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Another 10 Common English Errors

This is a list of 10 more common English errors. This list follows our previous popular list of Top 10 Common English Errors. Hopefully a few of these will help to fix one or two mistakes that we all make from time to time.


Who / Whom


This particular error has become so common that it is beginning to look like the word “whom” may vanish entirely from the English language. The reason for this is that so many people have no idea what the difference is. The difference is a simple one: who “does” the action, and whom has the action “done” to them. We use this difference in other words – “I” and “me” for example. “who” is the equivalent of “I”, and “whom” is the equivalent of “me”. The technical term for this difference is noun case – “who” is the nominative case, and “whom” is the accusative. Here is an example of correct usage:

Who is going to kill Bob? (I am going to kill Bob)
Bob is going to be killed by whom? (Bob is going to be killed by me)

English does not use cases as much as it used to. Many other language do use cases frequently, such as German, Latin, Greek, etc. [Image Source – click for a larger view]




On the previous list of errors I included Irony as a bonus – it deserves its own place and a fully description so here it is. There are four types of irony (none of which resemble remotely anything in Alanis Morissette’s song:

I. Verbal irony

This is when the speaker says one thing but means another (often contrary) thing. The most well known type of verbal irony is sarcasm. For example: “He is as funny as cancer”.

II. Tragic irony

Tragic irony occurs only in fiction. It is when the words or actions of a character contradict the real situation with the full knowledge of the spectators. For example: In Romeo and Juliet, Romeo mistakenly believes that Juliet has killed herself, so he poisons himself. Juliet awakens to find Romeo dead so she kills herself with his knife.

III. Dramatic Irony

In drama, this type of irony is when the spectator is given a piece of information that one or more of the characters are unaware of. For example: in Pygmalion, we know that Eliza is a prostitute, but the Higgins family don’t.

IV. Situational Irony

Situational irony is when there is a difference between the expected result and the actual result. Take for example this account of the attempted assassination of Ronald Regan: “As aides rushed to push Reagan into his car, the bullet ricocheted off the [bullet-proof] car, then hit the President in the chest, grazed a rib and lodged in his lung, just inches from his heart.” The bullet proof car – intended to protect the president, nearly caused his death by deflecting the bullet.

You may want to check out our list of 10 images of irony.


Effect / Affect


These two words are commonly confused – probably due in part to the fact that both words have more than one meaning. I will explain clearly the main difference and just briefly mention the other (rare) meanings:

Affect (a-FECT): this is usually a verb (doing word) and the form most commonly confused with “effect”. It means “to influence” or “to cause a change”. For example: John’s protest affected great change in the farming industry (John’s protest caused change to happen).

Effect (e-FECT): this is usually a noun (thing) and it refers to the “end result” or the impact something has on someone or something. For example, “the cocaine had a numbing effect”, or “her smile had a strange effect on me”.

For those who are curious, affect (AFF-ect) means “emotion” but this meaning is used almost exclusively by psychiatrists. And just to further confuse the whole thing, “effect” can also mean “to create” – which is probably the reason that many people confuse it with affect (a-FECT). For example: “I am trying to effect a new council in the city”.

But wait, there’s more: something can “take effect“, but it cannot “take affect“.

Confused? No wonder. Here is a simple way to remember the basic rule:

If it’s something you’re going to do, use “affect.” If it’s something you’ve already done, use “effect.”


Lie / Lay

Picture 2-28

Lay: To put something or someone down: “lay your head on the pillow”. Lay needs a direct object to act upon – in the example here the object is “your head”.

Lie: To rest in a horizontal position or to be located somewhere: “If you are tired, lie down”, “New Zealand lies in the Pacific Ocean”. Lie does not need a direct object to act upon – therefore it would be wrong to say “if you are tired, lie yourself down”.


Would have


This is seen quite often these days and some people claim that it is acceptable English, but it is not. Do not do it. Here is an example of the offending phrase:

“I wish she would have kissed me”

To correct this grievous error, you need to say: “I wish she had kissed me”.

The reason this is wrong is that “wished” suggests something contrary to reality, and adding “would have” which is also a statement of contrariness, is excessive and unnecessary.

Of course, “would have” is perfectly acceptable in the following sentence: “I would have given a donation if I agreed with the party’s politics.”


Me / Myself / I

060609 Triplets Hlg 4P.Hlarge

The most common problem here is the use of “myself”. Take this sentence: “If you have any questions, ask Jane or myself”. This is wrong. To see how obviously wrong it is, just take Jane out: “If you have any questions, ask myself”. It seems that many people think that “myself” is like an intensified version of “me”. So how do we use “myself” correctly?

“Myself” is only used when “I” has already been used. For example: “I washed myself” or “I put half of the cake away for myself.” This is the only time it is ever used. The same rules apply for “herself” and “himself”.

The difference between “I” and “me” is the same as that shown in item 10 above. “I” is the “doer” and “me” is the “done to”. For example:

I paid the tax department.
The tax department paid me.

Things get a bit more confusing when you add a second person, but the rule is exactly the same:

Jim and I paid our taxes.
The tax department gave refunds to Jim and me.


Less / Fewer

Footprints-In-The-Sand 3383

The difference between less and fewer is that one is used in reference to “number” – things you can count, and the other in reference to “amount” – things measured in bulk. For example, you can’t count sand, so if we want to empty a hole filled with sand, we say “we need less sand in that hole” – but if we want to empty a hole filled with eggs, we say “we need fewer eggs in that hole”. There are other words that follow the same rule:

“A great quantity of sand” – “A great number of eggs”
“We should remove a little sand” – “We should remove a few eggs”
“There is too much sand” – “There are too many eggs”

If you eat too many ice-creams, people might think you have eaten too much dessert.

We commonly see this error crop up with regards to people: “We need less people on this team” – this should actually be “we need fewer people on this team”.

Measurements of time and money ignore this rule, therefore we say: “I have less than 5 dollars” and “It takes less than 2 hours to get to Paris”.


Different Than

This is wrong. It is a very common error and an appalling one at that! The correct form is “different from”. In British common use, many people say “different to” but that is still technically bad form and most UK style guides reject it. Let us look at each option:

Wrong: “Pink is different than blue” (common use in the US)
Wrong: “Pink is different to blue” (common use in the UK)
Questionable: “John is different than he was before his accident. (this can be phrased better – but because “different” is followed by a full clause, some accept it.)
Right: “Pink is different from blue”.


Anyway / Any Way / Anyways

Pledge Small

First of all, “anyways” is not an English word – in fact, I am not aware of it being a word in any language at all. You should never say “anyways”. The word most often crops up in sentences such as this: “John was an idiot anyways!” The correct word to use is “anyway”.

Secondly, anyway is different from any way – both are acceptable but have different uses:

“I didn’t like him anyway”, and: “is there any way to stop the marriage?”

There / They’re / Their

Normal Spelling Errors

I am sure no one will disagree with this entry being number 1 on the list – it is extremely common nowadays to see these words interchanged – sometimes with hilarious consequences but usually not. Let us look at each word separately:

They’re: The apostrophe is used here to replace a missing letter – the letter ‘a’. “They’re” means “they are” – it only mean “they are”, and can never mean anything else. So if you want to say that someone is happy, you say “they’re happy”. Remember, the apostrophe stands for a missing letter.

Their: This means “belongs to them” – it only means “belong to them” and nothing else. The confusion that has arisen over this word is no doubt related to the fact the an apostrophe is often used to denote possession – such as “John’s dog” – but when we are talking about “them” possessing something, we don’t use the apostrophe.

There: Everything else falls in to this category. “There is a happy man”, “Over there!”, “There aren’t many people at the party”.

Here is a little tip for remembering:

Their – “Their” has “heir” in it – an heir ultimately possesses items left to them in a will.
There – “There” has “here” in it – this can remind you that it refers to a place.

Listverse Staff

Listverse is a place for explorers. Together we seek out the most fascinating and rare gems of human knowledge. Three or more fact-packed lists daily.

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  • Scar.

    I hate There/They’re/their errors!

    Drives me nuts!

  • jhoyce07

    i love grammar lists like this..i’ll spread the word to the office tomorrow..ty JFrater! ü

  • fishing4monkeys

    I thought this was a repeat list then I read the top haha

  • Sgt. Batguano

    Excellent reference material; I need to bookmark this list.

    I find grammar, definitions, usage, etc. a fascinating contradiction. One of the primary methods of establishing these rules is through observing public usage; therefore, if the error becomes common enough, it becomes accepted standard practice. Is this situational irony???

    A great example is the use of the phrase hoi polloi. Originally it meant the masses, but over time has been misused to represent the upper class and most people have come to accept the latter.

    Scene from Caddyshack –
    [Caddy Danny arrives among the rich in his yachting outfit]
    Spalding Smails: Ahoy polloi… where did you come from, a scotch ad?

    BTW, did anybody else feel very self conscious about their spelling grammar when they commented on this list?

  • lotte

    Interesting list! This really cleared up some doubts.

  • Phil

    One that bugs me is when people pronounce pronunciation as pronounciation. Like these lists.

  • Phil

    I like these lists.

  • rob

    Beat it Spalding!

  • The-dude

    Great list. Here is another; OUR team thinks you ARE great at this list business.

  • ryan

    #9 are you referencing a pronunciation error?

  • becca

    Great list!

    I really hate it when people write ‘alot’ and not ‘a lot’. I’ve also noticed that kids seem say ‘nuse’ instead of ‘use’ a lot. As in: “I like to nuse the blue pencil.” Gah!
    Has anyone else observed this?

    Oh, and the incorrect use of the apostrophes such as “Puppy’s For Sale” REALLY bugs me.
    People seem to write an ‘s’ and just want to throw in an apostrophe there for good measure.

    Wow, I feel better now. Thank’s! [irony intended]

  • becca

    yeah, yeah… I just noticed…. It should be “Oh, and the incorrect use of the apostrophe such as in…” Bah! Now I hate myself!

  • ryan

    #11 I don’t hear that one often. I have children that pronounce “they’re” as “they are”. It bugs me, but it is their second language.

  • warrrreagl

    About #6 “Would Have” – there is even an incorrect usage of this incorrect English. More and more I see people spelling it as “would of” instead of “would have,” but it’s hard to correct somebody when they can’t even spell something that’s incorrect to begin with.

  • mitchsn

    Im sorry but people using YOUR when it should be YOU ARE is probably the most frequent mistake ive seen on the internet and one that still drives me nuts

  • storm_shadow

    Nice list. I think I use most of them in the right place, at least when I’m writing, except I never use “whom!” When I’m talking I’m a bit lazy though. I like the “irony” entry. I remember hearing some comedian talking about how Alanis Morrisette had ruined the understanding of the word “irony” in America!

  • perun99

    Is it ironic that a list about common English errors has so many spelling errors/typos in it?

    #10 “Many other language”
    #1 “it only mean “they are””

    There were a few others, but I forgot where…

  • Shen

    I agree with warrrreagl.
    “Would of” / “could of” / “should of” is so irritating!

  • Ashar Ali

    dude who cares?

    • Brian

      People with more than half a brain cell.

  • Ashar Ali

    life is too short to worry about grammer

    • Correcter


      • Kåiti

        Look, I agree that is this sort of thing is annoying, but I think it’s more important to look for the meaning in what’s being said rather than than focussing on the mistakes they made while saying it.

  • brian

    I teach English here in Barcelona–it’s amazing how many “experienced” teachers make these same errors…
    “different to” is like silverware on crockery to me….

  • Having attended parochial school in the 50’s and 60’s, 13 years worth of parochial school, this stuff is second nature to me.
    It was drilled into us daily, from at least second grade, by the nuns and priests, and so proper grammar (and spelling) just come naturally.
    I don’t know why all the schools don’t teach this way, it did us nothing but good; even the poorest child in the schools had a grasp of language equal to the richest child, quite an advantage when applying to University and for jobs.

  • nollidge

    I stopped reading when I saw this: “This particular error has become so common that it is beginning to look like the word “whom” may vanish entirely from the English language.”

    WELL THEN IT’S NOT AN ERROR! There are no rules except those of common usage. If a “rule” is so rarely followed, then it is the rule which must adapt to the users of the language.

    Language changes. Arbitrary rules will not get in the way of it.

  • Downhighway61

    Ashar- But what about grammar?

  • Mom424

    Warrr: are you sure? I’m thinking it is not ‘would of’ but would’ve, could’ve, and should’ve. A fine distinction I’m aware, but at least it leaves some hope that the kids actually know the correct words and are just too lazy to pronounce it fully.

    Great list by the way Jamie, I knew most of these but still make the odd error when I’m either in a hurry or not paying attention. I get corrected rather frequently by our resident Grammar nazi.

  • dischuker

    is it ironic that, on a list of common english errors, there is a grammatical error?

    “On the previous list of errors I included Irony as a bonus – it deserves its own place and a fully description so here it is. “

  • Shen

    Mom424: Yes it comes from “would’ve” but I’ve seen people writing “would of” too many times…

  • glaukopis

    The errors are amusing.
    In one of the irony blurbs
    but the Higgins’s family don’t.
    should be but the Higgins’s family doesn’t.

  • astraya

    People who care about “who” and “whom” ought to start caring about “you” and “ye”, as in “Whom do ye trust” (USA presidential election 1992). “Ye” bit the dust and no-one mourned.

    I’m teaching English in Korea. I’ll think about this overnight then let rip with 2 years’ worth of accumulated frustrations.

  • astraya

    I would say “but the Higgins family doesn’t” cf “but the Frater family doesn’t”.

  • Bob

    Great list. It’s funny how the internet has underscored just how poor the grammatical skills of most people are. Then again, one suspects the vast majority of internet users are children and teenagers. . .

  • Nikki J

    People who use “your” where “you’re” should be used deserve to die!

  • Bob

    astraya – Yes, but it was a useful distinction, and it’s sad when a useful thing like that falls out of the language. Who/whom is a useful distinction, though obviously not as useful as it was when English was more inflected and less analytical. For the time being, who/whom, in its misuse, serves to flag pretentious folks (along with overuse of “myself” and “she and I” as objects). :-)

  • sheltiesan

    #17 and #26 I also noticed the grammatical errors. I felt sure that they were typos. Among ‘friends’, you’d think they would be forgiven. I’m sure this post has grammatical one or more grammatical errors. If so, please forgive me. :)

  • solensdrottning

    What about “farther” versus “further”. I’ve never figured that one out.

  • Randall


    THANK YOU!!!!

    That “different to” thing has been driving me batshit NUTS! I’ve heard it more and more on Brit TV lately—and in fact you never hear it said correctly, which is scary—I’d even come to think that Britain had changed the rule. But I even hear it from Brit friends now, sometimes, and I actually said to one of them the other day, WHY IN GOD’S NAME DO YOU SAY THAT? And she shrugged and said, “dunno mate, always said it that way.”

    I had “different from” drilled into my brain by my grammar-loving and proper-speech-loving mother. It’s scary that in the UK it seems to be falling utterly out of use.

  • dave4248

    #9 part III..Dramatic irony. That was used on the old M*A*S*H television show after Dr.Winchester became a regular character. Hawkeye would often give him a hard time, leaving the viewer annoyed. After all, Winchester wasn’t Frank Burns, he had a good side. But much of his virtue,… he helped a man relearn to play piano after losing his right hand, he also helped a soldier with a stuttering problem,…was something ONLY the audience saw. Hawkeye never did.

  • warrrreagl

    segue, what a brilliant and insightful comment. I couldn’t agree more. My 18-year old niece is a new college freshman and her parents raised her to scoff, ridicule, and mock the people who took the time to learn correct grammar.

