The Inigo Montoya Guide to 27 Commonly Misused Words

The Inigo Montoya Guide to 27 Commonly Misused Words

Reader Comments (594)

  1. Love this post for talking about concise and precise communication.

    But I still hold that prescriptive grammar is not as helpful when it turns into stuff like this: “It is hoped that the weather cooperates.”

    Who would ever say that?

      • Ditto, when in doubt I usually just go with effect as it always looks right to most readers haha.

        I should probably just knuckle down and master its usage 😉

        • I know that affect has to do with emotion and effect is the word to use to describe the results of the … what ever.


          • An easy way to remember is that affect is a verb, for example, “The movie affected him deeply.” While effect is most widely used as a noun, for example, “The special effect was spectacular.”

          • I used to have trouble with this one too. Until someone told me that effect is always, always, never not, a noun.

  2. Who and whom are so tough because many writers – myself included – develop an ear for language and when in doubt we say a sentence aloud to sort out issues. Whom just sounds wrong when it’s right.

    And if you don’t believe Brian’s assertion that The Princess Bride is genius, you’ve got more learning to do.

  3. OK.. there is a smarter/wrong for hopefully.. but what is the actual rule? I am so bad about adding “s” to afterward. Great article. Too many people ignore the PUGS when blogging.

  4. You missed one of my favorite:


    – usually only the first two are confused but sometimes its the later two

  5. The one that always gets to me is when people use the noun “enormity” to mean “big-ness” generally, when in fact it implies (or does it infer?!) that a negative moral judgement is being made about the scale of something, e.g. “the enormity of the crime has shocked the authorities”.

    I should get out more.

  6. Oh. Wait. I just realized that I’m Canadian, which means that we do things differently up here. I was going to come back and say, “There’s nothing wrong with towards either…” And there isn’t. Up here. Not down there. LOL Ah, the fun of international language!

    Okay, on a positive note, many of these are great choices and yeah, even I misuse some. (Not afterwards and towards, though!)

  7. Towards and Afterwards have been deceiving me! At least I’ve only been unsure for 25 years. And most of that, especially the teen years, is completely blacked out.

    Stop that rhyming. I mean it!

    …and the next line?

    • “anybody want a peanut?”

      You can never go wrong with The Princess Bride! And of course, proper grammar. The fewer/less conundrum is one which gets me going…I can’t help correcting that one, even if it is my boss using it incorrectly. My primary pedantic flaw 😉

  8. Having flashbacks to 9th grade English here. I always had a problem with people saying…

    Irritated in place of Annoyed


    Anxious in place of Eager

    Those two just get me.

  9. Excellent post. I wish you’d included the ones that I see most frequently. Talk about lost causes…
    There, their and they’re.
    Your and you’re.
    Than and then. Yes, I know two people on Twitter that misuse these in the opposite way. One uses ‘then’ when he means ‘than’, and the other uses ‘than’ when she means ‘then’.
    Affect and effect. I wonder how many people actually know there’s a word ‘affect’.
    Plurals with apostrophes. You’ve seen these all over I’m sure. There’s even a blog called Apostrophe Catastrophes.
    It’s for its.

    • EXACTLY! I just about scream when I see apostrophes added to plurals. @0 years ago or so, I drove past a repair shop with a hand painted sign out front: TIRE’S Fixd Her. (Yes-apparently, there was a shortage of the letter ‘e’ on that day also)
      I drove on.

  10. I’ll throw out my lost cause word: Data. Data are plural, folks.

    I had a professor in college that would return papers ungraded if anyone wrote “The data on this is clear.” We all knew it was a pet peeve of hers.

    And, I’m consistently appalled by the number of professional communicators that continue to confuse “its” and “it’s.” Seriously, take a second after you write the word. If you can say “it is” and have the sentence make sense, then the proper form is “it’s.” Ugh.

    Great post.

    • “The data on this…” is perfectly correct, if you are talking about the collective for a study or similar. In the same way as you would say “The cows in this field…” What is incorrect would be to single out a piece of information and say “This data clearly demonstrates…” What you need there is “This datum clearly demonstrates…”

      ‘The data’ is fine, ‘this data’ is not. Use ‘these’ instead.

  11. My big pet peeve is “ensure/insure,” mainly because I’ve had a number of clients who keep marking it on review because they’re apparently convinced that “ensure” is only appropriately used when referring to a nutritional supplement drink for the elderly.

    And who wouldn’t like The Princess Bride? It’s full of sports! Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…

    • “Only” is the most misplaced word in our language. Think about where you put it so you say what you mean.

  12. James, I think that afterward(s) and toward(s) are confusing for US folks because we hear other English-speaking people do it. I’ll take your word that it’s correct up North. 🙂

    I covered affect vs effect in one the of the posts I link to in this post… and even that broke out into an argument. That’s why I do only one grammar post a year…. it’s dangerous. 🙂

  13. One more – over versus more than. Over is a preposition, more than expresses a greater quantity.

    “They sold more than 1,000 tickets.”
    “The cow jumped over the moon.”

  14. I love lists like this! It’s always good to have reminders and spread the joy of proper grammar. 🙂 If I may add a couple of my peeves: a book is not “entitled” (it’s titled). Also, to say “an historic occasion” is incorrect. Only a silent “H,” as in “honor,” gets the “an.” A hard “H”(like happy, hotel…and historic) should be proceeded by “a.”

    Whew! Love getting those off my chest. As for me, I have big trouble with the who vs. whom thing, as well as affect vs. effect.

  15. thanks for the wonderful contribution. I once told a reporter they misused “historical” and was given a blank stare. They said called an event “historical”. Well, every event will be “historical” but they meant to say the event was “historic”.

    I have, though, misused many of these words.

  16. This is a great list. What does it say about me that I know all these, know how to use proper grammar, and yet still say “towards” and “afterwards?” Perhaps I can blame it on my Texas roots? 🙂

    I disagree slightly with farther & further: farther always means physical distance. Further can mean distance (physical, time, etc.), in addition to, or as a verb to promote and advance.

    I love the Princess Bride – very clever indeed.

  17. Good list.
    Another one that bugs me: “myself” for I or me. As in “Brian and myself are going out” or “He gave it to Brian and myself.” Arrgggh!

    • Using “myself” instead of I or me is one of my pet peeves, too. I refused to put my initials on a letter I typed for someone who insisted on using myself instead of me! Sometime I might have the nerve to actually make a comment about it when I hear it!

  18. Awesome stuff!! My mother was an english major in college so most of this I already knew. But nothing bothers me more than the misuse of words. And yes, Princess Bride is a MUST SEE!

    • I’m surprised your English major mother did not remind you to capitalize English.

  19. Jean, that reminds me. He and I, me and him. She and I, me and her. Get it straight, people! How many times have you heard “Him and I”? Arrrggh. So easy to get right if you just remove one of the words. Would you say “Him went to the store.” or “They told I?”.

  20. This post is really useful for me. I will remember these things as i am not English native. First time i am posting although i am your regular reader in email alert.

  21. Best. Copyblogger Image. Ever.

    Thanks for the farther/further and who/whom refreshers.

    Hopefully, I can literally drill them into my consciousness. 😉

  22. What Joe Cascio said – their, they’re and there. I see that one so frequently. Also affect and effect, which brings up my slightly tangential pet peeve – using impacted instead of affected.

    And always, always much love to Princess Bride. Another good quote that is perhaps apropos to this article: “I would not say such things if I were you!”

    • I can’t stand when people use the word their instead of his or her.

      Tim got their hair cut…. UGH
      Everyone can get their choice…drives me nuts!

  23. Forward and backward. No s on those words either, in my rule book. As others mentioned, affect / effect is one I see done wrong even by fellow writers. The one I have the most problem with is lie/lay. I learned British English in middle school and not sure if that’s where I got it wrong, but I always seem to get them backward. (See there’s that backward again.)

    Good post.

  24. What a great start to the week–i may laminate this. Hopefully, it will be used towards writing better online…..

  25. Good tips, although I disagree with the edicts about “afterwards” and “towards.” They aren’t wrongedy-wrong-wrong like some of the other things on your list are wrong — they might be best described as preferred/standard American usage. But writing them off as wrong condemns a lot of English-speaking writers. And if an American writer chooses to use the “s” I don’t think it’s a crime. In Words on Words, a favorite guide to such fine points of language by John Bremner, he says: “Most authorities consider “toward” American and “towards” British. But a case can be made for “towards” as American usage when the following word begins with a vowel sound. There is a sibilant smoothness to “towards evening.””

  26. Great post! Some of those catch me once in a while, too! This is definitely getting printed out and posted where I can see it.

    As for Princess Bride – awesome movie!

  27. I actually want to say “i’m so speechless” but thats true, misspelling, wrong grammar, typo, and all the mistyped thing, you can’t help it. It is literally a human error that happens a lot

  28. Love this post, and plan to forward it to lots of folks!

    One of my pet peeves is everyday vs. every day. National advertisers get it wrong, so who can expect the average person to understand that everyday is an adjective, and every day is an adverb. If you can put the word “single” in between every and day and it still makes sense, use two words.

    Example: Save money at XYZ Store every day!
    Example: Shop the everyday savings at XYZ store!

    Also, Princess Bride is a great movie, but also a laugh-out-loud phenomenal book for all ages!

  29. GREAT POST. A pet peeve of mine is when I see REINS and REIGNS confused. As in “Take the reins” (take control…) REIGNS applies to an omnipotent ruler’s chronology of influence. Anyway, thanks so much. I learned some new ones!

  30. I just had to comment here. This is a great list. You missed my favorite, however.


    I actually heard someone the other day say “Whenever I got married…”. I asked her how many times she has been married and she replied, “This is my only marriage”. HHHMMM…

  31. See what happens when I try to do fun stuff while dashing out the door?

    That should be “The entry does have a usage note at the bottom that delves a bit into the conflict regarding the word’s usage” or possibly “There is a usage note at the bottom of the entry that delves a bit into the conflict regarding the word’s usage”.


  32. Great post. It is good to get a refresher course in grammer. I will bookmark it and send it so a few of my blogging friends. You should tackle spelling next…for those of us who depend too much on the spell checker.

    BTW-The Princess Bride is one of my all time favorite movies.

  33. The “Literally” one drives me mad. Worse than any of the rest of these (I think I’m only guilty of “hopefully” — don’t really agree with you about “unique” though; I think that word has changed).

    I think misuse of literally drives me mad because it’s SO MEANINGFUL when people use it in the way that it really is right that it diminishes a really powerful useage. People usually use it to mean “really,” so I wish they’d just say “really.”

    Also, you left out using “disinterested” (which means “unbiased or without a vested interest”) when you really mean “uninterested.”

  34. Add #28, cousins to Less/Fewer: Number/Amount. If you can count ’em, use number–e.g., the number (NOT amount) of people at the game drank a large amount of beer.

  35. Obviously I have to see Princess Bride. You’re right, the title put me off.
    One more: using “people that” instead of “people who.” Unless the people are inanimate.

  36. Jean, I predict you will love Princess Bride.

    I could do a whole post on errors of pretention, usage errors caused by trying to sound smart. Those are the worst. I think that’s where folks get into trouble with “literally” and “irregardless.”

  37. Wow – in all of my forty four years, no one has ever adequately explained the difference between who and whom. And the answer was so simple all along. Thanks.

  38. I think this is why you use a powerful grammar processor. Then you don’t have to worry so much about it. You have to worry about it if you comment on other blogs though.

  39. @soniasimone
    Love that “errors of pretention.” Let me know if you’re going to do a post on it – if you don’t, I will. 🙂

    And if “unique” has become modifiable, I’m moving to another planet. Some things are holy.

  40. Apropos of absolutely nothing –

    If you google “inconceivable,” you get the IMDB entry for “The Princess Bride.”

    Great post – will be keeping it handy! Cheers.

  41. Adverse/Averse – Actually averse can also show distaste or opposition to something, not simply reluctance. (i.e., He was averse to the idea of relaxing that restriction.)

    Unique – I would not entirely agree that using words like very or truly with unique is “wacked.” By wacked I assume you mean redundant and/or unncessary. Uniqueness can be applied technically to anything which varies in a previously unrecognized way, however minute or superficial. To say something is truly unique is to distinguish that the subject has nothing else even vaguely similar to it. Example: Adding a scratch to the hood of a car makes it, technically, unique. Changing the shape of the fenders, the composition of the roof, the layout of the lights, the size of the engine and the tint of the windows would make it very unique as it differs from the original in many characteristics.

    As pointed out by several others the usage of afterward(s)/toward(s) and hopefully are open to regional/cultural influence as well as debate regarding when common acceptance becomes sufficient to gain critical acceptance.

    As regards some comments:
    Data is not always required to have a pluralized verb. It can also refer singularly to a collection of data, which may itself contain one or more datum.

    a book is not “entitled” (it’s titled)
    These are actually synonymous. Either one can refer to the granting of a title to an object.

    A local substitution that greatly annoys both my wife and me is the use of ‘ignorant’ when the person means ‘rude.’

  42. @ TGN –

    To say something is truly unique is to distinguish that the subject has nothing else even vaguely similar to it.

    Well, if it’s already unique, then of course, nothing is similar. Why add extra words that don’t belong? Truly unique is redundent. And fluffy 🙂

  43. Of course, keep in mind that “nice” means limited, stingy, stupid.

    Well, I mean, it did… a couple of hundred years ago.

    I’m surprised to see a blog focused on copy effectiveness conflate wrong word issues (insure/ensure, and the missing but equally frustrating affect/effect) with evolving language issues (afterwards, towards, hopefully). They’re very different, especially in a copywriting sense.

    To reach your audience, you have to speak their language. You wouldn’t write copy for AARP using hip hop jargon, right? Well, the same goes for younger audiences and insisting on “whom” and formal constructions in sentences for which, normally, wrapping up, a proposition would be used.

    English is an evolving language. While it makes sense to learn common mistakes and to be aware of the rules, you have to realize that there is no intrinsic meaning to any word, and writing to a modern audience means recognizing that “nice” means something different now than it did in the past.

  44. Brooks, every time I write a grammar post, I point out that I’m only educating people on the rules so they can knowingly break them if it makes sense from a communications standpoint.

    And every time, someone like you comes along and ignores that part. 🙂 Are you proposing that language evolution from ignorance alone is the best-case scenario?

  45. Here are two more vocabulary pet peeves to add to your list:

    Preventive vs. preventative
    Oriented vs. orientated

    In both cases, the first word is the preferred use. I think many people opt for the longer versions because they wrongly believe it makes them sound smarter.

