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Clearing the Air of Errors in English

Posted on Tuesday, January 21, 2020, at 11:00 pm

The adage is true when it comes to our language: Old habits really are hard to break. Notwithstanding classroom instruction, lifelong reminders, correction from others, and even GrammarBook newsletters, certain misuses of English survive like drug-resistant viruses.

Yet we grammarians and linguists march on. After all, even the Roman Empire had to give way—eventually. As long as we carry the torch for precise and eloquent English, we believe we can continue winning converts, perhaps even those whose armor has grown thickest.

When we write or speak, our minds come into view. The more we use and spread proper English, the greater impact and impression we leave, and the closer we bring one another to clear and concise communication. 

With input from multiple sources, we recently took inventory of errors in English that remain common in spite of many calls for correction, including appeals dating back decades. While not a comprehensive list, the following table includes mistakes that still appear often. By remaining alert to them, we can help to reduce their number.

Incorrect Correct
I could care less. I couldn’t care less.
Me and him (objective case) went out last night. He and I (subjective case) went out last night.
The message is for he and I (subjective case). The message is for him and me (objective case).
She honed in on the target. She homed in on the target.
If worse comes to worse, we’ll leave early. (or If worst comes to worst, we’ll leave early.) If worse comes to worst, we’ll leave early.
 
Chris must of left it at school. Chris must have left it at school.
I could of been a pro athlete. I could have been a pro athlete.
They gave the guest free reign over their house. They gave the guest free rein over their house.
The children were literally exploding with joy. The children were exploding with joy. (delete modifier)
Try and see it through her eyes. Try to see it through her eyes.
 
The smell of it makes me nauseous. The smell of it makes me nauseated.
The enormity of the building left them in awe. The enormousness of the building left them in awe.
The decision centered around Camille’s availability. The decision centered on Camille’s availability.
That meal looks healthy. That meal looks healthful.
It’s true—I seen it for myself! It’s true—I saw it for myself!
 
The quartet will discuss it between themselves. The quartet will discuss it among themselves.
They couldn’t take the discussion any farther. They couldn’t take the discussion any further.
First we need to assure that we can attend. First we need to ensure that we can attend.
Janice feels badly about missing the train. Janice feels bad about missing the train.
That cat is always chasing it’s tail. The cat is always chasing its tail.
 
We miss them alot. We miss them a lot.
Supposably, the car is at the shop. Supposedly, the car is at the shop.
The city issued less parking tickets this week. The city issued fewer parking tickets this week.
Your not serious, are you? You’re not serious, are you?
Just chock it up to experience. Just chalk it up to experience.
 
Lately Jules has been laying around all day. Lately Jules has been lying around all day.
The poor timing effected the outcome. The poor timing affected the outcome.
Jordan hasn’t seen them in awhile. Jordan hasn’t seen them in a while.
The Smith’s came over for dinner last night. The Smiths came over for dinner last night.
Eat more vegetables, i.e., carrots and celery. Eat more vegetables, e.g., carrots and celery.

If you would like more insight into some of these common mistakes, simply do a search of our English Rules and Grammar Blogs, which cover many of them.

If you know of frequent errors in English that don’t appear in this list, we welcome your thoughts and observations. They might be included in a future newsletter!

Pop Quiz

Using what you’ve reviewed in this article, choose the correct answers according to what you understand as proper English.

1. When you’re finished with it, you can return it to [she or I/her or me]. 

2. A rift has developed [among/between] the members of the board. 

3. I’ll accept no [less/fewer] than four of your marbles for my two. 

4. Let’s start getting ready, because the [Washingtons/Washingtons’] will be here at seven.

5. Jake hurt himself [bad/badly] when he fell off his bike.

 

Pop Quiz Answers

1. When you’re finished with it, you can return it to [her or me]. 

2. A rift has developed [among] the members of the board. 

3. I’ll accept no [fewer] than four of your marbles for my two. 

4. Let’s start getting ready, because the [Washingtons] will be here at seven.

5. Jake hurt himself [badly] when he fell off his bike.

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The Media Made Me Do It

Posted on Tuesday, February 26, 2019, at 11:00 pm

I heard from a correspondent who hates the phrase gone missing. His e-mail called it an "ear-abrading" and "vulgar" usage. "Sends me right round the bend, mate!" he said. I did a little digging and found that he's far from alone. "Gone missing," according to a word nerd at the Boston Globe, is "the least …

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Posted on Tuesday, May 22, 2018, at 11:00 pm

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Posted on Tuesday, December 1, 2015, at 6:43 pm

If there is a logophile—word lover—on your holiday gift list, you can’t go wrong with What in the Word? by Charles Harrington Elster. Elster is a formidable scholar, but he has written a book that is fun to read, yet packed with information. Scattered throughout the book’s seven chapters are astute quotations, “fascinating facts,” and …

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Singular They Part II

Posted on Tuesday, June 9, 2015, at 4:12 pm

Despite curmudgeons’ howls, the singular they has become respectable. Many editors at the recent American Copy Editors Society conference declared themselves open to the once-frowned-upon use of they with a singular antecedent. English is an often imperfect language that makes the best of its shortcomings. We say “none are,” despite the prominent one in none, …

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