    Now, she has been figuratively decapitated her first month in college as she sees how far ahead of her the rest of her classmates are going. Unless she changes her entire way of thinking, she will never recover.

    So many people refuse to accept what a tremendous advantage they can have by simply learning the language.

  • Callie

    An easier trick for who and whom is asking the statement as a question. If the answer is him or her, the correct usage is whom, if the answer is he or she, it’s who. For example, the most classic use of whom:

    To whom it may concern: It concerns HIM/HER.


    Who is coming to the party? SHE/HE is coming to the party.

    Warrr is correct about would of/should of. It’s such a pet peeve of mine and I’ll never forget a classmate getting blasted by our professor for putting would of in the first sentence of his term paper. (We were English majors, so this was particularly distressing) the teacher refused to read the paper and the kid failed until he re-wrote it, then the teacher averaged the new paper with the F and ended up with a C. Tough teacher…good class though.

  • Nauplius

    I wish you would have told me about #6 before now.

  • mandysparky

    I always make these mistakes!

  • mattayeaux

    In # 1

    They’re: The apostrophe is used here to replace a missing letter – the letter ‘a’. “They’re” means “they are” – it only mean “they are”,

    Should not that be “means”


    TO NIKI J- Your write, it’s drive i crazy two.

  • KimoK

    How about “seven-year anniversary” instead of “seventh anniversary”? “Year” is redundant because it’s already part of “anniversary” (anni = annual)

  • ScottyBGood

    Does Bob know someone’s out to get him?

  • kris

    That’s an English lesson for me today… i am waiting for more comments on this list & make my own project… there is some one in this list who is teacher…

    as I am not going to school ( must be in 8th grade actually) … would i do to make sure I am good at English (grammatically) though I am a British I think I am spoiling my language a bit (or a lot) while I am here in India!

  • shaunism

    Lay/lie cause so much confusion because of the tenses. The past tense of ‘lie’ is ‘lay’, as in “I lay down yesterday for a nap.”

    Going present/past/past participle, the two are:

    lie / lay / lain

    lay / laid / laid

    Not easy to remember in off-the-cuff speaking since, unless you were indoctrinated in a different English-speaking world than I, it is not engrained.

  • Sandeep

    “but the Higgins’s family don’t.
    should be but the Higgins’s family doesn’t.”

    Actually it’d be Higgins’ and not Higgins’s.
    Thats another common error, just like the confusion between “lists” and “list’s”.

  • Miss Destiny

    Great list! A few things I didn’t know. :)

  • Catsy

    On the would have, would’ve, would of conversation, I used to write would of because I said would’ve and they sound the same. After getting corrected (in high school only) I started saying only would have instead of the conjunction and never made the spelling mistake again.

  • MartinL

    Number 6 particularly drives me nuts. #7 and #3 also make me cringe on at least a weekly basis. What annoys me most is that so many people in business and government, who’ve been to college and supposedly been well educated, perpetuate these errors in speech and writing constantly, and can’t be corrected because of their position (and the arrogance that comes with it). And of course their poor grammar percolates down through their subordinates, who assume it must be right because the boss says or writes it that way. I’ve even heard my kids’ teachers using English I would have been made to stand in the corner of the classroom for, back in the barbaric and unenlightened 60s. (Oh yeah, there’s another one: it would be 60s, not 60’s. People keep turning plurals into possessives right and left — especially in advertising.)
    Anyway, Jamie — WONDERFUL list. Keep ’em coming.

  • jawilli1

    I believe that people use “myself” as indicated because it sounds like “my self”. That still may not be correct, but it seems to work in general conversation.

    Similarly, the phrase “a whole nother” happens because “another” sounds like the phrase “a nother”. It makes no sense, but it sounds correct in conversational English.

  • Jen

    Thank you, THANK YOU for including the awful anyway/anyways error. “Anyways” is like hearing fingernails on a chalk board for me, and when I hear one of my good friends say it, I actually have to sit back and think for a second, “WHY AM I FRIENDS WITH THIS PERSON OH. MY. GOD.”

    Maybe if we started teaching the incorrectness of anyways as early as kindergarten…unfortunately, most of the teachers I had growing up were anywaysers. God, what an obnoxious mistake.

    OK, I’m better now.

  • Cubone

    I love this list! Every time I here someone use “myself” incorrectly I cringe (and it happens a lot)!

  • Heroajax

    Oooooooh!!! Amen finally. I Jamie, is there a way you can get this list published for every single English speaking school in the world? I agree with #22 Segue. I also attended parochial school and same thing. Although I would think when Segue refers to having it “drilled” in on a daily basis. Given the time cited, I’m assuming that’s fairly close “beaten” in daily. :-)

    Another error I see constantly that makes me cringe is “backward” and “forward.” There is no “s” at the end of either of those words … ever! Although some dictionaries list it as acceptable. It never has been to me. Singular subject or plural subject can only physically move in one direction! Don’t do it. It’s backward or forward, NOT backwards and forwards! Ever!

    Awesome list.

  • Dan

    Don’t kill bob…

    I recommend everyone spends a good amount of time reading these lists. Spelling and grammar can be considered a part of history we should not lose. If people ignore these values we could end up talking like short hand sounds on the internet, as the internet has promoted not using full English.

  • Mariabeth

    I love lists like this! I hate it when people I’m with have bad grammar, and I find this lists to be helpful when I’m calling them out on it.

    What about the same thing/same difference situation? Do they really mean the same thing? Or is there a difference?


    This list really effected me. Anyways…I need to lay myself down next to the woman who I love.

  • bigski

    What bothers me most is when someone uses the non-word irregardless in a sentence.When i hear that my automatic bullshit detector goes off and i disregard whats being said REGARDLESS of whos speaking.

  • Heroajax

    @19 Ashur Ali, @23 Nollidge. Umm, that was the exact point of the list. It’s an error because it’s an error. I agree languages do change over time. The problem here is the language is not being taught correctly to begin with. You’d do well to read this list entirely and memorize it as well as people’s additional comments. Knowing how to speak correctly is one of the most valuable business skills a person can have. You need to read this list and memorize every rule here.

    Additionally, you two need to go back and read Segue’s comment at 22. There’s also a common punctuation errors list. Go memorize those too. You need it. :-)

  • kofeelite

    I cringe whenever I hear “on accident”-it’s “on purpose” or “by accident”…
    I use the phrase “same difference” which also sends people into fits, I think it’s proper english…

  • Dani

    “For example: in Pygmalion, we know that Eliza is a prostitute, but the Higgins’s family don’t.”

    Was this supposed to be irnoic as well?

  • Dani


  • kofeelite

    six of one, half dozen of the other…

  • T Cups

    Does anyone else hate it with a passion when people say “ax” instead of ask? Whenever someone does that I not only cringe, but have serious thoughts of punching them in the face


    Double negatives! ARGH!!!

  • Elli

    #35: “Further” is used when indicating distance (as in “JFrater’s house is further down the road than mine is”. “Farther” is used when talking about anything else (as in “Jfrater has taken grammar farther than anyone else ever has.)

    Excuse the crappy examples; it’s way too early in the morning for this!

    • MaestroB

      Your statement is incorrect. One travels "farther", but pursues a topic "further". The former indicates physical distance, the latter metaphorical distance.

  • Christine

    I love grammar lists too, they are always fascinating and I always learn something new.

  • Lynn

    #65.. YES! That one bothers me too.
    I do make many mistakes, and I am in no position to judge others, but some errors are so bad that they make me cringe.

    Like “windowSEAL” instead of sill

    I’m afraid that online chatting and texting will be the death of the english language. I’ve heard people actually say “lol” in a sentence.

    Oh, and have you received a text or message from a teen lately? You need a decoder ring to figure those out!

  • JB

    Thank you for that list jfrater. I’ll be waiting for another “even more common English errors” and improve my writing through it.

    @21 brian:
    that’s true. That’s what we call the “macarronic” english, and should be out of the educational centers.
    But this is a minor problem. I hope it’s changing by now but I feel like a victim of a messed educational program.
    Here in Catalonia english education is a joke. Lots of primary schools (especially in rural villages) give french as third lenguage instead of english and that slows so much the learning in secondary, when those who’re learning it for the first time and those speaking it since childwood are joining in the same classroom . Out of school lessons aren’t within everyone’s reach and taking them makes in-schol lessons a waste of time. I hope it’s going to improve with new legislations.

  • Eggs

    Some of this is important, but things such as “myself” and “would have” really don’t degrade the English language. It’s really not a big deal.

  • Elli

    Lynn: Believe it or not, there ARE some of us who text in complete, grammatically-correct sentences!

    Unfortunately, I’ve had to tell some of my friends that I no longer have a texting plan just so I don’t have to read their awful texts.

  • Elli

    Also, Dinosaur Comics FTW!

  • YogiBarrister

    I’m embarrassed to admit I make a lot of these errors. Sometimes it’s because I’m tired, more often it’s out of ignorance.
    I do have one quibble though. The English language is constantly evolving, so the meanings of words(like irony) and even their pronunciation(forte) change over time. Now that English is the international language, be prepared for a lot more. I’m totally “new school”. I’d like to eliminate some of the quirks from our language. First order of business, cut our ties to to middle English, and start spelling phonetically. The time is rite. Why make it harder for people to learn English?

  • Elli

    becus it wil taik sum taim tu git yused tu it?

    It would probably just make things harder for everyone. It would be hard to have standard spelling, since people will spell things differently depending upon which language they were raised speaking. What may seem phonetic to you may not be for, say, a Spanish, Finnish, or Japanese speaker.

  • Mom424

    Segue, Warr; Part of the atrocious grammar skills of today are partly the fault of poor marking techniques. I have had my children bring home assignments chock full of spelling and grammar errors. I had a fit and the excuse was; but his imagination is great, we’re marking the story, not the spelling. Eee gads, it is still wrong. Where is the incentive to do it correctly? Hand it back with all the circles and underlines and have them re-do it. “Oh, but then it will become a chore, I would hate to stifle little Johnny’s creative processes”. Bullshit I say.

    No point in teaching the rules if you’re not going to enforce them.

  • Jackie

    Sandeep: If the last name is Higgins and you are talking about something that belongs to them, it SHOULD be Higgins’s. Why not Higgins’ ? Because the s is PART of the name.

    Here’s an example:

    This is James’s dog. James isn’t a plural word already so you can use the ‘s

    You only use the ‘ withOUT the s if the word is already plural.

    For example:

    Those two dogs’ outfits are cute.

    See the difference?

    This was always my understanding of it anyway

  • Erin

    Loose/Lose is the worst

    It really grinds my gears

    Oh, and when people say cousin or across and add a “T” on the end of it so it becomes cousint or acrosst.

    So annoying!

  • YogiBarrister

    Point well taken Elli. What I really meant, was that exceptions to the rules of spelling should be phased out, er I mean, fased out. It’s going to happen anyway, as the United States and Great Britain become marginalized by countries that use English as a second language. Two billion Chinese can’t be wong.

  • Erin

    Those are spelling moreso than grammatical though.

    Hmm, I wonder if moreso is correct…

  • Erin

    “More so” should always be spelled as two distinct words. It is also overused and misused.

    Well there ya go

  • JayArr

    The example for “They’re” in number 1 is correct only whey referencing a group of two or more people being happy. It cannot apply to ‘someone’, as that is singular in form, and an individual should not properly be referred to as ‘they’… use he/she/it.

    A good example of a sentence that uses all three of our #1 words, is the answer to the question, “Where are the suspects?”: “They’re over there, with their hands in the air.”

    A great honorable mention should be “irregardless” and “regardless”. The word ‘irregardless’, so often used by many people I know and meet, is NOT a word primarily because it is a double negative – not having no regard… The correct word is ‘regardless’ (having no regard).
    I know there’s a definite slang push from some to make ‘irregardless’ a real honest to gosh word…, but truth be told, it aint not never gonna be a real word no how, nuh-uh, no ways! :-D

  • Toryoom

    The most annoying grammatical mistake, in my opinion, is the casual switching of the words “then” and “than,” most typically in written form.

    E.G.: “I’m angrier then a bull in a china store!”

    I don’t understand why people continue to make this mistake. It doesn’t even SOUND correct when you say it out loud, never mind elaborating on the technical explanation for why it’s wrong! This mistake makes persons of any age sound like a grade-schooler.

  • Toryoom

    …oops. I mean, makes A PERSON of any age sound like a grade-schooler. :)

  • YogiBarrister

    Would one of you English experts weigh in on an argument I had online. I asked this question, “Who is the most contemtible?”, and was told it should be, “Whom is the most contemptible?”. My ear tells me, starting a sentence with the word, whom, is wrong, my sense of logic tells me, contemptible is an adjective, therefore the nominative case should be used, but the nature of the word itself, makes me wonder if the accusative case is correct. Perhaps I should have written, “For whom do you have the most contempt?”, just to be safe.

  • Cedestra

    Great list, Jamie. Thanks for the pictures (especially using dinosaurcomics :) ).

  • Anon


    I’m an Englishman who (subject) uses English, with no further or greater qualifications. Under those circumstances:

    “Who (subject) is the most contemptible”

    “Whom (object) do you (subject) consider to be the most contemptible.

    The safe rule is to look for a verb describing the action or whatever of a *who*.

    Your final version is correct and safe. In fact ‘The Right Word at the Right Time’ (Readers Digest publication, thoroughly remommended), advises always to consider rephrasing that way if in doubt, or if you inital attempt sounds clumsy. At the extreme, try some form of circumlocution.

    There are grammatical difficulties we all tend to fall into (speaking for myself!) unconsciously, such as *it happened to my wife and I* (should be *and me*), *There’s several of them* (should be *there are several of them*).

    However, minor grammatical nicities are less important than sense (i.e., are you being understood as you intended? Do you understand what is being said?) unless the context demands otherwise.

    Grammatical nit-picking when not needed amounts to pedantry or intellectual snobbery, but hardly, I feel, when simply applied to improving one’s own practice!

  • JayArr

    Yoryoom, you could also have said: …”makes person of any age sound like grade-schoolers.” It did not have to go to the singular form. heehee… ;)

  • JayArr


  • JayArr

    eeeshh… *persons* of any age… I need more caffeine!!!

  • Anon

    Sorry. I came straight in, responding to Recent Comments without reading the list or all before, so have just noticed the answer was provided at Nº10.

    It occurs to me that there must be a type of person who would flash the word *whom* around, regardless of accuracy, simply because they imagine it *sounds* more posh, educated and less hoi polloi than *who*. Heaven spare us.

  • Callie


    your original thinking is correct, as is the last phrasing.

    I think the accuser is wrong.

    Along the lines of the regardless/irregardless snafu, does it bug anyone else when someone thinks inflammable means not flammable? It doesn’t. They mean the same thing. However, there’s been so much confusion that now only “flammable” is used on warning for chemicals and such. But man…it makes me upset. I’ve had actualy fights over it. People are dumb.

  • JayArr

    Callie, I think it’s because inflammable has the NFL in it – and we all know that those football players are ON FIRE!

    Okay, bad joke… time to get back to work… lunch is over, and time for me to be done with my inflammatory deeds for the day. ;)

  • kiwiboi

    does it bug anyone else when someone thinks inflammable means not flammable? It doesn’t. They mean the same thing. However, there’s been so much confusion that now only “flammable” is used on warning for chemicals and such.

    Callie – yes, it bugs me a little too. Inflammable is derived from the Latin inflammare (to combust). From memory, flammable is merely an idiomatic shortening of inflammable.

