irony". See Fowler for the best description ever, except that after disqualifying all of the commonest examples he offers only "rum" to describe the delicious incongruities typically called "ironic".

RSWallace's picture
RSWallace November 21, 2013 - 8:42pm

The most succinct distinction of jealousy and envy I have encountered is "Jealousy is covetousness of something you have; envy is covetousness you don't have."

Kim in Korea's picture
Kim in Korea November 24, 2013 - 3:19am

To Admin:  Don't say that,  "speakers of most dialects of English almost never put the verb first, except in certain classes of questions."  Stop make wrong generalizations. Get things straight.



Hemophoria's picture
Hemophoria November 24, 2013 - 2:59pm

A useful compilation.

Strangely enough, however, some of these — continual/continuous, envy/jealousy, farther/further — are not "grammar mistakes" so much as sloppy usage or poor diction. In its strict sense, "grammar" refers to coherent sentence structure, especially morphology and syntax.

The acceptation of "nauseous" now considered by some to be non-standard was, as some commenters have pointed out, concurrent with, and may have preceded, the presumed original meaning. The use of "moot" (in the sense of irrelevant and academic) has long been acceptable to most lexicographers because of persistent popular usage. Is this not the way language has always evolved? 

Try using "moot" with its original meaning next time you're among, say, humanities professors (i.e., people who are in the habit of paying close attention to nuance).

Or try "helpmeet" in its original sense or, for that matter, "healthful" now that almost everyone uses "healthy" to refer both to inherent healthiness and to foods or activities that promote health.

You'll have to explain yourself if you don't want to be taken for an ignoramus. And then some people will still dismiss you as a pedant.

Doesn't that defeat the purpose? Can anyone cite a single instance where lamentation and resistance revived a moribund denotation?

Why not simply accept that it is the nature of language to change, even when change entails the loss of useful distinctions?

Unless, that is, you're a linguistic irredentist who loves championing lost causes, as many of us who frequent this site are or once were.... :)


paddyodawes's picture
paddyodawes December 3, 2013 - 7:41am

I'd say the biggest mistake is to declare unequivocally of 'impactful' that 'It isn't a word'. Er, it is. It may be one you don't like. It may be one that didn't exist a decade ago. But it does now, whether you like it or not. 

I don't much like 'impactful' myself, but then again, it's not that long since I bristled at 'access' or 'interface' used as verbs. Now I use 'em meself, without a qualm or even the mildest of shudders. 

It's in the nature of the language that it throws up new words all the time, many initially striking any but the most cloth-eared as ugly or worse. But they appear for one reason and one reason only: because enough people have found them useful. 

And that, after all, is really all that matters. It's nice when words are nice, but not necessary. The only real test of whether something is or isn't a word is not whether it 'should be', but whether people are using it. If they are, it is. 

Melita Dungog Brigoli's picture
Melita Dungog B... December 10, 2013 - 2:02am

No more translator if you're good in English language.


Brittany Biglin's picture
Brittany Biglin December 13, 2013 - 2:07pm

You forgot then & than!! I always confuse those.

Jason Szech's picture
Jason Szech December 13, 2013 - 2:37pm

This isn't grammar, more of correct usage, but this IS another very common misused word.  Factoid.  Most people use factoid to mean a neat, little-known fact.  Actually a factoid is an untrue statement commonly believed to be true because it's been repeated frequently.  Ironically, the wrong definition of factoid IS a factoid.

Grant's picture
Grant December 13, 2013 - 4:06pm

Here's a fun book we studied in editing class at the University of Kansas School of Journalism. Words on Words was written by the late John Bremner, a giant grammarian. Recommended!

feloniuspolonius's picture
feloniuspolonius December 23, 2013 - 12:51am



Terry Spall-Jarboe's picture
Terry Spall-Jarboe December 14, 2013 - 2:18am

As a writing teacher at the college level, you forgot a couple of them: firstly, lastly and all those imbetween are not used in the United States; however, if you live and write in England, they are acceptable. Also, a bugaboo of my Tech. Writing Instructor was use and usage: the first being a verb and a noun (we use tools, the use of tools); the second being only a noun (the usage of the English language, common usage of vernacular, etc) The mistake most often used: the usage of tools.

