There are two types of people; those who regularly make grammatical errors (and sometimes don’t care) and others who pull their hair out when they see them in print. There seems to be an increasing number of errors online. Are there no Yahoo editors or are we being dumbed down? Anyway, we have compiled a list of some common errors, because, as with many other things, we should know the rules before we break them.
This article was updated on 03/04/20 in honor of National Grammar Day.
Almost everyone knows to capitalize proper nouns and adjectives derived from proper nouns, such as the Grand Canyon. However, with the passage of time the requirement is sometimes dropped, such as the evolved word herculean (from the Greek Hercules).
Capitalize brand names but not necessarily the product type itself. For example, Tabasco sauce. Capitalize days of the week and months of the year–a Sunday in September.
Religions can be tricky. Capitalize the Bible but not biblical. But do not capitalize the words heaven, hell, the devil, or satanic. Extraterrestrial objects are also tricky. The names of planets are capitalized but not the moon or the sun. Confused yet?
Capitalize specific geographical regions. Do not capitalize points of the compass. You might live in the Northwest but specifically in the northwest area of your burg.
Titles are simple yet not exact. Capitalize the title’s first and last word. Capitalize all adjectives, adverbs, and nouns. Do not capitalize a coordinating conjunction (and, or, nor, but, for, yet, so) unless it is first or last in the title. These rules vary so check house rules with your editor.
Who vs Whom
Although it might just seem pretentious to use whom, there is also a good reason. Basically, who is subjective (he, she, it, they, etc.) while whom is objective (her, us, them, etc.). Test your prose. When in doubt, substitute who with the subjective pronouns he or she, (Who loves you? He loves me. Similarly, you can also substitute “whom” with the objective pronouns him or her. I consulted with a consultant whom I met in L.A. I consulted him.
Lie vs Lay
This one should not be difficult but it shows up all the time. Lay is transitive and calls for a direct subject. On the other hand, lie (or its past tense lay) is intransitive meaning that it needs no direct object. Example: The Rocky mountains lie between the East and West coast.
Comma and Semicolon Usage
Commas and semicolons are used interchangeably by many authors but this is really just sloppy writing. The rule is really fairly simple. If the two phrase fragments are really related but can stand on their own, use a semicolon (see what I just did?) otherwise use the comma.
Another point of contention is the so-called Oxford comma. This is the final comma in a list. There are apples, oranges, and limes. Or, there are apples, oranges and limes. Should you use it? It depends on who you are writing for. I prefer it because it makes the writing more clear and less ambiguous; others do not.
Know the difference between i.e. and e.g.
The term i.e. is a shortening of the Latin phrase id est, which in English means “that is.” It’s used to introduce a rephrasing or elaboration on something that has already been stated. The term e.g. is a shortening of the Latin expression exempli gratia, meaning “for the sake of example” or more simply, “for example.” This term is used to refer to something that has already been stated.
Affect and Effect
The problem with the confusion over these two words might be the fact that they sound so similar. But in reality they are somewhat related but completely different.
Affect is almost always a verb (as in., Twitter affects people’s attention spans), and effect is almost always a noun (as in, Facebook‘s effects can be politically selective). Affect works to either influence or produce an impression. Effect is the thing produced by the affecting agent It describes a result or outcome. The effect of Hurricane Florence was primarily on the coast; but even communities inland were affected.
Is This a Moot Point?
How often have you heard moot misused? More often than you think. It does not mean the “point” is unimportant or irrelevant, it actually means it is up for debate. So when you see “The city council thinks speed bumps in our neighborhood is a moot point,” it means it is still up for debate.
These are just a few of the common grammatical mistakes we see in writing today, both online and offline. The takeaway is that it is important to sharpen your writing skills because you can’t always trust your editor to catch everything. This is not a moot point.
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About the Author:
Kelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation and financial and energy trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.