    I did, though, once hear a Professor of Linguistics state that the meaning of flammable is self-evident (“able to catch fire”), and that inflammable infers “able to be inflamed”, or similar…which also makes sense, I guess.

  • YogiBarrister

    Anon, Callie thanks for your input. My main objection to this particular commenter was that using whom, even when correct, often sounds pretentious. Before the Super Bowl, the same person asked, “Whom are you rooting for?”. It’s proper English to be sure, but nobody I know talks that way.
    As for number one, I sometimes make that mistake when I’m tired or over-excited. I have a word for people who get upset by this kind of mistake, they are homophonophobics.

  • kiwiboi

    Yogi – coincidentally, there was an item on Sky News (UK) earlier this week about the adoption of phonetics. The one consideration that most discussion participants agreed had merit, was that centuries of English Literature would likely become inaccessible to much of the populace after a couple of generations. (As an English Lit. graduate I, myself, would find this regrettable).

    For context, the discussion came about as the “answer” to the current generation of British kids having relatively abysmal spelling skills – one result of the persistent creep of political correctness and dumbing-down in the British education system, IMHO :(

  • Shay

    None of these are actually mistakes if you look at them from a purely linguistic point of view. There are always many varieties of a language, commonly referred to as “dialect” or “sociolect”. So called “standard” forms of language, like the Queen’s English if you’re British, are only one variety of a language, albeit a prestigious one. As soon as a group of people begin to use a certain linguistic item, such as saying “who” instead of “whom”, many linguists do not consider it to be an actual mistake. It is simply a feature of a variety of a language. Also, living languages, like English, are constantly changing – when they stop evolving, we get dead languages. Some people would argue that Shakespearean English, referred to as Early Modern English, is one of the more “pure” forms of English,(and there have been many forms of English: Old English, Middle English, Early Modern English and Present-Day English, including all the varieties of English found during those periods). However, if you’ve ever read a Shakespearean play, would it be reasonable to expect every English speaker to use this particular form of English today? No, simply because the English language has evolved in a huge way over the last few hundred years and will continue to do so. No matter how much we try to impede these changes, they will inevitably occur.

  • nollidge

    “@19 Ashur Ali, @23 Nollidge. Umm, that was the exact point of the list. It’s an error because it’s an error.”

    Says who? Who makes the rules? Why are they rules? Is there some set of divinely-etched stone tablets containing such laws that I’m not aware of?

    “It’s an error because it’s an error.” You’ve got to be kidding me. Is there no evidential standard? Perhaps learning a bit about logical fallacies, particularly Begging the Question, would do us all some good, rather than pedantic grammar violations which confuse no one and yet irritate everyone.

  • Cernunnos

    i like this list. the way that the english language is being torn apart by teenagers hiding behind their keyboards is terrifying.
    however, this list would serve it’s purpose better somewhere else, most here spell (way) better than “average.”

    “it was said that:
    if given time, one hundred monkeys with typewriters would eventually recreate shakespeare’s complete works.
    now that we have the internet, we know that that is not true “

  • Elizabeth S.

    I’d like to address my personal grammar peeve: Misuse of “they” and “their” as as a substitute for “he” or “his”.
    I often read/hear people using “they” as a gender-nuetral pronoun for a single individual. Example:
    “The person crossed the street when they saw the light change”
    “A human being wants their family to be safe.”
    I don’t understand what is so upsetting about saying “he or she” to describe an unspecified individual. It especially bugs me when I see it in print; I find “s/he” is perfectly simple and correct.
    It just bothers me so much.

  • benny

    i liked this list but hate English anyways lol

  • Heroajax

    @98 Nollidge. You’re kidding right? You’re attempting to bash on me because I tried to explain the rules of the English Language to you? There is a standard! Whether you learned it or not, a standard set of English grammar rules does exist. Do some research. Look it up. You can choose either the Associated Press Stylebook or The Chicago Manual of Style. Either one will set you on the correct course to learn those lessons you clearly didn’t.

    The reason we have rules for grammatically correct English is to ensure proper communication between others. When people correctly communicate with others, it eliminates miscommunication between two parties who do not share the same race, mind, creed, ideals, background, etc. I would imagine you often are asked, “what do you mean?” Simply because you’re not clearly communicating.

    Your argument about logical fallacies and “begging the question,” is simply not relevent, mostly, because you’re not obeying the rules set out for communication purposes. The rules are there to ensure as uniformly similar communication as possible. That’s why there are rules and that’s why you need to obey them. It facilitates communication between people.

    Do you violate rules of mathematics? In your world does 2+2=5? Do you violate the legal code in your area? Probably not. Why not in math? Because you’ll likely be thought by your peers to be a moron who lacks an education. Why not the laws, because there are punishments for breaking the laws. You don’t (for the most part) question either of those do you? Probably not. So, therefore, why do you regularly break the English Language laws as you see fit? If you want to go through life being though of as uneducated, hey, that’s fine. I’m merely suggesting a proper course of action so you can be taken seriously. Since it appears you either disregarded your education in this matter or simply don’t care, I’m trying to help you see why it’s necessary.

    Hope that clears it up? Probably not, but at least I tried.

  • Heroajax

    @100 Elizabeth S. The reason is because the English language does not truly have a designation for a gender neutral pronoun. You correct to say that the substitution is incorrect. Unlike other languages like French, Spanish and Italian in particular, English does not have that pronoun.

    You could make an argument to say that “one” would be the substitute, but often it simply sounds so strange to us English speakers, that we often simply substitute an incorrect pronoun simply because it sound better. It’s not correct, but that’s a fault of the language rather than the users imho.

  • michael

    actually according to your definitions a few of alanis’ lines could easily be fitted under situational irony.

    “free ride when you’ve already paid” an inverse situation to the Reagan example.
    Clearly a negative result is expected and achieved (payed for ride) when a positive result unwittingly comes out of it and a free ride exists.

    “like rain on your wedding day” EASILY fits your loose definition of situational irony. “Situational irony is when there is a difference between the expected result and the actual result.” This is the only definition we’re given here and that pretty much solidifies most of the ironies Alanis invokes.

    So the only real error with the word irony you’ve revealed is the one you’ve made yourself. “There are four types of irony (none of which resemble remotely anything in Alanis Morissette’s song:” as some of them fully resemble one of the types of irony you’ve put forth.

    ps – I dislike her music.

  • Joni

    Nice list! I’m a big grammar freak, so these type of lists really appeal to me :).

    Oh and is it just me, or is #1 not numbered?

  • 38. warrrreagl
    segue, what a brilliant and insightful comment. I couldn’t agree more. My 18-year old niece is a new college freshman and her parents raised her to scoff, ridicule, and mock the people who took the time to learn correct grammar.
    55. Heroajax
    Oooooooh!!! Amen finally. I Jamie, is there a way you can get this list published for every single English speaking school in the world? I agree with #22 Segue.
    76. Mom424
    Segue, Warr; Part of the atrocious grammar skills of today are partly the fault of poor marking techniques. I have had my children bring home assignments chock full of spelling and grammar errors.
    When my children were babies I made a conscious decision to speak to them properly, that is, not to engage in “baby talk”, to use proper words, grammar, tense, syntax.
    Both grandmothers were appalled! Fortunately, they both lived almost 400 miles away, since every time they were around they babbled on about birbies (yes, birbies, this was his mother’s word from god knows where!), weewee, did ums get a widdle booboo?…
    I’d gently (at first) correct the grandmothers, reminding them that we were teaching the children to speak English, not gobbledygook.
    They’d argue that “all” children learned baby talk first, and it was cute.
    I said it would make sense if baby was their language, but it wasn’t, English was, and English was the language I was teaching them.
    Long story short, it worked.
    They entered school speaking, reading, and writing years ahead of their class.
    To me, it was a no brainer.
    My eldest now has an 18 month old daughter, and she is doing exactly the same thing I did, and it’s working again.
    Funny how that happens.

  • Nejikun

    With regards to number 9, You dont happen to know a Bob that you don’t like, do you Jfrater? :)

  • knight_forked

    JFrater, informationistically great list! However I am wondering when you use “they’re” don’t you mean they as a plural of he, she or it…and when you say “someone” it is always singular? Basically I was referring to the following statement:

    “So if you want to say that someone is happy, you say “they’re happy””

    Shouldn’t that someone be replaced by a group or a family for them to be referred by they (although they also refers to someone previously mentioned)?

  • Heroajax

    @108 Knight_Forked. “They’re” is a contraction of the two words “they are.” You are correct in saying that the word “someone” is always singular.

    So, in answer to your specific question. You can’t replace the word “someone” with either “they’re” or “they are.” That is an incorrect subject/object usage. You have a singular subject and a plural object.

    Technically you should designate a gender as your object of the sentence which would read like this:

    “So, if you want to say someone is happy, you say he’s happy.”

    You could also designate by saying “she’s happy” as well. Either would be correct. If you refer to comments 100 and my explanation in comment 103 you will see this is a problem in the English Language that other languages don’t have. English technically has no impersonal pronoun.

    Hope that helps?

  • Heroajax

    Okay before anyone else jumps on me. Here’s the correct sentence.

    “So, if you want to say someone is happy, you say, ‘he’s happy.'”

    I got to typing too fast.

  • Anon

    Yogi, (95),

    I’ve scrolled right down to the end, so don’t know whether anyone else has addressed your point at that number yet.

    “Whom are you rooting for?” is an “Up with this I will not put.” type of absurdity because it separates off the preposition, which should be connected as follows:

    “For whom are you rooting?” This is not only elegant and correct, but it also makes “For who are you rooting?” sound as suspect as it should.

    Suggested sensible circumlocution in everyday language, “Which team/side/player do you want to win?”

    Broadly speaking, we have the grammar we have and the differences we have, because they help to clarify understanding and reduce ambiguity as proven since time (ca) immemorial. Where this is not so and the differences are therefore an affection, they will tend to fall into disuse.

    Cultural groups are also quite happy with certain nominal misuses (which may not have been misuses at one time, incidentally) and understand what is meant. It also acts as a verbal *badge* to bind and identify the particular culture, along with the local accent. One branch of my family is from East London. Although they read and hear “We were” all the time from the wider world, including me, they themselves always say “We was”. To all intents and purposes it only matters if you don’t want anyone to know you come from a humble background in East London!

  • Mikerodz

    I can’t believe I am learning this much from Listverse. Thanks you people

  • Mikerodz

    Just kidding guys

  • Jtradke

    “There is a standard! Whether you learned it or not, a standard set of English grammar rules does exist. Do some research. Look it up. You can choose either the Associated Press Stylebook or The Chicago Manual of Style.”

    Oh! Sounds like there’s TWO standards, then, hey? Which one’s the right one? Also, if you read the titles closely, you’ll notice they’re both talking about “style”, not “rules” or “laws”.

    “Either one will set you on the correct course to learn those lessons you clearly didn’t…I would imagine you often are asked, “what do you mean?” Simply because you’re not clearly communicating….you’re not obeying the rules set out for communication purposes…”

    Spare me. You’re obviously not reading my words – you’ll have some difficulty coming up with any violations therein. I ain’t perfect (oops, there’s one!), but I do know the standards and I do follow them generally. That’s because I have a certain style, which I adapted from writing I admired. I have a personal set of standards, but by no means do I hold others to them. If I do not understand, I ask for clarification.

    “why do you regularly break the English Language laws as you see fit?”

    Again, which “English Language laws” am I breaking? Do my subjects and verbs not agree? Have I dangled a participle within these couple hundred words of mine? (Which, I hasten to add, is all you know of my linguistic abilities)

    Just because I think prescriptivist grammar is a load of crap doesn’t mean I constantly violate it. I would agree that there’s a certain baseline of grammar that does enable more efficient, clear-cut communication. Subject-verb agreement, for one, and, say, commas between clauses or items. But “whom vs. who”? “Less vs. fewer”? And, for Christ’s sake, “would have vs. had”?

    After a point, it becomes the complaints of pedants, not people who care about communication.

  • Jtradke

    Oh, for crying out…

    jtradke = nollidge. Sorry.

  • Anon

    The greatest difficulty with singular male and female useage is when the gender is not known, but cannot be avoided.

    “A mixed group of children was playing on the roof. One jumped down and we saw him? her? run round the back.” (You don’t know whether the child is male or female.)

    Although I realise it is gramatically wrong, the easiest solution is to say “… and we saw them run round the back”.

    ” … we saw it run round the back …” would do and be accurate, but is rather silly, since we don’t commonly use *it* for persons, except perhaps babies.

    “… we saw him or her run …” is also accurate, but sounds awkward and fussy.

    “… we saw that child run round the back” would be correct, and perhaps should be the result of thoughtful writing.

    It might also be expressed as “… and one jumped down, whom we saw run off …”

    But for off the cuff speech *them* works and is unambiguous, since it was just stated clearly there was only one child.

    My reference source (cited above) notes that although the grammatical objection is strong, the *they, them their* co-opted singular format has been used throughout history, even by some of the greatest writers, and very few have managed to avoid it altogether. And that is writing, folks, not everyday speech.

    Any thoughts on this one?

  • -DAR

    I feel so.. edumacated…

  • astraya

    Before I get started on grammar, I think I’ve missed something factual: Eliza Doolittle was a prostitute???? Since when? She is shown as a flower-seller. She protests regularly that she is a “good girl”. The word is not mentioned in the play, but then it probably wouldn’t be anyway, though if they can say “bloody”, then surely they can say “prostitute”.
    The wikipedia article (the only source I can keep my head around early on a holiday weekend Saturday) says:
    Higgins says she could get married, but Eliza interprets this as selling herself like a prostitute. “We were above that at the corner of Tottenham Court Road.”
    which infers that she wasn’t.
    During my school years the state education department gradually wound back teacher grammar. Almost everything I know I learned by self-education.
    Sometimes I slip “errors” into a posting as tongue-in-cheek deadpan.
    I’ll start on grammar when I’m awake.

  • Heroajax

    @114 Jtradke/nollidge. Firstly, let’s get something straight. Just because they’re called “stylebooks,” does not mean it’s a style of writing. Again, try picking one up before bashing on either. They both contain all the rules for correct writing in English. Until you read one, shut up. You don’t know what you’re talking about.

    Secondly, there’s a difference between style and grammar. What we are discussing here is not “style,” but “grammar.” There’s a difference and it’s important. What you are discussing is “style.” No one here is discussing style. All of us, except you obviously, are discussing grammar. When you want to join the grammar discussion going on here let us know, but you have no business whatsoever bashing a grammar discussion simply because your “style” doesn’t agree with it.

    You have a writing style, so do I. Just because you have a style of writing does not mean it’s okay to ignore the grammatical rules of the English Language. Every author in the world has a different style of writing, but they all obey the rules of grammar.

    We are simply discussing finer points of English grammar. Obviously, that does not interest you at all, but don’t bash on people because they want to discuss it.

  • Heroajax

    @116 Anon. Would you mind posting the source of that information. As you can see from my previous posts on that point, I tend to agree with you. I wouldn’t mind reading the source directly if it’s available? Thanks.

  • krchuk

    I am forever vehemently correcting the “would/should ofs” around me. Everyone thinks I’m nuts!

  • Anon


    Following your logic we end up with a curious and interesting situation which is clearly, some would say shamefully, demonstrated throughout LV. Those whose native tongue is not English are carefully taught the difference between who and whom, less and fewer. They understand the distinctions and use them accordingly. One therefore finds dr Lecter, a Croatian gentleman, posting a far higher and more comprehensible standard of English than many here whose native tongue is English.