    • I’ve been writing medical news (mostly TV) on and off for about 15 years. I always believed that ‘preventive’ was the preferred adjective, ‘preventative’ was the noun. (“Dramamine is an efficacious nausea preventative.”) Unfortunately, that battle has been lost. I gave up when we had to interview someone from the Center for Preventative Sports Medicine. That’s what the big sign over the door said, so that’s what we put on the lower third.

      But while ‘preventive’ was preferred in the past, most dictionaries now list ‘preventative’ as standard. I don’t know where the extra syllable came from; someone must have been feeling inventative.

  46. My personal pet peeve is people using “perspective” when they mean “prospective”. You do not have a “perspective employee” or “perspective client”. It’s prospective, folks, prospective.

  47. Came here to disagree on “hopefully” – but I see that it’s been covered. So I’ll add:

    There should be some kind of ranking for these – or at least put them into two categories. On the one hand, you have colloquial speech that, while it may be incorrect, can improve communication with your audience – such as “towards”, “few/less,” and “hopefully”.

    On the other hand you have improper word usage that makes you look stupid – such as using the wrong form of to/too/two, Principal / Principle, and Irregardless.

  48. I had to read 60 comments before someone like Brooks came along to remind you that English is not a dead language and is therefore subject to changing usage.

    “WE” as in “we the people” get it “right” long before the dictionaries catch up. And it’s NOT from ignorance, it’s from common usage which is NOT the same thing.

    You must (we must- we the people, we the writing teachers) must, unfortunately, “stoop” to common usage. You may not like it, I may not like it, but if you’ve read Strunk & White, you’ll see that even they advocate it.

  49. @James Chartrand – Men with Pens:

    Well, if it’s already unique, then of course, nothing is similar. Why add extra words that don’t belong? Truly unique is redundent. And fluffy 🙂

    It’s a matter of which definition of unique you choose to use and how stringently you look at any variances/characteristics. As I stated previously, unique can be technically applied to something with a very minor difference as compared to something of a standard cast so long as that tiny variance has not existed before or does not currently exist. Technically, every owned or previously owned car is unique in that they have different license plates, different mileages, different wear patterns on the tires, etc. That is without introducing laws of probability and statistics that some percentage will have a defective or substandard part.

    Generally speaking people won’t identify two different green 1994 Volkswagen Jettas as unique, though they could technically fit the descriptor. Drastic body and mechanical modifications made to one car can easily be seen as making it more unique (as compared to the baseline unmodified car) than would be simply applying a bumper sticker. Though so long as neither set of changes had been identically replicated elsewhere on otherwise identical cars, these would be two unique cars.

    As such, I would posit that qualifiers like truly, very, more and less certainly do serve a function to distinguish the degree of uniqueness of a given subject as compared to its control.

  50. Wonder how many football players “reaggravated” an injury yesterday? (And if this Inigo Montoya guide helped you, ask Santa for Elements of Style this year.)

  51. Awesome post, and Princess Bride rocks.

    One more definition for ‘principal’ that I don’t think anyone has mentioned —

    a. The capital or main body of an estate or financial holding as distinguished from the interest or revenue from it.
    b. A sum of money owed as a debt, upon which interest is calculated.

    From The Free Dictionary.

    I was surprised also to not see affect / effect or a few other homonyms that cause trouble. It seems like a lot of people give up on those.

    I can honestly say, I don’t have trouble with most of these — I attribute it to reading an enormous amount over my life, and growing accustomed to seeing words used correctly. Kind of how a child learns to speak, perhaps — they pick up patterns without knowing the reasons, and eventually they know the difference between ‘me’ and ‘you.’ How do they know that when their parent says ‘you’ to them, they should respond with ‘me’ or ‘I’?

  52. Well didn’t this post set off a firestorm? @TGN, I think “degree of uniqueness” is some form of oxymoron, however you posit it.

    As for common usage, isn’t that the form of “English” Sarah Palin speaks? If it is, I hope to be long dead before everyone talks that way.

    • No, Jean, ‘common usage’ is not the same as ‘poor grammar’.

      The aim should be to communicate your thoughts clearly to your audience. Mangled syntax and blatant malapropisms rarely do that. (Perhaps they give a clear impression of the speaker’s muddy thought processes – but that’s another issue.)

      My first job was in TV news. The first several years I answered the phones (pre-internet!), the last few I produced shows and attempted to keep the on-air copy respectable.

      Most instructive to me was the early morning news. We re-wrote many of the stories from the 11pm newscast, mostly to update time references. But I noted that whenever I had a piece of copy that seemed incomprehensible, it was for one of two reasons. 1) It was a little dumb – due to a lack of time (breaking news) or lack of care (too often). 2) It was way too smart, refusing to use common usage (and often stumbling into even greater grammatical errors!) It might have been grammatically correct, but the contortions to get it there made it just so much buzzing for someone ironing their shirt for tomorrow while watching the show.

      I had plenty of experience taking phone calls from the viewers who wanted to correct our grammar. Sometimes enough that my ears hurt – literally. But using ‘hopefully’ and ‘momentarily’ the way the audience used them was a more precise form of communication.

      Of course I can barely watch local news now – the copy makes me cringe. I watched it deteriorate, and now good writing isn’t only not valued in the industry, I believe it’s hardly even recognized.

  53. TGN, that has always bugged me as well about degrees of uniqueness–every atom in the universe is unique, but to get Orwellian about it, some are more unique than others.

    But “very unique” typically reflects sloppy thinking, rather than a cosmological meditation on the nature of sameness and uniqueness. I’m all for getting people to avoid it. I’d much rather see “unique among 1994 green Volkswagon Jettas” than “very unique,” which communicates nothing other than laziness.

  54. @ TGN – I think I see what you’re saying. You and I have Jeeps. Yours has custom fenders. Mine has been completely ripped apart, customized and it’s a one-of-a-kind.

    My jeep would be fully unique, as in the whole thing is unique.

    Truly unique is an oxymoron, as Jean said (thank you, was searching for the word).

    Your jeep would be partially unique. Only one part of the whole is unique.

    Hm. Interesting conversation. Fun with language!

  55. Keep up the good work.
    You might like to look at “great copy and content often purposefully breaks”; I think the verb called for is “break.”

  56. Everyone ought to have Fowler’s Modern English Usage next to their keyboard. He’s British & old but surprisingly hip.

    For me, it’s a question of can you paint a realistic still life of a bowl of fruit, before something like a Picasso. Fundamentals need to be there, then rules can be broken.

    Fowler has 3 pages on who/whom for instance & it’s available in paperback. Here’s an excerpt on affect/effect:

    These verbs are not synonyms requiring differentiation, but words of totally different meaning, none of which can ever be substituted for the other. Affect…means have an influence on, produce an effect on, concern, effect a change in: effect means bring about, cause, produce, result in, have as result…

  57. In the Who/Whom category, you list, “Whom are you going to write about?” as being correct. Isn’t that, however, improper grammar in and of itself?

    Should not the correct wording be, “About whom are you going to write?” We wouldn’t want our participles to dangle…

  58. Terrific post, Brian! Love the comments too!
    How nice to be assured that I am not the only anal-retentive reader out here!
    Princess Bride rocks. Totally. Completely.

  59. There should be some kind of ranking for these…

    Quad, I tried to do that with these two sentences:

    Some are common mistakes that can cost you when trying to keep a reader’s attention. Others are more obscure and just interesting to know.

    I just didn’t presume to tell people which categories were which. But to address your point (which is a good one), I literally had no idea about “hopefully,” and odds are I’m not going to change the way I use the word.

    But it’s still interesting to know.

    Allena, maybe you should have kept reading comments to see my response to Brooks. Ditto to you. 🙂

    Why is it so wrong to point out how common usage has changed by looking at the “proper” way to use certain words? Is the evolution of language only a matter of study for linguistic majors? Can’t the rest of us even look at the “rules” and decide for ourselves to keep breaking them because it sounds better and communicates ideas better?

    The way I read comments like yours and Brooks is that I should have just kept my mouth shut. That’s advocating evolution by ignorance despite your protest to the contrary.

  60. @Jean Gogolin –
    I don’t think “degree of uniqueness” is oxymoronical as the words are not inherintly contradictory. I understand what you mean, but can’t recall the word for it.

    As for common usage, isn’t that the form of “English” Sarah Palin speaks? If it is, I hope to be long dead before everyone talks that way.

    No, that’s colloquial “English” (pronounced MUR-uh-kin 😀 ) and I too hope that the common parlance doesn’t degenerate to that point while I still live.

    @Sonia Simone –
    Mayhaps my fault is overthinking relative concepts like sameness and uniqueness. Your point about their common usage is certainly taken and I agree with you there.

    @James Chartrand – Men with Pens –
    My jeep would be fully unique, as in the whole thing is unique.

    Your jeep would be partially unique. Only one part of the whole is unique.

    I guess it comes down to semantics then as to whether unique is applied to the whole object (the Jeep) or to the object as a collection of its parts. I personally fail to see how you can be fine with fully and partially modifying unique but not with more, less, etc.

  61. Edison, I’ve now seen two dictionary entries for irregardless, and they both say use “regardless” instead. How valid a word can it be when the dictionary says “don’t do it?” 🙂

    I’ll keep using regardless, thanks. It’s an easy way to avoid looking like a moron.

  62. For everyone defending the word irregardless, go to the links you provided and READ the rest of the story.

    Usage Note: Irregardless is a word that many mistakenly believe to be correct usage in formal style, when in fact it is used chiefly in nonstandard speech or casual writing. Coined in the United States in the early 20th century, it has met with a blizzard of condemnation for being an improper yoking of irrespective and regardless and for the logical absurdity of combining the negative ir- prefix and -less suffix in a single term. Although one might reasonably argue that it is no different from words with redundant affixes like debone and unravel, it has been considered a blunder for decades and will probably continue to be so.

  63. Hey, I’M not defending it. I’m just saying – you go look in dictionaries printed today, even the dictionary has to tell people it sucks.

    I’m wondering when the dictionary had to start defending itself.

  64. Dictionary publishers probably got sick of people writing in and saying “hey, you forgot to include the word ‘irregardless.'” 😉

    I understand that language changes and evolves. But some things that are common mistakes–so common that they’d fall under the “okay, so everyone uses it, when are we going to give in” category–are simply flat-out wrong. I get a little annoyed when people use the blanket “language evolves” argument. Language has rules to make things more clear. Changing the rules to fit usage rather than correctness makes things less clear.

    Or, put another way: just because everyone’s doing it doesn’t make it right (see, Mom, I did listen to you when I was a teen). 🙂

  65. Well, Brian, you might have fewer people like me come along and point out the living, evolving nature of English if you approached these posts a little differently.

    For instance, you could say “while grammars published before about 1950 insist that ‘afterwards’ is always incorrect, starting in about 1990 most authorities accepted that both ‘afterward’ and ‘afterwards’ are acceptable (see 1993 Columbia Guide to Standard American English, 1995 Oxford English Dictionary)”

    Likewise, the OED notes that your definition of “hopefully” was entirely accurate in the 19th century. However, “In the 20th century a new use arose, with the meaning ‘it is to be hoped that’. Although this newer use is now very much the dominant one, it is regarded by some people as incorrect.”

    I have no opinion about the various means by which language evolves. But I know that it does pay to be aware of the difference between prescriptive and descriptive linguistics. For copywriting, I think descriptive is probably more useful, since the goal is to reach an audience, not plant a flag for archaic usages. At least, when I hire copywriters, I *hope* that reaching people is their goal.

    No worries, and no offense intended. I was just surprised to see you mix word choice errors (which we can all agree on) with positions on the propriety of accepting the evolution of language (which most people either don’t care about or can’t agree on), and even more surprised that in a modern and web-centric publication you’d come down on the side of rejecting language changes that occurred many years ago.

  66. While Brian is in fact wrong about a number of these (afterwards and towards are perfectly acceptable, for example, and while insure and ensure do have different meanings, they ALSO are variant spellings of each other), following his myopically prescriptive advice probably won’t do any harm. What is harmful, though, is taking this advice and then acting superior to people who don’t follow it, particularly considering the incorrect nature of a number of the items.

    Hopefully, no one will do that.

  67. I can’t help but add a misspelling to your list. In my opinion, it’s the most egregious on the Web:

    “Loosing”, instead of “losing”

    E.g. “I’m really having trouble loosing weight these days”.

    Bah! It drives me nuts just thinking about it…

  68. Miles, you’ve used the word “hopefully” incorrectly in your comment. Is that a bit of purposeful irony? If it’s a mistake, may I act superior to you for making it?

  69. What you are referring to in the “Inigo Montoya guide…” has a name. Commonly misused words are referred to as Malapropisms – named after another fictional character, Mrs. Malaprop from the play “The Rivals” from the late 1700’s.

  70. Beautiful, I’m taking great notes from the comments, too. There are some real gems in here. I must admit to guilt with “hopefully,” but I vow to change my ways.

    Thank you one thousand times for including “literally.” That one kills me every time. Not literally, of course.

    May I also toss in good vs. well and bad vs. badly when referring to how someone feels? “How are you, Olivia?” “I’m well.” (Me: grrrr.)

    “Have fun storming the castle!”

  71. I was just surprised to see you mix word choice errors (which we can all agree on) with positions on the propriety of accepting the evolution of language (which most people either don’t care about or can’t agree on), and even more surprised that in a modern and web-centric publication you’d come down on the side of rejecting language changes that occurred many years ago.

    Rejecting? Here’s what I actually said:

    Some are common mistakes that can cost you when trying to keep a reader’s attention. Others are more obscure and just interesting to know.

    From that you decided that I’d “come down on the side of rejecting language changes that occurred many years ago?”

    Either you didn’t read the opening of the article, or you just gave everyone a demonstration in the art of the “straw man” method of logical fallacy.

  72. Good article.

    I’m amazed by the number of times I’ve heard Pacific and specific mixed up recently. As (wrongly) in “to be pacific”.

  73. One of my biggest pet peeves with misused words is “Nother”. I’ve heard everyone from the man on the street to newscasters using it.

    Another word that bothers me is “Flustrated”. My roommate does this all the time. I didn’t hear “frustrated” used like that until I moved out to Nevada. Maybe it’s just a local thing.

  74. How come nobody has mentioned “No sir, I stink, you smell.”?

    I must say, going back and forth with this discussion is taking the curse off a day doing a PPT assignment.

  75. Harrison: I heard both of those (nother/flustrated) when I lived in Missouri. All I could determine regarding “flustrated” was that it was a ‘mash up’ of “flustered” and “frustrated.”

    I also heard confusion surrounding “flesh out” and “flush out.” (Someone wanting to “flush out” an idea? Was it bad?)

    Another that drives me bonkers is “should of” and “would of” instead of “should have” and “would have.”