And as a writing teacher at the college level, mixing up these words is not what creates bad writing, but what does is not knowing how to use a comma or other punctuation marks, creating fragments and run-on sentences, and no organization of thoughts and ideas.

And, to Adrian, it's called attending a U.S. public school that actually teaches grammar anymore or paying attention in a college English class by reading the book where these rules are stated. If you are not American or English, again reading the books where these rules are stated is the only way to learn these.

Heather Crabbe's picture
Heather Crabbe December 14, 2013 - 10:36am

So, "Merriam Webster" has as its third definition for "anxious: ardently or earnestly wishing". Going by that definition, it would be perfectly acceptable to say "I am anxious to see my friends", wouldn't it?

Nathan E. Milos's picture
Nathan E. Milos December 14, 2013 - 7:57pm

Just to add a small quibble, these are considered errors only if you see grammar in a prescriptive sense.  However, many "rules" were originally just the preferences of taste makers.  If we look at grammar through a descriptive lens (in other words by examining popular usage), we might not call these errors, but trends. Some dictionaries have begun to include the "American" defintion of the word "nonplussed," and many people wouldn't recognize the "correct" definition of the word.  Similarly, many people would be confused if you used the word "moot" to mean "up for debate."  I would argue that "correct" usage is not worth much if it is not also "received" usage.  Language is socially constructed and English is a living language: defintions and standards are subject to change.

Debby Berg's picture
Debby Berg December 14, 2013 - 7:59pm

The trouble we have here is that so few of us actually have a grasp on the workings of our native language. My language arts teachers in elementary and high school pounded these language rules into our heads. 

My pet peeves with language misuse has to do with the current inharmonic use of the word "concerning". AND the large number of television journalists who CONSTANTLY misuse it. I hear this on the local evening news programs and I find myself yelling at the screen. I use the word inharmonic because it disturbs the harmony of my thoughts to be forced into listening to people who communicate for a living making linguistic mistakes that others will think this is correct! One would think communications majors would be a little more cognizant of their word usage.

Andrew Benjamin Brady's picture
Andrew Benjamin... December 14, 2013 - 8:14pm

What about "Towrad" and "Towards"?

Oh, shit, is that even a proper question?

Kyle Mullaney's picture
Kyle Mullaney December 14, 2013 - 10:09pm

As too moot: possibility 2 (dictionary.com) means something that is purely academic or 3 that which is theoretical.
In the sense that it is normally used it (at least by me) there maybe a debate about point in question but the debate is not practically important and is therefore rendered extraneous, needless, obsolete, unnecessary and thus, in the true sense of the word, superfluous.

Brynna Youmans's picture
Brynna Youmans December 15, 2013 - 1:02pm


Listen up, kids.  "Whom" is subjective.  For example, "You talked to whom?" or "to whom you spoke", etc.  In both of these cases, "whom" is part of a prepositional phrase and is the object of "to".  NOW.  Let's look at another sentence.

"I consulted an attorney who I met in New York."

Why isn't it whom?  BECAUSE WHO IS THE SUBJECT OF THE DEPENDENT CLAUSE "WHO I MET IN NEW YORK".  The entire clause is describing which attorney you're talking about, making the entire clause an adjective.  "Who" is the subject of that clause, and should therefore NEVER EVER EVER be "whom".  It ain't a fucking object.  Don't write it like one.

Jamie Schwettmann's picture
Jamie Schwettmann December 15, 2013 - 4:33pm

"Nauseous ..."

This is a nauseous sort of misinformation. Here's the dictionary definition:

nau·seous [naw-shuhs, -zee-uhs]
1.affected with nausea; nauseated: to feel nauseous.
2.causing nausea; sickening; nauseating.
3.disgusting; loathsome: a nauseous display of greed.

Further, the entry states: "The two literal senses of nauseous, “causing nausea” ( a nauseous smell ) and “affected with nausea” ( to feel nauseous ), appear in English at almost the same time in the early 17th century, and both senses are in standard use at the present time. Nauseous is more common than nauseated in the sense “affected with nausea,” despite recent objections by those who imagine the sense to be new. "

Source: 2013 Random House Dictionary, via http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/nauseous

James Cook's picture
James Cook December 15, 2013 - 4:41pm

Bryanna Youmans, that is absolutely incorrect. In that dependent clause, the attorney is not the subject. If we break it down, we see two separate independent clauses:

"I consulted an attorney."