    There were much lumps of sugar in my tea.

    Many sugar fell in my tea.

    I want fewer sugar in my tea.

    Many haste fewer speed.

    I would like less lumps of sugar in my tea.
    I would like fewer lumps of sugar in my tea.

    In fact the distinctions between these terms and the reason for their existence is made clear enough in all but the last couplet. That is the common *grey area*. Whereas the intention is unlikely to misunderstood, and will only mark out your grammatical ability, there is a slight hint that *less lumps* might mean smaller lumps rather than a lesser number of lumps. There are also occasions when to use *less*
    instead of *fewer* works better, even when the latter is grammatically correct. A good user probably tends to develops an instinct and an ear.

    The broad overall distinction is clear.

    If you are talking about individual objects making up a group: fewer, more and many.

    If a homogeneous mass: less, more and much.

    At the end of the day, it amounts to little more than the semantic equivalent of dressing smartly or running around with shoelaces undone and buttons undone. Some take a pride in looking sloppy. Fine.

  • Anon

    Heroajax, (120),

    Nearly went off the air for a long time, perhaps until next week even. Glad I picked you up. Sure:

    Readers Digest Association Inc. ‘The Right Word at the Right Time’ A Guide to the English Language and how to use it. John Ellison Kahn (ed.). First ed. (mine), 1985. 688 pps.
    Bought U.K. 1989 for 14.95 sterling.

    Chock full of common sense. An update of Fowler, but much more. It was recommended to me by a friend who writes horticultural literature for a living, and whose wife is a compiler of all kinds of book idices (or indexes!). He also introduced me to computing at a critical time: I was contributing to an encyclopaedia. It saved my bacon.

  • Jtradke

    Heroajax, I have no issue with mere discussion of grammar. I did not “bash on” you, or anyone else here. I, for one, did not tell anyone to “shut up”, like some obtuse misanthrope who gets defensive at the slightest criticism. Nor did I “bash on” either of the aforementioned style manuals; I just pointed out that even they do not fancy themselves purveyors of Law, as you appear to.

    Anyhow, if you’d like to play the “Appeal to Authority” game, how about the opinions and evidence from some real, live academic linguists?

  • Kreachure

    First of all, I found an ERROR in the list! :P

    In the irony item, you put:

    “For example: in Pygmalion, we know that Eliza is a prostitute, but the Higgins’s family don’t.”

    Wrong! “family” is used as a singular noun, so it should be “the Higgins’ family doesn’t”! Mass nouns, baby! :D

    Second, do you have something against Alanis Morissette? Her song is called “Ironic”, not “Irony”, so while the situations she describes (e.g. “Meeting the man of your dreams/And then meeting his beautiful wife”) are not irony, they’re definitely ironic! (I would say “situationally ironic” from what the list says, but I’m not sure.)

  • knight_forked

    @109,110 Heroajax : Thanks H (if you are fine by me using that) , eventually thats what I wanted to point out but you put it in better words :)

  • Kreachure

    PS. I love lists like this one. Isn’t it obvious? :) Thanks!

  • nexam

    Why isn’t the difference between well and good on this list? “How does Harry perform in math?” “Harry is good at math…..Harry does math well.”

  • Sandeep

    @77 Jackie: Looks like we’re both right. Just looked up wikipedia, and it says “This is now often considered nonstandard although it was originally essentially the norm (even in formal writing).”

  • Bob L

    Great list. I have noticed that a lot of younger people (in New Zealand)use ‘bet’ instead of ‘beat’. (I bet him in a race).Is this common in other countries? I also hate the reply ‘Good’ to the question ‘How are you?’.

  • Heroajax

    @124 Jtradke. Sigh, I’m not sure why you’re persisting when I’m only trying to help. Here goes:

    Directly from the back cover of my 2000 edition of The Associated Press Stylebook: “this edition contains over 5,000 entries laying out the AP’s rules on grammer, spelling, puncutaion and usage. It gives journalists the references they need to write about the world today: correct names of countries and organizations, internet language and search tecnhiques, langauge to avoid and common trademarks.”

    Although I do not personally own a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style. I have used several editions in the past and it says the same thing. All of your English teachers used either manual to instruct you in correct grammatical English.

    You might possibly make the argument, that one is a Journalism style and the other is a Novela style, but definitely for all the above rules and for rules of punctuation, they agree completely.

    Additionally, I also busted out my Random-House Webster’s New College Dictionary Deluxe Edition. Which after the last “z” entry has … that’s right, a “guide for writers,” Which has … that’s right, all the rules of the English Language we’ve been discussing. EVERY SINGLE ONE!

    Those three I listed above are THE authorities in English. So, as far as your “appeal to authority.” Ummm, ya. You definitely need to learn to do some research. Are you honestly trying to cite an internet web site as a bastion of authority? Do you know who set that site up? Where are the webmaster’s credintials? Where are the author’s credentials? What references are they using? Based on my admittedly quick read of the site, seems like it’s mostly opinion. It could be typed out by apes for all we know. Talk to any one of your teachers/professors and ask them what they think about using any internet web sites as a specific, expert reference. They’ll laugh you out of their office. Do web sites sometimes have good and interesting information. Absolutely! Are they a good source of expert information? Not so much in most cases.

    I’m sorry. It’s clear you don’t like it, but this is the world we live in. You can choose to be precise in your communication or not. It’s up to you. I can’t change it. I’m simply offering you the opportunity to learn and grow and not to be thought less of because of poor grammar. When you get into the professional business world, this type of nitpicking thing matters … unfortunately. Many good ideas are lost due to poor writing and speaking. It sucks, but it’s true. Anon summed it up perfectly in #122. You can look sloppy or not.

    BTW, make sure you place all punctuation within the quote marks. ;)

  • Heroajax

    *Credentials* gaaaa. I hate it when I type too fast.

  • Danica

    I always puke in my mouth when people mix up your and you’re.

  • ChaoticPython

    People who screw up “there, their, and they’re” bother me so very badly. It looks so wrong, and I can’t understand how they do it. It’s SO. FREAKING. ANNOYING.

  • TheOnlySaneOne

    I agree that most of these errors make me mad. However, language is dynamic and constantly changing. Some of these, such as the “different than,” may be accepted soon because of their common usage.

  • Quaker

    #67 got it backwards: “Farther” refers to distance and “further” is figurative. You travel farther but pursue a topic further.

    #125: I believe “family” is singular in the USA and plural in the UK (same with “company” and similar).

    My own peeve: I wish I would have known. No — I wish I HAD known. The overuse of “would have” (or “would of”) is infuriating! “If I would have known, I wouldn’t have gone.” Incorrect. If I HAD known, I wouldn’t have gone. Why do we not teach English in schools anymore?

  • kittymama

    Eliza Doolittle is not a prostitute. She sells flowers for a living. Her father is initially suspicious about why she has moved into the home of Professor Higgins (who, by the way, has no family), but he soon realizes that Higgins’ intentions are honorable. The title character of “Mrs. Warren’s Profession” (another play by the same author) is a prostitute.

  • astraya

    Time to pontificate. Random thoughts:
    1) There are no “rules”! In every language, the people started speaking first, followed by grammarians, style-guide writers and teachers trying to make work for themselves. The three books Heroajax mentions are not “rule books”; they are two “style guides” and a “dictionary”.
    2) For every “say this and you’ll sound like an ignorant yokel” there is an equal and opposite “say this and you’ll sound like a pretentious twat”.
    3) For every appeal to authority there is an equal and opposite rejection of that authority and appeal to another authority. I reject any authority which says “math”, “gotten”, “-ize” and “-or”.
    4) Language changes. English used to be a highly formal, inflected language. Now it isn’t. Once there was a singular and plural “you”, and a subject case and object case “you”. Now there isn’t. The first person to (mis)use “you” in the modern way probably had scorn heaped on it/them/he/she.
    5) Does this mean that anything goes? No. I’ve often said to my students “Language is about communication. If you can communicate using limited vocabulary and poor grammar, then go right ahead. But” (and this is important) “the best way to communicate most clearly with the most number of people is to use standard meanings, grammars and styles”.

    At the level I am working (vocational high school in Korea) the mistakes that students make are far more basic than any of these items, and are things that no native speaker over the age of 3 would say. Last week students wrote sentences such as “Mr (my surname) is English teacher” and “Lee Yeong Ae is a actress”.
    One third-year student has been coming to my desk at lunch-time and lesson breaks for some extra help. Having learned English for at least 5 1/2 years (through middle and high schools) she still does not understand “a” and “an”. She said “What does it mean?” I said “It doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a word we use with nouns.” I explained about “an” before a vowel and “a” before a consonant. She came back the next day with “an umbrella” and “a university student”. I explained that it is the sound that matters and not the letter. She came back the day after that and said that her language academy teacher had said “an university student”. I said “You’re language academy teacher is WRONG!!!!” and appealed to the authority of Berlitz and Microsoft Word.

    As well as the internal inconsistencies of English, any student of English as a second language is going to be influenced by its own language. Korean doesn’t have “a”, “an” or “the”, “he” or “she” (or any other personal pronouns) so Korean students of English struggle with these basic things. Korean has a system of case markers which resemble Latin more than English. I can’t understand them, but in modern Korean they are falling out of use anyway. No doubt Korean stylists fulminate against that. Korean has a number of constructions that are mainly used when speaking, and others that are mainly used when writing.

    A lot depends on context. No-one is going to say to its mate in the pub “Whom did you shag last night?” or even “Who did you shag last night?”, but approximately “Whodja shag last night?”. Would we really say “With whom did you make love last night?”

    The best grammar is often invisible. One style guide I have (at school, so I can’t quote directly) gives the example (something like):
    “Two boys were playing with a frog, and it died. To the boys, this was just part of the game, but to the frog, it was real”. (Plato, sometime BC.)
    Concise, elegant, saying exactly what needs to be said and no more. Maybe I need to do that.

  • astraya

    ‘Enry ‘Iggins ‘as a mother, if she counts as “family”.

  • Heroajax

    @ Astraya. I completely agree with everything you said. Except point 1. There are rules. You can choose to follow them or not. The books I cited actually are the rule books for English. They just happen to be named “stylebooks.” Again, you can choose to use them or not.

    Remember to keep all punctuation within your quotes. ;) Great points. :-)

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  • astraya

    Heroajax: I’ll concede half a point. When I said “There are no rules”, I was thinking something like “official laws which have official consequences if you break them”. There are no official laws in English. We do not have an academy. Even if we had one (like the French), we’d probably keep saying and writing the same things anyway, like they do) . Korean now has a law governing transliteration into English, and no-one follows that.

    I’ve just checked two more-or-less randomly chosen dictionaries. One defines a rule as “an established regulation or guide for conduct, procedure, usage, etc.”. English doesn’t have regulations, but it does has guides. Another says “an official or accepted principle or order which guides behaviour, says how things are to be done, etc.”. Again, official, no; accepted, yes, so half a concession. (Yes, the second dictionary is British, “behaviour”.)

    Punctuation usage varies. British usage (which Australians generally follow) generally puts the punctuation mark inside the quotation marks when that punctuation mark is part of the quotation, such as the quotation from Plato in my previous post (the full stop should be inside, sorry!), but outside when the punctuation mark is not part of the quotation.

    I’ve thought about making a list of differences between UK and USA English usages, but am daunted by the size of the topic. Somehow we manage to communicate. Sometimes I think that the differences are, in fact, exaggerated.

  • kiwiboi

    “The books I cited actually are the rule books for English. They just happen to be named “stylebooks.””

    Heroajax – the publications to which you refer are assuredly not “rule books for English”, and they do not themselves claim to be. They detail the preferred or required editorial style of an organisation/publisher, etc.

    Whilst by their very nature such style guides might be expected to propound correct or proper grammatical usage or convention irrespective of their intended readership, their purpose is to detail “house” preferences, largely in the interest of affording editorial consistency.

    Whilst, for the US, at least, the AP and (more particularly) the Chicago style guides have deservedly gained currency as de facto “authorities” to written (American) English, there are numerous publications of at least equal standing to these guides elsewhere. A few well-known British examples :

    The Oxford Style Manual;
    The Times Style and Usage Guide; and
    The Economist Style Guide.

  • eggshaped

    You missed a fifth meaning of the word “Irony” (n) containing or having the attributes of iron.

  • eggshaped

    I meant (a) of course :S

  • Heroajax

    @141 Astraya. Okay. Half-point conceeded on my part as well. I was making the assumption (yes, my fault) that we were not speaking of “laws” for English with punishment consequences other than social ones. :-)

    @Kiwiboi. I will grant there are others out there. The ones you cited are also excellent references. I was also simply taking it for granted pretty much everyone here knew there is a difference between British and American written English. I’ll even grant you the “editing preferences” part as well. However, even you admit they are the de facto authorities. For American English if you do not choose either one of those (which are essentially the de facto standard here) there are very few other objective references out there and certainly none so widely accepted. IMO, it’s simply easier to tell people who want/need to learn proper grammar to pick AP or Chicago and be done with it. Even if someone picks another American reference (which are junk, imo), most/all the rules agree anyway. :-) What I don’t want to do is open the door and allow people to think they can do what they want. The burden of clarity is on the part of the writer and not the reader.

  • GunsNRevolvers

    can’t believe “your” and “you’re” isn’t on here! people always butcher that it drives me nuts!

  • Molly

    Grammer error in the irony section: “the Higgins’s family don’t.” Because “family” is singular, wouldn’t it be “doesn’t”? Also, is the second ‘s’ necessary? Higgins’

  • Carina

    Funny how I already knew all this, and I’ve been studying English only for about 7 years. I know quite a few people who have English as their first language and don’t have the same linguistic skills as me. But I do have the Northern European accent and I probably won’t ever get rid of it ;)

  • Quaker

    Like I already posted, in the UK, “family” and other collective nouns are treated as plurals.

  • xz ashleyy

    they’re/their/there mistakes make me cringe!

  • kiwiboi

    Like I already posted, in the UK, “family” and other collective nouns are treated as plurals.

    Quaker – “Family” is singular; the correct usage is “doesn’t”.

    If you want to treat “family” as plural then you must expand the collective noun, per : “the members of the family don’t”.

    I’m in the UK, by the way, and have never heard of the absurd treatment of collective nouns to which you refer…

  • aj

    Language is defined by it’s use. Not your English teacher.

    The language evolves, words usages evolve over time. If you can’t keep up, then you might as well end it now, because this is a battle that you are destined to lose.

  • Language, particularly English, is a dynamic, ever growing, ever changing, living art. As with any art, you simply can’t know how to break the rules, if you don’t first *know* the rules.
    Every great writer, of the English language, was a master of the language, and every one of them has, at times, broken the rules of which they held such mastery to create lines of breathtaking beauty, or unabashedly naughty and hilarious puns.
    As long as English is a dynamic language, it will continue to be the most useful language on earth.

  • interesting

  • Dustfinger

    I fail to see how you could possible mix up they’re/there/their. You’re taught the difference in first grade!!

  • sammysunset

    I always wondered about backward/backwards and forward/forwards. Are you supposed to include the s?

  • Heroajax

    @sammysunset. No “s” for those two words. See my comment #55. :-)

  • Jim

    I think your list needs the often-missed the distinction between “can not” and “cannot”. I see this error made by my teaching colleagues (and, of course, my students).

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  • kiwiboi

    I always wondered about backward/backwards and forward/forwards. Are you supposed to include the s?

    sammysunset – when used as an adverb you may generally use either of “backward” or “backwards” (although it seems that, in the US, the ‘s’ tends more often to be omitted). Drop the ‘s’ when using “backward/s” as an adjective.