  76. @Jen: I’m wondering if it’s a midwestern thing. The roomie’s from Iowa and most of the people I’ve heard use those words in that way were from the midwest.

    Any midwesterners want to weigh in on that?

  77. This is wandering far afield from Brian’s original post, but my Pennsylvania Dutch [i.e. German] relatives use the past perfect tense instead of the past tense. As in, “I had gone” when they mean “I went.” I often wonder if that somehow came down from the German. Anybody else ever heard that?

  78. Hey, Brian, no need to get personal. It’s just grammar, right?

    You said that “The rule is you only use hopefully if you’re describing the way someone spoke, appeared, or acted.” The OED says “The traditional sense of hopefully is ‘in a hopeful manner’. In the 20th century a new use arose, with the meaning ‘it is to be hoped that’. Although this newer use is now very much the dominant one, it is regarded by some people as incorrect.”

    Is it really a straw man for me to characterize your position as rejecting a change that happened many years ago? Or are you saying that because you acknowledged that some “rules” were obscure, your assertion about their correctness doesn’t count as a rejection of differing modern language? Are you sure “straw man” means what you think it does? 🙂

    Sorry to have upset you. I enjoy your posts and writing and thought I was being constructive by pointing out the difference between insure/ensure, which are wildly different words, and afterward/afterwards, which are widely accepted as acceptable alternate versions of the same word in modern English.

    • Actually, the first documented use of “hopefully” in this supposedly incorrect sense is in 1702. Language changes no matter how much we fuss about it. The trick is not to use language which is still outside the accepted standard when writing professionally.

  79. Damp vs Dampen

    When used as a verb, “damp” means to attenuate, “dampen” means to moisten. Vibrations are damped, sponges are dampened.

    I’d like to thank Chuck, my former coworker for inflicting me with that pet peeve.

  80. Brooks, I’m not upset. I just think your comments misconstrue what I actually said and the spirit of this piece.

    The problem with the evolution of language is that no one ever comes out and says “this is the new rule.” So, the old rules stand, and I’ve presented them here to be adopted or broken as anyone sees fit.

    And I know all about straw men… we ex-lawyers are trained in them. 🙂

  81. Holy ^&$*#( batman!! LOL

    This is getting a little ridiculous. Brooks, maybe you should look up straw man. I do believe that is what you are doing here. You actually had me questioning whether I know the proper usage of “straw man” or not. However, it appears that I do.

    Note the phrases “based on a misrepresentation of an opponent’s position” and “carries little or no real evidential weight, since the opponent’s actual argument has not been refuted” in the quote below. 😉

    From Wikipedia:

    A straw man argument is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position.[1] To “set up a straw man,” one describes a position that superficially resembles an opponent’s actual view, yet is easier to refute. Then, one attributes that position to the opponent. For example, someone might deliberately overstate the opponent’s position.[1] While a straw man argument may work as a rhetorical technique—and succeed in persuading people—it carries little or no real evidential weight, since the opponent’s actual argument has not been refuted.[2]

  82. This is another excellent post–no surprise.

    By now, I’m sure you’re well aware that your articles on grammar and language always elicit a maelstrom of commentary and controversy.

    Are you having fun yet? ;-D

  83. Pamir very wisely recommended Fowler’s MODERN ENGLISH USAGE; however, even better is Follet’s MODERN AMERICAN USAGE. The two books are perfect complements (redundant for emphasis) and outclass all other usage books that the others ought to be ignored if not tossed.

  84. You left out two pairs of words that drive me mad when I see them misused –




    I would vote for these as the most annoying, most misued words in the blogosphere!


  85. You missed out two of the most common misuses.
    The inability of most people to distinguish between the transitive verb “to lay” and the intransitive verb “to lie”.

  86. I think another good guideline for the usefulness of a rule is whether or not the misuse eliminates another words potentially useful meeting.

    So, for example,

    conflating ‘disinterested’ with ‘uninterested” you lose the useful and interesting meaning of the former (two words become one)
    Same for “principal” and “principle” or “ensure” and “insure” or “ignorant” and “rude.”


    Anyway, I agree that English isn’t a dead language (that’s why I differ on “unique,” which I don’t think is a very useful word as described above), but I think it’s worth having a debate about whether we lose something by letting certain incorrect useages go.

  87. Who knew the English language could be so fun? I have to tell you I enjoyed this post as much for the comments as the content.

    My pet peeve: Except verses Accept.

  88. Here’s some more-authoritative information about “hopefully” and its changing usage from genuine language geeks (professional ones at that):


    […] DO YOU long for the not-so-distant days when people used “hopefully” correctly – as in “to travel hopefully” – rather than to modify a whole sentence, as in “Hopefully, today I will win the lottery”? […] If so, you might be surprised that according to the Oxford English Dictionary, all these questions are based on a false premise. “Hopefully” has been used to mean “let us hope” since at least 1932. […]

    And from:

    […] Hopefully. This doesn’t mean I hope. Hopefully, I’ll finish the report by noon. Do you mean you’ll finish the report in a hopeful frame of mind by noon? Or do you mean you hope you’ll finish the report by noon? Say what you mean: I hope to finish the report by noon.

    Speaker-oriented (or “stance”) adverbial hopefully has been taking abuse pretty steadily for 30 or more years (see MWDEU). Linguists are mostly just baffled by this disparagement; see the discussion in the American Heritage Book of English Usage, where it’s noted that “hopefully seems to have taken on a life of its own as a shibboleth.” But the word fits right into long-standing patterns of the language — cf. frankly in “Frankly, this soup stinks” and surprisingly in “Surprisingly, this soup is delicious” — and it provides a way of expressing the speaker’s attitude towards a proposition which is both (a) brief and (b) subordinate: “I hope that S”, “I have a hope that S”, “It is to be hoped that S”, and the like are wordier, and have the hoping expressed in a main clause (as the apparent main assertion), while what writers want is to assert the proposition provisionally, adding a modifier expressing their attitude towards it. So speaker-oriented hopefully is a GOOD thing, and it’s no surprise that it’s spread so fast.

  89. Great Post! I am sorry you didn’t use “inconceivable”! Another frequently mis-used word 🙂 Cheers for The Princess Bride ! You can’t go wrong with Rob Reiner films as blog fodder. Might I suggest This is Spinal Tap for a future post? Hilarious possibilities there still untapped. Groan.

  90. I am wondering why nobody has yet mentioned the incorrect use of “up” when they should use “raise”? I can ‘raise a glass’ but I have yet to determine how to ‘up a glass’. Yes, I know it derives from the term “up the ante”, but I was taught that up was the opposite of down not the opposite of lower.

  91. Hi Tony,

    I agreed with all your entertaining observations, except one.
    “truly unique”
    Very unique, really unique, indeed this is blatant tautology, but, truly unique has a subtley different meaning to me.
    To me, the intensifier is not referring to the level of ‘uniqueness’ which is, as you say, an impossibility, it’s referring to whether it is unique or not. A vote for the truth of the assertion that the aforementioned unique entity is indeed unique …

    I liked your list though – only ones i am guilty of are afterwards / towards – but i never write them…

  92. If you’re going to say flustrated, you might as well say flusterpated and be done with it. May as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb.

    There’s another one, hung/hanged.

    There are an inconceivable number of comments to this topic.

  93. Can’t we really use afterwards with an ‘s’? I looked it up and my Cobuild dictionary said that both afterwards and afterward are correct, but Americans use the word with no ‘s’.

    And thanks for the Farther / Further one. You have confirmed that my understanding is correct although I rarely see anybody around me use ‘farther’. I always try to use it when I mean to say about the distance.

  94. Brian’s second paragraph apparently was missed by a few people who took issue with the “outrageous” idea of long-standing rules of grammar.

    Before he even listed any misused words, he wrote:

    “We know by now that great copy and content often purposefully breaks the rules of grammar. It’s only when you break the rules by mistake that you look dumb.”

    If you know the rules, then you can break them when appropriate and effective; generally, though, people misusing words haven’t a clue what they’re doing.

    I’m always amazed how touchy people get at the assertion of standards or the idea that something is more right than something else.

  95. Look at Copyblogger rockin’ The Princess Bride! I’ve been struggling for years to convince my dad that “irregardless” is not a word and that even if it was, it would be totally redundant.

    Here’s a little tip for remembering who/whom… Try rewriting the sentence with he/him. If “he” works better, then use “who.” If “him” works better, go with “whom.”

  96. Jesse, I’m glad you quoted the line “We know by now that great copy and content often purposefully breaks the rules of grammar.” Don’t you think the verb should be “break”?

  97. Thanks for the great word review and the movie recommendation. I’m from TX and I remember as a child writing a letter and asking my mother how to spell “svening” and she was confused until she said, “Use it in a sentence.” I said, “We’re going to the movies “svening”.. this evening. I still need help.

  98. Thanks. Yeh, I obsessively proofread all of my blog entries. Unfortunately, its really hard to edit your own work for grammar and other errors because its been proven that your brain sometimes ‘reads the right version’ without actually ‘seeing the right version’.

    That being said, some words which really bother me when I see them used improperly are:
    their and there – I cringe at this one
    a lot and alot
    worse and worst

    Either way, everyone is really forgiving when they read copy on the web. After all, for tech blogs at least, many of the writers’ first language is not English.

    • I hope you were being facetious when you said “almost forgot”. Something is either forgotten or it’s not. There’s no in-between. It’s also predicting the future – “almost forgot” sounds as if you knew you would forget it; but then you run into the paradoxes of time travel! Saying “I just remembered” is much more accurate, and keeps it in the present tense/

  99. Afterwards is wrong in American English. It’s afterward

    I always use this word ‘Afterwards’.

  100. Princess Bride rocks. It’s where I first learned that somebody could be just be mostly dead and where I learned what true love is all about.

    I like the idea of pointing out the issues so you can break the rules by design instead of by mistake.

    For complement, I think of more compl*e*te. For principal, I think of the principal is your *pal.* Well, sometimes.

    Here’s a couple more popular confusions:
    1. right and wrong vs. correct and incorrect
    2. precision vs. accuracy

    I actually love when somebody distinguishes between precision and accuracy.

    I used to wordsmith more and get into semantics, but then I learned a few more distinctions that changed my perspective:
    1. Ethos trumps pathos trumps logos. Shining the spot light on word misuse forced a nose-dive straight to the logos playing field and broke rapport (and rapport precedes influence.)
    2. There’s something to be said for code grooming, colloquialisms, and connecting.
    3. It wasn’t valued. My editors cared, but my customers didn’t. It was another reminder of an above the line vs. below the line kind of thing.

    … So I raised my frustration tolerance and a former peeve turned into a mild amusement. (I can still hear my Latin teacher espousing “right and wrong are moral terms …”)
    Change the frame, change the game.

  101. Not misused, but the most seen spelling error on web pages (especially by programmers)


    Whether noun or adjective separate is the correct spelling.

  102. Nice one! Oh my goodness, I was using most of them all the time. lol!

    This was fun, especially that I’m laughing at my own mistakes. lol! Thanks for sharin!

  103. This comment string has developed a life of its (not it’s) own! So many of you have reminded me of even more ways that English can be used and abused. The discussion of break and breaks reminded me that I often see cars on Craigslist that are advertised as having new breaks. I’d really rather have a car that stops than a car that was recently broken.

  104. Before we got married, my ex wrote that he’d had “stake” for dinner. He was an engineer.

    Brian, is this a record for number of responses to a post?

  105. Since we’ve had such fun noting commonly misused words, does anyone want to take a crack at listing common punctuation errors?

    I’ll start us off. My personal pet peeve is punctuation placed outside the quotation marks. Commas, periods, question marks, etc. should always go inside the quotes.

  106. Thanks for a great post with entertaining comments. One of my pet peeves is idea/ideal. I had a coworker with many ideals.

    @ Ryan – Anybody want a peanut?

    @ Roxanne – when/whenever drives me nuts, too. I have found it to be common in the Texas/Oklahoma area. I have been able to correctly “peg” where someone grew up based on that.

  107. @Susan Green, the punctuation error that makes me nuts is a comma where there should be a semicolon or a period, resulting in a run-on sentence. Lots of perfectly bright people are guilty of that one. And of course, the ever-popular its/it’s.

    Brian — 484 comments! Yikes. Why grammar is such a hot button may deserve a post of its own.

  108. Compliment/Complement: I once saw a wine label that said, “This wine compliments steak.” Apparently, it sits in the glass and says, “Hey, steak, you’re looking very juicy today!”

    @Mike: “It’s” rather than “its” is one of my pet peeves. Did you ever hear that language expert William Safire wanted to buy a dog and name it Peeve?

    @Brian: Something’s not quite right with your criteria/criterion. “If someone tells you they have only one criteria, you can quickly interject and offer that it be they get a clue.”

    Can we also address “impact” as a verb? Grrrr.

  109. The British disagree… I co-author Lateral Action with Londoner Mark McGuinness, and we both just go about our own conventions.

    I’ve been watching the comments unfold and I think we should start putting disclaimers on grammar/punctuation posts.

    “If you are from XYZ country, this post is for you. All other countries, check in tomorrow for the complete opposite.”

    I’m also with Jesse Hines, there. It’s amazing to watch people take hard stances on which way is right (usually theirs) without taking into consideration that there are various ways and all are correct.

  110. I was taught that you use who when you would use he or she in a sentence. Then use “whom” when you would use him or her. That rule seems simpler than subject versus object! I love English and grammar, keep up the good work.

  111. This is a fine list, but doesn’t include my pet peeve: nauseous/nauseated. Common useage is “I feel nauseous.”
    Something nauseous causes others to feel nauseated by it.
    A nauseous gas, or grizzly sight, makes one nauseated. To say “I’m nauseous” means that you cause someone else to be nauseated.

  112. I LOVE that you used the line from The Princess Bride. It’s one of my all-time favorite shows. Your title made me read the post.

  113. In the last few years I’ve noticed people, especially on radio and television, saying things like “The reason is is that she…” or “The problem is is that we don’t think…”. I don’t believe this is proper. I call it the “Unnecessary Double IS”.

    Has anyone else noticed this?

  114. LLOL: I’m literally laughing out loud. I love that people care so much; given the implications, I can’t help but infer my grammatical efforts are appreciated. ^_^ The only rules I break are those w/which I disagree. I quite willfully use towards & have likely used afterwards as well. Despite being American, I grew up reading British literature & write for the global audience that is the internet. It’s worth noting that “towards” is not underlined by spell-check whereas “afterwards” is.