"I met an attorney in New York."

The in second clause, the attorney is an object. When we introduce that clause as a dependent clause following the first, "an attorney", being the object, is replaced by "whom". The dependent clause "who I met in New York" cannot exist, as both "who" and "I" are exclusively subject pronouns. Whom did I meet in New York? The attorney - the object. You should reserve your outrage and condescension for situations where you are correct.

In other news, "since" can definitely be used as a synonym of "because". I have never heard it suggested that it cannot. Also, the "which and that" point is incorrect. "Which" can be used correctly in both restrictive and non-restrictive clauses, and the idea that it cannot is fabricated.

Alan Carder's picture
Alan Carder December 16, 2013 - 1:23pm

I see, more often than any of the above 20 mistakes, a plural noun after a modifying fraction.  For example:  ".07 inches of rain fell."  The plural is 7 hundredths

Also, I see, more often than any of the above 20 mistakes, a phrase such as "three times more" to mean "three times as many", or "300% more" to mean "300% as much".  Six is three times (or 300%) more than 2?  If it were so, then four would be two times (or 200%) more than 2; two would be 100% more than 2, when it is obviously equal to (i.e., 0% more than) 2; and one is 50% more than two, when it is really 50% less than two..

Alan Carder's picture
Alan Carder December 16, 2013 - 1:36pm

"Fewer" or "less"?  If the modified noun is plural, use "fewer".  If it is singular, use "less".  For example:  I have fewer cars than he.  I have less time than he.  "Many" and "much" work similarly:  He has many cars; he has much time.

TheDumbMoney's picture
TheDumbMoney December 17, 2013 - 2:53pm

You left out a major one that I always notice.  (Great list though.)  It has become extremely common for people to say "try and."   People often say something like the following:  "I am going to try and go to the store today."  It should be: "I am going to try to go to the store today."  This mistake is everywhere -- commonly made on the news and in TV and in movies.  Many influential publications and books make this mistake in writing, which is worse, and not just when they are quoting somebody for the sake of realism.  For example, my memory is that in the Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling does this repeatedly in the narration.  I work with a bunch of graduate-school-educated lawyers, and every single one of them does this.  I am beginning to think that I am either insane, or the language has fundamentally evolved here.  Perhaps that is why you left it off the list.  Any thoughts?

Separately, the distinction between "can" and "may" is also in the process of being obliterated.

A. Joshua Sims's picture
A. Joshua Sims December 19, 2013 - 12:49am

Just treat it like Chinese where intent is understood " honey take your clothes to the dry cleaner will only ever be understood as bring them ( because what you are really saying is get your dirty clothes out of the house, you're taking the clothes from the house .. completely (exceptiable) acceptable) , and I would add THEN and THAN are far worse than Bring and take. Those damn Europeans Take lunch ( would you like to take lunch)  but from whom are they taking if, I certainly didnt give it to them, I supposed its like taking a pill which after reading all this I suppose I will. 


Richard Velazquez's picture
Richard Velazquez December 19, 2013 - 8:06am

Nice try Josh... From dictionary.com "Impactful" -

"Usage note:

Impactful  is one of those words that somehow arouse intense disdain, especially among editors and other would-be guardians of English. According to its critics, the word exemplifies “bad, ugly usage.” They call it “barbarous,” dismiss it as “a meaningless buzzword,” and hate it so much that they extend their contempt of the word to contempt for its users. Some justify their scorn by saying that the word lacks the original meaning of the suffix -ful —“full of”— as in remorseful  or wrathful."

Aside from that, the rest of this article has been extremely impactful.

noisepatterns's picture
noisepatterns December 19, 2013 - 9:03am

Good points, although I have yet to find sentence with the word "which" that could not be re-written more concisely without using "which" at all. "The house, which is burning, is mine," becomes, "The burning house is mine," or "Holy $#!^ my house is on fire!"

Many people do not use the subjunctive tense properly either––I wish I were better at grammar, for example.