    I guess the same applies to “forward/forwards”, but “forwards” seems rarely used today.

  • kiwiboi

    I think your list needs the often-missed the distinction between “can not” and “cannot”

    Jim – can you give an example? I was taught to use “cannot” except when “not” forms another part of the sentence (eg. “she cannot dance” / “she can not only dance, but can sing”).

    I note, though (from a quick perusal of a few US grammar websites), that American usage of can not/cannot might be more prescriptive than British. Is this the case?

  • Axel

    Oh, don’t forget the notorious “resulting to”.

  • Anon

    A quick interjection during a snatched work break.

    Kew considers the species is valid.
    The Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew considers …

    Kew keep on giving me good information.
    Botanists at Kew keep on …

    Arsenal think they’re the best.
    Arsenal players/fans think …

    Everyone else says Arsenal isn’t the best.
    Everyone else says the Arsenal Football Club isn’t …

    The shorter, first versions of all these are in acceptable useage. Although the institution and the club are strictly singular, the full sense as conveyed by the longer, lower versions is implicit in every case. It would perhaps be more careful to provide the longer versions, but in these and most similar cases it’s surely hardly necessary.

  • Anon

    By the way, I think I would be correct in assuming the following:

    Someone above noted that language was spoken before its *rules* came about. That rather suggests the rules were imposed afterwards. I would prefer to suggest that the rules are actually an anlysis and explanation of the inevitable logic of use. Anyone who sees a single object and a number of objects, or speaks of themselves and other people will inevitably be obliged to diferentiate, and a whole load of semantic consequences will cascade in the wake of that differentiation.

    You don’t need to learn rules to speak in everyday language because it is ingrained by the neccessity of collective understanding and communication (I believe we are *hard-wired* at birth ready to communicate by signals and speech). However, once the analysis exists, it is then possible to add further sophisticed layers rapidly in an informed and focussed way. I don’t need to know anything about aerodynamics to make a paper aeroplane. I fold to a known pattern and it flies or not. I improve by trial and error, hitting aerodynamic nicities by intelligent observation and chance: serendipity. However, that won’t get me to design an F16. Art and the rules of perspective are another example.

    As a major parallel, people started counting and were probably very efficient at practical mathematics before the subject was looked at and broken down in an abstract way. Only following that, however, was it possible to advance gradually to the applied heights which have led to our modern technology and the pure heights of our present understanding of the universe.

  • Bri

    Okay, so during the irony section, isn’t it ironic that the author made an agreement error “the Higgins family don’t”. The family doesn’t, not the Higgins’ don’t. Lol, irony!

  • vix

    Great list. One that really irritates me is the use of ‘of’ and ‘off’. Since starting my admin job, I’ve come to realise that there are only a handful of people who know how to correctly use these words. Also, I find people tend to mix up the words ‘wary’ and ‘weary’ for some reason. Drives me mad!

  • anon

    I think your you’re should be on this list too, along with to too two 2

  • 165. vix
    One that really irritates me is the use of ‘of’ and ‘off’.
    Excuse me? You’re joking, right?
    If, by some bizarre chance you aren’t joking, can you give an example of how these two totally unalike words can be misused, please? Truly, my brain just went into park with this one.

  • Deborah

    I was surprised not to see the “your” and “you’re” mistake on this list.

  • astraya

    Anon: you might be referring to my statement “In every language, the people started speaking first, followed by grammarians, style-guide writers and teachers trying to make work for themselves.” This was mostly-flippant. If I’d been phrasing myself seriously, I would have said something like you did – “I would prefer to suggest that the rules are actually an anlysis and explanation of the inevitable logic of use”. I fully agree with that. Grammar and “rules” arose sort of like “I understood what you just said – let’s agree that that’s what we say when we mean that”, and “I didn’t understand what you just said – let’s figure out what weren’t going to say in the future to avoid misunderstanding”.
    I just thought of an illustration. Two hunters are confronting a big cat (see, I’ve got big cats on my mind now). One says “Me run”. That probably means “I’m going to run away. See you back at the campfire if you survive”. With a bit of re-emphasis, it might be “Me, run” ie “I can handle this one on my own. See you back at the campfire with a chunk of big cat t-bone for you”.

    In one state of Australia (and in many other parts of the English speaking world), many people say “off of” where standard usage is “off”: “I got off of the bus at the town hall”. The song “Can’t take my eyes off of you” really ANNOYS ME!!!!

  • Anon


    Point taken. Actually I posted without knowing who had put out the idea. Had I checked out your name first, I’d probably have swallowed my tongue, or whatever is the equivalent for the keyboard (probably the *Enter* key!)

    There must be space for a dictionary or encyclopaedia of *Standard Abusage* (go on, tell me one exists!) such as your *off of* as in: “Gerroffof my back willyers!”

    I’m happy to have remembered one of my own particular favourites to share:

    *Nucular*. I’d like to have had a quid for each time I’ve heard it: even as broadcast during street interviews. I don’t know whether it’s curiously Brit or has a wider currency. The other strange thing: I’ve only ever hear it uttered by CND *nucular disarmers*.

  • Jackie

    @129 Sandeep, oh ok where on wikipedia do you find grammar stuff like that?

  • astraya

    Anon: George Dubya is famous for his (mis)pronunciation of “nucular”. Anyways (sic), some mispronunciations become standard: hand-kerchief, cup-board, sauce-pan.

  • 170. Anon
    *Nucular*. I’d like to have had a quid for each time I’ve heard it: even as broadcast during street interviews. I don’t know whether it’s curiously Brit or has a wider currency.
    What!?!?!? You’ve never heard George Bush, our almost ex-President, trying to say nuclear? Nucular, every time. 8 years of nucular.
    Now, Sarah Palin, running for vice-President with McCain, says nucular, too.
    I was beginning to think it was a Republican vice.

  • Sandeep
  • k1w1taxi

    From #8
    For example: John’s protest affected great change in the farming industry

    If it’s something you’re going to do, use “affect.” If it’s something you’ve already done, use “effect.”

    Is it just me or are these statements contradictory?

    My real hates regarding misuse of English are “my bad” and “so”as “I’m so into Led Zeppelin” or even worse”I’m so totally into Led Zeppelin”


  • Denzell

    I wish you are my English teacher. You’re so darn funny!

    “Prayer” has 2 different pronunciations, “prer”- the words used to talk to God; “preyur”- one who prays.

    I can’t understand why people would confuse their, they’re, and there. It’s too easy to be confused.

  • The one that has been bugging me lately is “further” and “farther” … most notably, the narrator on Mythbusters uses them wrong and it bugs me to no end!!! >_

  • Anon

    astraya and segue, (172), (173),

    In fact, almost without exception, I’ve been listening to Spanish translations of world news for about the last dozen or so years. Before that I had little time for TV and mostly read newspapers. When we go back the UK or Europe we’re buzzing around like bluebottles and have to make an effort to watch anything, as well as being dependent on our hosts or family.

    This has deprived of the unique pleasure of *Republican newspeak*. I’m sure the inventive neologisms of GW feature in the grossly irreverent ‘Private Eye’, (where he is – or was – the Revd. Dubya, by the way). But then I only get short runs of that when in UK. Out here there is something called ‘The Clinic’, which was born, together with its title, when Pinochet made his miraculous escape from detention in England and subsequent even more miraculous recovery from death’s door when arriving back in Chile on the ‘plane. But ‘The Clinic’ is like pot compared to crack. So I suffer withdrawal symptoms. Trivium: ‘Private Eye’ is mentioned as favourite reading by Stephen Hawking in ‘A Brief History of Time’.

    My pick-up on *nucular* comes from the 70s and 80s as a personal thing.

  • vix

    167. segue

    unfortunately I am not joking with the misuse of the words ‘of’ and ‘off’. I work in conjunction with the purchasing dept of my company, and numerous times a day I have to deal with invoices and orders on which someone has ordered (eg) ‘2 off the cylindrical valves…’ No amount of explaining this mistake to people makes any difference and so I’ve just given up

  • abseNtis

    what about the “definitely” error? it’s very common :p

  • Tim Hickey

    North Americans (even Canadians, who should know better) have a lot to answer for:

    1) ‘Momentarily’ means ‘for a moment’, not ‘in a moment’!
    2) ‘Already’ means ‘earlier than expected’. Phrases like “Hurry up already!” do not make sense!
    3) ‘Everyday’ means ‘usual’ or ‘normal’ and not literally ‘every day’.
    4) North Americans, what is the difference between ‘now’ and ‘right now’? Nothing? I thought so. I cringed at the CBC Olympic commentators saying such redundancies as “Athlete X is leading right now”.
    5) Why do North Americans say ‘That’s funny’ when hearing a joke? Just laugh! :)
    6) “At this time”…… aka a three letter word called ‘now’!
    7) “Lucked out” means “got lucky” in North America. In New Zealand, it means the opposite!
    8) Finally, you never ask New Zealanders which team they ‘root’ for. It means “Which team do you have sex for?” here. :)

    From New Zealand, the Country with The Correct English of the Brits Without the Stuffiness

  • @astraya You are arguing descriptivism vs prescriptivism. You are a descriptivist(as am I). We accept that language is alive and changes. There are many people who are prescriptivist and for them there are most certainly rules! They will lose in the end because they cannot halt evolution! You only have to go back 100 years to see just how quickly language changes.

    From experience there is little point trying to sway any individual’s point of view – but it does help to understand the language that describes this age old debate ;)!

    Prescriptivists should take up a dead language such as Latin. They can be happy that this stopped evolving long ago!

    Anyways, l8rs all ;)!

  • 179. vix
    167. segue
    unfortunately I am not joking with the misuse of the words ‘of’ and ‘off’
    My deepest sympathies.

    To everyone else who may have responded to a post or made a comment directed to me:
    I was off-line most of yesterday, due to technical difficulties. I’ll try to address everything but it may take time.

  • Anon

    Tim Hickey, (181),

    “From New Zealand, the Country with The Correct English of the Brits Without the Stuffiness”

    Ah, but we invented the word *bollocks* (can be shortened to *bollox*), squire. (Types in imaginary smiley face and exits left.)

  • Anon

    As for *evolving* and *static* language perceptions, it occurs to me that the basic problem is not so much evolution as relative decay.

    By making a great effort, one can often, perhaps usually, understand what some linguistic neanderthal is trying to say. However, you cannot make a machine *work* simply by understanding what it is supposed to do. There success built on success is the only criterion. Hence we have a magnificent and incredibly evolving technology and a somewhat decadent communications and artistic world. The latter no? O.K. Cinema and photography aside, name all the future Beethovens, Shakespeares, Keats, Rodins and Titians alive today. Remember too, there are as many of us around now as have previously existed in total. A jumbo jet obeys the same physical laws as the Wright Flyer, and incorporates the same principles, but is a massive advance. It may look more deceptively simple and streamlined on the outside, but we know it is infinitely more complex funtionally. Can we claim that of modern language useage vis-à-vis that of the past?

    Look in a dictionary. It contains a vastly rich palette for painting word pictures as well as for everyday use and specialised jargon. Those words were invented for us by our more *primitive* forbears. Not all are relevant by a very long chalk. But of those that are or could be, how many are completely ignored, no longer understood, or misunderstood?

  • 163. Anon
    By the way, I think I would be correct in assuming the following:
    Someone above noted that language was spoken before its *rules* came about…
    153. segue
    Language, particularly English, is a dynamic, ever growing, ever changing, living art. As with any art, you simply can’t know how to break the rules, if you don’t first *know* the rules.
    I was referring here to both written and spoken language, although written language has the upper hand (think Shakespeare, Keats, Dante, Donne, Huxley, Dylan Thomas, Faulkner, T. Williams…need I go on?). Each of these masters of the language knew the rules without thinking, displayed them with every page they wrote…yet when the occasion called for it they broke the rules, to the betterment of their writing.
    Had they *not* had such mastery of their language, their occasional breaking of the rules wouldn’t have been so useful, or so powerful.

    With the spoken word it’s a bit more difficult, because one has to make allowances for regional accents, and generational verbal markers, etc. The generational markers will be outgrown, but accents are usually with us for life, and with accents come the strange (to the outsider) names or phrases connected to everyday things or happenings.
    The use of proper rules of grammar mark one as being educated; the complete lack of these rules marks one as being not just uneducated, but possibly uneducatable.
    Using proper grammar most of the time, with a bit of illiteracy thrown in for fun, or to make a point, or to underline a comment, is good usage of language and should not be discouraged.
    But before you can break the rules with any kind of effectiveness, you first *must* know the rules.
    Maybe not what you meant, or were getting at, but I had trouble with accessing LV most of yesterday, so I’m playing catch-up this a.m.

  • Shadow

    I’m taking a break from homework which is due in a few hours; so I don’t really have the time necessary to read all of the comments. However, I did find it ironic that a grammar list would have so many grammatical errors. If this is unintentional… ouch. However, if this was intentional – it was absolutely brilliant!

  • Anon


    I wouldn’t disagree with a single word you’ve just written. (And I’ll bet I’d have understood as well had they been spoken by you!) Wordsworth apparently had a Lake District accent you might cut with a knife. It seems he wasn’t easy to understand. Mind you, some were pretty unkind about his written stuff too:

    Landor: “Dank, limber verses, stuft with lakeside sedges,
    And propt with rotten stakes from rotten hedges”

  • Kreachure

    1) “Family” is a collective noun.

    2) All collective nouns are singular, unless you use them in plural (“families”).

    3) “The Higgins’ family don’t.” is wrong, wherever you are, and whatever the case. “The Higgins’ family doesn’t.” is the only correct way to say it.

  • Kreachure

    4) I was the first to point that error out, so stop copying me! :P

  • Dane

    The would have vs. had thing is ridiculous. If I understand you correctly, you claim (correctly) that wish is a counterfactual verb, and further claim (incorrectly) that using ‘would’ is redundant because it is subjunctive. You should know that ‘had’ in that example is also in the subjunctive mood, so there’s really no difference apart from the inclusion of a modal verb, which is down to emphasis and dialect. (To say, “I did go.” is more emphatic than to say, “I went.”)

  • 188. Anon
    I wouldn’t disagree with a single word you’ve just written. (And I’ll bet I’d have understood as well had they been spoken by you!)
    I have that American non-accent, with a touch of Brit undercurrent.
    My mum was an Aussie, but somehow what I got left with (even though I spent part of my childhood there), was more British than Aussie.
    Go figure.
    You can only hear it on a very few words any longer. Mostly, I am accentless.

    Landor: “Dank, limber verses, stuft with lakeside sedges,
    And propt with rotten stakes from rotten hedges”

    That is beautiful, and perfect for this week and next, as gardening will be our main activity! I won’t even have much time for my art, and it’s my art that keeps me sane!

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  • astraya

    wistop: I’m a descriptivist up to a point. I can happily *describe* that some people say “I ain’t going” but I would then then add “non-standard, often considered uneducated or ignorant”, and *prescribe* that “I am not going” is *standard* and is undoubtedly the *best* form to use.

  • miff

    To the people who decry prescriptivism, I’ve one thing to add. We can’t just assume English is the territory of English-speaking nations. It’s an international language now, and adopted as a second foreign language by a score of countries. I teach it now in Japan, and these learners have no idea of what “sounds right” and “sounds wrong”. You can’t expect them to go by intuition because they have none. They need to learn the ‘standard’, so to speak, grammar rules of English so they can sound reasonably natural and intelligible to native speakers (regardless of how said native speakers butcher their own language).