    The bottom line is that writers should have dictionaries at the ready but do ensure it’s one w/usage notes. ~_^ Then, if a word’s definition can be substituted for the word you’d like to use, use it. In accordance w/that advice, I’m hopefully now making clear which other rule I disagree with (BTW, ending w/a preposition is NOT always wrong). Regardless, another thing Princess Bride teaches us is that the words aren’t as important as the meaning ultimately conveyed.

    “I’ve been saying it so long to you, you just wouldn’t listen. Every time you said ‘Farm Boy do this’ you thought I was answering ‘As you wish’ but that’s only because you were hearing wrong. ‘I love you’ was what it was, but you never heard.” — ‘Westley’ in “The Princess Bride”

  115. Worse than the double “is,” which in speech can be forgiven because of the crush of the moment and would never be done in print, is [get it?] “the reason is . . . because . . .” which you find not only being spewed from the mouth but also in print. The first IS forgivable, the latter, mindless.

  116. “Moot,” like “sanction” and a fairly large number of other words, have more than one meaning, sometimes directly opposite the other.

  117. It’s so troubling how common parlance sometimes trumps proper use in speaking and in writing. One of my biggest pet peeves is misuse of “myriad”. It isn’t “a myriad of”, it’s JUST MYRIAD!!!

    Still, being hypervigilant about such things provides moments of humor – like hearing my vendor refer to something being a “mute point”.

  118. Thank you *so* much for taking up the cause! And in the spirit of my good friend Inigo. Princess Bride all the way.

    How about “Disorientated?” Oooh – i hate that one. It makes people sound so . . . stupid. What’s wrong with “Disorented?”

    • “an LOUS?” Should it be “a LOUS?” Or is there some alternative pronunciation of LOUS that begins with a vowel sound? Sorry, couldn’t resist. 😀

  119. I make these mistakes all the time. It drives me nuts. But I am always somewhat amused when topics like this come up. Why? Because language is dynamic. Once an incorrectly used word gains enough popular acceptance it becomes an acceptable word, much to the annoyance of purists. We don’t still speak in Middle English, after all. That does not mean I think it is OK to misuse words. Doing so makes me look ignorant. But language does evolve. ~jon

  120. The ones that bug me are:

    – “lose” / “loose”, especially when someone writes “looser” when they mean “loser”

    – “yea” / yeah”: think “yea” = “yay!”, “yeah” = “yes”

  121. Hey, I just found your site from the post about this article over at performancing. Check the first post over there and you will find one that gives me headaches every time I see it.

    This is in no way an attack on performancing, I rather like that site and now even more that it has lead me to your site, but that’s just wrong.

  122. Here’s one to add, expand upon and ingrain into every so-called blogger who makes this idiotic mistake.

    I have a client who’s a better podcaster than blogger … by far.

    Today, on his podcast, as he’s done well over 1 trillion times, he says,” …. today I wrote a blog about …”

    You can call them posts on your blog, you can even call ’em articles, but don’t call ’em blogs.

    Just say “… today I blogged about …”


    No, really, I’m begging you.

    • What’s wrong with using “blog” as a verb and noun? After all, it’s a contraction of “web log”, as in a record of events, like the captain’s log (record, journal), in which he logs the events of the day. You logged into this blog in order to post your comment, didn’t you?

  123. Sorry, late to comment, but I still had to chime in because the title of the post is awesome! The breakdown of the words is really helpful as well :), and once those who have not seen Princess Bride check it out, I think they will really have an even better appreciation for the post.

  124. The first thing that caught my attention was the headline and reference to Princess Bride. I thought that was just an awesome way to begin any post as that movie is great.

    I have to admit I have used many of the words in the post incorrectly in the past and this post should become (I am sure it already is) a resource of words and how to use them correctly. Sometimes we just write and don’t quite think things all the way through.

  125. I had my sister, who is in a management position look at my resume a couple of years ago. One of my statements was about a company owned by “my husband and me.” She called me and told me she was going to have to get on my case because of my grammar in this sentence. She told me it should be “owned by my husband and I.” I explained to her why I was right and she was wrong and she said, “well you shouldn’t use that because it just sounds wrong.” Sigh! My grammar is not perfect but I thought this was funny.

  126. Two of my favorites:
    devastate vs. decimate — I’ve seen these misused in some writing that is otherwise very elegant. Devastate means “spread destruction widely”; decimate means “destroy exactly one-tenth.”

    Kudos — it is a singular, not a plural. “He deserves a kudos for his elegant writing.”

  127. Don’t forget this favorite of mine… (I see rookie “writers” make this mistake all of the time)

    Your – possessive form of YOU
    You’re – conjunction of YOU ARE


    okay… maybe I see more low-rent writers than some!

    Mike Morgan

  128. Anyone have a spell check that connects with my brain and the PC so that my computer knows what I wanted to say and not what I typed? Now that would be a great product!

    I continue to type along and seem to always add a letter or leave one off when I type “your” and you” and my brain seldom picks up on that while I’m in forward motion. Anyone else do that or is it just me?

    Henry Griner

  129. Another grammar gotcha is Which/That, but my pet peeves are invented words such as “athalete” and “preventative.” I recommend everyone who writes more than grocery lists invest in a copy of Strunk & White.

  130. I admire all the people who admitted they needed this post. The study of the craft of writing is a life-long venture. It is easier to live a long and happy life than to write well. (If you use this statement, I would appreciate your citing me as the source, as it has been my professional mantra for more than forty years.) The constant study should be an everyday thing, obviously. What is inconceivable to me is that people don’t use a prescriptive dictionary, don’t have the CHICAGO MANUAL OF STYLE, WORDS INTO TYPE, ELEMENTS OF STYLE, MODERN AMERICAN USAGE, and MODERN ENGLISH USAGE at their fingertips. The study of etymology and confusibles should also be incorporated. Anyone who has not read ON WRITING WELL and THE MOTHER TONGUE is missing delightful reading. One protege said, “If everyone wrote as interestingly about language as that, I’d read about it more.”
    Love the word; it is God’s most precious gift.

  131. Great topic.

    ‘Literally’ seems to be the most common error I notice, I’ve given up on the majority of people ever using it correctly.

    One that I think wasn’t mentioned in the original post was the confusion between ‘alternative’ (= a choice between two things) and ‘alternate’ (= swinging back and forth between two things).

    My pet hate though is misuse of the apostrophe particularly in ITS / IT’S

    It should only ever be written IT’S if you mean IT IS. If you are using it as a possessive eg its tail, then there’s no apostrophe.

    Of course, people commonly get the possessive apostrophe wrong anyway, but even those who understand that rule seem not to understand that ITS TAIL should not be written IT’S TAIL.

    Don’t get me started on bear versus bare, chose used instead of choose and eg confused with ie.

    And at school I learnt things are ‘similar to’ and ‘different from’ but as far as I can tell I’m the only person who doesn’t say ‘different to’.

    I will have to go back and read all the other comments so I can empathise with other equally perfect linguists.

  132. Ok, this isn’t a misused word, but it is a commonly misspelled word – and the funny part is that I even found it in one of your comments. GRAMMAR

    I once knew a girl who had this quote in her profile: “Don’t speak to me if you don’t have good grammer.” Ohhhh, the irony.

  133. This post makes me happy. I’m always the one who corrects people’s grammar (though not as often as I used to; I find people don’t always like being corrected…(o:).
    As for who/whom, my trick is if there is a preposition in the sentence, don’t end with it (it’s the Queen’s English, but I think it sounds better anyway). So, “Whom are you going to write about?” is correct, but it I always know it’s correct when it’s said, “About whom are you going to write.” “About who are you going to write” just sounds wrong.
    And The Princess Bride: my favorite movie. The reference made me very excited!

  134. In my foreign language classes, I’ve learned quite a bit about English and how it is used, due to the fact that I am gaining an outside perspective. I do not believe correct usage is quite as important as being understood, because when it all comes down to it, language is used for communication. Nitpicking over usage just confuses things in an already confused language, as we do NOT have the Académie de Anglophone stepping up to draw up standards.

    That said (or rather typed), this is a very interesting guide on how things have changed and common mistakes.

    I remember reading about how “bald” used to mean “white haired” once, and that when I looked it up, “cute” meant “lame” in my 1800s dictionary.

    Sidra said: “May I also toss in good vs. well and bad vs. badly when referring to how someone feels? “How are you, Olivia?” “I’m well.” (Me: grrrr.)”

    Why are you going “grrr”? Isn’t that the correct usage, as opposed to mysteriously growing angel wings?

  135. I’m a writer, and I still hate grammar-snobs. I do my best, and knew most of these…but hell, sometimes it’s nice to be informal. By the way, I would have loved to see effect/affect on your list. I cannot for the life of me get that one straight.

  136. Excelent post, I will keep it handy for the future.
    It has been a long time since I was in High School, and I can’t believe how much I have forgotten about the English language.

  137. It’s not too late for “too” and “to”, is it?
    I scanned through the remarks here, but there was only one that inferred to “too”.
    I always mix that up…
    – Me too.
    – It’s too late

    What’s the deal with these?
    Great post btw 😉

  138. The one that always comes up on my sports copy desk is the incorrect use of “a pair of.” If the two items in question are a matched set, then they are a pair. But if a batter has two singles in a game, he doesn’t have a pair of hits.

  139. people commonly mistake should’ve for should of or could of. The correct use is could have or should have.

    Do you have a blog entry on the complete and utter misuse of the word ironic?

  140. Pet peeve alert! “Irregardless” sounds retarded.

    OK, I feel better. Thanks for the list. It’s great. And I must add as a comment to the world, our esteemed colleague is absolutely right about the Princess Bride. Hysterical.

  141. The one I hate is “proverbial” – which means “referring to or coming from a specific proverb.” That word is rarely used correctly.

  142. Actually, one of the definitions of proverbial is:

    5. having become an object of common mention or reference: your proverbial inability to get anywhere on time.

    That’s the way it’s most often used.

  143. ONLY

    Less precise: “…. The old school rule is you only use hopefully if you’re describing …

    More precise: “…. The old school rule is you use hopefully only if you’re describing..”


    Less precise: “Insure is only correct when you call up Geico…”

    More precise: “Insure is correct only when you call up Geico…”

    Only sayin’

  144. Good call, Otto Didact. I haven’t seen or heard “only” in the right place in a sentence in a looonnng time.

  145. I have to mention this one.


    This is NOT a word!! It is just like hearing fingernails on a chalkboard to my ears when I hear this word.

    Use converse instead. Conversate makes you look ridiculous.

    Ridiculous is another one. It’s not rediculous.

    Then there’s the old congradulations. Don’t get me started.

    Congratulations on a great, thought provoking post.

  146. Another word I experienced today: Unstability
    Unstable is a word found in the dictionary nut Instable is not.
    Instability is found in a dictionary but Unstability is not.
    A search for the word “unstability” returns many occurances of this word in technical papers from surprising sources.

  147. Perhaps someone else has already pointed this out above, but how about my personal pet peeve: the common misusage of the lay/lie verb? This is what I was taught: LAY is “to place or to put” (and also the past tense of lie, for example “Earlier today, I lay a blanket on the bed before I lay down for my nap”) and LIE is “to rest or recline” (and also to fib or tell an untruth, for example “Lie down doggie, even though I lied when I said you’d get a treat”)

  148. Who would recognise “ghoti” as “fish”.
    “gh” as in trough. In Australia we pronounce this as troff
    “o” as in women
    “ti” as in position

  149. This is excellent! I am frequently ranting about this very issue. People don’t understand the mistakes they make and how it makes them look. I wish everyone who ever writes anything would read this.

  150. I’m with Nick way up above: enormity vs. enormousness.

    Enormity refers to monstrous evil.

    Enormousness is a matter of really big size.

  151. Nice. I love when people use “literally” in order to strengthen their exaggerations.

    I think that with “principal/principle” unless you mean a rule to follow it is always spelled “principal.”

    Also, that further/farther distinction is only (sort of) recognized in American English (which I want to say means its bullshit and we should just forget about it).

  152. Honestly, you had me with the Princess Bride reference.

    As a recovering English major, I had to stop reading the post because I was having flashbacks.

    Watch out for the R.O.U.S.!

    Thanks for the laugh! I really should buy that movie.

  153. What about formerly/formally? Pet peeve when a writer is referring to a previous name (formerly), as opposed to their formal title.

  154. I, of course, loathe the “they’re there their” debacle, but the one that drives me absolutely spare is when people use cloths in place of clothes. Yes, most of the time, it is technically correct; that is, most clothes are made of cloth, but it’s not what the auther means. It’s like if someone used paper when they should use book, or water when they mean ice.

  155. I agree with OneEyedCarmen (and Ashleigh). I was taught to never end a sentence with a preposition. The correct format is “About whom are you going to write?”, as I learned it.

    I love posts like this. The comments are almost as entertaining as the post.

    And, yeah (oops, faux pas there, I’m sure), The Princess Bride made me roll off my chair and onto the floor in tears of laughter!

  156. Hmm. As Winston Churchill is reputed to have said to a speechwriter of his who rewrote a sentence to eliminate a preposition at the end, “That is something up with which I will not put.”

  157. I teach astronomy for UMUC online. There are several misused and confused words that you missed that really make me growl. (Thank goodness I teach online, eh?)

    1) Accept vs Except. Hate, hate, hate that college students don’t know the difference! I refuse to accept it. No exceptions!

    2) Supine and prone. Supine is face up prone is face down.

    3) Me and . ARGH!

    4) Astronomy vs Astrology. An automatic F when the latter is used for the former (oddly, the reverse never happens).

    5) People really need to read and refer to “Elements of Style.” Without the cutsy pictures. Get a nice, old, used copy.


  158. Hi, it’s me again. I scrolled through the previous posts pretty quickly, so forgive me if ANXIOUS vs. EAGER has already been addressed here. To simplify, when you’re ANXIOUS, you’re nervous or filled with trepidation. When you’re EAGER, you’re hopeful or anticipating with pleasure. Even my middle school-age daughter knows the difference! We lost count of how many times A-list newscasters misused these two words today during their Inauguration coverage, for example incorrectly as “President Obama must be anxious to get to the next Ball”. He wasn’t nervous about it, he was looking forward to it, so eager is correct. C’mon Anderson Cooper, I expected more from you. 🙂 My other peeve, after “very unique” and the misuse of lay rather than lie, is the common misspelling of judgment as judgement (two e’s is incorrect).

  159. Amazingly, some people go ballistic over Hopefully at the beginning of a sentence (for example, “Hopefully, nobody will scream when I start a sentence with hopefully.), but nobody cares about words like frankly, truthfully, or fortunately used in exactly the same way?

    I wrote an article for the late lamented Editorial Eye about this topic (here, but the Reader’s Digest version is this: There’s nothing wrong with hopefully when used as an introductory sentence modifier.

    Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn whether you decide to use hopefully the same way you likely use words like amazingly or clearly. Just don’t turn it into some kind of shibboleth for “good writing.”

  160. My daughter was speaking with a woman about children during a massage. After their session, she came over to me and said she was sad because the woman was inconceivable. I asked what she meant… She said… “Because she couldn’t get pregnant.” I laughed so hard and still crack a smile when I think of both my daughter and Inigo. I do not think it meant what she thought it meant. lol

  161. I dated a girl who wrote “for all intensive purposes” all the time. I thought it counterproductive to correct her, but for the record, it’s “for all intents and purposes.”

  162. Thanks for that link, Dickness. Very interesting point of discussion. When you have a moment, scroll up to read the discussion regarding the use of “truly unique” (if something is unique, by definition it is one of a kind, there is nothing else like it; therefore there can be no levels of uniqueness and something can’t be truly or more unique; it can be unusual or truly special, but never “truly unique”, either it’s unique or it’s not)

  163. Oh, a joke, I get it now 🙂
    Humor doesn’t always translate well online, especially between virtual strangers (in our case, wouldn’t “virtual strangers” be an oxymoron?). Have a super Saturday, Dickness!

  164. Here’s another mistake that I just saw today. This should be caught by all spell checkers, but…it’s not — probably people don’t use that function, or don’t know what the red line under the word means 😉

    supersede (correct)
    supercede (incorrect; not a word)

    That’s all for me!

  165. Great post and comments! My two cents:

    i.e. – e.g.
    economic – economical
    loose – lose (it has been already mentioned but it is my favorite)


  166. Regarding your last paragraph regarding The Princess Bride – I am in full agreement but would also add, nice integration of the word inconceivable in the first sentence. With the title, it caught my eye right away.

  167. I think the word “random” should be added to the list as well. “Literally” bothers me the most out of all of those. I’ve heard people say “My legs literally turned to jelly” and “your world was literally turned upside down”.

    Um… you mean figuratively right?

    Annoys me to no end.

  168. How fun! I, too, have a few pet peeves:
    Calvary vs. cavalry
    Calvary is a place; cavalry used to be the Army guys on horses. Cavalry can now mean the soldiers are in motorized vehicles but I will always see soldiers on horseback when I hear “cavalry.”

    As for i.e. and e.g., I never learned these in school so I made up my own memory device. Use i.e. when you mean “in other words” (both start with “i”). and e.g. when you mean “for example” (“example” sounds like it starts with “eg”). Their proper punctuation is: xxx, i.e., xxx or xxx, e.g., xxx. I see them in parentheses, with no punctuation at all, etc.

    I have one more that only the truly obsessed worry about–lectern and podium. A podium is the platform on which you stand. Marcia stood on the podium where she stood behind the lectern. If you need a memory jogger, “pod” is having to do with feet, like a podiatrist, and you put your lecture notes on the lectern.

    Isn’t this fun? Thanks!

  169. Awesome list, many pf my pet peeve are already among your examples. I’d add this one, somewhat related to “criterion/criteria”:

    Phenomenon / Phenomena

    In fairness, both words can only be truly understood if one happens to have enjoyed some basic Ancient Greek 101 in their schooling somewhere, which I did way back in the day. There are professors and all kinds of other smart and accomplished people who get these two wrong.

    One big problem with pointing out these mistakes: The receiver of your well-meant advice almost never takes well to the correction. It’s one of the prime violations mentioned in Dale Carnegie’s “How to win friends & influence people”, and your rapport may never quite recover from it.

    Instead, you can hope that they find a resource like yours somewhere and see the “grammatical light.” 🙂

    So in my view it’s best to just smile knowingly, and let it go. As you said, some mistakes are becoming so common that they become, well, the new standard; all language is based on convention after all.

    BTW, here’s another: I cringed every time during the election season when someone (did Hillary start it?) falsely said – “The change I will make…” – by which presumably they were not referring to the act of giving back coins and smaller bills to break up larger ones.

    The correct phrasing would have been “make changes” or “to create change”…

  170. My pet peeve is seeing the word “utilze” where the word “use” should appear.

    I don’t utilize a hammer to pound a nail.
    I use a hammer to pound a nail.
    But I can utilize my shoe to pound a nail.

    “Utilize” is when you make use of something for other than its intended purpose.

  171. I agree with Holly. However there is no reason to utilize an alternative to the word use which is suitable for all occasions.

  172. I always explain fewer/less by saying

    – You can only have “fewer” of something that you can have “a few” of
    – You can only have “less” of something that you can have “a little” of

  173. What a great post. Gives me hope for the future.
    Here are two more words that get mixed up sometimes: pore & pour. Correct: “She pored over the document” (Please, not “…poured over the document.” I’ve seen it that way quite a bit lately, drives me nuts.)

  174. This post should be considered essential reading for all bloggers and YouTube commenters! It’s also fantastic linkbait.

  175. Inigo Montoya is my heroe!
    Movie was great, but the book is even better!
    Great (and useful!) post, thanks!
    (I know the whole who/whom thing but using whom often
    makes people stop listening to you. And want to slap you.)

  176. Wander and Wonder. I see them mixed up all the time and it drives me crazy! You don’t ‘wonder’ around a shopping mall!

  177. Can we make up a general rule about adding syllables to words that don’t exist? Like ‘real-i-tor’ when the correct pronunciation is ‘real-tor’. Or ‘real-i-ty’ instead of ‘real-ty’.

    The rule would read: “don’t add imaginary syllables.”

  178. What about because/since? As I understand it, “since” should be used for referencing time. “Since my childhood…” “Since 1980…”

    I see people use it to show cause/effect …”Since you broke the lamp, you can replace it.”

    Also, I have some questions about things that I hear spoken.
    I hear people say “heighth” instead of height.
    “I got it for free.” instead of “I got it free.”

    Are these ever correct?

  179. I have a friend who used to travel two additional blocks (each way) in order to patronize the grocery store with the express line for shoppers buying “10 items or fewer” instead of “10 items or less.”

    Also, here are two words whose usage I do not yet accept, and do not expect to accept (not except) any time soon:

    -commentator (no need for the “ta” syllable, unless you’re describing an easily found spud)

    -service used in place of serve (my father has reminded me often that service is what a bull does to a cow)

    Mawwiage . . . is what bwings us togethew today. Wuve . . . twoo wuve . . . that dweam within a dweam . . .

  180. This is a great list, and an interesting read. Plus, it name drops Princess Bride, which is like the greatest movie ever. So that’s pretty cool.

  181. This one is rather unusual…heard most often from the mouths of television or radio news readers:

    Confusion between incidents and incidences.
    An incident is an event. The plural is incidents.
    Incidence refers to a rate of occurrence–e.g., a high incidence of crime. The plural is incidences. Its use is quite rare (except, perhaps, among statisticians). E.g., the incidences of crime and of police overtime assignments is inversely proportional. The news readers often use incidences when the should use incidents.

  182. That farther/further thing always messes me up, so I usually don’t use them. This is going straight into my bookmarks. Bonus points for using a character and quotes from one of my all-time favorite movies! (:

  183. I didn’t see two of my pet peeves. Oh, believe me, I have more than two. LOL My grandmother was a poet and former English teacher, and my mother and I are completely anal with spelling and grammar because of her teachings. I do misspell things sometimes, but when I catch it, I beat myself up like you wouldn’t believe.

    But here’s two that make me cringe:

    “peak/pique” and “heel/heal”

    If your interest is “piqued,” that means someone’s grabbed your attention. If it’s “peaked” then that’s all the attention you have to give – it’s all downhill from there. There IS a difference!

    And your “heel” is on your foot. You DO NOT “rock on your heals.” (ahhh – it was painful to even write the incorrect version. oh I HATE that!) You *heal* from an injury. Big difference.

    Okay – two more: “jewelry/jewlery”. It’s NOT “joo-ler-ee” for God’s sake. (what is a “jewle”? nothing! that’s what! That’s why it’s not “jewlery”!)

    And yes, the “loose/lose” thing drives me insane. I so agree with everyone else there. I had to beat my own daughter for that one – she picked that up from someone (probably the same girl who told her that you had to have sex constantly for 7 days straight to get pregnant) and I sat her down until she got it right.

    I will say though – I was in a discussion not too long ago about contractions: especially with “its/it’s”. (BTW – I hate it when people don’t know when to use the possessive vs. plural – so they just add ” ‘s” to the end of everything.) When I was in grade school, we were actually taught a third version: “its’ ” which was representative of the possessive AND plural – but it was only used with the word “it.” I’ve since discovered that “its’ ” is incorrect, and believe me, it’s sometimes difficult for me to forget it. I find myself backing up quite often to correct that mistake, and some days I’d like to find the teachers that taught it to me and beat them silly.

    Oh, now I’ve gone too far. My biggest pet peeve has been exposed for the world to see! I’m going to shut up now!

  184. This is an outstanding post. And a nice find overall. I’m bookmarking this puppy! Thanks! (And thanks to Pariah for twittering about it.)

  185. Brian you should have enough information from these comments to write similar blog entries through the end of the year. But I’m astounded that with all these literary people weighing in, there were only two references to the novel – which by the way blows away the very good movie.

    If you like the movie, set aside some time and read the book. Once you start, you won’t want to stop -even though you know what’s coming next. Some of the best parts never made it to the movie (can you say Zoo of Death).

    By William Goldman.

  186. Regard vs. Regards

    I’ve heard many people saying: In regards to….
    The correct use is: “in regard to,” “with regard to,” “regarding,” or “as regards.”

  187. Doug, you forgot the trees. Oh, how it would have been awesome if they included all the “tree” stuff in the movie 😉

    (and I actually know someone who insists the book that Mr. Goldman refers to all the time actually exists – she won’t believe that there’s no such book. Every time we go to a bookstore, she makes them try and find it. ::rolls eyes::)

    And I agree – if you haven’t read the book – do so. The book is *always* better than the movie. (the only exception: Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Oh, that book sucked big time.)

  188. Let’s not forget ‘momentarily’. It means ‘for a moment’ NOT ‘in a moment’. When the captain says, “We’ll be landing momentarily,” I say, “I hope not!”

  189. I reread this post today and realized that two of my own pet peeves havn’t been mentioned.

    1. Different than vs different from. I keep hearing people saying things like “My car is different than yours,” and it grates on me every time. Your car may be bigger than (substitute: faster than, older than, heavier than) mine, but it all adds up to its being different from mine.

    2. The loss of the Serial Comma. Okay, so we may salute the red, white and blue. That looks okay, but what if I want to thank my parents, Mother Theresa and the Pope? Check out this wonderful book on punctuation: Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynn Truss.

  190. the clearest explanation of who v. whom I’ve ever seen uses a mnemonic device:

    I have never seen the word “immanent” before today… “premier” v. “premiere” always get me…

    I find these “top xx mistakes” posts the most useful of all… I think English teachers ought to start day one of class by just teaching how to avoid common grammar mistakes like “alot” and “your” and not move forward until the entire class gets 100% on the quiz…

  191. Thanks for providing that link to who vs whom, Patrick! However, I read her rationale and I believe Miss Grammar Girl unknowingly typed the same sentence twice, or there is a typo, or she intended it to be redundant for emphasis. Because the critical sentence explaining the difference between who and whom makes no sense:

    “So remember, you use whom when you are referring to the object of a sentence. Use whom when you are referring to the object of a sentence.”

    Ho hum,

    A. Little Bird

  192. Love the princess bride relation!
    Thanks for this!! Way awesome!

    Who vs whom is my weakness – I’ve to mentally check myself each time before using both words. 🙂

    Personal pet peeve not in here – every day vs everyday. Whenever I walk past a shop window displaying signs reading ‘Open everyday’, I wish I have a red marker in my bag to make it read right!

    p/s: Princess Bride – read it to absorb the genius of William Goldman. The movie doesn’t do it enough justice.

  193. We’ll you got me with the Princess Bride quote and I didn’t stop laughing. I actually found myself correcting the reporter on the morning news because he misused “fewer.” And in college I used to cringe every time a roommate used the word “irregardless”. Didn’t know about “Hopefully” so I learned something. Thanks!

  194. This is a fantastic list! I would like to nominate one of my favorite pairs: tenant/tenet

    A tenet is a principle, rule or belief generally held to be true — a tenant lives there…

    Thank you.

    My inner Grammar police officer is now momentarily amused and satisfied.

  195. Great stuff, many are personal pet peeves, especially irregardless. Unfortunately, I have to clarify your comments on that one. According to Webster: “The most frequently repeated remark about it is that ‘there is no such word.’ There is such a word, however. It is still used primarily in speech, although it can be found from time to time in edited prose. Its reputation has not risen over the years, and it is still along way from general acceptance. Use regardless instead.”

    Regardless of Webster’s acknowledgement, I still cringe whenever I hear it!

  196. Another favorite is “prostate” instead of “prostrate.” Always hard not to laugh when someone refers to being “prostate on the ground” or “prostating” themselves before someone!

  197. Excellent list. Excellenter commentary. One quibble:

    “Whom are you going to write about?”

    My mother would gouge out the eye of a passing stranger if she heard someone end a sentence with a preposition. Wouldn’t “About whom are you going to write?” be more correct?

  198. I just saw the word “evidentially” used on a home page where they meant “evidently.” Gosh, it’s painful.
    What would be a polite way of bringing this to their attention? “I think highly of you, but I also think highly of the English language…” or “It happens to the best of us – there’s a misspelling on your homepage…”
    I wonder if any of their customers even notice.

  199. I constantly violate almost all these rules. I am printing this list and placing it right next to my laptop. It’s a great reference tool to get up to speed on fixing my grammar issues.

  200. @ Brian DeKoning and @ Claudia

    I hate that too. You can hear a lot of phone operators and telemarketers using these phrases, “what’s this call in regards to?” or “this is in regards to your…”

    Love the post. Helps a lot!

  201. Thanx guys. You’ve done just an amazing job. It’s especially useful for non-native speakers (I’m one of them)

  202. It seems that no one can use the word “is” anymore without repeating it.
    Not in the correct way, as in “What the real problem is, is that…”
    Even our eloquent President isn’t immune to this verbal tic.

  203. I love this blog!

    Here are a couple of things that drive me crazy:

    When someone says that something is a “true fact.” If it is a “fact,” it is true period. There is no way to make it any more true.

    Also, the use of I instead of me at the end of a prepositional phrase. For example, John will go to the party with you and I. The easiest way to remember this one is to take away the word you and say it again. Who would every say, “John is going to the party with I”?

  204. My favorite seems to appear with conservative Christians: God convicted me to ___.

    I believe they mean convinced but with greater emphasis?

