Over the years I have written a number of blog posts lamenting the poor English usage that I see and hear all around me every day. Yes, the language is alive and constantly growing and evolving, so I do try to let a lot of things go. I do understand that new words and terms are constantly coming into use and becoming part of the “living language”. However, that doesn’t mean that long-time accepted words and terms, and their proper usage, have to go out the proverbial window.
It particularly drives me to distraction when I read or hear words and terms being used incorrectly by people who should know better. I’m talking about folks who use words every day while practicing their profession, such as: journalists, writers, broadcasters, academics, and politicians, to name a few. Sadly, in my daily life, while listening to the radio, watching TV, and/or reading newspapers and magazines, I hear or read egregious errors in word usage and/or grammar almost every single day!
So, I went back over my blog posts of the past five years or so, and I came up with the top 15 or so of what I consider to be the most common errors in English that I still regularly encounter in my everyday life. Here’s that list below, in alphabetical order:
“Advice” is a noun, and “advise” is a verb.
I advise you to follow Frank’s advice.
My advice to you is to hire an expert to advise you on the matter.
amount, number [see “fewer, less” below]
Use “amount” with quantities that can’t be counted.
Use “number” with things that can be counted.
The amount of money we collect will depend on the number of people who attend.
There are a number of recipes in the book that call for a large amount of salt.
A large amount of contraband was seized during a number of overnight raids.
“Bad” is an adjective, “badly is an adverb.
They felt bad about being late. His leg hurt badly after his accident.
It was a bad game; I played very badly.
bored “with”, bored “of”
I am bored “with” school is correct; NOT – I am bored “of” school.
I am tired of school. I am sick of school.
I am bored with having to eat the same food every day.
Use “bring” when an object is being brought/moved “towards” where you are now.
Use “take” when an object is being taken/moved “away” from where you are now.
Bring the tickets with you when you come to join us.
We will take the car to the club after we finish dinner.
I will take the money to the bank, but first I need you to bring the deposit slips to me here.
“Complement” with an “e” means “to go with or complete” something.
“Compliment” withan “i” means “to flatter”.
His lyrics complement her playing.
The maestro complimented her on her musicianship.
fewer, less [see “amount, number” above]
“Fewer” refers to items that can be counted. “Less” refers to quantities.
Because fewer people were there, we collected less money.
Even though there was less rain this time, fewer cars were on the roads.
I have less money than when I left home but I have fewer items left to buy.
There were fewer players on the field, so their chance of winning was less.
“Good” is an adjective; It does not stand alone; it needs to modify or describe something else.
“Well” is an adverb that can stand alone as the object of a phrase or sentence.
She hasn’t felt good about her game since late last season.
She performed well in the final event of the competition.
Tiger played good golf last weekend; he knows he played well.
NOT: Tiger played good last weekend! INSTEAD, USE: Tiger played well last weekend.
Confusing these two is an error I often make when writing something in a rush.
“its” is a possessive pronoun; used to indicate that something belongs to something else.
“it’s”, with an apostrophe, is a contraction for the phrase “it is”.
We inspected every square inch of its hull and didn’t find anything.
It’s going to be a very long trip.
“labtop” with a “b” is NOT a word!
Many people use it incorrectly when they mean “laptop”; a computer that fits on one’s “lap”.
“Loose” is an adjective that means “not securely attached”.
“Lose” means “to misplace” something or “to be deprived of, or “not to win”.
The muffler was so loose that I feared we would soon lose it.
When you lose your focus, sometimes you lose the game.
If you play too fast and loose, you are sure to lose.
“Myself” is a reflexive or intensive pronoun.
I hurt myself [reflexive]. I drove myself [intensive].
She gave the books to Francis and me [NOT myself].
As for me, [NOT myself] I’m always available.
“practice” with a “c” is a noun that refers to “a way of doing things”.
“practise” with an “s” is a verb.
He wanted to practise his song, but the practice was canceled.
It was his practice to go for a drink after band practice was over.
“Principal” can be a noun or adjective and can mean different things in different contexts.
As a noun, it can mean “the head of a school” or “a sum of money”.
As an adjective, “principal” means “most important”.
On the other hand, “principle” is a noun that means “basic truth or law”.
Mary Stone is the principal of our high school.
My monthly loan payment includes principal plus interest.
The main principle behind his argument is equality for all.
“Relation” describes a connection between things.
“Relationship” refers to a connection between people.
He studied the relation between income and intellect.
Their relationship soured after the company went broke.
“sneaked” vs. “snuck”
Believe it or not, it is still ok to say we “sneaked” in through the back door.
In fact, in my opinion, it is better to say “we sneaked in”, rather than to say “we snuck in”.
The above are just a few examples of dubious English usage that grate on my nerves whenever I hear or read them. I’m sure you can probably think of others as well. English is a beautifully precise language; try to be precisely right whenever you speak it or write it.
Listen up folks! Just because you hear something on the radio or television, or you read it in a newspaper or magazine, doesn’t make it correct! Really. This is especially true these days when journalists and writers copy and paste a good deal of their columns from facebook posts and twitter tweets. So what if Joe and Marjorie, living goodness knows where, with goodness knows what education level, spouted their opinion on whatever subject online! Does that mean we should all accept their grammar, phrasing and and/or spelling at face value? I don’t think so!
Again, I do understand that the English language is constantly growing and evolving. However, it’s not a total free-for-all out there folks! All I ask is that you at least wait until your “word” is listed as standard usage in major dictionaries before using it. This is especially important if you want to be taken seriously in business or academic circles. You must be careful not to fall into the trap of using popular jargon just because you heard or saw someone else use it; especially when writing.
So, whenever you are about to use a particular word or term, and any doubt about it creeps into your mind, check it out first before using it. Nine times out of ten, when you check your dictionary or style manual, you will find that your initial gut feeling was right. Don’t embarrass yourself unnecessarily just because you didn’t check; especially in a professional situation.
IF YOU have any pet peeves about poor or incorrect word usage, please share those in the COMMENT BOX BELOW so I can add them to my list:
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