    There’s nothing more embarrassing than being asked a perfectly valid grammar problem by a foreign learner and not knowing the answer. It’s far more helpful to give them a prescriptive answer and let them figure out the exceptions to the rules by immersion later in life than to just give them an airy and useless, “Oh, whatever sounds right” as an answer.

    That being said, I do recognize that language is dynamic. My proper use of grammar is dependent on context. It’s tragic when people mess up “they’re” vs. “there” on a university term paper– makes you look like an idiot. But spoken contractions in a pub will hardly condemn you to a social death.

  • astraya

    As far as I’m aware, prescriptivism involves stating what is *correct*. You’ve mentioned stating what is *standard*. I’ve got no problem with that.
    I’m teaching in Korea, and readily agree with most of the rest that you said.

  • Kreachure: I used to think the collective plural was wrong as well, but after three years living in the UK, I now use it regularly and naturally. I think it’s neither right nor wrong, just a different way of using the language. In America, when we say “the team”, we speak of the team as a whole. Here, when they say “the team”, it is short hand for “the members of the team”.

    English is full of truncations (“He’s not as excited as I” for “He’s not as excited as I am”, for example), and this one is no less legitimate; it’s just a matter of style and habit.

  • henry o

    Kreachure #189 —

    You’re an American, I assume, talking about American usage. Your ‘rule’ that all collective nouns are singular doesn’t apply in the UK at all, & doesn’t apply to all collective nouns in the US either.

    In the UK collective nouns can be either singular or plural depending on context & the speaker’s or writer’s preference. So both the family is & the family are are correct. It depends on whether you want to regard the family (or the government or the organization or the tribe or whatever) as a unit composed of individuals or as individuals comprising a unit.

    American usage is inconsistent inasmuch as not all collective nouns are treated as singular. You would, I think, always say the army is but not the police is — it would have to be the police are, wouldn’t it?

    Additionally, UK usage has the flexibility to allow constructions like my family is big & my family are big that mean completely different things.

  • Reyairia

    What I find ironic is that the list creator keeps putting a period after quotation marks, when it should be before.

  • astraya

    Full stops are placed after quotation marks in many parts of the English speaking world. Our esteemed list creator lives in New Zealand.

  • Reyairia: I prefer the style of putting punctuation inside the quotes if it belongs to the quote – but outside otherwise.

  • astraya

    Like I said in 141.

  • Shadow

    They’re correct, Reyairia. I do the same thing, and I live in America. As I’ve stated in other comments; I’m also a published author, and my girlfriend is an English major, so I get all kinds of rules beaten into my head all of the time.

    To her credit, my girlfriend has made me a much better writer. Yes, that is correct, writer in this case, not author. I have always been quite capable of writing a good story, not so much so on the grammar and punctuation.

  • Reyairia, I have to add my knowledge of English punctuation to the group. Periods (Full Stops), or any appropriate punctuation, belongs within quotation marks, with the appropriate sentence stopper after.
    Anything within the quotation marks is part of the *quote*, hence, has nothing to do with anything outside of the quotation marks in terms of punctuation. Though the quote may contain a period (Full Stop), the sentence still requires one of it’s own.

  • astraya

    Off at a tangent:
    I am teaching English in a high school in Korea. About once a month I teach a voluntary (for them, overtime paid for me) Saturday morning class. Today’s class was the last for this year, so my co-teacher arranged for students to write thank-you notes on a sheet of paper. Some of the comments read:

    “Mr (name) very handsome I like it youre smile I love you Imissin you”
    “We will missing you. Your good point is very funny and kindly Your class work is funny, informative and enjoy.”
    “Though I wasn’t English well, I’m happy. Thanks to your passionate class!”

    These are students who have spent 6, 18 or 30 months studying English at high school, three years at middle school, and who knows how long at elementary school and language academies.
    Then again, could I write a thank-you note in Korean? I hope so. I write birthday card messages to my wife’s family and friends, and I’m not formally studying Korean.

  • astraya

    I was just browsing through a widely-used English grammar tutorial book published by one of the world’s leading university publishing companies, and a chapter is entitled: “Who saw you? Who did you see?” so it looks like they’ve given up the fight.

  • astraya, I have a theory which states that true command of a foreign language is a talent, akin to art, or maths. That while anyone can learn a language, to some degree, it takes this particular “talent”, this bit of DNA, say, to truly acquire the language.
    For example: I have a niece who can pick up fluency, flawless, accentless, fluency, in any language she wants to, it seems. So far she has done so with Spanish, German, French, and Italian.
    My son picks up Asian languages with ease. He taught himself basic Korean, to read, write and speak, while in high school, because he had a Korean girl friend.
    In Uni he minored in Japanese. He was fluent enough to speak, read and write like he was born to it.

  • Valerie

    What about


  • Xilliah

    ‘Anyways’ exists at

  • kiwiboi

    ‘Anyways’ exists at

    Xilliah – yes, and is designated (correctly) as ‘Non-Standard’ English…as it should be. Admittedly, the use of “anyways” does appear to be spreading.

  • kiwiboi

    What about Spoonfuls/Spoonsfull?

    Valerie – “spoonfuls” is correct. Otherwise use “spoons full” (2 words).

    I was taught that when there is a receptacle/container involved (as in spoon/cup etc.) suffixed with a ‘ful’, the general rule is to add an ‘s’ to the end. Personally (and irrespective of “rules”), I would go with what sounds best, rather than use an ugly or tortuous construct.

    Beware, though, there are various rules applicable to compound nouns.

  • #207. Valerie
    What about
    You are baking a cake. The recipe calls for 3 teaspoons full of vanilla.
    It will never call for 3 teaspoonfuls of vanilla.

    When in doubt about the use of any word, use it in a sentence in your head. You will always (unless you have a very strange head) come up with the correct usage.

  • Valerie

    Ahhh thats what I thought.
    My English teacher and I haven’t been able to agree.

  • Valerie, I hate to argue with an English teacher, so I went to my trusty Websters.
    Spoonfuls – n. pl. – as much as a spoon (or spoons) will hold.
    I then checked my recipe books. Wherever a teaspoon or tablespoon of something was called for they all just said “2 teaspoons sugar” or whatever.
    BUT! Then I checked some antibiotic my husband is taking. It clearly says to take 2 teaspoons full every 12 hours.
    So, I guess the rule is, listen to your English teacher if you want a good grade in the class.
    In life, the rule is, as I stated: When in doubt about the use of any word, use it in a sentence in your head. You will always (unless you have a very strange head) come up with the correct usage.
    I got perfect scores on my verbal SATs, so I must have been doing something right.

  • astraya

    segue: I have just noticed your 206. I have just been reading about second language acquisition as part of a certificate course I’m doing. Second language acquisition theory is a hotly contested field. Any theory also has to take into account, and explain, why some students *don’t* manage even to put two words together. I’ve just come from a class where students who have been learning through middle school and half a year of high school (let alone anything they’d done at elementary school or via private tuition) comprehensively failed to speak the question “What do you do (before school/after school/on Saturdays/on Sundays/on vacations)?” or answer it eg “I watch tv on Sundays”.
    I agree with you that there is an innate ability to learn languages, but there’s probably a difference between learning a first language and learning a second language. Most children anywhere learn their native language more or less easily. (BTW I saw your comment about speaking properly to your children. One book on language aquisition I read recently said that “motherese” is almost universal. Despite this, most children learn “properly” eventually.) Any innate ability still needs the environment and the nurture. Australia in the 1970s was still fiercly monolingual. All the children of migrants at my schools fell over themselves to speak English and not be branded as “wogs”. I never had the chance to learn another language at high school. I have sung in any number of languages, and have always been interested in the *idea* of language, but it’s probably too late for me to do anything serious. Maybe if I had no other hobbies.
    A couple of hours ago on another list I replied to your comment about the word “strengths”. I said that it had three consonant *sounds* at the end. I just read that it actually has four: there’s a tiny ‘k’ between the “ng” and the “th” – s/t/r/e/ng/k/th/s. (BTW wiki has an article on the longest syllable in English:
    Recently I’ve given classes in pronunciation. It’s hard to explain to Koreans that “letters” and “sounds” are sometimes different. Korean has a very logical phonetic alphabet and spelling system.

  • astraya, I’d be interested to read the book on second language acquisition. Could you please post the name for me?
    Your story about Australia being fiercely monolingual in the ’70’s, didn’t surprise a bit. My mum was Australian, born in 1914, and grew up in a still fiercely “All White” Australia. She never acknowledged, at all, to the point that the fact never registered in her mind, that Australia had opened it’s borders. I remember sometime in the 60’s watching a tennis match from Sydney on television with her, and the stands were crowded with all White faces, she pointed this fact out to me, and then she said, “Doesn’t that just look so natural?”
    I was stunned into total silence for a moment, then I just looked at her and said “No”.
    She never understood that I was growing up in a different time, on a different Continent. It marked my entire growing up years. I can say without exaggeration that, in effect, I had no mother.
    I have always had a fierce interest in learning, and in how one learns. That there are students who *can’t* learn a second language, even to the point you noted, surprises me, but not overly much. There are students who can’t learn math, students who can’t learn music.
    I think, but remember I’m no scientist, that our brains are all wired (so to speak) differently. One brain is wired for ease of language acquisition, another for maths, another for music. A very few, like my son, are wired so that they are able to acquire any of the endeavors with equal ease; they are called ” globally intelligent”.
    My older daughter always had trouble with math, even though she could count and recognize single numbers by the time she was 2 1/2. Her problems with *doing* math began at the middle school level, when they get into pre-algebra. Neither of us could understand the complete and sudden change in her ability. I had her eyes tested, I tried a tutor, nothing worked. She managed to scrape her way through high school and college math, but it was on guts and little else. Finally, we discovered, by chance(!) that she has a form of dyslexia with numbers. They tend to turn about, or change places on her. No wonder it was such a struggle!
    Regarding teaching my children to learn proper English, rather than babytalk or “motherese”, and let them acquire proper English later. By starting them out on proper English, I gave them an enormous head start over the other children who had to acquire a (now) second language, proper English. They were all reading, fluently, by age 4, writing their ABCs before that.
    They all turned out to have IQs between 145 and 150, which I put down to proper early childhood stimulation.
    Learning is a complicated business. My own talents tend to run to the arts, although my interests encompass the universe. My only regret is that I will not live long enough to learn everything I want to learn, let alone everything there is to learn.

  • astraya

    segue: The book I referred to is “The language instinct: How the mind creates language” by Steven Pinker. It covers neurology, development of human language (ie in ancient times), what you might call “super-grammar” (he’s a fan of Chomsky. I don’t understand Chomsky), L1 acquisition (mainly in childhood, but also among teenagers (eg Genie) and adults), L2 acquisition, the development of creoles from pidgins and many other things.

    You should be able to get it easily.

    I’m being called for dinner.

  • kiwiboi

    It covers neurology, development of human language

    Astraya – interesting. I’m fairly sure I’ve read that book (or, at least, another of Pinker’s books).

    On a similar note, I read a neuro-linguistics book once that stated that the reason an individual is almost unable to acquire additional languages with the same innate fluency (including accent etc.) as their native language was due to the the nature of brain development in childhood (when we acquire our native language skills). The guy wasn’t saying that high levels of fluency couldn’t be acquired later in life, he was stressing that the optimal time to acquire additional languages was during childhood; the nuance being that it wasn’t just the fact that children acquire language skills by way of immersion, but that at the earlier stages of life the brain is better able to “hard-wire” language skills.

    Having said this, I’m sure we can all think of apparent exceptions to this premise. For example, I know a middle-aged Hungarian guy who moved to NZ in his early twenties; his English is near-perfect and yet, oddly, when he went back to Hungary for the first time after having been away for 30 years, he said he had some minor troubles understanding Hungarian, but that he had *major* problems speaking it! (So much for the “hard-wiring”, though disuse probably comes into this one).

    Similarly, I have worked with 3 or 4 Scandinavians who, though having acquired informal exposure to English during childhood (mainly via tv, as per many Scandis) coupled with high school English lessons, have developed their fluency (including accent) to a level that is barely distinguishable from a native speaker. One of these chaps was particularly unique; he lived for 12 years in Liverpool and has a perfect scouse accent!

  • astraya

    He’s written a number of books around the same themes of brain/intelligence/language. I’d read another of his previously.
    I’m meant to be studying, so I comment further to segue and you later (possibly tomorrow Korean time before I get a major stretch in a row).

  • astraya, thank you for the book title!
    I’m a fan of both Pinker and Chomsky, having read books by both. This one will be added to the never-ending-list of books to buy and read.

    kiwiboi – I am in complete agreement re: early childhood hardwiring of language (although in my own family there are 2 members who completely defy this). When my children were infants, a couple-friend of ours was Japanese and American. Inside the home they spoke Japanese to their child. Outside the home they spoke English. Result? A perfectly bilingual child.

  • Addie

    I don’t know if this is really wrong or not, but it seems to me that it just HAS to be wrong, although everyone in the whole world seems to do it:

    “He’s going to try and get it done”, or “I’m going to try and make pizza for dinner”.

    Shouldn’t it be TO instead of AND? Or am I just crazy? Seriously, this drives me nuts.

  • Heroajax

    @Addie. Technically what you wrote is not wrong. Although I know what you’re going for. I’ll explain.

    In both sentences although we think the speaker is attempting to do one thing, technically the way they are written, the speaker is clearly doing two things. The fact the speaker is going to try something is action one. Action two is either get it done or make pizza. So in both examples the speaker is going to do two things. Both actions are exclusive of each other since the sentence is written with a conjunction. It indicates two separate and independent actions.

    If you wanted to make it clear only one task will be attempted/tried, then you are also correct in saying it should be written as “he’s going to try to get it done,” or “I’m going to try to make pizza for dinner.” The corrected sentences I just wrote indicates the attempt/try is to get it done or make pizza, one action. Assuming that’s what you wanted to say?

    Although I’m assuming you’re irritated at the fact it should be one action, technically both are correct depending on how the sentence is structured.

    Since it’s probable the person is doing one action, yes, you’re correct in saying it’s wrong to use a conjunction in this case and the proper use would be the preposition “to.”

    Hope that helps?

  • 220. Addie, I know exactly what you mean! When I hear someone say something like, “I’m going to try and make pizza for dinner”, I wonder what they are going to try. They’ve told me they’re going to make pizza for dinner, but not what they intend to try.
    It’s annoying!
    It’s stupid!
    Heroajax is correct in that the sentence should be “I’m going to try to make pizza for dinner.” That way you know the person is not too sure of his prowess re: pizza making, but is willing to give it a try.
    Simple errors of that sort make me crazy. They make my husband crazy, too. Sometimes the two of us will get into giggling fits over some silly usage, and not just repeat it to each other, but add other sillinesses, until we can barely breathe!

  • astraya

    I played a very nasty trick on one of my students yesterday. The sentence patterns were “What do you do (before school/after school/on Saturdays/on Sundays/on vactions)?” “I [simple present] (before school …)” and “What does [the person next to you] do …” “S/he …”
    There are three places where the letter “s” is needed and might be left off by a Korean high school student learning English: “He playS computer gameS on vacationS”. I typed a very large letter S onto a sheet of paper, and held it up when a student left the “s” off. One student said “He play [I held up the sheet] PLAYS computer game [I held up the sheet] GAMES after school [I held up the sheet] SCHOOLS!” Me: (wicked laugh) NO!!!! One schooL.
    Very naughty, I know, but I couldn’t resist.
    Korean has a plural particle (roughly equivalent to English “s”), but this is very rarely used, and has no articles, so in Korean “I read a book” and “I read books” are the same sentence, and the exact meaning must be inferred from the context. Also, all present tense verbs have the same ending “I ga-yo, he ga-yo” – “I go, he goes”.