  205. I find myself incapable of not commenting, even at this late date.

    First: if Strunk and White could not obey the rules in the Elements of Style (as they could and did not), I see no reason for other writers to be bound by that mean-spirited little book.

    The problem that we have with “formal English” these days is that Samuel Webster desperately wanted English to be Latin with some extra vocabulary, and so we’ve spent the last few centuries trying to fit our modern language into a grammatical style whose last native speaker died many centuries before that. Treating English as English and not as Latin in costume is a much smarter way to approach the subject. That said:

    “A lot” is correct, but so is “allot”, even though they mean different things.

    “Only” is only properly placed after the verb if you subscribe to the “no split infinitives” theory, which many serious grammarians do not. (See also: Strunk and White not knowing what the hell they’re talking about. Split infinitives being against the rules in English returns to Latin, in which language you cannot generally split infinitives – they’re one word.)

    Shelly (#264), clearly you have not seen the podiatrist’s slogan: “Time wounds all heels.” 🙂

    Randy (#173), “yea” and “yay” rhyme, and I believe the latter is a corruption of the former, but “yea” does indeed mean “yes”. Consider the procedural “yea or nay”. However, in general, in dialogue the correct spelling is “yeah” (with a short “a”).

    Moxx (#278), despite their unfortunate name, prepositions should be placed where they fit best in the sentence, in terms of rhetoric and style. The end of the sentence is sometimes the best place for them, as it is in this case; “about whom are you going to write?” divorces “about” from the verb it works with and visibly weakens the sentence. “Whom are you going to write about” places the emphasis in the proper place: “whom” (at the beginning of the sentence) and “write about” (at the end). “No prepositions at the end of the sentence” is, again, pseudo-Latin silliness.

    My pet peeve: “from whence”. “Whence” already means “from where”; we don’t need a duplicate preposition. (Likewise whither “to where”, thence “from there”, and thither “to there”, although of those we generally only see “whither”, and then only when someone’s translating the title of “Quo Vadis?”.)

  206. I haven’t seen this one on here yet: I really hate it when people write “rot iron” rather than “wrought iron”. Anyone else share this pet peeve?

  207. One mistake I’ve seen a lot lately is using “to” to mean “too.” Yes, you’d think the difference is fairly obvious, but even some people who are successful in business and who graduated from college who are guilty of this.

    Oh and have I mentioned how much it drives me crazy?

  208. Best trick I’ve ever learned about who vs. whom:

    If the answer is “him,” add the “m.”

    Right: Who is going to the fair?
    Hint: He is going to the fair.

    Right: To whom do I give this book?
    Hint: You give the book to him.

  209. “Irregardless is *not* aword.”

    Regardless, I’ve used it over and over. I track it back to my Dad, who was the master of mashing words to make (k)new ones to fit his mood. Thanks, Dad, for thinking ‘outside the dictionary’ and teaching free-speech, and to the Copyblogger team for pointing out this one is *not* in the dictionary, irregardless of it’s use. 😉

  210. The Princess Bride has long been a family favorite in the Reid household. I liked the post all the more because of the tie in and plug for this great film. It made me add the blog to my Google reader. Thanks for the lesson.

  211. @TGN etc. I’m a little late to the party here, and agree with some posters that ‘truly unique’ generally displays sloppy writing however, I think I agree with TGN – it’s not necessarily incorrect (though I’m not sure it’s for the same reasons).

    Surely ‘truly unique’ can be used as a method of differentiating something that is unique from other things which have been erroneously dubbed unique e.g.

    “The new coffee machine from CoffeeBean is unique” (when in fact it’s pretty much the same as all coffee machines in existence)

    As opposed to: “The new coffee machine from Perfect Cup is truly unique” (because it really is unique – it’s a brand new design and a brand new way of building a coffee machine that has never been seen before, and the person marketing it is aware of competitors’ similar, yet false, claims)

    Admittedly, this is a pretty unlikely situation, but it seems to me a good example of a perfectly feasible use of ‘truly unique’.

  212. Awesome stuff!! My mother was an english major in college so most of this I already knew. But nothing bothers me more than the misuse of words. And yes, Princess Bride is a MUST SEE!

  213. Oh, if I had a nickel for every time I’ve noticed one of these mistakes – and that’s just the ones I actually noticed. Thanks for a terrific list AND the explanations of them. This is something that will be printed and placed in my book of “common mistakes when writing” that I’ve been building and accumulating over the years. I am kind of surprised that you didn’t include a very common one that I see – their, they’re, & there. In fact, a nickel for every one of those would definitely improve my financial status. This article is an excellent resource and I’ll recommend it to everyone that I know.

  214. Once, when I was a child, how the word “moot” was used was moot. But today, after years and years of improper use the matter has become moot.

  215. Nice collection … here’s a pitch for capital and capitol. I used both (correctly) on the same page of a brochure, and got chewed out in a staff meeting by a young lady who thought she knew everything. Next day, after providing printouts of definition/use pages, she apologized – to me, but not to the whole group!
    Thanks for great blog.

  216. I am purposefully writing this – meaning: “I am writing in a way that is full of resolve” – to point out your own mistaken use of “purposefully” in the original post. Some dingbat has got “purposefully” to erase “purposely”. As in “on purpose, intentionally.” ARGH! You wrote it on purpose, therefore you wrote purposely. Extra syllables do NOT equal extra coolness!

    In your follow-up, you can discuss “burglarized/ burglarised” instead of “burgled,” and “hung” instead of “hanged.” (Strung up with a rope till you died? You were hanged. Dangled from a hook on the ceiling while the blood drained out of you? You’re were hung, like a piece of meat.) Because today I saw someone with an actual job writing “confusioned” instead of “confused,” and this has got to stop!

  217. A few that irritate me…

    When contractions become the norm, but are incorrectly expanded. ‘Should have’ became ‘should’ve’ when was re-expanded to become ‘should of.’

    Next, the popular press’ inability to distinguish ‘brave’ from ‘stoic.’ A 6 year old boy with cancer or a broken leg is NOT brave, he is stoic in the way he deals with the situation.

    On a similar line, why do the press identify so many things as being contrary to the bible? After-all, that’s the meaning of ‘controversial.’

    One final comment. If you were to follow modern/popular usage, you’d have to accept that the sole use of an apostrophe is to warn the reader that the letter S is imminent.

    Let me re-write that.

    One final comment. If you were to follow modern/popular u’sage, you’d have to accept that the ‘sole u’se of an apo’strophe i’s to warn the reader that the letter ‘S i’s imminent.

    Cheer’s !!

  218. Where I get stuck is on complimentary/complementary. The candy the hotel leaves at turn-down service is what?

    I thought I was the only one who saw lose/loose. And what is weird to me is that I only noticed this in the last 10 years or so, but not before. Hmmm

  219. I would like to add since/as to the list above. Since is ONLY temporal; as is causal. So it should never be ‘since it is hot in here, I am going to open the window’, but ‘as it is hot in here, I am going to open the window’. Very rarely do I see SINCE in the right place, and AS I have a degree in English and a PhD in a related subject, this is all the more painful.

  220. Please stop people from saying “A whole “nother” …” Nother is not a word. Ever. Even people on the news and in office say this. It makes my ears bleed.

  221. I teach high school grammar and enjoyed your list, but I have a few minor points about which I’d like to quibble.

    1. Merriam-wWebster lists “afterwards” as a variant of “afterward,” and the Oxford English Dictionary says they are interchangeable thusly:
    afterward, adv. Of time: In time following, subsequently.
    afterwards, adv. At a later time, subsequently.

    2. M-W re: “hopefully”: “In the 1960s the second sense of hopefully, which dates to the early 18th century and had been in fairly widespread use since at least the 1930s, underwent a surge in popularity. A surge of criticism followed in reaction, but the criticism took no account of the grammar of adverbs. Hopefully in its second sense is a member of a class of adverbs known as disjuncts. Disjuncts serve as a means by which the author or speaker can comment directly to the reader or hearer usually on the content of the sentence to which they are attached. Many other adverbs (as interestingly, frankly, clearly, luckily, unfortunately) are similarly used; most are so ordinary as to excite no comment or interest whatsoever.”

    3. “‘I’m literally starving to death.’ No, odds are, you’re not.” Yes, odds are, you’re not. Odds are, you’re employing hyperbole (deliberate exaggeration which is a literal untruth), which renders your harping on the literal meaning of “literally” a moot point. If the speaker weren’t using hyperbole, he would simply say, “I’m rather hungry,” which is not nearly as interesting or melodramatic.

    4. M-W’s third definition of “unique”:
    unusual .
    “Many commentators have objected to the comparison or modification (as by somewhat or very) of unique, often asserting that a thing is either unique or it is not. Objections are based chiefly on the assumption that unique has but a single absolute sense, an assumption contradicted by information readily available in a dictionary. Around the middle of the 19th century… came a broadening of application beyond the original two meanings (1. sole; 2. unequaled) [which are] used without qualifying modifiers. In modern use both comparison and modification are widespread and standard [as in usage 3].”

    Another grammar distinction my students have trouble with: Affect/ effect.

    By the way, when I was an English major at Oberlin, Mandy Patinkin (Mr. Montoya himself) was touring colleges with his son, and the two of them sat in on a discussion seminar in my Modern Fiction and Sexual Difference class.

  222. Thank you for this brief blurb. I am often confused about the correct use for certain words.

    In addition, The Princess Bride is one of the funniest movies in history. A classic.

  223. I don’ t think Who/Whom is a lost cause. It’s not a dead issue – only MOSTLY dead. There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive.

  224. Oh my, I hope Jen was joking. The correct sentence would be “data *is* plural”.

    data noun (originally plural but now generally treated as singular) 1 one or more pieces of information or facts, especially those obtained by scientific observation or experiment. 2 a collection of information in the form of numbers, characters, electrical signals, etc, that can be supplied to, stored in or processed by a computer.

    From Chambers UK dictionary

  225. My husband and I have just been engaged in a verbal version of this comment thread in which I was argued that, while I have no problem with the language evolving, I do object to what Brian calls “evolution by ignorance” e.g., in the case of “affect” in some dictionaries now having a double meaning, one of which is the definition of “effect” which, there can be no doubt, is an “evolution” on the basis of a spelling mistake. To accept these is to go down the path of reducing the use of our language as a tool of precise communication.

    My husband’s point was that I am being a pedant.

    Trying to lighten the conversation I scrolled up to the image at the top (we are both long-time Princess Bride lovers) and pointed to it, hoping for a smile.

    He pointed out that the post-its in the image at the top of this post would have been written in the wrong order.

    And I’m the pendant? 🙂

  226. This post is the gift that keeps on giving, and I’m always delighted to see another comment!

    Danielle, your husband gets a gold star for noticing the erroneous Post-It order. Written chronologically, the one at the top would have been on the bottom layer, with the others stacking over it and descending downward.

    By the way, I don’t see pedantry as a negative thing. If there are enough language snobs to balance out the language slobs, we may arrive at something in the middle we can live with.

  227. Damn you Brian Clark. After reading a few of your articles it’s clear to me that I have a lot more reading to do! :o) Now…to try to find the time…

  228. Nice article. I will echo some other commenters in saying that the differences cited between “further” and “farther” are more convention than rule. But I’ll come to your defense on “literally” (RE: grammarian’s comment). “I’m starving” when one means “I’m quite hungry” is already exaggeration. “I’m starving to death” is hyperbole. “I’m literally starving to death” implies that the speaker does not know what “literally” means.

  229. Another irritation! (warning… grumpy old man mode engaged!)

    Why is it that over the past few years, Politicians have started “taking decisions?” Seems to me that previously they “made decisions.”

    Why is this? Why is it it that these Politicians sound like they’ve brought along a bucket-full of decisions and taken one out at random. ‘Making’ a decision conveys the suggestion that the decider was actually involved in the creation of the decision.

  230. I’m late to the party, but the one that makes me crazy is “turn into” when the person means “turn in to.” I see it all the time at work, as in, “The form must be turned into the office by noon.” I always want to know HOW I’m expected to make a form into an office, especially by noon!

  231. While we’re on the topic of proper English, I thought I’d bring up the common mistake in writing of using hanging prepositions. For example, in your entry you wrote: ” Whom are you going to write about?”

    As it’s a pet peeve of mine, I thought I would inform everyone that the correct syntax would be, “About whom are you going to write?”

    Why? Because I’m anal…

  232. re: natalija I have to point out that , preposition stranding (or hanging prepositions), while certainly not preferable in most cases because it makes for a weaker sentence than would be possible if the writer had thought a little harder to avoid it, is not grammatically incorrect. In fact, in many cases it is preferable to strand the preposition, when using the English language, so as not to create a ridiculously awkward sentence. This is not the same as evolution by ignorance since the rule never existed in English.

    In short: English is not Latin.

  233. Okay, Danielle… now I must respond. Ending sentences with prepositions may not constitute a capital crime; however, using a dangling modifier, such as your “it” in the first sentence, is still punishable by hanging in 48 states. Check out my newly revised curriculum, Teaching Grammar and Mechanics at Email me, Danielle, and I will send you a complementary copy 🙂

  234. Apparently all of us have kids home from school this week, so we’re spending our time commenting on old Copyblogger posts.


  235. I was wondering if anyone would note my intentional spelling gaffe with accompanying smiley face. My point is… we all have to have a sense of humor about improper usage, syntax, mechanics, and diction. Us all makes misteaks.

  236. Hang on Mark, if you are including prepositions before commas then you go far beyond anyone else who holds to this rule. Of course “us all makes mistakes”, but to teach them to paying students is a serious issue. I hope your statement that you will be teaching this rule of Latin and French in an English grammar course is a result of that sense of humour you are talking about.

  237. Thanks so much for this!

    Here’s yet another vote against hyperbole and misuse of the word “literally”. Recently, I heard someone on NPR say that their head “literally exploded” simply to express surprise.

    A surprising occurrence indeed, although I don’t supposed the speaker would have survived to tell us about it.

    I come from a family of compulsive proofreaders. My sister once did “guerilla proofreading” with white-out in the middle of the night, to remove a misplaced apostrophe from a neighbor’s roadside mailbox, because it read “The Carter’s” –the Carter’s what??
    (I changed the name to protect the guilty) 😉

  238. I am thinking of going on a grammar correction crusade – how can you leave off it’s (the contraction of it is) and its (the possesive form of it); and the correct use of “effect” as in cause and effect, or a result , or to cause a result (and this gets tricky because it is a verb, as in to effect a change); and “affect” which is something you do to someone or something. These are two of my main pet peeves, and it’s just about driving me crazy that no one seems to know its meaning anymore.
    There’s also the common practice of turning plurals into possessives by inserting an incorrect apostrophe prior to an “s”, (although now looking back, I see that someone else already covered that); and the misuse of toward (s), backward (s), and forward (s), which all do not need the (s).