Michael King's picture
Michael King December 19, 2013 - 5:34pm

Someone has already posted on the expansive definition of "nauseous." John is being a mite prescriptive and fighting for a lost cause.

d1st's picture
d1st December 24, 2013 - 9:15pm

"If you're going to write a post presuming to correct grammar mistakes you may wish to start with a stronger first sentence than 'I’ve edited a monthly magazine for more than six years, and it’s a job that’s come with more frustration than reward.'

Porn stars come with more frustration than reward, my dear sir and/or madam, editors 'arrive'.

Please, find a new topic in which to meet your deadline and/or quota."

Well! If you're going to correct someone, your own writing should be flawless. But the comma is missing after "mistakes." Jobs do not "arrive" unless they're traveling from one location to another; "come" is perfectly fine as he used it. (In fact, it's just weird to think that the primary use of the word "come" is the slang usage; who even thinks of that when they see the word outside of a context of pornography?) Good writers in American publications put the period inside the terminal quotation mark, not outside. And good writers also know that "and/or" is redundant and grotesque; only "or" is needed.

Xember's picture
Xember December 28, 2013 - 3:53pm

A very interesting article. I have seen these mostly in the words of my American ex, especially  the word 'disinterested'. Truly that is not a pun.  A word which is badly misused, in the the UK especially, is the word 'homely', rather than 'homey', used to describe a comfortable house, which is in fact a way of describing a visually unattrative person. 



wendygoerl's picture
wendygoerl January 2, 2014 - 1:49pm

Hate to burst your bubble, but "moot" is one of those words that's its own antonym. To Quote Merriam-Webster :  to bring up for discussion : not worth talking about : no longer important or worth discussing :  deprived of practical significance :  made abstract or purely academic

Anxious: Yes, of course it implies anxiety, the two words have the same root. It does NOT require dread and is entirely capable of coesisting with emotions such as "eager," "happy," and "excited."Also:  ardently or earnestly wishing <anxious to learn more>


Apparently you suffer frim the same attention-sapping disease that permeates popular culture if you're not accessing resources longer than Struck and White, like Webster's.


And while we're at it,why is there no mention of "literal"? I see it used more and more to mean "really," or "to a great degree" when using a figure of speech. The problem with that is, if that becomes the dominant meaning of "literal," what word do I use when I want to mean "as the dictionary says it means"?

Rudolph Judal's picture
Rudolph Judal January 5, 2014 - 1:30am

I think it is "paradoxical." Not ironic.

Lim Teng Leong's picture
Lim Teng Leong January 7, 2014 - 4:31pm


I have written a critique of this highly flawed article in my blog in two segments:

Please click here for the first segment     and   here for the second.

If you have any comments to make, please feel free to do so in my blog.



IndiaBookStore's picture
IndiaBookStore January 8, 2014 - 9:08pm


Very useful post. Quite impactful, err I mean created quite an impact. I felt I'd be uninterested before reading, but was quite wrong. From now on I will always know when I am disinterested or uninterested. Your blog is different from many others writing on the same topic ;)









Imogen Wybourne's picture
Imogen Wybourne January 19, 2014 - 7:05pm

When you get to the point where only about three people in the world are still saying something "correctly" (as in saying "nauseated" rather than "nauseous") - you have to wonder whether those three people are still correct? - or whether the language has evolved and usage has changed - meaning those three people saying "nauseated" are now "wrong" - and everyone else is correct...

Ralph Protsik's picture
Ralph Protsik February 6, 2014 - 10:24am

The two most common errors I see in resumes (and I see a lot) and email correspondence--it's instead of its (and vice versa) and lead instead of led, as in "In 2005 I lead two project teams..."

Jen Garrett's picture
Jen Garrett March 7, 2014 - 3:00pm

I love this article, because I love words and watching their meaning evolve.

I had most of those distinctions down, but awhile ago I submitted a book pitch in which I used the word "continuous" instead of "continual." I'm still kicking myself for that one. I knew the difference!

I love Mark's discussion of "moot" because I was not aware of what that word really meant.

It's true that the evolution of a language can have some surprising results. One example I recently noticed was the word "throttle." It used to mean in common usage to give it all you've got, but now it seems to have a new definition: to keep back or slow down, especially in data usage.  