  • 223. astraya!
    Naughty, naughty, naughty!
    I just love it. I absolutely would have done something very close to that myself.

  • david in london

    My pet hate at the moment is the misuse of “in the firing line” and “in the line of fire”.

    For example, the British media might say that, (after he’s made a mistake), Gordon Brown is in the firing line. Wrong!! If you’re in the firing line you are doing the firing; if you are being shot at you are in the line of fire.

    I have emailed several journalists and editors complaining about the contradiction between headline and story. Interestingly, the broadsheets respond with a ‘thank you, we’ll try to stop it occurring again’, and the tabloids respond with ‘who cares?’

  • astraya

    segue: One of the problems here is that most students cannot produce a simple sentence in English, even when is written on the board and I have demonstrated it about 6,429 times. Another problem is that I teach the same lesson 21 times in a week (actually, fortunately, slightly less than that by the time there’s national tests, school tests and other disrutptions) so frustrations accumulate in the course of the week. It is now Thursday here, and I can’t wait for Friday.

  • 226. astraya, you’ve probably mentioned this somewhere, sometime before, but if so it escapes mt memory (heavy, daily opiate use will play havoc with one’s memory): if you hate this job so, why do you continue?
    I know there’s a simple answer, I just can’t access it.

  • astraya

    segue: Thanks for your concern. I haven’t explained it elsewhere, so your memory isn’t at fault. My first job in Korea (at a private English academy) was excellent, but I left that just at the time that I started commenting on LU. I’d met a Korean woman and we were getting married (we now are), so I needed a job closer to where she was living. She lived/we live in a semi-rural area near one of the satellite cities of Seoul, and there is no direct public transport. (I don’t drive at all.) There are academies in this city, but they generally hold classes very early in the morning and in the late afternoon/evening, and there would have been no way of getting there and back, and an inconvenient “split” in the middle. (At my previous job, I was supplied with an apartment nearby.) So I applied for and was offered a job at a vocational high school. There are foreign language high schools, at which students write and present their own role-plays on cultural differences between Korea and western countries. There are high schools, at which students can talk in complete sentences (in English and Korean). And then there are vocational high schools. At least I’m not at a technical college. (If I was single, I would be provided with an apartment nearby. Instead, I am given a housing allowance, which is pure profit as we are living in an apartment owned by my wife’s brother.)
    I am currently studying (online) for the next level of TESOL certificate, which will enable me to teach ESL in Australia, though I’m not convinced that that’s what I want to do. ESL students in Australia are older and generally actually want to study English. I am already checking the positions vacant in Australia, and am looking to move at the end of Feb (at the end of my current contract) or maybe negotiate something earlier (academic year in Aus starts in Feb and maybe academies there have summer programs in Jan; very little happens in Korean high schools in Jan/Feb).

    Where in Australia did you live? Your mother sounds a lot like my grandmother (but slightly younger).

  • 228. astraya: Thanks for the explanation. It clears up a lot of questions!
    In Australia we lived in a suburb of Sydney, named Campsie. The street we lived on, Evaline Street, was partially torn down down for shops and such. The house I lived in was on the side of the street that was torn down.
    My brother was back there about 8 years ago, and took a lot of pix. The houses look exactly as I recall, and the shopping street, too, is identical to my memory of it.
    Wouldn’t that be fantastic if we were related?

  • astraya

    segue: I lived for 10 years in Sydney, in Summer Hill, Lewisham and Auburn. I know of Campsie, and went through there several times, but it wasn’t on my regular track. My father grew up in Sydney and my aunt still lives there. We’ve got relatives scattered around Sydney, but mainly on the north coast. One great-great-great grandfather settled in Kempsey in the 1850s, becomming local fixture and living to the age of 101. Two of sons remained in Kempsey and two settled in Nambucca Heads. That family was named “Grace”. I’m not breaking my anonymity by saying that, because there are several females who took other names on marriage between them and me. I have copies of the research done by several relatives, but I’ve got too much else to do. Other branches of my ancestry aren’t quite as well established.
    Australians can only trace their ancestry in Australia to 1788. Of course there were aborigines before then, and they may have anecdotal/legendary communal memories, but for genealogical purposes, Australian history starts in 1788.
    Campsie is now multi-cultural central of Sydney, closely followed by Aburn. One major street is called Anglo St!

  • 230. astraya, interesting indeed!
    As far as I know, and I know I’m missing an awful lot of information on that side of the family, the family surnames are:
    Dalton, Hall, James, Donnally.
    Since the family arrived in Australia close to 1788 from Ireland (counties Cook and Cork), I’m sure there must be plenty of other names I’m directly connected to.
    My father’s family, the U.S. side, I have an extremely exacting family tree, in America, back to pre-Revolutionary times.
    You mentioned a great-great-great grandfather living to 101. I have an idea about why some people of that era lived so long (the ones who didn’t die so early!), they were born drug-free, they lived in an environment *not* free of every bacteria, so their bodies natural defenses were stronger, they worked hard, slept naturally, and had a diet free of chemicals.
    The ones who died early usually died of diseases we can cure, or accidents.
    I guess it’s all 6 of one, half a dozen of the other.

  • astraya

    mainly segue: There have been four centenarians in that family. One granddaughter lived to 106, one great-granddaughter (my grandmother) lived to 104 and there’s another distant cousin I don’t know anything else about. There were also 90s and 80s, even in the 19th century. This has to be balanced, as you mentioned, by those who died in infancy, by accident, by what is now an easily preventable disease or in childbirth.

    anyone who’s interested, re second language acquisition: Last weekend my wife and I hosted two young women from China through a homestay program coordinated by the local government office. Both had learned English in China. One was of low moderate ability and the other was of high moderate ability. The second said that she’s never had a native speaker English teacher – all her English has been learned from Chinese English teachers. She’d also spent a year at a university in Korea learning Korean, and was pretty well fluent in that. My wife spoke to her in Korean more often than English. She probably learned Korean in China, too.
    Any theory of language acquisition has to explain why some people learn second languages a) at all, b) easily and well or c) hardly and badly. I don’t know.

  • Avarie

    I have students who tell me, “I did it on an accident” all the time. But, what drives me nuts is when they ask if they can use an “ink pen”!

  • #233. Avarie…But, what drives me nuts is when they ask if they can use an “ink pen”!
    Or a “lead pencil”?

  • Hemingway

    the bigger grammar problem in my opinion is the one about subject-verb agreement. many people seem to mess it up.

  • Then there’s the problem with ignoring capitalization at the beginning of sentences.

  • astraya

    why is that a problem?

  • GoLightly

    Isn’t it ironic that a song called “Isn’t it Ironic?” misuses irony? Rain on you wedding day is not ironic, it’s bad luck. Unless you live in a desert. A ride you paid for cannot be free. The song generally describes coincidences. If irony is hard to understand, don’t use it to describe anything.

  • 236. segue: Then there’s the problem with ignoring capitalization at the beginning of sentences.
    237. astraya: why is that a problem?
    astraya, it’s a problem because it makes the writer look ignorant.
    The world judges people by the way they present themselves, in speech, dress, actions and writing. If you don’t pass muster, you’re likely to get passed up.

  • 238. GoLightly: As Jonathan Swift opined, “Irony is wasted on the stupid.”

  • astraya

    if you say so!
    After I dashed off that (clearly tongue-in-cheek) question, I got thinking: why do we have capital letters anyway? if we clearly punctuate, we don’t really need to start sentences with capitals On the other hand, if we use capital letters, we don’t really need to punctuate

  • astraya, after I dashed off my answer, I realized your question was tongue-in-cheek. It’s unfortunate that there’s such a lack of expression in the written word…in the *short* written word.
    Your argument re: punctuation v capitalization is one which has been brought up before. I’m afraid to address it though, because you might be jibbing me again!

  • astraya

    A glass of water and a good lie down for segue, I think!
    The main reason for my first question was that I thought you’d raised the question of capitalisation spontaneously. I spotted “Hemingway’s” (capital letter!) comment, to which you were responding, just as I hit “submit”. Re-reading his/her comment now, I note that there are also people who misuse the comparative!

  • astraya

    PS There is a serious point in capitalisation v punctuation, but let’s not go into it.

  • astraya, you can’t imagine how much the good lie down is needed! I spent night before last in a sleep lab, wired up like a sci-fi creature!
    Nice way to spend the night, 20+ wires glued all over your body, the breathing machines not too different from home, but you know you’re being filmed!

  • astraya

    segue: Sorry to hear that, with everything else you have to cope with. I’m not surprised that your tongue-in-cheek detector was turned way down. Mine probably would be, too. Do you have to do the lab thing often? Can’t they use an animal?

  • hahahahahahahahahahohohohohohoooooololololololololololololololololololollololololo

  • Oh, my. Now that I’ve nearly recovered myself….hahahaha….I get to do it once or twice a year.
    On top of everything else, I have an extremely complex sleep apnea, 85% of which is central. That simply means my brain forgets, 4 to 16 times an hour, to tell my respiratory system to work, to breathe, while I’m asleep. The other 15 % is a combination of hypopnea and obstrctive apnea (no one can figure out the obstructive aspect so far, I’m slim, and my throat does not appear to collapse).
    I’m just a walking disaster in progress.

  • astraya

    Definitely a glass of water and a good lie down for segue!

    The following circulates in various forms. There’s a text that can be punctuated in two different ways to reveal two different meanings:

    Dear Sandy,
    I want someone who knows what love is all about you are generous kind and thoughtful people who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior you have ruined me for others I yearn for you I have no feelings whatsoever when we’re apart I can be forever happy will you let me be yours Alex


    Dear Sandy,
    I want someone who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind and thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for others. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we’re apart. I can be forever happy. Will you let me be yours?


    Dear Sandy,
    I want someone who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind and thoughtful people who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For others I yearn. For you I have no feelings whatsoever. When we’re apart I can be forever happy. Will you let me be?
    Yours, Alex

    I’m sooooooooo glad I didn’t have a mouthful of tea when I read that, it would have been all over the screen and keyboard!
    Thanks for a great morning wake-up, astraya!

  • astraya

    I was just browsing through a Korean English textbook. One chapter is entitled “I am not a man any more. Are you a transsexual?” While this is not a mistake, it is rather limited in its usefulness!

  • astraya

    Last week I teached a lesson on simple past tense. By yesterday I thinked how much easier English would be if simple past ised completely regular. This morning I ated my breakfast and readed the latest posts to LU. My wife doed the washing and goed to work.

  • 252. astraya: You need to get Richard Lederer’s books on the absurdities of the English language. They are hilarious! I’m quoted in the forward of one of the books, but that is all of the hint about me you’re getting!
    You’ll love these books, you’ll end up using them in class, you’ll laugh out loud. Trust me.

  • astraya

    You wicked woman! I found RL’s website and between this one and that one (and wikipedia) I am never going to get any productive work done!!

  • astraya

    segue: I thought I’d encountered Lederer’s name before. Steven Pinker in his book that I mentioned earlier mentions him as an “entertainer” rather than a “linguist”.

  • He’s both.
    I knew you’d love him.

  • sague: I looked up Richard Lederer on Amazon and he had several books – which is the one (you are referring to)/(to which you are referring)?

  • shaunism, all of Lederer’s books are wonderful. I would suggest one start with the early books, and work forward.

  • astraya

    Korean doesn’t have a commonly used plural form, or articles, so students don’t appreciate the distinction in English between “I played a computer game” and “I played computer games”. They will often say “I played computer game”. Some will (incorrectly) guess that if “a” is good, and “s” is good, then “I played a computer games” has to be even better.
    I tell them that if they played “a” computer game, then tell us “I played Starcraft”; if they talked to “a” friend, then tell us “I talked to Eun-Ju”. Some students say “I talked to my friend”. I say “How many friends have you got? (Pretend to cry, hold up one finger) I’ve got one friend. I talked to my friend. (Pretend to be happy, make wide expansive gesture) I’ve got many friends. I talked to my friends.”

  • astraya, surely Korean has a way of dealing with plural forms? Perhaps by inflection, or by the addition of another modifier…something to indicate to the listener exactly what the speaker means.
    Or is Korean one gigantic guessing game?

  • astraya

    I carefully chose my words “Korean doesn’t have a commonly used plural form”. It has an uncommonly used plural form. I can easily say “chingu” (friend) and “chingu-dul”, but “-dul” is not often used.
    The other way to indicated plurals is to use a number and a “counting word”. “chingu du myeon manassayo” = “friend two-people met” = (loosely) “I met my two friends”.
    A lot of Korean is implied in the context. “Sarang hae” (love do) probably means “I love you”, but can also mean “He loves her”, “She loves him”, “Love, love me do” and (with an upward inflection for a question) “Do you love me?”. Each of these can be clarified with other words, but those other words are often omitted.
    If you are Korean, then all of this is part of the cultural package. If you are not Korean, then sometimes it can be a guessing game.

    This morning as my wife was driving me to school, we were listening to an English educational program. One of the speakers used the word “torture” (as part of a “global issues” discussion). My wife said “How do you spell that?”. I said “tee-oh-ah-tee-you-ah-ee”. She said “What is ‘ah’?”. I said “‘ah’ is ‘ah'”. She said “Is it ‘ay’?”. I said “No, it’s ‘ah’?”. She said “Is it ‘I’?”. I said “No, it’s ‘ah'”. She said “Is it ‘ahrr’?”. I gritted my teeth, as I hate rhotic pronunciations. (At best a tool of American cultural imperialism and at worst satanic!) I said “The name of the letter is ‘ah'”. She said “People in Korea learn ‘ahrr'”. I said “Well, that’s wrong”. She said “All the books say ‘ahrr'”. I said “Books don’t teach you pronunciation. Teachers teach you pronunciation. Even if you do learn ‘ahrr’, surely you can understand that ‘ah’ is the same letter!”. We were getting close to school by that time, so we had to stop the conversation.
    An analogy would be if I learned Korean from a Jeju-do Korean (they have different accents and a distinct dialect) who called the letter “ri-eut” (the crucial letter in “flied lice”) “ri-ut” instead, then someone actually said “ri-eut”. Surely is it clear that those two letters are the same thing.
    Sometimes learners of English process things in different ways. A colleague said he had one student who refused to believe that “thee” (the earth) and “thu” (the world) were the same word and had the same spelling.
    So, a question to anyone who speaks with a rhotic accent? Do you pronounce the letter as ‘ah’ or ‘ahrr’? If ‘ahrr’, do you understand when I call it ‘ah’? Do you understand when your doctor says “say ‘ah'”, or does s/he say “Say ‘ahrr'”? (When I say “ahrr” the back of my throat closes, which defeats the purpose of saying “ah”.)
    (BTW I pronounce “torture” as “torcha”. Rhotic pronunciation is “torturr”.)

    Sorry for being so long. I want to set up an “English language and teaching English in Korea” forum topic.

  • My goodness, astraya! Thank you for being so thorough in your answer to my query.
    Re: pronunciations. I am handicapped by having lived my early years in Australia, and my entire formative life with an Australian mum, and a dad with a slight southern accent. The area I grew up in is noted for it’s lack of strong regional accent, but the Aussie + Southern undertones do crop up in my speech here and there.
    Final r’s aren’t dropped completely, as my mum did, but they’re softened, sort of ” ahra” (I can’t make it make any more sense than that, sorry).
    There are still words I have to stop and think about before I say, like aluminum, which my mum pronounced al-u-min-e-um, and laboratory, which she pronounced lab-or-a-tory and which, when I was very young, I often confused with lavatory.

