Common Grammatical Mistakes Everyone Makes

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No one can recognise our relentless misuse of the English language quite like an editor. Misplace a modifier, and your editor will (hopefully) let you know. Over-use intensifiers such as “very,” “just,” and “really,” and your editor will tell you that you’re not doing your writing any favours. My editor here at Lifehacker has officially broken me of the overuse of “oftentimes,” which, as she pointed out, isn’t exactly wrong, but is just a longer way of saying “often.”

And now Laura Helmuth, health and science editor at The Washington Post, is here to help us with a bunch of other ways we’re mucking up the English language.

She listed her personal favourite (least favourite?) mistakes on Twitter, and then her followers chimed in with more gems. This is the sort of thread I could read all day, and I have done so, in order to share the best with you.

From Laura

  • “Enormity” means something really bad, not something really big.

  • “Men and women” in almost all circumstances should be “people.” The world is over-gendered enough as it is.

  • “Famous” is a word you almost never need. If a person or event is known to your reader, you don’t need to tell them it’s famous. If your reader DOESN’T know something, calling it famous risks making your reader feel ignorant or unwelcome in your story. (One exception, as a follower pointed out, is to say someone was “famous in her time” if it’s someone who is relatively unknown now but was a big deal back in the day.)

  • It’s spelled “impostor” rather than “imposter,” which I learned only after being quoted in a story about impostor syndrome.

  • It’s fine to use “spawn” metaphorically in some cases, but keep in mind that it literally means fish or frogs ejaculating eggs or sperm.

  • Avoid “so and so believes” because you don’t know what they believe, only what they say.

From her followers

  • Penultimate means “second to last,” not “way beyond ultimate.”

  • Putting “The fact that” before something is never necessary.

  • “In order to.” Just “to” does the same job.

  • The use of “I” when the object pronoun “me” should be used. E.g. “He took Jean and I to the store.” The trick to knowing what’s right? Take out the other person in the sentence. “He took I to the store” just doesn’t sound right.

  • Titled versus entitled. The paper is titled XYZ. My dog was a good girl and entitled to a cookie.

  • Trying to eliminate “actually” from my vocabulary, mostly speaking vocabulary. Adds nothing.

  • “And the reason why is...” is redundant. Just say, “and the reason is...”

  • Unique means one of a kind, it is absolute and there are no degrees of uniqueness. Very unique, more unique, most unique etc., are all meaningless.

  • Not technically a mistake, but using an unsubstantiated “interestingly” before making a point is annoying, especially if done multiple times in the same paper.

  • The other word I so often see misused is “reticent.” It is NOT a synonym for “reluctant.” It means “tight-lipped,” or “of few words.”

  • I find the word “different” is often unnecessary—12 different people...

  • Nondescript. Describe it, damn it.

Just for fun, I’m going to throw in my own pet peeve—using “over” or “under” (describes physical relationships in space), when you really mean “more than” or “less than” (amounts). The tickets cost over $US10 ($15)? No, they cost more than $US10 ($15).

Of course, we have to be somewhat flexible; language evolves over time. The purpose of language is to communicate, and if you’re being understood in an informal setting—well, oftentimes, that’s all you need.


@lifehackerdotcom.


Comments

    What about the American use of "momentarily"? It means "for a moment", but has crept into US media with the intended meaning of "in a moment". Another big one is "her and I" instead of "she and I". "Her and I went to the movies". I hate that! It crept in from the USA use, but has become widespread now.

    How about all the verbs that have become nouns? Invite is the commonest.

    Whose supermarkets have a '12 items or less' sign which should read '12 items or fewer?'

    You set off my inner pedant. Returning to human mode now... :-)

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