    I would just be “tickled pink” if you would include these basic rules of English in your website, since I’m obviously too lazy to have one (or too technically challenged).

    Ah, sorry, but that reminds me of another one, loose should be used to describe a young child’s tooth, not when you have misplaced something, as in “did you lose your car keys again?”
    And I must apologize again, I almost forgot the mother of them all: you’re means you are, and your is once again possessive.
    And, lastly, the southern contraction y’all is spelled just like that; the apostrophe in contractions replaces the missing letters – you all = y’all, not ya’ll!

    Thanks for letting me get that off my chest!

  239. You killed my grammar, prepare to die!

    I thought I was pretty good in the traditional use of Engrish, but there were a few hum-dingers in there that I was not aware of.

    For those that are really obsessed with punctuation, “Eats, Shoots, Leaves” is an awesome book, although it was written by an English author so some of the rules do not apply on this side of the pond.

    Insure/Ensure was always a mystery. Thanks for that one. Now if I can just stop saying “gooder” …

  240. I’ve posted a few Comments on this site, enjoy receiving auto-updates of new Comments, and recommend this list to everyone I know. My teen daughter and I share a love of good grammar, and she and I recently became Fans of a fun Facebook group called “‘Lets eat Grandma!’ or ‘Let’s eat, Grandma!’ Punctuation Saves Lives”. It has 237,557 Fans as of today! I posted a link on its Wall to this CopyBlogger site, because both sites share the same audience. If you’re not already a Fan there but want to be, then here’s the link:

  241. You’re speaking my language. I’m a fanatic about grammar and the Princess Bride. A few of my top pet peeves are: the meaningless addition of “basically” to just about every spoken statement; the misuse of “myself” when “me” would be correct; and the redundant “could potentially” when “could” on its own indicates potentiality. Have fun storming the castle!

  242. Wonderful post! And what a wonderful collection of comments by obviously literate readers!

    One of the best explanations of why modifying “unique” is a mistake was presented on “The West Wing.” Martin Sheen and staff are critiquing the efforts of a junior speechwriter: “Unique means one of a kind. How can something be very one of a kind?”

    On the other hand, about stranded prepositions: Winston Churchill, commenting on an editor’s attempt to correct his writing to avoid having a sentence end with a preposition, is said to have scribbled in the galley margin “This is the sort of bloody nonsense up with which I will not put!”

    Thanks so much!

  243. Maybe I missed it, but the one that drives me crazy and is misused over and over is: you’re and your. It seems that people rarely use you’re. They automatically use your, regardless of the context.

  244. Hello! My name is Inigo Montoya! You killed my fah-ser. Pree-pare to die! First of all, yes, this is a definitely funny movie- but that’s okay that the cover and the name make it look like another one of those “Robinhood and Princess’s movie.”

    So “how come”(hmmm, i think i just thought of ur follow-up article, “incorrect phrases”) some people say ‘To Whom It May concern’ is an incorrectly phrased statement?

  245. Good point, Marcus Goodyear. Not only would no one talk like that (“It is hoped that the weather cooperates”), but it’s passive voice. Passive voice is okay when it’s used for a reason, but there’s probably no reason (or no good reason) to use it in the example above. I guess we need to beware of introducing new problems in the service of fixing old ones.

  246. Dear Joanna,
    It’s indirect speak but NOT passive voice. Check Strunk & White re. voice for a simple explanation.

    aka ChironMentor

  247. OK, my pet peeve from the consulting world is “leverage” being a fancy synonym for “use”, so I might “leverage” a belt to hold up my pants.

  248. I must be getting old. This sounds like stuff I learned from the nuns in 7th grade … along with diagramming sentences. Though I must say, if we shopped only in stores whose express lanes said “10 items or fewer” we’d all starve to death.

    Book recomendation: “Eats shoots and leaves.”

  249. There’s also the common one: using “penultimate” to mean ultimate when it really means to be next to last. 🙂

    A great book to read on this topic is Anguished English.

  250. Actually, as long as irregardless is in my dictionary, it is in fact, a word. Its usage may be archaic, however, the word itself exists, and I use it for emphasis.

  251. In college I had to give a presentation to my copywriting class about correct usage of “hopefully.” All style guides I looked at weren’t helpful and some even said just not to use the word!

  252. When my son was in elementary school, he showed me a paper on which he’d received an A. The teacher had made mistake when correcting his paper–I don’t recall the details, but I wrote on the paper that “further” is related to time and “farther” is related to distance. His teacher wrote on his paper and asked him to give it back to me, saying that it was no longer true and most people just use “farther” these days!! A TEACHER! GAH!!

  253. Great content is timeless as is the Princess Bride!
    Thanks Brian, your post revived a memory from my school days when my english teacher asked why I had used whom instead of who in a sentence (he of course was asking for the correct grammatical reason). My answer was “because it sounds right”- the English language has a lot to answer for!
    But let us hold on tightly to what we know as we have been told that a new dictionary is not far away and will have words that only high speed fingering texters will understand and then it will be RIP The Concise Oxford Dictionary 🙂

  254. Good call, Alvalyn. I believe it’s likely people are sounding out “could’ve” without realizing the necessity of the “have” for past perfect conditional structure. It still gets the point across. How about the “try and…” phrase, used in place of “try to…”? My understanding is that “try and…” shows separate actions (trying and achieving).
    “Try to…” shows an attempt toward achieiving, but with the outcome unknown. OK, I’m going back to re-reading The Silent Gondoliers.

  255. My gripe is the misuse of two words that I just can’t get over, and the world marches on regardless!

    1. Kudos. Not it does not substitute for “thanks”, or “i really appreciate it”, or these guys did a a really good job”. To bestow glory and fame to whomever is inadvertently given kudos is likely to be completely wrong or massively exaggerated.

    2. Awesome. Not everything is not awesome, that word should be reserved for something truly, exceptionally remarkable!

    I wonder how many people use both?! Even in the same sentence? Arghhhhhhhhh!

    Now that reminds me, I apologise in advance to my American friends, but the lazy trend to to add “ize” everything! I came home one evening to find that it had been burgled. It had not been burglarized 🙂

    • Actually, “awesome” is a word that has been redefined through misuse. Originally, it meant “displaying awe.” When you saw something that was “awe-inspiring,” you might become “awesome.”

  256. @359
    Frank, I’d posit that the most common blunder with ‘kudos’ is treating it as a plural for the non-existent ‘kudo’, when in fact ‘kudos’ is a singular with no plural.

  257. afterward(s) and toward(s) well, to me it just sounds better to pronouns the s in both words, flows better and again – either way is right.

    England and Australia use the s, so I’ll keep on using it…
    Often – some people say often, others pronouns it offen – variations, that’s all it is.

  258. Hopefully, your post will effect a focus on grammar without causing a negative affect.

  259. Aaaaaaaaaaaa… (That’s me screaming.)

    How about its and it’s?

    Or “alot”. Really…”alot”? That one is like fingers on a chalkboard. That and “irregardless”. It doesn’t even make sense.

    And it’s “drowning”, people, not “drownding”!

    I love this.

    And I do adore “The Princess Bride”.

    Enough said…

  260. Make a mistake? Inconceivable!

    I love that movie. And I’m often guilty of these mistakes – I just made one in a comment on Coppyblogger by using their instead of there.


    However, my two-fingered typing remains the bigger issue. That and finding the man with 6 fingers who killed my father…

  261. Me like to aversely infer one criteria in a premiere compliment way.

    There I made your heads explode.

    Good rules though 🙂

  262. Hey Brian: I love your Inigo Montoya Guide — especially when it comes to the Less/Fewer problem. Lately, I have been really annoyed by that one. Another one that seems all too common these days is the agreement situation with words like “kind/kinds.” It’s awful.

    Thanks for you great work!

  263. Wow… as a English writer I realize I make some of these mistake. Well, I’m happy I read this article. The single problem would be to keep them inside of my head…

  264. I’ll be sending a copy of this to many friends. Brilliant. But wait .. here’s one you all missed!

    “Truth is, whom just doesn’t sound right in many ‘situations’ …”

    ‘.. situation ..’ is essentially locational.

    The correct form here is ‘ .. circumstances ..’ And yes .. we almost all apply ‘situation’ incorrectly. As I understand it, ‘circumstance’ is conditional.

    Ah! English. What a phantasmagoric mongrel of a language. Ha ha!

  265. Being Australian I’m with the Canadians/British on ‘towards’ being a real word, and everyone that gets irritated with “orientated”. But then again, people who say ‘kilom-eater” instead of “kilo-metre’ drive me insane as well. How many ‘eaters’ make up a ‘kilom’?

  266. If you study linguistics you will quickly find out that grammar is a ridiculous notion in the English language. American English, especially, follows no rule strictly. I think language and grammar should evolve with their people, not shove writers in a small, ridiculous box.

  267. Great list! As a writer, I sometimes get some clients who have some of the problems you’ve listed, and because they have misused these words all their lives, they think they are right!

    Why is the so much misuse of Their, There and They’re?? These words are so misused that its common to see the errors all over! The same with You, Your and You’re.

    I know that saying something is “truly unique” is wacked …. but isn’t it so tempting to say so, just to emphasize its uniqueness?

  268. I don’t think anyone mentioned palate / pallet / palette. I see these misused pretty frequently, usually by people who are trying to be snooty. Works my nerves!

  269. And what about the often-overlooked distinction between “humanity” and “humankind”?

    Humankind = the totality of the human species, frequently used in the singular as a collective subject or pronoun.

    Humanity = the quality or character of being human, particularly in reference to altruistic or compassionate characteristics.

    Example: “Despite the aliens’ superior intelligence and firepower, all humankind was nevertheless treated with the humanity to which it had become accustomed.”

    And yet we consistently encounter even the most sophisticated writers and speakers using “humanity” in place of “humankind”.

    Perhaps this distinction was easier to remember in the days when we used the word “mankind”. With apologies to the ladies, I suspect that the P.C.-era transition to the gender-neutral “humankind” actually engendered improper usage within an unusually accelerated time period, etymologically speaking.

  270. This a great article, Brian. However, as somewhat of a fellow wordsmith – and this is not to “nit-pick” – I would like to add a few more points that highlight common grammar mistakes which have become acceptable in our modern-day language.

    1. Ending sentences with prepositions: “Whom are you going to write about?” is correctly restated, “About whom are you going to write?”

    2. The use of split infinitives: e.g. “I would like to greatly encourage you …” is properly restated, “I would like to encourage you greatly …”

    3. The use of the word “get” (and conjugations thereof): “I am going to get …” “I have got to get …” etc. This one drives me mad. It has become a staple of our modern language (similar to the word “like”); yet if we analyze the definition of the word and understand that what we’re saying is actually nonsense, i.e., “I am going to acquire …” or “I have obtained to acquire …” etc.

    It is really a laziness of expression of our thoughts: we are in such a hurry to say something that we substitute simpler words in grammatically incorrect contexts. However, it has become so ingrained into the modern usage of our language (even as early as the 1800s), and so widely accepted, I fear that it is practically impossible to reverse and correct this “new paradigm.” A quick look at will demonstrate the plethora of contexts into which this word has found its way.

    Now that I have vented, I will “get over” it, “get out” of here and “get on” with my life (such as it may be!).

  271. If you believe at least one of the linguistic experts, split infinitives aren’t as a rule always incorrect and never have been:

    The misnamed “split infinitive” construction, where a modifier is placed immediately before the verb of an infinitival complement, has never been ungrammatical at any stage in the history of English, and no confident writer of English prose has any problems with it at all. (As the grammarian George O. Curme pointed out in 1930, it’s actually the minor writers and nervous nellies, the easily intimidated, who seem to worry about it.) Quite often, placing a modifier just after to and just before the verb is exactly the right thing to do with a modifier in an infinitival complement clause (see the discussion on this page). However, that is not the same thing as saying it is always the right thing to do. Sometimes it’s an absolute disaster.

    • That’s true of prepositions as well. Someone saw the “pre” and decided that meant they should go before another word, just as they do in Latin, but English isn’t Latin and that’s not how English words work. It’s one of those rules which is not actually a rule.

      And another one is not starting a sentence with “and”. You’re allowed. Just don’t overdo it, or your writing will start looking like the King James Bible.

  272. I note that many of the words are used in corporate b-shit lingo such as – “We are a truly unique premiere vendor which insures we will take your business farther irregardless of your current challenges.”

    Coincidence? No.

  273. The way I was taught (albeit in Canada) being the the object of the sentence isn’t enough. ‘Whom’ must also be part of of a prepositional phrase. So… I don’t know WHO I might be annoying, but I do know TO WHOM I am speaking. 8)

    As for the ‘hopefully’ thing — I would consider the above-recommended usage to now be archaic. Unless everybody in the 16th century was smarter than us, there is a point at which it’s pointless to call a never-used usage, ‘wrong’. Hopefully we have reached that point.

  274. Can someone explain the correct usages of lay vs. lie as they pertain to physical objects?

    • Rich, for me this is a very straightforward matter in that lie should not be used pertaining to physical objects, on lay. Lets get to basics…

      Lay is used to describe a physical act such as laying down on a couch, setting something down, etc.

      A lie is of course a false statement.

      Therefore to lay, laying, laid are all correct in respect of physical objects whereas lie down, lie in, etc are all incorrect, in my book, and it annoys me that many dictionaries show that both can be used in the same context of the physical sense. Perhaps they can be in US or “modern” English but I was taught in England 40 years ago of the correct use of these two words.

      • Frank,
        It sounds like you’re of the old school and so am I. Therefore, I’m sure you’ve heard Shaw’s line about England and the US being two countries separated by a common languge.

        I’ll see your lay/lie controversy and raise you funner/funnest. Fun is a noun. Period. It is not a verb, except that it is in such common usage that it IS a verb now. As Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes) once said, “Verbing weirds the language.”

        I think we are speaking an increasingly weirded language.

  275. Lay is a transitive verb, lie is intransitive. Transitive verbs require both a direct subject and an object (or objects). One of my grade school teachers liked to use this sentence to help her students remember the difference: “Chickens lay eggs.” The direct subject is chickens, the transtive verb is lay, and the direct object is eggs. Intransitive verbs don’t have objects, so this same teacher told us to think of the simple sentence, “I lie down” to distinguish lie from lay. So many people break this rule, and really some great things have come from the breaking of it: Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay,” Clapton’s “Lay Down Sally.” “Lie Lady Lie” and “Lie Down Sally” just wouldn’t sound right, so it’s no wonder we get confused!