  • astraya

    I have set up a forum called “astraya’s English language forum” at

  • astraya

    dramatic irony: A Korean drama series involves two boys who were switched at birth. In last night’s episode, the wife of one (now grown up) takes her young son to see the mother of the other. (They knew each other from the same small town.) He greets her with “Hello, Grandmother”. In Korean, “Grandmother” is a term used about and to any woman of advancing years. No doubt the child meant it that way. However, the scriptwriters, composer, the actress playing the grandmother and we know that she really his is grandmother, being the birth mother of the child’s father.

    irony of some sort: I am (still officially, but inactively) a member of the International Hi IQ Society. On the address list, two members give their location as “Seoul, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”! (To be fair, they selected that from a drop-down list, and that appears alphabetically before “Republic of Korea”.) One of the reasons I am an inactively member is that the site is full of people’s ejaculatory fluids. Another is that I’ve forgotten my username and password!

    I was going to mention that site vis-a-vis “Evolution in schools”. I foolishly looked at one debate on the topic, and one member said “It’s not just that the bible says so, it’s that all the scientific evidence says so as well”. Another member said “Like what?”. The first said “Like all of it”. The second said “Could you possibly be a little bit less specific?”. I gave up soon after that.
    I am at home today. I’ve been battling a cold. I’m well enough to go to work, but there’s a national test of some sort today and I wouldn’t be teaching anyway, so it was either go and sit around pretending to work, stay at home and sit around pretending to work, or take a sick day and rest. I slept most of the morning.

  • astraya

    I’ve now got my username and password for the High IQ society through the “have you forgotten your password” facility. I’d tried “real first name[space]real second name” and “real first name[dot]real second name”. It turns out that my username is “real first namereal second name”. My password was my standard.

  • 264. astraya:…I am (still officially, but inactively) a member of the International Hi IQ Society…Another(reason) is that I’ve forgotten my username and password!
    astraya, this post, and the one following, have given me the best laugh of the day so far!
    I am famous in the family for knowing scads of information on perfectly useless subjects (for everyday existence that is), but ask me to remember what I did last Tuesday…**blank**
    I’m soooooo glad I’m not the only one!

  • BTW – I solved the username/password problem by having a total of two usernames and two passwords.

  • astraya

    Some websites/banks etc specify that a username or password is to be, or is not to be, [that is the question!] in a specific format. My shool has given me a password which is random letters and numbers. My co-teacher printed it out and it sits just in front of the computer, thereby obliterating any security value in me having a password in the first place.

  • I’d forgotten that about banks. I didn’t know it applied to schools, too.
    My bank only has a certain number of numbers your PIN has to be, but since I know the keypad like a telephone keypad, I made it a word I’d be sure to remember! That the “word” is just numbers is no big deal. I just transpose them mentally. They use to have both letters and numbers on the keypads, but that stopped a while ago. It never mattered anyway, since I always played the number = word game anyway.

  • astraya

    Since I arrived in Korea, I have seen “well-being food” advertised on a regular basis. This evening I saw “well-liking food”!

  • astraya, many years ago in Los Angeles I saw a restaurant I vowed *never* to eat in. It was named ” OK Chinese Food and donuts”.
    I figured if even the owners thought the food was only OK, I certainly wasn’t going to chance it.

  • astraya

    Today on a train I saw a woman with a large handbag with the words, in very large all-caps letters:

    I’ve got no idea what this means.

  • astraya: Meatpuppets are a band. Maybe all of the others are as well.

  • astraya: I just Googled them all, I was right. They were all punk-rock bands.

  • astraya

    I’m glad I asked. US punk-rock bands are not my strong point!

  • Just think how smart and with it you’ll look next time you see the lady on the train.
    “Great bands!”, you say, pointing to the purse.
    “Oh! Thank you. Which one is your favorite?”, she replies.
    “Angst”, you say, looking somewhat forlorn.
    “Why?”, she asks, brightly.
    “Isn’t it obvious?”, you answer, looking ever more dour.
    Just an idea.

  • Christine

    this was an excellent helping internet material. this also helped me know the difference between who and whom. i have added this to my favorites.

  • astraya

    At the bus stop after school yesterday I saw a student carrying the same design of handbag.

    While following a completely unrelated thought through wikipedia, I stumbled across the following:

    “The term meatpuppet or “meat puppet” is used as a pejorative description for a number of quite different online behaviors. Its earlier recorded use is in cyberpunk novelist William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984).[9] The term had a long previous history before the internet, perhaps most infamously in 1980 by hardcore band, the Meat Puppets.”

    The most common meaning is as a synonym for “sock puppet” ie a second identity created either to support one’s original opinion or disparage (often in the strongest terms) one’s oponents.

    In some classes this week I taught “My favourite _ is _” eg “My favourite sport is soccer”. One of the categories was “kind of music”. If students were stuck, I’d prompt ” … pop, rap, HEAVY METAL!!!!” which got a giggle from from. (or a snigger!)

  • Cyn

    and yes, ‘snigger’ will still put your comment into moderation. so stop using it. there are plenty of other word choices…like stick w/ giggle.
    *insert rollz eyez smilie*

    we need word filters and should bless their pointy little heads. so no whining. just watch your word choice.

  • astraya


  • 278. astraya:…wikipedia, I stumbled across the following: “The term meatpuppet or “meat puppet”…
    Wiki failed to include at least *one* rather raunchy meaning of the term. I’m not going to explain, but I’m sure your imagination can fill in the blanks!

  • Amanda

    English is the most confusing language to learn. I took Spanish in high school and realized it was very logical and consistent.

  • blackcowlneck


  • V_L

    I want to meet the guy who wrote this so I can kick him in the bollocks. Pretentious and stuffy. Whilst some of this advice is useful (Their and there for one) there’s certainly a degree of ‘blowing your own trumpet’ here that’s wholly unnecessary.

    Language adapts and its use changes and that’s the way it has always been… in fact some great poets and PUBLISHED authors make many of these ‘mistakes’ yet their works are still highly praised and read by far more people than those that scoure the internet looking to pounce of the first grammatical error they encounter.

    Whilst I’d hate to see text-speak make its way into the dictionary I’m definitely not going to piss my pants if in casual conversation someone says “Oh your hat’s different to mine,” instead of saying “different from”. That’s a fast ticket to having NO FRIENDS and I assure you potential employers will not look at your supposed grammatical adroitness with fondness if you start *correcting* them.

    Here’s a tip, move with the times and stop nursing a clearly misplaced admiration for your own abilities.

  • astraya

    segue 281: I’m sure it’s something like what I was imagining in the first place, which is why I didn’t google for it.

    Last night we got one or two centimetres of snow. This morning, as my wife got the car from the underground car park, I took three photos of the (above ground) car park. When I got in the car, she said “Did you take a photo?”. I said “No, I took three photos”. I got thinking about the grammar of this, especially singular v plural when you don’t know the number. We say “Who’s there?” to a knock on the door, when we don’t know how many there are. If I had taken one photo, and she’d said “Did you take photos?” should I have said “No, I took A photo”. I thought about if a museum had a sign saying “No photographs” and I took A photo, could I plead that I hadn’t taken “photographS”? (Some museums say “No photography” and some have a pictogram?)
    In Korean there’s no problem, as there is no widely used plural, “Sajineul jikossoyo?” can just as easily be “Did you take a photo?” or “Did you take photos?”.

  • 285. astraya: It seems to me that while English is certainly rife with myriad words for the same thing, and a plethora of words for similar things, languages like Korean, with it’s simpler approach, might have some advantages.
    Don’t get me wrong! I believe English, so rich in vocabulary, so wealthy with adjectives, brimming with verbs is the most beautiful of languages. In no other could Shakespeare have written his plays and sonnets; in no other could Dylan Thomas have written his great, roaring poems and novels; in no other could Donne have written his early, earthy poems, and his late religious ones; only in English, could Jonathon Letham have written his intenesely funny and sharply witty novels.
    We may have our drawbacks (and they may be many for those trying to learn it late), but all in all, I’d say that English is the best of all possible languages.

  • Meagan

    Being an English major, this list irritates me. Especially “there/they’re/their”.

  • anna

    I could have sworn “different than” is correct. Other than that, I think I’ve never made any of these mistakes. Maybe it’s because English is my second language and grammar and spelling were always very important in school. If you don’t know how to write something correctly, you fail. So I was forced to learn it all.

  • DogBitez

    I’m adding a comment when this thread is nearly dead…

    One extremely common grammatical error is “alot” (you’ll find it used by 99.9% of people in chat rooms). The correct form is “a lot”. It’s like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. “Anyways” is second on my pet peeve list… but, fortunately, that was mentioned on the list. Oh! Let’s not forget “It’s” versus “Its”. Another grammatical massacre.

  • Steve

    I can’t stand when people use the wrong your/you’re

  • InfeaNO

    You forgot “off of” as in get off of that wall. Whats with the two off/of’s.

  • One woman I know, who uses impeccable English in almost everything, always replaces un as in under for on as in onder. Drives me nuts, but I’m not about to quibble with what is almost certainly a speech impediment.

  • Fairlight

    “whom” is actually dative, not accusative. See

  • John

    Three more common mistakes that always make me cringe..
    “floor” instead of “ground”
    “learn” instead of “teach”
    “times” instead of “multiply”

  • bearglove

    “different than” must be UK-exclusive. In all of my travels across the U.S.(and interacting with hundreds of Canadians a day, most of WHOM are drunk), I’ve never heard this-not even in the deep south. Love the list though.
    Seen/Saw is a pretty common error in the Midwest(i grew up in Ohio, and have this problem myself-my biggest grammatical error while speaking).

  • Brogan

    I love these lists, I feel like I’m bursting with knowledge after reading them haha :)

    I have to say I sometimes forget what im actually saying with ”it’s” and ”its” :/

  • Brogan

    In reply to John..

    ”“times” instead of “multiply” ”

    the reason this mistake is so common is because through most of our school years this is what we are taught to say, and it’s only when you hit high school you are corrected really..

  • Cath

    I’m amazed that you would point out the usage of “anyways”, etc., but use the phrase “with regards to”. The proper phrase is “with regard to”. The same goes for “towards” vs. “toward”. :D

  • A couple others taht drive me nuts are: IRregardless, conversate, and farther vs. further!

  • jo

    Genihanna. Lol. I scrolled all the way to the bottom to voice my frustration at conversate. It’s NOT a word young people! It’s not a bloody word! God. It drives me insane. I just don’t understand why people listen to everything in a rap song and take it literally. Also. When people say “the reason is because” oooohhhh. I can die.

  • Cookie

    I have a 6th grade test on 10, 9, 8, 4, and 1 tommorow, just saying to all of the elders(teens) out there.

  • illiterate201

    Who cares at all? If I can speak and other people understand me, I really don`t care. Whoever makes up language rules is an idiot and has too much time on their hands. Maybe if we were working on a universally accepted and perfected language it might be okay, but we are not. So quit bitching and be happy we all have brains that work in a manner that allows you to be so critical without having us unlearned, illiterate dumbasses beat your brains in for simply existing and acting so pompously with your “English rules”.

    • Jill

      That's the point… without grammar rules, it becomes much harder to understand people. I often receive correspondence that I truly do not understand in the slightest because of incredibly confused writing. What's saddest is when it's job applications and I can't follow the sentences. Also if you 'don't care', why did you read the article?

  • cartwheelskip

    THANK YOU!! Thank you for so much for #5. The ‘myself’ misconception absolutely makes my blood boil – yet I never correct anyone because EVERYONE just *knows* they’re using the word in the correct way. You know what is to blame for this? REALITY TV. Every single teenage talking head on Mtv reality programs rampantly abuses the myself misconception and I cannot take it anymore.

    So…thanks. : )

  • Our Jo

    Great list!
    One that I always correct, if I hear it.. "i borrowed something off…" rather than "i borrowed something from…" or oh.. i hear this a lot too, confusing the word "lent" with "borrowed".
    Id like to know exactly what our english teachers are teaching, these days.

  • An addendum to number 6. It shits me when people write "would of" instead of "would have".

    I also hate "on accident". It's BY accident people!

  • Jay

    Language changes constantly, as well it should as most of our common usage makes little sense to begin with. Most of our rules are utterly arbitrary. I think I'll end this sentence with a preposition out.

  • V123

    I am not a native English speaker. I knew all of these.

    • Araxie

      In a way, that’s actually not surprising- there’s a huge difference between having to learn language from the ground up, piece by piece, to learning it via a process of mimicry + formal instruction (as one does when it’s your native language).

  • Araxie

    It’s nice to have reference material to some of these puzzlers in one spot- especially in easy-to-understand format, as opposed to trying to decipher a wikipedia page on the subject, for example (bless your heart, Wikipedia, but sometimes your pages can get a bit TOO detailed).

    However, your delivery for some of these comes off as more than a little condescending to the reader. Almost everybody I know regularly committ many grammar sins much more obvious than any of these, which are admittedly rather subtle differences. Non-English teachers are funny that way sometimes.

  • FaerchFan

    i can be a grammar/spelling snob myself but this list did come off a little mean. a lot of these errors are accepted today, and so much that you forgot “a lot/alot”. because i say alot (except for above) oh and accept/except. i see those changed around too!

  • Darris

    I’m glad you put the “different to” thing in there. I have British friends. I’ve always wondered whether that was allowable or not. I had just assumed it was proper for British English.
    They always harp on about Americans destroying the language. Well, you know what, Britons? We aren’t the ones who systematically “latinised” it.

  • vermilionskin

    Love the list!!

  • Luis Gabaldon

    Thank you for sharing this with us! It would be of great help. :))))

  • Wakay Basco

    Great! I like the list but you are defining words with: This is when …IS… or It is when …IS… I hate hearing these, don’t you know?

  • Bob Moore

    There are several spelling and usage errors in the list. For example, in the #1 item this appears, “They’re” means “they are” – it only mean “they are”, ….

    Amuse yourself by looking for the others.

  • derenicy


  • Mangatime

    I love English class…….. this is an awesome list. How about doing a list for Top 10 words that do not exist in English language and people still use them?

    One word I commonly hear people use is Funner or Funnest. WTF………. and I have a colleague that went berserk when I told him Funnest is not an English word. What makes it worse was that Apple had a commercial for Ipod Touch, and they said,” The funnest ipod ever”.

    This is just sad……

  • bideniwu


  • bareniof


  • burenimo


  • Ernest Mwelemuka

    I would love to lean more of this.

  • bikenibb


  • borenakh


  • baremijk


  • Enrique

    Some of them are really silly , i can’t believe people make mistakes like that

  • boramidy


  • popesantaxiv

    Thank you! People using “anyways” has always annoyed me!

  • seromiti


  • salomipi


  • SuNs

    I’m such a grammar snob, but I make some of these mistakes too like who/whom. I can’ t always tell the difference.

  • grammarfreak

    some people even use “am” for “I’m” .
    that’s just stupid right?

  • dan

    i love these lists… they sometimes help out a lot…

    do one on alot/a lot/allot…
    ugh :P

  • Jennifer D.

    Fun list for entertainment, but don’t you think you might be a little too prescriptive?
    Most linguists would say what you call errors are a matter of variety, preference, and practice. To say that one way is correct and the other incorrect is to idealize one way of speaking.
    Do you mean to say that anyone who doesn’t speak the variety of English you prefer is stupid?

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