People make simple grammar mistakes every day and sometimes they don’t even know it. To avoid that awkward conversation with a friend or coworker who points out your improper grammar, we’ve compiled a few common mistakes that are easily avoidable. While some rules need more explaining than others, everyone needs a little grammar refresher every now and then!
There, Their, and They’re
Let’s start with a common mistake we all have made at one point in time: confusing “there,” “their,” and “they’re.” The best way to remember the differences is to know what each word refers to. “There” indicates a place or location, “their” is a possessive adjective used when a group of people own something collectively, and “they’re” is a contraction of “they are.”
They’re taking their vacation time to explore Colorado and visit the tourist destinations there.
Effect vs Affect
Another tough rule to remember is when to use “effect” or “affect.” Many people think the two words are interchangeable or simply wait for spell check to make the decision for them. “Affect” is a verb meaning to impact or to change, and “effect” is a noun used to identify the result of a change.
In order to affect the sales numbers, the team needed to reevaluate their strategy.
Regular exercise and ample sleep can have a beneficial effect on your overall mood.
Its vs It’s
Like many rules and words in the English language, there are always exceptions. While an apostrophe is normally used to indicate possession, “it” does not follow this rule. “Its” is the correct way to indicate the possessive form of “it,” while “it’s” is a contraction of “it is.”
It’s easy to know when Josh’s car pulls up because of the screeching noise its breaks make.
Your vs You’re
On a similar note, many people confuse “your” and “you’re” in everyday text messages or comments. “Your” is the possessive form of “you” and “you’re” is the contraction of “you are.”
You’re a kind person for donating your old clothes.
Who vs Whom
You just use “whom” when you want to be more formal right? Well, not necessarily. Both are used to ask a question, but knowing which one to use depends on the answer to the question being asked. “Who” is used when the answer could be “he,” “she,” or “it.” Used as the object of a verb or preposition, “whom” is used when the answer could be “him” or “her.”
Who cleaned the house?
Whom are you speaking to?
To whom it may concern.
I or Me
Even the most experienced writers misuse “I” or “me” in their sentences. When talking about something you did with another person, it’s not always correct to say “my friend and I.” Believe it or not, sometimes “my friend and me” is actually proper grammar. “I” is used as the subject of a sentence, while “me” is used as the object of a preposition or verb. An easy way to decide which pronoun to use is to simplify the sentence. It wouldn’t sound right to say “Lauren went to the library with I,” instead you would say “Lauren went to the library with me.”
Lauren went to the library with Sara and me.
James and I are going to a movie later tonight.
Then vs Than
While the two words are extremely similar, they are used in completely different situations. “Then” is used in reference to time or the order in which something occurred. “Than,” on the other hand, is used to compare the similarities or differences between two things.
After school, Nick goes to basketball practice then does his homework when he gets home.
After looking at all of the dresses, Mary decided the green one was better than the others because of its fabric and fit.
Farther vs Further
Whether you’re trying to go the distance or want to get more out of an experience, it’s important to know the right word to use. “Farther” is used to describe physical distance, while “further” is used to describe figurative or metaphorical distance.
The next closest gas station was a little farther down the road than we thought.
The student wanted to explore the lecture topic further, so he went to the professor’s office hours.
I Could Care Less vs I Couldn’t Care Less
This grammar mistake leaves many people running mental circles around the question of how much they actually care about something. Saying “I could care less” implies that you care to some extent already and there is room for you to care less. What people typically mean when they try to use this saying is “I couldn’t care less.” This implies that you do not care at all and there is no way you could care less because you already don’t care—see mental circles.
i.e. vs e.g.
Whenever people come across these letters in an article or textbook, they typically think they’re just different ways to open up a list of examples. They actually each have their own meaning. Used to specify something, the letters “i.e.” stands for the Latin words id est, meaning “that is.” The correct way to provide examples would be to use “e.g.” which stands for the Latin phrase exempli gratia, meaning “in example.”
Andrew is very particular about what type of coffee he drinks every morning, i.e., a medium coffee with two creams and one sweetener.
There are many reasons why Jessica may be late, e.g., she could have forgot to set her alarm or there could be traffic.
If there are other words or things about the English language that leave you with unanswered questions, it’s never a bad thing to look it up! The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS), 16th edition is a great source for grammar and style and the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary 11th edition is the place to go for any spelling questions!