Great Article,


Joey Isn&#039;t Tan's picture
Joey Isn't Tan March 18, 2014 - 10:12pm


Tam_Risa's picture
Tam_Risa May 29, 2014 - 5:02am

I live in Germany, though I'm Irish, but I go to a bilingual school. Recently, just before an important English exam, lots of us where sitting around chatting. Almost everyone was really nervous about it. Although its a bilingual school, almost everyone is German, and simply has ambitious parents who wanted them to be good at English. Most of them are able to speak quite fluently, even if what they're saying is riddled with mistakes. Because I write stories, and am the only actual native speaker, I'm, please excuse my lack of modesty, the best in English. As we were sitting there lots of people started panicking about what might come up in the exam. So I said, "Calm down, it's probably going to be really easy, and afterwards we're all going to feel stupid for worrying. It's probably going to be full of questions like *I put on a mocking voice* "What is the difference between their, they're and there? What is the difference between its and it's? What is the difference between who and whom? When are semicolons used?" " Suddenly I had 20 faces staring at me in a panic, begging me to explain it to them, and I really wished I had kept my mouth shut. English grammar isn't that difficult. It might not be as clear-cut as Latin, but it's a lot simpler than French and/or German.

Clay Lampshade's picture
Clay Lampshade June 8, 2014 - 12:15pm

Thank you, @Cerulean.  Further and farther have been used interchangeably for years (speaking in terms of distance, at least).  I grew up in Massachusetts and I was suprised when I moved away and started hearing people say "farther" all the time.  I don't think I ever uttered the word until I was in my 20s. 

Saying impactful isn't a word won't make it not a word.  If people use it, it becomes a word.  The plural for "brother" used to be [exclusively] "brethren," as it is a germanic word.  Enough people said "brothers" for enough time that it became an accepted word.  Ten more years of sports broadcasting, and they'll be teaching "impactful" in high school English courses. 

Jean Rafenski Reynolds's picture
Jean Rafenski R... June 8, 2014 - 2:56pm

Of course "impactful" is a word. Suggestion: look up "word" in the dictionary - and take a linguistics course! Some words are nonstandard (such as "ain't") or haven't found their way into the dictionary yet (ask any parent of a toddler if "binky" is a word), and some have been removed from the dictionary to make room for new words (I still do the peabody - Jackie Gleason's favorite dance - but most dictionaries have removed it). I don't care for "impactful," but if people are using it, it's a word.


Mary Calhoun's picture
Mary Calhoun June 8, 2014 - 2:59pm

Add to this list it and it's. So many people misuse these words. It's is a contraction for it is.

Neil's picture
Neil June 8, 2014 - 5:28pm

Some great points--some peeves I share (lie and lay drvies me wild) and others that seem moot (I don't mind since for cause). A couple of points:

Not sure that "I consulted an attorney whom I met in New York. cf., I consulted him." helps, as it's the meeting in New York that determines the "whom" ("I met him in New York") -- it would be "I consulted an attorney who is my best friend's brother" -- still "I consulted him" but the second part determines "who".

Also I think that the shading of may and might seems fairly rarefied when the real problem is using them as tenses (the frequent misuse of "may" with past meaning): "If I tell her, she may be able to help" vs. "If I had told her, she might have been able to help."

tsupriya's picture
tsupriya June 9, 2014 - 11:08pm

You wrongly distinguish between subject and object. Who and whom is a difference of active and passive, and not of subject and object. Subject and object differ only in the attitude to the noun/pronoun. Often, the subject is seen as more human than the object, but that doesn't make the subject active and the object passive. But *active* and *passive* is what the difference is between "who" and "whom".

FreddiHammer's picture
FreddiHammer June 10, 2014 - 7:16am

Because I read your article,  I have just spared myself the shame of misusing the word 'that' instead of 'which'!  I'm eternally grateful and not at all nauseated.  I'm printing this and pinning it up in my work space for future reference!!

My journalism professor is a little miffed that I needed the referesher... but I'll deal with that.

Thank you,


luxolamp's picture
luxolamp June 10, 2014 - 10:22am

Half of those aren't grammar violations, they're misused words. Last I checked, misuse of vocabulary isn't a grammatical problem.

Debra Hough's picture
Debra Hough June 10, 2014 - 11:10am

Junior high taught me lay was equivocal to put or place.