  276. Excellent list and descriptions. Weigh this, however. I think that when people use he word “literally,” as in “I’m literally starving to death,” the word “literally” is metaphorical. I think that’s ironic and funny, but I could be wrong all three times.

    • Right, that’s what I was thinking. I’m not bothered by the usage of the word in that manner. You wouldn’t say “I’m figuratively starving to death” because adding “figuratively” would be redundant as “starving to death” is a figurative expression by itself. The whole idea of saying “literally” when you’re not being literal (and it’s also painfully obvious that you aren’t) is simply adding to the sarcasm and being over-dramatic about your own personal state of hunger.

      It can be overused, though, and shouldn’t be used in place of something that is purely figurative and could be misinterpreted without other context. You probably shouldn’t say “I’m so mad! I’m literally going to shoot the next person who walks into my shop” unless it’s among friends that would know you are being facetious. What stranger would know if you are being serious or not? Of course you could add a “Not!” at the end, but that’s still kind of creepy and ambiguous over the internet. Gulp. o_o

  277. I tend to use “desperately” a lot, in the same manner as people use “lliterally”, and it’s literally driving me crazy, not to mention everyone around me.

  278. My son’s 2nd grade teacher repeatedly tells me she is

    “not a component of” this or that idea. Sadly, she means proponent; I just can’t bring myself to correct her.

  279. I am officially in love with this site! The posts I’m coming across are great and make me laugh. I loved this one in particular and would love to add, as a few others have already, then and than and effect and affect to the group. Great post, great blog!

  280. remember the difference: “Chickens lay eggs.” The direct subject is chickens, the transtive verb is lay, and the direct object is eggs. Intransitive verbs don’t have objects, so this same teacher told us to think of the simple sentence, “I lie down” to distinguish 70-503 lie from lay. So many people break this rule, and really some great things have come from the breaking of it: Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay,” Clapton’s “Lay Down Sally.” “Lie Lady Lie” and “Lie Down Sally” just wouldn’t sound right, so it’s no wonder we get confused!

  281. I once taught College English in a part of New England where a non-Standard English dialect was commonly spoken. Many students were perturbed by the suggestion that they didn’t speak “good English”. I found the best approach was to agree that they spoke the local dialect very well, but they needed to learn the literary English dialect that is generally considered the mark of an educated person.

    I highly recommend the book “The Transitive Vampire”. It may be out of print, but if you can find one, get it. Humorous and spot on.

  282. Great post!! I think most people are guilty of making at least a few of these mistakes. Thanks for making me more aware and even more vigilant of checking emails before they get sent.

  283. As it was not mentioned, what about advise and advice. I often read short reports where the two terms are incorrectly used.

  284. “Saying something is very or truly unique is wacked. It’s either a purple cow or it isn’t.”

    I like all of this article and I accept most of it, except for that part, because it pretty much contradicts what I do as an artist. I am quite sure you can use “very” or “truly” in front of “unique” to emphasize just how unique an item is compared with something else in that same category.

    e.g. I draw flower creatures for my customers, each one unique by freehand without a template, but overall they are made from the same general design and minor things like hair style and flower species are changed for each persons’ tastes. However, I have drawn some of these images with special features for an extra cost, to where they don’t compare to the others in my portfolio, such as adding a guitar-shaped drop shadow, which the customer paid extra to ensure that particular feature would be unique amongst all the rest and not reused. I feel these particular versions are very unique.

    As for the purple cow… a herd of purple cows would be unique, but what about that one purple cow which is literally made out of ice cream? That would be one very unique cow, in my opinion–delicious, as well.

    Hey, you don’t play any trading card games, do you? Because I have this beyond awesome, extra special, super mint condition, totally one-of-a-kind, ultra mega-rare misprint of the unique gold foil version of the Mega-Unique Ultra-Rare Gold Spear of Dragon Slaying from the 1982 Unique Gold Box Starter Set which was only given out to those with a Uniquedom Membership Card on the last day of the TCG Appreciation Convention, so it’s *majorly* unique!

    Now, were you going for “whacked”, as in being hit , or “wacky”, as in goofy? Wacked is, I suppose, a widely accepted slang for a combination of the two, but I never liked it. Looks to me like a wacky typo that’s been whacked one too many times and somehow it stuck.

    (I would like to know if I made any glaring mistakes, because I pride myself on my writing ability. I know my commas are probably running amok all over the place, as I tend to overuse them, along with the word “I”.)

    —Spectre Incarnate

    (The British “tre” just looks neat. 😉

  285. “Zero” instead of “no” or “none”, such as “zero tolerance”.
    “As per” is redundant.
    I got a spam that said “Work virtually from home 70% travel.” If it’s 70% travel, I guess you are “virtually” working from home.
    Apostrophes used in plurals.
    Verb-subject disagreement, such as this quote from an FBI agent: “The potential for injury and death were clearly present. ” Should have been WAS clearly present, because “potential” is singular.
    The phrase “people that.” People are not “thats” they’re “whos”!
    I work with people who sell houses for a living, but most don’t know what their profession is; they call themselves “Real-a-tors”! Odd that it’s mostly the people for whom English is an additional language who get it right . . .
    I agree with Michael Giordano. People who say “myself” instead of “me” or “I” drive me crazy! There is nothing wrong with me! (Yes, pun intended.)

    • Or “pre-boarding” and aircraft. How do you get on board before you get on board? Same with “pre-register”, but what really makes me scream is “pre-plan”! Isn’t “plan” already referring to something in the future?
      I cringed every time I heard a lawyer on “Law & Order” say, when done questioning a witness, “Nothing further,” as if he were physically going somewhere, but according to this story, I was in error. I’ll try to cringe less.

    • “Pre-ordering” is, in fact legitimate – it’s simply putting yourself on a list BEFORE the manufacturer of some product is accepting orders, to ensure or indicate that you, or the store, will order it when the time comes. Since the concept is relatively new (on the grand stage of human commerce), there was no word to describe this, so the term “pre-ordering” was needed. Similarly, the term “pre-sales” was coined to describe these commitments to buy.

      This list is about legitimate errors in language, not just complaints about words which have been coined for new situations and so are unfamiliar to some – one can be a stickler for correct usage AND accept that the language must evolve.

  286. I must be the only person who does not understand Rob Reiner’s humor. I thought “Princess Bride” and “This is Spinal Tap” were neither funny nor interesting.

  287. How about the commercial for the product that “repairs heals”? Though not strictly synonymous, they’re close enough to be almost redundant, especially since they’re referring to the heel of a foot. If it’s healed, it’s repaired, right?

  288. I just thought of something else.

    I’ve heard this on a TV commercial for an attorney: “If you or a loved one has suffered from a heart attack, stroke, or even death from taking [medication], call this number…”

    My husband and I laughed up a storm. How am I supposed to call if I’m dead?! I saw the commercial only a few times that week and then it poofed. I wonder how many prank calls they got from “zombies”? I can honestly admit I considered doing so! LOL

  289. I love Inigo Montoya!! lol You’re right, great, funny movie, one of my all-time favorites. I’m always looking to improve, so these will be bookmarked! Thanks!

  290. I know I’m a million years late here, but I’m surprised nobody mentioned it (though maybe someone did, I didn’t read through ALL the comments): The “Princess Bride” quote from the beginning of this blog was not spoken by Inigo Montoya. It was Fezzig (played by Andre the Giant).

  291. Can we get people — especially reporters, who should know better — to stop using “to” with “between”? Who started that? As in, “Between 20 to 30 people…” instead of “Between 20 and 30 people…”

    Great discussion!

  292. Who and whom was always a problem for me. Fortunately, it seems that most people have the same problem so I don’t sound so stupid! : )
    Thank you for the lesson and I am going to make it my mission to correct this in my writing and speaking. Although, I’m going to have to be careful not to insult other people by trying to speak properly and sounding too smart. I don’t want them to think I’m talking down to them!

  293. This might sound dumb, but I find people are using the word awe when they mean to say aww. When I was in around 4th grade, my mom made me memorize a vocabulary/spelling book. I can still recall the lessons I learned in that book to this day, and it has helped me a lot in my writing career.

  294. Anyone who knows about Inyo Montoya is alright in my book. The Princess Bride is one of the best novels ever written!
    Thanks for the posting about grammer usage. I am going to burn it into my brain and I’m going to pass it around to my friends via my own blog.
    I’m a new follower f’er sure!

  295. This is a great list, and I’ll also be keeping it bookmarked for further reference. I do have one thing to add, though. In regard to “unique”, you say putting “very” or “truly” before it is incorrect and redundant. I definitely agree with “very”, but “truly” can have a good use in this case. If you say something is “truly unique” for the purpose of emphasising that this item really is unique, as opposed to many which are not but claim to be, then I’d say “truly” is appropriate to use.
    Thanks for this list! And yes, The Princess Bride is an amazing movie. It has been my favorite since I was a little girl, and I’ve seen a lot of movies since then.

    • I agree about “truly unique.” On the other hand, I hear the term “very unique” far too frequently, and often by people who should know better.

      I loved how “The West Wing” handled it a few years ago.


  296. Our cranky, year nine teacher DRILLED this one into us – NEVER start a sentence with “and”, “but”, “so” or “also”.
    So I break this rule often. I like to live on the edge:)

    • Also, WiseGEEK doesn’t want us to begin a sentence with “because.” Because of this, I’m forced to begin sentences with such things as “For this reason” and “Since.”

      The Georgia Yankee

      • In conversational copywriting, you write like you talk. Because it just works better. So, not all advice about good grammar is good advice. 😉

  297. Favorite movie? Princess Bride! Two pet peeves I see/hear used all the time? Insure and forwards. Inconceivable!! Thanks for this!

  298. Can’t believe it’s not here, but my pet peeve misused/confused words are:

    Discrete / Discreet

    Perhaps there was a discrete entry for it, but it was too discreet for me to find easily.

    Favorite Fezzig line: ‘My way’ is not very sportsmanlike……

  299. I just smiled all the time I am reading this post. I was somehow ashamed and happy that i now know the “whats the correct” 🙂

  300. Personal pet peeve: “free reign”. What? That’s redundant. A King reigns, what kind of King isn’t free to reign? Perhaps “free rein”, where a horse is allowed freedom to roam, was intended.

    • A college professor once incorrectly corrected that in a paper of mine. I foolishly took her at her word. I’m going back and smacking her in the head.

      Think I’ll introduce the conversation by saying, “My name is Sonia Simone. You incorrectly marked my paper. Prepare to die.”

  301. Please give up on insisting that whom must be used as an object. Many grammar books now prefer who as the object.

  302. I find myself having to look up the difference between “principle” and “principal.” Thank goodness for Google!

    As for number problems, as in:

    AA: “Hey, boss, I’ve got a job applicant here”
    Boss: “I haven’t got time now, get their resume and I’ll call them tomorrow.”

    This is obviously done to avoid the clumsy “I haven’t got time now, get his or her resume and I’ll call him or her tomorrow.”

    Of course, the Boss could say “I haven’t got time now, get a resume and I’ll call tomorrow,” and some do, especially if they work in the English departments of significant universities. Or perhaps not.


    • Many grammarians (is that a word?) are encouraging the use of “their” as a gender-neutral pronoun. (or whatever it is) It used to be used that way in English, i.e. back in Shakespeare’s day, and it is becoming popular again.

      I hope it does catch on and become accepted as correct grammar – it’s much more natural than “zir”, or whatever alternative people have come up with.

      (or, *whatever alternative with which people have come up.* Really, sometimes you just have to bend the rules)

    • No offense, but I believe the Georgia Yankee has misused the word “significant.” What are the
      universities signifying?

    • How about “innerduce” as in when a federal judge says it’s important to innerduce young men to the Boy Scouts?

  303. Classic stuff, Brian!

    As a fellow grammarian and “get it right before your write” stylist, I read this post with much enthusiasm. Thank you for speaking up for all those wonderful words out there that deserve to be used correctly and effectively.



  304. I didn’t know that there is a difference between farther and further. I never thought unique is misused in such obvious ways too. Very useful blog post to refresh on grammatical errors.

  305. Well, about all I can say is that the article is wrong on one point:

    “I’m literally starving to death.”

    No, odds are, you’re not.

    In truth, if you make this statement and you do not have food in your mouth, then you *ARE LITERALLY STARVING TO DEATH*. At least you are until you eat something. Then once you finish eating the “starving to death” cycle starts all over again.

    • Is this before or after one has brushed their teeth because if they have not brushed their teeth then there is still food in the mouth so one could not be starving to death.

  306. I enjoyed this (especially the title!) even though I agree with some that certain words you mentioned are becoming common use. (mainly: hopefully)

    But I will applaud ANY article that educates people on the difference between “insure” and “ensure.” That one drives me INSANE. As others have mentioned, you see them misused all the time in awful, bloated corporatespeak.

  307. This is a great list, so often are the wrong words used. This brings me back to high school grammar class. “Literally” is the most common misuse I see/hear.

  308. re misused words I would like to pose the question to those who say beg the question when they should say ask or pose the question. How long have you been abusing the English Language? That is Begging the question!

    • You are quite right. Begging the question is a logical fallacy (petitio principii) where the conclusion of an argument is assumed in one of the premises. It is a circular argument. In a valid syllogism the conclusion cannot be one of the premises.

  309. Please add “impact” to you list of misused words. People use it when the mean affect. And personally, I always have to check when using affect and effect.

  310. Actually “impact” is legit as a transitive (as well as intransitive) verb, albeit somewhat vague as to specific sense (but “affect” is very generic, as well).

  311. People using words incorrectly gives me a small brain aneurism and a freaky eye twitch. Glad someone else is as anal as I am about this stuff. Great post!

  312. Oh, so disappointing to read, “If someone tells you they have only one criteria….”

    How about agreement in number? The use of the plural pronoun as though it were a gender-neutral singular pronoun may be popular, perhaps to the point that those who don’t have the gumption to insist on standard English have accepted it as “correct through usage,” but it is still a linguistic abomination!

    Conventional usage is, “If someone tells you he has only one….” Even feminists, at least those who care about economy of words, are OK with the more efficient “he” rather than “he or she.” “They” is simply wrong!

    • I agree wholeheartedly with your sentiment, yet, I feel that the circumstance is one of ill-conceived wording, rather than sloppy usage. The same message may be as easily written, “If you are told someone has only one criterion. . .” or “If you hear someone has only one criterion. . .”

  313. All this time I thought I had principal/principle right. I remember learning “your principal is your pal” and have since believed that principle is the correct usage in every case other than the head of a school. Inconceivable!! Thanks for the lesson. PS @Greg Holbert, me too!

This article's comments are closed.